Article of the Month
by John Owen
THE IMPUTATION OF THE OBEDIENCE OF CHRIST UNTO THE LAW DECLARED AND INDICATED
Imputation of the obedience of Christ no less necessary than that of his suffering, on the same ground—Objections against it:
FROM the foregoing general argument another does issue in particular, with respect unto the imputation of the active obedience or righteousness of Christ unto us, as an essential part of that righteousness whereon we are justified before God. And it is as follows:— “If it were necessary that the Lord Christ, as our surety, should undergo the penalty of the law for us, or in our stead, because we have all sinned, then it was necessary also that, as our surety, he should yield obedience unto the receptive part of the law for us also; and if the imputation of the former be needful for us unto our justification before God, then is the imputation of the latter also necessary unto the same end and purpose.” For why was it necessary, or why would God have it so, that the Lord Christ, as the surety of the covenant, should undergo the curse and penalty of the law, which we had incurred the guilt of by sin, that we may be justified in his sight? Was it not that the glory and honour of his righteousness, as the author of the law, and the supreme governor of all mankind thereby, might not be violated in the absolute impunity of the infringers of it? And if it were requisite unto the glory of God that the penalty of the law should be undergone for us, or suffered by our surety in our stead, because we had sinned, wherefore is it not as requisite unto the glory of God that the receptive part of the law be complied withal for us, inasmuch as obedience thereunto is required of us? And as we are no more able of ourselves to full the law in a way of obedience than to undergo the penalty of it, so as that we may be justified thereby; so no reason can be given why God is not as much concerned, in honour and glory, that the preceptive power and part of the law be complied withal by perfect obedience, as that the sanction of it be established by undergoing the penalty of it. Upon the same grounds, therefore, that the Lord Christ‘s suffering the penalty of the law for us was necessary that we might be justified in the sight of God, and that the satisfaction he made [might] thereby be imputed unto us, as if we ourselves had made satisfaction unto God, as Bellarmine speaks and grants; on the same it was equally necessary,—that is, as unto the glory and honour of the Legislator and supreme Governor of all by the law,—that he should fulfill the receptive part of it, in his perfect obedience thereunto; which also is to be imputed unto us for our justification.
Concerning the first of these,—namely, the satisfaction of Christ, and the imputation of it unto us,—our principal difference is with the Socinians. And I have elsewhere written so much in the vindication of the truth therein, that I shall not here again reassume the same argument; it is here, therefore, taken for granted, although I know that there are some different apprehensions about the notion of Christ‘s suffering in our stead, and of the imputation of those sufferings unto us. But I shall here take no notice of them, seeing I press this argument no farther, but only so far forth that the obedience of Christ unto the law, and the imputation thereof unto us, are no less necessary unto our justification before God, than his suffering of the penalty of the law, and the imputation thereof unto us, unto the same end. The nature of this imputation, and what it is formally that is imputed, we have considered elsewhere.
That the obedience of Christ the mediator is thus imputed to us, shall be afterwards proved in particular by testimonies of the Scripture. Here I intend only the vindication of the argument as before laid down, which will take us up a little more time than ordinary. For there is nothing in the whole doctrine of justification which meets with a more fierce and various opposition; but the truth is great, and will prevail.
The things that are usually objected and vehemently urged against the imputation of the obedience of Christ unto our justification, may be reduced unto three heads:
And if the arguments used for the enforcement of these objections be as cogent as the charge itself is fierce and severe, they will unavoidably overthrow the persuasions of it in the minds of all sober persons. But there is ofttimes a wide difference between what is said and what is proved, as will appear in the present case:
I. It is pleaded impossible, on this single ground,—namely, “That the obedience of Christ unto the law was due from him on his own account, and performed by him for himself, as a man made under the law.” Now, what was necessary unto himself, and done for himself, cannot be said to be done for us, so as to be imputed unto us.
For this last part of the charge, I refer it unto its proper place; for although it be urged by some against this part of the doctrine of justification in a peculiar manner, yet is it managed by others against the whole of it. And although we should grant that the obedience of Christ unto the law is not imputed unto us unto our justification, yet shall we not be freed from disturbance by this false accusation, unless we will renounce the whole of the satisfaction and merit of Christ also; and we intend not to purchase our peace with the whole world at so dear a rate. Wherefore, I shall in its proper place give this part of the charge its due consideration, as it reflects on the whole doctrine of justification, and all the causes thereof, which we believe and profess.
I. The first part of this charge, concerning the impossibility of the imputation of the obedience of Christ unto us, is insisted on by Socinus de Servat., part 3 cap. 5. And there has been nothing since pleaded unto the same purpose but what has been derived from him, or wherein, at least, he has not prevented the inventions of other men, and gone before them. And he makes this consideration the principal engine wherewith he endeavours the overthrow of the whole doctrine of the merit of Christ; for he supposes that if all he did in a way of obedience was due from himself on his own account, and was only the duty which he owed unto God for himself in his station and circumstances, as a man in this world, it cannot be meritorious for us, nor any way imputed unto us. And in like manner, to weaken the doctrine of his satisfaction, and the imputation thereof unto us, he contends that Christ offered as a priest for himself, in that kind of offering which he made on the cross, part 2 cap. 22. And his real opinion was, that whatever was of offering or sacrifice in the death of Christ, it was for himself; that is, it was an act of obedience unto God, which pleased him, as the savour of a sweet-smelling sacrifice. His offering for us is only the presentation of himself in the presence of God in heaven; now he has no more to do for himself in a way of duty. And the truth is, if the obedience of Christ had respect unto himself only,—that is, if he yielded it unto God on the necessity of his condition, and did not do it for us,— I see no foundation left to assert his merit upon, no more than I do for the imputation of it unto them that believe.
