Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.—Rom. 8.33


True Doctrine




By ANTHONY BURGESSE Paſtor of the Church

at Sutton-Coldfield in Warwickshire.


Of the Imputation of the Righte-

ouſneſſe of Chriſt both Paſ-

ſive and Active.


That a Believer’s Righteouſneſs is Im­puted.  Divers Propoſitions about Imputation of Good and Evil, and of Chriſts Righteouſneſs in particular.

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ROM. 4.11.

And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righ­teousness of the Faith, which he had being yet uncircum­cised—that righteousness might be imputed to them also.

THe Apostle having fully demonstrated, how we are to be justified, he now proceeds to shew who they are that are thus justified; he passeth from the Manner to the Subject; for whereas it might be objected, That this instance of Abraham might not at all belong to the Gentiles, {285} because he was circumcised; in this verse he sheweth, That Abraham received the sign of this righteousness of faith, while he was uncircumcised, and therefore circumcision and uncircumcision did not vary this matter.

In the words then we have Circumcision described:

1. From the general nature of it, A sign and seal.

2. From the signified grace, The righteousness of faith.

3. From the subject, Abraham received it.

4. From the exemplarity of this, this did not belong to Abraham alone, but to believers, both circumcised and uncircumcised, That righteousness might be imputed to them also.

Though learned men do much discuss the former part, founding the true Nature and Definition of Sacraments thereupon, yet my purpose is only to insist on the last clause, (viz) That righteousness may be imputed to them also.

Wonder not, if for the demonstration of the Nature of Justification, most of my Texts are taken out of this Epistle to the Romans, for here is the proper seat of that Doctrine; and therefore Melancthon was wont to call the Epistle to the Romans, The Confession of the Reformed Churches.  Now this fourth Chapter doth expressly speak of an imputed righteousness: it’s no where so evidently and purposedly treated on, as in this place; for the Apostle doth at least eight times mention this phrase of imputing or accounting righteousness: what is implied in this phrase, shall be opened in handling the Doctrine, which is,

That the righteousness the believer hath is imputed.  It is an accounted or reckoned righteousness to him, it is not that which he hath inherently in himself, but God through Christ doth esteem of him as if he had it, and so deals with him as wholly righteous.  This is a Passive righteousness, not an Active righteousness; a righteousness we receive, not that we do.  To understand this, consider many Propositions.

First, That this Doctrine of imputed righteousness is by all erroneous persons judged to be like the abomination of desolation, {286} Howsoever heretical persons contradict one another in other things, yet against this they are unanimously conspiring.  It’s well enough known what reproaches and mocks are put upon it by the Popish party, calling it the putative and chimerical righteousness.  The Socinians they abominate it.  The Castellians flout at it, saying, they have an imputed learning, and imputed modesty, that hold imputed righteousness.  The Arminians, though they grant faith to be accounted for righteousness, yet to say, Christ’s righteousness to be imputed to us, they think to be an Idol of the Protestants brain, and say, It’s no where expressed in Scripture.  But no wonder that the Ægyptians (as I may so say) should rise up against it, when the Israelites fight against one another concerning it; of which more in its time.  Let this satisfy us, That the Scripture doth thus often mention an imputed righteousness, and therefore should not be matter of reproach, but worthy of all acceptation; and certainly, seeing none of us have such an inherent righteousness within ourselves, as is able to endure before so perfect and holy a God; We ought greatly to rejoice in the goodness and mercy of God, who hath provided such glorious robes for us, that when we were wholly naked and undone, yet hath procured a righteousness for us, that neither men or Angels could bring about.

Secondly, Consider that the word answering this imputing, is in the Hebrew Chashab, and in the Greek λογιζεται, of which the sum, (as the learned say comes to this,) That though the words in the general signify to think, to reason, to imagine, &c. yet very frequently it is used to account or reckon by way of computation, as Arithmeticians use to do; so that it is, as it were, a judgment past upon a thing, when all Reasons or Arguments are cast together.  And from this it’s applied to signify any kind of accounting or reckoning; and in this sense, imputation is taken here for God’s esteeming and accounting of us righteous.  Therefore when the Osiandrists make imputare, to be as much as the insition or putting of righteousness into us, as amputare is to cut off; or the Papists to make it an infusion of holy qualities, they go as far {287} from the sense of the word, as the East is from the West.

Thirdly, Although some learned men are very prolix and large in distributing of this imputation, and making several kinds of it, yet that which is most proper and fit to our controversy in hand, is, That to impute, is to account or reckon a man such a thing, or cause of it, which he hath not, or hath, whether it be good or evil.  Imputation doth not always imply an absence, or a want of the thing, as Arminians would have it; nor is it always of that which is good and blessed; it may be of that which is evil, and to be punished: sins are imputed as well as righteousness.

