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The Example of Abraham


What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? 2For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 4Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. 5But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness. 6So also David speaks of the blessedness of those to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works:


“Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven,

and whose sins are covered;


blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not reckon sin.”

9 Is this blessedness, then, pronounced only on the circumcised, or also on the uncircumcised? We say, “Faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness.” 10How then was it reckoned to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the ancestor of all who believe without being circumcised and who thus have righteousness reckoned to them, 12and likewise the ancestor of the circumcised who are not only circumcised but who also follow the example of the faith that our ancestor Abraham had before he was circumcised.

God’s Promise Realized through Faith

13 For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.

16 For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, 17as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” 19He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 23Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, 24but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.


1. What then, etc. This is a confirmation by example; and it is a very strong one, since all things are alike with regard to the subject and the person; for he was the father of the faithful, to whom we ought all to be conformed; and there is also but one way and not many ways by which righteousness may be obtained by all. In many other things one example would not be sufficient to make a common rule; but as in the person of Abraham there was exhibited a mirror and pattern of righteousness, which belongs in common to the whole Church, rightly does Paul apply what has been written of him alone to the whole body of the Church, and at the same time he gives a check to the Jews, who had nothing more plausible to glory in than that they were the children of Abraham; and they could not have dared to claim to themselves more holiness than what they ascribed to the holy patriarch. Since it is then evident that he was justified freely, his posterity, who claimed a righteousness of their own by the law, ought to have been made silent even through shame.

According to the flesh, etc. Between this clause and the word father there is put in Paul’s text the verb ἑυρηκέναι, in this order — “What shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh?” On this account, some interpreters think that the question is — “What has Abraham obtained according to the flesh?” If this exposition be approved, the words according to the flesh mean naturally or from himself. It is, however, probable that they are to be connected with the word father. 130130     So did all the fathers according to Pareus, and so does the Vulgate. But later commentators have taken the words as they stand, and with good reason, for otherwise the correspondence between this and the following verse would not be apparent. Beza, Hammond, and Macknight take the words in their proper order; and this is what is done by the Syriac and Arabic versions.
   Κατὰ σάρκα is rendered by Grotius and Macknight, “by (per) the flesh. Some understand by the word “flesh,” circumcision, as Vatablus; others, natural powers, as Grotius But Beza and Hammond think that it is the same as what is meant “by works” in the next verse; and “flesh” evidently has this meaning: it signifies often the performance of what the law requires, the observance not only of ceremonial but also of moral duties. See Galatians 3:3; Galatians 6:12; and especially Philippians 3:3, 4; where Paul gives up “all confidence in the flesh,” and enumerates, among other things, his strict conformity to the law. — Ed.
Besides, as we are wont to be more touched by domestic examples, the dignity of their race, in which the Jews took too much pride, is here again expressly mentioned. But some regard this as spoken in contempt, as they are elsewhere called the carnal children of Abraham, being not so spiritually or in a legitimate sense. But I think that it was expressed as a thing peculiar to the Jews; for it was a greater honor to be the children of Abraham by nature and descent, than by mere adoption, provided there was also faith. He then concedes to the Jews a closer bond of union, but only for this end — that he might more deeply impress them that they ought not to depart from the example of their father.

2. For if Abraham, etc. This is an incomplete argument, 131131     Epicheirema; in Greek ἐπιχείρεμα, an attempted but an unfinished process of reasoning. It is not necessary to introduce this sort of syllogism, it being not the character of Scripture nor of any other writing to discuss matters in this form.
   The word for “glorying” here, καύχημα, is different from that in Romans 3:27, καύχησις, and means reason, ground, or cause for glorying, and is rendered by Grotiusunde laudem speret — whereby he may hope for praise;” and by Beza and Piscatorunde glorietur — whereby he may glory.” To complete the following clause, most repeat the words ἔχει καύχημα — “But he has no ground for glorying before God.” Vatablus gives another meaning, “But not with regard to God,” that is, with regard to what he has said in his word; and this view is confirmed by what immediately follows, “For what saith the Scripture?” In this case there is nothing understood. That πρὸς θεόν is used in a similar manner, is evident from other passages: τα πρὸς θεόν — “things which pertain to God,” i.e., to God’s work or service. See Hebrews 2:17; Hebrews 5:1. — Ed.
which may be made in this form — “If Abraham was justified by works, he might justly glory: but he had nothing for which he could glory before God; then he was not justified by works.” Thus the clause but not before God, is the minor proposition; and to this must be added the conclusion which I have stated, though it is not expressed by Paul. He calls that glorying when we pretend to have anything of our own to which a reward is supposed to be due at God’s tribunal. Since he takes this away from Abraham, who of us can claim for himself the least particle of merit?

