By Mike Willis
In recent years, several well-known brethren among us have begun to teach that the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ is imputed to the believer’s account so that when God looks at the believer, He does not see a man who sins, repents, sins again, repents, again, etc. but sees instead the perfect obedience of Christ applied to the believer. Edward Fudge was one of the first who taught this doctrine among us but recently several have begun to whistle the same tune. Most recently, I have seen the writings of Arnold Hardin from Dallas, Texas which propagate and defend this same doctrine.
As these doctrines have been circulated, there has been the charge that these brethren are teaching Calvinism. Fudge, Hardin, and others utterly deny this charge. They deny that they are guilty of teaching Calvinism. Indeed, Arnold Hardin wrote in defense of the periodical Present Truth as follows:
“This branding and choosing sides is of the devil! And these gossips that would set brethren against brethren ought to be marked in the true sense and meaning of Paul. I have received much good from the Editor’s writings in Present Truth. Why should anyone-reading that paper or any other—be called upon to answer to some of these ‘fense riders’? I am quite capable of recognizing Calvinism when I see it! (The Persuader, Vol. XH, No. 1, August 23, 1977).
If Brother Hardin has the capability of recognizing Calvinism when he sees it, as he says that he has, I can only conclude that he has accepted Calvinism. For this much I know, the doctrine of the imputation of the perfect obedience of Christ to the believer’s account is part of the warp and woof of Calvinism. Consequently, if he has the ability to recognize Calvinism when he sees it, I can only conclude that Arnold Hardin has knowingly accepted the doctrines of Calvinism.
In the remainder of this article, I propose to define the doctrine of the imputation of the perfect obedience of Christ to the believer’s account and to show that it is part of the theological system known as Calvinism. I invite your consideration of the following material.
Defining The Doctrine
Inasmuch as most of us are not too acquainted with the doctrine of imputation, I would like to begin by carefully defining it.
“Imputation, in the O.T. chashab, in the N.T. logizomai, is employed in the Scriptures to designate any action, word, or thing, as accounted or reckoned to a person; . . . The word imputation is, however, used for a certain theological theory, which teaches that (1) the sin of Adam is so attributed to man as to be considered, in the divine counsels, as his own, and to render him gusty of it; (2) that, in the Christian plan of salvation, the righteousness of Christ Is so attributed to man as to be considered his own, and that he is therefore justified by it” (“Imputation,” M’Clintock and Strong, Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, Vol. IV, p. 524).
The doctrine has three distinct features to it. Although my brethren have not accepted all three features of it, I want to set the doctrine in its total theological content.
“Three acts of imputation are given special prominence in the Scripture, and are implicated in the Scriptural doctrines of Original Sin, Atonement and Justification . . . the term ‘imputation’ has been used in theology in a threefold sense to denote the judicial acts of God by which the guilt of Adam’s sin is imputed to his posterity; by which the sins of Christ’s people are imputed to Him; and by which the righteousness of Christ is imputed to His people. The act of imputation is precisely the same In each case. It is not meant that Adam’s sin was personally the sin of his descendants, but that it was set to their account, so that they share its guilt and penalty. It is not meant that Christ shares personally in the sins of men, but that the guilt of His people’s sins was set to his account, so that He bore its penalty. It is not meant that Christ’s people are made personally holy or inwardly righteous by the imputation of His righteousness to them, but that His righteousness is set to their account, so that they are entitled to the rewards of that perfect righteousness” (“Imputation,” James Orr, Editor, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. H, pp. 1462-1463).
This article is designed to consider one of these three acts of imputation, namely, the imputation of the perfect obedience of Christ to the account of the believer. It makes no pretension to discussing all three of these acts of imputation as mentioned in these quotations.
However, there is one thing that I want to make crystal clear from these quotations, namely, the relationship that these doctrines of imputation sustain to each other. Regarding the logical connection which all points of Calvinism sustain to each other, the Encyclopedia Brittanica said,
“Through faith also the believer receives justification, his sins are forgiven, he Is accepted of God, and is held by Him as righteous, the righteousness of Christ being imputed to him. This imputed righteousness, however, is not disjoined from real personal righteousness, for regeneration and sanctification come to the believer from Christ no less than justification; the two blessings are not to be confounded, but neither are they to be disjoined. The assurance which the believer has of salvation he receives from the operation of the Holy Spirit; but this again rests on the divine choice of the man to salvation; and this falls back on God’s eternal sovereign purpose, whereby He has predestined some to eternal life and some to eternal death. The former he effectively calls to salvation, and they are kept by Him in progressive faith and holiness unto the end” (“John Calvin,” Encyclopedia Brittanica, 1944 edition, Vol. IV, p. 633).
Notice that the doctrine of the imputation of the perfect obedience of Christ to the believer’s account is part of the warp and woof of Calvinism. This is the theological basis for their doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. God does not hold the saint accountable for his sins (whether they be committed ignorantly or willfully makes no difference to Calvinists, although my brethren inconsistently try to make some distinction) because he sees the perfect obedience of Christ instead of the sinfulness of the believer. The imputation of the perfect obedience of Christ is the theological justification for the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints.
Of course, the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is related to all of the other points of Calvinism. No one whom God has called can in any way fall from grace or else the sovereignty of God is thwarted. Hence, the attending doctrine of election must be logically accepted. But, if election is accepted, then the doctrine that some are reprobates because of God’s divine decree must also be accepted. Then, one can logically backtrack through the entire system until he is compelled to accept inherited total depravity, irresistible grace, limited atonement, unconditional election, etc. Calvinism is a system. If one accepts a part of the system, he is logically compelled to accept the other parts of it.
