THE ARMINIAN MIND
BY JEFF PATON
Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works. Romans 4:6
The issue of imputation is commonplace within the field of Christian theology. It is a term that we find within almost every theological system and in the King James Bible in particular. Because it is a Biblical term, we should investigate its meaning and look to see how it applies to us.
Modern pluralism within Christianity has caused many to adopt ideas from sources outside of their theology and outside of Scripture itself. Arminians, being the minority, generally draw much of their theology from what they hear in church, and equally as much from sermons and books that are theologically outside the fold of their tradition. Because of this, we can see why many Arminians do not display a theological knowledge that has definite lines and definitions. Fuzziness and lines that blur towards other traditions are all too common.
This paper is a call to consistency. To be able to do this however, we must identify the ways in which Arminians use the term imputation, how the term was used historically by theologians from this tradition, and most importantly, how the Scriptures use this word. Consistency is of little use if it is not Biblical.
THE SCRIPTURAL USAGE OF THE TERM
The term impute is a word that is not commonplace within the English language today. It is an older English term that was in common use during the writing of the King James Bible. Of all of the choices that were available to the translators, the term impute found preference in certain places because it carried a distinct theological significance that was not found in other words that could be used to translate it.
Even though there were both Arminian and Calvinistic translators involved in the development of the King James Bible, the Arminians were the vast minority. In many verses the interpretation fell in favor of terminology that would favor one side more than the other. In this case we must understand that the word impute is a proper and viable translation apart from interjections of theological significance that most people attach to the term.
One thing that we should make a point of noticing is the Calvinistic ownership of the definition of imputation. What I mean by "ownership" is that when most of us hear the term we think of it in the context of the way it is used from their perspective. For example, baptism is normally thought of as immersion only. Many who have studied the term and its usage within Scripture would object to such a narrow definition. But most of us will not go that far in our investigation. We are happy with the simplicity of one term, one definition. In our day and age, the Baptists "own" the term "baptism." Arminians "own" the term "whosoever will." When the majority of readers see this in their Bibles, most see this as asserting the free grace of God to all, not the limited application of grace to the few as Calvinism would interpret it.
The Calvinistic definition of imputation of the righteousness of Christ is read in a way that says that the character of the positive work of Christ is transferred to the believer. This happens in a way that this becomes the believerís own righteousness in the eyes of God, but has little or no impact on the actual righteousness of the believer. "Obviously this imputed righteousness is not something accomplished by man. Being the righteousness of God, it is not increased by the goodness of the one to whom it is imputed, nor is it decreased by his badness." (Major Bible Themes, Chafer and Walvoord, page 199). Richard S. Taylor comments, " The most venerated teaching is that of the Calvinistic doctrine of imputed righteousness. This is the belief that God not only imputes all our sins to Christ but transfers in His accounting all Christís righteousness to us, so that God doesnít really see our sins; rather He sees us as spotlessly holy in Christ." Charles Stanley remarks, "God made a swap. Actually, the correct term is imputation. He imputed our sin to Christ and His righteousness to us." (Eternal Security, Can You Be Sure?)
Even though many Arminians hold this Calvinistic view of imputation as their own, it will be shown that this position is not the position of historic Wesleyan-Arminianism. Further comments on this will follow the statements of the theologians of Wesleyan-Arminianism themselves.
What is this term impute, and why is it in Scripture? The word is a translation of the Greek word LOGIZOMAI which is an accounting term which means to count, or put to someoneís account. The same word is translated as impute (Rom. 4:6, 8, 11, 22, 23, 24), reckon, (Rom. 4:4, 9, 10), numbered (Mark 15:28), laid to their charge (2 Tim. 4:16), counted (Rom. 2:26, 4:3, 5; 9:8), accounting (Heb. 11:19). It is interesting to mark that the term of reckon and counting can be interchanged in all instances of impute. Another point is that to "reckon" and to "count" do not carry the idea of any mystical transfer of character. The actual meaning of the word "impute" does not carry this idea without the theological imposition that has been put upon it.
