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This is what the apostle calls "imputed" righteousness (Romans 4:6,8,11,22,24), or righteousness so reckoned to us by God, as that we are entitled to all the blessings which that righteousness can obtain for us. Righteousness got up by ourselves, or put into us by another, we call infused, or imparted, or inherent righteousness; but righteousness belonging to another reckoned to us by God as if it were our own, we call imputed righteousness. It is of this that the apostle speaks when he says, "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 13:14; Galatians 3:27). Thus Christ represents us: and God deals with us as represented by Him. Righteousness within will follow necessarily and inseparably; but we are not to wait in order to get it before going to God for the righteousness of His only begotten Son.
Imputed righteousness must come first. You cannot have the righteousness within—until you have the righteousness without; and to make your own righteousness the price which you give to God for that of His Son—is to dishonor Christ, and to deny His cross. The Spirit's work is not to make us holy, in order that we may be pardoned; but to show us the cross, where the pardon is to be found by the unholy; so that having found the pardon there, we may begin the life of holiness to which we are called.
That which God presents to the sinner, is an immediate pardon, "Not by works of righteousness which we have done," but by the great work of righteousness finished for us by the Substitute. Our qualification for obtaining that righteousness, is that we are unrighteous; just as the sick man's qualification for the physician, is that he is sick.
Of a previous goodness, preparatory to pardon, the gospel says nothing. Of a preliminary state of religious feeling, as a necessary introduction to the grace of God, the apostles never spoke. Fears, troubles, self-questionings, bitter cries for mercy, forebodings of judgment, and resolutions of amendment, may, in point of time, have preceded the sinner's reception of the good news; but they did not constitute his fitness, nor make up his qualification. He would have been quite as welcome without them. They did not make the pardon more complete, more gracious, or more free. The sinner's needs were all his arguments: "God be merciful to me—a sinner." He needed salvation, and he went to God for it, and got it just because he needed it, and because God delights in saving the poor and needy. He needed pardon, and he went to God for it, and obtained it without merit or money. "When he had nothing to pay, God graciously forgave." It was the having nothing to pay—which drew out God's gracious forgiveness.
Ah, this is grace! "This is love, not that we loved God—but that He loved us!" He loved us, even when we were dead in sins. He loved us, not because we were rich in goodness—but because He was "rich in mercy"; not because we were worthy of His favor—but because He delighted in loving-kindness. His welcome to us comes from His own graciousness, not from our lovableness.
–Horatius Bonar, "How Shall I Go to God?"
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