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Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) on the True Meaning of Imputation (Part 1)

October 28, 2009




Jan. 8, 1803.

My DEAR Brother, While Mr. B[ooth] refuses to give any explanation of his conduct, there can be no intercourse between me and him. I have no objection to give the most explicit answers in my power to the questions on Imputation and Substitution. I shall therefore address them to you ; and you are at liberty to show them to whom you please.

To impute1 signifies, in general, to charge, reckon, or place to account, according lo the different objects to which it is applied. This word, like many others, has a proper and a figurative meaning.

First: It is applied to the charging, reckoning, or placing to the account of persons and things THAT WHICH PROPERLY BELONGS TO THEM. This, of course, is its proper meaning. In this sense the word is used in the following passages:–” Eli thought that she (Hannah) had been drunken.”–” Hanan and Mattaniah, the treasurers, were counted faithful.”–” Let a man so account of us as the ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.”–” Let such a one think this, that such as we are in word by letters, when we are absent, such will we be also in deed, when we are present.”–”I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.”2

Reckoning or accounting, here, is no other than forming an estimate of persons and things, according to what they are, or appear to be. To impute sin, in this sense, is to charge guilt upon the guilty in a judicial way, with a view to his being punished for it. Thus Shimei besought David that his iniquity might not be imputed to him. Thus the man is pronounced blessed to whom the Lord imputes not iniquity: and thus Paul prayed that the sin of those who deserted him might not be laid to their charge.3

In this sense, the term is ordinarily used in common life. To impute treason or any other crime to a man is the same thing as charging him with having committed it, and with a view to his being punished.

Secondly : It is applied to the charging, reckoning, or placing to the account of persons and things, THAT WHICH DOES NOT PROPERLY BELONG TO THEM, AS THOUGH IT DID. This, of course, is its figurative meaning. In this sense the word is used in the following passages:–” And this your heave-offering shall be reckoned unto you as though it were the corn of the threshing-floor, and as the fullness of the wine-press.”–” Wherefore hides thou thy face, and hold me for thine enemy?–”If the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?”–”If he hath wronged thee, or owes thee aught, put that on my account.4

It is thus I understand the term, when applied to justification. “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.–To him that works not, but believeth on Him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted unto him for righteousness.”–Rom. iv. 3, 5. I do not suppose that ” faith ” in these passages means the righteousness of the Messiah; for it is expressly called “believing.” It means believing, however, not as a virtuous exercise of the mind, which God consented to accept by a composition, taking a part for the whole; but as having respect to the promised Messiah, and so to his righteousness, as the ground of acceptance. Justification is ascribed to faith as healing frequently is in the New Testament; not as that which imparted the benefit, but that which afforded occasion to the great physician to exercise his power and mercy. But, if it were allowed that faith, in these passages, means the object believed in, still this was not Abraham’s own righteousness; and could not be properly imputed, or counted, by Him who judges of things as they are, as being so. It was reckoned to him as if it were his, and the ffects or benefits were actually transferred to him ; but this was all. Abraham did not become meritorious, or cease to be unworthy. “What is it else to set our righteousness in the obedience of Christ,” says Calvin, “but to affirm that hereby only we are accounted righteous, because the obedience of Christ is imputed to us, as if it were our own? “–Inst. B. iii. ch. xi. § 23.

It is thus also that I understand the imputation of sin to Christ. He was made sin for us, in the same sense as we are made the righteousness of God in him. He was accounted in the divine administration AS IF HE WERE, OR HAD BEEN, the sinner; that those who believe on him might be accounted as if they were, OR HAD BEEN, righteous.

Mr. B. charges me with having explained the phrase “made sin” made a sacrifice. I have already said that what I asked him was purely for information. Considering his answer as worthy of attention, I have since endeavored to form a decided opinion on the passage, and to give what he advanced its due weight. I perceive that many able writers, and among them Dr. Owen, understand the term amartia in this5 as in many other places, of a ” sin-offering,” and I must say I see no force in the objection that it sounds incongruous to say Christ was “made punishment,” or ” made suffering;” for the same objection might be brought against the express words of the prophet–” When thou shall make his soul an offering for sin.” The genius of our language does not allow us to say of any one, “he was made suffering;” but it allows us to say, ” he was made an offering for sin,” which was suffering.6

