We noted a few days ago that the London Baptist Confession of Faith (LBCF) of 1689 very clearly asserts the unified righteousness of Christ. What I mean by this phrase is that one cannot cut the righteousness of Christ our divine substitute into sub-parts while maintaining the whole: while everyone can and should distinguish between the active and passive obedience of Christ (obviously, His perfect life can be distinguished from his perfect death, but not separated therefrom), if our union with Christ by the electing decree of God is complete so that we have His unified righteousness not just a part of it. Just as we must distinguish between the divine and the human in Christ, we are precluded by the unity of His person from dividing them up so as to make two persons. The Incarnation creates one divine Person with two natures; likewise it produced one perfect righteousness which cannot be divided up into “that which only Christ has and the elect do not receive” and “the portion given to believers.” There is no question of our union with Him in His death, but if our union is only in His death then whence is our life? Does this not make our union with Christ an almost temporary addition rather than a true union? So, when I speak of the unified righteousness of Christ, I am referring to His righteousness in the fulness expressed by the entirety of His incarnate life and death, echoing the emphasis found in Paul in the Carmen Christi:
And having entered into human existence,
He humbled Himself
By becoming obedient to the point of death,
Even the death one dies on a cross!
Is the obedience Christ showed up to the point of death irrelevant or unnecessary? Or was it merely preparatory?
Well, we noted the LBCF affirms, explicitly, the unified righteousness of Christ as that which is imputed to the believer. We have been looking at Mark Seifrid’s comments in his book, Christ, Our Righteousness. Yes, Seifrid has made further comments on this issue in the newly released work, Justification: What’s at Stake in the Current Debates (Husbands/Treier, IVP 2004), and we will get to those, but we have to start with the fuller treatment before discussing the follow-ups. At one point Seifrid writes,
It is better to say with Paul that our righteousness is found, not in us, but in Christ crucified and risen. The Westminster Confession (and that of my own institution) puts the matter nicely when it speaks of â€˜receiving and resting on [Christ] and his righteousness by faithâ€™. (175)
What caught my attention was the statement concerning the WCF and that of Seifrid’s own institution, that being Southern Seminary. The doctrinal norm for Southern is the Abstract of Principles (see it here on the Southern Seminary website). Here is what it says about justification:
Justification is God’s gracious and full acquittal of sinners, who believe in Christ, from all sin, through the satisfaction that Christ has made; not for anything wrought in them or done by them; but on account of the obedience and satisfaction of Christ, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith.
Now, did both the WCF and the Abstract have in mind the imputation of the unified righteousness of Christ (i.e., active and passive obedience)? It surely seems to be the case. The Westminster Longer Catechism says,
WLC 70 What is justification? A. Justification is an act of God’s free grace unto sinners, in which he pardoneth all their sins, accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in his sight; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone.
WLC 71 How is justification an act of God’s free grace? A. Although Christ, by his obedience and death, did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God’s justice in the behalf of them that are justified, yet in as much as God accepteth the satisfaction from a surety, which he might have demanded of them and did provide this surety, his own only Son, imputing his righteousness to them, and requiring nothing of them for their justification but faith, which also is his gift, their justification is to them of free grace.
But in the case of the Abstract of Principles, we have the clear words of one of those most responsible for them. James Petigru Boyce was one of the founding professors of Southern Seminary. His Abstract of Systematic Theology (1887) is still a very useful resource. He discusses justification in chapter 35. There, on page 399, we read,
(b) Our justification is due also to the active obedience of Christ, and not to passive obedience only.
1. Righteousness involves character, conduct and action, even more than suffering endured as penalty. The sinlessness of Christ is therefore plainly taught, and especially in connection with imputation. 2 Cor. 5:21.
2. The gracious salvation he brings is said to establish the law.
3. He assures us, that he came to fulfill the law. Matt. 5:17.
4. The obedience of Christ is not only contrasted with the disobedience of Adam, but is declared to be the means by which many shall be made righteous. Rom. 5:19.
It thus appears, that the ground of justification is the whole meritorious work of Christ. Not his sufferings and death only, but his obedience to, and conformity with the divine law are involved in the justification, which is attained by the believer. The question is here sometimes asked, how the active obedience of Christ can avail to us, when he was himself a man and under the law, and owed obedience personally on his own behalf. The answer to this is twofold, in each case depending upon the doctrine of the incarnation of the Son of God. On the one hand, the position was one voluntarily assumed by the Son of God. He was under no obligation to become man. He was not, and could not be made man without his own consent. In thus voluntarily coming under the law, his obedience would have merit to secure all the blessings connected to the covenant, under which he assumed such relation. But besides this, the fulfilment of the law would not simply be that fulfilment due by a mere man, which is all the law could demand of him on his own behalf, so that the merit secured is that due to the Son of God, thus as man rendering obedience to the law. That merit is immeasurable and is available for all for whom he was the substitute.
It seems, then, that what the Abstract of Principles meant by “receiving and resting on [Christ] and his righteousness by faith” was significantly fuller than Seifrid’s suggested understanding.
Update 12/30/2014: This review eventually became a major series of posts. For those interested in reading the entire series in order I post the links below. RP
Dr. Seifrid on Imputation July 9, 2004
More in Response to Southern Seminary Professor’s Denial of Imputed Righteousness July 9, 2004
Continuing Review of Mark Seifrid’s Views on the Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness July 11, 2004
An Interesting Expansion in the LBCF, 1689 July 27, 2004
The Abstract of Principles on Justification July 30, 2004
The Imputation Controversy August 25, 2004
Imputation Controversy #2 August 26, 2004
Why I Care About “Christ, our Righteousness” August 28, 2004
Imputation Controversy #3 August 30, 2004
Southern Seminary and Dr. Mark Seifrid September 4, 2004
A Response to Southern Seminary and Dr. Mark Seifrid September 4, 2004
Listen to Today’s DL for a Full Discussion of the SBTS/Seifrid/Imputation Issue September 7, 2004
From the 1994 WTJ September 7, 2004
A Word of Rebuke to the Firebrands September 8, 2004
And Verily It Got Nuttier September 11, 2004
Yes, I Have a Copy, Thank You September 13, 2004
An Open Letter to Dr. Mark Seifrid (Part 1) September 14, 2004
Seifrid Response, Part II September 15, 2004
Seifrid Response, Part III September 18, 2004
Open Letter to Mark Seifrid, Part IV September 21, 2004
Open Letter to Mark Seifrid, Part V October 2, 2004
If I Misrepresented Dr. Seifrid, then…. December 3, 2004