The Grace of Christ, or,
Sinners Saved by Unmerited Kindness

William S. Plumer, 1853

"We believe it is through the grace of our
 Lord Jesus that we are saved." Acts 15:11

Justification. Imputed righteousness. Additional testimonies.

There is hardly anything more gratifying to the pious mind than to discover an agreement between its own conclusions and those of great and good men, who have lived in former generations. They may indeed have been mistaken, and so they are no standard to us; yet when their number is large, when they lived in different ages and countries, and yet were led by honest inquiry and much prayer to the same results, and when their well-earned reputation for piety, love of truth and diligence in study, create a strong presumption in favor of their united testimony, a good man will very carefully examine the grounds of his conclusions before he will refuse to adopt their sentiments, especially where they have all put much honor on God's holy word. In other chapters of this work many such witnesses have been adduced. But this chapter will consist chiefly of the views of others on the subject in hand. The language of God's people often varies considerably, but the sense of the following quotations is clearly confirmatory of our doctrine.

Having already noticed the views of the writers of the first five centuries, the first now given is that of Gregory. He says: "Our righteous Advocate shall defend us in the day of judgment, because we know and accuse ourselves to be unrighteous. Therefore let us not trust to our tears, nor to our actions, but to the alleging of our Advocate." Calvin remarking on Romans 5:19, says: "The meaning is, that as by the sin of Adam we were alienated from God, and devoted to destruction, so by the obedience of Christ we are received into favor, as righteous people. Nor does the future tense of the verb exclude present righteousness; as appears from the context. For he had before said, "The free gift is of many offences unto justification." Again, "if righteousness consist in an observance of the law, who can deny that Christ merited favor for us, when by bearing this burden himself he reconciles us to God, just as though we were complete observers of the law ourselves." Latimer says: "When we believe in Christ, it is like as if we had no sins. For he exchanges with us. He takes our sins and wickedness from us, and gives unto us his holiness, righteousness, justice, fulfilling of the law—and so consequently everlasting life. So that we are like as if we had done no sin at all; for his righteousness stands us in good stead, as though we of our own selves had fulfilled the law."

Hooper says: "We must only trust to the merits of Christ, which satisfied the extreme jot and uttermost point of the law for us. And this his justice and perfection, he imputes and communicates with us by faith." Richard Hooker says: "Although in ourselves we are altogether sinful and unrighteous, yet even the man who is impious in himself, full of iniquity, full of sin—him being found in Christ through faith, and having his sin remitted through repentance—him God beholds with a gracious eye, puts away his sin by not imputing it, takes quite away the punishment due thereunto by pardoning it, and accepts him in Jesus Christ as perfectly righteous, as if he had fulfilled all that was commanded him in the law; shall I say more perfectly righteous than if himself had fulfilled the whole law? I must take heed what I say: but the apostle says 'God made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.' Such we are in the sight of God the Father—as is the very Son of God himself. Let it be counted folly or frenzy, or fury, whatever, it is our comfort and our wisdom; we care for no knowledge in the world but this, that man has sinned and God has suffered; that God has made himself the Son of man, and that men are made the righteousness of God."

Grotius says: "Whereas we have said that Christ has brought forth or procured two things for us—freedom from punishment and a reward; the ancient church attributes the one of them unto his atonement, the other unto his merit. Atonement consists in the translation of sins, merit in the imputation of his most perfect obedience performed for us."

Bates says: "There are but two ways of appearing before the righteous and supreme Judge:
1. In innocence and sinless obedience: or, 2. by the righteousness of Christ. The one is by the law, the other by grace. And these two can never be compounded; for he who pleads innocence, in that disclaims grace; and he who sues for grace acknowledges guilt. Now the first cannot be performed by us. For entire obedience to the law supposes the integrity of our natures, there being a moral impossibility that the faculties once corrupted should act regularly; but man is stained with original sin from his conception. And the form of the law runs universally, 'cursed is everyone that continues not in all things, written in the book of the law to do them.' In these scales, one evil work outweighs a thousand good ones. If a man were guilty of but one single error, his entire obedience afterwards could not save him; for that being always due to the law, the payment of it cannot discount for the former debt. So that we cannot in any degree be justified by the law; for there is no middle between transgressing and not transgressing it. He who breaks one article in a covenant cuts off his claim to any benefit from it. Whoever presumes to appear before God's judgment-seat in his own righteousness shall be covered with confusion.
"2. By the righteousness of Christ. This alone absolves from the guilt of sin, saves from hell and can endure the trial of God's tribunal. This the apostle prized as his invaluable treasure, in comparison of which all other things are but dross and rubbish. That which is ordained, and rewarded in the person of our Redeemer, God cannot but accept. Now this righteousness is meritoriously imputed only to believers. As all sins are mortal in respect of their guilt, but death is not actually inflicted for them, upon the account of the grace of the new covenant; so all sins are venial in respect of the satisfaction made by Christ; but they are not actually pardoned, until the performing of the condition, to which pardon is annexed. Faith transfers the guilt from the sinner to the sacrifice."

