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)
If these arguments be well considered, they will, I hope, establish the doctrine of the text; for they clearly prove, that God hath appointed the Lord Jesus Christ to be the only righteousness of his people. He was made sin for them, their sins being laid upon him, as the sins of the children of Israel were laid upon the scapegoat. And he was made of God unto them righteousness, and their righteousness is in him, not an inherent but an imputed righteousness, and received by faith, which submits to be justified by the righteousness of another, and rests with full trust and confidence upon it. This is the fundamental doctrine of Christianity, and the direct contrary is the fundamental doctrine of popery.
At the reformation the Lord raised up faithful witnesses to bear their testimony against that reigning heresy of the papists, which places merit in man’s works; yea, such merit as to justify a sinner before God; yea, still greater merit, for they maintain, that a man can do more than the moral law requires, and can perform works of supererogation, the merit of which may be imputed to another person, and yet, at the same time, they deny the imputation of Christ’s merits. The first reformers preached boldly against those blasphemies, and that blessed servant of God, Luther, was bold indeed. He knew well the dangerous tendency of the doctrine of merit, and therefore he principally wrote and preached against it, and God gave him great success. A sinner made righteous by the righteousness of Christ, is, as he used to say, the doctrine upon which a church stands or falls. Upon it our church was established, and has long stood; but do we stand upon it now? Are we all champions for the protestant doctrine, or are we in general departed from it? Alas! our enemies can tell, with triumph they tell of the increase of the popish interest among us. And why does it increase? Whence is it that they make so many converts? Is it not because our people are not well established in this protestant doctrine? If it was taught and preached more, our churches would not be so empty as they are, nor the mass houses so full. Many of our people know not what it is to be a protestant, and therefore they become an easy prey to the papists, who are so busy and successful in making converts, that they pretend they have on one Lord’s day more communicants at the mass house in Lincoln’s-inn-fields, than we have on the same day at all the churches in London. I fear this may be true; but is it not greatly alarming, and ought it not to stir up the protestant clergy, to try to put a stop to the spreading of popery? But how can they do this more effectually, than by laying the axe to the root, and striking at the doctrine of merit, which is the fundamental error of the papists? Overthrow this, and popery cannot stand. A man cannot be a papist, who believes that his justifying righteousness is in Christ, and whoever does not believe this is not a protestant. May the Lord raise us up faithful and able men, (for we greatly want them,) to defend his righteousness against them who have established a meritorious righteousness of their own, and will not submit to the righteousness of God.
But, besides the papists, we have other enemies to the doctrine in the text. The careless sinner treats it with great contempt; for he does not see its value, nor his own want of it, and therefore he lives easy and secure in the practice of sin. The scripture has revealed the wrath of heaven against all his unrighteousness, but he does not regard the revelation. The law brings him in guilty and condemns him but he gives himself no concern about the threatenings of the law. The gospel offers him mercy, and its ministers entreat him to accept of it, but he stops his ears. Neither the grace of the gospel, nor the terrors of the law, can prevail upon him. Although he has no righteousness of any kind, yet the lives as if he was in no danger. Oh deluded man: if thou didst but know thy state, thou wouldst cry earnestly to the Redeemer, and seek to be accepted in his righteousness. May he take pity upon thee, and send his good spirit to convince thee of sin, and to convince thee of righteousness.
The formalist is another enemy to the doctrine in the text. He will not receive justification by imputed righteousness, but will have his own righteousness seated on the throne along with Christ. He falls into this great mistake from his ignorance of the perfect nature of God’s law, which has made no provision for any failing, but for the very first passes sentence, “Cursed is every one who continueth not in ALL things,” &c., and since all have failed, consequently all are under the curse, and can never be justified by that law which has condemned them. And his mistake arises also from his ignorance of the gospel. He takes the gospel to be a proposal of terms and conditions, mitigating the rigour of the law, and so he makes Christ only a milder law-giver than Moses, requiring not perfect but sincere obedience of his creatures. Whereas Christ came to redeem us from the curse of the law, by obeying its precepts, and by suffering its penalties, and our righteousness comes to us from him as the fulfiller of the law, and is received by faith, without any of our works or deservings.
