Romans 4:4
Now to him that works is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(4) This, then (the righteousness attributed to Abraham), was an act of grace on the part of God, and not of merit on the part of man. It therefore carries with it no ground of boasting.

The proposition is put in a general form. Those who base their claim on works have a right to their reward. It is not conceded to them by any sort of imputation, but is their desert. On the other hand (Romans 4:5), those who rely only upon faith, even though ungodly themselves, have righteousness imputed to them. This latter was Abraham’s case, and not the former. (The specific application to Abraham is not expressed, but implied.)

The reward.—Literally, his wages. The relation between what he receives and what he does is that of wages for work done. He can claim it, if need be, in a court of law. There is in it no element of grace, or favour, or concession.

Romans 4:4-5. Now to him that worketh — All that the law requires; is the reward not reckoned of grace — Or mere favour; but of debt — It is due to his merit. Not that God can properly and strictly be a debtor to any creature, in respect of communicative justice; but if man had continued in that state of holiness wherein he was made, that he should have been esteemed righteous, and have continued in God’s favour and lived, would have been according to the rules of distributive justice. But to him that worketh not — In the sense above explained, who can by no means pretend to have wrought all righteousness; but — Conscious of his sinfulness and guilt, and of his utter inability to justify himself before God; believeth on him — Who, in his great grace, justifieth the ungodly person, when he truly repents and returns to God; his faith is counted — Or placed to his account; for righteousness — He is graciously accepted, and treated by God as if he were perfectly righteous. 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 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 satisfaction. 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.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, 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.Now to him that worketh ... - This passage is not to be understood as affirming that any actually have worked out their salvation by conformity to the Law so as to be saved by their own merits; but it expresses a general truth in regard to works. On that plan, if a man were justified by his works, it would be a matter due to him. It is a general principle in regard to contracts and obligations, that where a man fulfils them he is entitled to the reward as what is due to him, and which he can claim. This is well understood in all the transactions among people. Where a man has fulfilled the terms of a contract, to pay him is not a matter of favor; he has earned it; and we are bound to pay him. So says the apostle, it would be, if a man were justified by his works. He would have a claim on God. It would be wrong not to justify him. And this is an additional reason why the doctrine cannot be true; compare Romans 11:6.

The reward - The pay, or wages. The word is commonly applied to the pay of soldiers, day-laborers, etc.; Matthew 20:8; Luke 10:7; 1 Timothy 5:18; James 5:4. It has a similar meaning here.

Reckoned - Greek, Imputed. The same word which, in Romans 4:3, is rendered "counted," and in Romans 4:22, imputed. It is used here in its strict and proper sense, to reckon that as belonging to a man which is his own, or which is due to him; see the note at Romans 4:3.

Of grace - Of favor; as a gift.

Of debt - As due; as a claim; as a fair compensation according to the contract.

4, 5. Now to him that worketh—as a servant for wages.

is the reward not reckoned of grace—as a matter of favor.

but of debt—as a matter of right.

He proceeds to prove, that Abraham was not justified by works, but by faith, and free grace, and so had no cause of boasting. This he illustrates by a comparison betwixt one that worketh, and one that worketh not, but believeth. To him that worketh; i.e. to him that worketh with a design or intent to obtain or merit justification by his works, for else he that believeth also worketh; only he is said not to work, secundum quid, after a sort, to the end or intent that he might merit by it.

Is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt; he speaks this by way of supposition, in case he should have fulfilled the condition of perfect obedience: and yet, to speak properly, there is no reward, as a due debt from God to him that worketh, Romans 11:35; only he speaks after the manner of men, and useth a civil maxim, taken from human affairs. Now to him that worketh,.... The apostle illustrates the former case by two sorts of persons in this and the next verse, who have different things accounted to them, and in a different manner. The one is represented as working, the other not. By the worker is meant, not one that works from, and upon principles of grace. The regenerate man is disposed to work for God; the man that has the Spirit of God is capable of working; he that has the grace of Christ, and strength from him, can work well; he that believes in Christ, works in a right way; he that loves Christ, works freely, and from a right principle; and he that has Christ's glory in view, works to a right end: but the worker here, is one that works upon nature's principles, and with selfish views; one that works in the strength of nature, trusting to, and glorying in what he does; seeking righteousness by his work, and working for eternal life and salvation. Now let it be supposed, that such a worker not only thinks he does, but if it could be, really does all the works of the law, yields a perfect obedience to it; what

is the reward that is, and will be

reckoned to him? There is no reward due to the creature's work, though ever so perfect, arising front any desert or dignity in itself: there may be a reward by promise and compact; God may promise a reward to encourage to obedience, as he does in the law, which is not eternal life; for that is the free gift of God, and is only brought to light in the Gospel; and though heaven is called a reward, yet not of man's obedience, but Christ's; but admitting heaven itself to be the reward promised to the worker, in what manner must that be reckoned to him?

not of grace: for grace and works can never agree together; for if the reward is reckoned for the man's works, then it is not of grace, "otherwise work is no more work", Romans 11:6; and if it is of grace, then not for his works, "otherwise grace is no more grace", Romans 11:6; it remains therefore, that if it is reckoned for his works, it must be

of debt: it must be his due, as wages are to an hireling. Now this was not Abraham's case, which must have been, had he been justified by works; he had a reward reckoned to him, and accounted his, which was God himself, "I am thy shield, and exceeding, great reward", Genesis 15:1; which must be reckoned to him, not of debt, but of grace; wherefore it follows, that he was justified, not by works, but by the grace of God imputed to him; that which his faith believed in for righteousness. The distinction of a reward of grace, and of debt, was known to the Jews; a the one they called the other the former (d) they say is "a benefit", which is freely of grace bestowed on an undeserving person, or one he is not obliged to; the other is what is given, "of debt", in strict justice.

(d) Maimon. Bartenora & Yom Tob in Pirke Abot, c. 1. sect. 3.

{4} Now to him that {b} worketh is the reward not {c} reckoned of grace, but of debt.

(4) The first proof of the confirmation, taken from opposites: to him who deserves anything by his labour, the wages are not counted as favour, but as debt: but to him that has done nothing but believe in him who freely promises, faith is imputed.

(b) To him that has deserved anything from his work.

(c) Is not reckoned or given to him.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Romans 4:4-5. These verses now supply an illustration of Romans 4:3 in two general contrasted relations, from the application of which—left to the reader—to the case of Abraham the non-co-operation of works (the χωρὶς ἔργων, Romans 4:6) in the case of the latter’s justification could not but be clear.

δέ] is the simple μεταβατικόν.

τῷ ἐργαζομένῳ] to the worker, here, as the contrast shows, with the pregnant sense: to him who is active in works, of whom the ἔργα are characteristic. Luther aptly says: “who deals in works.”

ὁ μισθός] i.e. the corresponding wages (comp Romans 2:29), justa merces. The opposite: ἡ δίκη, merita poena; see Kühner, a[980] Xen. Anab. i. 3, 20.

οὐ λογίζ. κατὰ χάριν ἀλλὰ κατὰ ὀφείλημα] Comp Thuc. ii. 40, 4 : οὐκ ἐς χάριν ἀλλʼ ἐς ὀφείλημα τὴν ἀρετὴν ἀποδώσων. The stress of the contrast lies on κ. χάρ. and κ. ὀφείλ., not in the first part on λογίζεται (Hofmann), which is merely the verb of the Scripture quotation in Romans 4:3, repeated for the purpose of annexing to it the contrast that serves for its illustration. Not grace but debt is the regulative standard, according to which his wages are awarded to such an one; the latter are not merces gratiae, but merces debiti. As in Abraham’s case an imputation κατὰ χάριν took place (which Paul assumes as self-evident from Romans 4:3) he could not be on ἐργαζόμενος; the case of imputation which occurred in relation to him is, on the contrary, to be referred to the opposite category which follows: but to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him who justifieth the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness. Looking to the exact parallel of Romans 4:4-5, the unity of the category of both propositions must be maintained; and Romans 4:5 is not to be regarded as an application of Romans 4:4 to the case of Abraham (Reiche), but as likewise a locus communis, under which it is left to the reader to classify the case of Abraham in accordance with the above testimony of Scripture. Hence we cannot say with Reiche: “the μὴ ἐργαζόμενος and ἀσεβής is Abraham.”[982] On the contrary both are to be kept perfectly general, and ἀσεβής is not even to be weakened as equivalent to ἌΔΙΚΟς, but has been purposely selected (comp Romans 5:6), in order to set forth the saving power of faith[984] by as strong a contrast as possible to δικαιοῦντα.

On ΠΙΣΤΕΎΕΙΝ ἘΠῚ ΤΙΝΑ, expressing faith in its direction towards some one, comp Romans 4:24; Acts 9:42; Acts 11:17; Wis 12:2.

[980] d refers to the note of the commentator or editor named on the particular passage.

[982] ἀσεβής in his view is an allusion to the earlier idolatry of Abraham, reported by Philo, Josephus, and Maimonides, on the ground of Joshua 24:2. This was also the view of Grotius, Wetstein, Cramer, Michaelis, Rosenmüller, and Koppe; comp. also Döllinger, Christenth. u. K. p. 197, ed. 2. The Rabbins have a different tradition, to the effect that Abraham demolished the idols of his father Terah, etc.; see Eisenmenger, entdeckt. Judenth. I. p. 490 ff., 941.

[984] Consequently subjective faith is meant, not its objective ground, the righteousness of Christ, i.e. according to the Form. Conc. p. 884 f., the active and passive obedience of Christ, which is “applied and appropriated” to us through faith. The merit of Christ always remains the causa meritoria, to which we are indebted for the imputation of our faith. But the apprehensio Christi, which is the essence of justifying faith, must not be made equivalent to the apprehensus Christus (Calovius; comp. Philippi). The former is the subjective, which is imputed; the latter the objective, on account of which the imputation by God takes place. The Formula Concordiae in this point goes ultra quod scriptum est.

Romans 4:4 f. The faith of Abraham, in whatever way it may be more precisely determined by relation to its object, agrees with Christian faith in the essential characteristic, that it is not a work. To him who works—der mit Werken umgehet: Luther—the reward is reckoned, not by way of grace (as in Abraham’s case), but by way of debt. But to him who does not work, i.e., who does not make works his ground of hope toward God—but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness. Romans 4:5 describes the category under which Abraham falls, but is not a generalisation from his case. The ἀσεβὴς (Genesis 18:23, Proverbs 11:31, chap. Romans 5:6) is a person who has no claim to justification: if he is justified, it must be not on the ground of works, but freely, by God’s grace, on which he relies through faith. Of course to believe in this grace of God is to do something; in that sense it is a work; but it is to do something which involves a complete renunciation of hope in anything we can do without God. It excludes merit, boasting, justification ἐξ ἔργων. Cf. Philo, i., 486 (quoted in Mayor on Jam 1:21): δίκαιον γὰρ οὕτως οὐδὲν ὡς ἀκράτῳ καὶ ἀμιγεῖ τῇ πρὸς θεὸν μόνον πίστει κεχρῆσθαιτὸ ἐπὶ μόνῳ τῷ ὄντι βεβαίως καὶ ἀκλινῶς ὁρμεῖνδικαιοσύνης μόνον ἔργον. The whole Pauline gospel could be summed up in this one word—God who justifies the ungodly. Under that device, what room is there for any pretensions or claims of man? It is sometimes argued (on the ground that all God’s actions must be “ethical”) that God can only pronounce just, or treat as just, those who actually are just; but if this were so, what Gospel would there be for sinful men? This “ethical” gospel is identical with the Pharisaism in which Paul lived before he knew what Christ and faith were, and it led him to despair. It leads all men either to despair or to a temper which is that of the Pharisee rather than the publican of Luke 18. What it can never beget is the temper of the Gospel. The paradoxical phrase, Him that justifieth the ungodly, does not suggest that justification is a fiction, whether legal or of any other sort, but that it is a miracle. It is a thing that only God can achieve, and that calls into act and manifestation all the resources of the Divine nature. It is achieved through an unparalleled revelation of the judgment and the mercy of God. The miracle of the Gospel is that God comes to the ungodly, with a mercy which is righteous altogether, and enables them through faith, in spite of what they are, to enter into a new relation to Himself, in which goodness becomes possible for them. There can be no spiritual life at all for a sinful man unless he can get an initial assurance of an unchanging love of God deeper than sin, and he gets this at the Cross. He gets it by believing in Jesus, and it is justification by faith. The whole secret of New Testament Christianity, and of every revival of religion and reformation of the Church is in that laetum et ingens paradoxon, θεὸς ὁ δικαιῶν τὸν ἀσεβῆ.4. to him that worketh, &c.] A general principle and fact, instanced here with special reference to human obedience to the Law of God. The terms of the Law are tacitly compared to a human contract, with definite pay for definite work.

