God Does Not Count Faith as the Righteousness, by Horatius Bonar

God reckons the believing person as having done all righteousness, though he has not done any, and though his faith is not righteousness. The work of Christ for us is the object of faith; the Spirit’s work in us is that which produces this faith: Without the touch of the rod the water would not have gushed forth; yet it was the rock and not the rod, that contained the water.

The bringer of the sacrifice into the tabernacle was to lay his hand upon the head of the sheep or the bullock. But the laying on of his hand was not the same as the victim on which it was laid. The serpent-bitten Israelite was to look at the uplifted serpent of brass in order to be healed. But his looking was not the brazen serpent. We may say it was his looking that healed him, just as the Lord said, “your faith has saved you”; but this is figurative language. It was not his act of looking that healed him, but the object to which he locked. So faith is not our righteousness.

Faith is not our saviour. It was not faith that was born at Bethlehem and died on Golgotha for us. It was not faith that loved us, and gave itself for us; that bore our sins in its own body on the tree; that died and rose again for our sins. Faith is one thing,  Jesus the Christ is another. Faith is one thing, and the cross is another. Let us not confound them, nor ascribe to a poor, imperfect act of man, that which belongs exclusively to the Son of the Living God.

Faith is not perfection. Yet only by perfection can we be saved; either our own or another’s. That which is imperfect cannot justify, and an imperfect faith could not in any sense be a righteousness. If it is to justify, it must be perfect. It must be like “the Lamb, without blemish and without spot” . God has asked and provided a perfect righteousness; He nowhere asks nor expects a perfect faith. An earthenware pitcher can convey water to a traveller’s thirsty lips as well as one of gold; nay, a broken vessel, even if there be but “a sherd to take water from the pit” (Isa 30:14), will suffice.

Faith is not satisfaction to God. In no sense and in no aspect can faith be said to satisfy God, or to satisfy the law. Yet if it is to be our righteousness, it must satisfy. Being imperfect, it cannot satisfy; being human, it cannot satisfy, even though it were perfect. That which satisfies must be capable of bearing our guilt; and that which bears our guilt must be not only perfect, but divine. It is a sin-bearer that we need, and our faith cannot be a sin-bearer. Faith can expiate no guilt; can accomplish no propitiation; can pay no penalty; can wash away no stain; can provide no righteousness.

Faith is not Christ, nor the cross of Christ. Faith is not the blood, nor the sacrifice; it is not the altar, nor the laver, nor the mercy-seat, nor the incense. It does not work, but accepts a work done ages ago. For never shall we put off that Christ whom we put on when we believed (Rom 12:14; Gal 3:27). This divine raiment is “to everlasting.” It waxes not old, it cannot be rent, and its beauty fadeth not away.

Nor does faith lead us away from that cross to which at first it led us. Some in our day speak as if we soon got beyond the cross, and might leave it behind; that the cross having done all it could do for us when first we came under its shadow, we may quit it and go forward; that to remain always at the cross is to be babes, not men.

But what is the cross? It is not the mere wooden pole, or some imitation of it, such as Romanists use. These we may safely leave behind us. We need not pitch our tent upon the literal Golgotha, or in Joseph’s garden. But the great truth which the cross embodies we can no more part with than we can past with life eternal. . I am always at the manger, and yet I know that mere incarnation cannot save; always at Gethsemane, and yet I believe that its agony was not the finished work; always at the cross, with my face toward it, and my eye on the crucified One, and yet I am persuaded that the sacrifice there was completed once for all; always looking into the grave, though I rejoice that it is empty, and that “He is not here, but is risen”.

Man, in his natural spirit of self-justifying legalism, has tried to get away from the cross of Christ and its perfection, or to erect another cross instead, or to setup a screen of ornaments between himself and it, or to alter its true meaning into something more congenial to his tastes, or to transfer the virtue of it to some act or performance or feeling of its own  Faith does not come to Calvary to do anything. It comes to see the glorious spectacle of all things done, and to accept this completion without a misgiving as to its efficacy. It listens to the “It is finished!” of the Sin-bearer, and says, “Amen.” Where faith begins, there labour ends, — labour, I mean, “for” life and pardon. Faith is rest, not toil. It is the giving up all the former weary efforts to do or feel something good, in order to induce God to love and pardon; and the calm reception of the truth so long rejected, that God is not waiting for any such inducements, but loves and pardons of His own goodwill, and is showing that goodwill to any sinner who will come to Him on such a footing, casting away his own performances.