That which we plead is, that the Lord Christ fulfilled the whole law for us; he did not only undergo the penalty of it due unto our sins, but also yielded that perfect obedience which it did require. And herein I shall not immix myself in the debate of the distinction between the active and passive obedience of Christ; for he exercised the highest active obedience in his suffering, when he offered himself to God through the eternal Spirit. And all his obedience, considering his person, was mixed with suffering, as a part of his exinanition and humiliation; whence it is said, that “though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.” And however doing and suffering are in various categories of things, yet Scripture testimonies are not to be regulated by philosophical artifices and terms. And it must needs be said, that the sufferings of Christ, as they were purely penal, are imperfectly called his passive righteousness; for all righteousness is either in habit or in action, whereof suffering is neither; nor is any man righteous, or so esteemed, from what he suffers. Neither do sufferings give satisfaction unto the commands of the law, which require only obedience. And hence it will unavoidably follow, that we have need of more than the mere sufferings of Christ, whereby we may be justified before God, if so be that any righteousness be required thereunto; but the whole of what I intend is, that Christ‘s fulfilling of the law, in obedience unto its commands, is no less imputed unto us for our justification than his undergoing the penalty of it is.
I cannot but judge it sounds ill in the ears of all Christians, “That the obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ, as our mediator and surety, unto the whole law of God, was for himself alone, and not for us;” or, that what he did therein was not that he might be the end of the law for righteousness unto them that do believe, nor a means of the fulfilling of the righteousness of the law in us;— especially considering that the faith of the church is, that he was given to us, born to us; that for us men, and for our salvation, he came down from heaven, and did and suffered what was required of him. But whereas some who deny the imputation of the obedience of Christ unto us for our justification, do insist principally on the second thing mentioned,—namely, the unusefulness of it,—I shall under this part of the charge consider only the arguing of Socinus; which is the whole of what some at present do endeavour to perplex the truth withal.
To this purpose is his discourse, part 3 cap. 5. De Servat.: “Jamo vero manifestum est, Christum quia homo natus fuerat, et quidem, ut inquit Paulus, factus sub lege, legi divinae inquam, quae aeterna et immutabilis est, non minus quam caeteri homines obnoxium fuisse. Alioqui potuisset Christus aeternam Dei legem negligere, sive etiam universam si voluisset infringere, quod impium est vel cogitare. Immo ut supra alicubi explicatum fuit, nisi ipse Christus legi divinae servandae obnoxius fuisset, ut ex Paulu verbis colligitur, nonpotuisset iis, qui ei legi servandae obnoxii sunt, opem ferre et eos ad immortalitatis firmam spem traducere. Non differebat igitur hac quidem ex parte Christus, quando homo natus erat, a caeteris hominibus. Quocirca nec etiam pro aliis, magis quam quilibet alius homo, legem livinam conservando satisfacere potuit, quippe qui ipse eam servare omnino debuit”. I have transcribed his words, that it may appear with whose weapons some young disputers among ourselves do contend against the truth.
The substance of his plea is,—that our Lord Jesus Christ was for himself, or on his own account, obliged unto all that obedience which he performed. And this he endeavours to prove with this reason,— “Because if it were otherwise, then he might, if he would, have neglected the whole law of God, and have broken it at his pleasure.” For he forgot to consider, that if he were not obliged unto it upon his own account, but was so on ours, whose cause he had undertaken, the obligation on him unto most perfect obedience was equal to what it would have been had he been originally obliged on his own account. However, hence he infers “That what he did could not be for us, because it was so for himself; no more than what any other man is bound to do in a way of duty for himself can be esteemed to have been done also for another.” For he will show of none of those considerations of the person of Christ which make what he did and suffered of another nature and efficacy than what can be done or suffered by any other man. All that he adds in the process of his discourse is,—”That whatever Christ did that was not required by the law in general, was upon the especial command of God, and so done for himself; whence it cannot be imputed unto us.” And hereby he excludes the church from any benefit by the mediation of Christ, but only what consists in his doctrine, example, and the exercise of his power in heaven for our good; which was the thing that he aimed at. But we shall consider those also which make use of his arguments, though not as yet openly unto all his ends.
To clear the truth herein, the things ensuing must be observed,
Socinus, I confess, evades the force of this argument, by denying the divine person of Christ. But in this disputation I take that for granted, as having proved it elsewhere beyond what any of his followers are able to contradict. And if we may not build on truths by him denied, we shall scarce have any one principle of evangelical truth left us to prove any thing from. However, I intend them only at present who concur with him in the matter under debate, but renounce his opinion concerning the person of Christ.
As our Lord Jesus Christ owed not in his own person this obedience for himself, by virtue of any authority or power that the law had over him, so he designed and intended it not for himself, but for us. This, added unto the former consideration, gives full evidence unto the truth pleaded for; for if he was not obliged unto it for himself,—his person that yielded it not being under the law,—and if he intended it not for himself; then it must be for us, or be useless. It was in our human nature that he performed all this obedience. Now, the susception of our nature was a voluntary act of his own, with reference unto some end and purpose; and that which was the end of the assumption of our nature was, in like manner, the end of all that he did therein. Now, it was for us, and not for himself, that he assumed our nature; nor was any thing added unto him thereby. Wherefore, in the issue of his work, he proposes this only unto himself, that he may be “glorified with that glory which he had with the Father before the world was,” by the removal of that vail which was put upon it in his exinanition. But that it was for us that he assumed our nature, is the foundation of Christian religion, as it is asserted by the apostle, Heb.2:14; Phil.2:5-8.
Some of the ancient schoolmen disputed, that the Son of God should have been incarnate although man had not sinned and fallen; the same opinion was fiercely pursued by Osiander, as I have elsewhere declared: but none of them once imagined that he should have been so made man as to be made under the law, and be obliged thereby unto that obedience which now he has performed; but they judged that immediately he was to have been a glorious head unto the whole creation. For it is a common notion and presumption of all Christians, but only such as will sacrifice such notions unto their own private conceptions, that the obedience which Christ yielded unto the law on the earth, in the state and condition wherein he yielded it, was not for himself, but for the church, which was obliged unto perfect obedience, but was not able to accomplish it. That this was his sole end and design in it is a fundamental article, if I mistake not, of the creed of most Christians in the world; and to deny it does consequentially overthrow all the grace and love both of the Father and [of the] Son in his mediation.
