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)
Although Christ knew no sin, yet he was made sin. How could that be? How could he be made sin, who knew no sin? He was made sin, not practically, but by imputation. He had no sin inherently in him, but had sin imputed to him, when the Lord laid upon him the iniquities of us all. In his own person there was no inherent spot or stain of sin, or any such thing. He could not touch the pollution of sin, nor could he practically know its filthy, defiling nature. He was not a drunkard, a whoremonger, a thief, or whatever you call a sinner as such. He neither was a sinner practically, nor had he ever the least inclination to be so; because his will was always in perfect harmony with the will of God. From whence it appears that Christ was not made a polluted sinner, nor yet a guilty sinner as to the merit and desert of sin. In this respect he was not capable of being made sin. he did not, as to himself, deserve the punishment of sin, for which he suffered. Punishment is due to transgressors, but Christ had not transgressed. Even when he suffered, according to St. Peter, he was just, and righteous in himself; 1 Pet. 3:18, “Christ also hath once suffered for sin, the just for the unjust.” He was perfectly just, and therefore capable of undertaking to suffer for the unjust, that as no suffering was due to him, the merit of what he suffered might be imputed unto them. And so it was. He freely entered into an obligation to stand in the place of the unjust, and to undergo the punishment due to them, and this with his own consent the Lord laid upon him, and in this sense he was made sin for us. He was made sin in the same way that we are made righteous. Now the righteousness by which we are justified is not inherent in ourselves, but it is in Christ, and is made ours through God’s imputing it to us. In like manner our sins were not inherent in Christ, but imputed to him and laid upon him. He was willing to become our surety, and to answer for our sins and to have them imputed to him, so as to be obliged to bear the punishment of them, even the wrath and curse, which, if he had not endured them, would have sunk everyone of us into the pit of hell. But Christ his own self bare them in his own body upon the tree. As the surety of all that shall believe in him he undertook to answer all the demands which law and justice had upon them. And he was willing to have all their sins imputed to him, and placed to his account, that he might satisfy for them. Accordingly we read that he was once offered to bear the sins of many, and that by his own blood he obtained eternal redemption for them. When their iniquities were laid upon him, although he knew no sin, yet he knew what it was to suffer for sin. He died the death and endured the pains, which were in nature and proportion due to them for their sins, and for the full satisfaction of law and justice.
In this sense Christ was made sin; but what would this avail, if he was a mere man? He might be made sin, and might suffer, but not for us. The apostle says, in my text, he was made sin for us. What was effectual to us, must be more than human, and could be nothing short of divine. Christ’s undertakings were too great to be performed by any person less than the most high God. And accordingly the scripture teaches us, that Christ was Jehovah, the true self-existent God, a co-equal and co-eternal person with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and in his person God and man were united in one Christ. By this personal union, what the manhood did and suffered partook of the infinite merit of the Godhead. The manhood of Christ had no sin in it, and therefore what it suffered for the sin imputed to it, was infinitely meritorious, because he who suffered was God as well as man. This most wonderful method of bringing many sons unto glory, was contrived by the ever blessed Trinity, and settled by the covenant of grace. God the Son was pleased to become their surety, and to stand up in their nature to act and to suffer for them. And what he undertook he could not fail of accomplishing; for all things are alike possible to his almighty power. When he acted for his people, he was God as well as man, his obedience was therefore divine and infinite, and by the merits of it shall many be made righteous. When he suffered for his people, his sufferings were of such infinite merit and efficacy that by his stripes they are healed and freed from suffering. He took their griefs and carried their sorrows, that they might never fell them. When he died, and paid the debt to justice, which they ought to have paid, he soon brought them a discharge: for although he was buried and descended into hell, yet on the third day he rose again from the dead, and thereby demonstrated, that all the ends were answered, for which he was made sin for them.
Here, my Christian brethren, let us stop and adore the free love and rich mercy of our Divine Redeemer. He, the most high God, blessed for ever, condescended to be made man for us, and for our salvation. O wonderful condescension! that there should be any mercy for such enemies and rebels as we have been, and how did he magnify his compassion, that when he might in justice have destroyed us, yet he humbled himself and stooped down to save us! But how great was his humiliation in vouchsafing to take on him the form of a servant, and to live in poverty and contempt. Considering who it was that became a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, we see the greatest wonder of all, the depth of his humiliation. He that was the lowest upon earth, was the highest in heaven. He came down to be made sin for us, to have our sins imputed to him, and to answer for them to law and justice. Accordingly they were laid upon him, and he bare them in his own body on the cross, and thereby saved us from our sins. Blessed, for ever blessed be the name of our dear Redeemer. Glory, and honour, and thanks never-ceasing be to him, who took all our suffering upon himself, because he could bear that which we could not, and because he could satisfy for that in a short time, which we could not in eternity, and who, having thus delivered us from sin and suffering, has righteousness to impute unto us, in which we may stand blameless at the bar of justice. Oh let us praise him with our lips and lives, who was made sin for us, that he might be made righteousness to us, which is the third point I was to consider.
