I’ve been using Mathew Poole’s (d. 1679) brief commentary on the whole Bible for a while now, and most of the time I have thoroughly enjoyed it. It is concise and right to the point, and usually includes great cross-references in the margin and in the text. Since I’m working through Romans 4.1-8 this week, I noticed Poole’s helpful discussion of verse 3, Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness (ESV).
“He was justified thereby: to have faith imputed for righteousness, and to be justified by faith, is the same thing. Faith is not our righteousness materially, but objectively and organically, as it apprehends and implies the righteousness of Christ, which is the matter of our justification. Our adversaries the papists oppose the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us; they cavil (complain) at the very word, and call it putative (a.k.a. legal fiction) righteousness: and yet the apostle uses the word ten times in this chapter, and in the same sense that we take it.”
“But how shall we reconcile our apostle with St. James, about the manner of Abraham’s justification: he says, expressly, James 2.21, that Abraham our father was justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac; and thence he infers, v 24, that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. They are easily reconciled, forasmuch as the one discorseth of the cause of our justification before God; the other, of the signs of justification before men. The one speaks of the imputation of righteousness; the other, the declaration of righteousness. The one speaks of the office of faith; the other, of the quality of faith. The one speaks of the justification of the person; the other, of the faith of that person. The one speaks of Abraham to be justified; the other, of Abraham already justified.”
This is one of the better whole Bible commentaries that I’ve used, even surpassing Matthew Henry in my opinion. Note: to dig deeper into the Roman Catholic “putative” objection, see Thomas Ridgley’s Body of Divinity, Vol III, p.84ff – click here for that.
Quotes taken from Matthew Poole, Commentary on the Holy Bible (Mclean: Macdonald Publishing Company, n.d.), III.490.