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Romans Chapter Four


Romans 4

In dealing with the Jew, and even in dealing with the question of righteousness, there was, besides the law, another consideration of great weight both with the Jews themselves and in the dealings of God. What of Abraham, called of God to be the parent-stock, the father of the faithful? The apostle, therefore, after having set forth the relation in which faith stood towards the law by the introduction of the righteousness of God, takes up the question of the ground on which Abraham was placed as well-pleasing to God in righteousness. For the Jew might have admitted his personal failure under the law, and pleaded the enjoyment of privilege under Abraham. If we consider him then thus according to the flesh (that is, in connection with the privileges that descended from him as inheritance for his children) and take our place under him in the line of succession to enjoy those privileges, on what principle does this set us? On the same principle of faith. He would have had something to boast of if he was justified by works; but before God it was not so. For the scriptures say, "Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not counted of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him who justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." For thereby, in fact, he glorifies God in the way that God desires to be glorified, and according to the revelation He has made of Himself in Christ.

Thus the testimony borne by Abraham's case is to justification by faith. David also supports this testimony and speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom righteousness is imputed without works. He whose iniquities are pardoned, whose sins are covered, to whom the Lord does not impute sin-he is the man whom David calls blessed. But this supposed man to be a sinner and not righteous in himself. It was a question of what God was in grace to such a one, and not of what he was to God, or rather when he was a sinner. His blessedness was that God did not impute to him the sins he had committed, not that he was righteous in himself before God. Righteousness for man was found in the grace of God. Here it is identified with non-imputation of sins to man, guilty through committing them. No sin is imputed.

Was then this righteousness for the circumcision only? Now our thesis is, that God counted Abraham to be righteous by faith. But was he circumcised when this took place? Not so; he was uncircumcised. Righteousness then is by faith, and for the uncircumcised through faith-a testimony that was overwhelming to a Jew, because Abraham was the beau ideal to which all his ideas of excellence and of privilege referred. Circumcision was only a seal to the righteousness by faith which Abraham possessed in uncircumcision, that he might be the father of all believers who were in the same state of uncircumcision, that righteousness might be imputed to them also; and the father of circumcision-that is, the first model of a people truly set apart for God-not only with regard to the circumcised, but to all those who should walk in the steps of his faith when uncircumcised. For, after all, the promise that he should be heir of the world was not made to Abraham nor to his seed in connection with the law, but with righteousness by faith. For if they who are on the principle of law are heirs, the faith by which Abraham received it is vain, and the promise made of none effect; [1] for, on the contrary, the law produces wrath-and that is a very different thing from bringing into the enjoyment of a promise-for where there is no law there is no transgression. Observe, he does not say there is no sin; but where there is no commandment, there is none to violate. Now, the law being given to a sinner, wrath is necessarily the consequence of its imposition.

This is the negative side of the subject. The apostle shews that with regard to the Jews themselves, the inheritance could not be on the principle of law without setting Abraham aside, for to him the inheritance had been given by promise, and this implied that it was by faith: for we believe in a promise, we do not ourselves fulfil a promise that has been made to us. Accordingly the righteousness of Abraham was-according to scripture-through this same faith. It was imputed to him for righteousness.

This principle admitted the Gentiles; but here it is established with regard to the Jews themselves or rather with regard to the ways of God, in such a manner as to exclude the law as a means of obtaining the inheritance of God. The consequence with regard to Gentiles believing the gospel is stated in verse 16, "Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace, to the end that the promise might be sure to all the seed" of Abraham to whom the promise was made; not to that only which was under the law, but to all that had the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all before God, as it is written, "I have made thee a father of many nations."

Thus we have the great principle established. It is by faith, before and [2]; and the promise is made to man in uncircumcision, and he is justified by believing it.

Another element is now introduced. Humanly speaking, the fulfilment of the promise was impossible, for in that respect both Abraham and Sarah were as dead, and the promise must be believed in against all hope, resting on the almighty power of Him who raises the dead, and calls things that are not as though they were. This was Abraham's faith. He believed the promise that he should be the father of many nations, because God had spoken, counting on the power of God, thus glorifying Him, without calling in question anything that He had said by looking at circumstances; therefore this also was counted to him for righteousness. He glorified God according to what God was. Now, this was not written for his sake alone the same faith shall be imputed to us also for righteousness-faith in God as having raised up Jesus from the dead. It is not here faith in Jesus, but in Him who came in power into the domain of death, where Jesus lay because of our sins, and brought Him forth by His power, the mighty activity of the love of God who brought Him-who had already borne all the punishment of our sins-out from under all their consequences; so that, by believing God who has done this, we embrace the whole extent of His work, the grace and the power displayed in it; and we thus know God. Our God is the God who has done this. He has Himself raised up Jesus from among the dead, who was delivered for our offences and raised again for our justification. Our sins were already upon Him. The active intervention of God delivered Him who lay in death because He had borne them. It is not only a resurrection of the dead, but from among the dead-the intervention of God to bring forth in righteousness the One who had glorified Him. By believing in such a God we understand that it is Himself who, in raising Christ from among the dead, has delivered us Himself from all that our sins had subjected us to; because He has brought back in delivering power Him who underwent it for our sakes.