Now a sin or the evil of it, may be imputed two ways:

1. Justly and righteously, when any man hath indeed committed such a sin that is imputed to him; Cain’s murder of Abel was imputed to him, and thus every man, till God pardon his sin, it is imputed to him, Psalm 32.  All impenitent sinners have their sins imputed to them, though others, or they themselves will not reckon themselves sinners, yet God will; and this imputation of sin after a just manner may be, when a man though he hath not expressly sinned such a sin, yet by interpretation, or some other equivalent respect, he is said to do it.  To this purpose may be brought that place discussed so much by Interpreters, Levit. 17.4, where the word saith, That if a man kill any Ox or Lamb for an offering, and doth not bring it to the door of the Tabernacle of the Congregation, blood shall be imputed to that man, he hath shed blood; That is, say some Expositors, That if a man do not keep to God’s order and command in the Sacrifices and worship he appointed, it is as heinous a sin, as if he had committed murder, as if he had killed a man; and this imputation by way of equivalency, is often amongst men.

In the second place, There is an imputation of evil, or the cause of it unjustly, when that is accounted upon a man’s score, which yet he is not guilty of.  Thus David said, They laid to his charge things he never did; and thus evil Judges {288} when they condemn the innocent, as Pilate did Christ, and the Jews charging him with such crimes that he was not guilty of, did impute sin unjustly.

In the second place, There is an imputing or accounting a good thing unto a man,

1. Justly and righteously, as when the Apostle saith, Rom. 4 [verse 4], To him that worketh, his reward is reckoned of debt.  Thus if there were any perfect fulfillers of the Law, eternal glory would be reckoned unto them, as the just reward of their labours.

2. There is an imputation of good unjustly and unrighteously, and that is, when an ungodly Judge shall acquit a guilty person against Law, or as when the Israelites did impute all the plenty and abundance they had to their Idolatry, because they did worship the Queen of heaven. [Jeremiah 44.17.]

3. There is an imputation by grace, which is, when righteousness and reward is accounted to an offender, not of debt, but of grace, yet having just and weighty causes for such an absolution and Justification.  And this is the proper way of our Gospel-imputation.  He that is ungodly (as the Apostle speaketh) Rom. 4, is justified, God doth account him as righteous, though a sinner in himself, not of debt; for, How can he that deserveth to be damned, deserve to be saved, but of mere grace? yet that this grace might have a free passage, and not impeach his justice and holiness, Christ became an atonement for us, and made himself an expiation for our sins, and hereby God might appear both merciful and just.  This is the righteousness imputed, that a believer is wholly to rest upon.

Fourthly, The Scripture speaketh but of a two-fold imputation, in reference to our matter in hand, an imputation of debt, and an imputation according to grace.  This distinction you have, Rom. 4.4, To him that worketh the reward is accounted of debt: Though some may think that imputation is here taken improperly, yet that is upon a false supposition, as if imputation did always suppose some indebitum where it was: but that is not so, 2 Tim. 4.16, Paul there prayeth concerning such who forsook him, μη λογισθειη αυτοις, that it be not {289} laid to their charge, that it be not imputed to them.  2. The Apostle mentioneth an imputation of grace, and that is most remarkably seen in the Gospel, our sins being imputed to Christ, and his righteousness to us, God doth not absolutely and simply of mere grace pronounce us righteous, but Christ is become our Surety, and so as in the first Adam we are made sinners; thus in the second Adam we are made righteous; This is the wonderful grace of God, herein were the manifold riches of his wisdom seen, that when we were neither able to satisfy the penalty of the Law, or to bring a conformity to it, Christ interposeth, and is become both redemption and righteousness for us.

Fifthly, Hence in this Imputation of Christ’s righteousness unto us, There are these things observable,

1. That there is no foundation or cause within us of this Imputation; when God doth account or reckon us as righteous, then he finds not any thing in us, neither is it because of any foundation we have laid, it is wholly from without us, even from Christ; and this should teach us in that great and noble privilege of Justification, to fix our eyes and meditations more without us; What is the reason that every believer is not with the Church in the Canticles ravished with Christ, accounting him as the chiefest of ten thousand, always languishing and breaking in desires after him? Even because we dwell in our selves, we rest in our selves, we would have a bottom, whereupon to stand and not be beholding to Christ only: When an earthly Judge shall justify a man, he must have a foundation in the man, else he is an abomination to the Lord: but God, though he doth not justify without a righteousness, yet the foundation thereof is not laid by our selves, but it is Christ that beareth up all.

