Forensic Crispianism and TULIP Calvinism’s Doctrine of Imputation in Relation to the Double-Payment Dilemma


This essay will be a little cumbersome so please bear with me. My language here blends in some casual and some technical, at no point am I intending to be pejorative in some of my expressions.

Because I know many are not familiar with my research and interests, I will insert some definitions. For any one with questions, or challenges I will more than willingly address them. I am aware that not every statement I shall make will be understandable and coherent to every reader. All I ask is that any questioner be prepared to have a true “conversation.”

The following is not presented as a bullet-proof essay which absolutely nails down the subject matter. I am aware that some of the following arguments may have vulnerabilities. It must be realized that one cannot say everything all at once every time on a given subject. My goal is to be suggestive with the hope of motivating further discussion, thought, and investigation. I also grant that there may be some yet unknown (to me) premise(s) in Owen’s theology which harmonizes and resolves the sort of problems I am highlighting.

Let me begin by defining my terms.

1) By TULIP Calvinism I mean that form of Calvinism which has been called “high” Calvinism. That label dates back to the 17thC. High Calvinism is essentially the same as what we now call Protestant Scholastic Calvinism. I use the ‘TULIP’ to describe this broad range of Calvinist thought.

2) Dort’s emphasis in its discussion of the extent of the satisfaction is the assertion that Christ did indeed die effectually for some, namely the elect. Thus Dort sought to only establish this simple positive assertion. This was opposed to the Arminian thesis, that Christ died for no one especially and effectually, but that he died for all men with equal ineffectual intentionality.

3) TULIP Calvinism is not Dort, but a modifying interpretation of Dort. TULIP Calvinism seeks to prove a negation,1 whereas Dort sought to establish specificity, without positing any category negation per se (e.g., ‘Christ did not die for some men’). For this essay, I use the term TULIP, not pejoratively, but to summarily describe the position that only the sins of the elect were imputed to Christ, that he suffered and was punished for their sins alone, as expounded by classic Protestant Scholasticism and much of modern TULIP orientated Calvinism.

4) By limited atonement, I mean the idea that only a finite, fixed and limited number of sins were imputed to Christ. Christ only obtained a satisfaction for the sins imputed to him. Thus the satisfaction, aka expiation, is also limited in nature and so in extent, as well limited in intent. And so, had God elected more to salvation, more sin and sins would have been imputed to Christ.

5) Properly speaking, “to die for” is to die in the place of. When I speak of Christ dying “for” someone, I do not mean the idea of Christ dying for someone’s benefit (Kuiper, Piper, Grudem, et al).

6) Double jeopardy properly says, “One cannot punish the same person twice for the same sin.” TULIP Calvinists often misuse double jeopardy by defining it as: God cannot punish two different persons for the same sin. This is actually a misuse of the legal meaning.

7) Double jeopardy is distinct from double payment. The latter assumes strict pecuniary categories. Double payment is Owen’s essential argument. Many modern TULIP Calvinists attempt to retain the same idea (God cannot punish a man for any sin, for which he has already punished in Christ) without resorting to pecuniary language: hence they resort to double jeopardy though incorrectly. I think some modern Calvinists have realized that the double payment argument as stated by Owen depends upon a crude commercial satisfaction.

8) For my purposes here, I will not detail the aspect of the pecuniary confusion as its part of the inherent problem within the original double payment argument. Pecuniary confusions are part of the problem, but not the whole problem. The problem of pecuniary and penal conflation with respect to the double payment dilemma has been adequately refuted by such men as Charles Hodge and Robert Dabney

The argument:

If blood the of Christ was shed for ALL, the blood of Christ will infallibly save ALL. It is impossible that the blood of Jesus was shed for someone who shall later be condemned!

The problems with this assertion are manifold. If you ask this claimant to explain why this claim is true, I believe he would not be able to present a clear explanation of its mechanics. Most folk are just stuck at the assertion level.

The argument is a form of whats popularly known as Owen’s double payment dilemma. Sources for this are, John Owen, “Display of Arminianism,” and his, “Death of Death,” in Works, 10:89, 249, and, 272-3, respectively.


