What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?
Romans 3:31; Romans 4
A Crucial Case.
I. It was by his faith Abraham was justified, not by his works of obedience. Paul's proof of this is very simple. He finds a remarkable proof-text ready to his hand in Genesis 15:16. On God's side there was simply a word announcing the promises of His grace; on the man's side simply a devout and childlike reliance upon that word. God asked no more; and the man had no more to give. His mere trust in God the Promiser was held to be adequate as a ground for that sinful man's acceptance into favour, friendship, and league with the eternal Jehovah.
II. Abraham was justified by his faith, not as a circumcised man, but as an uncircumcised. It lies in the very idea of acceptance through faith, that wherever faith is present there God will accept the sinner apart from every other circumstance, such as nationality, or an external rite, or Church privilege, or the like. If faith saves a man, then faith must save every man who has it. Abraham was a justified man as soon as he was a believer, not as soon as he was circumcised. And the design of such an arrangement was to make him the true type and spiritual progenitor of all believers. The only people whom his experience fails to embrace are those Jews who are circumcised but not believing, who trust in their lineage and in their covenant badge and their keeping of the law, expecting to be saved for their meritorious observance of prescribed rules, but who in the free and gracious promises of Abraham's God put no trust at all.
III. It turns out now that, instead of St. Paul being an apostate or disloyal Jew for admitting believing Gentiles to an equal place in the favour of Israel's God, it is his self-righteous countryman, who monopolises Divine grace, and will have no Gentile to be saved unless he has first become a circumcised observer of Moses' law, that is really false to the original idea of the Abrahamic covenant. All who have faith, whatever their race, are blessed with faithful Abraham; and he, says Paul, writing to a Gentile Church, is the father of us all.
J. Oswald Dykes, The Gospel according to St. Paul, p. 99.
References: Romans 3:31.—Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 25. 3—Expositor, 1st series, vol. iii., p. 215. Romans 4:1-9.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 249. Romans 4:3.—J. G. Rogers, Christian World Pulpit, vol. v., p. 121. Romans 4:6-9.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 248. Romans 4:7.—Ibid., p. 248. Romans 4:9.—Ibid., p. 258. Romans 4:9-11.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. vi., p. 10.
Romans 4:11The Call of Abraham.
Mark some characteristics of the faith of Abraham.
I. It is the faith not which conceives great things and works for them, but which places itself as an instrument in God's hands and lets Him work through it. It is the faith of martyrs, of men who have not seen that they were doing anything heroic, anything that would change the course of history, only that they were doing their duty, doing it as they could not choose but do. The greatest movers of mankind have felt and delighted to feel that they were being used; that they spoke and acted because they must; that they were working out another's purpose—a purpose larger than their own.
II. It was the faith which was specially suited to him who was to be the father of the chosen people—the father in a yet larger sense of all that believe. It was the faith which could wait through long generations, clinging still to the promise, though so dimly understood, of great blessing for the race, and through it for mankind, content in the meantime to suffer if it must be, to wander in the wilderness, to be as a little flock among wolves, to be trampled down, carried into captivity, the faith growing ever brighter in times of darkest calamity, and more assured, more spiritual. It was the faith which could receive God's gradual revelation of Himself and of His purposes; the open ear which in each age would meet God's voice as Samuel met it—"Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth"; for ever learning, seeing one interpretation after another of ancient prophecies fail and pass away, yet waiting, listening, receiving, till the full satisfaction came, till the consolation of Israel dawned on it. Remember that the call of Abraham was the beginning of true religion in the world—of religion with a hope, a progress. Every new book of the Bible marks an onward movement.
III. This faith of Abraham—the faith which acts upon a trusted voice, which does not need to see its way even with the eye of imagination, which takes God at His word and waits His time—is the faith which is not beyond our imitation, and which, if we will, may be the hope and stay of our own lives.
E. C. Wickham, Wellington College Sermons, p. 15.
References: Romans 4:13.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iv., p. 84. Romans 4:16.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiii., No. 1347; Homilist, new series, vol. iii., p. 177; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ix., p. 338. Romans 4:17.—Fraser, Ibid., vol. vii., p. 105. Romans 4:18, Romans 4:19.—Expositor, 1st series, vol. ix., pp. 215, 392. Romans 4:19-21.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiii., No. 733. Romans 4:19-22.—W. Hubbard, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvi., p. 26. Romans 4:20.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiii., No. 1367; Ibid., Morning by Morning, p. 79; R. S. Candlish, Sermons, p. 105.
