Did John Wesley teach or deny the Imputed Righteousness of Christ?

‘There has been confusion over whether or not John Wesley actually taught the doctrine of the Imputed Righteousness of Christ. Some allege that he did teach this and others that he did not. I have had discussions with people on My Facebook about this issue and have researched it thoroughly.

Here are some quotes that shed light on this issue:

“We do not find it expressly affirmed in Scripture, that God imputes the righteousness of Christ to any…” John Wesley “The Works of the Rev. John Wesley” page 350, published by J & J Harper in 1826

“The Righteousness of Christ is an expression which I do not find in the Bible…. The righteousness of God is an expression which I do find there. I believe this means, first, The Mercy of God… I believe this expression means, secondly, God’s method of justifying sinners…” “The Miscellaneous Works of the Rev. John Wesley,” Volume Two, page 450, Thoughts on the Imputed Righteousness of Christ, published by J & J Harper in 1828

Regarding the phrase, “The imputed righteousness of Christ” Wesley said,

“I cannot find it in the Bible. If any one can, he has better eyes than I: and I wish he would show me where it is.” “The Miscellaneous Works of the Rev. John Wesley,” Volume Two, page 452, published by J & J Harper in 1828

“It is nowhere stated in Scripture that Christ’s personal righteousness is imputed to us. Not a text can be found which contains any enunciation of the doctrine.” John Wesley “A Right Conception of Sin” by Richard Taylor, published in 1939. And also, (The Student’s Handbook of Christian Theology, Benjamin Field, Page 199) published in 1868.

John Wesley said that the Calvinist doctrine of the Imputed Righteousness of Christ was

“a blow to the root, the root of all holiness, all true religion…Hereby Christ is stabbed in the house of his friends, of those who make the largest professions of loving Him; the whole design of His death, namely, to destroy the work of the devil, being overthrown at a stroke. For wherever this doctrine is cordially received, it makes no place for holiness.” “The Works of the Rev John Wesley”, published in 1841, page 352.

This was John Wesley’s exhortation to preachers after 34 years of ministry:

“I will endeavour to use only such phrases as are strictly Scriptural. And I will advice all my brethren, all who are in connection with me throughout the three kingdoms, to lay aside that ambiguous, unscriptural phrase, (the imputed righteousness of Christ,) which is so liable to be misinterpreted, and speak in all instances, in this particular, as the oracles of God.” “The Works of the Reverend John Wesley, A. M. published by J. Emory and B. Waugh, for the Methodist Episcopal Church, J Collard Printer, 1831, page 182.

Wesley was accused of contradicting himself in his own time. This is because Wesley stated that “the imputed righteousness of Christ” is never mentioned in the entire Bible, and yet he elsewhere would state that we are justified by the imputed righteousness of Christ. He clarified himself when this supposed contradiction was brought to his attention.

He said that he never uses the phrase, “the imputed righteousness of Christ” because it is not scriptural and because it has done much damage, and that when he has used it, all he meant by it was that we are justified because of what Christ has done and suffered. In other words, we are justified because of Christ’s obedience in suffering and dying on the cross for our sins. But Wesley said that he denied “the imputed righteousness of Christ” in the Antinomian sense, which is the notion that Christ’s obedience to the law is transferred to our account so that we do not need to obey the law of God ourselves. Wesley certainly never taught that Christ’s obedience to the law was transferred to us, so that we are justified by God in light of our account being perfect. That is justification by works, but Wesley taught justification by grace. Wesley taught that our faith was imputed as righteousness.

And Wesley said that in his earlier years he used the phrase, “the imputed righteousness of Christ” but that after thirty four years of ministry, he has made a resolution to not use that phrase anymore because it is ambiguous and unscriptural.


Calvinists often ask the question, “Are you saved by the imputed righteousness of Christ or by your own righteousness?”

This is how John Wesley answered that question:

“Do we read it [this question] in the Bible? Either in the Old Testament or the New? I doubt; it is an unscriptural, awkward phrase, which has no determinate meaning. If you mean by that odd, uncouth question: ‘In whose righteousness are you to stand at the last day,’- for whose sake, or by whose merit do you expect to enter into the glory of God? I answer, without the least hesitation, for the sake of Jesus Christ, the righteous. It is through his merits alone that all believers are saved; that is, justified, saved from the guilt, sanctified, saved from the nature of sin, and glorified, taken into heaven… It may be worth our while, to spend a few more words on this important point. Is it possible to devise a more unintelligible expression than this: “In what righteousness are we to stand before God at the last day?” Why do you not speak plainly, and say, “For whose sake do you look to be saved?” Any plain peasant would then readily answer, “For the sake of Jesus Christ.” But all those dark, ambiguous phrases, tend only to puzzle the cause, and open a way for unwary hearers to slide into Antinomianism.”  “The Works of the Rev. John Wesley”, Volume 7, published by J. & J. Harper, 1826, Page 281'

source: Jesse Morrell (biblicaltruthresources).


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