Tobias Crisp in the latter half of the 16th century expressed himself with the language that suggested that Christ became sinful. The biblical language that ‘Christ bore our sin’ led him to the impression that our sin was truly and actually transferred to Christ. I will call this ontological transference of sin. Christ was infused with our sin. I will refer to this as “Crispian and Crispianism,” putatively, regardless of what he actually may have or may not have taught, and illustratively.

The Reformed reacted to this seeming idea in Crisp by saying Christ never becomes ontologically sinful. He is always ontologically innocent.

I believe, though, that what has happened is that many TULIP Calvinists have adopted a sort of forensic or judicial Crispianism. In the forensic or judicial sense, sin, that is, its culpability (guilt, desert, obligation, etc), is literally transferred to Christ.

This has to be the assumption in the TULIP double payment/jeopardy argument: If Christ died for X, X cannot be condemned.

This has to entail:

If Christ died for X, and if X were to die before faith, X could not be condemned.

Now this may seem to be stretching things, but it has to follow. For example, a TULIP Calvinist might reject the possibility of this as a scenario, saying it’s never actually possible for an elect person to die before faith, however, that is not the point. The point is, that it has to be hypothetically true. That is, if its necessarily true that “anyone for whom Christ was punished, cannot be punished in their own person for their own sin,” then it has to be hypothetically true in all possible scenarios or possible situations (using possible worlds logic).

What this means is that they have created a third category. There is the category of being ‘culpable and unjustified,’2 and the category of ‘not culpable and unjustified,’3 and the category of being ‘not culpable and justified.’4

The living unbelieving elect are in the second category, of not being culpable, even before they are properly justified. They are not culpable for sin: it is now legally impossible (unjust, etc) for God to hold them or make them culpable for sin because he has already made Christ culpable for their sin. Their culpability has already been transferred to Christ when he died on the cross.

In other words, the double jeopardy (/double payment) argument has to entail a form of pre-faith “justification.”

The problem is, that as soon as the TULIP Calvinist invokes the double-jeopardy argument, he is bound up in a contradiction with Scripture, because, Christ was made culpable in our place, taking our culpability, such that we cannot not be punished for the same sin’s culpability which Christ bore. It is impossible for the same culpability to reside upon two people at the same time and sense. If Christ was made culpable by taking my culpability, then God cannot also treat me as culpable (at any point), because that is to commit double jeopardy or to exact a double payment.

But most TULIP Calvinists will admit that before faith, I am at least still culpable.

Indeed, Owen himself said this. He said that while the living unbelieving elect remain in some sense liable to condemnation (I assume he means a legal liability), they never experience actual condemnation. This is absurd given his own stated definition of double payment, Owen:

Nor is that other exception of any more value, That Christ underwent no more than the elect lay under; but they lay not under wrath and the punishment due to sin. Ans. The proposition is most false, neither is there any more truth in the assumption; for First, Christ underwent not only that wrath (taking it passively) which the elect were under, but that also which they should have undergone had not he borne it for them: he delivered them from the wrath to come. Secondly, The elect do, in their several generations, lie under all the wrath of God in respect of merit and procurement, though not in respect of actual endurance, in respect of guilt, not present punishment, So that, notwithstanding these exceptions, it stands firm that he was made sin for us, who knew no sin.5

Now one objection may be that its only at the time of faith is my sin imputed to Christ, hence no contradiction. This is incorrect, as sin is imputed to the sacrificial victim at and only at the time of the sacrifice. Christ was made sin, once, and then was raised to blessedness. Christ is not repeatedly “made sin.”

Now to the heart of the matter.

The root of all this is their misuse of the imputation of sin, i.e., of the guilt of sin. Crisp spoke as if sin was transferred because of the apparent language in Scripture (he bore OUR sin). Forensic Crispians, i.e., TULIP Calvinism, fall into committing the same fallacy, because they read the apparent language of Scripture in the same way “he bore our culpability” as transference.

To impute means to reckon, but TULIP Calvinism has come to describe imputation as involving transfer in some sense. Guilt is moved from us, and placed upon Christ.

