Haldane: “Ungodly” In Romans 4:5 Means What It Says Just As “Works Not” Means What It Says

Ver. 5. —But to him that worketh not, but we leave it on him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. 

But to him that worketh not.—This is entirely misunderstood by Dr. Macknight and Mr. Stuart, as if it meant, according to Dr. MacKnight, ‘one who does not work all that he is bound to do;’ or, according to Mr. Stuart, ‘the sinner who has not exhibited perfect obedience.’ It means, however, what it literally expresses, namely, that the person who is justified does not work at all for his justification. It is not that he does not perform all the works that he ought, but that for justification he does nothing. It is true that he works, but not for justification. Mr. Tholuck, who likewise misunderstands in this place the whole of the Apostle’s argument, seems to think that the case of Abraham is only an analogy, and not an example of justification by faith. But Abraham’s faith respected the Messiah, whose day he saw afar off, and by his righteousness he was justified.

Justified the ungodly.—if the expression, ‘to him that worketh not,’ needed any explanation, this term—the ungodly—would place it meaning beyond all doubt. The term ungodly is applied throughout the Scriptures to wicked men, Rom v.6; 1 Tim ii. i.9; 1 Pet.iv.18; 2 Pet. ii.5, iii.7; Jude 4, 15. Men are ungodly in themselves, though, as soon as they are justified, they cease to be ungodly. They are ungodly till they believe; but in the moment that they receive the gift of faith, they are thereby united to the savior, and are instantly invested with the robe of righteousness, and also partake, according to the measure of their faith, of all those other graces that are received out of his fullness. They then passed from death to life,—A transition in which there is no medium; they are turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God; for till then, being without Christ, they are the children of the devil. They cannot at the same time be both dead and alive–under the power of God, and under the power of the devil; they must in every instance of their existence be either under the one or the other. In that moment, then, in which they believe, they are justified; and to justify, signifies not to treat men as if they were just or righteous, though they are not so, but because they are in truth righteous by imputation, really righteous, the law having been fulfilled in them, ch. viii. 

Robert Haldane | Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1996, repr. from 9th edition, 1874), 165 (on Rom 4:5).


Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


  1. Haldane’s commentary on Romans is one of the best. His understanding of Romans 2:6-10 is to be preferred over the predominant modern interpretation.

  2. It’s hard to reckon how anyone could misunderstand verse 5 in the context of which it is given. The entire passage is quite clear, even if verse 5 by itself could be interpreted differently than the Apostle obviously intended. I was taught that a text without a context is a pretext.

  3. Dr. Clark,
    I have been preaching through Romans and of the array of commentaries at my disposal (16 thru 21 centuries) only one gets the whole of chapter 2 correct…yep, Haldane. Commenting at verse 29 he so astutely observes “It is essential to keep in view that here, and all that precedes, from the beginning of 1:18 Paul is referring not to the Gospel but to the law”. I suspect that being a 19th century Scot that he had drunk deeply of the Marrow, of Boston and of Colquhoun. When it comes to interpreting Paul’s Romans rhetoric as a law/gospel antithesis (which is absolutely critical to the Gospel) no one exceeds Haldane’s consistent application. I affirm Mr. Alleman’s comment and then some. No wonder Pastor Gordon likes Haldane. He sorts out the law from the Gospel so what is preached and heard is “Good News”.

Comments are closed.