Finney’s Firm Rejection of Imputation

Finney's Systematic Theology A New Bicentennial Edition of the Theology of America's Greatest Evangelist Charles Finney is well known for his part in the 19th century American revivals.  Obviously,  Finney and these revivals are major topics that many books have covered. But it is worth mentioning that Finney did write a systematic theology where one can learn what he himself taught.  I don’t think it’s a good systematic theology, but it is informative and helpful for thinking about the history of American Christianity and theology.

For example, Finney very strongly rejected the Reformation teaching that Christ’s obedience is imputed to the believer and received by faith alone.  In other words, he firmly denied the imputation of Christ’s obedience.  Here are his own words:

…Gospel justification is not to be regarded as a forensic or judicial proceeding.

…Gospel justification is the justification of sinners; it is, therefore, naturally impossible, and a most palpable contradiction, to affirm that the justification of a sinner, or of one who has violated the law, is a forensic or judicial justification.

…For sinners to be forensically pronounced just, is impossible and absurd.

 The doctrine of an imputed righteousness, or that Christ’s obedience to the law was accounted as our obedience, is founded on a most false and nonsensical assumption; to wit, that Christ owed no obedience to the law in his own person, and that therefore his obedience was altogether a work of supererogation, and might be made a substitute for our own obedience; that it might be set down to our credit, because he did not need to obey for himself.

…If Christ owed personal obedience to the moral law, then his obedience could no more than justify himself. It can never be imputed to us. He was bound for himself to love God with all his heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, and his neighbor as himself. He did no more than this. He could do no more. It was naturally impossible, then, for him to obey in our behalf. This doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s obedience to the moral law to us, is based upon the absurd assumptions, (1.) That the moral law is founded in the arbitrary will of God, and (2.) That of course, Christ, as God, owed no obedience to it; both of which assumptions are absurd. But if these assumptions are given up, what becomes of the doctrine of an imputed righteousness, as a ground of a forensic justification? “It vanishes into thin air.”

Finney wrote more on this topic; the above is a summary.  And there are many things that come to mind when I read this section of Finney’s ST.  While he does cite some Scripture references, he does not do any exegetical work at all in his points.  For example, he cites Romans 5:9 in passing, which actually goes against his main point: by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. Furthermore, Finney misses major imputation/justification texts like 2 Cor. 5:21 and Phil. 3:9 (for just two examples).

Writing like Finney’s reminds me why I am Reformed – not because it’s cool or trendy, but because Reformed theology is thoroughly derived from Scripture and deep biblical exegesis.  And thankfully Finney was wrong!  Thankfully I don’t have to rely on any aspect of my obedience for justification.  My hope is in the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ: not my own righteousness, but the righteousness of God in Christ (Phil. 2:9).  All other ground is sinking sand.

The above quotes are found in Charles Finney, Systematic Theology, section 32.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54002

 

Excluding Our Righteousness (Buchanan)

James Buchanan Collection (2 vols.) When it comes to justification, the terms “the righteousness of God” and “his righteousness” are very important (Rom 3:21-22, 2 Cor 5:21, etc.).  These phrases have to do with the fact that an ungodly sinner is not justified by his own righteousness, but by the righteousness of Another that is given by grace alone and received by faith alone.  James Buchanan explained this well (I’ve divided the paragraphs to make it easier to read):

…This righteousness is called ‘the righteousness of One,’ and ‘the obedience of One’—expressions which serve at once to connect it with the work of Christ, and to exclude from it the personal obedience of the many who are justified.

It is called ‘the free gift unto justification of life,’ and ‘the gift of righteousness,’ to show that it is bestowed gratuitously by divine grace, and not acquired by our own obedience.

It is called ‘the righteousness which is of faith,’ or ‘the righteousness which is by faith,’ both to distinguish it from faith itself, and also to contrast it with another righteousness which is not received by faith, but ‘sought for as it were by the works of the law.’

It is called ‘the righteousness of God without the law,’ to intimate that, while it was ‘witnessed by the law and the prophets,’ and while, as ‘a righteousness,’ it must have some relation to the unchangeable rule of rectitude, it was above and beyond what the law could provide, since it depends, not on personal, but on vicarious obedience.

And it is called the righteousness ‘which God imputes without works,’ to show that it is ‘reckoned of grace,’ and not ‘of debt,’—that ‘God justifies the ungodly’2 by placing this righteousness to their account,—and that He makes it theirs, because it was wrought out for them by Him, ‘who was delivered for their offences, and rose again for their Justification.’

All these expressions relate to one and the same righteousness—the only righteousness which God has revealed for the justification of sinners — they are all applicable to the vicarious righteousness of Christ — and they serve, by their very diversity, to exhibit it in all its various aspects and relations, and to exclude every other righteousness from the ground of our pardon and acceptance, since there is no other to which all these terms can possibly be applied.

