The Doctrine of Imputed Righteousness Defended
IN A DISCOURSE PREACHED IN LONDON IN THE YEAR 1759
by William Romaine
Surely shall one say, in the Lord have I righteousness. (Isaiah 45:24)
He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
IT is the great and merciful design of the gospel to acquaint a sinner, who is guilty and condemned by the holy law of God, how he may be pardoned and justified. Every one of us is a sinner: for all have sinned, and therefore all of us stand in need of pardon, and ought to receive it with thankful hearts as soon as the gospel offers it to us. But the greatest part of mankind are not sensible of their guilt, nor apprehensive of their danger. Sin has nothing in it terrible to them. They love it, dream of happiness in the enjoyment of it, and while this delusion continues, they see not their want of, and therefore have no desire for, the gospel salvation. But when one of these persons awakes and opens his eyes, he is then terrified at the sight of his present state. Sin appears to him in a new light: he finds it to be exceeding sinful, and the wrath of God revealed from heaven against it to be beyond measure dreadful. His guilty conscience alarms him with an awful sense of his danger, and makes him feel some of the punishment due to sin, and then he cannot be easy, until he know that his sins may be pardoned, and he cannot be happy, until he has some evidence of their being pardoned. Now Christianity is the only religion, which can give such a person relief: because it alone teaches him by what means he may be pardoned and justified, and have peace with God. He may be pardoned freely through the grace of God, and justified through the righteousness of Jesus Christ, whom God the Father hath made sin for us, although he knew no sin in himself, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him; and being thus justified by faith in him, we might have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Although this doctrine be clearly taught throughout the scriptures, yet there are at present two sorts of men who are great enemies to it, and who strive to keep convinced sinners from the comfort of it; I mean the papists, who go about to establish their own righteousness, and the Pharisees among us, who will not submit to the righteousness of God. The notion of the papists concerning merit is the foundation of all their errors. They teach, that Christ merited the grace for them, which is in them, and then this grace in them merits their justification, and for this inherent grace God doth justify them. And thus they make a Saviour of inherent grace, and put it in the place of Christ, and give his glory to their own works. But if inherent grace be our righteousness before God, then how does God justify the ungodly, who have no grace, or how can he justify a man for those graces which are imperfect, and which want the benefit of Christ’s atonement? Absurd as this opinion of theirs is, yet they must defend it. Their cause rests upon it: for if you take away their doctrine of merit, down falls the whole superstructure of their superstition, all their indulgences, pardons, pilgrimages, masses, fasts, penances, and the mighty Babel of man’s inventions. When this doctrine was grown to a monstrous height, it pleased God to raise up Luther and the rest of the reformers to preach against it. Their principal aim and design was to overthrow the merit of works, and to establish justification by faith only, and they succeeded. Several nations were converted from the errors of popery, and among the rest the inhabitants of this island. Our forefathers threw off the Romish yoke, and received the pure doctrines of the gospel, which amidst our several changes and revolutions of government have been happily preserved, until there has been of late years a manifest departure from them. Great multitudes of Protestants are going fast back again to Popery, and seemingly without knowing it; for it is a received opinion in England, as much as in France, that man’s works are effectual and meritorious towards his justification before God. This is the fundamental heresy of the papists, and how many nominal Protestants have fallen into it, our enemies can tell. They see, with pleasure, that there is very little appearance of religion left among us, and that some of our most decent professors are become papists in that leading principle, which separates the popish from the protestant communion.
Things being in this unpromising state, the friends of the Reformation should bestir themselves. They should try to point out the old land marks. This is more especially incumbent upon the clergy. It is high time for them to hold forth to their people the fundamental doctrines of the established church, and to warn them against the errors of popery and pharisaism. With this view, I have chosen the words now read for your present meditation; and may the Lord give his blessing to what shall be spoken upon them. Oh that he may accompany with the effectual working of his power what shall be said,
First, Concerning Christ’s unspotted innocence. He knew no sin. Yet,
Secondly, God made him to be sin for us; and
Thirdly, For this reason, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
And first, our Lord’s fitness to be made sin for us, is here set forth by his knowing no sin. He knew it not in the scripture sense of the word. He had no practical knowledge of sin, either in thought, word, or deed. Speculatively he knew it well, but that could not defile him; for it was the sin of others which he knew, and hated, and came to put away by the sacrifice of himself. Christ was perfectly acquainted with the holy, just, and good law of God; he saw clearly into the purity and spirituality of it, which could not suffer the least offence, being as holy, just, and good as God himself is, and being the copy of his most perfect mind and will. In this view our Lord beheld the odious nature of sin, and the exceeding sinfulness of it. He knew the hatred which the all-pure God had to it, the punishment it deserved, and the everlasting fire which it had kindled in the nethermost hell. No one ever understood these things so clearly as Christ did. He saw the destructive effects of sin, what disorder it had brought into the world, and to what temporal and eternal evils it had subject the bodies and the souls of men. He knew also that there was no help upon earth, and that no creature in heaven of the highest order of angels could deliver any one sinner from his distress, and much less a multitude; therefore his eye pitied us, and his compassion was moved at the sight of our lost and helpless state. Behold what manner of love he hath bestowed upon such sinners as you and me; a love which led him to do greater wonders to save, than he had before done to create us: for he, the most high God, blessed for ever, humbled himself to be made man. He, whom angels and archangels had been worshipping from the moment of their creation, took upon him the form of a servant, and came to save his people from their sins. Adore, my brethren, and praise this infinite condescension of the incarnate God: for it was for you who believe it by true faith, and for your salvation, that the Word was made flesh. He was equal to this great work, because he was perfect God and perfect man in one Christ, and as such he was absolutely free from sin, “he knew no sin,” he knew it not in practice. No sin, no inclination, no motion, or rising of sin, ever entered into his heart, and therefore he was pure from the least spot or stain of pollution.