Turretin for example:

XXVI. Sixth, from the nature of Christ’s suretyship6 the same doctrine may be derived. For since it implies the substitution of Christ in our stead, so that he died not only for our good, but in our place (as was said before and invincibly proved against the Socinians), so that he transferred to himself by his suretyship all the debt of those whose persons he bore and took it away from them and as he effaced it most fully as if his own no less than if the sinners themselves had done this very thing, it cannot be conceived how they for whom he died and made satisfaction in this way could still be subjected to an eternal curse and obliged again to bear the deserved punishments. Nevertheless, this must be said if he died for others than the elect, since this openly impeaches the veracity and justice of God. For if the debt has been transferred to Christ in consequence of his suretyship and discharged by him, everyone must see that it has been so taken away from the first debtors that payment cannot anymore be demanded from them; rather they must forever afterwards remain free and absolved from all obligation to punishment. Pertaining to this are all the passages of Scripture which assert that our sins were so transferred to Christ that the chastisement of our peace was upon him and by his stripes we arc healed (Is. 53:5, 6); also when he is said to have been made sin and a curse for us that we might be made the righteousness and blessing of God in him (2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13).7

There are the essential elements here in Turretin: Sin as debt, imputation as transfer, exact identity of punishment, and the impossibility of a second satisfaction.

There are scores of examples of this same sort of language in John Owen. For Owen, our guilt as a debt is transferred to Christ and we are therefore discharged from all obligation.


I am not altogether satisfied with this assertion, “That God doth not punish all who work iniquity;” neither does the instance of the elect confirm it, for even the learned gentleman does not deny that all their sins have been punished in Christ. We maintain alone that God cannot but punish every sin, because he is just; but whether he choose to do this in their own persons or in their surety rests entirely with himself: therefore, it doth not derogate from his justice that he transferred the sins of some upon Christ, and punished them in him. But they themselves, though personally guilty before Christ took their guilt upon himself, are not, however, punished, nor can be accounted guilty in respect of the judgment of God, their sins not being imputed to them; or, they ought to be said to have been punished in Christ their head, with whom they are now closely united. In the second place, we have shown before, and the learned gentleman acknowledges it, that a free act of the will may be consistent with some regard to necessity.8


Seventhly, “Since Christ could not pay what was not his own, it follows, that in the payment of his own the case still remains equally grievous; since the debt is not hereby absolved or forgiven, but transferred only; and, by consequence, we are no better provided for salvation than before, owing that now to the Son which was once owing to the Father.”

Answer: The looseness and dubiousness of the expressions here used makes an appearance that there is something in them, when indeed there is not. There is an allusion in them to a debt and a payment, which is the most improper expression that is used in this matter; and the interpretation thereof is to be regulated by other proper expressions of the same thing. But to keep to the allusion:–

1. Christ paid his own, but not for himself, Daniel 9:26.

2. Paying it for us, the debt is discharged; and our actual discharge is to be given out according to the ways and means, and upon the conditions, appointed and constituted by the Father and Son.

3. When a debt is so transferred as that one is accepted in the room and obliged to payment in the stead of another, and that payment is made and accepted accordingly, all law and reason require that the original debtor be discharged.

4. What on this account we owe to the Son, is praise, thankfulness, and obedience, and not the debt which he took upon himself and discharged for us, when we were nonsolvent, by his love. So that this matter is plain enough, and not to be involved by such cloudy expressions and incoherent discourse, following the metaphor of a debt. For if God be considered as the creditor, we all as debtors, and being insolvent, Christ undertook, out of his love, to pay the debt for us, and did so accordingly, which was accepted with God; it follows that we are to be discharged upon God’s terms, and under a new obligation unto his love who has made this satisfaction for us: which we shall eternally acknowledge.9


(2.) The Lord Christ’s voluntary susception of the state and condition of a surety, or undertaker for the church, to appear before the throne of God’ justice for them, to answer whatever was laid unto their charge, was required hereunto; and this he did absolutely. There was a concurrence of his own will in and unto all those divine acts whereby he and the church were constituted one mystical person; and of his own love and grace did he as our surety stand in our stead before God, when he made inquisition for sin;–he took it on himself, as unto the punishment which it deserved. Hence it became just and righteous that he should suffer, “the just for the unjust, that he might bring us unto God.”