Leighton says: "This is the great glad tidings, that we are made righteous by Christ; it is not a righteousness wrought by us, but given to us, and put upon us. This carnal reason cannot comprehend, and being proud, therefore rejects and argues against it, saying, how can this thing be? But faith closes with it, and rejoices in it. Without either doing or suffering, the sinner is acquitted, and justified, and stands as guiltless of breach—yes, as having fulfilled the whole law. And happy they that thus fasten upon this righteousness, that they may lift up their faces with gladness and boldness before God. Whereas the most industrious, self-saving justiciary, though in other men's eyes and his own, possibly for the present, he makes a glittering show; yet when he shall come to be examined of God, and tried according to the law, shall be covered with shame, and confounded in his folly and guiltiness."

Owen says: "There is an imputation of mere grace and favor. And this is, when that which antecedently unto the imputation was no way ours, not inherent in us, not performed by us, which we had no right nor title unto—is granted unto us, made ours, so as that we are judged of, and dealt with according unto it. This is that imputation in both branches of it, negative in the non-imputation of sin, and positive in the imputation of righteousness, which the apostle so vehemently pleads for, and so frequently asserts in Romans 4. For he both affirms the thing itself, and declares that it is of mere grace, without respect unto anything within ourselves. And if this kind of imputation cannot be fully exemplified in any other instance, but this alone, whereof we treat, it is because the foundation of it in the mediation of Christ is singular, and that which there is nothing to parallel in any other case." "The imputation we plead for is not a judging or esteeming of them to be righteous, who truly and really are not so." In imputation God "makes an effectual grant and donation of a true, real, perfect righteousness, even that of Christ himself, unto all who truly believe, and accounting it as theirs, on his own gracious act, both absolves them from sin, and grants them right and title unto eternal life. In this imputation, the thing itself is first imputed unto us, and not any of the effects of it, but they are made ours by virtue of that imputation." "To say the righteousness of Christ is not imputed unto us, only its effects are so, is really to overthrow all imputation."

Charnock says: "All the world stands guilty before God; so cannot present God with a righteousness of their own, commensurate to the law; not one act any man can do, can bear proportion to it; all strength to do anything suitable to it was lost in Adam. Since no righteousness of our own can justify, it must be the righteousness of the Son of God, which must be imputed to us in the same manner our sins were imputed to him; as it is accepted by God for us, so it is accounted by God to us. 2 Cor. 5:21. Sin was in us, but charged upon Christ; righteousness is in Christ, and imputed to us." Tuckney says: "We are made the righteousness of God in Christ in the same way that he was made sin for us, that is, by imputation." Ryland says: "Justification by Christ's imputed righteousness is the center arch of that bridge, by which we pass out of time into a blissful eternity."

John Willison when near death uttered: "am living on the righteousness of Christ, yes dying in the Lord. It is not past experiences or manifestations I depend upon; it is Christ, a present, all-sufficient Savior, and perfect righteousness in him, I look to. All my attainments are but loss and rubbish besides him." Bunyan said: "There is no other way for sinners to be justified from the curse of the law, in the sight of God, than by the imputation of that righteousness long ago performed by, and still residing with the person of Jesus Christ." The author of the sermon on justification in the "Morning Exercises" published in 1675 says: "To be justified is to be freely accepted of God as righteous, so as to have pardon and title to life, upon the account of Christ's righteousness. We cannot be accepted as righteous until we be acquitted from guilt." "There are these several things considerable about the imputing this righteousness; first, substitution; Christ satisfied in our stead, that is, he tendered that which was due from us. Secondly, acceptance; the Father accepted what Christ performed in our stead, as performed on our behalf. Thirdly, participation; we have the fruits and advantages of his undertaking, no less than if we ourselves had satisfied."

