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Commentary On Romans by Jean Calvin

Romans 4:19-22

19. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb:

19. Ac fide minime debilitatus, non consideravit suum ipsius corpus jam emortuum, centenaries quum fere esset, nec emortuam vulvam Saræ:

20. He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God;

20. Nec vero in Dei promissionem nec emortuam vulvam Sarre: per incredulitatem disquisivit; sed roboratus est fide, tribuens gloriam Deo;

21. And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.

21. Ac certe persuasus, quod ubi quid promisit, possit etiam præstare.

22. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.

22. Ideo et imputatum illi est in justitiam.

19. In faith, etc. If you prefer to omit one of the negatives you may render it thus, |Being weak in faith, he considered not his own body,| etc.; but this makes no sense. He indeed shows now more fully what might have hindered, yea, and wholly turned Abraham aside from receiving the promise. A seed from Sarah was promised to him at a time when he was not by nature fit for generating, nor Sarah for conceiving. Whatever he could see as to himself was opposed to the accomplishment of the promise. Hence, that he might yield to the truth of God, he withdrew his mind from those things which presented themselves to his own view, and as it were forgot himself.

You are not however to think, that he had no regard whatever to his own body, now dead, since Scripture testifies to the contrary; for he reasoned thus with himself, |Shall a child be born to a man an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, who is ninety, bear a son?| But as he laid aside the consideration of all this, and resigned his own judgment to the Lord, the Apostle says, that he considered not, etc.; and truly it was a greater effort to withdraw his thoughts from what of itself met his eyes, than if such a thing came into his mind.

And that the body of Abraham was become through age incapable of generating, at the time he received the Lord's blessing, is quite evident from this passage, and also from Genesis 17 and 18, so that the opinion of Augustine is by no means to be admitted, who says somewhere, that the impediment was in Sarah alone. Nor ought the absurdity of the objection to influence us, by which he was induced to have recourse to this solution; for he thought it inconsistent to suppose that Abraham in his hundredth year was incapable of generating, as he had afterwards many children. But by this very thing God rendered his power more visible, inasmuch as he, who was before like a dry and barren tree, was so invigorated by the celestial blessing, that he not only begot Isaac, but, as though he was restored to the vigor of age, he had afterwards strength to beget others. But some one may object and say, that it is not beyond the course of nature that a man should beget children at that age. Though I allow that such a thing is not a prodigy, it is yet very little short of a miracle. And then, think with how many toils, sorrows, wanderings, distresses, had that holy man been exercised all his life; and it must be confessed, that he was no more debilitated by age, than worn out and exhausted by toils. And lastly, his body is not called barren simply but comparatively; for it was not probable that he, who was unfit for begetting in the flower and vigor of age, should begin only now when nature had decayed.

The expression, being not weak in faith, take in this sense -- that he vacillated not, nor fluctuated, as we usually do under difficult circumstances. There is indeed a twofold weakness of faith -- one is that which, by succumbing to trying adversities, occasions a falling away from the supporting power of God -- the other arises from imperfection, but does not extinguish faith itself: for the mind is never so illuminated, but that many relics of ignorance remain; the heart is never so strengthened, but that much doubting cleaves to it. Hence with these vices of the flesh, ignorance and doubt, the faithful have a continual conflict, and in this conflict their faith is often dreadfully shaken and distressed, but at length it comes forth victorious; so that they may be said to be strong even in weakness.

20. Nor did he through unbelief make an inquiry, etc. Though I do not follow the old version, nor Erasmus, yet my rendering is not given without reason. The Apostle seems to have had this in view, -- That Abraham did not try to find out, by weighing the matter in the balance of unbelief, whether the Lord was able to perform what he had promised. What is properly to inquire or to search into anything, is to examine it through diffidence or mistrust, and to be unwilling to admit what appears not credible, without thoroughly sifting it. He indeed asked, how it could come to pass, but that was the asking of one astonished; as the case was with the virgin Mary, when she inquired of the angel how could that be which he had announced; and there are other similar instances. The saints then, when a message is brought them respecting the works of God, the greatness of which exceeds their comprehension, do indeed burst forth into expressions of wonder; but from this wonder they soon pass on to lay hold on the power of God: on the contrary, the wicked, when they examine a message, scoff at and reject it as a fable. Such, as you will find, was the case with the Jews, when they asked Christ how he could give his flesh to be eaten. For this reason it was, that Abraham was not reproved when he laughed and asked, how could a child be born to a man an hundred years old, and to a woman of ninety; for in his astonishment he fully admitted the power of God's word. On the other hand, a similar laughter and inquiry on the part of Sarah were not without reproof, because she regarded not the promise as valid.

