This is a rather lengthy excerpt from John Bunyan's unfinished treatment of the doctrine of Justification, titled Justification By an Imputed Righteousness. To read the entire treatise, click here.
That which I call, and that rightly, the mysterious act of our redemption, is Christ's sufferings as a common,4 though a particular person and as a sinner, though always completely righteous. That he suffered as a common person is true. By common, I mean a public person, or one that presents the body of mankind in himself. This a multitude of scriptures bear witness to, especially that fifth chapter to the Romans, where, by the apostle, he is set before us as the head of all the elect, even as Adam was once head of all the world. Thus he lived, and thus he died; and this was a mysterious act. And that he should die as a sinner, when yet himself did 'no sin,' nor had any 'guile found in his mouth,' made this act more mysterious (1 Pet 1:19, 2:22, 3:18). That he died as a sinner is plain- 'He hath made him to be sin. And the Lord laid upon him the iniquity of us all' (Isa 53). That, then, as to his own person he was completely sinless is also as truly manifest, and that by a multitude of scriptures. Now, I say, that Christ Jesus should be thus considered, and thus die, was the great mystery of God. Hence Paul tells us, that when he preached 'Christ crucified,' he preached not only the 'wisdom of God,' but the 'wisdom of God in a mystery,' even his 'hidden wisdom,' for, indeed, this wisdom is hidden, and kept close from the 'fowls of the air' (1 Cor 1:24, 2:7,8; Job 28:20,21).
It is also so mysterious, that it goes beyond the reach of all men, except those to whom an understanding is given of God to apprehend it (1 John 5:20). That one particular man should represent all the elect in himself, and that the most righteous should die as a sinner, yea, as a sinner by the hand of a just and holy God, is a mystery of the greatest depth!
Second. And now I come to show you how the elect are concerned therein; that is, in this mysterious act of this most blessed One; and this will make this act yet more mysterious to you.
Now, then, we will speak of this first, as to how Christ prepared himself thus mysteriously to act. He took hold of our nature. I say, he took hold of us, by taking upon him flesh and blood. The Son of God, therefore, took not upon him a particular person, though he took to him a human body and soul; but that which he took was, as I may call it, a lump of the common nature of man; and by that, hold of the whole elect seed of Abraham; 'For verily he took not on him the nature of angels, but he took on him the seed of Abraham' (Heb 2:16) Hence he, in a mystery, became us, and was counted as all the men that were or should be saved. And this is the reason why we are said to do, when only Jesus Christ did do. As for instance-
1. When Jesus Christ fulfilled the righteousness of the law, it is said it was fulfilled in us, because indeed fulfilled in our nature: 'For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, 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,' &c. (Rom 8:3,4). But because none should appropriate this unto themselves that have not had passed upon them a work of conversion, therefore he adds, 'Who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit' (v. 4). For there being a union between head and members, though things may be done by the head, and that for the members, the things are counted to the members, as if not done only by the head. 'The righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us'; and that truly, because fulfilled in that common
nature which the Son of God took of the Virgin. Wherefore, in this sense we are said to do what only was done by him; even as the client doth by his lawyer, when his lawyer personates him; the client is said to do, when it is the lawyer only that does; and to overcome by doing, when it is the lawyer that overcomes; the reason is, because the lawyer does in the client's name. How much more then may it be said we do, when only Christ does; since he does what he does, not in our name only, but in our nature too; 'for the law of the spirit of life in Christ.' not in me, 'hath made me free from the law of sin and death' (Rom 8:2); he doing in his common flesh what could not be done in my particular person, that so I might have the righteousness of the law fulfilled in me, [that is, in] my flesh assumed by Christ; though impossible to be done [by me], because of the weakness of my person. The reason of all this is, because we are said to be in him in his doing, in him by our flesh, and also by the election of God. So, then, as all men sinned when Adam fell, so all the elect did righteousness when Christ wrought and fulfilled the law; 'for as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive' (1 Cor 15:22).
2. As we are said to do by Christ, so we are said to suffer by him, to suffer with him. 'I am crucified with Christ,' said Paul. And again, 'Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind; for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin' (1 Peter 4:1). Mark how the apostle seems to change the person. First he says, it is Christ that suffered; and that is true; but then he insinuates that it is us that suffered, for the exhortation is to believers, to 'walk in newness of life' (Rom 6:4). And the argument is, because they have suffered in the flesh, 'For he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God' (1 Peter 4:1,2). We then suffered, when Christ suffered; we then suffered in his flesh, and also our 'old man was crucified with him' (Rom 6:6); that is, in his crucifixion; for when he hanged on the cross, all the elect hanged there in their common flesh which he assumed, and because he suffered there as a public man.