ARMINIAN USE OF A CALVINISTIC TERM
An oddity that many Arminians have questioned is this: Why do some who call themselves Arminians use terminology that seems to work against their own theology? (1) Wesleyan connections to the Penal Theory of the atonement. This is also known as the Calvinistic theory of the atonement. For this theory to work, this mystical transfer of sin and righteousness must in fact be an actuality. The popularity of this theory causes many to use its terms while at the same time they reject the logical conclusions of that theory. John Wesley used many models of the atonement including the use of the Penal Theory. To this day, many Arminian theologians, preachers, and teachers hold this as their primary theory. The difficulty however is that their hearers do not disassociate their use of the term impute from the Calvinistic understanding of it that is propagated so overwhelmingly on radio and television. (2) The desire of most Wesleyan-Arminians to promote what they believe, and not what they do not believe. Because of this they assume that their hearers understand what they mean by impute and not some mystical theory. (3) Their doctrinal distinctive is generally the doctrine of sanctification and not of justification to which this term is related. We have spent so much time defending a truth that is neglected by others that we have failed to take a stand on an issue that subverts our entire system. (4) Attempts to be Biblical. Wesley contended for the term "perfection" on the grounds that it was a Biblical term and we should not be ashamed of it. Many theologians use the terminology for much the same reason. Most Wesleyan theologians use the term, to "reckon" or "count" as a viable alternative for "impute" to avoid such confusion.
Wesley has been called to the aid of some who would contend for the use of the term by saying that Wesley himself said that the truth of the gospel is "a hairís breadth" from Calvinism. In a debate with Mr. Rowland Hill, Wesley quotes his remarks and responds to them. (Hill) "Mr. Wesley "winds up this point of imputed righteousness with a resolution which astonishes me, that "he will never use the phrase, the imputed righteousness of Christ, unless it occur to him in a hymn, or steal upon him unawares." Wesley responded to this complaint, "This is my resolution. I repeat once more what I said in the "Remarks:" "The thing, that we are justified merely for the sake of what Christ has done and suffered, I have constantly and earnestly maintained above four-and-thirty years. And I have frequently used the phrase, hoping thereby to please others "for their good to edification." But it has had a contrary effect, since so many improve it into an objection. Therefore I will use it no more ." ( I mean, the phrase imputed righteousness; that phrase, the imputed righteousness of Christ, I never did use.)...And I will advise all my brethren, all who are in connection with me throughout the three kingdoms, to lay aside that ambiguous, unscriptural phrase, (the imputed righteousness of Christ,) which is so liable to be misinterpreted." (Works 10:429, 430.)
Adam Clarke wrote in a letter -
"My DEAR BROTHER Dunn, Jan. 21st, 1823.
I am quite of Mr. Wesley's mind, that once "we leaned too much toward Calvinism," and especially in admitting in any sense, the unscriptural doctrine of the imputed righteousness of Christ. I never use the distinction of righteousness imputed, righteousness imparted, righteousness practiced. In no part of the book of God is Christís righteousness ever said to be imputed to us for our justification; and I greatly doubt whether the doctrine of Christís active obedience in our justification does not take away from the infinite merit of his sacrificial deathÖ.I have long thought that the doctrine of imputed righteousness, as held by certain people, is equally compounded of Pharisaism and Antinomianism. (Christian Theology, Adam Clarke, Pages 140-142)
In an effort to avoid the mystical connotations of imputed righteousness and the antinomianism that tends to result from it, many writers have emphasized the imparted righteousness of Christ. Once again, the emphasis is taken away from justification and bent towards sanctification. The point is the contrast between imputed versus imparted on how the righteousness is applied to the believer. This over-emphasis neglects to recognize that the Arminian view of justification admits of imputation, but only in the Arminian definition of it. Just like their use of the Penal theory, they use the terminology but not the conclusion.
