THE IMPUTATION OF SIN AND RIGHTEOUSNESS
John Owen 1616-1683
When we have opportunity of speaking to you on these occasions, it is for the direction of the exercise of your faith in this ordinance in a due manner. Here is a representation of that which we should principally consider, and act faith with respect unto, in the representation that is made in this ordinance; and that is, of a blessed change and commutation that is made between Christ and believers, in the imputation of their sins unto Him, and in the imputation of His righteousness unto them: and the principal part of the life and exercise of faith consists in a due consideration and improvement thereof. God taught this to the church of the Old Testament in the type of the offering of the scape-goat:Â—
“And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat,” etc. – Lev. 16.21.
Aaron was not only to confess all the sins and iniquities of the people over the head of the goat, but he was to put all their sins upon him. Here is a double act:- the confession of sin, which is, as it were, the gathering of all their sins together; and the putting of them on the goat, to give a lively representation of it unto faith. So God did instruct Aaron to put all of their iniquities typically upon the sacrifice, really upon Jesus Christ.
He doth not say, “He shall bear the punishment;” but, Â“He shall take the sin itself Â“(that is, as to the guilt of it), “and carry it quite away.” Therefore the prophet says, Isa. 53.5,6, “The LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” What then? “By his stripes we are healed.” The stripes were all due to us; but they were due to us for our iniquities, and for no other cause. Now, our iniquities being transferred to Christ, all the stripes came to be His, and the healing came to be ours. To the same purpose the apostle says, “He was made sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” As we are made the righteousness of God in Him, so He is made sin for us. We are made the righteousness of God in Him by the imputation of His righteousness unto us; for our apostle is to be believed, that righteousness is by imputation: “God imputes righteousness,” says he. We have no righteousness before God but by imputation; and when we are made righteous, – the righteousness of God, which God ordains, approves, and accepts, it is the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. And how is He made sin for us? Because our sin is imputed to Him. Some will say, “He was made sin for us; that is, a sacrifice for sin.” Be it so; but nothing could be made an expiatory sacrifice, but it had first
the sin imputed to it. Aaron shall put his hands on the goat, confessing all their sins over his head; – be their sins on the head of the goat, or the expiatory sacrifice was nothing.
The same exchange you have again in Gal. 2,13,14, “He was made a curse for us.” The curse was due to us, and this Christ was made for us. And to confirm our faith. God did institute a visible pledge long beforehand, to let us know He was made a curse for us. He had made it a sign of the curse for one to be hanged on a tree; as it is written, “Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” What, then, comes to us? Why, “the blessing of faithful Abraham.” What is that? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Justification and acceptance with God is the blessing of faithful Abraham. Here is the great exchange represented to us in Scripture in these things, – that all our sins are transferred to Christ by imputation, and the righteousness of Christ transferred to us by imputation. Both these are acts of God, and not our acts. It is God who imputes our sin to Christ: “He hath made him to be sin for us.” And it is God who imputes the righteousness of Christ to us: “It is God that justifieth.” He who made Christ to be “sin,” He also makes us to be “righteousness.” These acts of God we ought to go over in our minds by faith; which is what I now call you to.
The way to apply the benefits and advantage of this great commutation to our souls, is in our minds, by faith, to put our seal to these acts of God. Christ in the gospel, and especially in this ordinance, is “evidently crucified before our eyes,” Gal. 3.1. God hath set Him forth to be a propitiation; so He is declared in this ordinance. And Christ at the same time calls us to Him: “Come unto me: look unto me, all the ends of the earth;” – “Come with your burdens; come you that are heavy laden with the guilt of sin.” What God has done in a way of righteous imputation, that we are to do in this ordinance in a way of believing. We are, by the divine help, to lay our sins by faith on Jesus Christ, by closing with that act of God which is represented to us in the word, – that God has imputed all our sins to Jesus Christ. Let you and I, and all of us, say “Amen,” by faith; “So be it, O Lord, – let the guilt of all our sins be on the head of Jesus Christ:” and therein admire the goodness, the grace, the love, the holiness, the infinite wisdom of God in this matter. If we were able to say Amen to this great truth, we should have the comfort of it in our souls, – to acquiesce in it, to find power and reality in it.
Then the other act of God is, the imputation of the righteousness of Christ to us. It is not enough to us that our sins are all carried away into a land not inhabited; we stand in need of a righteousness whereby we may be accepted before God. He makes us to be the righteousness of God; we do not make ourselves so, but are made so by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ.
Our second act of faith, that God may stir us up unto in this ordinance, is, to “receive the atonement.” So the apostle expresses it, Rom. 5.11. We receive together with it all the fruits of the atonement.
Now, if the Lord will be pleased to stir up our hearts from under their deadness, – to gather them in from their wanderings, to make us sensible of our concern, to give us the acting of faith in this matter, that truly and really the holy God has laid all our iniquities upon Christ, and tenders to us life, righteousness, justification, and mercy by Him, – we shall then have the fruit of this administration of the Lord’s Supper.