Some Non-Essential Differences Between Those who Do Trust Christ’s Righteousness, by John Owen

That which is of real difference among persons who agree in the
substance of the doctrine, may be reduced unto a very few heads; as, —

(1.) There is something of this kind about the nature of faith whereby we are justified, with its proper object in justifying, and its use in justification. And an instance we have herein, not only of the weakness of our intellects in the apprehension of spiritual things, but also of the remainders of confusion and disorder in our minds; at least, how  true it is that we know only in part, and prophesy only in part, whilst we are in this life.

For whereas this faith is an act of our minds, put forth in the way of duty to God, yet many by whom it is sincerely exercised, and that continually, are not agreed either in the nature or proper object of it. Yet is there no doubt but that some of them who differ amongst themselves about these things, have delivered their minds free from the prepossession of prejudices and notions derived from other artificial reasonings imposed on them, and do really express their own conceptions as to the best and utmost of their experience.

And notwithstanding this difference, they do yet all of them please God
in the exercise of faith, as it is their duty, and have that respect unto its proper object as secures both their justification and salvation. And if we cannot, on this consideration, bear with, and forbear, one another in our different conceptions and expressions of those conceptions about these things, it is a sign we have a great mind to be contentious, and that our confidences are built on very weak foundations.

For my part, I had much rather my lot should be found among them who do really believe with the heart unto righteousness, though they are not able to give a tolerable definition of faith unto others, than among them who can endlessly dispute about it with seeming accuracy and skill, but are negligent in the exercise of it as their own duty.

(2.) There has been a controversy more directly stated among some
learned divines of the Reformed churches , about the righteousness of Christ that is said to be imputed unto us. For some would have this to be only his
suffering of death, and the satisfaction which he made for sin thereby,
and others include therein the obedience of his life also. The occasion, original, and progress of this controversy, the persons by whom it has been managed, with the writings wherein it is so, and the various ways that have been endeavoured for its reconciliation, are sufficiently known unto all who have inquired into these things.

(3.) Some difference there has been, also, whether the righteousness of
Christ imputed unto us, or the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, may be said to be the formal cause of our justification before God; wherein there appears some variety of expression among learned men, who have handled this subject in the way of controversy with the Papists.

The true occasion of the differences about this expression has been this, and no other: Those of the Roman church do constantly assert, that the righteousness whereby we are righteous before God is the formal cause of our justification; and this righteousness, they say, is our own inherent, personal righteousness, and not the righteousness of Christ imputed unto us: wherefore they treat of this whole controversy — namely, what is the righteousness on the account
whereof we are accepted with God, or justified — under the name of the
formal cause of justification.

In opposition unto them, some Protestants, contending that the righteousness wherewith we are esteemed righteous before God, and accepted with him, is the righteousness of Christ imputed unto us, and not our own inherent,
imperfect, personal righteousness, have done it under this inquiry, –namely, What is the formal cause of our justification? Which some have said to be the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, — some, the righteousness of Christ imputed.

But what they designed herein was, not to resolve this controversy into a philosophical inquiry about the nature of a formal cause, but only to prove that that truly belonged unto the righteousness of Christ in our justification which the Papists ascribed unto our own. ..They all deny  that in the
justification of a sinner there either is, or can be, any inherent formal cause of it.

Wherefore, notwithstanding the differences that have been among some in
the various expression of their conceptions, the substance of the doctrine of the reformed churches is by them agreed upon and retained entire. For they all agree that God justifies no sinner, — absolves him not from guilt, nor declares him righteous, so as to have a title unto the heavenly inheritance, — but with respect unto a true and perfect righteousness; as also, that this righteousness is truly the righteousness of him that is so justified; that this righteousness
becomes ours by God’s free grace and donation; and that this is the perfect obedience or righteousness of Christ imputed unto us.

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7 Comments on “Some Non-Essential Differences Between Those who Do Trust Christ’s Righteousness, by John Owen”


  1. this is really REALLY great! thanks.