[1] The careful reader of Paul's epistles must attend to the use of this word "for." In very many cases it does not express an inference, but turns to some collateral subject which, in the apostle's mind, would lead to the same conclusion, or some deeper general principle, which lay at the groundwork of the argument, enlarging the sphere of vision in things connected with it.

[2] ('chooris nomou', Lit: "apart from law," which had nothing to do with it.

── John DarbySynopsis of Romans


Romans 4

Chapter Contents

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)

Commentary on Romans 4:1-12

(Read Romans 4:1-12)

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," Genesis 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.

Commentary on Romans 4:13-22

(Read Romans 4:13-22)

The promise was made to Abraham long before the law. It points at Christ, and it refers to the promise, Genesis 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.

Commentary on Romans 4:23-25

(Read Romans 4:23-25)

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, Isaiah 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.

── Matthew HenryConcise Commentary on Romans


Romans 4

Verse 1

[1] What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?

That our father Abraham hath found — Acceptance with God.

According to the flesh — That is, by works.

Verse 2

[2] For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.

The meaning is, If Abraham had been justified by works, he would have had room to glory. But he had not room to glory. Therefore he was not justified by works.

Verse 3

[3] For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.

Abraham believed God — That promise of God concerning the numerousness of his seed, Genesis 15:5,7; but especially the promise concerning Christ, Genesis 12:3, through whom all nations should be blessed.

And it was imputed to him for righteousness — God accepted him as if he had been altogether righteous. Genesis 15:6.

Verse 4

[4] Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.

Now to him that worketh — All that the law requires, the reward is no favour, but an absolute debt. These two examples are selected and applied with the utmost judgment and propriety. Abraham was the most illustrious pattern of piety among the Jewish patriarchs. David was the most eminent of their kings. If then neither of these was justified by his own obedience, if they both obtained acceptance with God, not as upright beings who might claim it, but as sinful creatures who must implore it, the consequence is glaring It is such as must strike every attentive understanding, and must affect every individual person.

Verse 5

[5] But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

But to him that worketh not — It being impossible he should without faith.

But believeth, his faith is imputed to him for righteousness — Therefore God's affirming of Abraham, that faith was imputed to him for righteousness, plainly shows that he worked not; or, in other words, that he was not justified by works, but by faith only. Hence we see plainly how groundless that opinion is, that holiness or sanctification is previous to our justification. For the sinner, being first convinced of his sin and danger by the Spirit of God, stands trembling before the awful tribunal of divine justice ; and has nothing to plead, but his own guilt, and the merits of a Mediator. Christ here interposes; justice is satisfied; the sin is remitted, and pardon is applied to the soul, by a divine faith wrought by the Holy Ghost, who then begins the great work of inward sanctification. Thus God justifies the ungodly, and yet remains just, and true to all his attributes! But let none hence presume to "continue in sin;" for to the impenitent, God "is a consuming fire." On him that justifieth the ungodly - If a man could possibly be made holy before he was justified, it would entirely set his justification aside; seeing he could not, in the very nature of the thing, be justified if he were not, at that very time, ungodly.

Verse 6

[6] Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,

So David also — David is fitly introduced after Abraham, because be also received and delivered down the promise.

Affirmeth — A man is justified by faith alone, and not by works. Without works-That is, without regard to any former good works supposed to have been done by him.

Verse 7

[7] Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.

Happy are they whose sins are covered — With the veil of divine mercy. If there be indeed such a thing as happiness on earth, it is the portion of that man whose iniquities are forgiven, and who enjoys the manifestation of that pardon. Well may he endure all the afflictions of life with cheerfulness, and look upon death with comfort. O let us not contend against it, but earnestly pray that this happiness may be ours! Psalms 32:1,2.

Verse 9

[9] Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.

This happiness — Mentioned by Abraham and David.

On the circumcision — Those that are circumcised only.