It is said, “That this obedience was necessary as a qualification of his person, that he might be meet to be a mediator for us; and therefore was for himself.” It belongs unto the necessary constitution of his person, with respect unto his mediatory work; abut this I positively deny. The Lord Christ was every way meet for the whole work of mediation, by the ineffable union of the human nature with the divine, which exalted it in dignity, honour, and worth, above any thing or all things that ensued thereon. For hereby he became in his whole person the object of all divine worship and honour; for “when he bringeth the First-begotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.” Again, that which is an effect of the person of the Mediator, as constituted such, is not a qualification necessary unto its constitution; that is, what he did as mediator did not concur to the making of him meet so to be. But of this nature was all the obedience which he yielded unto the law; for as such “it became him to fulfill all righteousness.”
Whereas, therefore, he was neither made man nor of the posterity of Abraham for himself, but for the church,—namely, to become thereby the surety of the covenant, and representative of the whole,—his obedience as a man unto the law in general, and as a son of Abraham unto the law of Moses, was for us, and not for himself, so designed, so performed; and, without a respect unto the church, was of no use unto himself. He was born to us, and given to us; lived for us, and died for us; obeyed for us, and suffered for us,—that “by the obedience of one many might be made righteous.” This was the “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ;” and this is the faith of the catholic church. And what he did for us is imputed unto us. This is included in the very notion of his doing it for us, which cannot be spoken in any sense, unless that which he so did be imputed unto us. And I think men ought to be wary that they do not, by distinctions and studied evasions, for the defense of their own private opinions, shake the foundations of Christian religion. And I am sure it will be easier for them, as it is in the proverb, to wrest the club out of the hand of Hercules, than to dispossess the minds of true believers of this persuasion: “That what the Lord Christ did in obedience unto God, according unto the law, he designed in his love and grace to do it for them.” He needed no obedience for himself, he came not into a capacity of yielding obedience for himself, but for us; and therefore for us it was that he fulfilled the law in obedience unto God, according unto the terms of it. The obligation that was on him unto obedience was originally no less for us, no less needful unto us, no more for himself, no more necessary unto him, than the obligation was on him, as the surety of the covenant, to suffer the penalty of the law, was either the one or the other.
Setting aside the consideration of the grace and love of Christ, and the compact between the Father and the Son as unto his undertaking for us, which undeniably proves all that he did in the pursuit of them to be done for us, and not for himself; I say, setting aside the consideration of these things, and the human nature of Christ, by virtue of its union with the person of the Son of God, had a right unto, and might have immediately been admitted into, the highest glory whereof it was capable, without any antecedent obedience unto the law. And this is apparent from hence, in that, from the first instant of that union, the whole person of Christ, with our nature existing therein, was the object of all divine worship from angels and men; wherein consists the highest exaltation of that nature.
It is true, there was a peculiar glory that he was actually to be made partaker of, with respect unto his antecedent obedience and suffering, Phil.2:8,9. The actual possession of this glory was, in the ordination of God, to be consequential unto his obeying and suffering, not for himself, but for us. But as unto the right and capacity of the human nature in itself, all the glory whereof it was capable was due unto it from the instant of its union; for it was therein exalted above the condition that any creature is capable of by mere creation. And it is but a Socinian fiction, that the first foundation of the divine glory of Christ was laid in his obedience, which was only the way of his actual possession of that part of his glory which consists in his mediatory power and authority over all. The real foundation of the whole was laid in the union of his person; whence he prays that the Father would glorify him (as unto manifestation) with that glory which he had with him before the world was.
I will grant that the Lord Christ was “viator” whilst he was in this world, and not absolutely “possessor;” yet I say withal, he was so, not that any such condition was necessary unto him for himself, but he took it upon him by especial dispensation for us. And, therefore, the obedience he performed in that condition was for us, and not for himself.
It is granted, therefore, that the human nature of Christ was made “hupo nomon”, as the apostle affirms, “That which was made of a woman, was made under the law.” Hereby obedience became necessary unto him, as he was and whilst he was “viator.” But this being by especial dispensation,—intimated in the expression of it, he was “made under the law,” namely, as he was “made of a woman,” by especial dispensation and condescension, expressed, Phil.2:6-8,—the obedience he yielded thereon was for us, and not for himself And this is evident from hence, for he was so made under the law as that not only he owed obedience unto the precepts of it, but he was made obnoxious unto its curse. But I suppose it will not be said that he was so for himself, and therefore not for us. We owed obedience unto the law, and were obnoxious unto the curse of it, or “hupodikoi tooi Theooi”. Obedience was required of us, and was as necessary unto us if we would enter into life, as the answering of the curse for us was if we would escape death eternal. Christ, as our surety, is “made under the law” for us, whereby he becomes liable and obliged unto the obedience which the law required, and unto the penalty that it threatened. Who shall now dare to say that he underwent the penalty of the law for us indeed, but he yielded obedience unto it for himself only? The whole harmony of the work of his mediation would be disordered by such a supposition.