THE ARMINIAN USE OF THE TERM
"It is nowhere stated in Scripture that Christís personal righteousness is imputed to us. Not a text can be found which contains any enunciation of the doctrine." Even the fourth chapter of Romans, where it has been supposed to exist in all its proofs, gives no countenance to the theory. It is repeatedly said, that "faith is imputed for righteousness;" but in no place here, that Christís obedience to the moral law is imputed to any man.
If it be asked, is there then no sense in which it may be said that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us? we reply, yes. Although the phrase has no foundation in Scripture, it is sometimes employed by Arminian and Wesleyan writers in a sense that is perfectly scriptural. Understanding the righteousness of Christ," as including "what He did in obedience to the precepts of the law, and what He suffered in satisfaction of its penalty, which, taken together, constitute that mediatorial righteousness for the sake of which the Father is ever well pleased in Him," this may be said to be "imputed" to us when "its collective merits and moral effects" are so reckoned to our account that we are released from all guilt, and accepted of God. Every one can see how wide the difference between this doctrine and that which teaches that the active righteousness of Christ is "personally imputed in its formal nature or distinct acts." But are not the remarks of Dr. A. Clarke worthy of consideration? "I am quite of Mr. Wesleyís mind, that once " we leaned too much towards Calvinism," and especially in admitting in any sense the unscriptural doctrine of the imputed righteousness of Christ. I never use the distinction of righteousness imputed, righteousness imparted, righteousness practiced.
The Studentís Handbook of Christian Theology, Benjamin Field, Pages 199, 201.
This doctrine of the imputed righteousness of Christ is capable of great abuse. To say that Christís personal righteousness is imputed to every true believer, is not Scriptural: to say that he has fulfilled all righteousness for us, in our stead, if by this is meant his fulfillment of all moral duties, is neither Scriptural nor true; that~ he has died in our stead, is a great, glorious, and Scriptural truth; that there is no redemption but through his blood is asserted beyond all contradiction in the oracles of God.
The salvation which we receive from Godís free mercy, through Christ, binds us to live in a strict conformity to the moral law; that law which prescribes our manners, and the spirit by which they should be regulated, and in which they should be performed. He who lives not, in the due performance of every Christian duty, whatever faith he may profess, is either a vile hypocrite or a scandalous Antinomian.
Christian Theology, Adam Clarke, Pages 140-142.
Between this, however, and the Imputation of Christís Righteousness, especially His active righteousness, to the believer as his own, there is a great interval. Methodism has always maintained a firm protest against the distinct imputation of the active obedience of the Substitute of man; but has been reluctant to give up altogether the thought of an imputation of Christís righteousness generally~ The following words of Mr. Wesley, confirmed by hymns which the Methodists delight to sing, will carry I back this instinctive vacillation to an early period: " As the active and passive righteousness of Christ were never in fact separated from each other, so we never need separate them at all. It is with regard to these conjointly that Jesus is called Ďthe Lord our Righteousness.í But when is this righteousness imputed? When they believe; in that very hour the righteousness of Christ is theirs; it is imputed to everyone that believes, as soon as he believes. But in what sense is this righteousness imputed to believers? In this; all believers are forgiven and accepted, not for the sake of anything in them, or of anything that ever was, I that is, or ever can be done by them, but wholly for the sake of what Christ hath done and suffered for them. But perhaps some will affirm that faith is imputed to us for righteousness. St. Paul affirms this, therefore I affirm it too. Faith is imputed for righteousness to every believer, namely, faith in the righteousness of Christ; but this is exactly the same thing which has been said before; for by that expression I mean neither more nor less than that we are justified by faith, not by works; or that every believer is forgiven and accepted merely for the sake of what Christ has done and suffered."
Compendium of Christian Theology, William Burt Pope, 2:446-447.
Thus it is clear that the different parts of this monstrous fiction fight with each other. If, by the above kind of imputation, we transfer Christís personal righteousness to us, his sufferings for us are useless, and pardon is not needed. If our sins are, as above, imputed to Him, then He suffered, not "for our sins," but for His own; and the Bible becomes a book of silly dreams, or absurd and inconsistent fictions.