The other reasons, however, which Mr.B. suggested, determine my mind to consider amartia, in this place, as meaning sin itself, and not the penal effects of it. I doubt not but that the allusion is to the sin-offering under the law, but not to its being made a sacrifice. Let me explain myself.–There were two things belonging to the sin-offering: 1. The imputation of the sins of the people, signified by the priest’s laying his hands on the head of the animal, and confessing over it their transgressions, and which is called ” putting them upon it” (Lev. xvi.21)-, that is, it was counted in the divine administration as if it had been the sinner, and the only sinner of the nation. 2. Making it a sacrifice, or ” killing it before the Lord for an atonement.”–Lev. i. 4, 5. Now the phrase made sin, in 2 Cor. v. 21, appears to refer to the first step in this process, in order to the last. It is expressive of what was preparatory to Christ’s suffering of death, rather than of the thing itself; just as our being made righteousness expresses what was preparatory to God’s bestowing upon us eternal life.

But the verb epoiesen, made, is not to be taken literally; for that would convey the idea of Christ being really the subject of moral evil, which none contend for. It is expressive of a divine constitution, by which our Redeemer with his own consent stood in the sinner’s place, as though he had been himself the transgressor; just as the sin-offering under the law was, in mercy to Israel, reckoned, or accounted, to have the sins of the people ” put upon its head.” Thus he was made that sin which he knew not, and which is properly opposed to the righteousness of God, which we are i in him. But this, it will be said, is not a “real and proper ” imputation. True: nor is such an imputation maintained, I should think, by Mr. B. any more than by me. A real and proper imputation, unless I have mistaken the meaning of the term, is that in which there is no transfer of any kind; and, if applied to Christ, would amount to a charge of his having actually committed sin.

Mr. B. further argued thus :–”If Christ had not died as a substitute–if sin, sin itself, had not really been imputed to him, he could not have been made a curse for us.” All this is freely admitted, save what respects the term “really,” against which my objection is already stated.–”Nor could he have been punished,” he adds, ” in our stead by eternal justice; for though an innocent person may suffer, yet, properly speaking, there cannot be punishment where there is no guilt, either personally contracted or imputed.” If this sentence had ended with the word “guilt,” I should have fully admitted it. Guilt imputed is not properly opposed to guilt contracted. The term ” imputed” is here used for “transferred,” to which it is not synonymous. But we are perplexed here by affixing different ideas to the same term. I will endeavor to define my own, and then attend to the thing signified. By sin I mean transgression; by guilt, desert of punishment for having transgressed:7 and by punishment the infliction of evil upon the guilty, in displeasure against him. It is the opposite of reward, which is the bestowment of favor upon the obedient, in token of approbation of his conduct. Finally: Imputation ought not to be confounded with transfer. In its proper sense, we have seen there is no transfer pertaining to it. In its figurative sense, as applied to justification, it is righteousness itself that is imputed; but its effects only are transferred. So also in respect of sin: sin itself is the object of imputation; but neither this nor guilt is strictly speaking transferred, for neither of them is a transferable object. As all that is transferred in the imputation of righteousness is its beneficial effects, so all that is transferred in the imputation of sin is its penal effects. To say that Christ was reckoned or counted in the divine administration as if he were the sinner, and came under an obligation to endure the curse for us, is one thing; but to say that he deserved the curse is another. To speak of his being guilty by imputation is the same thing, in my ear, as to say he was criminal or wicked by imputation; which, if taken improperly, for his being reckoned as if he were so, is just; but if properly, for his being so, is inadmissible. Guilt is the inseparable attendant of transgression.8 If Christ by imputation became deserving of punishment, we by non-imputation cease to deserve it; and, if our demerits be literally transferred to him, his merits must of course be the same to us : and then, instead of approaching God as guilty and unworthy, we might take consequence to ourselves before him, as not only guiltless, but meritorious beings.

As to Christ’s being punished, I have no doubt, and never had, of his sufferings being penal, any more than I have of our salvation being a reward: but, as the latter is not a reward to us, so I question whether the former can properly be said to be a punishment to Him. What he bore was punishment, that is, the expression of divine displeasure against transgressors, in whose place he stood: so what we enjoy is reward, that is, the expression of God’s well-pleasedness in the obedience and death of his Son: but neither is the one a punishment to Him, nor the other a reward to us.

