And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
~ Genesis 15:4-6
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. Praise ye the LORD. Blessed is the man that feareth the LORD, that delighteth greatly in his commandments.
~ Psalm 1:1-3, Psalm 112:1
And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,
~ James 2:23, Romans 4:5-6
In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.
~ Jeremiah 23:6, Romans 5:18
The Doctrine of Justification by Faith, Through the Imputation of the Righteousness of Christ; Explained, Confirmed, and Vindicated, by John Owen.
Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.
~ John 5:39
Chapter XII. The imputation of the obedience of Christ unto the law declared and vindicated. An excerpt.
This place I had formerly urged to this purpose about communion with God, p. 187; (21) which Mr Hotchkis, in his usual manner, attempts to answer. And to omit his reviling expressions, with the crude, unproved assertion of his own conceits, his answer is, — that by the change of raiment mentioned in the prophet, our own personal righteousness is intended; for he acknowledges that our justification before God is here represented. And so also he expounds the place produced in the confirmation of the exposition given, Isa. lxi. 10, where this change of raiment is called, “The garments of salvation, and the robe of righteousness;” and thereon affirms that our righteousness itself before God is our personal righteousness p. 203, — that is, in our justification before him, which is the only thing in question. To all which presumptions I shall oppose only the testimony of the same prophet, which he may consider at his leisure, and which, at one time or other, he will subscribe unto. Isa. lxiv. 6, “We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” He who can make garments of salvation and robes of righteousness of these filthy rags, has a skill in composing spiritual vestments that I am not acquainted withal. What remains in the chapter wherein this answer is given unto that testimony of the Scripture, I shall take no notice of; it being, after his accustomed manner, only a perverse wresting of my words unto such a sense as may seem to countenance him in casting a reproach upon myself and others.
There is, therefore, no force in the comparing of these things unto life and death natural, which are immediately opposed: “So that he who is not dead is alive, and he who is alive is not dead;” — there being no distinct state between that of life and death; for these things being of different natures, the comparison between them is no way argumentative. Though it may be so in things natural, it is otherwise in things moral and political, where a proper representation of justification may be taken, as it is forensic. If it were so, that there is no difference between being acquitted of a crime at the bar of a judge, and a right unto a kingdom, nor different state between these things, it would prove that there is no intermediate estate between being pardoned and having a right unto the heavenly inheritance. But this is a fond imagination.
It is true that right unto eternal life does succeed unto freedom from the guilt of eternal death: “That they may receive forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance among them that are sanctified.” But it does not do so out of a necessity in the nature of the things themselves, but only in the free constitution of God. Believers have the pardon of sin, and an immediate right and title unto the favour of God, the adoption of sons, and eternal life. But there is another state in the nature of the things themselves, and this might have been so actually, had it so seemed good unto God; for who sees not that there is a “status,” or “conditio personæ,” wherein he is neither under the guilt of condemnation nor has an immediate right and title unto glory in the way of inheritance? God might have pardoned men all their sins past, and placed them in a state and condition of seeking righteousness for the future by the works of the law, that so they might have lived; for this would answer the original state of Adam. But God has not done so. True; but whereas he might have done so, it is evident that the disposal of men into this state and condition of right unto life and salvation, does not depend on nor proceed from the pardon of sin, but has another cause; which is, the imputation of the righteousness of Christ unto us, as he fulfilled the law for us.
And, in truth, this is the opinion of the most of our adversaries in this cause: for they do contend, that over and above the remission of sin, which some of them say is absolute, without any respect unto the merit or satisfaction of Christ, others refer it unto them; they all contend that there is, moreover, a righteousness of works required unto our justification; — only they say this is our own incomplete, imperfect righteousness imputed unto us as if it were perfect; that is, for what it is not, and not the righteousness of Christ imputed unto us for what it is.