  2. markmcculley Says:

    Piscator says that Paul excludes all of our works from justification “whether they be done by the strength of free will or by grace.” Consequently, Piscator could readily agree with the Westminster Confession of Faith XI.1 that says that God does not justify sinners “for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness.”

    What, then, is the source of man’s righteousness? It is Christ’s satisfaction imputed to the believer. “God accepts Christ’s satisfaction for the elect…imputes the same unto them; and thereupon receives them into favor, and adopts them for sons and heirs of eternal life.” Many objected to Piscator’s view –they said that to have forgiveness of sins is not the same as being accounted righteous. They said that to have forgiveness only is to only be back where Adam began before sin.

    If Christ’s active obedience is not accounted as our righteousness, then how can Christ be our righteousness? Piscator responds that when sins are forgiven, someone is counted not only as not having done any sins but also as having done all things required. “Man’s justification consists in remission of all sins: and therefore not only of sins of committing,but also of sins of omitting.” Piscator would not agree that if only Christ’s passive obedience is imputed to us, then we ourselves must supply positive righteousness. Rather, once Christ’s satisfaction is imputed to us, we are in a state of having done everything required because our sins of omission are forgiven. Thus, for Piscator, the source of our righteousness in justification is only Christ’s satisfaction imputed to us.

    Piscator emphasizes that faith itself is excluded as a part of our righteousness before God. The consequence is that all of our works are excluded from our justification. While Christ’s satisfaction imputed to us is the sole source of our righteousness, we are by nature unrighteous. Further, even the righteous acts that we do after grace and faith are excluded from our justification, which, according to Piscator, continues to rest solely in the satisfaction of Christ imputed to us. He argues against Bellarmine that all of our works are excluded from our justification before God. He argues from the fact that Paul “speaks of works in general, whether they be done by the strength of free will or by grace,because Romans 4 speaks of Abraham’s works, those which he had done of grace and faith” Even those works that flow out of faith are clearly excluded from our justification.

    The same pronunciation that gave us comfort in this life that we have a righteous standing before God will then be pronounced openly by the Lord Jesus Christ: “You are righteous on the basis of My satisfaction imputed to you.”

    What are the results of this justification? For Piscator, we are not only forgiven of our sins, but we also have a right to eternal life, for when someone is justified, God “receives them into favor, and adopts them for sons and heirs of eternal life.” The reason why this can occur, according to Pisactor, is because God has said, “Do this, and you will live” (Lev. 18:5, Mt. 19:17, Gal. 3:12). “It comes about that he to whom God forgives sins, is so accounted as if he had not only committed nothing which God has forbidden in his law, but also omitted nothing of that which he has commanded: and therefore, as if he had perfectly fulfilled the law of God.”

    • markmcculley Says:

      Mark Jones–Anselm argued that Christ, as a rational being, owed obedience to God. But to make satisfaction on behalf of sinners, Christ had to go beyond a life of obedience – he had to die. As the God-man, Christ’s death was therefore supererogatory – a death above God’s requirement of him. His death is superabundant to make satisfaction for sins. Gataker and Vines, for example, used Anselm’s argument to reject the imputation of the active obedience of Christ. Christ’s death was supererogatory and therefore his death merited eternal life. In other words, Gataker and Vines argued Anselm’s point that Christ’s obedience is required, but his death is not required; ergo: only the merits of Christ’s death are imputed to believers, http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2015/04/can-humans-merit-before-god-2.php

  3. markmcculley Says:

    http://www.reformation21.org/shelf-life/unlocking-romans.php

    the bad

    The believer, now justified, is “now able to do deeds of righteousness which are congruous with such a judicial verdict”

    These works can be the basis of this future verdict, Kirk claims, “because [Jesus’ death and resurrection] is the person and place in which the grace of God has been manifested, because transfer into this realm is based solely on the grace of God…” (226)

    On Rom 4:25, Kirk mistakes the connection, however, when he attributes the “righteousness” in a believer’s justification to the life of obedience made possible by the believer’s union with the risen Jesus.

