The Nature of Faith as Illustrated in the Case of Abraham
Romans 4:1-25
What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, has found?…

I. FAITH The Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and English words hover between two meanings —

1. Trustfulness, the frame of mind which relies on another.

2. Trustworthiness, the frame of mind which can be relied upon. Not only are the two connected together grammatically, as active and passive senses of the same word, or logically, as subject and object of the same act; but there is a close moral affinity between them. Fidelity, constancy, firmness, confidence, reliance, trust, belief — these are the links which connect the two extremes, the passive with the active meaning of "faith." Owing to these combined causes, the two senses will at times be so blended together that they can only be separated by some arbitrary distinction. When the members of the Christian brotherhood, e.g., are called "the faithful," what is meant by this? Does it imply their constancy, their trust. worthiness, or their faith, their belief? In all such cases it is better to accept the latitude, and oven the vagueness, of a word or phrase, than to attempt a rigid definition which after all can only be artificial. And indeed the loss in grammatical precision is often more than compensated by the gain in theological depth. In the case of "the faithful," e.g., does not the one quality of heart carry the other with it, so that they who are trustful are trusty also; they who have faith in God are steadfast and immovable in the path of duty?

II. IN ABRAHAM THIS ATTITUDE OF TRUSTFULNESS WAS MOST MARKED. By faith he left home and kindred, and settled in a strange land; by faith he acted upon God's promise of a race and an inheritance, though it seemed at variance with all human experience; by faith he offered up his only son, in whom alone that promise could be fulfilled. This one word "faith" sums up the lesson of his whole life. As early as the First Book of Maccabees attention is directed to this lesson (chap. 2:52), and at the time of the Christian era the passage in Genesis relating to it had become a standard text in the Jewish schools for discussion and comment, and the interest thus concentrated on it prepared the way for the fuller and more spiritual teaching of the apostles. Hence we find it quoted by both Paul and James. While the deductions drawn from it by them are at first sight diametrically opposed in terms, and as long as our range of view is confined to the apostolic writings, it seems scarcely possible to avoid the conclusion that James is attacking the teaching of Paul. But when we realise the fact that the passage in Genesis was a common thesis in the schools, that the meaning of faith was variously explained, and diverse lessons drawn from it — then the case is altered. The Gentile apostle and the Pharisaic rabbi might both maintain the supremacy of faith as the means of salvation; but faith with Paul was a very different thing from faith with Maimonides. With the one its prominent idea is a spiritual life, with the other an orthodox creed; with the one the guiding principle is the individual conscience, with the other an external rule of ordinances; with the one faith is allied to liberty, with the other to bondage. Thus, and since the circles of labour of the two apostles were not likely to intersect, St. James's protest against reliance on faith alone is more likely to have been levelled against the Pharisaic spirit which rested satisfied with a barren orthodoxy than against the teaching of Paul.

(Bp. Lightfoot.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?

WEB: What then will we say that Abraham, our forefather, has found according to the flesh?

The Faith of Abraham
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