Romans 4


Abraham was justified by faith, and not by the works of the

law; for his faith was imputed to him for righteousness, 1-5.

David also bears testimony to the same doctrine, 6-8.

Abraham, the father of the Jewish race, was justified by faith,

even before he was circumcised; therefore salvation must be of

the Gentiles as well as the Jews, 9-12.

And the promise that all the nations of the earth should be

blessed tn him, was made to him while he was in an uncircumcised

state; and, therefore, if salvation were of the Jews alone, the

law, that was given after the promise, would make the promise

of no effect, 13-17.

Description of Abraham's faith, and its effects, 18-92.

This account is left on record for our salvation, that we might

believe on Christ, who was delivered for our offences, and

raised again for our justification, 23-25.


The apostle, having proved in the foregoing chapter that neither

Jews nor Gentiles have a right to the blessing of God's peculiar

kingdom, otherwise than by grace, which is as free for the one as

the other, in this chapter advances a new argument to convince the

Jew, and to show the believing Gentile, in a clear light, the high

value and strong security of the mercies freely bestowed on them

in the Gospel; and, at the same time, to display the scheme of

Divine providence, as laid in the counsel and will of God. His

argument is taken from Abraham's case: Abraham was the father and

head of the Jewish nation; he had been a heathen, but God pardoned

him, and took him and his posterity into his special covenant, and

bestowed upon them many extraordinary blessings above the rest of

mankind; and it is evident that Abraham was not justified by any

obedience to law, or rule of right action, but, in the only way in

which a sinner can be justified, by prerogative or the mercy of

the lawgiver. Now, this is the very same way in which the Gospel

saves the believing Gentiles, and gives them a part in the

blessings of God's covenant. Why then should the Jews oppose the

Gentiles? especially as the Gentiles were actually included in the

covenant made with Abraham for the promise, Ge 17:4, stated that

he should be the father of many nations: consequently, the

covenant being made with Abraham, as the head or father of many

nations, all in any nation who stood on the same religious

principle with him, were his seed and with him interested in the

same covenant. But Abraham stood by faith in the mercy of God

pardoning his idolatry; and upon this footing the believing

Gentiles stand in the Gospel; and, therefore, they are the seed of

Abraham, and included in the covenant and promise made to him.

To all this the apostle knew well it would be objected, that it

was not faith alone, that gave Abraham a right to the blessings of

the covenant, but his obedience to the law of circumcision; and

this, being peculiar to the Jewish nation, gave them an interest

in the Abrahamic covenant; and that, consequently, whoever among

the Gentiles would be interested in that covenant, ought to

embrace Judaism, become circumcised, and thus come under

obligation to the whole law. With this very objection the apostle

very dexterously introduces his argument, Ro 4:1, 2; shows that,

according to the Scripture account, Abraham was justified by

faith, Ro 4:3-5; explains the nature of that justification, by a

quotation out of the Psalms, Ro 4:6-9; proves that Abraham was

justified long before he was circumcised, Ro 4:9-11; that the

believing Gentiles are his seed to whom the promise belongs, as

well as the believing Jews, Ro 4:12-17; and he describes

Abraham's faith, in order to explain the faith of the Gospel,

Ro 4:17-25.

See Dr. Taylor's notes. We may still suppose that the dialogue is

carried on between the apostle and the Jew, and it will make the

subject still more clear to assign to each his respective part.

The Jew asks a single question, which is contained in the first

and part of the second verses. And the apostle's answer takes up

the rest of the chapter.

Verse 1. JEW. What shall we then say that Abraham, our father

as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?] The κατασαρκα,

pertaining to the flesh, must here refer to the sign in Abraham's

flesh, viz. his circumcision; on which the Jew would found his

right to peculiar blessings. That this is the meaning of κατα

σαρκα, according to the flesh, Dr. Taylor has proved by a

collation of several parallel scriptures, which it is not

necessary to produce here. We may, therefore, suppose the Jew

arguing thus: But you set your argument on a wrong footing, viz.

the corrupt state of our nation; whereas we hold our prerogative

above the rest of mankind from Abraham, who is our father; and we

have a right to the blessings of God's peculiar kingdom, in virtue

of the promise made to him; his justification is the ground of

ours. Now what shall we make of his case, on your principles? Of

what use was his obedience to the law of circumcision, if it did

not give him a right to the blessing of God? And if, by his

obedience to that law, he obtained a grant of extraordinary

blessings, then, according to your own concession, Ro 3:27, he

might ascribe his justification to something in himself; and,

consequently, so may we too, in his right; and if so, this will

exclude all those who are not circumcised as we are.

