Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible

Romans Ch.4 / 16 Ch.s


* The doctrine of justification by faith is shown by the case of
Abraham. (1-12) He received the promise through the
righteousness of faith. (13-22) And we are justified in the same
way of believing. (23-25)

#1-12 To meet the views of the Jews, the apostle first refers to
the example of Abraham, in whom the Jews gloried as their most
renowned forefather. However exalted in various respects, he had
nothing to boast in the presence of God, being saved by grace,
through faith, even as others. Without noticing the years which
passed before his call, and the failures at times in his
obedience, and even in his faith, it was expressly stated in
Scripture that "he believed God, and it was counted to him for
righteousness," #Ge 15:6|. From this example it is observed,
that if any man could work the full measure required by the law,
the reward must be reckoned as a debt, which evidently was not
the case even of Abraham, seeing faith was reckoned to him for
righteousness. When believers are justified by faith, "their
faith being counted for righteousness," their faith does not
justify them as a part, small or great, of their righteousness;
but as the appointed means of uniting them to Him who has chosen
as the name whereby he shall be called, "the Lord our
Righteousness." Pardoned people are the only blessed people. It
clearly appears from the Scripture, that Abraham was justified
several years before his circumcision. It is, therefore, plain
that this rite was not necessary in order to justification. It
was a sign of the original corruption of human nature. And it
was such a sign as was also an outward seal, appointed not only
to confirm God's promises to him and to his seed, and their
obligation to be the Lord's, but likewise to assure him of his
being already a real partaker of the righteousness of faith.
Thus Abraham was the spiritual forefather of all believers, who
walked after the example of his obedient faith. The seal of the
Holy Spirit in our sanctification, making us new creatures, is
the inward evidence of the righteousness of faith.

#13-22 The promise was made to Abraham long before the law. It
points at Christ, and it refers to the promise, #Ge 12:3|. In
Thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. The law worketh
wrath, by showing that every transgressor is exposed to the
Divine displeasure. As God intended to give men a title to the
promised blessings, so he appointed it to be by faith, that it
might be wholly of grace, to make it sure to all who were of the
like precious faith with Abraham, whether Jews or Gentiles, in
all ages. The justification and salvation of sinners, the taking
to himself the Gentiles who had not been a people, were a
gracious calling of things which are not, as though they were;
and this giving a being to things that were not, proves the
almighty power of God. The nature and power of Abraham's faith
are shown. He believed God's testimony, and looked for the
performance of his promise, firmly hoping when the case seemed
hopeless. It is weakness of faith, that makes a man lie poring
on the difficulties in the way of a promise. Abraham took it not
for a point that would admit of argument or debate. Unbelief is
at the bottom of all our staggerings at God's promises. The
strength of faith appeared in its victory over fears. God
honours faith; and great faith honours God. It was imputed to
him for righteousness. Faith is a grace that of all others gives
glory to God. Faith clearly is the instrument by which we
receive the righteousness of God, the redemption which is by
Christ; and that which is the instrument whereby we take or
receive it, cannot be the thing itself, nor can it be the gift
thereby taken and received. Abraham's faith did not justify him
by its own merit or value, but as giving him a part in Christ.

#23-25 The history of Abraham, and of his justification, was
recorded to teach men of after-ages; those especially to whom
the gospel was then made known. It is plain, that we are not
justified by the merit of our own works, but by faith in Jesus
Christ and his righteousness; which is the truth urged in this
and the foregoing chapter, as the great spring and foundation of
all comfort. Christ did meritoriously work our justification and
salvation by his death and passion, but the power and perfection
thereof, with respect to us, depend on his resurrection. By his
death he paid our debt, in his resurrection he received our
acquittance, #Isa 53:8|. When he was discharged, we, in Him and
together with Him, received the discharge from the guilt and
punishment of all our sins. This last verse is an abridgement or
summary of the whole gospel.