Imputation of Christ’s Personal Righteousness

By Cecil Willis

The brethren with whom we have been in discussion over the grace-fellowship issue announced several months ago that they were done with the controversy. Since they devoted seven pages of the March 14, 1974 issue of the Gospel Guardian to their recently borrowed concept of grace, evidently what they meant when they said they were done with this controversy was they hoped we would cease to reply to what they said. Some brethren have indicated they have grown weary of this controversy; well, so have I. But what should we do about it? We are plenty ready to drop the controversy, when these brethren cease teaching their own little brand of Calvinism. But to cease controverting this error, while it yet is running rampant among us, would be derelict of our duty.

All of our brethren who are speaking on this Calvinistic variety of grace, which they have borrowed from the sectarians, loudly deny that they are Calvinistic. To borrow an oft-used expression of Brother Foy E. Wallace, Jr., the difference between them and a Calvinist can be no more than that of a gnat’s eye-lash. Admittedly, some of these brethren deny the conclusions which logically inhere in their teaching. But are they to be commended for that? If the premises are valid, then the conclusions are inevitable. They continue to argue for the validity of their premises, but likewise continue to deny the concomitant inherent conclusions.

Impetus for These Discussions

Do not forget what all these minute differentiations and lengthy discussions are about. Brother Fudge, and some of his helpers, are trying to construct some kind of theological base which will permit them to fellowship the institutional brethren, and perhaps a few in the Christian Church. If you get lost at times in the discussion, just keep in mind that this is where they intend eventually to bring us out of the woods. Presently they are struggling hard just to get the first toehold on a continuum that they think will permit them to proceed, step by step, to the conclusion that we should fellowship those who in ignorance put human institutions into the budget of the churches, and those who in ignorance use mechanical instruments of music in worship. After all, if God retains these people in His fellowship, certainly we should do likewise. Just do not forget the goal toward which they are struggling to arrive. In some of the rather minute points which are now being discussed, we are simply trying to “head them off at the pass.” If they came out candidly now and told you where they intended to lead you, they know their case would be ruined. They are following the well-marked route over which Carl Ketcherside and Leroy Garrett so recently have gone. And Ketcherside and Garrett know they are following in their footsteps, and both have said so! But you are not supposed to see that yet. You might rebel at the teaching, if they told you candidly and completely where it leads.

Another good friend of mine, and fellow-gospel preacher, has just been sucked into the quagmire of Fudge’s quicksand doctrine on grace. I do not know whether he has accepted the “imputed righteousness” doctrine taught by Brother Fudge yet. Would you believe that there are some mature gospel preachers who still say that they have not seen anything from Edward Fudge’s pen which indicates that he believes in the imputation of the personal perfect righteousness of Christ to the Christian? One such mature preacher admitted that he had not been reading the papers for about a year. But that same preacher is quick to jump in the controversy, and has a four-page article on “Faith Reckoned For Righteousness” in the March 14, 1974 issue of the Gospel Guardian. Now if our brother will look on page one of that same issue of the Guardian, he will find a very brief statement of Brother Fudge’s belief on “imputed righteousness.” Brother Fudge says we are able to be “God’s friends” on this ground: “It is fair because God has fully satisfied His own demands for a perfect human life already, in the absolute obedience of His own Son Jesus.” Brother Fudge thinks each Christian, who strives to live a faithful life, is going to be credited with Christ’s perfect righteousness.

The Presbyterian Confession of Faith teaches that “the guilt of this sin (Adam’s-CW) was imputed and the same death in sin and corrupted nature conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation.” In principle, what is the difference in “imputed sin” and “imputed righteousness”? We have told the Calvinists for years that their doctrine of “imputed sin” contradicts the teaching of God’s Word that says, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him” (Ezek. 18:20). The doctrine of “imputed righteousness” (when applied to the imputation of the perfect life of Christ to our account) is as erroneous as the Calvinistic precept of “imputed guilt.” I would as soon believe one, as the other.

Does Brother Fudge Believe It?

The easiest way to find out would be for Brother Fudge very clearly to tell us all again what he believes on the doctrine of “imputed righteousness,” but he has bowed out of the discussion. The fact of the matter is, I do not believe that even Edward Fudge will deny that he believes in the imputation of the perfect personal righteousness of Christ to a Christian. Will you deny believing this, Brother Ed? Just some of his misinformed friends will deny it in his behalf, in their futile effort to aid him in extricating himself from an uncomfortable position.