From what has been discoursed, it is evident that unto our justification before God is required, not only that we be freed from the damnatory sentence of the law, which we are by the pardon of sin, but, moreover, “that the righteousness of the law be fulfilled in us,” or, that we have a righteousness answering the obedience that the law requires; whereon our acceptance with God, through the riches of his grace, and our title unto the heavenly inheritance, do depend. This we have not in and of ourselves, nor can attain unto; as has been proved. Wherefore the perfect obedience and righteousness of Christ is imputed unto us, or in the sight of God we can never be justified.
Nor are the cavilling objections of the Socinians, and those that follow them, of any force against the truth herein. They tell us, “That the righteousness of Christ can be imputed but unto one, if unto any; for who can suppose that the same righteousness of one should become the righteousness of many, even of all that believe? Besides, he performed not all the duties that are required of us in all our relations, he being never placed in them.” These things, I say, are both foolish and impious, destructive unto the whole gospel; for all things here depend on the ordination of God. It is his ordinance, that as “through the offence of one many are dead,” so “disgrace, and the gift of grace, through one man, Christ Jesus, has abounded unto many;” and “as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men unto condemnation, so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all unto the righteousness of life;” and “by the obedience of one many are made righteous;” as the apostle argues, Rom. v. For “God sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us,” chap. viii. 3, 4; for he was “the end of the law” (the whole end of it), “for righteousness unto them that do believe,” chap. x. 4. This is the appointment of the wisdom, righteousness, and grace of God, that the whole righteousness and obedience of Christ should be accepted as our complete righteousness before him, imputed unto us by his grace, and applied unto us or made ours through believing; and, consequently, unto all that believe. And if the actual sin of Adam be imputed unto us all, who derive our nature from him, unto condemnation, though he sinned not in our circumstances and relations, is it strange that the actual obedience of Christ should be imputed unto them who derive a spiritual nature from him, unto the justification of life? Besides, both the satisfaction and obedience of Christ, as relating unto his person, were, in some sense, infinite, — that is, of an infinite value, — and so cannot be considered in parts, as though one part of it were imputed unto one, and another unto another, but the whole is imputed unto every one that does believe; and if the Israelites could say that David was “worth ten thousand of them,” 2 Sam. xviii. 3, we may well allow the Lord Christ, and so what he did and suffered, to be more than us all, and all that we can do and suffer.
There are also sundry other mistakes that concur unto that part of the charge against the imputation of the righteousness of Christ unto us, which we have now considered. I say of his righteousness; for the apostle in this case uses those two words, dikaiōma and hupakoē, “righteousness” and “obedience,” as isodunamounta — of the same signification, Rom. v. 18, 19. Such are these:— that remission of sin and justification are the same, or that justification consists only in the remission of sin; — that faith itself, as our act and duty, seeing it is the condition of the covenant, is imputed unto us for righteousness; — or that we have a personal, inherent righteousness of our own, that one way or other is our righteousness before God unto justification; either a condition it is, or a disposition unto it, or has a congruity in deserving the grace of justification, or a downright merit of condignity thereof: for all these are but various expressions of the same thing, according unto the variety of the conceptions of the minds of men about it. But they have been all considered and removed in our precedent discourses.
To close this argument, and our vindication of it, and therewithal to obviate an objection, I do acknowledge that our blessedness and life eternal is, in the Scripture, ofttimes ascribed unto the death of Christ. But, — 1. It is so kat’ exochēn, — as the principal cause of the whole, and as that without which no imputation of obedience could have justified us; for the penalty of the law was indispensably to be undergone. 2. It is so kata sungeneian, — not exclusively unto all obedience, whereof mention is made in other places, but as that whereunto it is inseparably conjoined. “Christus in vita passivam habuit actionem; in morte passionem activam sustinuit; dum salutem operaretur in medio terræ,” Bernard. And so it is also ascribed unto his resurrection kat’ endeixin, with respect unto evidence and manifestation; but the death of Christ exclusively, as unto his obedience, is nowhere asserted as the cause of eternal life, comprising that exceeding weight of glory wherewith it is accompanied.