3. For what saith the Scripture? This is a proof of the minor proposition, or of what he assumed, when he denied that Abraham had any ground for glorying: for if Abraham was justified, because he embraced, by faith, the bountiful mercy of God, it follows, that he had nothing to glory in; for he brought nothing of his own, except a confession of his misery, which is a solicitation for mercy. He, indeed, takes it as granted, that the righteousness of faith is the refuge, and, as it were, the asylum of the sinner, who is destitute of works. For if there be any righteousness by the law or by works, it must be in men themselves; but by faith they derive from another what is wanting in themselves; and hence the righteousness of faith is rightly called imputative.

The passage, which is quoted, is taken from Genesis 15:6; in which the word believe is not to be confined to any particular expression, but it refers to the whole covenant of salvation, and the grace of adoption, which Abraham apprehended by faith. There is, indeed, mentioned there the promise of a future seed; but it was grounded on gratuitous adoption: 132132     The adoption is evidently included in the words, found in the first verse of this chapter, “I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward.” What follows is connected with this, and the promise of a numerous seed arose from what Abraham said respecting an heir. His believing then had an especial regard to the first promise, as the second, respecting his “seed,” was only, as it were, an enlargement of the first, or an addition to it. — Ed. and it ought to be observed, that salvation without the grace of God is not promised, nor God’s grace without salvation; and again, that we are not called to the grace of God nor to the hope of salvation, without having righteousness offered to us.

Taking this view, we cannot but see that those understand not the principles of theology, who think that this testimony recorded by Moses, is drawn aside from its obvious meaning by Paul: for as there is a particular promise there stated, they understand that he acted rightly and faithfully in believing it, and was so far approved by God. But they are in this mistaken; first, because they have not considered that believing extends to the whole context, and ought not to be confined to one clause. But the principal mistake is, that they begin not with the testimony of God’s favor. But God gave this, to make Abraham more assured of his adoption and paternal favor; and included in this was eternal salvation by Christ. Hence Abraham, by believing, embraced nothing but the favor offered to him, being persuaded that it would not be void. Since this was imputed to him for righteousness, it follows, that he was not otherwise just, than as one trusting in God’s goodness, and venturing to hope for all things from him. Moses does not, indeed, tell us what men thought of him, but how he was accounted before the tribunal of God. Abraham then laid hold on the benignity of God offered to him in the promise, through which he understood that righteousness was communicated to him. It is necessary, in order to form an opinion of righteousness, to understand this relation between the promise and faith; for there is in this respect the same connection between God and us, as there is, according to the lawyers, between the giver and the person to whom any thing is given, (datorem et donatarium — the donor and the donee:) for we can no otherwise attain righteousness, than as it is brought to us, as it were, by the promise of the gospel; and we realize its possession by faith. 133133     The foregoing observations contain a lucid and a satisfactory view of the character of Abraham’s faith, perfectly consistent with what is said of it by Paul in this chapter, and in the epistle to the Galatians. Some think that the principle of faith was the only thing which the Apostle had in view in referring to Abraham’s faith, and that he had no special regard to the object of justifying faith, that is, Christ. But that Christ was, in a measure, revealed to him, is evident from the account given in Genesis, and from what Christ himself has said, — that Abraham saw his day and rejoiced, John 8:56. At the same time it was the promise of gratuitous mercy, as Calvin intimates, that formed the most distinctive object of Abraham’s faith, the promise of a free acceptance, without any regard to works. There are two things which the Apostle clearly intended to show, — that imputation of righteousness is an act of gratuitous favor, — and that it is alone by faith.
   There is some difference in the wording, though not in the meaning, of the sentence from Genesis 15:6. Paul gives it literally according to the Septuagint. The word “Abraham,” is put in; instead of “Jehovah,” it is “God;” the verb “count,” is made passive, and a preposition is placed before “righteousness.” The Hebrew is this, — “And he believed on Jehovah, and he counted it to him righteousness.” The “it,” no doubt, refers to what is included in the word “believed.” So Paul explains it in verse 9, where he expressly puts down πίστις, faith.