This scheme of justification by the imputation of Christís personal obedience to the moral law, is irreconcilable with the character of Christís personal acts, and could not furnish us with a righteousness adapted to our condition.
This Antinomian scheme must be renounced as unscriptural and absurd.
Elements of Divinity, Thomas N. Ralston, D.D., Pages 377, 382.
The Calvinistic theory of the basis for justification represents an opposite error from those already described. It affirms that the active obedience of Christ is so imputed to believers that they are as legally righteous as if they had been perfectly obedient to the law of God. In its extreme form it is antinomian. It rests on and is a part of the Calvinistic doctrine of imputation. It admits of no real forgiveness of the individual. When Christís obedience has been counted or imputed to the sinner as if he had done that obedience, then he is properly regarded as just because he is just. This is the theory in its advanced form. Those whom God declares to be righteous must first be made righteous in fact. In this theory justification is forensic in the strictest sense.
Imputation of righteousness to us in the sense that Christ obeyed the law of God in our stead and we therefore merit the reward of that obedience is not supported by the Scriptures, but is only an assumption of a certain class of theologians. Let us examine some of the texts chiefly relied upon for substantiation of this theory. "He shall be called, the Lord our righteousness" (Jer. 23: 6). It is said he shall be called our righteousness because he is our righteousness. Doubtless this is true. But in what sense is he our righteousness? He can be such only in the sense that he is the procurer of our righteousness or justification. "For as by one manĎs disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous" (Rom. 5:19) Here again the words of the text furnish no conclusive proof of Calvinistic imputation. The question is, how does the obedience of Christ make many righteous? In our consideration of modal theories of native depravity, it has already been shown that the first part of this text can not mean many were made sinners by the imputation to them of the guilt of Adamís sin. Through the passive obedience of Christ in suffering the death of the cross we are made righteous. This is taught in many other texts (John 10:17, 18; Phil. 2:8; Heb. 10: 10). Our justification is through the blood of Christ. No reason exists for supposing the text under consideration teaches anything more than that we are justified as a result of Christís obedience in dying to atone for our sins. Other texts assumed to support the theory under review are equally void of support of it as are those here cited.
One of several valid arguments against the theory that the active obedience of Christ is imputed to us is given here as an example. If by imputation we are righteous because of the active and passive obedience of Christ, two results must follow:
(1) That in our justification there is no place for pardon, because it is not possible that both perfect obedience and pardon can be the portion of the same person at one time. (2) That we possess both an active and a passive obedience as a means of our justification, which is twice as much as justice requires. It is absurd to suppose it is required of us both to obey the law of God and also to suffer the penalty for its violation.
The true Scriptural basis for justification is the atonement of Christ. The death of Christ is a declaration of the righteousness of God and of his law in such a sense that when he freely remits the penalty for sin on the condition of faith there is no reflection on his perfect holiness. Justification is pardon and in its primary sense is an order of non-execution of penalty, and also it includes forgiveness. According to the Bible, justification is a real forgiveness of sin.
Christian Theology, Russell R. Byrum, Pages 422-423.
Rom.4:1: "Abraham believed God. and it was counted unto him for righteousness."
Verse 5: "But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." I
Verse 9: ĎFor we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness."
Verse 22 : Ď And, therefore, it was imputed to him for righteousness."
Gal.3:6: "Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness."
James 2:23: "Abraham believed God. and it was imputed to him for righteousness."
In these texts, faith is said to be reckoned for righteousness, counted for righteousness, accounted for righteousness, and imputed for righteousness. The sense is the same in every case. The difference is only in the translation; the same Greek word. logizomai, is used in the original of all these texts.
The simple sense is that faith was accepted or put to the credit, for, that is, in the place of righteousness.
Leeís Theology, Luther Lee, Page 194.
