—•— Imputation of Righteousness —•—
(From ‘Whether or not the sins of believers while unrepented of, make them liable to eternal punishment?’)
• Believers, even in their worst case, have a perfect righteousness, and so are perfectly righteous: therefore, they can never be liable to eternal wrath.
• The reason is, because to be perfectly righteous, is to be conformed to the law; but to be perfectly conformed to the law, and yet to be liable to the condemnation of the law, is a flat contradiction.
• It is true, that the righteousness is not originally and inherently theirs; but it is derivatively theirs, and imputed to them; which, with respect to Adam’s sin, was sufficient to make us actually liable to eternal flames: and why shall not the imputed righteousness of Christ be sufficient to make us free from that actual liableness to the revenging wrath of God?
• Are they not perfectly righteous; hath the law any more to require of them than what it has got?
• There were but two things it could demand, according to the strictest tenor of the first covenant: to do and to suffer perfectly; and they have, in Christ their head, both done and suffered accordingly, Rom. 8:3, 4, “That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us,” &c.; Rom. 6:10, 11; Gal. 4:4, 5.
• “We learn, (says Beza: [Confess. point 4. art. 23.]) to pay by him, who hath set himself debtor and payer for us, who hath put himself in our place, and hath paid our debt, as the principal debtor, even unto the uttermost penny, in such wise, that the rigour of the law, which did before fear us, now comforteth us in Jesus Christ; forasmuch as life eternal is due to those who have fully obeyed the law, and Jesus Christ hath fulfilled the same for us.”
• Now, surely, what Christ hath done for us, is as good as if we had done it ourselves; yea, for the honour of the law, it is a thousand times better, because of the incomparable dignity of the person.
• What, then, should make them liable at any time to eternal wrath, being at all times clothed with this perfect righteousness?
• It cannot be, that falling asleep, and faith not being in exercise, they let the grips of it go, and therefore they are thus made obnoxious to divine vengeance.
• But surely it is not so easily made ineffectual.
•If inherent grace remain so securely under the grievous backslidings of the regenerate, that they cannot become children of the devil; much more doth the imputed righteousness remain, so that they cannot become children of wrath, that is, actually liable thereto, Eph. 2:2.
• If they cannot keep the covenant, the covenant will keep them.
• If any shall say, that God will not impute it to us for the covering of that particular sin or sins we lie under for the time, till we do anew receive it by faith for that end; it is false: for if a perfect righteousness be at all imputed, it covereth all sins.
• The ground of this opinion seems to be a mistake anent the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, as if the imputation of it were a making of it ours, and that this imputation were carried on by repeated acts, so as it is still made anew as the soul stands in need of it, falling into new sins.
• That the first of these is a mistake, appears from this, that Christ’s righteousness is ours before it be imputed, I mean not in order of time, but in order of nature.
• It is not ours, because it is imputed; but is imputed, because it is ours.
• It is evident, that it is used in this matter forensically, and is a judicial word and act; and is nothing else but a legal accounting of a thing to be ours.
• Now we know, “that the judgment of God is according to truth;” and therefore he cannot account that to be ours which really is not so. [Leigh’s Crit. Sac.]
• And the word itself will import no other: for whether you understand the primary signification of it to be the casting up of an account, and finding the total sum, as Arithmeticians do; or the concluding of a thing by reason and argument, as in Logic; it still imports the being of the thing so, before it be imputed; as two tens are twenty, before the Arithmetician cast up the number, and the Logician finds the conclusion in the premises, before he gather it out of them.
• So, in this metaphorical sense, we are sinners in Adam, before Adam’s sin be imputed to us, or we be reckoned guilty of his sin; and also righteous in Christ, before his righteousness be imputed to us.
• Hence I cannot but judge, that the Westminster Assembly, in their definition of justification, [Shorter Cat.] are much more accurate than several learned foreign divines, who make our justification formally consist in the imputation of Christ’s righteousness: for indeed, as they accurately give it, it is presupposed to our justification, as the ground thereof.
• Now, the way how Christ’s righteousness becomes ours, is by faith (as the aforesaid Assembly teacheth), and that as it doth make up an union betwixt Christ and the elect person; which I conceive to be the primary and immediate effect of faith.
• Hence issues a communion betwixt Christ and the believer; so that as all his sins, wants, &c., become Christ’s; the righteousness, obedience, and death of Christ become theirs: which so being, God accounts it, and judicially owns and acknowledgeth it to be theirs, as indeed it is; and therefore justifies them; that is, pardons their sins, and accepts them as righteous upon the account of the righteousness they appear before him clothed with. So Witsius teacheth. [Oec. foed. Dei. alicubi.]
• Now, what is it to be righteous, but to be conformed to the law?
• And seeing no righteousness can be sustained at the tribunal of God but that which is perfect, it remains that believers, at their first believing, are reputed perfectly conformed to the law of God; that is, to have perfectly obeyed and suffered; and this in regard of their union with Christ: and therefore, unless this his state be changed, which can never be till the union be dissolved, which the scripture holds forth as constant and perpetual, he can never be liable to eternal wrath.
• Hence it follows, that the opinion of a repeated imputation is also a mistake: for the imputation can no more be anew made, than the soul can be anew united to Christ Jesus.
• And, as Durham saith, [On Rev. iii. p. 158.] “Imputation being a judicial word and act, it supposeth an instant sentencing of such a righteousness to belong to such a person, as it were, and to be accepted for him: for if he hath not perfect right, there is no legal imputation (to say so); but if it be perfect, then it is an instantaneous act.”
• I add, and if instantaneous, then it is not repeated; nor is it a continued act, formally considered, though virtually it be; that is, the virtue of the imputation once made in the court of heaven never ceaseth, but remains still in force for all time to come. (Works VI 24-26)
Thomas Boston was a Scottish preacher of genius. His writings are more readily available than ever before, in book form (including the ubiquitous Fourfold State of Man ), increasingly on the web (including bits of the ubiquitous Fourfold State of Man), on unsearchable CD rom and 0n searchable CD rom.