The scripture is very plain upon this point. Christ was known in the times of the Old Testament by the titles of the Holy Name, the Holy One, the Holy One of Israel, and the prophet Isaiah speaks of the Lord the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One; and when the fulness of time was come, that this Holy One should be made flesh, he was conceived and born without the least taint of corruption, conceived of the Holy Spirit, and born of a pure virgin. Yea, the angel Gabriel pronounced him to be holy before his birth, in the message to the virgin, Luke 1:35. “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee, shall be called the Son of God.” He was born holy, and such was the life of the holy child Jesus, as his birth had been. We may see clearly how pure he came into the world, from the purity with which he lived in it. How different was his life from ours; he knew no sin in thought, word, or deed. The prophet says, “He had a clean heart,” all his thoughts were clean; “He had pure hands,” all his actions were pure; “and he had a mouth without guile,” no idle, false, or sinful word ever passed through his lips. He was altogether holy, harmless, and undefiled, and separate from sinners. In the law of the Lord was his study and his delight. He came to glorify it, and by keeping it in its spiritual nature, and in its full extent, with every faculty of soul and body, and at all times he made it honourable. He paid it that obedience which it demanded, and continued in all things that were written in the book of the law to do them. Thus in him was no sin, sin being the transgression of the law. And accordingly we find him challenging his bitterest enemies upon this point. “Which of you,” says he, (John 8:45,) “convinceth me of sin?” Nay, he went further, and defied Satan himself, as well as the Jews, “The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me,” no sin of mine own to lay to my charge.
From these passages it plainly appears, that Christ knew no sin. He was a pure and spotless lamb, holy and without blemish; and it was necessary he should be so: because, if he ever had any sin of his own he could not have obeyed and suffered for the sins of others. The infinite purity of God’s law can pass by no sin. Upon the least transgression, if it be but a thought or motion in the heart, the law passes sentence and condemns, “Cursed is every one who continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them:” and if you continue not to do them, justice calls aloud for the inflicting of the threatened curse, and waits to see it fully executed; therefore unless Christ had continued to do all things which are written in the book of the law, he could not have obeyed and suffered for the sins of others; because he would then have suffered for his own, which must not be imagined. It would be blasphemy to suppose any such thing. When the last scene of his sufferings began, he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, a lamb without blemish and without spot, such as the ceremonial law required. You know, my brethren, that no creature could be offered in sacrifice to the Lord, if it had the least blemish or deformity. By this type was prefigured the perfect sinless purity, which was to be in the great sacrifice for sin. He was to be a lamb without blemish, without the least spot or stain of sin, either in his nature or in his life, and such an one was the lamb of God. The apostle says expressly, 1 Pet. 2:22, “He did NO sin;” and St. John, 1 Eph. 3:5, speaks to believers, “Ye know, that he was manifested to take away our sins, and in him is no sin:” this was a known and established truth, that in Christ there was NO sin. If judgment was laid to the line, and righteousness to the plummet, there would be found in him a perfect conformity to the law. And this his active obedience was necessary to prepare him for his passive, that having obeyed the law actively he might suffer passively whatever was due to our disobedience. And that righteousness, by which we are accounted righteous before God, is the effect of his being obedient unto death, of his obedience to the perceptive part of the law, which was his fulfilling the righteousness of the law, and of his obedience to the vindictive part of the law, which was his bearing the cures of it. His active obedience was absolutely perfect. He knew NO sin, and therefore was every way fit and qualified to suffer for sin, “to be made sin for us,” as the apostle expresses it in my text, which words I am in the second place to consider.