Romans 4:5
But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
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(5) But to him who puts forward no works, but has faith in God, who justifies men, not for their righteousness, but in spite of their sins, &c.

The ungodly.—A stronger word is here used than simply “the unrighteous,” “the impious,” or “ungodly.” Their impiety is condoned to them in virtue of their single exercise of faith. It is characteristic of the Apostle not to flinch from the boldest expression, though, as a matter of fact, the two things, faith and positive impiety, would hardly be found together. “The ungodly” clearly belongs to the general form of the proposition, and is not intended to apply to Abraham.

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.But to him that worketh not - Who does not rely on his conformity to the Law for his justification; who does not depend on his works; who seeks to be justified in some other way. The reference here is to the Christian plan of justification.

But believeth - Note, Romans 3:26.

On him - On God. Thus, the connection requires; for the discussion has immediate reference to Abraham, whose faith was in the promise of God.

That justifieth the ungodly - This is a very important expression. It implies,

(1) That people are sinners, or are ungodly.

(2) that God regards them as such when they are justified. He does not justify them because he sees them to be, or regards them to be righteous; but knowing that they are in fact polluted. He does not first esteem them, contrary to fact, to be pure; but knowing that they are polluted, and that they deserve no favor, he resolves to forgive them, and to treat them as his friends.

(3) in themselves they are equally undeserving, whether they are justified or not. Their souls have been defiled by sin; and that is known when they are pardoned. God judges things as they are; and sinners who are justified, he judges not as if they were pure, or as if they had a claim; but he regards them as united by faith to the Lord Jesus; and in this relation he judges that they should be treated as his friends, though they have been, are, and always will be, personally undeserving. It is not meant that the righteousness of Christ is transferred to them, so as to become personally theirs - for moral character cannot be transferred; nor that it is infused into them, making them personally meritorious - for then they could not be spoken of as ungodly; but that Christ died in their stead, to atone for their sins, and is regarded and esteemed by God to have died; and that the results or benefits of his death are so reckoned or imputed to believers as to make it proper for God to regard and treat them as if they had themselves obeyed the Law; that is, as righteous in his sight; see the note at Romans 4:3.

5. But to him that worketh not—who, despairing of acceptance with God by "working" for it the work of obedience, does not attempt it.

but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly—casts himself upon the mercy of Him that justifieth those who deserve only condemnation.

his faith, &c.—(See on [2193]Ro 4:3).

Second: David sings of the same justification.

To him that worketh not; i.e. to him that worketh not to the end or intent before mentioned, or with respect to justification, but takes the other way to be justified and saved, and that is, the way of believing.

That justifieth the ungodly; that makes him, who is wicked in himself, just and righteous in Christ; or justifies him that was ungodly, but after justification is made godly. By ungodly, some would understand such as want that perfection of godliness, as they may build the hopes of justification upon; because the proposition is drawn from the instance of Abraham, a man not void of godliness.

His faith is counted for righteousness; not considered in itself as a work, but in relation to Christ, the object of it, and as an act of receiving and applying him; as eating nourisheth, though it be the meat that doth it.

But to him that worketh not,.... Not that the believer does not work at all, but not from such principles, and with such views as the other; he does not work in order to obtain life and salvation; he does not seek for justification by his doings:

but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly: or that ungodly one: particular reference is had to Abraham, who in his state of unregeneracy was an ungodly person; as all God's elect are in a state of nature, and are such when God justifies them, being without a righteousness of their own; wherefore he imputes the righteousness of another, even that of his own Son, unto them: and though he justifies the ungodly, he does not justify their ungodliness, but them from it; nor will he, nor does he leave them to live and die in it; now to him that worketh not, that is perfect righteousness; or has no opportunity of working at all; or what he does, he does not do, that he might be justified by it; but exercises faith on God as justifying persons, who, like himself, are sinners, ungodly and destitute of a righteousness:

his faith is counted for righteousness; not the act, but the object of it; which was Abraham's case, and therefore was not justified by works. The Vulgate Latin version here adds, "according to the purpose of the grace of God".

But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that {d} justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

(d) That makes him who is wicked in himself to be just in Christ.

5. to him that worketh not] The Gr. implies a general statement; Abraham’s case in universal application.—“Worketh not:”—i.e., of course, in respect of justification. It is another form of the truth expressed Romans 3:28 and Romans 4:6 by “without works;” and the phrases singly and together go as far as language can in defining faith to be the sole condition of Justification.

on him that justifieth the ungodly] These words, with numberless others, remind us that justifying faith is not trust in “anything,” but trust in God and His Word. See below on Romans 4:20-22.—“The ungodly:”—a very strong word—the impious man. Same word as ch. Romans 5:6; 2 Peter 2:5; Judges 4, &c. Here St Paul leaves the special features of Abraham’s case, to enforce the principle of Justification by an extreme case. He contemplates a man so emphatically “without works” as to be an open sinner: now, this man is justified, is declared to be accepted as righteous, on the sole condition of faith in the Justifier. And God is, as it were, characterized here as He who (habitually) so acts; doubtless to encourage the most unreserved trust. The word “ungodly” is not descriptive of every man: “all have sinned” fatally (Romans 3:19; Romans 3:23); but not all are openly impious. And as men look on these latter as extreme cases, just these are selected for special mention as proper objects of Justification.