In the next section, Buchanan moves on to prove this related point:

This righteousness —being the merit of a work, and not a mere quality of character —may become ours by being imputed to us, but cannot be communicated by being infused; and must ever continue to belong primarily and, in one important respect, exclusively to Him by whom alone that work was accomplished.

James Buchanan, The Doctrine of Justification: An Outline of Its History in the Church and of Its Exposition from Scripture. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1867), 319–320.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Three Great Acts of Imputation (Machen)

 The Westminster Shorter Catechism, summarizing the biblical teaching on the topic, says that all mankind sinned in Adam, “and fell with him in that first transgression.”    Because Adam was in a covenant situation, our representative, his trespass led to our condemnation (Rom. 5:18).  How does this work?  How come I bear the guilt for Adam’s sin?  J. Gresham Machen explained this very well in The Christian View of Man.  Note how he ties it in with the gospel:

…I should just like to point out to you that if it is impossible in the nature of things for one person to bear the guilt of another person’s sins, then we have none of us the slightest hope of being saved and the gospel is all a delusion and a snare.  At the heart of the gospel is the teaching of the Bible to the effect that Jesus Christ, quite without sin himself, bore the guilt of our sins upon the cross.  If that be true, then we cannot pronounce it impossible that one person should bear the guilt of another person’s sins.

The Apostle Paul insists upon this analogy in the latter part of the fifth chapter of Romans.  In that part of that chapter we find set forth the great Scripture doctrine that is called the doctrine of imputation.

That doctrine, if you take it as the Bible sets it forth as a whole, involves three great acts of imputation.  First, Adam’s first sin is imputed to his descendents.  Second, the sins of saved people are imputed to Christ.  Third, Christ’s righteousness is imputed to saved people.

When the Bible teaches that the sins of saved people are imputed to Christ, that means that Christ on the cross bore the penalty rightly resting on saved people.  He was not deserving of death; he had not sinned at all.  Yet he suffered as though he had sinned.  God treated him as though he had sinned, although he was not a sinner.  The sin for which he died was not a sin that he had committed; it was our sin that was imputed to him.

So when the Bible teaches that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to saved people, that does not mean that the saved people are then actually righteous.  On the contrary, they are sinners.  But they receive the blessed reward of life which Christ’s righteousness deserved.  Christ’s righteousness is not actually theirs, but it is imputed to them.

So that’s what we mean when we talk about being justified by faith alone!

J. Gresham Machen, The Christian View of Man, p. 215-216.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

A Truth Worth Dividing The Church (Sproul)

Are We Together?: A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism (Hardcover) At the heart of historic, confessional Reformed teaching and preaching is the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone.  An essential part of justification sola fide is the truth of imputation.  R. C. Sproul’s words on this doctrine are outstanding and edifying.

“If any word was at the center of the firestorm of the Reformation controversy and remains central to the debate even in our day, it is imputation.  …We cannot really understand what the Reformation was about without understanding the central importance of this concept.”

“…If any statement summarizes and capture the essence of the Reformation view, it is Luther’s famous Latin formula ‘simul justus et peccator.’  ‘Simil’ is the word from which we get the English ‘simultaneous;’ it means ‘at the same time.’  ‘Justus’ is the Latin word for ‘just’ or ‘righteous.’  ‘Et’ simply means ‘and.’  ‘Peccator’ means ‘sinner.’  So, with this formula, – ‘at the same time just and sinner’ – Luther was saying that in our justification, we are at the same time righteous and sinful.  …He was saying that, in one sense, we are just.  In another sense, we are sinners.  In and of ourselves, under God’s scrutiny, we still have sin.  But by God’s imputation of the righteousness of Jesus Christ to our accounts, we are considered just.”

“This is the very heart of the gospel.  In order to get into heaven, will I be judged by my righteousness or by the righteousness of Christ?  If I have to trust in my righteousness to get into heaven, I must completely and utterly despair of any possibility of ever being redeemed.  But when we see that the righteousness that is ours by faith is the perfect righteousness of Christ, we see how glorious is the good news of the gospel.  The good news is simply this: I can be reconciled to God.  I can be justified, not on the basis of what I do, but on the basis of what has been accomplished for me by Christ.”

“Of course, Protestantism really teaches a double imputation.  Our sin is imputed to Jesus and his righteousness is imputed to us.  In this twofold transaction, we see that God does not compromise his integrity in providing salvation for his people.  Rather, he punishes sin fully after it has been imputed to Jesus.  This is why he is able to be both ‘just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus’ as Paul writes in Romans 3:26. So my sin goes to Jesus and his righteousness comes to me.”

“This is a truth worth dividing the church.”

“This is the article on which the church stands or falls, because it is the article on which we all stand or fall.”