In one speech of Brother Fudge’s that I have now before me, he asks that we Ajust take what I say, clearly. . . .” In the margin of that speech, I wrote a note that says, “I will, when you say it clearly.”But lets see what Brother Fudge has said on “imputation.” When Edward wrote his infamous letter to the formerly faithful Baton Rouge, Louisiana church and complimented them on having the nerve to hire two liberal preachers, he told them in regard to the blessings which we have through Christ: “They do not come because of our perfect conduct or understanding, but because God understood our plight and His Son lived a perfect life in our stead! Praise God!” Notice: Christ “lived a perfect life in our stead. “

When Brother William E. Wallace came to Louisville in December, 1973 to speak on “The Gospel Guardian: Past, Present, and Future,” he spent a good bit of his time trying to exonerate Edward Fudge from the charge of being a false teacher. Bill had a super-herculean task! And if he “defended” Brother Fudge in Louisville, I certainly would not want Bill Wallace as my defense lawyer if I were guilty of some crime. Bill’s defense consisted mainly of admitting nearly every charge that had been made against Edward’s teaching, and then a plaintive cry in which he sought to make us believe that it was not really as bad as it sounded.

In the Louisville meeting, Bill related how he had worked out the outline of what he planned to say, and then went over it with Ed so as to be sure he represented Ed correctly. Bill said, “I worked out this outline in the last week or so. And then went over it with Brother Fudge . . . .” Bill then affirms that what he is about to say “properly portrays what he (Ed) thinks about the circumstances, about the situation.”

Then in describing what Edward believes about “imputation,” Bill said: “So, this position (Ed’s-CW) has it that God will accept the sinless life of Jesus Christ at the judgment day, and the Lord’s life is perfect; and so that perfection of Jesus Christ will be imputed to this man who has lived a faithful life. If according to Romans 2:6,7, he has continued faithfully, lived a faithful life, an eternal life will be his. So the problem is, to these people, when you get to the judgment day and he’s imperfect, he’s not blameless, what’s going to happen? This position says that the perfection of Christ will be imputed to him, and upon that basis God can take this person, in spite of the fact that he may have met his Maker with sin on his soul. ” The most learned Calvinistic theology professor could not have stated it more clearly than Bill did for Ed. If brethren cannot understand that statement from Bill in regard to Ed’s position, I despair of making them understand anything at all.

In the Louisville speech, Bill even went on to show how his own position differed from that of Ed’s. Furthermore, in answer to direct questions, Bill told us that Edward believed that sins like institutionalism and instrumental music in worship (if done in ignorance, and not in outright and deliberate defiance of God) would be covered by the imputation of Christ’s personal righteousness at the Judgment. Do you see where Ed is headed, brethren? If people who practice institutionalism and who use instrumental music in worship are going to have God’s eternal fellowship, it would be absurd for us not to fellowship them here and now. And this is the goal toward which Edward is slowly, but relentlessly, moving. And, somehow he is succeeding in carrying along with him a goodly number of brethren.

And Now Comes “Present Truth”

Recently I received four issues of a paper put out by some denominationalists called Present Truth. It is literally filled with the rankest form of denominational doctrines, but much attention is given to this doctrine of the imputation of the personal righteousness of Christ to the Christian who dies “with sin on his soul.” I am not exactly sure who all is identified with Present Truth. since I do not recognize many of the names appearing either on their Masthead or on their articles. But 1 know Present Truth is filled with the same kind of error as that being promulgated by Brother Fudge on the grace of God. On the cover of each issue, they state: “Solely by Grace: Solely by Christ: Solely by Faith.” That statement in itself is quite contradictory, isn’t it? They have salvation “solely” by three different things!

But let us take a look at some of the things taught in Present Truth, and before we are done, we will show you how Brother Fudge fits into this effort. Let me notice with you some miscellaneous quotes from four issues of Present Truth. “We are accounted righteous because Jesus is righteous. We are pleasing in the sight of a holy God because Jesus is pleasing.” “God is not playing make-believe in this matter of imputed righteousness.” “. . . the Reformers said that God justifies the ungodly who believe on Christ (Rom. 4:5), and that God covers the sinner with the mantle of Christ’s righteousness. Therefore, the believer is accepted as just and righteous, not because of grace or righteousness poured into him, but because of the righteousness placed upon Him by the imputation of Christ’s sinless life.” “We have been redeemed by perfect obedience to the law of God-not ours but His.” “Sinners are justified by Christ’s perfect obedience and satisfaction which He gave to the divine law on our behalf …. When we believe on Jesus, His doing and dying are credited to us, and thus we are justified by perfect obedience to the law.” (All of these quotes are from the Sept. – Oct., 1972 issue).