Judah, the son of Jacob, undertook to be a bondsman instead of Benjamin his brother, that he might go free, Gen.44:33. There is no doubt but Joseph might have accepted of the stipulation. Had he done so, the service and bondage he undertook had been necessary unto Judah, and righteous for him to bear: howbeit he had undergone it, and performed his duty in it, not for himself, but for his brother Benjamin; and unto Benjamin it would have been imputed in his liberty. So when the apostle Paul wrote these words unto Philemon concerning Onesimus, “Ei de ti edikese se, e ofeilen, touto emoi ellogei, egoo apotisoo”, verse 18,—”‘If he has wronged thee,‘ dealt unrighteously or injuriously with thee, ‘or oweth thee ought,‘ wherein thou hast suffered loss by him, ‘put that on mine account,‘ or impute it all unto me, ‘I will repay it,‘ or answer for it all,”—he supposes that Philemon might have a double action against Onesimus, the one “injuriarum,” and the other “damni” or “debiti,” of wrong and injury, and of loss or debt, which are distinct actions in the law: “If he has wronged thee, or oweth thee ought.” Hereon he proposes himself, and obliges himself by his express obligation: “Ego Paulos egrapsa tei emei cheiri”,—”I Paul have written it with mine own hand,” that he would answer for both, and pay back a valuable consideration if required. Hereby was he obliged in his own person to make satisfaction unto Philemon; but yet he was to do it for Onesimus, and not for himself. Whatever obedience, therefore, was due from the Lord Christ, as to his human nature, whilst in the form of a servant, either as a man or as an Israelite, seeing he was so not necessarily, by the necessity of nature for himself, but by voluntary condescension and stipulation for us; for us it was, and not for himself.
The Lord Christ, in his obedience, was not a private but a public person. He obeyed as he was the surety of the covenant,—as the mediator between God and man. This, I suppose, will not be denied. He can by no imagination be considered out of that capacity. But what a public person does as a public person,—that is, as a representative of others, and an undertaker for them,— whatever may be his own concernment therein, he does it not for himself, but for others. And if others were not concerned therein, if it were not for them, what he does would be of no use or signification; yea, it implies a contradiction that any one should do any thing as a public person, and do it for himself only. He who is a public person may do that wherein he alone is concerned, but he cannot do so as he is a public person. Wherefore, as Socinus, and those that follow him, would have Christ to have offered for himself, which is to make him a mediator for himself, his offering being a mediatory act, which is both foolish and impious; so to affirm his mediatory obedience, his obedience as a public person, to have been for himself, and not for others, has but little less of impiety in it.
But there is another consideration of the law of God,—namely, as it is imposed on creatures by especial dispensation, for some time and for some certain end, with some considerations, rules, and orders that belong not essentially unto the law; as before described. This is the nature of the written law of God, which the Lord Christ was made under, not necessarily, as a creature, but by especial dispensation. For the law, under this consideration, is presented unto us as such, not absolutely and eternally, but whilst we are in this world, and that with this especial end, that by obedience thereunto we may obtain the reward of eternal life. And it is evident that the obligation of the law, under this consideration, ceases when we come to the enjoyment of that reward. It obliges us no more formally by its command, “Do this, and live,” when the life promised is enjoyed. In this sense the Lord Christ was not made subject unto the law for himself, nor did yield obedience unto it for himself; for he was not obliged unto it by virtue of his created condition. Upon the first instant of the union of his natures, being “holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners,” he might, notwithstanding the law that he was made subject unto, have been stated in glory; for he that was the object of all divine worship needed not any new obedience to procure for him a state of blessedness. And had he naturally, merely by virtue of his being a creature, been subject unto the law in this sense, he must have been so eternally, which he is not; for those things which depend solely on the natures of God and the creature are eternal and immutable. Wherefore, as the law in this sense was given unto us, not absolutely, but with respect unto a future state and reward, so the Lord Christ did voluntarily subject himself unto it for us; and his obedience thereunto was for us, and not for himself. These things, added unto what I have formerly written on this subject, whereunto nothing has been opposed but a few impertinent cavils, are sufficient to discharge the first part of that charge laid down before, concerning the impossibility of the imputation of the obedience of Christ unto us; which, indeed, is equal unto the impossibility of the imputation of the disobedience of Adam unto us, whereby the apostle tells us that “we were all made sinners.”
II. The second part of the objection or charge against the imputation of the obedience of Christ unto us is, “That it is useless unto the persons that are to be justified; for whereas they have in their justification the pardon of all their sins, they are thereby righteous, and have a right or title unto life and blessedness; for he who is so pardoned as not to be esteemed guilty of any sin of omission or commission wants nothing that is requisite thereunto; for he is supposed to have done all that he ought, and to have omitted nothing required of him in a way of duty. Hereby he becomes not unrighteous; and to be not unrighteous is the same as to be righteous; as he that is not dead is alive. Neither is there, nor can there be, any middle state between death and life. Wherefore, those who have all their sins forgiven have the blessedness of justification; and there is neither need nor use of any farther imputation of righteousness unto them.” And sundry other things of the same nature are urged unto the same purpose, which will be all of them either obviated in the ensuing discourse, or answered elsewhere.
Answer. This cause is of more importance, and more evidently stated in the Scriptures, than to be turned into such niceties, which have more of philosophical subtilty than theological solidity in them. This exception, therefore, might be dismissed without farther answer than what is given us in the known rule, that a truth well established and confirmed is not to be questioned, much less relinquished, on every entangling sophism, though it should appear insoluble; but, as we shall see, there is no such difficulty in these arguing but what may easily be discussed. And because the matter of the plea contained in them is made use of by sundry learned persons, who yet agree with us in the substance of the doctrine of justification,—namely, that it is by faith alone, without works, through the imputation of the merit and satisfaction of Christ,—I shall, as briefly as I can, discover the mistakes that it proceeds upon.
The like may be said of what is in like manner supposed,— namely, that not to be unrighteous, which a man is on the pardon of sin, is the same with being righteous. For if not to be unrighteous be taken privatively, it is the same with being just or righteous: for it supposes that he who is so has done all the duty that is required of him that he may be righteous. But not to be unrighteous negatively, as the expression is here used, it does not do so: for, at best, it supposes no more but that a man as yet has done nothing actually against the rule of righteousness. Now this may be when yet he has performed none of the duties that are required of him to constitute him righteous, because the times and occasions of them are not yet. And so it was with Adam in the state of innocence; which is the height of what can be attained by the complete pardon of sin.