    KIrk—“A unity based on theological articulation is a dead end for the unity of the church” (231). Kirk laments that the Reformation and its heirs have separated soteriology from ecclesiology, using justification as a “wedge for dividing the church” and rendering division all but inevitable

    “The doctrine of justification by faith becomes the doctrine of justification by believing the right doctrine of justification by faith (232). Kirk proceeds to query whether “those of us in Protestant churches should begin by asking the Roman Catholic Church for forgiveness?” or “those of us in denominational spin-offs should] begin by asking the mother churches for forgiveness?” (233)

    the good

    Kirk—Owen divides the work of Christ into two parts: a reconciliation that comes from Christ’s death and a true righteousness and justification that come from his life of law-keeping. In support of his argument he alludes to Rom. 5:9-10. These verses, however, cannot be used in this way. In conjunction with verse. 10, Romans 5:9 undermines the distinction between reconciliation and justification. Verses 9 and 10 are parallel. Owen changes Paul’s statement about Jesus’ resurrection into a statement about the earthly life of obedience to the law by Jesus.

    John Owen—There was no wrath due to Adam, yet he was to obey if he would enjoy eternal life. Something there is MORE to be done in respect to us, if after the slaying of the enmity and Reconciliation made we shall enjoy life.

    John Owen– “Being reconciled by his death: we are saved by that perfect Obedience which in his life he yielded to the Law of God. There is a distinct mention made of Reconciliation, through non-imputation of sin as Ps. 32:1. Rom. 3:25. 2 Cor. 5:19: and Justification through an imputation of Righteousness Jer. 23:6. Rom. 4:5. 1 Cor. 1:30 … and this last we have by Christ’s life of obedience.”

    Kiek—In the face of the failure of the law of Moses, Romans 3:24 spells out how justification comes to sinners: ‘through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God put forward a sacrifice of atonement .” Paul says that the purpose of God’s giving Jesus up in a sacrificial death was ‘to show forth his righteousness at the present time in order that He might be just and the justifier of the one who is of the faith of Jesus’ (3:26). Two points merit attention here. (1) In response to the failure of the law, Paul does not say that God sent Jesus to obey the law;. Rather, Paul says that in response to the failure of the law to accomplish salvation the law witness to God’s accomplishment of justification in the death of Jesus (3:21).

  4. markmcculley Says:

    AO advocates claim that Christ’s sacrifice was enough to take away sin, but the sacrifice is not enough to make one righteous. First, that idea is not present in this particular text and furthermore, the assertion that the Christ’s sacrifice is somehow insufficient really demonstrates the absurdity of the position held by AO advocates. The removal of sin results in righteousness!

    For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. – Romans 3:23-25
    Notice: there is no mention of a perfect life, only His blood which is just another way to speak of His death.

    But God showed his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. – Romans 5:9-10
    The phrase “justified by His blood” could not be clearer. Again, there is no mention of need to also be imputed with a perfect life in order to be justified.

    For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all…All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself … in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them… – 2 Corinthians 5:14-18

    http://www.denverreformed.com/imputation-justification-through-the-righteous-act-of-christ/

  5. markmcculley Says:

    There was no Jewish law that commanded Christ or anyone else to be baptized with water . Christ was not offering obedience to the Jewish law, His water baptism was necessary, but the question is: In what way was it necessary? The answer cannot be that His water baptism merited righteousness for himself or anyone else – even though that is the claim of proponents of Christ’s law-keeping imputed.
    Vicarious in a representative or in his substitution (replacement, instead of) sense? If Christ was water baptized for us in that sense, why would believers need to be water baptized today?
    mark answers—I don’t think that Christ was watered as our substitute, but I do think there could be other motives for our being watered (don’t ask me which, I don’t care). My point is this—I don’t think Christ’s law keeping is a substitute for our obeying the law, but I do think that Christ’s death is a substitute for our being motivated to keep the law as a means of obtaining blessings, because i do think Christ’s death means our not being under the law. But I do NOT think that our not being under the law means that we cannot sin by disobeying the law of Christ.


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