2. It is so far, that there should be any foundation sought for in us, that there is the clean contrary.  When God justifieth he might justly condemn, if we regard what is to be found in us, which makes the Apostle call (Rom 4.5) the subject justified an “ungodly man”, viz. one that is not absolutely and perfectly righteous: Insomuch that we may justly stand {290} and admire the wisdom of God, who hath taken such a way to justify us, as to keep us in a perpetual fear and trembling: for while looking into ourselves, we see nothing but matter of death and condemnation, God at the same time giveth immortality and glory.  This is the reason why the Scripture so often calls it the grace of God, because it is bestowed upon such who are unworthy, and that have nothing in themselves, but the desert of hell, and eternal vengeance.

3. Hence it is that this Imputation lieth in a relative respect of God’s knowledge and will to us.  For seeing that Christ by compact and agreement with the Father, undertook our debt, and promised to expiate sin, and bring about an eternal righteousness, when Christ had fully discharged this undertaking, and nothing more was to be laid to our charge, then doth God the Father judge us, and account us to be righteous; and indeed herein lieth the infinite comfort and consolation of a Christian, that it is God himself who imputeth this righteousness, therefore what he accounteth to be must be, and shall stand, It’s God that justifieth and no condemnation can stand against his counsel. [Rom. 8.33,34.]

4. Though this Imputation be thus relative in God’s purpose towards us, yet it is real, it hath a most sure and solid being.  For that is the daily cavilling of the Adversary, as if we made some Idea and mere figment, an Ens that did neither subsist in God, or Christ, or in ourselves.  But though it be in God’s mind and will with a relative respect to us, yet it is real and substantial, it is not a mere notion or fancy: for, as you heard, the foundation of it is real, the obedience of Christ; and can there be a surer Rock than this? So the cause of it is real, God’s will and Covenant to accept of what Christ did, as if we ourselves had done it.  It’s not then fictio Juris, or a mere imagination, but there is a real payment, and a full discharge, which is abundantly able to make us righteous; and although some Divines do divide Imputation into real and rational, making the Gospel-imputation to be a rational or mental Imputation, that is not to be understood, as if hereby they made it a mere fancy or fiction, only we are not really righteous {291} to be justified in ourselves, but it’s a translation, as it were of Christ’s righteousness to us, by God’s will and appointment.  Let not the believer then, while he would satisfy his soul with this imputed righteousness, be afraid this is only some pleasing dream, or an human fiction; but let him look upon it as that which stands upon a sure foundation, as the heavens and earth do.  For what is it that keeps thee from falling into nothing but God’s Will and Power? And is not the same Will of God far more interested in this imputed righteousness? Fear not then that this beam will break under thy arms: All the believers that ever have or shall be, may lean on this, and not sink under them: It’s real, sure, and solid, though it be imputed, which doth also appear in the real and lively effects thereof; it brings peace, joy, and everlasting consolation to such as partake of it; It makes them glory in tribulations, and triumph over all adversities. [Rom. 5.3. 2 Cor. 2.14.]

Sixthly, In this Imputation we are to consider the thing itself, the cause and the effect, for all these are accounted to us.  The thing itself is righteousness,—what is more necessary than this to a sinner? For if you do respect God, he is holy and righteous, and loves only righteousness; if you do regard the Law of God, that commands only righteousness, both in the root and branches; if heaven and glory, that is only provided for righteous persons.  Oh then! What can a poor sinner do without righteousness? This then should rejoice the humbled sinner, that in that very thing [in which] he is so much afraid and troubled, God hath provided a remedy.  A righteousness thou dost want more than food, raiment, or any earthly comfort in the world, and therefore behold the marvellous kindness of God, who hath thus provided one for thee.  2. There is the cause of this righteousness, and that is Christ’s obedience, for it’s no contradiction, That Christ’s obedience should be both the meritorious cause of our Justification, and our material righteousness likewise, or that matter, which imputed to us, makes us righteous: God then looketh upon us, as if we had done and suffered all that Christ did; and although it seem very harsh to some, to say, That God looketh upon Christ’s fulfilling the Law, as if we {292} had fulfilled it, and as if we had done complete obedience unto it, yet there is no just reason to be offended at this, no more than to say, That God looked upon us in Christ satisfying his justice, as if we had done it, or thus to say, Christ is our Surety, Christ is the second Adam.  And then lastly, The effect of this righteousness is accounted to us, and that is, we have now a right to eternal life, we now have boldness unto the throne of grace, we have liberty to come before God, there is nothing to be objected against us, we may not fear any arrests or accusations: Oh what tongue of men or Angels is able to express the happiness of this man, who hath imputed righteousness! By this imputation they are what Christ their Surety is, God looks upon them as having Christ’s loveliness and perfumes upon them.  This is true and no Antinomian Positions can be inferred from hence.