Faith was imputed to Abraham for righteousness — This is fully consistent with our being justified, that is, pardoned and accepted by God upon our believing, for the sake of what Christ hath done and suffered. For though this, and this alone, be the meritorious cause of our acceptance with God, yet faith may be said to be "imputed to us for righteousness," as it is the sole condition of our acceptance. We may observe here, forgiveness, not imputing sin, and imputing righteousness, are all one.

Verse 10

[10] How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.

Not in circumcision — Not after he was circumcised; for he was justified before Ishmael was born, Genesis 15:1-21; but he was not circumcised till Ishmael was thirteen years old, Genesis 17:25.

Verse 11

[11] 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 — After he was justified.

He received the sign of circumcision — Circumcision, which was a sign or token of his being in covenant with God.

A seal — An assurance on God's part, that he accounted him righteous, upon his believing, before he was circumcised.

Who believe in uncircumcision — That is, though they are not circumcised.

Verse 12

[12] 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.

And the father of the circumcision — Of those who are circumcised, and believe as Abraham did. To those who believe not, Abraham is not a father, neither are they his seed.

Verse 13

[13] 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.

The promise, that he should be the heir of the world — Is the same as that he should be "the father of all nations," namely, of those in all nations who receive the blessing. The whole world was promised to him and them conjointly. Christ is the heir of the world, and of all things; and so are all Abraham's seed, all that believe in him with the faith of Abraham

Verse 14

[14] For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect:

If they only who are of the law — Who have kept the whole law.

Are heirs, faith is made void — No blessing being to be obtained by it; and so the promise is of no effect.

Verse 15

[15] Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.

Because the law — Considered apart from that grace, which though it was in fact mingled with it, yet is no part of the legal dispensation, is so difficult, and we so weak and sinful, that, instead of bringing us a blessing, it only worketh wrath; it becomes to us an occasion of wrath, and exposes us to punishment as transgressors. Where there is no law in force, there can be no transgression of it.

Verse 16

[16] 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,

Therefore it — The blessing.

Is of faith, that it might be of grace — That it might appear to flow from the free love of God, and that the promise might be firm, sure, and effectual, to all the spiritual seed of Abraham; not only Jews, but gentiles also, if they follow his faith.

Verse 17

[17] (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.

Before God — Though before men nothing of this appeared, those nations being then unborn.

As quickening the dead — The dead are not dead to him and even the things that are not, are before God.

And calling the things that are not — Summoning them to rise into being, and appear before him. The seed of Abraham did not then exist; yet God said, "So shall thy seed be." A man can say to his servant actually existing, Do this; and he doeth it: but God saith to the light, while it does not exist, Go forth; and it goeth. Genesis 17:5.

Verse 18-21

[18] 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. [19] 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: [20] He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; [21] And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.

The Apostle shows the power and excellence of that faith to which he ascribes justification.

Who against hope — Against all probability, believed and hoped in the promise. The same thing is apprehended both by faith and hope; by faith, as a thing which God has spoken; by hope, as a good thing which God has promised to us.

So shall thy seed be — Both natural and spiritual, as the stars of heaven for multitude. Genesis 15:5.

Verse 23

[23] Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him;

On his account only — To do personal honour to him.

Verse 24

[24] But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead;

But on ours also — To establish us in seeking justification by faith, and not by works; and to afford a full answer to those who say that, " to be justified by works means only, by Judaism; to be justified by faith means, by embracing Christianity, that is, the system of doctrines so called." Sure it is that Abraham could not in this sense be justified either by faith or by works; and equally sure that David (taking the words thus) was justified by works, and not by faith.

Who raised up Jesus from the dead — As he did in a manner both Abraham and Sarah.

If we believe on him who raised up Jesus — God the Father therefore is the proper object of justifying faith. It is observable, that St. Paul here, in speaking both of our faith and of the faith of Abraham, puts a part for the whole. And he mentions that part, with regard to Abraham, which would naturally affect the Jews most.

Verse 25

[25] Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.

Who was delivered — To death.

For our offences — As an atonement for them.

And raised for our justification — To empower us to receive that atonement by faith.