Romans 4:20-21Religious faith Rational.
To hear some men speak (I mean men who scoff at religion), it might be thought we never acted on faith and trust except in religious matters, whereas we are acting on trust every hour of our lives. When faith is said to be a religious principle it is the things believed, not the act of believing them, which is peculiar to religion.
I. It is obvious that we trust to our memory. We do not now witness what we saw yesterday, yet we have no doubt it took place in the way we remember. Again, when we use reasoning, and are convinced of anything by reasoning, what is it but that we trust the general soundness of our reasoning powers? And observe that we continually trust our memories and our reasoning powers in this way, though they often deceive us. This is worth observing, because it is sometimes said that we cannot be certain that our faith in religion is not a mistake. In all practical matters we are obliged to dwell upon not what may be possibly, but what is likely to be. When we come to examine the subject, it will be found that, strictly speaking, we know little more than that we exist, and that there is an unseen power whom we are bound to obey. Beyond this we must trust; and first our senses, memory, and reasoning powers; then other authorities; so that, in fact, almost all we do every day of our lives is on trust, i.e., faith.
II. It is easy to show that, even considering faith in the sense of reliance on the words of another, it is no irrational or strange principle of conduct in the concerns of this life. For when we consider the subject attentively, how few things there are which we can ascertain for ourselves by our own senses and reason! After all, what do we know without trusting others? The world could not go on without trust. Distrust, want of faith, breaks the very bonds of human society. Now then, shall we account it only rational for a man, when he is ignorant, to believe his fellow-man, nay, to yield to another's judgment as better than his own, and yet think it against reason when one, like Abraham, gives ear to the word of God, and sets the promise of God above his own short-sighted expectation? If we but obey God strictly, in time faith will become like sight: we shall have no more difficulty in finding what will please God than in moving our limbs, or in understanding the conversation of our familiar friends. This is the blessedness of confirmed obedience.
J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. i., p. 190.
References: Romans 4:21.—Silver, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 397. Romans 4:22.—J. Irons, Ibid., vol. xi., p. 161. Romans 4:23-25.—W. Hubbard, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvi., p. 42.
Romans 4:25Christ Risen our Justification.
I. These two gifts of our Lord, Atonement and Justification, are laid down by St. Paul distinctly as the fruits of His death and His resurrection. "Who was delivered for our offences," to atone for them; "was raised again for our justification," to justify us. What Christ purchased for us by His death He giveth us through His life. It is our living Lord who imparts to us the fruits of His own death. He hath the keys of death and hell by virtue of His life from death. As truly, then, as the death of Christ was the true remission of our sins, though not yet imparted to us, so truly was His resurrection our true justification, imparting to us the efficacy of His death and justifying us, or making us righteous in the sight of God.
II. The joy and gift of our Easter festival is our risen Lord Himself. To the Church it is yearly true, "The Lord hath risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon." Before, all was laid up for us, but we had it not. By the resurrection is the gift of the Spirit and engrafting into Him; by it is forgiveness of sin, and removal of punishment, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, and adoption as sons and brotherhood with Christ, yea, oneness with Him, and eternal inheritance, because all these are in Him, and by it we become partakers of Him and of all which is His. Yea, this is the bliss of our festivals, that they not only shadow out a likeness and conformity between the Head and the members, our Redeemer and us on whom His name is called, but there is through the power of His Cross and resurrection a real inworked conformity, a substance and reality. "Whatever," says St. Augustine, "was wrought in the Cross of Christ, in His burial, in His resurrection on the third day, in His ascension into heaven and sitting down at the right hand of the Father, was so wrought, that by these actions, not words only, of mystical meaning, should be figured out the Christian life enacted here below. We have been made partakers of His precious death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, for where He is, there are we, in pledge and earnest, if we be His; thence He looks down upon us, fixing our failing eyes to look up to Him; thence, by the secret sympathy between the Head and the members, He draws us upward with longing to be like Him: the firstfruits of our spirit are already there; and He is with us, raising what yet lingereth here; we are with Him there, since, if we be His, we are in Him; He is with us here, for by His Spirit He dwelleth in us, if we love Him."