In another issue of Present Truth, we find, “. . . He will be satisfied with a righteousness of Another, reckoned to our account . . . .” “Not only is the punishment of our sins accredited to the account of Jesus Christ, our Substitute, but also His very righteousness becomes ours upon repentance and faith.” “His perfect righteousness has been reckoned to my account. This is justification by imputed righteousness.” (Oct., 1973 issue).

In a “Special Issue” of Present Truth (which is undated), a query is given. The “correct answers” (?) include “God accepts the believer because of the moral excellence found in Jesus Christ.” And, “We achieve right standing with God by accepting the fact that He obeyed the law perfectly for us.” “He undertook the responsibility of keeping the law of God perfectly for us.” “Thus His obedience was every man’s obedience. It was the same as if every man had personally kept the law of God with the same infinite perfection as Jesus Christ.” “Thus it is forever settled that only the obedience rendered personally by Jesus Christ makes us righteous in the sight of God. Just as we were made sinners by an act of disobedience outside of us, so we are given right standing with God by an act of obedience outside of us C even by the personal doing of Jesus Christ.” “So God’s gift of righteousness in Jesus Christ is so incomprehensibly vast that He credits it to him who believes and receives Jesus as a personal Saviour.” “The sinner can be justified on no other basis than perfect obedience to the law (Rom. 2:13). The Law Giver Himself came to this world to render that perfect obedience in man’s behalf.” “When the gospel offers men the righteousness of Christ, it offers them a life of unblemished obedience to the law of God.” “Let us illustrate how perfect obedience to the law is a gift in Jesus Christ . . . .” “Thus the gospel presents a life of perfect obedience to the law of God as a free gift in Christ.” “In the new arrangement, Christ stands in the place of the people. As their Substitute, He promises to meet every demand of the law on man’s behalf.” “Since Christ, on behalf of the whole human race, has fulfilled every condition of the covenant, the believer is never called upon to satisfy the demands of God’s law.”

Entrance: Brother Fudge

The above quotes should be sufficient to show everybody that Present Truth teaches that the ground of our salvation is the perfect obedience of Christ, which perfect obedience is reckoned to our account. The Bible teaches that Christ’s perfect obedience made it possible for Him to be an acceptable sacrifice for our sins (Heb. 7:26-28; Heb. 10:10). The sacrificial death of Christ is the ground upon which our sins may be remitted; not His perfect life. If our justification comes as a result of Christ’s perfect life being imputed to us, then be it remembered that His perfect life was lived before His death. If His perfect life be the means of our salvation, then Christ died for nought. Such implications of the imputed personal righteousness of Christ are the reason why so much time has been devoted to answering this doctrine which originated in Reformation Theology, and which has been popularized by Calvinistic denominations, and which now has been appropriated by Brother Fudge as he desperately attempts to provide some Scriptural grounds upon which to fellowship institutionalists and instrumentalists.

In the February, 1974 issue of Present Truth, there appears the following letter:

“Solo Christo”

“Sir: It so happens that in my own religious association the issues you raise are of particular significance (and emotion) at the moment. I am one of a number who are trying to recall some of our brothers to the glorious fact that salvation is based on the error free and meritorious life of Jesus Christ. so that God indeed has before Him a perfect life of faultless obedience, rather than relying on our own obedience or the fact that we ‘do the best we can,’ etc. Your magazine is of help to me in that regard. E. F., Minister, Alabama.”

Immediately, some probably ask how do you know that “E. F.” is Edward Fudge. I know it because Steve Wolfgang specifically asked him, and after his usual amount of “beating around the bush,” Edward finally admitted he wrote the letter. Now if this letter, and these quotes, do not convince those of you who have written me in his defense that Edward Fudge believes in the imputation of the perfect righteousness of Christ to the Christian, then I must confess that I do not know how I would go about convincing you.

The Calvinists believe not only in “imputed righteousness,” but they also believe in “imputed sin.” The Calvinists are wrong, but at least they are consistent. Brother Fudge, and our other deluded brethren who teach this Reformation Theology doctrine, are not only wrong, but also inconsistent. Calvinism, Brother Fudge, is a tightly-knit theological system, and one cannot accept part of it without accepting all of it, unless he is willing to stop in very evident inconsistency.

Truth Magazine, XVIII:28, p. 3-6
May 16, 1974