Stedman says: "The first blessing that I shall mention as depending upon union with Jesus Christ is the justification of a sinner in the sight of God, upon the account of Christ's righteousness imputed to him; whereby the guilt of sin is removed, and the person of the sinner accepted as righteous with the God of heaven." "The only matter of man's righteousness since the fall of Adam, wherein he can appear with comfort before the justice of God, and consequently whereby alone he can be justified in his sight, is the obedience and sufferings of Jesus Christ, the righteousness of the Mediator." Wilcox says: "If you ever saw Christ, you saw him a rock higher than self-righteousness, Satan and sin, and this rock does follow you; and there will be a continual dropping of honey and grace, out of this rock, to satisfy you." Crisp says: "These are the sure mercies of David, when a man receives the things of Christ, only because Christ gives them; and not in regard of any action of ours, as the ground of taking them. Christ is not more rich in himself than he is liberal to contribute of his treasures. He makes his people sharers to the uttermost of all that he has." Bengel says: "The law presses on a man, until he flees to Christ; then it says, You have gotten a refuge. I forbear to follow you. You are wise. You are safe." Glascock says: "The grand design of all false religion is to patch up a righteousness for the justification of the sinner before God. The Christian religion teaches us to seek justification before God by the imputation of Christ's righteousness to us upon our believing on him. The denial of a believer's justification, by the imputation of Christ's righteousness to him, stabs the very heart of Christianity, and destroys all true revealed religion." Philip Henry cried: "Lord, clothe me with your righteousness, which is a lovely, costly, lasting, everlasting garment." Richard Taylor says: "Christ will only be a strength to those who trust in him for righteousness; those who will not have him for righteousness, shall not have him for their strength, to enable them to resist temptations, to mortify sin and corruption, and to bring forth the fruits of holiness."

During the last century there arose a philanthropic Englishman, whose deeds of mercy have resounded throughout the civilized world. "He visited all Europe—not to survey the sumptuousness of palaces, or the stateliness of temples, not to make accurate measurements of the remains of ancient grandeur, nor to form a scale of the curiosity of modern art; not to collect medals, or collate manuscripts—-but to dive into the depths of dungeons; to plunge into the infection of hospitals; to survey the dwellings of sorrow and pain; to take the gauge and dimensions of misery, depression, and contempt; to remember the forgotten, to attend to the neglected, to visit the forsaken, and to compare and collate the distresses of all men in all countries. His plan is original; and it is as full of genius as it is of humanity. It was a voyage of discovery; a journey of charity. Already the benefit of his labor is felt in every country. I hope he will anticipate his final reward, by seeing all its effects fully realized in his own." Now would it not be instructive, if we could penetrate the hidden recesses of Howard's thoughts, and find out what gave him this wondrous zeal? He himself has told us in one of the most solemn acts of his life. The inscription which he directed to be put on his tomb, was this: "Christ alone is my hope!"

Hervey says: "Had I all the faith of the patriarchs, all the zeal of the prophets, all the good works of the apostles, all the holy sufferings of the martyrs, and all the glowing devotion of the seraphs; I would disclaim the whole, in point of dependence, and count all but dross and dung, when set in competition with the infinitely precious death, and infinitely meritorious righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ!" Thomas Scott, remarking on Romans 10:4, says: "This 'righteousness of God is without the law,' being entirely independent of our personal obedience, either before or after justification; it becomes ours 'by faith in Christ Jesus;' and in the next chapter we read of 'righteousness imputed without works.' Is it not then plain that 'the righteousness of God is unto all who believe,' by imputation? Thus likewise it is 'upon all who believe:' for they 'have put on Christ;' God now looking on them, there appears nothing but Christ; they are as it were covered all over with him, as a man with the clothes he has put on. Hence in the next verse it is said, they 'are all one in Christ Jesus,' as if there were but one person.

Alexander Hill says: "Considered in themselves, believers are guilty and deserve to suffer, but by means of the imputation of Christ's righteousness, they are completely acquitted from the punishment due to their sins, because it was endured for them by the Lord Jesus, and they acquire a right to eternal life, because it was purchased for them by his obedience." He also says that this is the universal opinion. Chalmers says: "I trust I shall never lose my hold of the fullness and peace, which lie in the doctrine of Christ's imputed righteousness." Later in life he says: "O my God, enable me to lay hold of the righteousness of Christ as my righteousness. Never am I in a better frame than when dwelling in simple faith on Christ's offered righteousness, and making it the object of my acceptance. O Lord, I pray for more and more of the clearness and enlargement of this view, and grant me the Spirit of adoption."

Indeed so uniform has been the love of Christians of all ages and nations to the doctrine of salvation by the imputed righteousness of Christ, that it is hardly less for a wonder than for a lamentation that any in our day should express doubts on the subject. Christ's righteousness meets the greatest need of an enlightened conscience. It is the strength of all holy joy on earth. It is the life of a believer's soul. In the last day the shouts of 'Grace, grace unto it!' shall be heard from all the redeemed as the top-stone shall be laid on the living temple, the Church. To Christ, who has paid the ransom for us, God's faithfulness and justice bind him to give all whom in covenant he had promised, yes, finally to give him the heathen for his inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for a possession. But to sinners saved, all is grace, unmerited favor, because it comes to them through the imputed righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ. And all this is but the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 45:24, 25): "Surely shall one say, In the Lord have I righteousness and strength;" and "In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified and shall glory." Even "he who has clean hands, and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully" shall not be saved by his own merits, but "he shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation." Psalm 24:4, 5.

Indeed, the capital error of multitudes in every age has been that "they, being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God." Romans 10:3. Here, just here myriads have lost their all. Reader, let it not be so with you. Owen expresses the judgment that it is "impossible that any man should be justified before God any other way, but by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ," and says this was a common sentiment among the orthodox. Yet he as readily says that "they do not think or judge that all those are excluded from salvation, who cannot apprehend, or do deny the doctrine of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, as by them declared." "To believe the doctrine of it, or not to believe it, as thus or thus explained, is one thing; and to enjoy the thing, or not to enjoy it, is another. I no way doubt, but that many men do receive "more grace from God than they understand, or will own." "Men may be really saved by that grace which doctrinally they do deny; and they may be justified by the imputation of that righteousness which in opinion they deny to be imputed." Such views relieve the mind not only of uncharitableness, but also of anguish respecting some, who have difficulties on the subject.

It is well known that the venerable Dr. Dwight at one time wrote against the doctrine of imputation of righteousness; but it is delightful to find that when he had recovered from a long and dangerous illness, he poured out his thoughts before his pupils in these words: "Those acts of my life concerning which I entertained the best hopes which I was permitted to entertain, those, which appeared to me the least exceptionable, were nothing, and less than nothing. The mercy of God as exercised through the all-sufficient and glorious righteousness of the Redeemer, yielded me the only foundation of hope for good beyond the grave. During the long continuation of my disease, as I was always, except when in paroxysms of suffering, in circumstances entirely fitted for solemn contemplation, I had ample opportunity to survey this most interesting of all subjects on every side. As the result of all my investigations, let me assure you, and that from the borders of the eternal world, confidence in the righteousness of Christ is the only foundation upon which, when you are about to leave this world, you can safely rest the everlasting life of your souls. To trust upon anything else will be to feed upon the wind. You will then be at the door of eternity; will be hastening to the presence of your Judge; will be just ready to give up your account of the deeds done in the body; will be preparing to hear the final sentence of acquittal or condemnation; and will stand at the gate of heaven or of hell. In these amazing circumstances you will infinitely need, let me persuade you to believe and to feel that you will infinitely need—a firm foundation on which you may stand, and from which you will never be removed. There is no other such foundation but the Rock of Ages. Then you will believe, then you will feel that there is no other." How precious is such truth! There is ground of hope for a sinner in the righteousness of Christ. How solemn the testimony here borne to its vital importance! And neither the wit of man, nor the wisdom of God has pointed out any method by which that righteousness may become ours to a complete justification, unless God in mercy will impute it to us.

Such language from President Dwight reminds one of that of President Davies describing his thoughts during an illness. He says: "In my sickness, I found the unspeakable importance of a Mediator, in a religion of sinners. O! I could have given you the word of a dying man for it—that Jesus, that Jesus whom you preach, is indeed a necessary and an all-sufficient Savior. Indeed he is the only support for a departing soul. None but Christ, none but Christ! Had I as many good works as Abraham or Paul, I would not have dared build my hopes on such a quicksand, but only on this firm eternal Rock." Indeed to dying believers, Christ's righteousness is very, very precious!

W. H. Hewitson dying said: "The righteousness of Christ is my stay. That sustained me in Madeira in the midst of persecution and difficulties; it has sustained me through all my ministry; and it sustains me now." Indeed Christ is all and in all, to his departing followers.

It is not long ago, since a pious native Christian in India was asked, on her dying bed, what was the state of her mind. She replied, "Happy, happy!" Then laying her hand on her Bible she said, 'I have Christ here!" Then pressing it to her heart she said, "And Christ here!" Then pointing toward heaven she added, "And Christ there!" Thrice blessed soul. In whatever part of the universe she might be, Christ was with her. He was formed in her the hope of glory. "There is none like Jesus."

What do you say to these things? Is Christ all your hope? Are you building on this sure, this only foundation? In coming before God dare you make mention of any but his righteousness, even of his alone? Let every man take heed that he be not found naked, or clothed in rags and shame. Hold fast the merits of the Redeemer and you are safe. Let them go—and you are undone! His blood alone atones! His righteousness alone justifies!