2. He infers a general conclusion, “That a man is justified by faith, without the works of the law,” chap. 3:28. What is meant by “the law,” and what by “the works of the law,” in this discourse of the apostle about our justification, hath been before declared. And if we are justified freely through faith in the blood of Christ, that faith which hath the propitiation of Christ for its especial object, or as it hath so, can take no other grace nor duty into partnership with itself therein; and being so justified as that all such boasting is excluded as necessarily results from any differencing graces or works in ourselves, wherein all the works of the law are excluded, it is certain that it is by faith alone in Christ that we are justified. All works are not only excluded, but the way unto their return is so shut up by the method of the apostle’s discourse, that all the reinforcements which the wit of man can give unto them will never introduce them into our justification before God.
3. He asserts from hence, that we “do not make void the law through grace,” but establish it, verse 31; which, how it is done, and how alone it can be done, hath been before declared.
This is the substance of the resolution the apostle gives unto that great inquiry, how a guilty convinced sinner may come to be justified in the sight of God?—“The sovereign grace of God, the mediation of Christ, and faith in the blood of Christ, are all that he requireth thereunto.” And whatever notions men may have about justification in other respects, it will not be safe to venture on any other resolution of this case and inquiry; nor are we wiser than the Holy Ghost.
Rom. chap. 4. In the beginning of the fourth chapter he confirms what he had before doctrinally declared, by a signal instance; and this was of the justification of Abraham, who being the father of the faithful, his justification is proposed as the pattern of ours, as he expressly declares, verses 22–24. And some few things I shall observe on this instance in our passage unto the fifth verse, where I shall fix our discourse.
1. He denies that Abraham was justified by works, verse 2. And,—(1.) These works were not those of the Jewish law, which alone some pretend to be excluded from our justification in this place; for they were the works he performed some hundreds of years before the giving of the law at Sinai: wherefore they are the works of his moral obedience unto God that are intended. (2.) Those works must be understood which Abraham had then, when he is said to be justified in the testimony produced unto that purpose; but the works that Abraham then had were works of righteousness, performed in faith and love to God, works of new obedience under the conduct and aids of the Spirit of God, works required in the covenant of grace. These are the works excluded from the justification of Abraham. And these things are plain, express, and evident, not to be eluded by any distinctions or evasions. All Abraham s evangelical works are expressly excluded from his justification before God.
—John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 5 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 313–314.