3. As we are said to suffer with him, so we are said to die, to be dead with him; with him, that is, by the dying of his body. 'Now, if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him' (Rom 6:8). Wherefore he saith in other places, 'Brethren, ye are become dead to the law by the body of Christ'; for indeed we died then to it by him. To the law-that is, the law now has nothing to do with us; for that it has already executed its curse to the full upon us by its slaying of the body of Christ; for the body of Christ was our flesh: upon it also was laid our sin. The law, too, spent that curse that was due to us upon him, when it condemned, killed, and cast him into the grave. Wherefore, it having thus spent its whole curse upon him as standing in our stead, we are exempted from its curse for ever; we are become dead to it by that body (Rom 7:4). It has done with us as to justifying righteousness. Nor need we fear its damning threats any more; for by the death of this body we are freed from it, and are for ever now coupled to a living Christ.
4. As we are said thus to be dead, so we are said also to rise again by him-'Thy dead men,' saith he to the Father, 'shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise' (Isa 26:19).5 And again, 'After two days he will revive us; in the third day - we shall live in his sight' (Hosea 6:2). Both these scriptures speak of the resurrection of Christ, of the resurrection of his body on the third day; but behold, as we were said before to suffer and be dead with him, so now we are said also to rise and live in God's sight by the resurrection of his body. For, as was said, the flesh was ours; he took part of our flesh when he came into the world; and in it he suffered, died, and rose again (Heb 2:14). We also were therefore counted by God, in that God-man, when he did this; yea, he suffered, died, and rose as a common head.6 Hence also the New Testament is full of this, saying, 'If ye be dead with Christ' (Col 2:20). 'If ye be risen with Christ' (3:1). And again, 'He hath quickened us together with him' (2:13). 'We are quickened together with him.' 'Quickened,' and 'quickened together with him.' The apostle hath words that cannot easily be shifted or evaded. Christ then was quickened when he was raised from the dead. Nor is it proper to say that he was ever quickened either before or since. This text also concludes that we-to wit, the whole body of God's elect, were also quickened then, and made to live with him together. True, we also are quickened personally by grace the day in the which we are born unto God by the gospel; yet afore that, we are quickened in our Head; quickened when he was raised from the dead, quickened together with him.
5. Nor are we thus considered-to wit, as dying and rising, and so left; but the apostle pursues his argument, and tells us that we also reap by him, as being considered in him, the benefit which Christ received, both in order to his resurrection, and the blessed effect thereof.
(1.) We received, by our thus being counted in him, that benefit which did precede his rising from the dead; and what was that but the forgiveness of sins? For this stands clear to reason, that if Christ had our sins charged upon him at his death, he then must be discharged of them in order to his resurrection. Now, though it is not proper to say they were forgiven to him, because they were purged from him by merit; yet they may be said to be forgiven us, because we receive this benefit by grace. And this, I say, was done precedent to his resurrection from the dead. 'He hath quickened us together with him, HAVING forgiven us all trespasses.' He could not be 'quickened' till we were 'discharged'; because it was not for himself, but for us, that he died. Hence we are said to be at that time, as to our own personal estate, dead in our sins, even when we are 'quickened together with him' (Col 2:13). Therefore both the 'quickening' and 'forgiveness' too, so far as we are in this text concerned, is to him, as we are considered in him, or to him, with respect to us. 'Having forgiven you ALL trespasses.' For necessity so required; because else how was it possible that the pains of death should be loosed in order to his rising, so long as one sin stood still charged to him, as that for the commission of which God had not received a plenary satisfaction? As therefore we suffered, died, and rose again by him, so, in order to his so rising, he, as presenting of us in his person and suffering, received for us remission of all our trespasses. A full discharge therefore was, in and by Christ, received of God of all our sins afore he rose from the dead, as his resurrection truly declared; for he 'was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification' (Rom 4:25). This therefore is one of the privileges we receive by the rising again of our Lord, for that we were in his flesh considered, yea, and in his death and suffering too.
(2.) By this means also we have now escaped death. 'Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto,' or for, 'sin once; but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God' (Rom 6:9,10). Now in all this, considering what has been said before, we that are of the elect are privileged, for that we also are raised up by the rising of the body of Christ from the dead. And thus the apostle bids us reckon: 'Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ' (Rom 6:11). Hence Christ says, 'I am the resurrection and the life,' for that all his are safe in him, suffering, dying, and rising. He is the life, 'our life'; yea, so our life, that by him the elect do live before God, even then when as to themselves they yet are dead in their sins. Wherefore, hence it is that in time they partake of quickening grace from this their Head, to the making of them also live by faith, in order to their living hereafter with him in glory; for if Christ lives, they cannot die that were sharers with him in his resurrection.7 Hence they are said to 'live,' being 'quickened together with him.' Also, as sure as at his resurrection they lived by him, so sure at his coming shall they be gathered to him; nay, from that day to this, all that, as aforesaid, were in him at his death and resurrection, are already, in the 'dispensation of the fulness of times,' daily 'gathering to him.' For this he hath purposed, wherefore none can disannul it -'In the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are in earth; even in him' (Eph 1:10).