(1.) The law has two parts or powers:
(2.) This law whereof we speak was first given unto man in innocence, and therefore the first power of it was only in act; it obliged only unto obedience: for an innocent person could not be obnoxious unto its sanction, which contained only an obligation unto punishment, on supposition of disobedience. It could not, therefore, oblige our first parents unto obedience and punishment both, seeing its obligation unto punishment could not be in actual force but on supposition of actual disobedience. A moral cause of, and motive unto, obedience it was, and had an influence into the preservation of man from sin. Unto that end it was said unto him, “In the day thou eatest, thou shalt surely die.” The neglect hereof, and of that ruling influence which it ought to have had on the minds of our first parents, opened the door unto the entrance of sin. But it implies a contradiction, that an innocent person should be under an actual obligation unto punishment from the sanction of the law. It bound only unto obedience, as all laws, with penalties, do before their transgression. But,
(3.) On the committing of sin (and it is so with every one that is guilty of sin), man came under an actual obligation unto punishment. This is no more questionable than whether at first he was under an obligation unto obedience. But then the question is, whether the first intention and obligation of the law unto obedience does cease to affect the sinner, or continue so as at the same time to oblige him unto obedience and punishment, both its powers being in act towards him? And hereunto I say,
[1.] Had the punishment threatened been immediately inflicted unto the utmost of what was contained in it, this could have been no question; for man had died immediately, both temporally and eternally, and been cast out of that state wherein alone he could stand in any relation unto the receptive power of the law. He that is finally executed has fulfilled the law so as that he owes no more obedience unto it. But,
[2.] God, in his wisdom and patience, has otherwise disposed of things. Man is continued a “viator” still, in the way unto his end, and not fully stated in his eternal and unchangeable condition, wherein neither promise nor threatening, reward nor punishment, could be proposed unto him. In this condition he falls under a twofold consideration:—First, Of a guilty person, and so is obliged unto the full punishment that the law threatens. This is not denied. Second, Of a man, a rational creature of God, not yet brought unto his eternal end.
[3.] In this state, the law is the only instrument and means of the continuance of the relation between God and him. Wherefore, under this consideration, it cannot but still oblige him unto obedience, unless we shall say that by his sin he has exempted himself from the government of God. Wherefore, it is by the law that the rule and government of God over men is continued whilst they are in “statu viatorum;” for every disobedience, every transgression of its rule and order, as to its commanding power, casts us afresh and farther under its power of obliging unto punishment.
Neither can these things be otherwise. Neither can any man living, not the worst of men, choose but judge himself, whilst he is in this world, obliged to give obedience unto the law of God, according to the notices that he has of it by the light of nature or otherwise. A wicked servant that is punished for his fault, if it be with such a punishment as yet continues his being and his state of servitude, is not by his punishment freed from an obligation unto duty, according unto the rule of it; yea, his obligation unto duty, with respect unto that crime for which he was punished, is not dissolved until his punishment be capital, and so put an end unto his state. Wherefore, seeing that by the pardon of sin we are freed only from the obligation unto punishment, there is, moreover, required unto our justification an obedience unto what the law requires.
And this greatly strengthens the argument in whose vindication we are engaged; for we being sinners, we were obnoxious both unto the command and curse of the law. Both must be answered, or we cannot be justified. And as the Lord Christ could not by his most perfect obedience satisfy the curse of the law, “Dying thou shalt die;” so by the utmost of his suffering he could not fulfill the command of the law, “Do this, and live.” Passion, as passion, is not obedience,—though there may be obedience in suffering, as there was in that of Christ unto the height. Wherefore, as we plead that the death of Christ is imputed unto us for our justification, so we deny that it is imputed unto us for our righteousness. For by the imputation of the sufferings of Christ our sins are remitted or pardoned, and we are delivered from the curse of the law, which he underwent; but we are not thence esteemed just or righteous, which we cannot be without respect unto the fulfilling of the commands of the law, or the obedience by it required. The whole matter is excellently expressed by Grotius in the words before alleged: “Cum duo nobis peperisse Christum dixerimus, impunitatem et praemium, illud satisfctioni, hoc merito Christi distincte tribuit vetus ecclesia. Satisfactio consistit in meritorum translatione, meritum in perfectissimae obedientiae pro nobis praestitiae imputatione”.
(4.) The objection mentioned proceeds also on this supposition, that pardon of sin gives title unto eternal blessedness in the enjoyment of God; for justification does so, and, according to the authors of this opinion, no other righteousness is required thereunto but pardon of sin. That justification does give right and title unto adoption, acceptation with God, and the heavenly inheritance, I suppose will not be denied, and it has been proved already. Pardon of sin depends solely on the death or suffering of Christ: “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace,” Eph.1:7. But suffering for punishment gives right and title unto nothing, only satisfies for something; nor does it deserve any reward: it is nowhere said, “Suffer this, and live,” but “Do this, and live
These things, I confess, are inseparably connected in the ordinance, appointment, and covenant of God. Whosoever has his sins pardoned is accepted with God, has right unto eternal blessedness. These things are inseparable; but they are not one and the same. And by reason of their inseparable relation are they so put together by the apostle, Rom.4:6-8, “Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works: Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered: blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” It is the imputation of righteousness that gives right unto blessedness; but pardon of sin is inseparable from it, and an effect of it, both being opposed unto justification by works, or an internal righteousness of our own. But it is one thing to be freed from being liable unto eternal death, and another to have right and title unto a blessed and eternal life. It is one thing to be redeemed from under the law,—that is, the curse of it; another, to receive the adoption of sons;—one thing to be freed from the curse; another, to have the blessing of Abraham come upon us: as the apostle distinguishes these things, Gal.3:13,14; 4:4,5; and so does our Lord Jesus Christ, Acts 26:18, “That they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance” (a lot and right to the inheritance) “amongst them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.” “Afesis hamartioon”, which we have by faith in Christ, is only a dismission of sin from being pleadable unto our condemnation; on which account “there is no condemnation unto them that are in Christ Jesus.” But a right and title unto glory, or the heavenly inheritance, it gives not. Can it be supposed that all the great and glorious effects of present grace and future blessedness should follow necessarily on, and be the effect of, mere pardon of sin? Can we not be pardoned but we must thereby of necessity be made sons, heirs of God, and coheirs with Christ?
