Monday, February 22, 2010

Archibald Alexander: We are justified by imputation of Christ's righteousness

"But how can his righteousness become ours? How can we be justified by his obedience? In no conceivable way, but by the imputation of his righteousness to us. No part of evangelical doctrine has met with a more determined opposition, than the doctrine of imputation. It has been loaded with reproaches, as a doctrine the most unreasonable, the most dangerous, and the most impious. It is a remarkable circumstance, however, that all the objections which have been made to it are founded on a misapprehension, or a misrepresentation of the true nature of imputation. It has been objected, that it implies the transfer of personal acts, and the communication of the moral character of one to another, which things are manifestly impossible. But this is an entire mistake. Imputation implies no change, whatever, in the inherent character of the person to whom righteousness is imputed; or to speak more correctly, though there is a renovation of nature effected at the same time, this is not by the act of imputation. By this act, the legal relations of the sinner are changed. Whereas, before righteousness was imputed, he was condemned, he is now justified. His guilt, or liableness to punishment, is taken away, and the Judge views him as standing fair in the eye of law; not considered in his own righteousness, but as clothed with the righteousness of the surety. His debt is cancelled, because another has paid it, and has caused it to be set to his credit.


"When God imputes the righteousness of Christ to a sinner, he actually bestows it upon him for all the purposes of his complete justification. The sinner owes a righteousness to the law, which he cannot pay; but God in mercy reckons to him the perfect righteousness of another. For the sake then of Christ's satisfaction to the precept and penalty of the law he is pardoned and accepted as having a perfect righteousness in his Surety.


"But the only case which furnishes a complete parallel to the imputation of Christ's righteousness to believers, is the imputation of Adam's first sin to all his posterity, on account of their double connection with him, first as their natural progenitor; and secondly as their federal head and legal representative in the first covenant. Upon these principles, there must be a union formed with Christ, before his acts of obedience to the law, and satisfaction to its penalty can be imputed to us. The first step towards this union is Christ's assumption of our nature, by which he becomes truly a man, like unto us, sin only excepted -- bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh. But this union is not yet sufficiently intimate. As a man, Christ was equally united to our whole race; but before his righteousness can properly be imputed to us, we must become one with him by a close, and spiritual union. No truth of Scripture is more prominent or more strikingly illustrated than Christ's union with his elect people. He is the head, and they are the members; which, though many, constitute but 'one body.' He is the vine, they are the branches, and derive all their life and fruitfulness from him. He is the foundation of the spiritual temple, they are living stones builded upon this elect and precious corner stone. And lastly, He is the husband, and the spiritual Church is the spouse. 'For as the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the Head of the Church,' (Ephes. v. 23.) Where the apostle carries out the resemblance to a great length. Now if we inquire how this union is formed, it will readily appear that it is by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. 'If any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of his,' (Horn. viii. 9.) The converse of which is implied, If any man have the Spirit of Christ he is his. 'For as the body is one and hath many members, and all the members of that one body being many are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body,' (1 Cor xii. 12, 13.) The whole context shows, that the bond which unites all Christians to their Head, and to one another, so as to constitute one body, is the Holy Spirit. And in another place, the apostle says 'He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit.' The soul thus united to Christ and a part of his mystical body, is brought into so close and intimate a union with him, that a foundation is laid for the imputation of his righteousness to them. But as God chooses to deal with his people according to the free and rational nature with which they are endowed, he has connected their justification, which is the commencement of their actual salvation, with their faith in Christ, which is the first act of the soul united to Christ, and by which Christ is apprehended and received. It is common to say that faith unites the soul to Christ; it would be more correct to say, that faith was the first fruit of this union, and its sure indication. Thus it appears, that we are clothed with this perfect and unspotted robe of our Redeemer's righteousness, as soon as we become one with him. He is now in reality our Mediator and sponsor; our wisdom and righteousness; and thus are we justified by faith, as the act or instrument by which we apprehend and receive Christ's righteousness. It is evident from what has just been said, that it is not every kind of faith which justifies; but only that which is produced by the Holy Spirit. It is the act of the soul which is united to Christ. Not such a historical assent as men commonly give to human testimony, but a lively, and deep persuasion of the truth and excellence of divine things, grounded on the illumination of the mind by the Holy Spirit. There is that in the truth of God which, when spiritually discerned, carries with it convincing evidence of its divine origin. A true faith is not a mere intellectual act which leaves the heart unaffected with the truth believed, but such a full persuasion of the excellence as well as the truth of God's revealed will, that it carries the heart along, and sweetly inclines the will to receive Christ as he is exhibited in the Gospel. As Christ, as our Redeemer, is the central object in divine revelation; so he is the primary object of justifying faith. There can be no faith where Christ is not known. ... Of these figurative expressions, no one is more frequently used, or better suited to express the whole of a genuine faith, than that of 'receiving' Christ."

(Archibald Alexander, "A Treatise on Justification by Faith")

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