   It has been said that this faith of Abraham was not faith in Christ, according to what the context shows in Genesis. And it was not so specifically: nor does Paul represent it as such; for this was not his object. He states it throughout as faith in God; it was believing the testimony of God; but that testimony embraced a promise respecting Christ; so that it included the Savior within its compass. We must remember that Paul’s object is to establish this truth, — that righteousness is attained by faith and not by works; and that for this end he adduces the examples both of Abraham and David. It was not his design to point out specifically the object of justifying faith. We must keep this in view, in order to understand the reasoning of the Apostle in this chapter: it is the power and efficacy of faith, in opposition to all works, that he particularly dwells upon, and the gracious promise of God was its object. — Ed.

How to reconcile what James says, which seems somewhat contrary to this view I have already explained, and intend to explain more fully, when I come, if the Lord will permit, to expound that Epistle.

Only let us remember this, — that those to whom righteousness is imputed, are justified; since these two things are mentioned by Paul as being the same. We hence conclude that the question is not, what men are in themselves, but how God regards them; not that purity of conscience and integrity of life are to be separated from the gratuitous favor of God; but that when the reason is asked, why God loves us and owns us as just, it is necessary that Christ should come forth as one who clothes us with his own righteousness.

4. To him indeed who works, etc. It is not he, whom he calls a worker, who is given to good works, to which all the children of God ought to attend, but the person who seeks to merit something by his works: and in a similar way he calls him no worker who depends not on the merit of what he does. He would not, indeed, have the faithful to be idle; but he only forbids them to be mercenaries, so as to demand any thing from God, as though it were justly their due.

We have before reminded you, that the question is not here how we are to regulate our life, but how we are to be saved: and he argues from what is contrary, — that God confers not righteousness on us because it is due, but bestows it as a gift. And indeed I agree with Bucer, who proves that the argument is not made to depend on one expression, but on the whole passage, and formed in this manner, “If one merits any thing by his work, what is merited is not freely imputed to him, but rendered to him as his due. Faith is counted for righteousness, not that it procures any merit for us, but because it lays hold on the goodness of God: hence righteousness is not due to us, but freely bestowed.” For as Christ of his own good-will justifies us through faith, Paul always regards this as an evidence of our emptiness; for what do we believe, except that Christ is an expiation to reconcile us to God? The same truth is found in other words in Galatians 3:11, where it is said, “That no man is justified by the law, it is evident, for the just shall by faith live: but the law is not by faith; but he who doeth these things shall live in them.” Inasmuch, then, as the law promises reward to works, he hence concludes, that the righteousness of faith, which is free, accords not with that which is operative: this could not be were faith to justify by means of works. — We ought carefully to observe these comparisons, by which every merit is entirely done away.

5. But believes on him, etc. This is a very important sentence, in which he expresses the substance and nature both of faith and of righteousness. He indeed clearly shews that faith brings us righteousness, not because it is a meritorious act, but because it obtains for us the favor of God. 134134     Some have stumbled at this sentence, — “his faith is counted for righteousness,” and have misapplied it, as though faith were in itself the cause of righteousness, and hence a meritorious act, and not the way and means of attaining righteousness. Condensed sentences will not submit to the rules of logic, but must be interpreted according to the context and explanations elsewhere found. “His faith” means, no doubt, his faith in the Promise, or in God who promises, or in him who, as is said in this verse, “justifies the ungodly:” hence what is believed, or the object of faith, is what is counted for righteousness. This accords with the declarations, — that “man is justified by faith,” Romans 3:28, and that “the righteousness of God” is “by faith,” Romans 3:22. If by faith, then faith itself is not that righteousness.
   “Beware,” says Chalmers, “of having any such view of faith as will lead you to annex to it the kind of merit, or of claim, or of glorying under the gospel, which are annexed to works under the law. This, in fact, were just animating with a legal spirit the whole phraseology and doctrine of the gospel. It is God who justifies. He drew up the title-deed, and he bestowed the title-deed. It is ours simply to lay hold of it...Any other view of faith than that which excludes boasting must be altogether unscriptural.” — Ed.
Nor does he declare only that God is the giver of righteousness, but he also arraigns us of unrighteousness, in order that the bounty of God may come to aid our necessity: in short, no one will seek the righteousness of faith except he who feels that he is ungodly; for this sentence is to be applied to what is said in this passage, — that faith adorns us with the righteousness of another, which it seeks as a gift from God. And here again, God is said to justify us when he freely forgives sinners, and favors those, with whom he might justly be angry, with his love, that is, when his mercy obliterates our unrighteousness.