To further confirm that these doctrines relate to each other, I want to consider some other evidences. Keep in mind that the doctrine of the imputation of the perfect obedience of Christ to the believer’s account is the theological justification for the belief in the perseverance of the saints. In its chapter on “Of the Perseverance of the Saints,” The Westminster Confession of Faith states the following:
“1. They whom God bath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly preserve therein to the end, and be eternally saved.
“2. This perseverance of the saints depends, not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree. of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ; the abiding of the Spirit and of the seed of God within them; and the nature of the covenant of graces from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof” (6.086-6.087).
Notice that this quotation shows the relationship of these doctrines to each other. The doctrine of the imputation of the perfect obedience of Christ is the theological justification for the belief in the perseverance of saints. The perseverance of the saints is based on the doctrine of election. The interrelationship of these doctrines reminds me of the song about the ankle bone being connected to the leg bone, the leg bone being connected to the knee bone, the knee bone being connected to the thigh bone, etc. They are all related to each other.
Calvinists on “Imputation”
Since some are challenging whether or not the doctrine of the imputation of the perfect obedience of Christ to the believer’s account is a part of Calvinism, let us go to the Calvinists themselves to find the answer.
1. John Calvin. Here is what John Calvin had to say about this doctrine:
“I reply that `accepting grace,’ as they cuff it, is nothing else than his free goodness, with which the Father embraces us in Christ when he clothes an with the innocence of Christ and accepts it as ours that by the benefit of it be may hold an as holy, pure, and innocent. For Christ’s righteousness, which as it alone is perfect alone can bear the might of God, mast appear in court on our behalf, and stand surety in judgment. Furnished with this righteousness, we obtain continual forgiveness of sins in faith. Covered with this purity, the sordidness and uncleanness of our imperfection are not ascribed to us but are hidden as if buried that they may not come into God’s judgment, until the hour arrives when, the old man slain and clearly destroyed in an, the divine goodness will receive an into blessed peace with the new Adam” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Chapter, XIV, No. 12).
Notice that Calvin argues just exactly as I stated. He stated that the imputation of the perfect obedience of Christ was the reason why saints do not fall from grace. As a matter of fact, his statement resembles that which some of my brethren are writing today. Let us consider other statements from the Institutes.
“Therefore, we explain justification simply as the acceptance with which God receives an into his favor as righteous men. And we say that it consists In the remission of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness” (Book III, Chapter XI, No. 2).
. . . It is quite clear that Paul means exactly the same thing in another statement, which he had put a little before: ‘As we were made sinners by one man’s disobedience, so we have been justified by one man’s obedience’ (Rom. 5:19p.). To declare that by him alone we are accounted righteous, what else is this but to lodge our righteousness in Christ’s obedience, because the obedience of Grist is reckoned to an as if it were our own?” (Book III, Chapter XI, No. 23).
2. The Second Helvetic Confession:
“Imputed Righteousness.. For Christ took upon himself and bore the sins of the world, and satisfied divine justice. Therefore, solely on account of Christ’s sufferings and resurrection God is propitious with respect to our sins and does not Impute them to us, but imputes Christ’s righteousness to us as our own III Cor. 5:19ff; Rom. 4:25), so that now we are not only cleansed and purged from sins or are holy, but also, granted the righteousness of Christ, and so absolved from sin, death and condemnation, are at last righteous and heirs of eternal life. Properly speaking, therefore, God alone justifies, and justifies only on account of Christ, not imputing sins to us but imputing his righteousness to us” (5.108).
3. The Westminster Confession of Faith:
“l. Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justified: not by Infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any things wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness, but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves: it is the gift of God” (6.060).
Can anyone now doubt that the doctrine of the im?utation of the perfect obedience of Christ to the believer’s account is part of the theological system known as Calvinism? Brother Hardin might write, “I am quite capable of recognizing Calvinism when I see it!” but I am not willing to let his statements that the imputation of the righteousness of Christ is not Calvinism be my basis of determining whether or not it is Calvinism. I must infer that (1) he recognizes Calvinism and has accepted it knowingly or (2) he was wrong when he wrote, “I am quite capable of recognizing Calvinism when I see it!” There can be no doubt that the doctrine of the imputation of the perfect obedience of Christ to the believer’s account is Calvinism. These evidences are too obvious!
What has happened is this: my brethren are attracted by the certainty of salvation which Baptists and other Calvinists feel. They want that same degree of certainty. Consequently, they have accepted the theological doctrine on which that certainty rests. However, these brethren ignore their inconsistencies. This doctrine is a part of a total system. If one. accepts a part of this system, he is logically compelled to accept all of it or to show how it can be consistently accepted while denying the other parts of the total system. Whereas theses men are wont to write about the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, they are not likely to deal with this aspect of the doctrine.
Furthermore, my brethren are not as consistent as the Calvinists in the application of their doctrine. The Calvinists use the personal righteousness of Christ to cover every sin. My brethren limit the application of Christ’s personal righteousness to sins of ignorance and weaknesses of the flesh. I have yet to read anything from the pens of these men to warrant this distinction. If Christ’s personal righteousness is applied to my account, why won’t it cover all of my sins instead of just certain kinds of them. Have my brethren accepted a distinction in sins similar to that of the Catholics (mortal and venial)? Then, too, I wonder how many sins of ignorance and of weaknesses of the flesh this will cover. For example, if through the weakness of my flesh I lost my temper and committed murder and then died of a heart attack, would Christ’s personal righteousness cover me?
My brethren refuse to grapple with these inconsistencies. Rather than do that, they prefer to write about their assurances of salvation as a result of this doctrine. One thing is certain, however, they have accepted a part of the theological system known as Calvinism as the evidences cited in this article clearly show.
Truth Magazine XXII: 3, pp. 51-53
January 19, 1978