I just happened to be reading another important passage in Calvin's Institutes (Book 3: Chapter 11) - the chapter which he speaks most 'definitively' on the doctrine of Justification - and was struck by the fact Calvin appears to never have believed in "double imputation" (which would make sense if he didn't believe in Christ's "Active Obedience"). Rather than stating justification consists in the imputation of Christ's Active Obedience to us and our sins being imputed to Christ, as 'traditional' Reformed orthodoxy would have it, it appears Calvin limited justification to the forgiveness of sins only. And the most interesting thing I found is that Calvin's own arguments can be used to refute Confessional Reformed soteriology.
For the rest of this article, I will quote from relevant passages from 3:11 of the Institutes and comment upon them, showing why I'm claiming Calvin didn't believe in "double-imputation".
1 ... The whole [idea encompassed in the previous chapter] may be thus summed up: Christ given to us by the kindness of God is apprehended and possessed by faith, by means of which we obtain in particular a twofold benefit; first, being reconciled by the righteousness of Christ, God becomes, instead of a judge, an indulgent Father; and, secondly, being sanctified by his Spirit, we aspire to integrity and purity of life. This second benefit—viz. regeneration, appears to have been already sufficiently discussed.So the receiving of "Christ's Righteousness" grants two benefits: reconciliation and regeneration. As he continues, it will become clear that all Calvin means by "reconciliation" is forgiveness of sins, which is what causes one to appear righteous before God, not some imputation of Christ's "Active Obedience".
2 ...A man is said to be justified in the sight of God when in the judgment of God he is deemed righteous, and is accepted on account of his righteousness; for as iniquity is abominable to God, so neither can the sinner find grace in his sight, so far as he is and so long as he is regarded as a sinner. Hence, wherever sin is, there also are the wrath and vengeance of God. He, on the other hand, is justified who is regarded not as a sinner, but as righteous, and as such stands acquitted at the judgment-seat of God, where all sinners are condemned. As an innocent man, when charged before an impartial judge, who decides according to his innocence, is said to be justified by the judge, as a man is said to be justified by God when, removed from the catalogue of sinners, he has God as the witness and assertor of his righteousness.Notice that for Calvin, to be 'justified' one needs to be free of sin - but notice that he does not add the need for perfect obedience also to one's record. In other words, when one's sin is dealt with, they're innocent, and the judge looks at this innocence and declares them righteous. The "double imputation" crowd teaches that man being free of sin only stands 'neutral' before God, and needs a record of perfect obedience added to attain the 'status' of righteous. From the outset of Calvin's definition, he is already showing no signs of supporting double imputation.
2 ... In the same manner, a man will be said to be justified by works, if in his life there can be found a purity and holiness which merits an attestation of righteousness at the throne of God, or if by the perfection of his works he can answer and satisfy the divine justice. On the contrary, a man will be justified by faith when, excluded from the righteousness of works, he by faith lays hold of the righteousness of Christ, and clothed in it appears in the sight of God not as a sinner, but as righteous. Thus we simply interpret justification, as the acceptance with which God receives us into his favor as if we were righteous; and we say that this justification consists in the forgiveness of sins and the imputation of the righteousness of Christ (see sec. 21 and 23).This is popularly referred to by those who advocate for double imputation in Calvin, but as we proceed through the chapter, it seems he either becomes inconsistent or meant something else. Even in what is said here, there is not a direct parallel made from the man "justified by works" and the man "justified by faith" - in the former, the man has no sin, but has perfect obedience; in the latter, the man is a sinner and needs to be seen as not a sinner. The question is, to be justified does this individual merely need to be seen no longer as a sinner, or does he also need a perfect obedience imputed? To me, Calvin seems to favor the former, particular in how he defines "justification".
From this we will see the emergence of the primary problem: making the word "justify" mean 'forgive and impute perfect obedience' versus making the word "justify" mean "simply forgive." This is very significant, because it would result in an equivocation with the term justify if such a thing were not kept consistent.
