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Romans iv. 13-25

AGAIN we approach the name of Abraham, Friend of God, Father of the Faithful. We have seen him justified by faith, personally accepted because turning altogether to the sovereign Promiser. We see him now in some of the glorious issues of that acceptance; "Heir of the world," "Father of many nations." And here too all is of grace, all comes through faith. Not works not merit, not ancestral and ritual privilege, secured to Abraham the mighty Promise; it was his because he, pleading absolutely nothing of personal worthiness, and supported by no guarantees of ordinance "believed God."

We see him as he steps out from his tent under that glorious canopy, that Syrian "night of stars." We look up with him to the mighty depths, and receive their impression upon our eyes. Behold the innumerable points and clouds of light! Who can count the half-visible rays which make white the heavens, gleaming behind, beyond, the thousands of more numerable luminaries? The lonely old man who stands gazing there, perhaps side by side with his divine Friend manifested in human form, is told to try to count. And then he hears the promise, "So shall thy seed be."


It was then and there that he received justification by faith. It was then and there also that, by faith, as a man uncovenanted, unworthy, but called upon to take what God gave, he received the promise that he should be "heir of the world."

It was an unequalled paradox—unless indeed we place beside it the scene when, eighteen centuries later, in the same land, a descendant of Abraham's, a Syrian Craftsman, speaking as a religious Leader to His followers, told them (Matt. xiii. 37, 38) that the "field was the world," and He the Master of the field.

"Heir of the world"! Did this mean, of the universe itself? Perhaps it did, for Christ was to be the Claimant of the promise in due time; and under His feet all things, literally all, are set already in right, and shall be hereafter set in fact. But the more limited, and probably in this place the fitter, reference is vast enough; a reference to "the world" of earth, and of man upon it. In his "seed," that childless senior was to be King of Men, Monarch of the continents and oceans. To him, in his seed, "the utmost parts of the earth" were given "for his possession." Not his little clan only, encamped on the dark fields around him, nor even the direct descendants only of his body, however numerous, but "all nations," "all kindreds of the earth," were "to call him blessed," and to be blessed in him, as their patriarchal Chief, their Head in covenant with God. "We see not yet all things" fulfilled of this astonishing grant and guarantee. We shall not do so, till vast promised developments of the ways of God have come to sight. But we do see already steps taken towards that issue, steps long, majestic, never to be retraced. We see at this hour in literally every region of the human world the messengers—an always more numerous army—of 119 the Name of "the Son of David, the Son of Abraham." They are working everywhere; and everywhere, notwithstanding innumerable difficulties, they are winning the world for the great Heir of the Promise. Through paths they know not these missionaries have gone out; paths hewn by the historical providence of God, and by His eternal life in the Church, and in the soul. When "the world" has seemed shut, by war, by policy, by habit, by geography, it has opened, that they may enter; till we see Japan throwing back its castle-doors, and inner Africa not only discovered but become a household word for the sake of its missions, of its martyrdoms, of the resolve of its native chiefs to abolish slavery even in its domestic form.5555In Uganda, 1893.

No secular conscious programme has had to do with this. Causes entirely beyond the reach of human combination have been, as a fact, combined; the world has been opened to the Abrahamic message just as the Church has been inspired anew to enter in, and has been awakened to a deeper understanding of her glorious mission. For here too is the finger of God; not only in the history of the world, but in the life of the Church and of the Christian. For a long century now, in the most living centres of Christendom, there has been waking and rising a mighty revived consciousness of the glory of the Gospel of the Cross, and of the Spirit; of the grace of Christ, and also of His claim. And at this hour, after many a gloomy forecast of unbelieving and apprehensive thought, there are more men and women ready to go to the ends of the earth with the message of the Son of Abraham, than in all time before.

Contrast these issues, even these—leaving out of 120 sight the mighty future—with the starry night when the wandering Friend of God was asked to believe the incredible, and was justified by faith, and was invested through faith with the world's crown. Is not God indeed in the fulfilment? Was He not indeed in the promise? We are ourselves a part of the fulfilment; we, one of the "many Nations" of whom the great Solitary was then made "the Father." Let us bear our witness, and set to our seal.