Faith is the acknowledgment of the entire absence of all goodness in us, and the recognition of the cross as the substitute for all the want on our part. There is no dividing or sharing the work between our own belief and Him in whom we believe. The whole work is His, not ours, from the first to last. Faith does not believe in itself, but in the Son of God. Like the beggar, it receives everything, but gives nothing.  It rejoices in another, not in itself. Its song is, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but by His mercy He saved us.”

“He was raised again because of our justification” (Rom 4:25) is the clear statement of the word. The resurrection was the visible pledge of the righteousness obtained (and in time imputed by God to all the elect) . The doctrine of our being justified by an infused resurrection-righteousness or, as it is called, justification in arisen Christ, is a clear subversion of the Surety’s work when “He died for our sins, according to the Scriptures,” or when “He washed us from our sins in His own blood,” or when He gave us the robes “washed white in the blood of the Lamb.”

It is the blood that justifies (Rom 5:9). It is the blood that pacifies the conscience, purging it from dead works to serve the living God (Heb 9:14). It is the blood that emboldens us to enter through the veil into the holiest, and go up to the sprinkled mercy-seal It is the blood that we are to drink for the quenching of our thirst (John 6:55). It is the blood by which we have peace with God (Col 1:20). It is the blood through which we have redemption (Eph 1:7), and by which we are sanctified (Heb 13:12). It is the blood which is the seal of the everlasting covenant (Heb 13:20). It is the blood which cleanses (1 John 1:7) and  which gives us victory (Rev 12:11). It is the blood which is the purchase-money or ransom of the church of God (Acts 20:28).

“Christ in us, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27), is a well-known and blessed truth; but Christ IN US, our justification, is a ruinous error, leading man away from a crucified Christ — a Christ crucified FOR US. . The risen Christ in us, our justification, is a  theory which subverts the cross.

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4 Comments on “God Does Not Count Faith as the Righteousness, by Horatius Bonar”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    That is why his faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness.’ But the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 4:22-24)

    Does God count faith as the righteousness? Does God credit our faith (a gift from God to us) as the righteousness which saves us? In chapter 4 of his new P and R book on justification, Vickers describes Romans 4: “Paul contrasts two kinds of counting. In the first, wages are counted as the reward for works; in the second, faith is counted as righteousness. This immediately raises the important question: is faith in Christ a replacement for works? Just as works are rewarded with what is due, is faith rewarded with righteousness? This is not the way Paul describes it. God is contrasting two things, not simply swapping one thing for another thing.”

    Mark: I agree so far. The works are not rewarded with more works. The works are rewarded with wages. The faith is not rewarded with more faith. The faith is not rewarded by God counting the faith as works. But then comes the problem….

    Vickers writes— “God counts one thing for what it is, but the other thing is received by grace AND IS COUNTED FOR SOMETHING ELSE.

    Mark: I agree with the contrast between works and grace, between works and faith. But I disagree that God counts faith as the righteousness. You could say that God “swaps” wages for works, or that God rewards for works, but you should NOT say that God “swaps” faith for righteousness.

    Remember his question: Is faith a replacement for works. Vickers wants to say no to that. But he can’t stay consistent in saying it. Vickers does think that God counts the gift of faith as the righteousness when he says that ( p 76) ‘faith is counted for something else”

    The Second London Baptist Confession (1689) addresses this question: “Those whom God effectually calls He also freely justifies, not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting them as righteous, not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone. They are not justified because God reckons as their righteousness either their faith, their believing, or any other act of evangelical obedience. They are justified wholly and solely because God imputes to them Christ’s righteousness. “

    Vickers on one hand seems to know that God does not count faith as the righteousness. Thus he makes important qualifications. “Faith must not be thought of apart from its object.” Good. “Justification is not because of faith but by faith.” Correct. And then Vickers uses some more confessional language about “instrumental means” of righteousness instead of faith being the righteousness, or being counted as a substitute or an equivalent for the righteousness. And he concludes, “if faith is the righteousness in question, then faith is a work.” (p 77)

    I agree with these qualifications, but they won’t help much because the Arminians and the Neo-nomians (Baxter, new law for righteousness) will all simply explain that faith however is NOT a work, and therefore they will argue that it’s just for God to count faith as the righteousness, and then they will begin to try to describe this faith as faith that works.

    Faith is a work. No, it’s not a work. The debate won’t take you very far. Even if the debate is about if faith comes from fallen man’s freewill contribution, the Calvinist accusation that says “well then it’s a work” does not do much because the Arminians will quickly explain that they never say it’s a work and that they know it’s not a work.