6. As David also defines, etc. We hence see the sheer sophistry of those who limit the works of the law to ceremonies; for he now simply calls those works, without anything added, which he had before called the works of the law. Since no one can deny that a simple and unrestricted mode of speaking, such as we find here, ought to be understood of every work without any difference, the same view must be held throughout the whole argument. There is indeed nothing less reasonable than to remove from ceremonies only the power of justifying, since Paul excludes all works indefinitely. To the same purpose is the negative clause, — that God justifies men by not imputing sin: and by these words we are taught that righteousness, according to Paul, is nothing else than the remission of sins; and further, that this remission is gratuitous, because it is imputed without works, which the very name of remission indicates; for the creditor who is paid does not remit, but he who spontaneously cancels the debt through mere kindness. Away, then, with those who teach us to redeem pardon for our sins by satisfactions; for Paul borrows an argument from this pardon to prove the gratuitous gift of righteousness. 135135     Speaking of this righteousness, Pareus says, “It is not ours, otherwise God would not gratuitously impute it, but bestow it as a matter of right; nor is it a habit or quality, for it is without works, and imputed to the ungodly, who have habitually nothing but iniquities; but it is a gratuitous remission, a covering, a non-imputation of sins.”
   It is a striking proof of what the Apostle had in view here, that he stop short and does not quote the whole verse from Psalm 32:2. He leaves out, “and in whose spirit there is no guile:” and why? Evidently because his subject is justification, and not sanctification. He has thus most clearly marked the difference between the two.

   Sins may be said to be “forgiven” or remitted, because they are debts, and “covered,” because they are filthy and abominable in the sight of God: and they are said to be “not imputed,” or not put to one’s account, in order to convey an assurance, that they are wholly removed, and shall be no more remembered. — Ed.
How then is it possible for them to agree with Paul? They say, “We must satisfy by works the justice of God, that we may obtain the pardon of our sins:” but he, on the contrary, reasons thus, — “The righteousness of faith is gratuitous, and without works, because it depends on the remission of sins.” Vicious, no doubt, would be this reasoning, if any works interposed in the remission of sins.

Dissipated also, in like manner, by the words of the Prophet, are the puerile fancies of the schoolmen respecting half remission. Their childish fiction is, — that though the fault is remitted, the punishment is still retained by God. But the Prophet not only declares that our sins are covered, that is, removed from the presence of God; but also adds, that they are not imputed. How can it be consistent, that God should punish those sins which he does not impute? Safe then does this most glorious declaration remain to us — “That he is justified by faith, who is cleared before God by a gratuitous remission of his sins.” We may also hence learn, the unceasing perpetuity of gratuitous righteousness through life: for when David, being wearied with the continual anguish of his own conscience, gave utterance to this declaration, he no doubt spoke according to his own experience; and he had now served God for many years. He then had found by experience, after having made great advances, that all are miserable when summoned before God’s tribunal; and he made this avowal, that there is no other way of obtaining blessedness, except the Lord receives us into favor by not imputing our sins. Thus fully refuted also is the romance of those who dream, that the righteousness of faith is but initial, and that the faithful afterwards retain by works the possession of that righteousness which they had first attained by no merits.

It invalidates in no degree what Paul says, that works are sometimes imputed for righteousness, and that other kinds of blessedness are mentioned. It is said in Psalm 106:30-31, that it was imputed to Phinehas, the Lord’s priest, for righteousness, because he took away reproach from Israel by inflicting punishment on an adulterer and a harlot. It is true, we learn from this passage, that he did a righteous deed; but we know that a person is not justified by one act. What is indeed required is perfect obedience, and complete in all its parts, according to the import of the promise, —

“He who shall do these things shall live in them.”
(Deuteronomy 4:1.)