Hitherto we have treated of and vindicated the imputation of the active obedience of Christ unto us, as the truth of it was deduced from the preceding argument about the obligation of the law of creation. I shall now briefly confirm it with other reasons and testimonies:—
1. That which Christ, the mediator and surety of the covenant, did do in obedience unto God, in the discharge and performance of his office, that he did for us; and that is imputed unto us. This has been proved already, and it has too great an evidence of truth to be denied. He was “born to us, given to us,” Isa. ix. 6; for “what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh; that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us,” Rom. viii. 3, 4. Whatever is spoken of the grace, love, and purpose of God in sending or giving his Son, or of the love, grace, and condescension of the Son in coming and undertaking of the work of redemption designed unto him, or of the office itself of a mediator or surety, gives testimony unto this assertion; yea, it is the fundamental principle of the gospel, and of the faith of all that truly believe. As for those by whom the divine person and satisfaction of Christ are denied, whereby they evert the whole work of his mediation, we do not at present consider them. Wherefore what he so did is to be inquired into. And, —
(1.) The Lord Christ, our mediator and surety, was, in his human nature, made hupo nomon, — “under the law,” Gal. iv. 4. That he was not so for himself, by the necessity of his condition, we have proved before. It was, therefore, for us. But as made under the law, he yielded obedience unto it; this, therefore, was for us, and is imputed unto us. The exception of the Socinians, that it is the judicial law only that is intended, is too frivolous to be insisted on; for he was made under that law whose curse we are delivered from. And if we are delivered only from the curse of the law of Moses, wherein they contend that there was neither promises nor threatening of eternal things, of any thing beyond this present life, we are still in our sins, under the curse of the moral law, notwithstanding all that he has done for us. It is excepted, with more colour of sobriety, that he was made under the law only as to the curse of it. But it is plain in the text that Christ was made under the law as we are under it. He was “made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law.” And if he was not made so as we are, there is no consequence from his being made under it unto our redemption from it. But we were so under the law, as not only to be obnoxious unto the curse, but so as to be obliged unto all the obedience that it required; as has been proved. And if the Lord Christ has redeemed us only from the curse of it by undergoing it, leaving us in ourselves to answer its obligation unto obedience, we are not freed nor delivered. And the expression of “under the law” does in the first place, and properly, signify being under the obligation of it unto obedience, and consequentially only with a respect unto the curse. Gal. iv. 21, “Tell me, ye that desire to be hupo nomon, — “under the law.” They did not desire to be under the curse of the law, but only its obligation unto obedience; which, in all usage of speech, is the first proper sense of that expression. Wherefore, the Lord Christ being made under the law for us, he yielded perfect obedience unto it for us; which is therefore imputed unto us. For that what he did was done for us, depends solely on imputation.
(2.) As he was thus made under the law, so he did actually fulfil it by his obedience unto it. So he testifies concerning himself, — “Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil,” Matt. v. 17. These words of our Lord Jesus Christ, as recorded by the evangelist, the Jews continually object against the Christians, as contradictory to what they pretend to be done by him, — namely, that he has destroyed and taken away the law. And Maimonides, in his treatise, “De Fundamentis Legis,” has many blasphemous reflections on the Lord Christ, as a false prophet in this matter. But the reconciliation is plain and easy. There was a twofold law given unto the church, — the moral and the ceremonial law. The first, as we have proved, is of an eternal obligation; the other was given only for a time. That the latter of these was to be taken away and abolished, the apostle proves with invincible testimonies out of the Old Testament against the obstinate Jews, in his Epistle unto the Hebrews. Yet was it not to be taken away without its accomplishment, when it ceased of itself. Wherefore, our Lord Christ did no otherwise dissolve or destroy that law but by the accomplishment of it; and so he did put an end unto it, as is fully declared, Eph. ii. 14–16. But the law kat’ exochēn, that which obliges all men unto obedience unto God always, he came not katalusai, to destroy, — that is athetēsai, to abolish it, as an athetēsis is ascribed unto the Mosaical law, Heb. ix. 26 (in the same sense is the word used, Matt. xxiv. 2; xxvi. 61; xxvii. 