3. … In regard to the use of the term ["justify"] with reference to the present subject, when Paul speaks of the Scripture, “foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith,” (Gal. 3:8), what other meaning can you give it than that God imputes righteousness by faith? Again, when he says, “that he (God) might be just, and the justifier of him who believeth in Jesus,” (Rom. 3:26), what can the meaning be, if not that God, in consideration of their faith, frees them from the condemnation which their wickedness deserves? This appears still more plainly at the conclusion, when he exclaims, “Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us” (Rom. 8:33, 34). For it is just as if he had said, Who shall accuse those whom God has acquitted? Who shall condemn those for whom Christ pleads? To justify, therefore, is nothing else than to acquit from the charge of guilt, as if innocence were proved. Hence, when God justifies us through the intercession of Christ, he does not acquit us on a proof of our own innocence, but by an imputation of righteousness, so that though not righteous in ourselves, we are deemed righteous in Christ. Thus it is said, in Paul’s discourse in the Acts, “Through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins; and by him all that believe are justified from all things from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses,” (Acts 13:38, 39). You see that after remission of sins justification is set down by way of explanation; you see plainly that it is used for acquittal; you see how it cannot be obtained by the works of the law; you see that it is entirely through the interposition of Christ; you see that it is obtained by faith; you see, in fine, that satisfaction intervenes, since it is said that we are justified from our sins by Christ. Thus when the publican is said to have gone down to his house “justified,” (Luke 18:14), it cannot be held that he obtained this justification by any merit of works. All that is said is, that after obtaining the pardon of sins he was regarded in the sight of God as righteous. He was justified, therefore, not by any approval of works, but by gratuitous acquittal on the part of God. Hence Ambrose elegantly terms confession of sins “legal justification,” (Ambrose on Psalm 118 Serm. 10).Notice the repeated reference to popular justification passages, yet the frequent claim that these relate to forgiveness of sins, not to an additional 'perfect obedience'. He even claims the imputation of righteousness as the grounds for forgiveness and our innocence, not the grounds for an (additional) 'active obedience'.
4 ... In the fourth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, he first terms it [justification] the imputation of righteousness, and hesitates not to place it in forgiveness of sins: “Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven,” &c. (Rom. 4:6-8). There, indeed, he is not speaking of a part of justification, but of the whole. He declares, moreover, that a definition of it was given by David, when he pronounced him blessed who has obtained the free pardon of his sins. Whence it appears that this righteousness of which he speaks is simply opposed to judicial guilt. But the most satisfactory passage on this subject is that in which he declares the sum of the Gospel message to be reconciliation to God, who is pleased, through Christ, to receive us into favor by not imputing our sins (2 Cor. 5:18-21). Let my readers carefully weigh the whole context. For Paul shortly after adding, by way of explanation, in order to designate the mode of reconciliation, that Christ who knew no sin was made sin for us, undoubtedly understands by reconciliation nothing else than justification. Nor, indeed, could it be said, as he elsewhere does, that we are made righteous “by the obedience” of Christ (Rom. 5:19), were it not that we are deemed righteous in the sight of God in him and not in ourselves.Now, many would latch onto quotes such as those in the very last sentence above in 'support' of double-imputation, but taking the whole context into consideration, Calvin's argument remains steady and pretty explicit: quoting two major texts, Romans 4:6-8 and 2 Corinthians 5:19-21, he plainly says the entirety of justification is contained, and that this consists in the forgiveness of sins, reconciliation, etc.
This, to me, is one of the most potent passages of all, and any Protestant arguing that justification entails the need of a 'positive imputation' and not simply a 'negative imputation' will have to deal with Calvin's fine exegesis. In talking the way he does, he has effectively refuted most Confessionally Reformed Protestants.
Over the next few sections, Calvin shifts his focus a bit to talk about various "errors" of Osiander (e.g. that righteousness is not an infused quality, that faith isn't considered as having intrinsic value but rather an 'empty hand', that justification is purely forensic, etc, which he's wrong about, but that's not the focus of this post). Within his 'tangent' against his 'opponent' Osiander, Calvin makes comments such as the following:
6. … For, in the whole of this discussion, the noun righteousness and the verb to justify, are extended by Osiander to two parts; to be justified being not only to be reconciled to God by a free pardon, but also to be made just; and righteousness being not a free imputation, but the holiness and integrity which the divine essence dwelling in us inspires. And he vehemently asserts (see sec. 8) that Christ is himself our righteousness, not in so far as he, by expiating sins, appeased the Father, but because he is the eternal God and life.What Osiander describes is similar to Catholicism, but what is key here is that Calvin says Osiander errs by extending justification beyond "reconciled to God by a free pardon" (i.e. forgiveness of sins), but falsely 'adding' being made inwardly just. And, moreover, he claims Osiander denies Christ being our righteousness in regards to "expiating our sins" to appease the Father and rather makes it mean something else. Again and again, the focus on imputation, righteousness, justification, and other such terms, to Calvin, mean forgiveness, acquittal of guilt, etc. There is no room nor mention of the need for 'more'.
