English translations of harmonizations I and II from chapter 4, section 1, dealing with Romans 4:1–8 [BRom (1536), 217–219; (1562), 230–233]
Harmonization (I) of the texts “The Law removes the reason for boasting”; and “The believer has reason to boast before God.”
Previously the apostle made the removal of boasting for any reason a property of faith, which of course the law of works would not remove. But here when he writes that Abraham did not have any reason to boast before God on the grounds of works, he indicates that he had reason to do so as a result of faith; therefore, faith both removes and supplies reason to boast, which seems a contradiction, but boasting of one’s own righteousness is one thing, boasting of God’s righteousness is another thing; boasting of our works is one thing, boasting of the condescension of God another thing; the one certainly faith removes, the second certainly faith gives grounds for καύχηµα, that is, boasting, is the proud expression of a confident and joyful mind in something that presents itself as one’s own. Now he who truly believes God through Christ, acknowledges that he is saved by the mercy of God alone and that all that is his own, far from escaping God’s curse, necessitated the death of the son of God to accomplish its expiation. Hence it is impossible to boast of anything other than the grace and goodness of God toward oneself and the cross of (p.228) our Lord Jesus Christ. Hence the apostle wrote in the epistle to the Ephesians concerning our salvation: “It is a gift from God not as a result of works, lest anyone should boast” [Eph. 2:8b–9]. Now as faith is convinced that it has been granted eternal felicity without any merit of its own, so it has reason to boast, but only in the Lord; and in fact in the Lord who is so favorable and benevolent to it. Concerning this boasting Paul writes later in the fifth chapter: “Through him we have access by faith to this grace in which we stand and make our boast in the hope of glory of God” [Rom. 5:2]; and not only that, but we glory even in our afflictions. For the saints are so certain of God’s love toward them that they do not doubt that it is as a result of this love that adversities are sent to them and that these undoubtedly work together for their salvation. Hence they glory too in these very adversities as the greatest and most certain goods. But how are they described as “goods”? Because they are ordained by God for good. And therefore this boasting in the Lord’s goodwill is also grace. So also Paul writes that those whom he brought to faith in Christ are his boast and that he is their boast, that is, each is the boast of the other. But even this boast was the result of the Lord’s kindness who had sent to his elect such a useful and salutary apostle and who had given his apostle such docile hearers, ready to follow Paul to the Lord’s kingdom. Moreover, in what he wrote in Galatians 6, he seems to make works themselves grounds for boasting. For he wrote: “If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he is deceiving himself. But let each test his own works, then he will have reason to boast of himself alone, not of another” [Gal. 6:3]. But here Paul rejects the boast which anyone presumes to make by reviling others and making them inferior to himself, whereby he himself may seem to be superior. In this way he is actually boasting not about himself but about others whom he puts down and in comparison with whom he prides himself. But he who lives with a pure conscience and truly pursues good works has within himself a reason to boast; but not because it is his own doing, but a gift of God. This is the boast of a good conscience, which Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians 1. All things are true among the saints, including therefore also the gifts of good works and a purity of mind. Therefore, they can and must boast about these, that is, proclaim them with the apostle confidently but in the proper place and give thanks for them to the Lord. This is rightly called boasting about them in God. Paul swears by the Lord that he must not abandon in the territory of Achaia the boast that he had preached the gospel for nothing. For that was the gift of God and an excellent one. Why, then, would he have not proclaimed it in the proper place to the glory of God, that is, for the strengthening of his apostolate, which was for the salvation of those to whom he had been sent as an apostle and in fact for the increase of the kingdom of Christ?
(p.229) In all this he ascribed nothing to himself but everything to God; he had all this reason to boast in the sight of God, that is, depending on the testimony of God. Therefore, faith absolutely removes all reasons for men to boast about themselves and their own deeds, for whatever good is present, he acknowledges that he receives it all by the gift of the divine goodwill. But at the same time he knows for certain that he enjoys God’s favor, and that what God bestows are true steadfast goods, and that one day it will be revealed that they truly exist and are held by him, so when that can happen by the ère of men, he may proclaim these truths also before men, that is, he boasts of them to the glory of God and he has this reason to boast before God, for God confirms of course those goods now in the consciences of believers and will one day confirm them before the whole assembly of the saints in the day of the last judgment. Hence Paul boasts that his glory will be the Corinthians and Thessalonians in the day of the Lord. Therefore, the fact that the apostle here attributes to the faith of Abraham, that he had reason to boast before God, that is, imputed righteousness of which he was able to boast, with God confirming that boasting by his own testimony is in no way contrary to what he wrote above in chapter 3 , that all boasting is removed by the law of faith. For at present he attributes to faith boasting which depends on the mercy of God, who justifies his own freely, and hence also bestows a true communion of righteousness and good works. However, above he speaks about boasting which depends on our works and which faith causes to vanish completely.
Harmonization II of the texts “He who believes in him who justifies” and what we read in Exodus 23: “God does not justify the ungodly.”
The Lord himself spoke thus: “Thou shalt not kill the innocent and the righteous for I will not justify the wicked, אצדיק, that is, I will not absolve, I will not hold him guiltless. This therefore seems diametrically opposite to what Paul here teaches: the whole of salvation depends on our believing that God justifies the wicked, that is, he absolves him and indeed he accounts him righteous. But the text in Exodus did not refer to the first justification, that is, absolution from all impiety; “For everybody is born wicked.” Wherefore, if God does not justify the wicked and ungodly, absolutely nobody will be saved. Concerning the second justification that is made according to works, the Lord said, “I will not justify the wicked”; for in this justification God repays each according to his deeds. But how these two statements may be the case and how they may honestly not contradict each other, that God forgives sins freely and yet takes vengeance and exacts punishment from sinners according to the nature of their offenses, can be more fully ascertained from our previous discussions in the second conciliation in section 3, chapter 2 .
(p.230) First God must certainly go before us with his mercy and forgive all our impiety. It is thus that he justifies the ungodly but while forgiving and remitting impiety, and hence also bestowing his spirit to shun all impiety and zealously pursue godliness, so that he may in this way reward us with his subsequent benefits as the prize and reward of godliness, but a godliness that is given by him. However, he whose impiety God does not at the same time both forgive and take away, just as he persists in his ungodliness that cannot but be hateful to a just God, so also he is hated by God on account of his ungodliness and he must pay in full the penalty of his ungodliness, at the time when God will judge according to his deeds. So God does not justify the ungodly, that is, while he continues to be ungodly, that is, God does not leave him unpunished; for as the apostle wrote above in chapter 2 , he sends affliction and distress into the soul of every evildoer. Therefore, the text “I will not justify the ungodly” means nothing other than “I will condone no one’s wickedness and ungodliness; no one while I am judge will be absolved while he pursues wickedness and godliness.”