IMPUTATION is one of the most common technical expressions in Christian theology. It is meant to denote the transference of guilt or of merit of punishment or reward. The doctrine of the imputation of sin, for example, is the doctrine which inculcates that all mankind are sharers in the fact and consequences of Adam's fall from innocence; and the correlative doctrine of the imputation of Christ's righteousness is that which inculcates that the merit or righteousness of Christ is transferred to those who believe in him, or, in other words, that they become sharers in his merit or righteousness. This idea of transference of intercommunication of good and evil; is a pervading one in Christian theology, and answers to undoubted realities of the spiritual life; but the idea is also apt to become degraded and materialized, and has become so in some of its common representations in popular theology. The doctrine of the imputation of Adam's sin, for example, expresses to some minds not only the idea of the participation of the human race in the consequences of Adam's transgression, so that, because he sinned and fell from innocence, they, the inheritors of his corrupt nature. sko sin, and arc involved in the miseries of a sinful state; but, moreover, the idea, tha. the sin of Adam in its direct guilt and wickedness is transferred to his posterity. They reason after this manner: it is undeniable that man suffers on account of original sin; but suffer ing and sin are inseparably connected. If man suffers on account of original sin, there fore, it is only because lie is guilty of it. The sin of Adam in eating the forbidden fruit is equally the sin of his posterity. According to this mode of reasoning, there is a formal imputation of the sin of Adam to all his descendants. God is supposed, as it were, to charge the one to the account of the other, and by a direct and arbitrary act to hold kind guilty because Adam fell. To give a logical, justification to this view, it is assumed that God entered into a covenant with Adam (see COVENK,NT), by which the latter was regarded as a representative of the whole human race; so that when he fell, all mankind sinned and fell with him. In the same manner, the merit or righteousness of Christ is supposed to be imputed to believers by a direct and formal transference of the auc to the account of the other. In both cases it is the idea of formal and arbitrary exchange that is prominent; and according to some theologians, this idea alone answers to imputation of sin or of righteousness. To impute sin, is to deal with a man as a sinner, not on account of his own act, or at least not primarily on this account, but on account of the act of another; and to impute righteousness, is to deal with man as righteous, not because lie is so, but on account of the righteousness of Christ reckoned as his, and received by faith alone. The act of another stands in both cases for our own act, and we are adjudged—
in the one ease condemned, in the other acquitted—not for what we ourselves have done, but for what another has done for us.
This is a fair illustration of the tyranny which technical phrases are apt to exercise in theology as in other things. When men coin an imperfect phrase to express a spiritual reality, the reality is apt to be forgotten in the phase, and men play with the latter as a loolcal counter, having. a force and meaning of its own. Imputation of sin and imputation qf'righteousness have in this way come to represent legal or pseudo-legal processes in theology, through the working out of the mere legal analogies suggested by the word. But the real spiritual reality which lies behind the phrases in both cases is simple enough. Imputation of sin is, and can be nothing else than the expression of the spiritual unity of Adam and his race. Adam "being the root of all mankind," the stock which has grown from this root must share in its degeneracy. The law of spiritual life, of historical con tinuity, implies this, and it requires no arbitrary or legal process, therefore, to account for the sinfulness of mankind as derived from a sinful source. We are sinners because Adam fell. The fountain having become polluted, the stream is polluted. We are involved in his guilt, and could not help being so, by the conditions of our historical existence; but, nevertheless, his sin is not our sin, and cannot in the strict sense be imputed to us, for sin is essentially voluntary in every case—an act of self-will, and not a mere quality of nature; and my sin, therefore, cannot be another's, nor another's mine. In the same manner, the highest meaning of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ lies in the spiritual unity of the believer with Christ, so that he is one 'tvith Christ, and Christ one with him, and in a true sense he becomes a partaker of the divine nature. The notion of legal transference is an after-thought—the invention of polemical logic— and the fact itself is deeper and truer than the phrase that covers it. 7'he race one with Adam, the believer one with Christ, are the ideas that are really true in the phrases impu tation of sin and imputation of righteousness. The logic of theology has evolved many more applications of the phrases, but these applications are rather the refinements of theological pedantry than the expression of true spiritual relations.