The Imputation of Faith for Righteousness.óWith the word impute we have also the words count and reckon. Faith is imputed for righteousness, counted for righteousness, reckoned for righteousness. There is no difference of meaning in these words, as here used, that requires any notice. They are all the rendering of the same word, LOGIZOMAI.
Two facts should be specially noted. One is, that it is faith itself, and not its object, that is thus imputed. This is certain even where a pronoun is the immediate antecedent to the verb. Here is an instance: "For what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness." Here only the faith of Abraham can be the antecedent to the pronoun it; and hence only his faith could be the subject of the imputation. Further, faith itself, as so named, is repeatedly the immediate nominative to the imputation. Here are instances: "His faith is counted for righteousness;" "faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness." Hence any attempt at a metonymical interpretation of faith, so that it shall mean, not itself but its object, that is Christ, and hence mean the imputation of his personal righteousness, is utterly vain. The other fact is, that the faith is counted, reckoned, imputed to him whose personal act it is. This is what is imputed to Abraham, to the Jew, to the Gentile. In neither case is there the slightest intimation of an imputation of any personal act of another.
For what is faith imputed? For righteousness. This is the only answer, because such is the uniform statement of the Scriptures. But what is the meaning of righteousness, as the term is here used? Only two views are worthy of any consideration: one, that faith itself constitutes a proper and real personal righteousness; the other, that righteousness means the legal state consequent upon the remission of sin on the condition of faith.
Faith itself cannot constitute a true personal righteousness, such as consists in a complete fulfillment of personal duties. Considered as a duty, faith could fulfill only its own obligation, and therefore could not answer for any other duty. It never can constitute the sum of Christian obedience. Such a view would infinitely exalt it even above the high place which the Scriptures assign it in the economy of the Christian life. Besides, the relation of faith to righteousness is entirely overlooked. In the view of St. Paul faith is simply the condition of righteousness, whereas in this view it constitutes the righteousness. Also, it takes us entirely away from the atonement in Christ as the only ground of justification, and from the remission of sin as the vital fact thereof.
The truth of the question lies in the other view, that the righteousness for which faith is imputed means the legal state consequent upon the remission of sin. In an earlier part of this discussion it was shown that justification and remission of sins mean the same thing. We further find that the imputation of righteousness has the same meaning as the other two facts. The proof of this oneness of meaning in the three forms of expression lies in a single passage, wherein are set forth, in one sentence and without any real distinction, the righteousness of God, justification, and remission of sins, as conferred on the same condition of faith in Christ.í The imputation of faith for righteousness is thus easily understood. It means simply that faith is accepted as the condition of justification or the remission of sin, whereby the believing sinner is set right with God.
Systematic Theology, John Miley, 2:319-320.
The last term to be explained is IMPUTATION. The original verb LOGIZOMAI is well enough translated to impute in the sense of to reckon, to account; but it is never used to signify imputation in the sense of accounting the actions of one person to have been performed by another.
A manís sin or righteousness is imputed to him when he is considered as actually the doer of sinful or of righteous acts, in which sense the word repute is more commonly used; and he is consequently reputed a vicious or a holy man. A manís sin or righteousness is imputed to him in its legal consequences, under a government of rewards and punishments; and then to impute sin or righteousness signifies, in a legal sense, to reckon or account it to account it, to acquit or condemn, and forthwith to punish or exempt from punishment. Thus Shimei entreated David not to "impute iniquity unto" him, that is, not to punish him for his iniquity.
In this sense, too, David speaks of the blessedness of the man "unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity," that is, whom he forgives, so that the legal consequences of his sin shall not fall upon him. This non-imputation of sin to a sinner is expressly called the "imputation of righteousness without works." The imputation of righteousness is, then, the non-punishment or pardon of sin; and if this passage be read in its connection, it will also be seen that by the imputing of faith for righteousness, the apostle means precisely the same thing. "To him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justified the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness; even as David, also, described the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin."
This quotation from David would have been nothing to the apostleís purpose unless he had understood the forgiveness of sins, the imputation of righteousness, and the non-imputation of sin, to signify the same thing as the accounting of faith for righteousness, with only this difference, that the introduction of the term faith marks the manner in which the forgiveness of sin is obtained. To impute faith for righteousness is nothing more than to be justified by faith; which is also called by St. Paul, "being made righteous," that is, being placed by an act of free forgiveness, through faith in Christ, in the condition of righteous men in this respect, that the penalty of the law does not lie against them, and that they are restored to the Divine favor.
From this brief but, it is hoped, clear explanation of these terms, righteousness, faith, and imputation, it will appear that it is not quite correct in the advocates of the Scripture doctrine of the imputation of faith for righteousness to say that our faith in Christ is accepted in the place of personal obedience to the law; except, indeed, in this loose sense, that our faith in Christ as effectually exempts us from punishment as if we had been personally obedient. The scriptural doctrine is rather that the death of Christ is accepted in the place of our personal punishment on condition of our faith in him; and that when this faith is actually exercised, then comes in, on the part of God, the act of imputing or reckoning righteousness to us; or, what is the same thing, accounting faith for righteousness; that is, pardoning our offenses through faith, and treating us as the objects of his restored favor.
Christian Theology, Samuel Wakefield, 2: 419-420.
The question of the imputation of Christís active obedience to believers is very skillfully treated by Watson (Theological Institutes, part 2, chapter 13), himself a believer in the doctrine of imputation in a modified way. We give here a summary of his statement of the subject.
There are three opinions as to imputation.
(I.) The high Calvinistic, or Antinomian scheme which is, that "Christís active righteousness is imputed unto us as ours." In answer to this, we say, 1. It is nowhere stated in Scripture. 2. The notion here attached to Christís representing us is wholly gratuitous. 3. There is no weight in the argument that, "as our sins were accounted his, so his righteousness was accounted ours;" for our sins were never so accounted Christís as that he did them. 4. The doctrine involves a fiction and impossibility inconsistent with the divine attributes. 5. The acts of Christ were of a loftier character than can be supposed to be capable of being the acts of mere creatures. 6. Finally, and fatally, this doctrine shifts the meritorious cause of manís justification from Christís "obedience unto death" to Christís active obedience to the precepts of the law.
(II.) The opinion of Calvin himself, and many of his followers, adopted also by some Arminians.
It differs from the first in not separating the active from the passive righteousness of Christ, for such a distinction would have been inconsistent with Calvinís notion that justification is simply the remission of sin. This view is adopted, with certain modifications, by Arminians and Wesley. But there is a slight difference, which arises from the different senses in which the word imputation is used: the Arminian employing it in the sense of accounting to the believer the benefit of Christís righteousness: the Calvinist. in the sense of reckoning the righteousness of Christ as ours. An examination of the following passages will show that this latter notion has no foundation in Scripture: Psa. 32:1; Jer. 23:6; Isa. 45:24; Rom. 3:21, 22; 1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 5:18, 19. In connection with this last text, it is sometimes attempted to be shown that, as Adam a sin is imputed to his posterity, so Christís obedience is imputed to those that are saved; but (Goodwin, On Justification) (1.) The Scripture nowhere affirms either the imputation of Adamís sin to his posterity, or of the righteousness of Christ to those that believe. (2.) To impute sin, in scripture phrase, is to charge the guilt of sin upon a man, with a purpose to punish him for it. And (3.) as to the imputation of Adamís sin to his posterityó if by it is meant simply that the guilt of Adamís sin is charged upon his whole posterity. let it pass: but if the meaning be that all Adamís posterity are made, by this imputation, formally sinners, then the Scriptures do not justify it.
