What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, has found?…
We have just seen in last chapter the utility of Judaism, the universal depravity of the race, the new channel for Divine righteousness which had consequently to be found, and the confirmation of law which is secured by faith. The apostle in the present chapter illustrates his argument from the history of Abraham. He was reckoned by the Jews as "father of the faithful;" his case is, therefore, a crucial one. Accordingly, Paul begins by asking, "What shall we then say that Abraham, our forefather, hath found, as pertaining to the flesh?" By this is meant virtually this: "What merit before God did Abraham acquire in the use of his natural human faculties, or, in other words, by his own works?" (cf. Shedd, in loc.). Now, to this a negative answer is expected; and, as if it had been supplied, Paul goes on to state the case thus: "For if Abraham were justified by works, he has a subject for glorification; but, vis-a-vis, of God, he has no reason for glorification." This he proceeds to show from the history. Now, there are three things mentioned in this chapter which Abraham got, and in each case it was by exercising faith. These were righteousness (vers. 3-12), inheritance (vers. 13-17), and a seed (vers. 18-25). Let us direct our attention to these in their order.
1. ABRAHAM RECEIVED RIGHTEOUSNESS THROUGH FAITH. (Vers. 3-12.) The apostle begins here with a scriptural quotation; it is from Genesis 15:6, to the effect that "Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness." We see from the context in Genesis that what Abraham believed was that God's promise about a Seed who would prove a blessing to all nations would yet be fulfilled. He bettered God's naked promise, and looked forward prophetically to his Seed as the medium of universal blessing. His faith was thus fixed in a Seed of promise - in Christ to come. Now, this act of faith without works was "reckoned unto him" (Revised Version) for righteousness. Because of this act of faith, he was regarded by God as having fulfilled the Law and secured righteousness through a perfect obedience. Such a reckoning of righteousness to Abraham's credit was a great act of grace upon God's part. Assuming for the moment that God could justly reckon faith for righteousness, it must be regarded as a gracious gift on the part of God. But the apostle would leave us in no doubt as to the principle involved. One who trusts in his works for acceptance claims reward as a debt; he who trusts, not in his works, but in his God for justification, receives reward as a matter, not of debt, but of grace. This was Abraham's exact position. And David follows his father Abraham in this respect, celebrating in the Psalms the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works; saying, "Blessed arc they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not reckon sin" (Revised Version). Abraham and David had by faith entered into that blissful position where God not only was felt to forgive them all their iniquities and to cover all their sin, but also would not reckon sin unto them. It was as if they had been transfigured before God into men innocent of all sin. The past was cancelled, and they stood before God accepted as righteous in his sight. But this is not all. The apostle points out particularly that this pardon and acceptance of Abraham on the ground of his faith happened before his circumcision. As a matter of fact, it happened fourteen years before. So that circumcision could constitute no ground of acceptance. It was simply a divinely appointed sign and seal of the previously imputed righteousness. Accordingly, Abraham was in a position to be the father of uncircumcised believers or of circumcised believers, as the case may be; showing us at once faith as exercised in uncircumcision with its resultant righteousness, and faith also exercised after his circumcision with its continued justification.
II. ABRAHAM RECEIVED AS INHERITANCE THROUGH FAITH. (Vers. 13-17.) Now we have to observe that Abraham received net only righteousness through faith, but also an inheritance. As a matter of fact, he became "heir of the world." We must not restrict justification, therefore, to deliverance from deserved penalty, but must attach to it the further idea of inheritance. As one writer has well remarked, "Justification is a term applicable to something more than the discharge of an accused person without condemnation. As in our courts of law there are civil as well as criminal cases; so it was in old time; and a large number of the passages adduced seem to refer to trials of the latter description, in which some question of property, right, or inheritance was under discussion between the two parties. The judge, by justifying one of the parties, decided that the property in question was to be regarded as his. Applying this aspect of the matter to the justification of man in the sight of God, we gather from Scripture that whilst through sin man is to be regarded as having forfeited legal claim to any right or inheritance which God might have to bestow upon his creatures, so through justification he is restored to his high position and regarded as an heir of God.' Now, this designation of Abraham to the heirship of the world was at the same time as the reckoning to him of righteousness. The Law afterwards given to his posterity had nothing to do with this inheritance. It came solely through faith. It was the gift of Divine grace signalizing the patriarch's trust in God as faithful Promiser. Hence the patriarch was called the "father of many nations," because he felt assured that God, who raiseth the dead and quickeneth them, could give him through his seed the inheritance of the world. In the universal triumph of righteousness, the believing descendants of Abraham, whether Jew or Gentile, should "inherit the earth"
III. ABRAHAM RECEIVED A SEED THROUGH FAITH, (Vers. 18-25.) Now, the inheritance centred itself, as the history shows us, in a "seed of promise," and for years this was unlikely. Abraham is ninety and nine, and Sarah ninety, before the promised seed is given. For a quarter of a century it seemed hopeless; but the patriarch hoped against hope, and eventually the God who can raise the dead granted to Sarah's dead womb a living son of promise. Here was the strength of the patriarch's faith in hoping in spite of all appearances. We have thus set before us in Abraham's case, as received through faith alone, righteousness, inheritance, and a seed of promise. But the apostle at once reminds us that all this is written for us also, to whom the same righteousness and the same inheritance shall be secured if we exercise the same faith. And the analogy he traces out in the closing verses is very striking. Jesus, the Seed of Abraham, lay for a season in Joseph's tomb. He was to all appearances hopelessly dead. But God raised him from the dead, just as he had brought Isaac from the dead womb of Sarah. In the God who can thus "call those things which be not as though they were" we ought to believe. Let us believe in the Father who raised Christ from the dead; and then we can rejoice in the two great facts, that Jesus was delivered because of our offences unto death, and then raised out of death as the sign of our justification. Christ's resurrection is thus seen to be the sign and pledge of our personal justification. May we enter into all these privileges through the exercise of faith! - R.M.E.
Parallel VersesKJV: What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?