There appears to me great accuracy in the Scripture phraseology on this subject. What our Savior underwent is commonly expressed by the term sufferings. Once it is called a chastisement: yet there he is not said to have been chastised, but “the chastisement of our peace was upon him.” This is the same as saying. He bore our punishment, He was made a curse for us: that is, having been reckoned or accounted the sinner, as though he had actually been so, he was treated accordingly, as one that had deserved to be an outcast from heaven and earth. I believe the wrath of God that was due to us was poured upon him; but I do not believe that God for one moment was angry or displeased with him, or that he smote him from any such displeasure. “It behooved him,” says Calvin, “that he should as it were hand to hand wrestle with the armies of hell and the horrors of eternal death. ‘ The chastisement of our peace was laid upon him.” He was stricken of his Father for our sins, and bruised for our iniquities: whereby is meant that he was put in the stead of wicked doers, as a surety and pledge; yea, and as the very guilty person himself, to abide and suffer all the punishment that should have been laid upon them. Yet do we not mean that God was at any time his enemy, or angry with him. For how could he be angry with his beloved Son, upon whom his mind rested 1 or how could Christ by his intercession appease his Father’s wrath towards others, if, full of hatred, he had been bent against himself? But this is our meaning: That he suffered the grievousness of God’s rigor; for that he, being stricken and tormented by the hand of God, DID FEEL ALL THE TOKENS OF GOD WHEN HE IS ANGRY AND PUNISHES” Inst. B. II. Ch. xvi. § 10, 11.

I remember Mr. B. once said to me, ” Christ was not made sin by participation; but he was every thing excepting this.” Herein I perfectly agree. When it is allowed that he was accounted as the sinner, yea, as the greatest of all sinners, as though he had been made up of sin itself every thing is allowed short of a participation in sin. If it be not, however, it lies upon him to point out a possible medium between his being treated as though he were a transgressor and his actually being one.

Andrew Fuller, The Complete Works of Rev. Andrew Fuller with a Memoir of his Life. By Andrew Gunton Fuller in two Volumes (Boston: Gould, Kendall and Lincoln, 1836), 1:669-672 / Andrew Fuller, “Six Letters to Dr. Ryland Respecting The Controversy with the Rev. A. Booth: Letter III on Substitution,” in The Works of Andrew Fuller (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1988), 2:?-706 [Italics original; underlining mine; footnote reference to John Owen (added by editor) not included; and bracketed insert mine .]

[Note: One of the biggest hindrance to embracing the classic Calvinist position on the satisfaction of Christ is due to a fundamental misunderstanding regarding the doctrine of imputation. Many modern Calvinists have a conception of imputation which entails a quantitative imputation of sins (sins as seen quantifiable collection or accumulation) which are then transferred to Christ. This assumption is often implicit and tacit in the invocation of the double-payment/double jeopardy fallacy.  This confusion was evident in Booth’s inability to correctly grasp Fuller’s doctrine of imputation.]


1bvx and logizomai

21 Sam. i. 13. Neh. xiii. 13. 1 Cor. iv. 1 2 Cor. X. 11. Rom. viii. 18.

32 Sam. xix. 19. Psalm xxxii. 2. 2 Tim. iv. 16.

4Num. xviii. 27–30. Job xiii. 24. Rom ii. 26.

Philemon 18.

5In the MS. from which this was printed (and which was corrected by Mr. F.) the following sentence, in reference t o the above remark, appears in the hand-writing of Mr. Booth:– ” In his book against Biddle he does; but the reverse in a book published some years after on Justification, Ch. XVIII.”–ED.

6peri amartia in Rom. viii. 3, seems to mean an offering for sin; as it certainly does, Heb. x.8.

7Some have defined guilt an obligation to punishment; but a voluntary obligation to endure the

punishment of another is not guilt, any more than a consequent exemption from obligation in the offender

is innocence. Both guilt and innocence, though transferable in their effects, are themselves untransferable.

8This is admitted by Dr. Crisp, who on this ground argues his point, that Christ was really the sinner, or guilt could not have been charged upon him.– Sermons, p. 272.

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