Tuesday, August 24, 2010

0 Imputation of Christ's Righteousness: Flavel in The Method of Grace

A dear friend and I read together weekly and discuss reading, most often from John Flavel's works. Today in our passage from The Method of Grace, which is found in his collected works, volume 1, one of the things we came across was the following treatment of Christ's saving benefits, which I found particularly illuminating and edifying. In this particular section (the first sermon in the Method of Grace series) Flavel is expositing 1 Cor. 1:30,

But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.

In this sermon, Flavel goes on to explain these benefits to believers, and makes a clear distinction in terms of the method by which God applies these benefits of Christ to us who believe. He clearly argues (and I'll blog on this later together with some material from John Colquhoun, who I quoted yesterday) for these saving benefits being tied strictly to the union of Christ with His elect people, and then describes God's method of application:
"Prop. 8. Lastly, Although the several privileges and benefits before mentioned are all true and really bestowed with Christ upon believers, yet they are not communicated to them in one and the same day and manner; but differently and divers, as their respective natures do require.

These four illustrious benefits (TKP - namely, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption, a la 1 Cor. 1:30) are conveyed from Christ to us in three different ways and methods; his righteousness is made ours by imputation: his wisdom and sanctification by renovation: his redemption by our glorification." (p. 24, Volume 1, Works of John Flavel)
Warning shot across the bow to the Romanist and legalist... the various saving benefits of Christ are NOT one and the same, and are NOT delivered in the same way. Justification and Sanctification are NOT identical, nor are they applied to believers in the same way - they require different methods of application quite simply because they are different benefits. He continues:
"I know the communication of Christ's righteousness to us by imputations is not only denied, but scoffed at by Papists*; who own no righteousness, but what is (at least) confounded with that which is inherent in us; and for imputative (blasphemously stiled by them putative righteousness, they flatly deny it, and look upon it as a most absurd doctrine, every where endeavouring to load it with these and such like absurdities, That if God imputes Christ's righteousness to the believer, and accepts what Christ has performed for him, as if he had performed it himself; then we may be accounted as righteous as Christ. Then we may be the redeemers of the world. False and groundless consequences; as if a man should say, my debt
is paid by my surety, therefore I am as rich as he.

* a phantom sprung of Luther's brain - Stapleton"

(p. 24, Volume 1,Works of John Flavel)
Don't we hear this objection today, or those like it? If Christ's active obedience - if His righteousness in life - is imputed to us, are we not then encouraging licentiousness? Are we not denying God His right to expect us to obey the Law? Are we then not making ourselves out to be worthy as Christ? I do hear on today the statement made by FV sympathizers that the purpose of Christ's obedience was only to qualify Him as the sacrificial lamb, and therefore that His obedience cannot be imputed to us. (how far off is this from the objection Flavel just attributed to his opponents?) Rather, as the statement I quoted from Colquhoun yesterday argues, this flatly fails when it is considered that all men are bound to obey God perfectly, and that perfect record of obedient living must be ours. Christ obeyed FOR HIS ELECT.

I love the addition of the scoffing comment that Flavel footnotes by Stapleton - imputation of Christ's righteousness is apparently a "phantom sprung of Luther's brain". I guess I'm a Lutheran. (and that accusation is also levied against those who argue for a right appreciation of the Law-Gospel distinction that is a hallmark of classic Reformation orthodoxy)

Of this imputed righteousness, Flavel goes on to comment:
"it is inhesively in him, communicatively it becomes ours, by imputation, the sin of the first Adam becomes ours, and the same way the righteousness of the second Adam becomes ours, Rom. 5: 17. This way the Redeemer became sin for us, and this way we are made the righteousness of God in him, 2 Cor. 5: 21. This way Abraham the father of believers was justified, therefore this way all believers, the children of Abraham, must be justified also, Rom. 4: 22, 23. And thus is Christ's righteousness made ours.

But in conveying, and communicating his wisdom and sanctification, he takes another method, for this is not imputed, but really imparted to us by the illuminating and regenerating work of the Spirit: these are graces really inherent in us: our righteousness comes from Christ as a surety but our holiness comes from him as a quickening head, sending vital influences unto all his

Now these gracious habits being subjected and seated in the souls of poor imperfect creatures, whose corruptions abide and work in the very same faculties where grace has its residence; it cannot be, that our sanctification should be so perfect and complete, as our justification is, which inheres only in Christ. See Gal. 5: 17. Thus are righteousness and sanctification communicated and made ours..." (p. 25, Volume 1,Works of John Flavel)
We've got to understand these things rightly... justification is the declaration of God that we are just before Him- purely declarative, purely an attribution of righteousness that comes ONLY (and CAN come ONLY) by imputation. That righteousness with which we are imputed must be perfect, for that is what God requires - not the righteousness of man, of "genuine" obedience, or of "sincere attempts", but pure, spotless righteousness of the Lamb of God! Because this is the righteousness God requires, it cannot come but by gracious imputation of it - by a pure act of granting it to us, and declaring it upon us by the Holy judge of all.

Sanctification has no part to play in our being declared righteous - it is wholly different, having a wholly different method of application and a wholly different purpose. Flavel speaks to this clearly when he argues that the holiness of sanctification is brought forth in us indeed, but is imperfect, because we are sinful creatures still, and imperfect in our very being. Nevertheless, sanctification is a real grace communicated to believers by the working of the Holy Spirit in us. Progressively we learn the ways of the Lord, and progressively our sin gives way to more righteousness and conformity to the Son of God... this is a progressive work that is not complete this side of Heaven... and again, as such, it cannot be the basis for any declaration of righteousness by God. This must be understood - or we confuse and destroy the message of the Gospel and the message of Christ's work for us and in us.



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