Imputed Righteousness Defended Against its Caricatures
Romans 4:6-8
Even as David also describes the blessedness of the man, to whom God imputes righteousness without works,…

It has been represented as —

I. A LEGAL FICTION. We protest against this if the expression be meant anything unreal or untrue.

1. We make this statement with a limitation because there are some "legal fictions" which are very far from being unreal. It is "a legal fiction" to say that "the king can do no wrong"; for unquestionably in his private and personal capacity he may even be guilty of crime; but in his public and official capacity, as the head of the State, he is held in the law of this country to be irresponsible, and the errors or crimes of the government are imputed to his constitutional advisers, who are regarded, by reason of their official position, as alone answerable for them. It is a "legal fiction" to say that "the king never dies"; for as an individual he cannot escape the doom of the meanest of his subjects; but royalty survives the person of the monarch. It is a "legal fiction" to say that the Commons of England are assembled in Parliament; for they are there only in the persons of their representatives; and yet the whole nation is bound by their acts, and subject to be governed, taxed, fined, and imprisoned, or even put to death, according to their laws. It is a "legal fiction," and a far from seemly one, to speak of the omnipotence of Parliament; yet that irreverent expression contains the important truth that the supreme power, which must exist in every form of government, and from whose judgment there is no appeal, is vested in the legislative and executive authorities of the State. Is constitutional government, therefore, "a legal fiction," in the sense of being unreal or unconnected with grave responsibilities? Or was adoption, according to the Romish Jurisprudence, which regarded one as the son of another in law who was not his son by birth, a "legal fiction," or a privilege of no real worth when it constituted a new relation between those who were not related before, and conveyed a legal right of inheritance? Or is the rule that the wife is one in law with her husband an unreal thing, when it invests him with serious liabilities? These examples should dispel the prejudice which is excited against imputation when it is described as a "legal fiction," since although "legal fictions" they express important truths.

2. Suppose that it were justly described as a "legal fiction" it might still represent an important truth, under the scheme of God's moral government.

(1) If He has promulgated His law in a covenant form, as a law for the race at large, and imposed it on the first Adam as their representative, then that constitution must be productive of results in which they as well as he will be found to participate; and yet these consequences, so far from being mere "legal fictions," are assuredly very solemn realities: the curse on the ground, the doom of death, the loss of God's image, the forfeiture of His favour, and all the evils which have followed in the train of sin, — all these are brought upon us under the operation of that law, and every one of them is real.

(2) In like manner if God has promulgated a scheme of redeeming mercy, and this, too, in a covenant form, through the second Adam as the representative of His people, imposing upon Him the fulfilment of its conditions, and securing to them the benefits of His work on their behalf, then this constitution must be productive of results, in which they as well as He will be found to participate; and yet these results, so far from being "legal fictions," are substantial blessings of the highest and most permanent kind: pardon, the restoration of God's favour, renewal in His image, adoption, eternal life. Hence it is vain to talk of "legal fictions" whether under law or gospel; for while condemnation on the one hand and justification on the other are strictly forensic acts, and must necessarily have some relation to the justice of God, and while the representative character both of the first and second Adam, and the consequent imputation of their guilt and righteousness to those whom they represented, can only be ascribed to the sovereign will of God, yet the results are real and not fictitious.

II. A THEORY invented by man to account for these results. A similar prejudice exists against all the peculiar revelations of Scripture, as if they were matters of speculative interest, rather than of practical importance. Yet nothing is more remarkable in the doctrines of Christianity than this, that every one of them is simply the statement of a fact, and that they all relate either to substantive beings — God, angels, and men, or to real events, past, present, or future. What is the doctrine of God but the revelation of His existence, and of the perfections which belong to Him as the Creator and Governor of the world? What is the doctrine of the Trinity but the statement of a fact respecting the existence of distinct hypostases in His one undivided Godhead. What is the doctrine of the Incarnation but the statement of a fact respecting the union of the Divine and human natures in the Person of our Lord? And in like manner, what is the doctrine of Imputation, whether of sin or righteousness, but the statement of a fact respecting the relation in which we stand to the first or second Adam, and the consequences which result to us from the disobedience of the one, and the obedience of the other? No doubt, when these facts are revealed, and become the subjects of human thought, they may occasion speculation, and speculation may give birth to wild theories, when unrestrained by faith; but let the facts be believed on the testimony of the Revealer, let them be duly realised in their full Scriptural meaning, and in their application to our own souls — and we may safely discard every human theory, and adhere only to the truth as it has been taught by God.

(R. Buchanan, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,

WEB: Even as David also pronounces blessing on the man to whom God counts righteousness apart from works,

How Does the Non-Imputation of Sin Involve and Imply the Imputation of Righteousness
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