By Edward O. Bragwell, Sr.
“Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin” (Rom. 4.8).
I am amazed at how freely Calvinists and some brethren, who say they are not Calvinists, use this passage. To the Calvinist it proves his brand of the security of the saints. To such brethren it proves their brand of continuous cleansing of the saints. In either case it is used to prove that a Christian’s sins, at least some of them, are not held against him by the Lord.
The main difference, the best I can determine from their writings, between Calvinists and the “continuous cleansing” brethren is that Calvinists believe that no sins are charged to the Christian’s account while the brethren believe that only some sins are charged to his account – mainly those high-handedly committed.
If the Lord does not impute sin, in the sense of never charging it to our accounts, then there is no need to talk about “continuous cleansing.” One does not cleanse that which is not soiled. If sin is not imputed, in the sense of not being charged to him, he is not soiled by the sin. He needs no cleansing – continuous or otherwise.
The popular illustration of the windshield wiper effect does apply here – even though this is one of the proof texts usually used in connection with it. The most recent usage that I have seen is in a sermon by Guy N. Woods being distributed in tract form by Britnell Publications of Little Rock, Arkansas. For the reader who may not be familiar with the windshield wiper illustration, it goes something like this: When one becomes a Christian his “windshield wiper” is turned on. Rain drops (sins) will continue to fall on his windshield (soul) but they are immediately wiped off by the wiper (blood of Christ). So, they say, a Christian’s sins are taken care of without his having to reach and turn the wiper on each time a drop hits his windshield – it is automatically wiped off. They may deny (as they do) that they are teaching “automatic continuous cleansing” rather than mere “continuous cleansing” – the windshield wiper illustrates automatic cleansing or it is a pointless illustration. The difference between hard core Calvinists and the brethren that use the illustration, as I see it, is that once the Calvinist’s wiper is turned on there is no way he can turn it off; while brethren leave us with the option of turning it off through high handed or willful sin.
Anyway, if the sins are not charged to our account then what is produced is not a windshield wiper effect, but an umbrella effect. One is covered by an umbrella when he becomes a Christian. Though sin may fall all around him, in the case of the Calvinist, even soaking his flesh, it is not allowed to get to his soul because the Lord will not impute it to him, holding an umbrella over his head.
Really now, who is this man to whom the Lord will not impute sin in Romans 4? Anything more than a superficial reading of this statement in context should make it clear. It is the man whom God has forgiven after he has confessed his sin. It is not the man whose sins are never imputed to him. It is not the man whose sins are forgiven without their being confessed. Verses 7 and 8, of Romans 4, should be taken together. They form a quote from Psalms 32:1,2.
It seems to me that these two verses alone identify the kind of person contemplated as a forgiven man. If he is forgiven, the sin was at one time imputed to him or there would have been no need for forgiveness. Once forgiven, he is a blessed man to whom the Lord no longer imputes the sin because it has been forgiven.
When one takes the first 5 verses of Psalms 32 together it becomes abundantly clear that the sin that is not imputed is confessed sin.
In the first two verses, those quoted in Romans 4, David tells of the blessedness (for any man) of being forgiven – of not having sin imputed to him. He then turns to a practical application of the principle in his own life.
Verses 3 and 4 tells of his own lack of blessedness as long as he did not confess – i.e., “kept silent”:
1. “My bones grew old through my groaning all the day long”
2. “Day and night Your (the Lord’s – EOB) hand was heavy upon me”
3. “My vitality was turned into the drought of summer”
In verse 5, he gives the basis upon which he now enjoyed the blessedness of “the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity”:
1. “I acknowledged my sin to You”
2. “My iniquity I have not hidden”
3. “I said, ‘I will confess my transgression to the Lord,”‘
4. “And you forgave the iniquity of my sin.”
So, if one is going to find any basis for some kind of cleansing of unconfessed sins, he will have to find it in some other passage. It looks to me like David had to consciously “turn the wipers on” when he said, “I will confess my transgressions.”
1 John 1:7-9 does teach continuous cleansing for the Christian as long as he confesses his sins (not merely acknowledging his sinfulness). “If we keep on confessing our sins, God ‘is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ ‘Faithfulness’ and ‘righteousness’ are attributes of the great Jehovah; and when we confess our sins before him, we enter into and partake of the blessings which result from them. He has promised to forgive us on condition that we confess our sins. . . ” (A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles, pp. 219 220, by Guy N. Woods). All emphasis in the preceding quotation are mine and I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 15, pp. 462-463
August 6, 1987