Verse 2. For if Abraham were justified by works] The JEW

proceeds:-I conclude, therefore, that Abraham was justified by

works, or by his obedience to this law of circumcision; and,

consequently, he has cause for glorying, καυχημα, to exult in

something which he has done to entitle him to these blessings.

Now, it is evident that he has this glorying, and consequently

that he was justified by works.

APOSTLE. But not before God] These seem to be the apostle's

words, and contain the beginning of his answer to the arguments of

the Jew, as if he had said:- Allowing that Abraham might glory in

being called from heathenish darkness into such marvellous light,

and exult in the privileges which God had granted to him; yet this

glorying was not before God as a reason why those privileges

should be granted; the glorying itself being a consequence of

these very privileges.

Verse 3. For, what saith the Scripture?] The Scriptural

account of this transaction, Ge 15:6, is decisive; for there it

is said, Abraham believed God, and it was counted, ελογισθη, it

was reckoned to him for righteousness, ειςδικαιοσυνην, for


Verse 4. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of

grace, but of debt.] Therefore, if Abraham had been justified by

works, the blessings he received would have been given to him as a

reward for those works, and consequently his believing could have

had no part in his justification, and his faith would have been


Verse 5. But to him that worketh not] Which was the case with

Abraham, for he was called when he was ungodly, i.e. an idolater;

and, on his believing, was freely justified: and, as all men have

sinned, none can be justified by works; and, therefore,

justification, if it take place at all, must take place in behalf

of the ungodly, forasmuch as all mankind are such. Now, as

Abraham's state and mode in which he was justified, are the plan

and rule according to which God purposes to save men; and as his

state was ungodly, and the mode of his justification was by faith

in the goodness and mercy of God; and this is precisely the state

of Jews and Gentiles at present; there can be no other mode of

justification than by faith in that Christ who is Abraham's seed,

and in whom, according to the promise, all the nations of the

earth are to be blessed.

It is necessary to observe here, in order to prevent confusion

and misapprehension, that although the verb δικαιοω has a variety

of senses in the New Testament, yet here it is to be taken as

implying the pardon of sin; receiving a person into the favour of

God. See these different acceptations cited in

Clarke's note on "Ro 1:17",

and particularly under No. 7. It is also necessary to

observe, that our translators render the verb λογιζομαι

differently in different parts of this chapter. It is rendered

counted, Ro 4:3, 5;

reckoned, Ro 4:4, 9, 10;

imputed, Ro 4:6, 8, 11, 22-24.

Reckoned is probably the best sense in all these places.

Verse 6. Even as David also, &c.] David, in Ps 32:1, 2,

gives us also the true notion of this way of justification, i.e.

by faith, without the merit of works, where he says:-

Verse 7. Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven] That

is, the man is truly happy whose iniquities αιανομιαι, whose

transgressions of the law are forgiven; for by these he was

exposed to the most grievous punishment. Whose sins, αιαμαρτιαι,

his innumerable deviations from the strict rule of truth and

righteousness, are covered-entirely removed out of sight, and

thrown into oblivion. See the meaning of the word sin in

Clarke's note on "Ge 13:13".

Verse 8. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute

sin.] That man is truly happy to whose charge God does not

reckon sin; that is, they alone are happy who are redeemed from

the curse of the law and the consequence of their ungodly life, by

having their sins freely forgiven, through the mercy of God.

