Monday, March 3, 2008

Preaching Imputation

Tobias Crisp (1600-1643), whose posthumously published sermons became associated with antinomianism, had argued in a sermon on Isaiah 53:6 that it was not merely sin’s punishment which the Lord laid upon Christ but sin itself, that is, both the guilt and punishment of sin. This was a fairly standard view of imputation among the Reformed orthodox. Liability to guilt and punishment are so interlinked that the imputation of one entailed the imputation of the other. Crisp is in good company here. Consider, however, the following statements by Crisp asserted on the basis of such an imputation.

"Christ himself becomes the transgressor in the room and stead of this person that had transgressed: so that in respect of the reality of being a transgressor, Christ is as really the transgressor as the person that did commit it was a transgressor before Christ took this transgression upon him.” (Christ Alone Exalted, II, 82) Commenting on Christ being made sin in 2 Corinthians 5:21, Crisp was careful to qualify that the Apostle Paul was in no way referring to sin’s pollution of Christ’s essence nor was he suggesting that Christ performed any sinful act. Nevertheless, he insisted that Christ was a transgressor: “the Apostle’s meaning was, that no transgressor in the world was such a transgressor as Christ was. But still he was a transgressor, as our transgressions were laid upon him…” (Christ Alone Exalted, II, 84).

On the other side of the imputation equation, Crisp reasoned, “If you will speak of one completely righteous, you must speak of this person, and know that Christ himselfe is not more righteous than this person is, that that person is not more sinfull then Christ was when hee took their sinnes on him…”; by the one sacrifice of Christ, “he hath perfected them that are sanctified.” (Christ Alone Exalted, II, 90)

Remember that these statements of Crisp were made in his preaching. Owen was, of course, not capable of such unqualified assertions! And so he cautions with his characteristic distinctions.

“When our sin was imputed unto him [Christ], he did not thereby become a sinner as we are, actively and inherently a sinner; but passively only, and in God’s estimation. As he was made sin, yet knew no sin; so we are made righteous, yet are sinful in ourselves.” (Doctrine of Justification, XVIII)

“To say that we are as righteous as Christ, is to make a comparison between the personal righteousness of Christ and our personal righteousness, — if the comparison be of things of the same kind. But this is foolish and impious: for, notwithstanding all our personal righteousness, we are sinful; he knew no sin. And if the comparison be between Christ’s personal, inherent righteousness, and righteousness imputed unto us, inhesion and imputation being things of diverse kinds, it is fond and of no consequence. Christ was actively righteous; we are passively so.” (Doctrine of Justification, XVIII)

The comparison between Crisp and Owen is not exactly on the same level. Crisp's language is kerygmatic while Owen's is academic and used in the context of theological polemics. Yet if one is to preach imputation with all the cautions of Owen in place, I wonder how might that language sound?


Chris Ross said...

Thanks, Edwin. Crisp's language goes just a little further than I'm comfortable with.

This very issue came up in a church meeting I was in last week. One of the attendees (an elderly gentleman) was remarking on the wonder that "Christ actually became sin."

Does Scripture tell us that Christ really became sin, or merely that he took the weight of the penalty of sin upon himself? What's the Greek term used in 2 Cor. 5:21 -- can't it be interpreted as 'sin offering'?

Thanks for your work!

Edwin Tay said...

Chris, I'm with you on Crisp. It is less problematic theologically to speak of Christ as having been treated as if he was a sinner (e.g. in the case of imputation) than to say that he really was one. Great care has to be taken as to the choice of words when preaching from 2 Cor 5.21. I wonder what Crisp's congregation thought about that sermon?

The Greek is αμαρτιαν εποιησεν. Relating it to the priestly framework, some have indeed understood it to mean that Christ was made a sin offering. Others prefer the judicial setting and understand it to mean that Christ was made sin by imputation. These are complimentary readings that need not be set against each other. The 17th century English and Dutch Annotations affirm the validity of both on 2 Cor 5.21.

Chris Ross said...

Thanks, Edwin. So it could be interpreted as sin alone, or as sin offering.

I remember reading about Crisp when I was researching the antinomians during my MTh year. I did a paper on Thomas Gataker, who did battle with the antinomians on several occasions.

Take care!

Anonymous said...

Antinomianism was the term applied to the teaching of Dr. Tobias Crisp. Crisp had been an Arminian, but became an ardent Calvinist, going, perhaps, a little beyond Calvin in some things. He died in 1642, and his sermons were published by his son forty-five years after his death. They were printed from short-hand notes compared with Dr. Crisp's own notes, and therefore were lacking in that correctness and finish which the author's own hand would have given them. This will account for the crudeness of some of his expressions. He was a man of strong faith, ardent zeal, holy life, and great devotion and faithfulness in his ministerial work. He was called an Antinomian, but the term was misapplied. Many of his statements, however, while they will readily admit of an orthodox sense, lie open to the charge of going beyond the truth.
The publication of his sermons awoke a fierce controversy, which lasted some years, and did much mischief. Dr. Williams exposed what he considered the errors and erroneous tendency of some of his utterances; and even John Flavel was among those who denounced his teaching as erroneous and Antinomian. There need not have been such an outcry. The books written against Crisp, many of them good in their way, had the effect of frightening the timid, the doubtful, and the hesitating, who, to avoid Crispianism, as it was called, went as far as they could to the opposite extreme. They verged upon Arminianism, and some actually became Arminians. The Arminianism of that day was a cold, dry, heartless thing, and many who took that name proved that they were already on "the down grade" towards Socinianism.

From the Downgrade March 1887,


Edwin Tay said...

hi James, thanks for that quote from Spurgeon. I too will be hesitant to label Crisp antinomian. Here's another from the Prince of Preachers.

"My predecessor, Dr. Gill, edited the works of Tobias Crisp, but Tobias Crisp went further than Dr. Gill or any of us can approve; for in one place Crisp calls Christ a sinner, though he does not mean that he ever sinned himself. He actually calls Christ a transgressor, and justifies himself by that passage, "He was numbered with the transgressors." Martin Luther is reputed to have broadly said that, although Jesus Christ was sinless, yet he was the greatest sinner that ever lived, because all the sins of his people lay upon him. Now, such expressions I think to be unguarded, if not profane. Certainly Christian men should take care that they use not language which, by the ignorant and uninstructed, may be translated to mean what they never intended to teach." (Christ - Our Substitute, Sermon No. 310) Substitute).

Anonymous said...

Personally I have found Crisp a joy to read. Dr. John Gill republished Crisp's sermons with his notes.


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