Romans 4:5. Τον ἀσεβῆ, the ungodly) This points out the excellence of faith, which hath established it so as that the ungodly are justified, ch. Romans 5:6. Compare and consider the end of Romans 4:17 of this chapter. Translate τὸν ἀσεβῆ, him who is ungodly. Justification belongs to individuals. This word is a most conclusive proof that Paul is speaking, even most especially, of the moral law, by the works of which no one can be justified.—κατὰ τὴν πρόθεσιν τῆς χάριτος τοῦ Θεο͂υ, according to the purpose of the grace of God) A very ancient translator[44] of the Scriptures into Latin has this clause; following him, Hilariu[45], the deacon; then the scholiast on Jerome, etc. Beza acknowledges that it is exceedingly suitable; for there is a manifest antithesis between, not according to grace, but according to debt [Romans 4:4] etc., according to the purpose of the grace of God. The Greek transcribers might easily jump from κατὰ to ΚΑΘΆΠΕΡ [omitting ΚΑΤᾺ Τ. ΠΡΌΘΕΣΙΝ, etc.] During the time that intervened between the publication of the Apparatus and the Gnomon, I have advanced on without inconsistency to the embracing of this clause, to which Beza is not opposed. Baumgarten has put in his negative. I have stated my reasons; he has given his; let those judge who are able. Paul sets in opposition to each other, works and πρόθεσιν, the purpose; and at the very time too, when he is speaking definitely of certain believers, the subjects of that purpose, as in this passage, of Abraham.

[44] Some old copies of the Vulg. have the words. But the Cod. Amiatinus, the oldest MS. of the Vulg., omit them.—ED.

[45] ilarius (a Latin father: died 368 A.D.) Ed. Maurinorum, Paris. 1693.

Romans 4:5Believeth on Him (πιστεύοντι ἐπὶ τὸν)

The verb πιστεύω to believe is used in the New Testament as follows:

1. Transitively, with the accusative and dative: to entrust something to one, Luke 16:11; John 2:24. In the passive, to be entrusted with something, Romans 3:2; 1 Corinthians 9:17; Galatians 2:7. With the simple accusative, to believe a thing, John 11:26; 1 John 4:16.

2. With the infinitive, Acts 15:11.

3. With ὅτι that, Matthew 9:28; Mark 11:24; James 2:19. Especially frequent in John: John 4:21; John 11:27, John 11:42; John 13:19; John 14:10, John 14:11; John 16:27, John 16:30, etc.

4. With the simple dative, meaning to believe a person or thing, that they are true or speak the truth, John 2:22; John 4:21; John 5:46. See on John 1:12; see on John 2:22, John 2:23; see on John 8:31; see on John 10:37.

5. With the preposition ἐν in. Not frequent, and questioned in some of the passages cited for illustration. In John 3:15, ἐν αὐτῷ in Him, is probably to be construed with have eternal life. The formula occurs nowhere else in John. In Mark 1:15 we find πιστεύετε ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ believe in the gospel. The kindred noun πίστις faith, occurs in this combination. Thus Galatians 3:26, though some join in Christ Jesus with sons. See also Ephesians 1:15; Colossians 1:4; 1 Timothy 3:13; 2 Timothy 3:15; Romans 3:25. This preposition indicates the sphere in which faith moves, rather than the object to which it is directed, though instances occur in the Septuagint where it plainly indicates the direction of faith, Psalm 78:22; Jeremiah 12:6.

6. With the preposition ἐπί upon, on to, unto. a. With the accusative, Romans 4:5; Acts 9:42; Acts 11:17; Acts 16:31; Acts 22:19. The preposition carries the idea of mental direction with a view to resting upon, which latter idea is conveyed by the same preposition. b. With the dative, 1 Timothy 1:16; Luke 24:25; compare Romans 9:33; Romans 10:11; 1 Peter 2:6. The dative expresses absolute superposition. Christ as the object of faith, is the basis on which faith rests.

7. With the preposition εἰς into, Matthew 18:6; John 2:11; Acts 19:4; Romans 10:14; Galatians 2:16; Philippians 1:29, etc. The preposition conveys the idea of the absolute transference of trust from one's self to another. Literally the phrase means to believe into. See on John 1:12; see on John 2:23; see on John 9:35; see on John 12:44.

Is counted for righteousness (λογίζεται εἰς δικαιοσύνην)

Rev., is reckoned. See on Romans 4:3. The preposition εἰς has the force of as, not the telic meaning with a view to, or in order that he may be (righteous); nor strictly, in the place of righteousness. Faith is not a substitute for righteousness, since righteousness is involved in faith. When a man is reckoned righteous through faith, it is not a legal fiction. He is not indeed a perfect man, but God does not reckon something which has no real existence. Faith is the germ of righteousness, of life in God. God recognizes no true life apart from holiness, and "he that believeth on the Son hath life." He is not merely regarded in the law's eye as living. God accepts the germ, not in place of the fruit, but as containing the fruit. "Abraham believed God.... No soul comes into such a relation of trust without having God's investment upon it; and whatever there may be in God's righteousness - love, truth, sacrifice - will be rightfully imputed or counted to be in it, because, being united to Him, it will have them coming over derivatively from Him" (Bushnell). The idea of logical sequence is inherent in λογίζεται is reckoned - the sequence of character upon faith. Where there is faith there is, logically, righteousness, and the righteousness is from faith unto faith (Romans 1:17). Nevertheless, in the highest development of the righteousness of faith, it will remain true that the man is justified, not by the works of righteousness, which are the fruit of faith, but by the faith which, in making him a partaker of the life and righteousness of God, generates and inspires the works.

Observe that the believer's own faith is reckoned as righteousness. "In no passage in Paul's writings or in other parts of the New Testament, where the phrase to reckon for or the verb to reckon alone is used, is there a declaration that anything belonging to one person is imputed, accounted, or reckoned to another, or a formal statement that Christ's righteousness is imputed to believers" (President Dwight, "Notes on Meyer").

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