Verse 9. Cometh this blessedness-upon the circumcision only]

The word μονον, only, is very properly supplied by our

translators, and indeed is found in some excellent MSS., and is

here quite necessary to complete the sense. The apostle's

question is very nervous. If this pardon, granted in this way, be

essential to happiness-and David says it is so-then is it the

privilege of the Jews exclusively? This cannot be; for, as it is

by the mere mercy of God, through faith, the circumcision cannot

even claim it. But if God offer it to the circumcision, not

because they have been obedient, for they also have sinned, but

because of his mere mercy, then of course the same blessedness may

be offered to the Gentiles who believe in the Lord Jesus. And

this is evident; for we say, following our own Scriptures, that

faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness; he had no merit,

he was an idolater; but he believed in God, and his faith was

reckoned to him ειςδικαιοσυνην, in reference to his

justification; he brought faith when he could not bring works;

and God accepted his faith in the place of obedience; and this

became the instrumental cause of his justification.

Verse 10. How was it then reckoned?] In what circumstances

was Abraham when this blessing was bestowed upon him? When he was

circumcised, or before?

Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.] Faith was

reckoned to Abraham for justification, as we read Ge 15:6, (where

see the note;) but circumcision was not instituted till about

fourteen or fifteen years after, Ge 17:1, &c.; for faith was

reckoned to Abraham for righteousness or justification at least

one year before Ishmael was born; compare Gen. 15, and 16. At

Ishmael's birth he was eighty-six years of age, Ge 16:16; and, at

the institution of circumcision, Ishmael was thirteen, and Abraham

ninety-nine years old. See Ge 17:24, 25;

and see Dr. Taylor.

Verse 11. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal,

&c.] So far was obedience to the law of circumcision from being

the reason of his justification, that he not only received this

justification before he was circumcised, but he received the sign

of circumcision, as a seal of the pardon which he had before

actually received. And thus he became the father, the great head

and representative, of all them that believe; particularly the

Gentiles, who are now in precisely the same state in which Abraham

was when he received the mercy of God. Hence it appears, says Dr.

Taylor, that the covenant established with Abraham, Ge 17:2-15,

is the same with that, Ge 12:2, 3; 15:5, &c.; for circumcision

was not a seal of any new grant, but of the justification and

promise which Abraham had received before he was circumcised; and

that justification and promise included the Gospel covenant in

which we are now interested. St. Paul refers to this, Ga 3:8:

The Scripture foreseeing that God would justify us, heathens,

through faith, preached before the Gospel unto Abraham, saying,

In thee shall all nations be blessed. The whole of the apostle's

argument, in this fourth chapter to the Romans, proves that we,

believing Gentiles, are the seed of Abraham, to whom, as well as

to himself, the promise was made; and that the promise made to him

is the same in effect as that promise which is now made to us;

consequently, it is the Abrahamic covenant in which we now stand;

and any argument taken from the nature of that covenant, and

applied to ourselves, must be good and valid. It is also

undeniably evident, from this eleventh verse, as well as from

Ge 17:1-11,

that circumcision was a seal or sign of the Gospel covenant

in which we now stand. See Taylor.

There is nothing more common in the Jewish writers than the

words oth, SIGN, and chotham, SEAL, as signifying

the mark in the flesh, by the rite of circumcision; see on

Ge 4:15.

SOHAR Genes., fol. 41, col. 161, has these words: And God set a

mark upon Cain; this mark was the sign of the covenant of

circumcision. TARGUM, Cant. iii. 8: The seal of circumcision is

in your flesh; as Abraham was sealed in the flesh. YALCUT RUBENI,

fol. 64: Joseph did not defile the sign of the holy covenant;

i.e. he did not commit adultery with the wife of Potiphar. Liber

Cosri, part i., c. 115, p. 70: Circumcision is a Divine sign which

God has placed on the member of concupiscence, to the end that we

may overcome evil desire. SHEMOTH RABBA, sec. 19, fol. 118: Ye

shall not eat the passover unless the SEAL of Abraham be in your

flesh. Yalcut Rubeni, fol. 36: God said to Abraham, I will seal

thy flesh. Sohar Levit. fol. 6: Abraham was sealed with the holy

seal. See Schoettgen.

Verse 12. And the father of circumcision] He is also the head

and representative of all the circumcision of all the JEWS who

walk in the steps of that faith; who seek for justification by

faith only, and not by the works of the law; for this was the

faith that Abraham had before he received circumcision. For, the

covenant being made with Abraham while he was a Gentile, he became

the representative of the Gentiles, and they primarily were

included in that covenant, and the Jews were brought in only

consequentially; but salvation, implying justification by faith,

originally belonged to the Gentiles; and, when the Gospel came,

they laid hold on this as their original right, having been

granted to them by the free mercy of God in their father and

representative, Abraham. So that the Jews, to be saved, must come

under that Abrahamic covenant, in which the Gentiles are included.