In doing so, we attest and illustrate the work, the ever blessed work, of faith. That man's reliance, at that great midnight-hour, merited nothing, but received everything. He took in the first place acceptance with God, and then with it, as it were folded and embedded in it, he took riches inexhaustible of privilege and blessing; above all, the blessing of being made a blessing. So now, in view of that hour of Promise, and of these ages of fulfilment, we see our own path of peace in its divine simplicity. We read, as if written on the heavens in stars, the words, "Justified by Faith." And we understand already, what the Epistle will soon amply unfold to us, how for us, as for Abraham, blessings untold of other orders lie treasured in the grant of our acceptance. "Not for him only, but for us also, believing."

Let us turn again to the text.

For not through law came the promise to Abraham, or to his seed, of his being the world's heir, but through faith's righteousness; through the acceptance received by uncovenanted, unprivileged faith. For if those who belong to law inherit Abraham's promise, faith is ipso facto void, and the promise is ipso facto annulled.5656We attempt thus to represent the perfects, κεκένωται, κατήργηται. For wrath 121 is what the Law works out; it is only5757Read οὗ δὲ not οὗ γάρ. where law is not that transgression is not either. As much as to say, that to suspend eternal blessing, the blessing which in its nature can deal only with ideal conditions, upon man's obedience to law, is to bar fatally the hope of a fulfilment. Why? Not because the Law is not holy; not because disobedience is not guilty; as if man were ever, for a moment, mechanically compelled to disobey. But because as a fact man is a fallen being, however he became so, and whatever is his guilt as such. He is fallen, and has no true self-restoring power. If then he is to be blessed, the work must begin in spite of himself. It must come from without, it must come unearned, it must be of grace, through faith. Therefore it is on (literally, "out of") faith, in order to be grace-wise, to make secure the promise, to all the seed, not only to that which belongs to the Law, but to that which belongs to the faith of Abraham, to the "seed" whose claim is no less and no more than Abraham's faith; who is father of all us, as it stands written, (Gen. xvii. 5), "Father of many Nations5858It is impossible to convey in English the point of the word ἔθνη here, with its faint reference to the Gentiles (in the sense common in later Judaism), spiritually "naturalized" among Abraham's descendants. have I appointed thee"—in the sight of the God whom he believed, who vivifies the dead, and calls, addresses, deals with, things not-being as being. "In the sight of God"; as if to say, that it matters little what Abraham is for "us all" in the sight of man, in the sight and estimate of the Pharisee. The Eternal Justifier and Promiser dealt with Abraham, and in him with the world, before the birth of that Law 122 which the Pharisee has perverted into his rampart of privilege and isolation. He took care that the mighty transaction should take place not actually only, but significantly, in the open field and beneath the boundless cope of stars. It was to affect not one tribe, but all the nations. It was to secure blessings which were not to be demanded by the privileged, but taken by the needy. And so the great representative Believer was called to believe before Law, before legal Sacrament, and under every personal circumstance of humiliation and discouragement. Who, past hope, on hope, believed; stepping from the dead hope of nature to the bare hope of the promise, so that he became father of many Nations; according to what stands spoken, "So shall thy seed be."5959Observe the characteristically fragmentary quotation, which assumes the reader's knowledge of the context—the context of the stars. Compare Heb. vi. 14, which similarly quotes Gen. xxii. 16, 17. And, because he failed not6060Μὴ ἀσθενήσας:—we attempt to convey the thought, given by the aorist, that he then and there was "not weak." in his (τῇ) faith, he did not notice his own body, already turned to death, near (που) a century old as he now was, and the death-state of the womb of Sarah. No, on the promise of God—he did not waver by his unbelief,6161We render this clause as literally as possible. It is as if he would have written "On the promise of God he relied," but changed the expression to one more ample and more forcible. "His unbelief": τῇ ἀπιστίᾳ. Not that Abraham had unbelief actually, but he had it potentially; he might have disbelieved. In that sense unbelief was "his." but received strength6262Ἐνεδυναμώθη: the thought is of strength summoned at a crisis. by his (τῇ) faith, giving glory to God, the "glory" of dealing with Him as being what He is, Almighty and All-true, and fully persuaded that 123 what He has promised He is able actually to do. Wherefore actually (καὶ) it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Not because such a "giving to God the glory" which is only His eternal due was morally meritorious, in the least degree. If it were so, Abraham "would have whereof to glory." The "wherefore" is concerned with the whole record, the whole transaction. Here was a man who took the right way to receive sovereign blessing. He interposed nothing between the Promiser and himself. He treated the Promiser as what He is, all-sufficient and all-faithful. He opened his empty hand in that persuasion, and so, because the hand was empty, the blessing was laid upon its palm.