When you hear this glorious truth preached on Sunday rejoice and be thankful for the gospel of grace!  If you don’t hear it preached, lovingly talk to your pastor and elders and discuss it.  It’s not a side issue, nor is it a dry doctrine that is impractical for our daily living.  The doctrine of justification sola fide gives us firm comfort, peace, and a grateful heart of obedience to the Lord.

The above Sproul quote is found in Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism (Sanford: Reformation Trust, 2012), 43-4.

(This is a reblog from April 2013)

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

…It Is Reckoned To Be Truly Ours (Turretin)

Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 2 Justifying faith is not a work; it is not the meritorious grounds of justification nor is it an antecedent (or a priori) condition of the covenant of grace.  Justifying faith is an instrument that receives the active and passive obedience (the righteousness) of Christ, which are the grounds for justification.  Speaking of the righteousness of Christ and justification, Turretin explains it well (I’ve formatted/edited it to make it easier to read):

Therefore when we say
a) that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us for justification,
b) that we are just before God through imputed righteousness and not through any righteousness inherent in us,

We mean nothing else than that the obedience of Christ rendered in our name to God the Father is so given to us by God that
a) it is reckoned to be truly ours
b) it is the sole and only righteousness on account of and by the merit of which we are absolved from the guilt of our sins and obtain a right to life;
c) that there is in us no righteousness or good works by which we can deserve such good benefits which can bear the severe examination of the divine court, if God willed to deal with us according to the rigor of his law;
d) that we can oppose nothing to it [the divine court] except the merit and satisfaction of Christ, in which alone, terrified by the consciousness of sin, we can find a safe refuge against the divine wrath and peace for our souls.

Francis Turretin, Institutes, Vol. 2, p. 648.

shane lems

Justification and Double Imputation

Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine Romans 5:19 and 2 Corinthians 5:19-21 are two places in Scripture that teach the twin truths of justification and double imputation: “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” “…He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (NASB).  After discussing these passages in some detail, John Fesko writes this in summary:

“In these two passages we see the inextricable link between justification and double imputation.  God does not simply write off sin when he forgives the believer. Rather, God imputes the sin and guilt of the believer to Christ, who has borne the penalty for that sin and guilt upon the cross.  At the same time God imputes the righteousness and perfect obedience of Christ to the believer.  Sever either the remission of sins or the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, and the sinner stands inextricably in a quandary, as the sinner requires not only the forgiveness of sins but also the righteousness and obedience of Christ. If the believer receives only the remission of sins, then justification would not be possible, as God would have to postpone his judgment to await the outcome, to wait and see whether the void of sin would be filled by obedience.”

This, however is not the nature of our justification because when God eliminates our sin he fills the void with the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ, and right then and there the believer, like Abraham, is counted righteous, and indefectibly so because God has imputed the righteousness of Christ to the believer.  This means that the historic Reformed expressions of justification by faith alone are correct.”

John Fesko, Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine (Phillipsburg; P&R, 2008), p 204-205.

shane lems
hammond, wi

Hodge on Imputation

Systematic Theology, 3 Volumes Here are some great words by Charles Hodge on imputation and justification.

The righteousness of Christ is imputed to the believer for his justification. The word impute is familiar and unambiguous. To impute is to ascribe to, to reckon to, to lay to one’s charge. When we say we impute a good or bad motive to a man, or that a good or evil action is imputed to him, no one misunderstands our meaning. Philemon had no doubt what Paul meant when he told him to impute to him the debt of Onesimus. “Let not the king impute anything unto his servant.” (1 Sam. 22:16.) “Let not my lord impute iniquity unto me.” (2 Sam. 19:19.) “Neither shall it be imputed unto him that offereth it.” (Lev. 7:18.) “Blood shall be imputed unto that man; he hath shed blood.” (Lev. 17:4.) “Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity.” (Ps. 32:2.) “Unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works.” (Romans 4:6.) God is “in Christ not imputing their trespasses unto them.” (2 Cor. 5:19.)

…We use the word impute in its simple admitted sense, when we say that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the believer for his justification.

…It seems unnecessary to remark that this does not, and cannot mean that the righteousness of Christ is infused into the believer, or in any way so imparted to him as to change, or constitute his moral character. Imputation never changes the inward, subjective state of the person to whom the imputation is made. When sin is imputed to a man he is not made sinful; when the zeal of Phinehas was imputed to him, he was not made zealous. When you impute theft to a man, you do not make him a thief. When you impute goodness to a man, you do not make him good. So when righteousness is imputed to the believer, he does not thereby become subjectively righteous. If the righteousness be adequate, and if the imputation be made on adequate grounds and by competent authority, the person to whom the imputation is made has the right to be treated as righteous. And, therefore, in the forensic, although not in the moral or subjective sense, the imputation of the righteousness of Christ does make the sinner righteous. That is, it gives him a right to the full pardon of all his sins and a claim in justice to eternal life.

Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology Volume 3, p. 144-145.

rev shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi