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John Bunyan on Justification by Imputation

14 July, 2009

John Bunyan, most famous as the author of Pilgrim’s Progress, also wrote a great little work (among many, many others, all available online!) called Justification by an Imputed Righteousness; Or, No Way to Heaven but by Jesus Christ. It’s a great work, full of solid exposition and profoundly practical application.

He sums up the entire argument of the book in this sentence:

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.

Then, helpfully, he briefly unpacks all the aspects of it before moving on to look at things in more depth. It is a short but sweet summary, worth knowing well:

“The terms of this proposition are easy; yet if it will help, I will speak a word or two for explication. First. By a sinner, I mean one that has transgressed the law; ‘for sin is the transgression of the law’ (1 John 3:4). Second. By the curse of the law, I mean that sentence, judgment, or condemnation which the law pronounceth against the transgressor (Gal 3:10). Third. By justifying righteousness, I mean that which stands in the doing and suffering of Christ when he was in the world (Rom 5:19). Fourth. By the residing of this righteousness in Christ’s person, I mean it still abides with him as to the action, though the benefit is bestowed upon those that are his. Fifth. By the imputation of it to us, I mean God’s making of it ours by an act of his grace, that we by it might be secured from the curse of the law. Sixth. When I say there is no other way to be justified. I cast away TO THAT END the law, and all the works of the law as done by us. Thus I have opened the terms of the proposition.

First and Second. Now the two first—to wit, what sin and the curse is—stand clear in all men’s sight, unless they be atheists or desperately heretical. [! — What a different time in the church, eh?] I shall, therefore, in few words, clear the other four.

Third. Therefore justifying righteousness is the doing and suffering of Christ when he was in the world. This is clear, because we are said to be ‘justified by his obedience,’ by his obedience to the law (Rom 5:19). Hence he is said again to be the end of the law for that very thing— ‘Christ is the end of the law for righteousness,’ &c. (Rom 10:4). The end, what is that? Why, the requirement or demand of the law. But what are they? Why, righteousness, perfect righteousness (Gal 3:10). Perfect righteousness, what to do? That the soul concerned might stand spotless in the sight of God (Rev 1:5). Now this lies only in the doings and sufferings of Christ; for ‘by his obedience many are made righteous’; wherefore as to this, Christ is the end of the law, that being found in that obedience, that becomes to us sufficient for our justification. Hence we are said to be made righteous by his obedience; yea, and to be washed, purged, and justified by his blood (Heb 9:14; Rom 5:18,19).

Fourth. That this righteousness still resides in and with the person of Christ, even then when we stand just before God thereby, is clear, for that we are said, when justified, to be justified ‘in him.’ ‘In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified.’ And again, ‘Surely, shall one say, In the Lord have I righteousness,’ &c. (Isa 45:24,25). And again, ‘But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us – righteousness’ (1 Cor 1:30). Mark, the righteousness is still ‘in him,’ not ‘in us,’ even then when we are made partakers of the benefit of it; even as the wing and feathers still abide in the hen when the chickens are covered, kept, and warmed thereby. For as my doings, though my children are fed and clothed thereby, are still my doings, not theirs; so the righteousness wherewith we stand just before God from the curse, still resides in Christ, not in us. Our sins, when laid upon Christ, were yet personally ours, not his; so his righteousness, when put upon us, is yet personally his, not ours. What is it, then? Why, ‘he was made to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him’ (2 Cor 5:21).

Fifth. It is, therefore, of a justifying virtue, only by imputation, or as God reckoneth it to us; even as our sins made the Lord Jesus a sinner—nay, ‘sin,’ by God’s reckoning of them to him. It is absolutely necessary that this be known of us; for if the understanding be muddy as to this, it is impossible that such should be sound in the faith; also in temptation, that man will be at a loss that looketh for a righteousness for justification in himself, when it is to be found nowhere but in Jesus Christ. The apostle, who was his craftsmaster as to this, was always ‘looking to Jesus,’ that he ‘might be found in him,’ knowing that nowhere else could peace or safety be had (Phil 3:6-9). And, indeed, this is one of the greatest mysteries in the world; namely, that a righteousness that resides with a person in heaven should justify me, a sinner, on earth!

Sixth. Therefore the law and the works thereof, as to this, must by us be cast away; not only because they here are useless, but also they being retained are a hindrance. That they are useless is evident, for that salvation comes by another name (Acts 4:12). And that they are a hindrance, it is clear; for the very adhering to the law, though it be but a little, or in a little part, prevents justification by the righteousness of Christ (Rom 9:31,32). What shall I say? As to this, the moral law is rejected, the ceremonial law is rejected, and man’s righteousness is rejected, for that they are here both weak and unprofitable (Rom 8:2,3; Gal 3:21; Heb 10:1-12). Now if all these and their works as to our justification, are rejected, where, but in Christ, is righteousness to be found?

Thus much, therefore, for the explication of the proposition—namely, that 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.”

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One Comment
  1. 14 July, 2009 2:13 pm

    “As to this, the moral law is rejected, the ceremonial law is rejected, and man’s righteousness is rejected, for that they are here both weak and unprofitable (Rom 8:2,3; Gal 3:21; Heb 10:1-12). Now if all these and their works as to our justification, are rejected, where, but in Christ, is righteousness to be found?”

    Wow! John Bunyan, by his cite of Galatians 3:21 in combination whith his above-stated statement, does not skirt around the issue (as some do) as to whether “the Law” in Galatians only refers to the ceremonial law, not the moral law. He clearly includes the moral law.

    In Romans, it is clearer. Chapter 7, verse 7, makes it clear that when Paul is speaking about “the Law”, it includes the moral law by his express use of the 10th commandment “YOU SHALL NOT COVET”.

    But I have heard others preach and teach that the use of “the Law” in Galatians only includes the ceremonial law as if it is a big deal that we are dead or released only from the ceremonial law and as if we are tempted to continue to live by it (and be in danger thereby).

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