    In his concern about God accepting faith as the righteousness would make faith a work, Vickers is right to contrast faith and works, but he won’t get far as long as HE ALSO AGREES THAT GOD COUNTS SOMETHING (faith) FOR SOMETHING ELSE (righteousness). His reading of “imputation” in chapter 3 has falsely brought in the idea of God counting something for what it is not.

  2. markmcculley Says:

    Not that I care about the word “imputation”. Use count, credit, reckon, declare, as you like, but the meaning comes down to two ideas. One, a simple analytic (forensic) declaration. We count God as just because God is just. God counts what Phinehas did as righteous because it was righteous. So all “imputing” has this “declaring what it is” idea to it. But two, in some cases, there is the idea of God ‘s sharing what belongs to one person or persons with another person or persons.

    Notice, I say, in some cases. In all cases, there is forensic declaring. But in some cases, God creates (appoints, constitutes) a legal solidarity between two persons, so that what one person has also gets used to arrive at a declaring about the second person. So it’s not only judge and defendant, but a third party. In the case of Christ’s righteousness, the righteousness is the wages due to Christ for his work.

    The righteousness of Christ is God’s analytic declaration about what was accomplished in Christ’s death and resurrection. I don’t care if you call this metaphorically Christ’s treasury of wages. The metaphor doesn’t bother me. Salvation is by work, not our works, but by Christ’s work. I don’t care if you accuse this of being “contract talk” and “legalism” (as the Barthians like the Torrances do).

    But it’s not only two parties, but a third party. God imputes sin to all humans when they are born (Christ the God-man excepted). God. Humans. The third party is Adam. And there are not only two parties (God and the elect) but Christ the third party, when His righteousness is imputed by God to the elect.

    Romans 4:6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

    Romans 4:6 does not say the righteousness of Christ, does it? So the “new perspective” says maybe “to whom counts righteousness” only means “ counts righteous” and maybe that only means “justifies”, so there is no legal sharing with a third party.

    If one wants to say that Christ’s death and resurrection have nothing to do with the counting in Romans 4, one can simply deny the third party. Leave Christ Crucified out of it.

  3. markmcculley Says:

    Vickers needs to fix his book by not thinking of imputation as God accepting faith as righteousness. But he won’t get to the bottom of the problem until he starts talking about election and the death of Christ being a particular propitiation only for the elect. He needs to ask himself: whose sins were imputed to Christ? (election) and when were those sins imputed to Christ by whom? (by God, not by sinners, by God before the propitiation, not after faith)

    But Vickers begins badly by quoting Spurgeon on his conversion: “all this is for you”, “great drops of blood for you”. And Vickers can say: well, I didn’t mean everybody, I meant only those who believe.

    But first, what’s wrong with talking about election, if indeed you believe in election? And second, unless you talk about justification of the elect by blood for the elect, you will –if even by silence-agree to the idea that everything is conditioned on faith. And then when it comes out that you agree that, in some sense, God Himself counts faith as the righteousness, you have at the end of the day simply reinforced the idolatry which conditions salvation on what God does in the sinners, instead of what God did in Christ.

    Sure, that’s important but since it was for all, then the decisive thing becomes regeneration in order to have faith. And as we shall see, faith alone gets denied, faith gets redefined, and assurance is held hostage to perseverance not in faith but also in works. Faith gets seen not as empty hands but as the faithfulness which results from our regeneration. And so you join hands in the Southern Baptist Convention with those who say to everybody “the blood is for you”, just so long as they agree with you that regeneration causes the faith which God counts as righteousness.

  4. markmcculley Says:

    George Ella–“Repentance must come first. When God grants repentance, then we may speak of faith in the gospel but not before.”

    John Gill—The gospel is a pure declaration of grace. The gospel has no command but all promises.

    Gill then attempts to escape Acts 17:30 by making it common natural repentance but not gospel repentance. Both Ella and Gill are wrong on there being no command for everybody to believe the gospel.

    John Calvin—Those who think repentance precedes faith instead of flowing from faith as the fruit by the tree (repentance being produced by faith) have never understood the nature of faith.

    Luke 17: 10 “In the same way, when you have done all that you were commanded, you should say, ‘We are good-for-nothing slaves. We have only done our duty.’”

    https://www.christianforums.com/threads/calvin-faith-precedes-regeneration.7731795/


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