December 13, 2017

“Warfield on Imputation”

By John McCort

Some of our brethren have begun marching inexorably toward an eventual rendevous with Calvinism. They have accepted the basic presuppositions of the Calvinistic theology. With the basic premises from which they are now operating, these brethren will eventually become full-fledged Calvinists, if they take their basic presuppositions to their logical extension.

One of the primary doctrines of Calvinism is the doctrine of the unconditional imputation of the righteousness of Christ. Some of our brethren are now taking the position that the imputation of the righteousness of Christ will unconditionally cover such doctrinal errors as institutionalism, premillennialism, instrumental music and other such sins of doctrinal ignorance or weakness of the intellect. It is very interesting to read what Benjamin Warfield, the great Presbyterian apologist, had to say on the subject of imputation. "But in each and every case alike imputation itself is simply the act of setting to ones' account; and the act of setting to one's account is in itself the same act whether the thing set to his account stands on the credit or debit side of the account .... the threefold doctrine of imputation-of Adam's sin to his posterity, of the sins of His people to the redeemer, and of the righteousness of Christ to His people-at last came to its rights as the core of the three constitutive doctrines of Christianity-the sinfulness of the human race, the satisfaction of Jesus Christ, and justification by faith. The importance of the doctrine of imputation is that it is the hinge on which these three great doctrines turn, and the guardian of their purity." (Warfield, Biblical And Theological Studies, pp. 263, 266)

Warfield made two very important statements. He said that imputation can be made either on the credit or debit side of an account. In other words, imputation of sin is just as logical and easy to prove as the imputation of the righteousness of Christ. If God can unconditionally impute the righteousness of Christ to whom He chooses, He could just as easily and logically unconditionally impute sin to whom He chooses, which, in reality, is the Calvinistic doctrine of election. War. field further stated that the doctrine of imputation is the whole basis for Calvinistic theology. The whole Calvinistic system is based upon the presupposition of unconditional imputation of the righteousness of Christ. Our brethren who have adopted this false premise might eventually swallow "the whole thing."

The doctrine of predestination arises from the unconditional imputation premise. If God will unconditionally overlook sins, then one of two things must follow. Either all people will be saved (universalism) or God must arbitrarily forgive the sins of some unconditionally and hold others guilty of their sins unconditionally, which is the basic premise of the doctrine of limited atonement. If God unconditionally forgives the sins of some but does not unconditionally forgive the sins of others, He then becomes a respecter of persons. This is where the doctrines of unconditional election and predestination come from.

Let's look at this line of thinking. Our brethren are teaching that God will unconditionally overlook the doctrinal sins of institutionalism, premillennialism, instrumental music, etc., because of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ. These brethren state that God will overlook such sins if they are done in sincere ignorance. What I do not understand is why they draw an artificial Line of Demarcation at baptism. Why would not God just as logically overlook sincere ignorance on the purpose of baptism? Why could not God overlook sincere ignorance on the mode or action of baptism? Why couldn't God overlook sincere ignorance on the subjects of baptism and accept infant baptism? Why wouldn't God overlook sincere ignorance on the nature of Christ or the inspiration of the Bible? Why wouldn't God overlook sincere ignorance on the nature of God himself, which is all that idolatry is?

This unconditional imputation position leads logically to the premise that we are not saved upon our obedience to Christ but upon the unconditional election of God. Our salvation is not merited by our obedience, but salvation is conditioned upon our obedience. The grace of God hath appeared to all men (Tit. 2:11). Not all men are going to be saved. Salvation is conditioned upon our obedience to Christ (2 Thess. 1:7-9). Unconditional remission of sin removes obedience as the condition of salvation and places salvation upon the free will of God to determine arbitrarily which sins He will overlook and which sins He will not overlook.

Truth Magazine XIX: 13, p. 194
February 6, 1975

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