(III.). The imputation of faith for righteousness. (A.) Proof of this doctrine. - 1. It is expressly taught in Scripture. (Rom. 4:3-24, etc.); nor is faith used in these passages as a metonymy ( a figure of speech in which the name of one thing is used for another ) for the object of faith, that is, the righteousness of Christ. 2. The testimony of the Church to this doctrine has been uniform from the earliest ages down to the 16th century.
CYCLOPEDIA OF BIBLICAL, THEOLOGICAL, AND ECCLESIASTICAL LITERATURE, McClintock and Strong, 4:526
Romans 4: 3-8: ĎWhat saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, "Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin." That the terms above specified are in these passages used synonymously can not be reasonably questioned. Let it be remembered, that in this passage from Romans, and in its context, the Apostle is specifically and argumentatively, discussing the doctrine of justification before God, so that if anywhere in Scripture the precise import of that doctrine is found, it is found here, and, I repeat, beyond reasonable question, the terms "justified" "justifieth" " forgiveness of sins" "iniquities are forgiven," "sins are covered," "counted unto him for righteousness, imputeth righteousness," and "will not impute sin," are used to designate the same thing.
Now, what that thing is may be distinctly discovered by considering the obvious import of the passage, "Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness." What did Abrahamís faith do? What did it bring to pass? It certainly did not bring it to pass that he never had sinned; for no man is justified by the deeds of the lawóno man liveth and sinneth not. Abraham, having done what he ought not to do, or having left undone what he ought to have done, it can never be brought to pass, or become true, that he did not do thus. Abrahamís faith could not bring it to pass that God thought of him as having always kept the commandments, or counted, or considered him as having always been legally righteous; or that righteousness was in any such sense put to his account; for God thinks of things as they are, and he puts to the account of his creatures precisely what his creatures, and what they do. His are thoughts and dealings are in truth and not in fiction.
Again, Abrahamís faith was not regarded as a substitute for righteousness, as though, in a ledger account, obedience was debited and the account was balanced by a credit of faith. Faith is an act of obedience a single command, but is not obedience to all commands, nor is it an equivalent thereto. It is not so in fact, and God does not deal in any action that can make it so. Abrahamís faith did not bring it to pass that Christís righteousness was counted to him in the sense that he did it. He did not do it, and he can not in truth be credited as having done it. Abraham was, as are all of his fellow-men, a sinner before God; he had done wrong, he was responsible for what he had done, was justly and legally guilty, was exposed to penalty, and punishment might have been justly inflicted upon him. Neither the death of Christ nor his faith, nor both together, made any change in these things; but he believed God; and his faith, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, brought it to pass that he was exonerated from obligation to punishment; he was, on condition of his faith, saved from punishment as fully, as effectually, as he would have been if he had been righteous. His faith, so far as penalty is concerned, brought to pass the same thing that righteousness would have done. This is the sense in which his faith was imputed to him for righteousness. The idea is the same, as is expressed when it is said that faith is the condition of justification, of pardon, of forgiveness, of remission, each of which means that, through the declaration of Godís righteousness made by the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, on condition of faith in the recipient, the grace and mercy of God is manifest by the exercise of executive clemency in ordering the non-execution of the penalty due to the sins of which the pardoned sinner is guilty.
The Scriptures usually quoted to maintain the doctrine of imputation, in the sense of counting or reckoning the active and passive righteousness of Christ to his people as their righteousness, are "He hath made him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. As by one manís disobedience many were made sinners, so, by the obedience of one, shall many be made righteous. And this is the name whereby he shall be called, The Lord Our Righteousness. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom and righteousness, and sanctification and redemption." The forms of expression here employed seem to favor the doctrine in support of which they are quoted. They contain the whole strength of the Scripture argument, on that side of the question. If the doctrine is not here, it is not in the Bible. It is obvious that nothing similar to the formula, Christís righteousness is counted our righteousness, is found in these passages. Such a construction is but a construction, an interpretation, not an affirmation. The doctrine is not stated in these passages. It is also obvious, on a slight examination, that all these passages may be reasonably interpreted by the theory above advocated; and as the above interpretation is the obvious exegesis of those other passages, especially those quoted from Romans, where the doctrine of justification is specifically discussed, we hold that we are bound to interpret these incidental references by those explicit statements. There is a class of figurative expressions in the Scriptures such as, "clothed with garments of salvation, robes of righteousness and white linen, the righteousness of the saints," and also such expressions as "putting on Christ," which have led Christians, in speaking of their experience, to speak of putting away the filthy garments of self-righteousness and putting on the righteousness of Christ. We Wesleyans sing,
Jesus, thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress,
Midst flaming worlds in these arrayed.