8 ... For though God alone is the fountain of righteousness, and the only way in which we are righteous is by participation with him, yet, as by our unhappy revolt we are alienated from his righteousness, it is necessary to descend to this lower remedy, that Christ may justify us by the power of his death and resurrection.In summarizing the orthodox view against Osiander, Calvin shows Christ's work for our justification was through His Death and Resurrection - not a hint of 'active obedience'.
9. If he [Osiander] objects that this work by its excellence transcends human, and therefore can only be ascribed to the divine nature; I concede the former point, but maintain, that on the latter he is ignorantly deluded. For although Christ could neither purify our souls by his own blood, nor appease the Father by his sacrifice, nor acquit us from the charge of guilt, nor, in short, perform the office of priest, unless he had been very God, because no human ability was equal to such a burden, it is however certain, that he performed all these things in his human nature. If it is asked, in what way we are justified? Paul answers, by the obedience of Christ. Did he obey in any other way than by assuming the form of a servant? We infer, therefore, that righteousness was manifested to us in his flesh. In like manner, in another passage (which I greatly wonder that Osiander does not blush repeatedly to quote), he places the fountain of righteousness entirely in the incarnation of Christ, “He has made him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him,” (2 Cor. 5:21). Osiander in turgid sentences lays hold of the expression, righteousness of God, and shouts victory! as if he had proved it to be his own phantom of essential righteousness, though the words have a very different meaning—viz. that we are justified through the expiation made by Christ.On his quest to hammer Osiander for his errors, Calvin simultaneously hammers the 'double imputation' crowd by stating Christ's saving work consisted in his actions as sin-atoning Priest, and that his "obedience" as a servant consisted in His 'becoming sin' and the 'righteousness of God', which Calvin says means "expiation". As noted in the beginning, Calvin's rejection/unawareness of "Active Obedience" plays directly and consistently into his claim that justification is forgiveness of sins only.
… I know that by the righteousness of God is sometimes meant that of which God is the author, and which he bestows upon us; but that here [2 Cor 5:21] the only thing meant is, that being supported by the expiation of Christ, we are able to stand at the tribunal of God... The word is not of so much importance, provided Osiander agrees with us in this, that we are justified by Christ in respect he was made an expiatory victim for us.
11. ... Say, then, if God does not justify us by acquitting and pardoning, what does Paul mean when he says “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them”? “He made him to be sin for us who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him,” (2 Cor. 5:19, 21). Here I learn, first, that those who are reconciled to God are regarded as righteous: then the method is stated, God justifies by pardoning; and hence, in another place, justification is opposed to accusation (Rom. 8:33); this antithesis clearly demonstrating that the mode of expression is derived from forensic use. ... Now, then, when Paul says that David “describeth the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven,” (Rom. 4:6, 7; Ps. 32:1), let Osiander say whether this is a complete or only a partial definition [NB: Calvin believes it's a complete definition]. He certainly does not adduce the Psalmist as a witness that pardon of sins is a part of righteousness, or concurs with something else in justifying, but he includes the whole of righteousness in gratuitous forgiveness, declaring those to be blessed “whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered,” and “to whom the Lord will not impute sin.”
12. ... Were angels to attempt to give satisfaction to God, they could have no success, because they are not appointed for this purpose, it being the peculiar office of Christ, who “has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us,” (Gal. 3:13). ... What we constantly maintain is, that our righteousness and life are in the death and resurrection of Christ.Calvin is here emphasizing (still against Osiander) what he has already made clear elsewhere: justification is by "aquitting and pardoning" only, and this righteousness comes from the "death and resurrection" of Christ..
