Volume 8, Issue 3: Verbatim
Quotations on Imputed Righteousness
Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faiththe salvation of your souls.
1 Peter 1:9
In the mind of a Tyndale or Luther, as in the mind of St. Paul himself, this theology was by no means an intellectual construction made in the interests of speculative thought. It springs directly out of a highly specialized religious experience.... The experience is that of catastrophic conversion. The man who has passed through it feels like one who has waked from a nightmare into ecstasy. Like an accepted lover, he feels that he has done nothing, and never could have done anything, to deserve such astonishing happiness.... All the initiative has been on God's side; all has been free, unbounded grace. And all will continue to be free, unbounded grace. His own puny and ridiculous efforts would be as helpless to retain the joy as they would have been to achieve it in the first place. Fortunately they need not. Bliss is not for sale, cannot be earned. "Works" have no "merit," though of course faith, inevitably, even unconsciously, flows out into works of love at once. He is not saved because he does works of love: he does works of love because he is saved. It is faith alone that has saved him: faith bestowed by sheer gift. From this buoyant humility, this farewell to the self with all its good resolutions, anxiety, scruples, and motive-scratchings, all the Protestant doctines originally sprang.
And indeed this is one of the greatest mysteries in this world -- namely, that a righteousness that resides with a person in heaven should justify me, a sinner, on earth.
The imputation of sin and righteousness is not, in any bad sense of the expression, a "legal fiction," as it has been offensively called; nor is it a theory, invented by man, but a fact, revealed by God. Instead of disproving the doctrine by a dispassionate appeal to Scripture, some recent writers have attempted to discredit it; and have characterized it sometimes as "a fiction," and sometimes as "a theory." This is a short and easy method of controversy, fitted to excite prejudice, while it dispenses with proof. But intelligent men, who know how often whatever is true and good among men has been caricatured and traduced by affixing to it some offensive epithet, will require something more than an assertion to convince them, that the faith of the Christian Church has rested from the beginning on nothing more solid than a fanciful figment, or an ingenious speculation.
No wonder if such persons look upon imputed righteousness as the shadow of a dream, who esteem those things which evidence its necessity to be but fond imaginations. And small hope is there to bring such men to value the righteousness of Christ, as imputed to them, who are so unacquainted with their own unrighteousness inherent in them. Until men know themselves better, they will care very little to know Christ at all.
But deceitful and false doctrine is a poison and venom which, under the taste and name of verity, once drunk and received, with great difficulty can afterward be purged -- as the epistles of St. Paul, and the history of all ages, entreating the estate and matters of religion, do teach us. If, therefore, the doctrine and persuasion of any man tend to the exaltation and advancement of any justice or perfection, except Christ Jesus alone; if any affirm that Christian justice, which is available before God, is any other perfection than remission of our sins, which we have only by faith in Christ's blood, . . . if any [would] persuade that our merits, good works, or obedience are any cause, either of our justification, or yet of our election; let him be accursed, suppose that he were an angel from heaven.
I can sympathize with Luther when he said, "I have preached justification by faith so often, and I feel sometimes that you are so slow to receive it, that I could almost take the Bible and bang it about your heads."
Faith is neither the ground nor substance of our justification, but the hand, the instrument, the vessel which receives the divine gift proffered to us in the gospel.
We are accompted righteous before God, only for the merite of our Lord and sauiour Jesus Christe, by faith, and not for our owne workes or deseruynges. Wherefore, that we are iustified by fayth onely, is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homile of iustification.
The Thirty-Nine Articles
Justification is a gracious work of God whereby He, as righteous Judge, acquits the elect from guilt and punishment and declares them to be heirs of eternal life because of the righteousness of Christ the Surety, imputed to them by God, and received by them through faith.
Wilhelmus á Brakel
Those that would be found in Christ must renounce their own righteousness: they who have attained the excellent knowledge of Christ will not rely upon it, rest in it, or make it the ground of their confidence. The apostle in this respect counts it loss, calls it dung; and those that have truly learned Christ will be like-minded. Though personal righteousness, observance of the law, be necessary and useful in other respects, yet in point of confidence it must be renounced, it must in no case be relied on; it is commendable and advantageous in its own place, when made use of for those ends, and in that way which God requires; but if it be relied on, it may prove dangerous, pernicious; it will be found a broken reed, deceive the soul that puts confidence in it. The reason is, because personal righteousness of any man since the fall is defective, and comes far short of that righteousness which should be the ground of our confidence.
I'm so thankful for active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.
J. Gresham Machen's Last Recorded Words
Whoever is acquainted with the nature of mankind in general, or the propensity of his own heart in particular, must acknowledge, that self-righteousness is the last idol that is rooted out of the heart.... therefore, as the apostle excellently observes, we go about, we fetch a circuit, to establish a righteousness of our own, and, like the Pharisees of old, will not wholly submit to that righteousness which is of God through Christ our Lord.
We see how often and how earnestly Scripture urges us, wherever righteousness is concerned, to give thanks to God alone.
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress;
Helpless, look to thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.
Justification is the criminal pardoned; sanctification, the patient healed. The union of both constitutes present salvation....
Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature's night
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light
My chains fell off, my heart was free
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
I have a great liking for many of Wesley's Hymns; but when I read some of them, I ask, "What's become of your Free-will now, friend?"
God's own standard of justice is perfect and has been revealed in his law, his ordinances. Given God's perfect standard and his perfect justice in applying it, what hope can there be for mankind? "How can man be just before God?" (Job 9:2) .... If no man living can be justified in God's sight (Ps. 143:2), how can there be any escape from the universal verdict: the soul that sins must die (Ez. 18:20)? ... Just as God is the judge whose verdict is final and just, so God is the Savior, the only one who can provide deliverance from the penalty of His own judgment. The great theme of the Old Testament is that "salvation is of the Lord" (Jon. 2:9).
For Luther, the gospel destroys all human righteousness, in that man is forced to recognize that he is totally devoid of soteriological resources, and thus turn to receive those resources ab extra. Man is justified by laying hold of a righteousness which is not, and can never be his own -- the iustitia Chrisi aliena, which God mercifully "reckons" to man. "The Christ who is grasped by faith and lives in the heart is the true Christian righteousness, on account of which God counts us as righteous and grants us eternal life." The essence of justifying faith is that it is fides apprehensiva -- a faith which seizes Christ, and holds him fast, in order that his righteousness may be ours, and our sin his.
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