Seventhly, In this Imputation of righteousness, because it is necessarily conceived to make a relative change, it hath a term from which and to which; or as some learned men express it, there are two manners of this Imputation, whereof the one is called Negative, the other Positive. The Negative Imputation, is, the not imputing of sin, sin is not charged upon us. The Positive is an affirming or reckoning of righteousness. Thus some would make it the same motion, distinguished only from the several terms it relateth unto.  But as we have shewed before, there is no inconvenience, yea a necessity to make remission of sin and imputation of righteousness two distinct things.

Eighthly, If in this Imputation of righteousness there seem many things absurd to carnal reason, it’s not therefore to be rejected, as not being the truth of God.  The Doctrine of the Trinity, or the Resurrection of the dead, Is it not very incredible to flesh and blood?  Yea doth not the Socinian cry down an imputed Satisfaction with as much confidence as these can an imputed righteousness in the sense explained? And therefore the Socinians do equally reject both: Was it ever heard, say they, that another man’s innocency or obedience should be accounted unto a man as his own? They will grant that in civil things, another man’s money may be accounted as mine, but that another man’s obedience should be judged {293} mine, this they abhor.  But as the Lord Christ is called Wonderful, Isa. 9, so is every thing in him, and that comes from him, wonderful: his natures are wonderful, his offices, and the effects thereof are exceeding wonderful.  Therefore, though the Socinians call it absurdum, impium, intolerabile, yea as that which doth contain a manner of our Salvation abhorring from the holy Scripture, and all human sense, yet be not staggered at it, for the whole way of our redemption is carried on in a mysterious way. Indeed we are not to make mysteries and wonders, where the Scripture doth not assert them, but when it doth, there we are firmly to adhere to them.

Ninthly, This Imputation of Christ’s merits and obedience, is so necessary, that (except the Socinians) it is acknowledged by all in one sense or otherBellarmine and Becanus, with the other Papists grant, There is in some sense an imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us; so do the Arminians, yea most of those who deny the active obedience of Christ imputed to us.  But this certain sense they allow it in, doth not arise to the full dignity and worth that is to be attributed unto Christ in this particular; for it’s but a remote or virtual imputation, not a proxime and formal one.  They explain themselves thus, That Christ’s merits are so made ours, that by them we receive grace and power to merit.  Thus the Papist.  Therefore they grant an application, communication and imputation of what Christ did unto us in this remote sense.  So the Arminians with their consociates, They grant an union and communion with Christ; They grant, what Christ did may be applied and imputed to us, but in this sense, that is, for our benefit, for our good; so that through his death either faith should be accounted of as a full righteousness, or else all righteousness be contained in remission of sin.  But that his righteousness should be imputed to us, so as to be made ours, and that in his obedience we are to stand perfect before God: This is a Camel to them that they cannot swallow.  But when the Apostle, 2 Cor. 5.21, as also Rom. 5.19, &c. makes a comparison between our sins laid on him, and his righteousness made ours, as also a resemblance between the first Adam and the second Adam; {294} this cannot but prove more than a remote or virtual imputation.

Tenthly, When we say, Christ’s righteousness is imputed unto us, This is not so to be understood, as if it were made so formally ours, that thereby we could be said to be as righteous as Christ, and be infinitely perfect as he was; Therefore learned writers do willingly abstain from the word formal, or to say, Christ’s righteousness is our formal righteousness; for although in some sense it may be made good, yet because the expression is obnoxious to much calumny, many do not willingly use it; but rather call this righteousness of Christ made ours, the material cause of our Justification: So that when we say, Christ’s righteousness is made ours, that is, It’s the matter whereby we stand justified in the sight of God.  And therefore

Eleventhly, Christ’s righteousness is not properly the form of our Justification, but God’s imputation of it.  For seeing that Justification is an act of God, it must be something without us that is the form of it, and that is both remission of sin and imputation of righteousness. It’s true, many there are both on the right and left hand that rise up against this truth, but what strength they bring will be considered in their Objections.

Let us from these premisses with all thankfulness admire the grace of God, who hath not left us without a righteousness, and that a more noble and worthy one than ever we lost.  It is much if our hearts do not always burn like fire in the meditation of it: But it is because we are carnal, sold under sin, not knowing how ill and dreadful our estate is: till therefore that good hour come, wherein God will make known unto us, that dunghill and hell which is within us, we can never esteem this imputed righteousness:  Oh pray for the Spirit which shall convince of sin and righteousness also!