E. B. Pusey, Sermons, vol. i., p. 214.
Romans 4:25These words are the answer to the question which would naturally arise from the perusal of the history of the death and passion of Jesus Christ. "He was delivered on account of our offences." Men's sins were the cause of the sufferings and death of the sinless Son of God.
I. We read the history of those awful hours during which was transacted the mighty work of a world's redemption, and we are moved with indignation against the various actors in the melancholy scene. But, after all, and without at all extenuating their guilt, these were not the real crucifiers of the Lord of life, or, if they were, it was but as instruments, free indeed, and therefore responsible instruments, but only instruments by whom a death was inflicted, whose cause lay far deeper than their malice or their fears. Without this course the rage of His enemies would have been impotent against the Son of God. For each one of us, for our own individual sins, that sacrifice was offered on the cross. Our waywardness, our rebellion, our acts of injustice, or dishonesty, our false, profane, angry, and slanderous words, these were the crucifiers of the Son of God.
II. If our sins were the cause of Christ's suffering, the emotions which should be awakened in our breast should surely be: (1) A fear of sin. With the awful and mysterious declaration of the text before our eyes, what possible hope of escape can we have if we continue in sin? (2) Another habitual feeling which the great truth of the text should leave in our hearts is a hatred for sin. Many reasons have we, indeed, to hate sin, for it is the degradation of our race, the cause of all our sufferings, and the peril of our everlasting future; and the more we are taught by God's Spirit to see the beauty of holiness, and to love the just and the pure and the true, the more we shall hate sin for its own sake, its moral deformity, and its enmity to God and to good. (3) But while fear and hatred of sin should accompany a belief in the atonement, the truth should be embraced by a trusting and cheerful faith. The mysterious greatness of the sacrifice offered when Christ suffered magnifies the Divine justice and the guilt of sin. It also demonstrates the infinitude of God's mercy. (4) The atonement thus embraced by faith should be the root and spring of a loving obedience. The highest conceivable instance of God's love, it should enkindle in our hearts the love of God.
Bishop Jackson, Penny Pulpit, No. 354.
I. How was it possible to make men feel that they are something quite different from brute beasts, that they were not animals, clever and more cunning than all other animals, that might is not right, self-control not a folly? Or how is it possible to prove that man is not a mere perishing animal that dies, and then there is an end of him? The world of Greece and Rome had come to the blank conclusion that there was no hope, no life worth living. There are plenty of people living now who have inherited instincts from centuries of Christian forefathers, and who are still influenced by Christian customs and traditions, and thus go on as they have been used to do, but who live in blank hopelessness as to the future. How shall it be possible to prove to them now that in every soul of man is the imperishableness of the Divine? Philosophy cannot do it—it is simply silent. Science cannot do it—it is outside her province. Read the philosophies of the would-be philosophers, and you will despair, as centuries ago men despaired. They do not touch the greater hope. And so there sets in the struggle of the day between all the now long-inherited Christian instincts of the race, all the unsuppressed divinely given instincts of the man, against the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil.
II. In this struggle we need a reinforcement of power. It is to be found in the truths of which Good Friday and Easter are the witnesses. Christ died that there might be no part of our experience peculiar to ourselves, that He might show that He was very man. He rose to show that death was not the end of all things; and He went into heaven that He might show by His visible rising what will in some form happen also to us. And all for this reason, and to teach us for ever that the interval is bridged over completely from man to God. This vast interval He traversed twice: He came down from God to man, He went up from man to God. He was Himself and is Himself, God and man. The chain is complete from heaven to earth. Since Christ came man knows that he is not a mere animal—he is by his affinities Divine. He walks the earth a new creature. See, says the history of Jesus Christ, the chain is already complete that connects man with God. If the chain reaches down till its lower end is lost in molecular forces, it reaches up till its upper end is lost in the glory of the throne of God, and in the Divine person of Jesus Christ, who has shown us the perfection of God.
J. M. Wilson, Sermons in Clifton College Chapel, p. 155.
References: Romans 4:25.—Clergyman's Magazine, new series, vol. ii., p. 213; Bishop Moorhouse, Church of England Pulpit, vol. i., p. 108.
For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.
For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,
Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.
Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.
How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.
And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also:
And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.
For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.
For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect:
Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.
Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all,
(As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.
Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations; according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be.
And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara's womb:
He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God;
And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.
And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.
Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him;
But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead;
Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.