Now it was not written only on his account, that it was reckoned to him, but also on account of us, to whom it is sure (μέλλει) to be reckoned, in the fixed intention of the divine Justifier, as each successive applicant comes to receive; believing as we do on the Raiser-up of Jesus our Lord from the dead; who was delivered up on account of our transgressions, and was raised up on account of our justification.

Here the great argument moves to a pause, to the cadence of a glorious rest. More and more, as we have pursued it, it has disengaged itself from the obstructions of the opponent, and advanced with a larger motion into a positive and rejoicing assertion of the joys and wealth of the believing. We have left far behind the pertinacious cavils which ask, now whether there is any hope for man outside legalism, now whether within legalism there can be any danger even for deliberate unholiness, and again whether the Gospel of gratuitous acceptance does not cancel the law of duty. We have left the Pharisee for Abraham, and have stood beside him to 124 look and listen. He, in the simplicity of a soul which has seen itself and seen the Lord, and so has not one word, one thought, about personal privilege, claim, or even fitness, receives a perfect acceptance in the hand of faith, and finds that the acceptance carries with it a promise of unimaginable power and blessing. And now from Abraham the Apostle turns to "us," "us all," "us also." His thoughts are no longer upon adversaries and objections, but on the company of the faithful, on those who are one with Abraham, and with each other, in their happy willingness to come, without a dream of merit, and take from God His mighty peace in the name of Christ. He finds himself not in synagogue or in school, disputing, but in the believing assembly, teaching, unfolding in peace the wealth of grace. He speaks to congratulate, to adore.

Let us join him there in spirit, and sit down with Aquila and Priscilla, with Nereus, and Nymphas, and Persis, and in our turn remember that "it was written for us also." Quite surely, and with a fulness of blessing which we can never find out in its perfection, to us also "faith is sure to be reckoned, μέλλει λογίζεσθαι, as righteousness, believing as we do, τοῖς πιστεύουσιν, on the Raiser-up of Jesus our Lord, ours also, from the dead." To us, as to them, the Father presents Himself as the Raiser-up of the Son. He is known by us in that act. It gives us His own warrant for a boundless trust in His character, His purposes, His unreserved intention to accept the sinner who comes to His feet in the name of His Crucified and Risen Son. He bids us—not forget that He is the Judge, who cannot for a moment connive. But He bids us believe, He bids us see, that He, being the Judge, and also the Law-Giver, has dealt with His own Law, in a way that satisfies it, that satisfies 125 Himself. He bids us thus understand that He now "is sure to" justify, to accept, to find not guilty, to find righteous, satisfactory, the sinner who believes. He comes to us, He, this eternal Father of our Lord, to assure us, in the Resurrection, that He has sought, and has "found, a Ransom"; that He has not been prevailed upon to have mercy, a mercy behind which there may therefore lurk a gloomy reserve, but has Himself "set forth" the beloved Propitiation, and then accepted Him (not it, but Him) with the acceptance of not His word only but His deed. He is the God of Peace. How do we know it? We thought He was the God of the tribunal, and the doom. Yes; but He has "brought the great Shepherd from the dead, in the blood of the everlasting Covenant" (Heb. xiii. 20). Then, O eternal Father of our Lord, we will believe Thee; we will believe in Thee; we will, we do, in the very letter of the words Thou didst bid Thy messenger write down here, "believe upon Thee," ἐπὶ τὸν Ἐγείραντα, as in a deep repose. Truly, in this glorious respect, though Thou art consuming Fire, "there is nothing in Thee to dread."