This is an unanswerable conclusion, and must, on this point, for

ever confound the Jews.

Verse 13. For the promise, that he should be the heir of the

world] This promise intimated that he should be the medium

through whom the mercy of God should be communicated to the world,

to both Jews and Gentiles; and the manner in which he was

justified, be the rule and manner according to which all men

should expect this blessing. Abraham is here represented as

having all the world given to him as his inheritance; because in

him all nations of the earth are blessed: this must therefore

relate to their being all interested in the Abrahamic covenant;

and every person, now that the covenant is fully explained, has

the privilege of claiming justification through faith, by the

blood of the Lamb, in virtue of this original grant.

Verse 14. For, if they which are of the law be heirs] If the

Jews only be heirs of the promise made to Abraham, and that on the

ground of prior obedience to the law, then faith is made void-is

entirely useless; and the promise, which was made to faith, is

made of none effect.

Verse 16. Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace]

On this account the promise is mercifully grounded, not on

obedience to a law, but on the infinite goodness of God: and thus

the promise is sure to all the seed-to all, both Jews and

Gentiles, who, believing in Christ Jesus, have a right to all the

blessings contained in the Abrahamic covenant. All the seed

necessarily comprehends all mankind. Of the Gentiles there can be

no doubt, for the promise was given to Abraham while he was a

Gentile; and the salvation of the Jews may be inferred, because

they all sprang from him after he became an heir of the

righteousness or justification which is received by faith; for he

is the father of us all, both Jews and Gentiles. Dr. Taylor has

an excellent note on this verse. "Here," says he, "it should be

well observed that faith and grace do mutually and necessarily

infer each other. For the grace and favour of God, in its own

nature, requires faith in us; and faith on our part, in its own

nature, supposes the grace or favour of God. If any blessing is

the gift of God, in order to influence our temper and behaviour,

then, in the very nature of things, it is necessary that we be

sensible of this blessing, and persuaded of the grace of God that

bestows it; otherwise it is not possible we should improve it. On

the other hand, if faith in the goodness of God, with regard to

any blessing, is the principle of our religious hopes and action,

then it follows that the blessing is not due in strict justice,

nor on the foot of law, but that it is the free gift of Divine

goodness. If the promise to Abraham and his seed be of faith on

their part, then it is of grace on the part of God. And it is of

faith, that it might be by grace: grace, being the mere good will

of the donor, is free and open to all whom he chooses to make the

objects of it: and the Divine wisdom appointed faith to be the

condition of the promise; because faith is, on our part, the most

simple principle, bearing an exact correspondence to grace, and

reaching as far as that can extend; that so the happy effects of

the promise might extend far and wide, take in the largest

compass, and be confined to no condition, but what is merely

necessary in the nature of things."

Verse 17. As it is written, I have made thee a father] That

Abraham's being a father of many nations has relation to the

covenant of God made with him, may be seen, Ge 17:4, 5:

Behold my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of

many nations: neither shall thy name any more be called Abram; but

thy name shall be Abraham, for a father of many nations have I

made thee, i.e. he was constituted the head of many nations, the

Gentile world, by virtue of the covenant, which God made then with


God, who quickeneth the dead, &c.] God is the most proper

object of trust and dependence; for being almighty, eternal, and

unchangeable, he can even raise the dead to life, and call those

things which be not as though they were. He is the Creator, he

gave being when there was none; he can as infallibly assure the

existence of those things which are not, as if they were already

actually in being. And, on this account, he can never fail of

accomplishing whatsoever he has promised.