40; Mark xiii. 2; xiv. 58; xv. 29; Luke xxi. 6; Acts v. 38, 39; vi. 14; Rom. xiv. 20; 2 Cor. v. 1; Gal. ii. 18, mostly with an accusative case, of the things spoken of), or katargēsai, which the apostle denies to be done by Christ, and faith in him. Rom. iii. 31, Nomon oun katargoumen dia tēs pisteōs? Mē genoito; alla nomon histōmen; — “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid; yea, we establish the law.” Nomon histanai is to confirm its obligation unto obedience; which is done by faith only, with respect unto the moral law; the other being evacuated as unto any power of obliging unto obedience. This, therefore, is the law which our Lord Christ affirms that he came “not to destroy;” so he expressly declares in his ensuing discourse, showing both its power of obliging us always unto obedience, and giving an exposition of it. This law the Lord Christ came plērōsai. Plērōsai ton nomon, in the Scripture, is the same with emplēsai ton nomon in other writers; that is, to yield full, perfect obedience unto the commands of the law, whereby they are absolutely fulfilled. Plērōsai nomon is not to make the law perfect; for it was always nomos teleios, — a “perfect law,” James i. 25; but to yield perfect obedience unto it: the same that our Saviour calls plērōsai pasan dikaiosunēn, Matt. iii. 15, “to fulfil all righteousness;” that is, by obedience unto all God’s commands and institutions, as is evident in the place. So the apostle uses the same expression, Rom. xiii. 8, “He that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.”
2. It is a vain exception, that Christ fulfilled the law by his doctrine, in the exposition of it. The opposition between the words plērōsai and katalusai, — “to fulfil” and “to destroy,” — will admit of no such sense; and our Saviour himself expounds this “fulfilling of the law,” by doing the commands of it, Matt. v. 19. Wherefore, the Lord Christ as our mediator and surety fulfilling the law, by yielding perfect obedience thereunto, he did it for us; and to us it is imputed.
This is plainly affirmed by the apostle, Rom. v. 18, 19, “Therefore, as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners; so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” The full plea from, and vindication of, this testimony, I refer unto its proper place in the testimonies given unto the imputation of the righteousness of Christ unto our justification in general. Here I shall only observe, that the apostle expressly and in terms affirms that “by the obedience of Christ we are made righteous,” or justified; which we cannot be but by the imputation of it unto us. I have met with nothing that had the appearance of any sobriety for the eluding of this express testimony, but only that by the obedience of Christ his death and sufferings are intended, wherein he was obedient unto God; as the apostle says, he was “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross,” Phil. ii. 8. But yet there is herein no colour of probability. For, — (1.) It is acknowledged that there was such a near conjunction and alliance between the obedience of Christ and his sufferings, that though they may be distinguished, yet can they not be separated. He suffered in the whole course of his obedience, from the womb to the cross; and he obeyed in all his sufferings unto the last moment wherein he expired. But yet are they really things distinct, as we have proved; and they were so in him who “learned obedience by the things that he suffered,” Heb. v. 8. (2.) In this place, (Rom. v.) hupakoē, verse 19, and dikaiōma, verse 18, are the same, — obedience and righteousness. “By the righteousness of one,” and “by the obedience of one,” are the same. But suffering, as suffering, is not dikaiōma, is not righteousness; for if it were, then every one that suffers what is due to him should be righteous, and so be justified, even the devil himself. (3.) The righteousness and obedience here intended are opposed tō paraptōmati, — to the offence: “By the offence of one.” But the offence intended was an actual transgression of the law; so is paraptōma, a fall from, or a fall in, the course of obedience. Wherefore the dikaiōma, or righteousness, must be an actual obedience unto the commands of the law, or the force of the apostle’s reasoning and antithesis cannot be understood. (4.) Particularly, it is such an obedience as is opposed unto the disobedience of Adam, — “one man’s disobedience,” “one man’s obedience;” — but the disobedience of Adam was an actual transgression of the law: and therefore the obedience of Christ here intended was his active obedience unto the law; — which is that we plead for. And I shall not at present farther pursue the argument, because the force of it, in the confirmation of the truth contended for, will be included in those that follow.
(21) See vol. ii. p. 164 in the present edition of Owen’s works. — Ed.