Then Calvin shifts his focus onto Catholics, and rants about how far off base they have gone. After that he makes some general comments on the mode of justification, by faith or by works. Again, since those comments are outside the scope of this article, those sections wont be quoted from.
16 ... This is the meaning of faith by which the sinner comes into the possession of salvation, when, according to the doctrine of the Gospel, he perceives that he is reconciled by God; when, by the intercession of Christ, he obtains the pardon of his sins, and is justified.As noted in the quote from Section 2, it references Sections 21-23, which is where Calvin picks up on the main subject again:
21. Let us now consider the truth of what was said in the definition—viz. that justification by faith is reconciliation with God, and that this consists solely in the remission of sins. We must always return to the axioms that the wrath of God lies upon all men so long as they continue sinners. This is elegantly expressed by Isaiah in these words: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear,” (Isaiah 59:1, 2). We are here told that sin is a separation between God and man; that His countenance is turned away from the sinner; and that it cannot be otherwise, since, to have any intercourse with sin is repugnant to his righteousness. Hence the Apostle shows that man is at enmity with God until he is restored to favour by Christ (Rom. 5:8-10). When the Lord, therefore, admits him to union, he is said to justify him, because he can neither receive him into favor, nor unite him to himself, without changing his condition from that of a sinner into that of a righteous man. We add, that this is done by remission of sins. For if those whom the Lord has reconciled to himself are estimated by works, they will still prove to be in reality sinners, while they ought to be pure and free from sin. It is evident therefore, that the only way in which those whom God embraces are made righteous, is by having their pollutions wiped away by the remission of sins, so that this justification may be termed in one word the remission of sins.This Section is so clear and forceful, that it was worth quoting in full. Here Calvin puts to rest any attempts of taking quotes from earlier Sections that appear to teach double-imputation by stating unequivocally here that "justification by faith is reconciliation with God, and that this consists solely in the remission of sins". A man goes from the 'condition of sinner' to that of 'a righteous man' by "remission of sins".
22. Both of these become perfectly clear from the words of Paul: “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and has committed unto us the word of reconciliation.” He then subjoins the sum of his embassy: “He has made him to be sin for us who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him,” (2 Cor. 5:19-21). He here uses righteousness and reconciliation indiscriminately, to make us understand that the one includes the other. The mode of obtaining this righteousness he explains to be, that our sins are not imputed to us. Wherefore, you cannot henceforth doubt how God justifies us when you hear that he reconciles us to himself by not imputing our faults. In the same manner, in the Epistle to the Romans, he proves, by the testimony of David...(Rom. 4:6; Ps. 32:1, 2). There he undoubtedly uses blessedness for righteousness; and as he declares that it consists in forgiveness of sins, there is no reason why we should define it otherwise. ...The same course was followed by Paul when, in addressing the people of Antioch...(Acts 13:38, 39). Thus the Apostle connects forgiveness of sins with justification in such a way as to show that they are altogether the same; and hence he properly argues that justification, which we owe to the indulgence of God, is gratuitous. Nor should it seem an unusual mode of expression to say that believers are justified before God not by works, but by gratuitous acceptance, seeing it is frequently used in Scripture, and sometimes also by ancient writers. Thus Augustine says: “The righteousness of the saints in this world consists more in the forgiveness of sins than the perfection of virtue,” (August. de Civitate Dei, lib. 19, cap. 27). To this corresponds the well-known sentiment of Bernard: “Not to sin is the righteousness of God, but the righteousness of man is the indulgence of God,” (Bernard, Serm. 22, 23 in Cant). He previously asserts that Christ is our righteousness in absolution, and, therefore, that those only are just who have obtained pardon through mercy.By this point we'd almost be forced to say Calvin is almost a broken record the way he continues to repeat the same major texts (e.g. 2 Cor 5:19-21; Rom 4:6-8) as definitive proof for justification consisting solely in remission of sins.