With joy shall I lift up my head
This is evidently rhetorical; it is poetical adornment, and not literal statement of doctrinal truth. The saints in glory are clothed with garments washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb. Surely Christís righteousness was not washed in his blood; it never needed cleansing. Rhetorical expressions are not logical arguments. The fact that such fancies are even cherished thoughts among the deeply pious, is not proof that the doctrine they imply is true.
The doctrine of imputation, in the sense here opposed, affiliates, and stands or falls with that view of atonement which regards Christís death as a substituted penalty for the sins of men. If the race stood their probation in Adam; if his sin is their sin, his guilt their guilt; if Christ suffered the penalty due to the sins of the elect; if their sins were his sins, and his death their punishment then, as consistently as these things may be said, it may also be said, that Christís righteousness was the righteousness of his people. Such a system may claim the merit of self-consistency; but that it is founded, constructed, cemented, and completed in fiction; that it is a continuous process of putting one thing for another, and never in any instance regarding and treating things as they are, is most astoundingly obvious.
Systematic Theology, Minor Raymond 2: 338 - 343
WHAT IS ASSERTED BY THESE THEOLOGIANS
First of all we can gather a consensus of what a Wesleyan-Arminian idea of imputation is not. There is not a singular instance where any Wesleyan-Arminian of repute buys into the idea of a transfer of character, a transfer of sin, or a transfer of righteousness in a Calvinistic sense.
What they accept is that this "reckoning "or "counting" as righteous. This event occurs in conjunction with the legal act of justification. We know that God is not dealing with legal fictions when a believer is declared "just" before God. The fact that the believerís past sins are atoned for, leaves none left to be forgiven at that split moment of forgiveness. There remains nothing within the believer to be punished. In this sense the believer stands before God as a just individual, he is counted righteous.
Wesley states, "It seems, righteousness in the following texts means neither more or less than justification: "If righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain." (Gal. 2:21) "If there had been a law which could have given life," spiritual life, or a title to life eternal, "then righteousness should have been by the law;" (Gal. 3:21) (Works 10:314)
"In the mean time, what we are afraid of is this; - lest any should use the phrase, "the righteousness of Christ," or, "The righteousness of Christ is imputed to me," as a cover for his unrighteousness. We have known this done a thousand times. A man has been reproved, suppose for drunkenness: "O," said he, "I pretend no righteousness of my own; Christ is my righteousness." Another has been told, that "the extortioner, the unjust, shall not inherit the kingdom of God:" He replies, with all assurance, "I am unjust in myself, but I have a spotless righteousness in Christ." And thus, though a man be as far from the practice as from the tempers of a Christian; though he neither has the mind which was in Christ, nor in any respect walks as he walked; yet he has armour of proof against all conviction, in which he calls "the righteousness of Christ." (Works 5:244)
THE ARMINIAN MIND
Is it any wonder that parishioners in Arminian churches are confused about the clarity of doctrinal issues when we borrow terminology and concepts that are foreign to the Scriptures and our own theology? How could we hope for good results? I believe that it is time to call church leaders and teachers back to consistency in this matter. Doing this cannot but assist in solidifying the faith of many, which should make them more sure witnesses to their faith. Firmness of mind and assurance of faith should be the characteristics of every fruitful Christian.
May God help us to be firm and sound in the way of truth.
BIBLICAL THEOLOGY ETERNAL SECURITY