── John WesleyExplanatory Notes on Romans


Chapter 4. Abraham

By Grace
Not by Works

I. The Example of Righteousness by Faith

  1. Credit as Righteousness by Believing in God
  2. Never Count Against Him
  3. Blessed are the Righteous

II. Not by Observing the Law

  1. Before Circumcision
  2. A Seal of Faith
  3. Become Heirs

III. The Faith of Abraham

  1. The Object of Faith
  2. The Principle of Faith
  3. The Expansion of Faith
── Chih-Hsin ChangAn Outline of The New Testament
Chapter Four General Review
1) To understand how Abraham was justified in God's sight
2) To see that the "righteousness" God imputes to man is actually
   justification (i.e., forgiveness)
3) To comprehend the nature of justifying faith by considering the
   example of Abraham
Now that he has declared that God's righteousness is to be found in a
system involving justification by faith and not by keeping the works of 
any law, Paul proceeds to provide evidence by referring to Abraham's 
example.  In considering the justification of Abraham, Paul quotes
Genesis 15:6 where it is stated that Abraham's faith was accounted to
him for righteousness (1-3).  Abraham trusted in God, not in his own
works, and through such faith experienced the righteousness
(forgiveness) expressed by David in Psalms 31:1,2 (4-8).
To demonstrate further that God's righteousness by faith is offered to 
both Jew and Gentile, Paul again appeals to the example of Abraham.  He 
reminds them that Abraham's faith was accounted for righteousness prior 
to receiving circumcision, which was in itself a seal of the
righteousness of the faith he had while uncircumcised.  Thus Abraham
serves as a father of all who believe, whether circumcised or not
Paul then reminds them that the promise that Abraham was to be "a 
father of many nations" was given in light of his faith, not through 
some law, so that the promise might be according to grace and sure to
those who have the same kind of faith as Abraham (13-17).
Finally, the nature of Abraham's obedient faith is illustrated (18-22), 
with the explanation it was preserved to reassure us that we who have 
the same kind faith in God who raised Jesus will find our faith
accounted for righteousness in the same way (23-25).
      1. If by works, then he could boast (1-2)
      2. The Scriptures reveal it was by his faith in God (3)
         a. One who trusts in works, seeks God's debt, not His grace
         b. But when one trusts in God to justify him, such faith is
            counted for righteousness (5)
      1. Even David spoke of God imputing righteousness apart from
         works (6)
      2. Blessed are those against whom God does not impute sins (7-8)
      1. His faith was counted for righteousness before he was
         circumcised (9-10)
      2. Circumcision was a seal of the righteousness he had while
         uncircumcised (11a)
      3. Thus he became the father of all who have the same kind of
         faith, both circumcised and uncircumcised (11b-12)
      1. The promise to be the heir of the world given in view of his
         faith (13)
      2. It was not given through law (14-15)
      3. But in light of faith, according to grace, to assure that all
         who are of the same faith as Abraham might be heirs of the
         promise (16-17)
      4. The kind of obedient faith illustrated by Abraham (18-22)
      5. Abraham's justification by faith assures that we who believe
         in Him who raised Jesus from the dead shall find justification
impute - "to reckon, take into account, or, metaphorically, to put down
          to a person's account"
righteousness - as used in this chapter, the idea seems to be akin that
                of "justification", where one is declared "not guilty"
                (see Romans 4:5-8)
1) List the main points of this chapter
   - Justification Of Abraham As An Example (1-8)
   - Righteousness By Faith Available To All Believers (9-25)
2) How did Abraham attain righteousness? (3-5)
   - By believing in God to justify the ungodly (and not in his own
3) How does David describe the righteousness which is imputed to man?
   - In the sense that man's sins are not counted against him 
4) How is Abraham the father of the uncircumcised who possess faith?
   - By his being justified by faith prior to his circumcision
5) Based upon what was the promise made to Abraham? (13)
   - The righteousness of faith
6) How did Abraham demonstrate his faith? (19-21)
   - By fathering Isaac
7) For whose sake was the example of Abraham's faith written? (23-24)
   - Those who believe that God raised Jesus from the dead


--《Executable Outlines


The Steps of Abraham’s Faith (v.12)

Observe that it does not say—‘who walk in the steps of our father Abraham’, for sometimes he took false and wrong steps, but ’who walk in the steps of that Faith of our father Abraham’ see Heb. 13:7

1 Step number One—Leaving all for God Gen.12:5; Heb. 11:8

2 Step number two—Leaving all with God Gen. 13:9, 14

3 Step number tree—Finding all in God Gen. 15:1

4 Step number four—Yielding all to God gen. 22:16



By Grace

Not by Works


I.  The Example of Righteousness by Faith

1.    Credit as Righteousness by Believing in God

2.    Never Count Against Him

3.    Blessed are the Righteous

II.Not by Observing the Law

1.    Before Circumcision

2.    A Seal of Faith

3.    Become Heirs

III.       The Faith of Abraham

1.    The Object of Faith

2.    The Principle of Faith

3.    The Expansion of Faith

-- Chih-Hsin ChangAn Outline of The New Testament