of grace] Lit. according to grace; “on the principle of undeserved kindness.” So just below, according to debt; “on the principle of obligation.”Romans 4:4. Δὲ) but [now]. Paul takes what is contrary [the case of him that worketh] out of the way, so as to enable him, in the following verse, to draw his conclusion regarding the man who does not trust to works, and to evince that Abraham was not such a one as he describes, by the words him that worketh.—ἐργαζομένῳ, to him that worketh) if there were, indeed, any such [which there is not]. We must take both expressions, him that worketh and him that worketh not, in a reduplicative sense: to work, and wages, are conjugates in the Heb. פעל. [The man that worketh, in this passage, applies to him who, by his works, performs (makes good) all that the law requires.—V. g.].—μισθὸς, reward), the antithesis to faith.—ὀφείλημα, a debt, by virtue of a contract between the parties. Merit in its strictest sense so called, and debt, are correlatives.Verses 4, 5. - Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt (literally, according to grace, but according to the debt, i.e. according to what is due). But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness. The expression, "him that worketh" (τῷ ἐργαζομένῳ), evidently means him that works with a view to a reward which he can claim; or, as Luther explains it, "one who deals in works;" or, as we might say with the same signification, "the worker." (For a like use of the present participle, cf. Galatians 5:3, τῷ περιτεμνομένῳ.) So also in ver. 5, τῷ μὴ ἐργαζομένῳ means one who does not so work. Thus there is here no denial of the necessity of good works. It is the principle only of justification that is in view. "Neque enim fideles vult esse ignavos; sed tantum mercenarias esse vetat, qui a Deo quicquam reposcant quasi jure debitum" (Calvin). One view of the meaning of τῷ ἐργαζομένῳ is that it is equivalent to τῷ ἐργάτῃ, being meant as an illustration, thus: The workman's wage is due to him, and not granted as a favour (so Afford). But this notion does not suit the τῷ μὴ ἐργαζομένῳ in the following verse. The strong word ἀσεβῆ ("ungodly") is not to be understood as designating Abraham himself, the proposition being a general one. Nor does it imply that continued ἀσέβεια is consistent with justification; only that even the ἀσεβεῖς are justified through faith on their repentance and amendment (cf. Romans 5:6, ὑπὲρ ἀσεβῶν ἀπέθανε). The reward (ὁ μισθὸς)

See on 2 Peter 2:13.

Not of grace but of debt (οὐ κατὰ χάριν ἀλλὰ κατὰ ὀφείλημα)

Lit., according to grace, etc. Not grace but debt is the regulative standard according to which his compensation is awarded. The workman for hire represents the legal method of salvation; he who does not work for hire, the gospel method; wages cannot be tendered as a gift. Grace is out of the question when wages is in question.

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