He was a spotless lamb, and therefore capable of being made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. Righteousness is a perfect conformity to the law and will of God, and without this no man shall see the Lord: “For the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God,” 1 Cor. 6:9, and we are all unrighteous, because we have all sinned and robbed God of his glory. The question then is, In what way or by what means can we attain righteousness? Can we attain it by the works of the law? No, it is impossible; because, if it was attainable by our own works, then we should be inherently righteous, and should have such a righteousness as the law demands; but the law demands perfect unsinning obedience, which we have not paid it. And upon our failing to pay it, the law pronounces us guilty, passes sentence, and leaves us, as to anything we can do, for ever under the curse, it being the irreversible decree of the almighty Law-giver, that since all flesh has sinned and broken the law, therefore by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
But if sinners cannot be justified by any inherent righteousness, what righteousness have they to plead at the bar of justice? They have a righteousness absolutely perfect and complete, called in scripture the righteousness of God, because the Lord our righteousness contrived and wrought it out. He came into the world, and took flesh in order to fulfill all righteousness. By his obedience and suffering he satisfied all the demands of law and justice, and paid that immense debt which none of us could pay, and hereby he was made of God unto us righteousness: God the Father constituted and ordained him to be the perfect righteousness of believers. In him is their righteousness, “Their righteousness is of me, said the Lord.” (Isaiah 54:17) For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.
If you ask how the righteousness of another can be made yours? it must be in the same way that Christ was made sin. He had no sin of his own, and yet he was made sin by imputation; and believers have no righteousness of their own, and yet are made righteous by imputation. Christ had no inherent sin of his own, nor have they any inherent righteousness; but he was made sin by having their sins imputed to him, and they are made righteous by having his righteousness imputed to them. The manner of God’s proceeding is the same in both cases. When the Psalmist says, “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity,” how is this to be understood? Has he no iniquity in him? Yes, he has original and inherent sin, and if he says he has no sin, he deceives himself; but he is a blessed man, because the Lord does not impute sin to him, nor charge him with it. So when David describeth the blessedness of the man to whom God imputeth righteousness, has the man this righteousness in himself, and is he inherently righteous? No, but by an act of grace God accounts him righteous, and imputes righteousness unto him, and therefore he is blessed. And thus God imputes righteousness to them who believe, not for a righteousness which is in them, but for a righteousness which he imputes to them. As their iniquities were laid upon Christ, and satisfaction for them required of him as debt is of the bondsman, although he had none of the money, so is the righteousness of Christ laid upon them. In like manner, as their sins were made his, so is his righteousness made theirs. He is sin for them, not inherently, but by imputation; and they righteousness through him, not inherently, but by imputation.
This is the righteousness in which alone a sinner can stand acquitted at God’s bar? There he must make mention of this righteousness, even of this only: for none but this can answer the demands of the law, and expiate the curse of it, and this righteousness can be made his by no other way than by God’s imputing it to him; which, as it is the great truth held forth in my text, I will endeavour more fully to explain and defend by the following reasons:
And first, the ceremonial law taught this doctrine very clearly. Whenever a person had sinned, he was to bring his sacrifice to the priest, and to lay his hands upon its head, confessing his sins over it, and then the guilt was transferred to the sacrifice, and its blood was shed instead of his. This is mentioned several times in Leviticus 4. And of the scapegoat we read, Lev. 16:21, “Aaron, shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat.” All the sins of the children of Israel were passed over to the goat, but were they put into the goat, or were they inherent in him? No, this is too absurd to be supposed, but they were put upon the goat. And this was a very expressive image of our sins being laid upon Christ; for all the sacrifices represented him. As the scapegoat had imputed to him all the people’s iniquities, so had Christ all his people’s iniquities imputed to him; and as the goat did bear upon him all their iniquities, so Christ did bear all their sins in his own body upon the tree. What was prefigured by the type, was fulfilled by the reality, when Christ suffered once for sin, the just for the unjust: for then he was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. Our righteousness is in him; this is a —
Second argument; That righteousness which is our justification before God is IN Christ. Believers have it not in themselves. They have not an inherent righteousness wrought out and attained by their own works, but their justifying righteousness was wrought out by another, and it is in him. How then can it be made theirs in any other way than by imputation? Must it not be transferred to them in the same way that their sins were transferred to him? And how were they transferred to him? They were imputed, not inherent; they were laid upon him, not into him. So his righteousness is in him, as their sins were in them, and it is imputed, not inherent; it is not put into them, but upon them. Their righteousness is in him, and he is the Lord their righteousness, and consequently that righteousness for which they are justified, cannot be in them; but it is made theirs when God imputes it to them, and they by faith receive it. The manner of receiving it, which is by faith, is the —
Third argument I shall bring in support of the apostle’s doctrine. Faith is the only instrument which God is pleased to use in applying Christ’s righteousness. The apostle calls it the righteousness of faith, because faith alone is employed in the application of this righteousness. It is never called the righteousness of any other grace, but of faith. We never read of the righteousness of humility, meekness, or charity; these are of great price in the sight of God, but they have no office in justifying a sinner. This belongs solely to faith: for to him that worketh not, but believeth, is righteousness imputed. It is not by working, but by believing, that sinners are justified. When they are convinced of sin, find no righteousness in themselves, hear the dreadful sentence of the law against the unrighteous, and feel in their guilty consciences some of the miseries which they deserve, then they are stirred up to seek for a righteousness in which they may stand acquitted before the judgment-seat of God. The scripture offers to them such a righteousness in Christ, and then God enables them to rest and to rely upon it for their justification, they then by faith have peace with God through Jesus Christ their Lord. Thus the convinced sinner is forced to seek a righteousness out of himself, and to rely upon the righteousness of another, and how can this be made or accounted his in any other way, than by imputation? how can he be made righteous in Christ, but by having Christ’s righteousness imputed to him?