If any of you, my brethren, have fallen into this mistake, weigh and consider attentively what has been before said upon the moral law, and upon the law of faith, and if you are not convinced, can you ask God to direct you in the right way? If you can, he has promised to give you wisdom; he will teach you the true doctrine, and will enable you to submit to the righteousness of God. But if you are convinced, are you waiting for the precious gift of faith, or have you received it? If you are waiting for it, remember whose gift it is. The Holy Spirit alone can work faith in your heart. It requires his power, even that almighty power, which raised up Jesus from the dead. The Scriptures ascribes to him the office of convincing sinners of Christ’s righteousness, and of giving them faith to rest upon it for their justification. Look up to him for this blessing. Wait in his appointed ways, hoping for it. And when the Spirit shall be poured upon you from on high, then you will be justified by faith in Christ’s righteousness, and the work of righteousness shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness, and assurance for ever.
Happy are you, my Christian brethren, who have received the righteousness of faith, and knowing whom you have believed. Since Christ’s righteousness is yours, bring forth its proper fruits, and shew publicly, that there is an inseparable connexion between justifying faith and sanctifying grace. By justifying faith the believer is united to Christ, and receives life from him, as a graft does from the stock upon which it grows. By virtue of this union, Christ liveth in the believer, and enables him to put forth the proper acts of spiritual life, as the stock upon which the graft grows supplies it with sap and juices to put forth leaves, and blossom, and fruit. This is the certain effect of the abiding of a branch in the vine; it will bring forth fruit; and if any one fancy himself to be a believer, and neither brings forth nor is seeking to bring forth any fruit, he only deceives himself, and the truth is not in him: for whosoever has Christ for a Savior, will have the Holy Spirit for a sanctifier, and will bring forth fruit to the Glory of God.
See then, my Christian brethren, that ye value and prize this righteousness, and give it its proper honour, both with your hearts and lives. While you are bringing forth its peaceable fruits, you will continually find the comforts of it. This righteousness is one of the pieces of Christian armour. It is called a breast-plate: because it is the proper armour for the vital parts. Your life is always safe while you have your breast-plate on; you need not fear the terror by night, nor the arrow that flieth by day. Let thousands fall, you are safe. You are defended from outward attacks: for although many be the afflictions of the righteous, yet the Lord delivereth him out of them all; and you are kept in inward peace: for the work of righteousness is peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance for ever. In time of sickness this righteousness will be a perpetual cordial. It will not suffer the heart to sink, although the body grows weak and faint; for this breast-plate is not only proof against the pains of sickness, but also against the weapons of death. “Righteousness delivereth from death;” Prov. 11:4; not by keeping the justified person from dying, but by keeping him from the fear of the first, and from the power of the second death. The righteous man, armed with this invulnerable breastplate, can challenge all his enemies. Who shall separate me from the love of Christ? shall tribulation or distress, or persecution or death? Nay, clothed in the robe of Christ’s righteousness, I shall not be afraid to go through the valley and shadow of death, nor yet to stand at the awful bar of God’s infinite justice. Why should he fear to stand there to be tried? For who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God himself that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea, rather that is risen again for their justification, and in his righteousness they shall stand holy and unblameable and unreprovable before the judgment-seat of God.
Since these are some of the benefits of having on the breastplate of righteousness, let us, my Christian brethren, keep it always in use. Since we are fighting under the Captain of our salvation, let us be ever armed with his righteousness; and may we all wear it upon our breasts, that neither guilt within, nor troubles without, may ever separate us from the love of Christ Jesus our Lord; but may we, in life and death, find the blessedness of this armour, by its protecting us from the threatenings of the broken law, and from the vengeance of almighty justice; and may we in time and in eternity live to his glory, who humbled himself to be made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. Grant this, holy Father, for the sake of they dear Son, Jesus Christ: to whom, with thee and the Holy Spirit, three persons in one Jehovah, be honour and glory, and blessing and praise, for ever and ever. Amen.
William Romaine was an English Evangelical divine who was born at Hartlepool, England on September 25, 1714. He was educated at Hart Hall and Christ Church, Oxford, receiving his B.A. in 1734 and M.A. in 1737. He was ordained a deacon in 1736, a priest in 1738; and was curate for many years at Baustead, Surrey and Horton, Middlesex. Drawn into the Evangelical revival, he first adhered to John Wesley, but in 1755 passed to the side of George Whitefield and remained the ablest exponent among the Evangelicals of the highest Calvinistic doctrine.