23. Hence also it is proved, that it is entirely by the intervention of Christ’s righteousness that we obtain justification before God. ... “God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us,” (Rom. 8:3, 4). Here the only fulfillment to which he refers is that which we obtain by imputation. ... “As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous,” (Rom. 5:19). To declare that we are deemed righteous, solely because the obedience of Christ is imputed to us as if it where our own, is just to place our righteousness in the obedience of Christ. Wherefore, Ambrose appears to me to have most elegantly adverted to the blessing of Jacob as an illustration of this righteousness... The words of Ambrose are,—“Isaac’s smelling the odour of his garments, perhaps means that we are justified not by works, but by faith, since carnal infirmity is an impediment to works, but errors of conduct are covered by the brightness of faith, which merits the pardon of faults,” (Ambrose de Jacobo et Vita Beats, Lib. 2, c. 2). And so indeed it is; for in order to appear in the presence of God for salvation, we must send forth that fragrant odour, having our vices covered and buried by his perfection.Thus concludes the most important and definitive Chapter Calvin writes regarding Justification. To the very end (i.e. the very end of Section 23), Calvin does not cease to appeal to many Protestant "favorite" texts - including Romans 5:19, speaking of Christ's Obedience, which many Protestants take as solid proof for Active Obedience - yet in every case he reduces it to the same thing: pardoning of sins.
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This is a supplement to the above study. The following are quotes from 'trusted' Reformed apologists and sources stating the utter necessity of 'double imputation' for Justification.
While it is said by some that the Westminster Confession was deliberately ambiguous on this subject, the Reformed Baptist equivalent, the London Baptist Confession (Chapter 11:1), makes the issue very clear:
Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth, not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ's sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing Christ's active obedience unto the whole law, and passive obedience in his death for their whole and sole righteousness by faith, which faith they have not of themselves; it is the gift of God.In other words, the "righteousness of Christ" consists in a 'positive' component of keeping the law perfectly, and not just forgiveness of sins. To help illustrate this point, in his most famous book, The God Who Justifies, Reformed Baptist apologist James White says this on page 95, right after speaking of Christ's "Passive Obedience":
"But there is another aspect of Christ's Righteousness that is often missed. Christ, acting as the head of His people, obeyed the law of God perfectly throughout His life. He was an active obedience to the law, resulting in a positive aspect to the righteousness that is imputed to the believer. What we are saying is that a person who has been justified through the imputation of the righteousness of Jesus Christ to him is not simply pardoned but has a positive, proper standing before God. The righteousness that is his is not the bare lack of of something upon which he can be condemned; it is a positive fulfillment of the commands of God. ... If the righteousness that is imputed to the believer were a bare pardon or forgiveness, then he would be left at a neutral point, having no active obedience to the law of God to plead before the holy Judge."It seems that John Calvin himself "missed" this, and not only knew nothing of it, his exegesis of key justification texts as well as his definition of justification will not allow this. What we have in reality is a different definition of Justification than the Pretend Reformers that emerged some time shortly after them by the alleged faithful followers of them!
In one of the most important Reformed books in recent years, The Law is Not of Faith, devoted specifically to proving the doctrine of Active Obedience and it's necessity for Justification, Reformed author and professor Michael Horton concludes the book (in his Essay “Obedience is Better that Sacrifice,” a very telling title) by saying (page 336):
“This account draws together the active and passive obedience of Jesus Christ. As important as it is that Christ bore the penalty of our sins on the cross, it is just as important that he triumphed over the powers of evil and recapitulated the history of fallen humanity in Adam and Israel. Adam was commanded to obey God's law and failed, Israel was commanded to obey God's law and failed, but Christ came into this world and completed a life of perfect obedience to the law of his Father. Christ the Righteous One was indeed the Last Adam, the True Israel.Because we have not only been forgiven on the basis of Christ's curse-bearing death but justified on the basis of his probation-fulfilling life, we have a new heart and the law is written on our mind.”
This affirms what was just quoted prior, that pardoning of sins is insufficient for justification, and indeed you cannot be said to be righteous but only 'neutral' without this added Active Obedience 'component'.
It cannot be overstated just how 'central' the idea of Active Obedience is for Reformed theologians throughout history, there is no shortage of 'big names' that stood by the doctrine as critical for an orthodox view of Justification (e.g. John Murray, John Piper, R. Scott Clark, John Fesko, C. Matthew McMahon, John Owen, etc, etc). Astonishingly, John Calvin says Justification "is the principal ground on which religion must be supported, so it requires greater care and attention," and this 'battle cry' was used as one of the key excuses for the "Reformation," yet we see Calvin's followers "botched" this "principle ground" supporting Christianity and have been proposing something different all this time.