Verse 18. Who against hope believed in hope] The faith of

Abraham bore an exact correspondence to the power and

never-failing faithfulness of God; for though, in the ordinary

course of things, he had not the best foundation of hope, yet he

believed that he should be the father of many nations, according

to that which was spoken; namely, that his posterity should be

like the stars of heaven for multitude, and like the dust of the


Verse 19. He considered not his own body now dead] He showed

at once the correctness and energy of his faith: God cannot lie;

Abraham can believe. It is true that, according to the course of

nature, he and Sarah are so old that they cannot have children;

but God is almighty, and can do whatsoever he will, and will

fulfil his promise. This was certainly a wonderful degree of

faith; as the promise stated that it was in his posterity that all

the nations of the earth were to be blessed; that he had, as yet,

no child by Sarah; that he was 100 years old; that Sarah was 90;

and that, added to the utter improbability of her bearing at that

age, she had ever been barren before. All these were so many

reasons why he should not credit the promise; yet he believed;

therefore it might be well said, Ro 4:20,

that he staggered not at the promise, though every thing was

unnatural and improbable; but he was strong in faith, and, by this

almost inimitable confidence, gave glory to God. It was to God's

honour that his servant put such unlimited confidence in him; and

he put this confidence in him on the rational ground that God was

fully able to perform what he had promised.

Verse 21. And being fully persuaded] πληροφορηθεις, his

measure: his soul was full of confidence, that the truth of God

bound him to fulfil his promise and his power enabled him to do it.

Verse 22. And therefore it was imputed to him for

righteousness] The verse is thus paraphrased by Dr. Taylor:

"For which reason God was graciously pleased to place his faith to

his account; and to allow his fiducial reliance upon the Divine

goodness, power, and faithfulness, for a title to the Divine

blessing, which, otherwise, having been an idolater, he had no

right to."

Abraham's strong faith in the promise of the coming Saviour,

for this was essential to his faith, was reckoned to him for

justification: for it is not said that any righteousness, either

his own, or that of another, was imputed or reckoned to him for

justification; but it, i.e. his faith in God. His faith was

fully persuaded of the most merciful intentions of God's goodness;

and this, which, in effect, laid hold on Jesus Christ, the future

Saviour, was the means of his justification; being reckoned unto

him in the place of personal righteousness, because it laid hold

on the merit of Him who died to make an atonement for our

offences, and rose again for our justification.

Verse 23. Now it was not written for his sake alone] The fact

of Abraham's believing and receiving salvation through that faith

is not recorded as a mere circumstance in the patriarch's life,

intended to do him honour: see Ro 4:24.

Verse 24. But for us also] The mention of this circumstance

has a much more extensive design than merely to honour Abraham.

It is recorded as the model, according to which God will save both

Jews and Gentiles: indeed there can be no other way of salvation;

as all have sinned, all must either be saved by faith through

Christ Jesus, or finally perish. If God, therefore, will our

salvation, it must be by faith; and faith contemplates his

promise, and his promise comprehends the Son of his love.

Verse 25. Who was delivered for our offences] Who was

delivered up to death as a sacrifice for our sins; for in what

other way, or for what other purpose could He, who is innocence

itself, be delivered for our offences?

And was raised again for our justification.] He was raised

that we might have the fullest assurance that the death of Christ

had accomplished the end for which it took place; viz. our

reconciliation to God, and giving us a title to that eternal life,

into which he has entered, and taken with him our human nature, as

the first-fruits of the resurrection of mankind.

1. FROM a careful examination of the Divine oracles it appears

that the death of Christ was an atonement or expiation for the

sin of the world: For him hath God set forth to be a PROPITIATION

through FAITH in HIS BLOOD, Ro 3:25.

For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ DIED FOR

the UNGODLY, Ro 5:6.

And when we were ENEMIES, we were RECONCILED to God by the DEATH

of his Son, Ro 5:10.


SINS, Eph 1:7.

Christ hath loved us, and GIVEN HIMSELF FOR US, an OFFERING and a

SACRIFICE to God for a sweet-smelling savour, Eph 5:2.


SINS, Col 1:14.

And having made PEACE THROUGH the BLOOD of his CROSS, in the

BODY of HIS FLESH, through DEATH, Col 1:20, 22.

Who GAVE HIMSELF a RANSOM for all, 1Ti 2:6.

Who GAVE HIMSELF FOR US, that he might REDEEM us from all

iniquity, Tit 2:14.

By which will we are sanctified, through the OFFERING of the BODY

of Jesus Christ, Heb 10:10.