How then was this judgment which he inflicted imputed to him for righteousness? He must no doubt have been previously justified by the grace of God: for they who are already clothed in the righteousness of Christ, have God not only propitious to them, but also to their works, the spots and blemishes of which are covered by the purity of Christ, lest they should come to judgment. As works, infected with no defilements, are alone counted just, it is quite evident that no human work whatever can please God, except through a favor of this kind. But if the righteousness of faith is the only reason why our works are counted just, you see how absurd is the argument, — “That as righteousness is ascribed to works, righteousness is not by faith only.” But I set against them this invincible argument, that all works are to be condemned as those of unrighteousness, except a man be justified solely by faith.

The like is said of blessedness: they are pronounced blessed who fear the Lord, who walk in his ways, (Psalm 128:1,) who meditate on his law day and night, (Psalm 1:2:) but as no one doeth these things so perfectly as he ought, so as fully to come up to God’s command, all blessedness of this kind is nothing worth, until we be made blessed by being purified and cleansed through the remission of sins, and thus cleansed, that we may become capable of enjoying that blessedness which the Lord promises to his servants for attention to the law and to good works. Hence the righteousness of works is the effect of the righteousness of God, and the blessedness arising from works is the effect of the blessedness which proceeds from the remission of sins. Since the cause ought not and cannot be destroyed by its own effect, absurdly do they act, who strive to subvert the righteousness of faith by works.

But some one may say, “Why may we not maintain, on the ground of these testimonies, that man is justified and made blessed by works? for the words of Scripture declare that man is justified and made blessed by works as well as by faith.” Here indeed we must consider the order of causes as well as the dispensation of God’s grace: for inasmuch as whatever is declared, either of the righteousness of works or of the blessedness arising from them, does not exist, until this only true righteousness of faith has preceded, and does alone discharge all its offices, this last must be built up and established, in order that the other may, as a fruit from a tree, grow from it and flourish.

9-10. As circumcision and uncircumcision are alone mentioned, some unwisely conclude, that the only question is, that righteousness is not attained by the ceremonies of the law. But we ought to consider what sort of men were those with whom Paul was reasoning; for we know that hypocrites, whilst they generally boast of meritorious works, do yet disguise themselves in outward masks. The Jews also had a peculiar way of their own, by which they departed, through a gross abuse of the law, from true and genuine righteousness. Paul had said, that no one is blessed but he whom God reconciles to himself by a gratuitous pardon; it hence follows, that all are accursed, whose works come to judgment. Now then this principle is to be held, that men are justified, not by their own worthiness, but by the mercy of God. But still, this is not enough, except remission of sins precedes all works, and of these the first was circumcision, which initiated the Jewish people into the service of God. He therefore proceeds to demonstrate this also.

We must ever bear in mind, that circumcision is here mentioned as the initial work, so to speak, of the righteousness of the law: for the Jews gloried not in it as the symbol of God’s favor, but as a meritorious observance of the law: and on this account it was that they regarded themselves better than others, as though they possessed a higher excellency before God. We now see that the dispute is not about one rite, but that under one thing is included every work of the law; that is, every work to which reward can be due. Circumcision then was especially mentioned, because it was the basis of the righteousness of the law.

But Paul maintains the contrary, and thus reasons: “If Abraham’s righteousness was the remission of sins, (which he safely takes as granted,) and if Abraham attained this before circumcision, it then follows that remission of sins is not given for preceding merits.” You see that the argument rests on the order of causes and effects; for the cause is always before its effect; and righteousness was possessed by Abraham before he had circumcision.

11. And he received the sign, etc. In order to anticipate an objection, he shows that circumcision was not unprofitable and superfluous, though it could not justify; but it had another very remarkable use, it had the office of sealing, and as it were of ratifying the righteousness of faith. And yet he intimates at the same time, by stating what its object was, that it was not the cause of righteousness, it indeed tended to confirm the righteousness of faith, and that already obtained in uncircumcision. He then derogates or takes away nothing from it.

We have indeed here a remarkable passage with regard to the general benefits of sacraments. According to the testimony of Paul, they are seals by which the promises of God are in a manner imprinted on our hearts, (Dei promissiones cordibus nostris quodammodo imprimuntur,) and the certainty of grace confirmed (sancitur gratœ certitudo ) And though by themselves they profit nothing, yet God has designed them to be the instruments (instrumenta) of his grace; and he effects by the secret grace of his Spirit, that they should not be without benefit in the elect. And though they are dead and unprofitable symbols to the reprobate, they yet ever retain their import and character (vim suam et naturam:) for though our unbelief may deprive them of their effect, yet it cannot weaken or extinguish the truth of God. Hence it remains a fixed principle, that sacred symbols are testimonies, by which God seals his grace on our hearts.

As to the symbol of circumcision, this especially is to be said, that a twofold grace was represented by it. God had promised to Abraham a blessed seed, from whom salvation was to be expected by the whole world. On this depended the promise — “I will be to thee a God.” (Genesis 17:7.) Then a gratuitous reconciliation with God was included in that symbol: and for this reason it was necessary that the faithful should look forward to the promised seed. On the other hand, God requires integrity and holiness of life; he indicated by the symbol how this could be attained, that is, by cutting off in man whatever is born of the flesh, for his whole nature had become vicious. He therefore reminded Abraham by the external sign, that he was spiritually to cut off the corruption of the flesh; and to this Moses has also alluded in Deuteronomy 10:16. And to show that it was not the work of man, but of God, he commanded tender infants to be circumcised, who, on account of their age, could not have performed such a command. Moses has indeed expressly mentioned spiritual circumcision as the work of divine power, as you will find in Deuteronomy 30:6, where he says, “The Lord will circumcise thine heart:” and the Prophets afterwards declared the same thing much more clearly.

As there are two points in baptism now, so there were formerly in circumcision; for it was a symbol of a new life, and also of the remission of sins. But the fact as to Abraham himself, that righteousness preceded circumcision, is not always the case in sacraments, as it is evident from the case of Isaac and his posterity: but God intended to give such an instance once at the beginning, that no one might ascribe salvation to external signs. 137137     The word “sign” in this passage, σημεῖον, seems not to mean an outward token of something inward, but a mark, circumcision itself, which was imprinted, as it were, as a mark in the flesh. So Macknight renders it, “The mark of circumcision.” That circumcision was a sign or a symbol of what was spiritual, is evident: but this is not what is taught here. Circumcision is expressly called “a token,” or a sign, in Genesis 17:11; but it is said to have been “a token of the covenant,” that is, a proof and an evidence of it. The design of circumcision is expressed by the next word, σφραγίδα — seal. This sometimes signified the instrument, 1 Kings 21:8; and sometimes the impression, Revelation 5:1: and the impression was used for various purposes, — to close up a document, to secure a thing, and also to confirm an agreement. It is taken here in the latter sense; circumcision was a “seal,” a confirmation, an evidence, a proof, or a pledge, “of the righteousness” obtained “by faith.” We meet not with any distinct statement of this kind in Genesis: it is what the Apostle had gathered, and rightly gathered, from the account given us of what took place between God and Abraham. — Ed.

That he might be the father, etc. Mark how the circumcision of Abraham confirms our faith with regard to gratuitous righteousness; for it was the sealing of the righteousness of faith, that righteousness might also be imputed to us who believe. And thus Paul, by a remarkable dexterity makes to recoil on his opponents what they might have adduced as an objection: for since the truth and import (veritas et vis) of circumcision were found in an uncircumcised state, there was no ground for the Jews to elevate themselves so much above the Gentiles.

But as a doubt might arise, whether it behoves us, after the example of Abraham, to confirm also the same righteousness by the sign of circumcision, how came the Apostle to make this omission? Even because he thought that the question was sufficiently settled by the drift of his argument: for as this truth had been admitted, that circumcision availed only to seal the grace of God, it follows, that it is now of no benefit to us, who have a sign instituted in its place by our Lord. As then there is no necessity now for circumcision, where baptism is, he was not disposed to contend unnecessarily for that respecting which there was no doubt, that is, why the righteousness of faith was not sealed to the Gentiles in the same way as it was to Abraham. To believe in uncircumcision means, that the Gentiles, being satisfied with their own condition, did not introduce the seal of circumcision: and so the proposition δια, by is put for εν, in 138138     See a similar instance in Romans 2:27. — Ed.

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