If these things be applied to our present subject, it will be evident, that the justification of Abraham had no other beginning than that of the Gentiles. Hence the Jews reproach their own father, if they exclaim against the call of the Gentiles as a thing unreasonable. Let us also remember, that the condition of us all is the same with that of Abraham. All things around us are in opposition to the promises of God: He promises immortality; we are surrounded with mortality and corruption: He declares that he counts us just; we are covered with sins: He testifies that he is propitious and kind to us; outward judgments threaten his wrath. What then is to be done? We must with closed eyes pass by ourselves and all things connected with us, that nothing may hinder or prevent us from believing that God is true.

But he was strengthened, etc. This is of the same import with a former clause, when it is said, that he was not weak in faith. It is the same as though he had said, that he overcame unbelief by the constancy and firmness of faith. No one indeed comes forth a conqueror from this contest, but he who borrows weapons and strength from the word of God. From what he adds, giving glory to God, it must be observed, that no greater honor can be given to God, than by faith to seal his truth; as, on the other hand, no greater dishonor can be done to him, than to refuse his offered favor, or to discredit his word. It is hence the chief thing in honoring God, obediently to embrace his promises: and true religion begins with faith.

21. That what he had promised, etc. As all men acknowledge God's power, Paul seems to say nothing very extraordinary of the faith of Abraham; but experience proves, that nothing is more uncommon, or more difficult, than to ascribe to God's power the honor which it deserves. There is in deed no obstacle, however small and insignificant, by which the flesh imagines the hand of God is restrained from working. Hence it is, that in the slightest trials, the promises of God slide away from us. When there is no contest, it is true, no one, as I have said, denies that God can do all things; but as soon as anything comes in the way to impede the course of God's promise, we cast down God's power from its eminence. Hence, that it may obtain from us its right and its honor, when a contest comes, we ought to determine thus, -- That it is no less sufficient to overcome the obstacles of the world, than the strong rays of the sun are to dissipate the mists. We are indeed wont ever to excuse ourselves, that we derogate nothing from God's power, whenever we hesitate respecting his promises, and we commonly say, |The thought, that God promises more in his word than he can perform, (which would be a falsehood and blasphemy against him,) is by no means the cause of our hesitation; but that it is the defect which we feel in ourselves.| But we do not sufficiently exalt the power of God, unless we think it to be greater than our weakness. Faith then ought not to regard our weakness, misery, and defects, but to fix wholly its attention on the power of God alone; for if it depends on our righteousness or worthiness, it can never ascend to the consideration of God's power. And it is a proof of the unbelief, of which he had before spoken, when we mete the Lord's power with our own measure. For faith does not think that God can do all things, while it leaves him sitting still, but when, on the contrary, it regards his power in continual exercise, and applies it, especially, to the accomplishment of his word: for the hand of God is ever ready to execute whatever he has declared by his mouth.

It seems strange to me, that Erasmus approved of the relative in the masculine gender; for though the sense is not changed, we may yet come nearer to the Greek words of Paul. The verb, I know, is passive; but the abruptness may be lessened by a little change.

22. And it was therefore imputed, etc. It becomes now more clear, how and in what manner faith brought righteousness to Abraham; and that was, because he, leaning on God's word, rejected not the promised favor. And this connection of faith with the word ought to be well understood and carefully remembered; for faith can bring us nothing more than what it receives from the word. Hence he does not become immediately just, who is imbued only with a general and confused idea that God is true, except he reposes on the promise of his favor.

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