Rom. 4:23, 24; 5:1, “Now it was not written for [Abraham’s] sake alone that [righteousness] was imputed unto him, but for us also to whom it shall be imputed if we believe on Him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead: who was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification. Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Attention is claimed to the phrases “if we believe” and “being justified by faith,” which are often quoted to prove that, by believing, sinners pass from a state of condemnation to one of justification—that on this condition the righteousness of Christ is imputed to them—and that then, and not till then, they stand free from guilt in God’s sight. That this is the apparent teaching of the words on a superficial examination is not denied. Further, it is honest to admit that they present some difficulty to those who hold the views advocated in these pages.
To meet this difficulty, two very different explanations have been proposed.
The first suggests the transposing of the common in Rom. 5:1, and making the verse read “Therefore being justified, by faith we have peace with God.” Thus the words are supposed to teach nothing more than the indisputable fact that peace comes to justified sinners through believing.
To this, however, there is a weighty objection. An alteration so important should not be made without authority. This it lacks. The emendation would not be sanctioned by any competent scholar whose judgment was unbiased. On this account the suggestion must be abandoned.
Again, Israel Atkinson denies that “Faith” here means believing, and contends that the term is employed objectively to describe the method of salvation revealed to and received by faith.
To this it may be objected, that Rom. 5:1 evidently relates to chap. 4:24, which must rule its meaning. Thus: “For us, also, to whom it shall be imputed if we believe on Him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead—therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace.” This necessitates our giving to the term “faith” in chap. 5:1 the force of “believing.”
We, nevertheless, contend that the popular interpretation is incorrect, for the following reasons. The original reads thus:
“Now, it was not written on account of him (Abraham) only, that [righteousness] was imputed (or reckoned) unto him; but also on account of us, to whom it is about to be (or shall most certainly be) imputed (or reckoned) [namely] to us that believe on Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered on account of our offences, and was raised on account of our justification. Having, therefore, been justified out of (or in the way, or on the principle of) faith* we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
*—Rom. 5:1, Justified “out of faith,” Rev. Version, alternative reading, which is a literal translation of the Greek preposition ek. “On the principle of faith,” J.N. Darby; “in the way of faith,” G.V. Wigram; “Neither by nor through at all represents the preposition ek here employed; but both were evidently employed to sustain the mistaken sense of the passage so commonly adopted.”—Israel Atkinson.
It may be thus explained—God was the object of Abraham’s faith, as He is of ours, but God is always to be trusted according to the fullest revelation of Himself that He has deigned to make. Abraham trusted in Him as promising, and being able to keep His promise. We trust in the same God, but as more fully revealed in connection with His crowning act of faithfulness and power—the raising of Jesus from the dead. Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned (or imputed) unto him for righteousness—i.e., unto him as a believer righteousness was imputed, for his justification: and righteousness is imputed also to us, who believe in God as raising Jesus from the dead. He that thus believes in God is designated as one to whom righteousness is imputed. This, we submit, is the apostle’s meaning. There is no “if” in the original, nor is there the shadow of authority for its introduction.* The question, therefore, of the way in which sinners originally become interested in the righteousness of Christ is not here discussed.
*—See various translations: “Who believe on Him,” Rev. Version; “To whom, believing on Him, etc., it will be reckoned,” J.N. Darby; “To us, also, who have faith in Him, etc.,” W.J. Conybeare, M.A.; “Seeing we believe on Him,” etc., Dr. Gill, who adds, “which is descriptive of the faith of New Testament believers,” “Namely, us who believe,” Dean Alford, who adds, “this specifies the us.”
The future “shall be imputed” demands attention. Is not righteousness now imputed to all that believe?
In reply, we observe, that in the original there are two ways of expressing what is yet to be. The common and less emphatic way is by the use of the ordinary future tense. The less ordinary but more forcible is by using an additional verb, mello “to be about to.” When this is the case (as in Matt. 16:27, 17:12, 22; Acts 24:15; Rom. 8:13, 18; Rev. 1:19), the “shall” should be regarded as if printed in italics, to indicated that it is emphatic. Such is the “shall” in this passage.
Two explanations of its peculiar force here are suggested.
That the future is employed as in chap. 3:30 and 5:10, because it refers to the conduct of God throughout the whole of this dispensation. Wherever and whenever a spiritual believer is found, it will be a fact that righteousness is imputed to him. Again it is supposed—
“That the reference is to the Day of Judgment (Compare 1 John 2:28, and 4:17), and that the apostle’s meaning is, that as God has already vindicated in His Word the righteousness of Abraham, so He will assuredly vindicate the characters of those who now by Faith are enabled to count human righteousness as dross and dung for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:7, 11)”—Arthur Pridham.
The former opinion commends itself to the writer.
It is, therefore, clear (whatever view be adopted) that this passage does not teach that believing is a condition of salvation.
This leads us to a correct interpretation of Rom. 5:1, which is evidently but a reiteration of the statement we have just examined. “Having, therefore, been justified in the way or on the principle of faith.”
This does not refer to our secret Justification in the sight of God, which, as we have shown (page 65), was merited by the obedience unto death of Jesus, who, as the context states, was “delivered on account of our sins (because He was charged with our sins) and was raised again on account of our Justification (because our Justification was an accomplished fact).
[Compare page 71. This passage does not mean that Christ was raised again to accomplish our Justification by pleading the merits of His death on our behalf, but that our Justification led to His Resurrection. Had not the elect church been justified by His death, He could not have been raised from the dead. “The original words are without ambiguity, and clearly represent our Lord’s resurrection as an event which took place in consequence of our justification, and in the same manner as His death took place in consequence of our sins.”—Bishop Horsley’s “Sermon on Rom. 4:25.” See also, “Thoughts on Scriptural Subjects,” by B.W. Newton, page 133. Bunyan evidently took the same view of the text. See Offor’s Edition, vol. 1, page 305. “A full discharge was in and by Christ received of God of all our sins before He rose from the dead, as His resurrection truly declared; for ‘He was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification’ (Rom 4:25).”]
It refers, whoever, to Justification as realized by us. “The implantation of the habit of Faith gives me a right to believe myself justified; and the drawing forth of Faith into exercise gives a knowledge of that right.”—John Ryland, D.D. Thus a man is justified by Faith, who heartily renounces his own creature righteousness, and humbly presents the righteousness of Jesus as his only plea for his acceptance with God. He is not justified for Faith, nor does the phrase “by faith” accurately represent the original. But he is justified on the principle of faith as opposed to works; or, in the way of faith as a distinct method of approach to God in reliance on the merits of Jesus Christ. Out of his Faith his knowledge of his Justification arises, for “though an elect person is clear in the sight of God, he cannot know it, nor has he any right to believe himself justified before the implantation of this heaven-born grace.”—John Ryland, D.D.
The passages under review, therefore, teach that those that believe had righteousness imputed to them, and are justified; and that Faith conveys an experimental enjoyment of this fact to the mind. They, however, do not represent that believing is a human duty to be performed ere sinners can be saved.