I do not know what I can most admire in this article -- the unskillfulness, the malice, or the supine negligence of those who have been its fabricators! (1.) Their NEGLIGENCE is apparent in this, that they do not care how and in what words they enunciate the sentiments which they attribute to me; neither do they give themselves any trouble to know what my sentiments are, which yet they are desirous to reprehend. (2.) Their UNSKILLFULNESS. Because they do not distinguish the things which ought to be distinguished, and they oppose those things which ought not to be opposed. (3.) The MALICE is evident, because they attribute to me those things which I have neither thought nor spoken; or because they involve matters in such a way as to give that which was correctly spoken the appearance of having been uttered in perverseness, that they may discover some grounds for calumny. But, to come to the affair itself.
Though in this article there seem to be only two distinct enunciations, yet in potency they are three, which must also be separated from each other to render the matter intelligible. The FIRST is, "the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us." SECOND, "the righteousness of Christ is imputed for righteousness." THIRD, "the act of believing is imputed for righteousness." For thus ought they to have spoken, if their purpose was correctly to retain my words; because the expression, "justifies us," is of wider acceptation than, "is imputed for righteousness." For God justifies, and it is not imputed for righteousness. Christ, "the righteous servant of God, justifies many by his knowledge." But that by which He thus does this, is not "imputed for righteousness."
1. With regard to the FIRST. I never said, "the righteousness of Christ is not imputed to us." Nay, I asserted the contrary in my Nineteenth Public Disputation on Justification, Thesis 10. "The righteousness by which we are justified before God may in an accommodated sense be called imputative, as being righteousness either in the gracious estimation of God, since it does not according to the rigor of right or of law merit that appellation, or as being the righteousness of another, that is, of Christ, it is made ours by the gracious imputation of God." I have, it is true, placed these two in alternation. By this very thing I declare, that I do not disapprove of that phrase. "The righteousness of Christ is imputed to us, because it is made ours by the gracious estimation of God," is tantamount to, "it is imputed to us;" for "imputation" is "a gracious estimation." But lest any one should seize on these expressions as an occasion for calumny, I say, that I acknowledge, "the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us" because I think the same thing is contained in the following words of the Apostle, "God hath made Christ to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Cor. v.21.)
2. I have said, that I disapprove of the SECOND enunciation, "the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us for righteousness." And why may not I reject a phrase which does not occur in the Scriptures, provided I do not deny any true signification which can be proved from the Scriptures? But this is the reason of my rejection of that phrase. "Whatever is imputed for righteousness, or to righteousness, or instead of righteousness, it is not righteousness itself strictly and rigidly taken. But the righteousness of Christ, which He hath performed in obeying the Father, is righteousness itself strictly and rigidly taken. THEREFORE, it is not imputed for righteousness." For that is the signification of the word "to impute," as Piscator against Bellarmine, when treating on justification, (from Romans iv.4,) has well observed and safisfactorily proved.
The matter may be rendered clearer by an example. If a man who owes another a hundred florins, pays this his creditor the hundred which he owes, the creditor will not speak with correctness if he says, "I impute this to you for payment." For the debtor will instantly reply, "I do not care any thing about your imputation;" because he has truly paid the hundred florins, whether the creditor thus esteems it or not. But if the man owe a hundred florins and pay only ten, then the creditor, forgiving him the remainder, may justly say, "I impute this to you for full payment; I will require nothing more from you." This is the gracious reckoning of the creditor, which the debtor ought also to acknowledge with a grateful mind. It is such an estimation as I understand as often as I speak about the imputation of the righteousness which is revealed in the Gospel, whether the obedience of Christ be said to be imputed to us, and to be our righteousness before God, or whether faith be said to be imputed for righteousness. There is, therefore, a crafty design latent in this confusion. For if I deny this, their enunciation, they will say I deny that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us. If I assent to it, I fall into the absurdity of thinking that the righteousness of Christ is not righteousness itself. If they say, that the word "impute" is received in a different acceptation, let them prove their assertion by an example; and when they have given proof of this, (which will be a work of great difficulty to them,) they will have effected nothing. For "the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us by the gracious estimation of God." It is imputed, therefore, either by the gracious estimation of God for righteousness; or it is imputed by his non-gracious estimation. If it be imputed by His gracious estimation for righteousness, (which must be asserted,) and if it be imputed by His nongracious estimation; then it is apparent, in this confusion of these two axioms, that the word "impute" must be understood ambiguously, and that it has two meanings.
3. The THIRD is thus enunciated: "Faith, or the act of believing, is imputed for righteousness" which are my own words. But omitting my expressions, they have substituted for them the phrase, "The act of believing justifies us." I should say, "They have done this in their simplicity," if I thought they had not read the fourth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, in which this phrase is used eleven times,
"Faith, or the act of believing, is imputed for righteousness." Thus it is said in the third verse, "Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness; that is, his believing was thus imputed. Our brethren, therefore, do not reprehend ME, but the APOSTLE, who has employed this phrase so many times in one chapter, and who does not refrain from the use of the other phrase, "to be justified by faith, and through faith," in the third and fifth chapters of the same epistle. They ought, therefore, to have reprehended, not the phrase itself, but the signification which I attach to it, if I explain it in a perverted manner. Thus incorrectly should I seem to have explained the Apostle's phrase if I had said, "the righteousness of Christ is not imputed to us or does not justify us, but faith, or the act of believing, does." But I have already replied, that this assertion concerning me is untrue, and I have declared that I believe both these expressions to be true, "the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us," and "faith is imputed for righteousness." When they place these phrases in opposition to each other, they do this, not from the meaning which I affix to them, but from their own; and, therefore, according to the signification which they give to them severally, they fabricate this calumny, which is an act of iniquity. But they will say, that I understand this phrase, "Faith is imputed for righteousness," in its proper acceptation, when it must be figuratively understood. This they ought, therefore, to have said, because this alone is what they were able to say with truth. Such in fact are my real sentiments on this subject; and the words make for the proper acceptation of the phrase. If a figure lies concealed under it, this ought to be proved by those who make the assertion.