Pardon of sin is in God, with respect unto the sinner, a free, gratuitous act: “Forgiveness of sin through the riches of his grace.” But with respect unto the satisfaction of Christ, it is an act in judgment. For on the consideration thereof, as imputed unto him, does God absolve and acquit the sinner upon his trial. But pardon on a juridical trial, on what consideration soever it be granted, gives no right nor title unto any favour, benefit, or privilege, but only mere deliverance. It is one thing to be acquitted before the throne of a king of crimes laid unto the charge of any man, which may be done by clemency, or on other considerations; another to be made his son by adoption, and heir unto his kingdom.
And these things are represented unto us in the Scripture as distinct, and depending on distinct causes: so are they in the vision concerning Joshua the high priest, Zech.3:4,5, “And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him he said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment. And I said, Let them set a fair metre upon his head. So they set a fair metre upon his head, and clothed him with garments.” It has been generally granted that we have here a representation of the justification of a sinner before God. And the taking away of filthy garments is expounded by the passing away of iniquity. When a man‘s filthy garments are taken away, he is no more defiled with them; but he is not thereby clothed. This is an additional grace and favour thereunto,—namely, to be clothed with change of garments. And what this raiment is, is declared, Isa.61:10, “He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness;” which the apostle alludes unto, Phil.3:9. Wherefore these things are distinct,— namely, the taking away of the filthy garments, and the clothing of us with change of raiment; or, the pardon of sin, and the robe of righteousness. By the one are we freed from condemnation; by the other have we right unto salvation. And the same is in like manner represented, Ezek.16:6-12.
This place I had formerly urged to this purpose about communion with God; which Mr Hotchkis, in his usual manner, attempts to answer. And to omit his reviling expressions, with the crude, unproved assertion of his own conceits, his answer is,—that by the change of raiment mentioned in the prophet, our own personal righteousness is intended; for he acknowledges that our justification before God is here represented. And so also he expounds the place produced in the confirmation of the exposition given, Isa.61:10, where this change of raiment is called, “The garments of salvation, and the robe of righteousness;” and thereon affirms that our righteousness itself before God is our personal righteousness,—that is, in our justification before him, which is the only thing in question. To all which presumptions I shall oppose only the testimony of the same prophet, which he may consider at his leisure, and which, at one time or other, he will subscribe unto. Isa.64:6, “We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” He who can make garments of salvation and robes of righteousness of these filthy rags, has a skill in composing spiritual vestments that I am not acquainted withal. What remains in the chapter wherein this answer is given unto that testimony of the Scripture, I shall take no notice of; it being, after his accustomed manner, only a perverse wresting of my words unto such a sense as may seem to countenance him in casting a reproach upon myself and others.
There is, therefore, no force in the comparing of these things unto life and death natural, which are immediately opposed: “So that he who is not dead is alive, and he who is alive is not dead;” there being no distinct state between that of life and death; for these things being of different natures, the comparison between them is no way argumentative. Though it may be so in things natural, it is otherwise in things moral and political, where a proper representation of justification may be taken, as it is forensic. If it were so, that there is no difference between being acquitted of a crime at the bar of a judge, and a right unto a kingdom, nor different state between these things, it would prove that there is no intermediate estate between being pardoned and having a right unto the heavenly inheritance. But this is a fond imagination.
It is true that right unto eternal life does succeed unto freedom from the guilt of eternal death: “That they may receive forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance among them that are sanctified.” But it does not do so out of a necessity in the nature of the things themselves, but only in the free constitution of God. Believers have the pardon of sin, and an immediate right and title unto the favour of God, the adoption of sons, and eternal life. But there is another state in the nature of the things themselves, and this might have been so actually, had it so seemed good unto God; for who sees not that there is a “status,” or “conditio personae,” wherein he is neither under the guilt of condemnation nor has an immediate right and title unto glory in the way of inheritance? God might have pardoned men all their sins past, and placed them in a state and condition of seeking righteousness for the future by the works of the law, that so they might have lived; for this would answer the original state of Adam. But God has not done so. True; but whereas he might have done so, it is evident that the disposal of men into this state and condition of right unto life and salvation, does not depend on nor proceed from the pardon of sin, but has another cause; which is, the imputation of the righteousness of Christ unto us, as he fulfilled the law for us.
And, in truth, this is the opinion of the most of our adversaries in this cause: for they do contend, that over and above the remission of sin, which some of them say is absolute, without any respect unto the merit or satisfaction of Christ, others refer it unto them; they all contend that there is, moreover, a righteousness of works required unto our justification;—only they say this is our own incomplete, imperfect righteousness imputed unto us as if it were perfect; that is, for what it is not, and not the righteousness of Christ imputed unto us for what it is.
From what has been discoursed, it is evident that unto our justification before God is required, not only that we be freed from the damnatory sentence of the law, which we are by the pardon of sin, but, moreover, “that the righteousness of the law be fulfilled in us,” or, that we have a righteousness answering the obedience that the law requires; whereon our acceptance with God, through the riches of his grace, and our title unto the heavenly inheritance, do depend. This we have not in and of ourselves, nor can attain unto; as has been proved. Wherefore the perfect obedience and righteousness of Christ is imputed unto us, or in the sight of God we can never be justified.
Nor are the caviling objections of the Socinians, and those that follow them, of any force against the truth herein. They tell us, “That the righteousness of Christ can be imputed but unto one, if unto any; for who can suppose that the same righteousness of one should become the righteousness of many, even of all that believe? Besides, he performed not all the duties that are required of us in all our relations, he being never placed in them.” These things, I say, are both foolish and impious, destructive unto the whole gospel; for all things here depend on the ordination of God. It is his ordinance, that as “through the offense of one many are dead,” so “disgrace, and the gift of grace, through one man, Christ Jesus, has abounded unto many;” and “as by the offense of one judgment came upon all men unto condemnation, so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all unto the righteousness of life;” and “by the obedience of one many are made righteous;” as the apostle argues, Rom.5. For “God sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us,” chap.8:3,4; for he was “the end of the law” (the whole end of it), “for righteousness unto them that do believe,” chap.10:4. This is the appointment of the wisdom, righteousness, and grace of God, that the whole righteousness and obedience of Christ should be accepted as our complete righteousness before him, imputed unto us by his grace, and applied unto us or made ours through believing; and, consequently, unto all that believe. And if the actual sin of Adam be imputed unto us all, who derive our nature from him, unto condemnation, though he sinned not in our circumstances and relations, is it strange that the actual obedience of Christ should be imputed unto them who derive a spiritual nature from him, unto the justification of life? Besides, both the satisfaction and obedience of Christ, as relating unto his person, were, in some sense, infinite,—that is, of an infinite value,—and so cannot be considered in parts, as though one part of it were imputed unto one, and another unto another, but the whole is imputed unto every one that does believe; and if the Israelites could say that David was “worth ten thousand of them,” 2 Sam.18:3, we may well allow the Lord Christ, and so what he did and suffered, to be more than us all, and all that we can do and suffer.
There are also sundry other mistakes that concur unto that part of the charge against the imputation of the righteousness of Christ unto us, which we have now considered. I say of his righteousness; for the apostle in this case uses those two words, “dikaiooma” and “hupako-e”, “righteousness” and “obedience,” as “isodunamounta”—of the same signification, Rom.5:18,19. Such are these:—that remission of sin and justification are the same, or that justification consists only in the remission of sin;—that faith itself, as our act and duty, seeing it is the condition of the covenant, is imputed unto us for righteousness;—or that we have a personal, inherent righteousness of our own, that one way or other is our righteousness before God unto justification; either a condition it is, or a disposition unto it, or has a congruity in deserving the grace of justification, or a downright merit of condignity thereof: for all these are but various expressions of the same thing, according unto the variety of the conceptions of the minds of men about it. But they have been all considered and removed in our precedent discourses.
To close this argument, and our vindication of it, and therewithal to obviate an objection, I do acknowledge that our blessedness and life eternal is, in the Scripture, ofttimes ascribed unto the death of Christ. But,
Hitherto we have treated of and vindicated the imputation of the active obedience of Christ unto us, as the truth of it was deduced from the preceding argument about the obligation of the law of creation. I shall now briefly confirm it with other reasons and testimonies:
(1.) The Lord Christ, our mediator and surety, was, in his human nature, made “hupo nomon”,—“under the law,” Gal.4:4. That he was not so for himself, by the necessity of his condition, we have proved before. It was, therefore, for us. But as made under the law, he yielded obedience unto it; this, therefore, was for us, and is imputed unto us. The exception of the Socinians, that it is the judicial law only that is intended, is too frivolous to be insisted on; for he was made under that law whose curse we are delivered from. And if we are delivered only from the curse of the law of Moses, wherein they contend that there was neither promises nor threatening of eternal things, of any thing beyond this present life, we are still in our sins, under the curse of the moral law, notwithstanding act that he has done for us. It is excepted, with more colour of sobriety, that he was made under the law only as to the curse of it. But it is plain in the text that Christ was made under the law as we are under it. He was “made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law.” And if he was not made so as we are, there is no consequence from his being made under it unto our redemption from it. But we were so under the law, as not only to be obnoxious unto the curse, but so as to be obliged unto all the obedience that it required; as has been proved. And if the Lord Christ has redeemed us only from the curse of it by undergoing it, leaving us in ourselves to answer its obligation unto obedience, we are not freed nor delivered. And the expression of “under the law” does in the first place, and properly, signify being under the obligation of it unto obedience, and consequentially only with a respect unto the curse. Gal.4:21, “Tell me, ye that desire to be “hupo nomon”,—”under the law.” They did not desire to be under the curse of the law, but only its obligation unto obedience; which, in all usage of speech, is the first proper sense of that expression. Wherefore, the Lord Christ being made under the law for us, he yielded perfect obedience unto it for us; which is therefore imputed unto us. For that what he did was done for us, depends solely on imputation.
(2.) As he was thus made under the law, so he did actually fulfil it by his obedience unto it. So he testifies concerning himself,— “Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill,” Matt.5:17. These words of our Lord Jesus Christ, as recorded by the evangelist, the Jews continually object against the Christians, as contradictory to what they pretend to be done by him,—namely, that he has destroyed and taken away the law. And Maimonides, in his treatise, “De Fundamentis Legis,” has many blasphemous reflections on the Lord Christ, as a false prophet in this matter. But the reconciliation is plain and easy. There was a twofold law given unto the church,—the moral and the ceremonial law. The first, as we have proved, is of an eternal obligation; the other was given only for a time. That the latter of these was to be taken away and abolished, the apostle proves with invincible testimonies out of the Old Testament against the obstinate Jews, in his Epistle unto the Hebrews. Yet was it not to be taken away without its accomplishment, when it ceased of itself. Wherefore, our Lord Christ did no otherwise dissolve or destroy that law but by the accomplishment of it; and so he did put an end unto it, as is fully declared, Eph.2:14-16. But the law “kat‘ exochen”, that which obliges all men unto obedience unto God always, he came not “katalusai”, to destroy,—that is “athetesai”, to abolish it, as an “athetesis” is ascribed unto the Mosaical law, Heb.9:26 (in the same sense is the word used, Matt.24:2; 26:61; 27:40; Mark 13:2; 14:58; 15:29; Luke 21:6; Acts 5:38,39; 6:14; Rom.14:20; 2 Cor.5:l; Gal.2:18, mostly with an accusative case, of the things spoken of), or “katare-esai”, which the apostle denies to be done by Christ, and faith in him. Rom.3:31, “Nomon oun katareoumen dia tes pisteoos; me genoito. alle nomon histoomen”,—“Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid; yea, we establish the law.” “Nomon histanai” is to confirm its obligation unto obedience; which is done by faith only, with respect unto the moral law; the other being evacuated as unto any power of obliging unto obedience. This, therefore, is the law which our Lord Christ affirms that he came “not to destroy;” so he expressly declares in his ensuing discourse, showing both its power of obliging us always unto obedience, and giving an exposition of it. This law the Lord Christ came “pleroosai”. “Pleroosai ton nomon”, in the Scripture, is the same with “emplesai ton nomon” in other writers; that is, to yield full, perfect obedience unto the commands of the law, whereby they are absolutely fulfilled. “Pleroosai nomon” is not to make the law perfect; for it was always “nomos teleios”,—a “perfect law,” James 1:25; but to yield perfect obedience unto it: the same that our Saviour calls “pleroosai pasan dikaiosunen”, Matt.3:15, “to fulfill all righteousness;” that is, by obedience unto all God‘s commands and institutions, as is evident in the place. So the apostle uses the same expression, Rom.13:8, “He that loveth another has fulfilled the law.”
This is plainly affirmed by the apostle, Rom.5:18,19, “Therefore, as by the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man‘s disobedience many were made sinners; so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” The full plea from, and vindication of, this testimony, I refer unto its proper place in the testimonies given unto the imputation of the righteousness of Christ unto our justification in general. Here I shall only observe, that the apostle expressly and in terms affirms that “by the obedience of Christ we are made righteous,” or justified; which we cannot be but by the imputation of it unto us. I have met with nothing that had the appearance of any sobriety for the eluding of this express testimony, but only that by the obedience of Christ his death and sufferings are intended, wherein he was obedient unto God; as the apostle says, he was “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross,” Phil.2:8. But yet there is herein no colour of probability. For,
(1.) It is acknowledged that there was such a near conjunction and alliance between the obedience of Christ and his sufferings, that though they may be distinguished, yet can they not be separated. He suffered in the whole course of his obedience, from the womb to the cross; and he obeyed in all his sufferings unto the last moment wherein he expired. But yet are they really things distinct, as we have proved; and they were so in him who “learned obedience by the things that he suffered,” Heb.5:8.
(2.) In this place, [Rom.5] “hupako-e”, verse 19, and “dikaiooma”, verse 18, are the same,— obedience and righteousness. “By the righteousness of one,” and “by the obedience of one,” are the same. But suffering, as suffering, is not “dikaiooma”, is not righteousness; for if it were, then every one that suffers what is due to him should be righteous, and so be justified, even the devil himself.
(3.) The righteousness and obedience here intended are opposed “tooi paraptoomati”,—to the offence: “By the offense of one.” But the offense intended was an actual transgression of the law; so is “paraptooma”, a fall from, or a fall in, the course of obedience. Wherefore the “dikaiooma”, or righteousness, must be an actual obedience unto the commands of the law, or the force of the apostle‘s reasoning and antithesis cannot be understood.
(4.) Particularly, it is such an obedience as is opposed unto the disobedience of Adam,—“one man‘s disobedience,” “one man‘s obedience;”—but the disobedience of Adam was an actual transgression of the law: and therefore the obedience of Christ here intended was his active obedience unto the law;—which is that we plead for. And I shall not at present farther pursue the argument, because the force of it, in the confirmation of the truth contended for, will be included in those that follow.
John Owen was unquestionably one of the greatest Puritan divines. He was born at Stradhampton, Oxfordshire, the son of a country minister. At the age of twelve he entered Queen’s College, Oxford, receiving a B.A. in 1632 and M.A. in 1635. He was ordained in the Anglican church while still at Oxford, but he later refused to submit to William Laud’s High Church discipline. He left Oxford in 1637 and was a private chaplain for the next six years.
He went to Fordham, Essex, in 1643 when he was still Presbyterian (cf. his Duty of Pastors and People Distinguished ). Soon after taking the Presbyterian congregation at Coggeshall, Essex, Owen introduced and espoused independent church government. At about the same time (1646), he preached before Long Parliament, clearly advocating his Independent and Parliamentarian views. He continued to preach before Parliament, and at its request he preached there in 1649, the day after Charles I was executed. Owen eventually became the chaplain of Cromwell.
During these stormy years, Owen was actively involved in political affairs, and during the Protectorate he was at the head of Oxford University, appointed dean of Christ Church in 1651 and vice chancellor of the university in 1652. In 1653 he was awarded the D.D. by Oxford. In 1658, however, he separated from Cromwell, opposing Cromwell’s desire for kingship, and left Oxford to take a leading role in the Savoy Assembly. His contribution to the university had been the improvement of its scholarship and discipline.
During these years Owen poured forth volumes of sermons, tracts, controversial pamphlets, commentaries, and doctrinal studies. The value and significance of Owen’s writings is unsurpassed. After the Restoration in 1660, he was greatly respected by the royal government and became the leader of the Independents. After declining a call to the pastorate in Boston, Massachusetts, as well as an offer to be president of Harvard College, Owen became pastor in 1673 of a large congregation at Leadenhall Street Chapel and remained there until his death in 1683.
Among Owen’s main works were Display of Arminianism (1642), The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (1648), The Doctrine of the Saint’s Perseverance (1654), Vindiciae Evangelicae (1655), On the Mortification of Sin (1656), A Primer for Children (1660), the four-volume Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews (1668-1684), Discourse on the Holy Spirit (1674), Christology (1679), Vindication of the Nonconformists (1680), and True Nature of a Gospel Church (1689). Owen’s entire works were edited by William Orme and published in twenty-three volumes in 1820. A twenty-four-volume edition, edited by William Goold, was published in 1850 and reprinted by the Banner of Truth Trust of London from 1965 to 1968.
DISCUSS THIS TOPIC
Please join others who have commented upon this and other topics in our Discussion Group.