So Christ was once OFFERED TO BEAR THE SINS of many, Heb 9:28.

See also Eph 2:13, 16; 1Pe 1:18, 19; Re 5:9.

But it would be transcribing a very considerable part of the New

Testament to set down all the texts that refer to this most

important and glorious truth.

2. And as his death was an atonement for our sins, so his

resurrection was the proof and pledge of our eternal life.

See 1Co 15:17; 1Pe 1:3; Eph 1:13,14, &c.,&c.

3. The doctrine of justification by faith, which is so nobly

proved in the preceding chapter, is one of the grandest displays

of the mercy of God to mankind. It is so very plain that all may

comprehend it; and so free that all may attain it. What more

simple than this? Thou art a sinner, in consequence condemned to

perdition, and utterly unable to save thy own soul. All are in

the same state with thyself, and no man can give a ransom for the

soul of his neighbour. God, in his mercy, has provided a Saviour

for thee. As thy life was forfeited to death because of thy

transgressions, Jesus Christ has redeemed thy life by giving up

his own; he died in thy stead, and has made an atonement to God

for thy transgressions; and offers thee the pardon he has thus

purchased, on the simple condition, that thou believe that his

death is a sufficient sacrifice, ransom, and oblation for thy sin;

and that thou bring it as such, by confident faith, to the throne

of God, and plead it in thy own behalf there. When thou dost so,

thy faith in that sacrifice shall be imputed to thee for

righteousness; i.e. it shall be the means of receiving that

salvation which Christ has bought by his blood.

4. The doctrine of the imputed righteousness of Christ, as held

by many, will not be readily found in this chapter, where it has

been supposed to exist in all its proofs. It is repeatedly said

that FAITH is imputed for righteousness; but in no place here,

that Christ's obedience to the moral law is imputed to any man.

The truth is, the moral law was broken, and did not now require

obedience; it required this before it was broken; but, after

it was broken, it required death.

Either the sinner must die, or some one in his stead: but

there was none whose death could have been an equivalent for the

transgressions of the world but JESUS CHRIST. Jesus therefore

died for man; and it is through his blood, the merit of his

passion and death, that we have redemption; and not by his

obedience to the moral law in our stead. Our salvation was

obtained at a much higher price. Jesus could not but be righteous

and obedient; this is consequent on the immaculate purity of his

nature: but his death was not a necessary consequent. As the law

of God can claim only the death of a transgressor-for such only

forfeit their right to life-it is the greatest miracle of all that

Christ could die, whose life was never forfeited. Here we see

the indescribable demerit of sin, that it required such a death;

and here we see the stupendous mercy of God, in providing the

sacrifice required. It is therefore by Jesus Christ's death, or

obedience unto death, that we are saved, and not by his fulfilling

any moral law. That he fulfilled the moral law we know; without

which he could not have been qualified to be our mediator; but we

must take heed lest we attribute that to obedience (which was the

necessary consequence of his immaculate nature) which belongs to

his passion and death. These were free-will offerings of eternal

goodness, and not even a necessary consequence of his incarnation.

5. This doctrine of the imputed righteousness of Christ is

capable of great abuse. To say that Christ's personal

righteousness is imputed to every true believer, is not

Scriptural: to say that he has fulfilled all righteousness for us,

or in our stead, if by this is meant his fulfilment of all moral

duties, is neither Scriptural nor true: that he has died in our

stead, is a great, glorious, and Scriptural truth: that there is

no redemption but through his blood is asserted beyond all

contradiction; in the oracles of God. But there are a multitude

of duties which the moral law requires which Christ never

fulfilled in our stead, and never could. We have various duties

of a domestic kind which belong solely to ourselves, in the

relation of parents, husbands, wives, servants, &c., in which

relations Christ never stood. He has fulfilled none of these

duties for us, but he furnishes grace to every true believer to

fulfil them to God's glory, the edification of his neighbour, and

his own eternal profit. The salvation which we receive from God's

free mercy, through Christ, binds us to live in a strict

conformity to the moral law; that law which prescribes our

manners, and the spirit by which they should be regulated, and in

which they should be performed. He who lives not in the due

performance of every Christian duty, whatever faith he may

profess, is either a vile hypocrite, or a scandalous Antinomian.

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