(3.) To secure this the more to our faith that believe, as we are said to be 'raised up together' with him, so we are said to be 'made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus' (Eph 2:6). We died by him, we rose by him, and are together, even all the elect, set down 'together'
in 'heavenly places in Christ Jesus'; for still, even now he is on the right hand of God, he is to be considered as our public man, our Head, and so one in whom is concluded all the elect of God. We then are by him already in heaven; in heaven, I say, by him; yea, set down there in our places of glory by him. Hence the apostle, speaking of us again, saith, That as we are predestinate, we are called, justified, and glorified; called, justified, glorified; all is done, already done, as thus considered in Christ (Rom 8:30). For that in his public work there is nothing yet to do as to this. Is not HE called? Is not HE justified? Is not HE glorified? And are we not in him, in him, even as so considered? Nor doth this doctrine hinder or forestal the doctrine of regeneration or conversion; nay, it lays a foundation for it; for by this doctrine we gather assurance that Christ will have his own; for if already they live in their head, what is that but a pledge that they shall live in their persons with him? and, consequently, that to that end they shall, in the times allotted for that end, be called to a state of faith, which God has ordained shall precede and go before their personal enjoyment of glory. Nor doth this hinder their partaking of the symbol of regeneration,8 and of their other privileges to which they are called in the day of grace; yea, it lays a foundation for all these things; for if I am dead with Christ, let me be like one dead with him, even to all things to which Christ died when he hanged on the tree; and then he died to sin, to the law, and to the rudiments of this world (Rom 6:10, 7:4; Col 2:20). And if I be risen with Christ, let me live, like one born from the dead, in newness of life, and having my mind and affections on the things where Christ now sitteth on the right hand of God. And indeed he professes in vain that talketh of these things, and careth not to have them also answered in himself. This was the apostle's way, namely, to covet to 'know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death' (Phil 3:10). And when we are thus, that thing is true both in him and us. Then as is the heavenly, such are they that are heavenly; for he that saith he is in him, and by being in him, a partaker of these privileges by him, 'ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked' (1 Cor 15:48; 1 John 2:6).
But to pass this digression, and to come to my argument, namely, that men are justified from the curse of the law, before God, while sinners in themselves; this is evident by what hath already been said; for if the justification of their persons is by, in, and through Christ; then it is not by, in, and through their own doings. Nor was Christ engaged in this work but of necessity, even because else there had not been salvation for the elect. 'O my father,' saith he, 'if it be possible, let this cup pass from me' (Matt 26:39). If what be possible? Why, that my elect may be saved, and I not spill my blood. Wherefore he saith again, Christ ought to suffer (Luke 24:26). 'Christ must needs have suffered,' for 'without shedding of blood is no remission' of sin (Acts 17:3; Heb 9:22).
4 By 'common,' is here meant that Christ is the federal head of all his saints; they have an equal or common right equally to participate in his merits.-Ed.
5 How full of consolation is this voice from the tomb! Lowth’s translation is very striking—'Thy dead shall live, my deceased; they SHALL arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust; for thy dew is as the dew of the dawn! But the earth shall cast forth, as an abortion, thy deceased tyrants.' Antichrist shall 'cease from troubling,' and be only seen afar off in torments.-Ed.
6 Christ (amazing love!) 'was made a curse for us,' and thereby redeemed us from the curse of the law. He subjected himself to the law in active as well as passive obedience, and his obedience even to death was for our justification.-Mason.
7 Those whom God justifies, he also glorifies; and because Christ lives, blessed be God! we shall live also. Nevertheless, the strongest believer has as much need to come to Christ every day for fresh strength, as if he had never believed before; and if he were to depend on his own faithfulness, and not on the faithfulness of the Son of God, he would soon desert the Lord Jesus Christ.-Mason.
8 The symbol of regeneration, or water baptism. Although the regenerate believer feels an assurance that he forms part of Christ’s mystical body, and is saved by grace, and loves God because God first loved him, this does not prevent, but approves, his following the example of his Redeemer, in a symbolical or water baptism. Thus he publicly puts on Christ; he is buried with him in baptism, and rises to newness of life. Colossians 2:12, 13.-Ed