"Who was delivered up because of our transgressions." So dealt the Father with the Son, who gave Himself. "It pleased the Lord to bruise Him"; "He spared not His own Son." "Because of our transgressions"; to meet the fact that we had gone astray. What, was that fact thus to be met? Was our self-will, our pride, our falsehood, our impurity, our indifference to God, our resistance to God, to be thus met? Was it to be met at all, and not rather left utterly alone to its own horrible issues? Was it eternally necessary that, if met, it must be met thus, by nothing less than the delivering up of Jesus our Lord? It was even so. 126 Assuredly if a milder expedient would have met our guilt, the Father would not have "delivered up" the Son. The Cross was nothing if not an absolute sine quâ non. There is that in sin, and in God, which made it eternally necessary that—if man was to be justified—the Son of God must not only live but die, and not only die but die thus, delivered up, given over to be done to death, as those who do great sin are done.

Deep in the heart of the divine doctrine of Atonement lies this element of it, the "because of our transgressions"; the exigency of Golgotha, due to our sins. The remission, the acquittal, the acceptance, was not a matter for the verbal fiat of divine autocracy. It was a matter not between God and creation, which to Him is "a little thing," but between God and His Law, that is to say, Himself, as He is eternal Judge. And this, to the Eternal, is not a little thing. So the solution called for no little thing, but for the Atoning Death, for the laying by the Father on the Son of the iniquities of us all, that we might open our arms and receive from the Father the merits of the Son.

"And was raised up because of our justification;" because our acceptance had been won, by His deliverance up. Such is the simplest explanation of the grammar, and of the import. The Lord's Resurrection appears as, so to speak, the mighty sequel, and also the demonstration, warrant, proclamation, of His acceptance as the Propitiation, and therefore of our acceptance in Him. For indeed it was our justification, when He paid our penalty. True, the acceptance does not accrue to the individual till he believes, and so receives. The gift is not put into the hand till it is open, and empty. But the gift has been bought ready for the 127 recipient long before he kneels to receive it. It was his, in provision, from the moment of the purchase; and the glorious Purchaser came up from the depths where He had gone down to buy, holding aloft in His sacred hands the golden Gift, ours because His for us.

A little while before he wrote to Rome, St Paul had written to Corinth, and the same truth was in his soul then, though it came out only passingly, while with infinite impressiveness. "If Christ is not risen, idle is your faith; you are yet in your sins" (1 Cor. xv. 17). That is to say, so the context irrefragably shews, you are yet in the guilt of your sins; you are still unjustified. "In your sins" cannot possibly there refer to the moral condition of the converts; for as a matter of fact, which no doctrine could negative, the Corinthians were "changed men." "In your sins" refers therefore to guilt, to law, to acceptance. And it bids them look to the Atonement as the objective sine quâ non for that, and to the Resurrection as the one possible, and the only necessary, warrant to faith that the Atonement had secured its end.

"Who was delivered up; who was raised up." When? About twenty-five years before Paul sat dictating this sentence in the house of Gaius. There were at that moment about three hundred known living people, at least (1 Cor. xv. 6), who had seen the Risen One with open eyes, and heard Him with conscious ears. From one point of view, all was eternal, spiritual, invisible. From another point of view our salvation was as concrete, as historical, as much a thing of place and date, as the battle of Actium, or the death of Socrates. And what was done, remains done.

"Can length of years on God Himself exact,
And make that fiction which was once a fact?"

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