For if this be not so, I desire to know what is become of the guilt of the sins of believers; if it were not transferred on Christ, it remains still upon themselves, or it is nothing. It will be said that guilt is taken away by the free pardon of sin. But if so, there was no need of punishment for it at all,–which is, indeed, what the Socinians plead, but by others is not admitted,–for if punishment be not for guilt, it is not punishment.10


On the supposition of this law, and its original obligation unto obedience, with its sanction and threatenings, there can be but one of three ways whereby we may come to be justified before God, who have sinned, and are no way able in ourselves to perform the obedience for the future which it does require. And each of them has a respect unto a sovereign act of God with reference unto this law. The first is the abrogation of it, that it should no more oblige us either unto obedience or punishment. This we have proved impossible; and they will woefully deceive their own souls who shall trust unto it. The second is by transferring of its obligation, unto the end of justification, on a surety or common undertaker. This is that which we plead for, as the substance of the mystery of the gospel, considering the person and grace of this undertaker or surety.11

We can see from these few comments from Owen, of which there are examples, that while sin is not transferred to Christ, so that Christ becomes inherently or ontologically sinful, the guilt of sin is. Sin’s guilt, its obligation to the law, is transferred from the sinner to the substitute, as from debtor to surety. Owen, himself, never resolved the contradiction he entailed himself in. While, on the one hand, he held that the living unbelieving elect are never actually subject to divine wrath, nonetheless, on the other hand, they are still deserving of it. However, this is incoherent, given his own principles. Their obligation has been transferred to Christ, such that it no longer remains upon them. The problem is, inasmuch as he has no grounds to subject them to divine punishment, God has absolutely no grounds to hold them even liable to punishment,.

Does this mean that the TULIP Calvinist, while seeing Christ as ontologically innocent, sees Christ as actually forensically guilty? Have they penetrated this far into the mechanics and logic of their doctrine of transferential imputation?12

The Edwardsean model is that Christ is treated as though he had committed our sins, he is reckoned as one of us, as if having committed our sins. He is reckoned as if he had committed our sins, all the while we remain sinful, and remain culpable.

Fuller for example:

But the verb epoiesen, made, is not to be taken literally; for that would convey the idea of Christ being really the subject of moral evil, which none contend for. It is expressive of a divine constitution, by which our Redeemer with his own consent stood in the sinner’s place, as though he had been himself the transgressor; just as the sin-offering under the law was, in mercy to Israel, reckoned, or accounted, to have the sins of the people ” put upon its head.” Thus he was made that sin which he knew not, and which is properly opposed to the righteousness of God, which we are in him. But this, it will be said, is not a “real and proper ” imputation. True: nor is such an imputation maintained, I should think, by Mr. B[ooth]. any more than by me. A real and proper imputation, unless I have mistaken the meaning of the term, is that in which there is no transfer of any kind; and, if applied to Christ, would amount to a charge of his having actually committed sin…. There appears to me great accuracy in the Scripture phraseology on this subject. What our Savior underwent is commonly expressed by the term sufferings. Once it is called a chastisement: yet there he is not said to have been chastised, but “the chastisement of our peace was upon him.” This is the same as saying. He bore our punishment, He was made a curse for us: that is, having been reckoned or accounted the sinner, as though he had actually been so, he was treated accordingly, as one that had deserved to be an outcast from heaven and earth. I believe the wrath of God that was due to us was poured upon him; but I do not believe that God for one moment was angry or displeased with him, or that he smote him from any such displeasure.13

James Richards:

The victims under the law were vicarious offerings; they suffered in the room and stead of the offerer, and thus far there was a transfer, not of sin or guilt, strictly speaking, but of its penal effects; suffering and death, only, were transferred, and this is what is meant by putting the iniquities of the sinner upon the head of the victim, and of the victim’s bearing the iniquities of the sinner.

To suppose a literal transfer, either of sin or of punishment, would be to suppose something which is entirely unauthorized by the language of Scripture, and at the same time to involve the absurdity of making a man and even a beast guilty by proxy. Sin, guilt, ill-desert, are in the very nature of things personal; and punishment presupposes guilt, and guilt in the subject; neither the one nor the other is properly transferable. Or, to use the language of Magee: “Guilt and punishment cannot be conceived but with reference to consciousness which cannot be transferred.”

While we would maintain, therefore, that the sufferings of Christ were of vicarious import, because he suffered in the room of sinners, and bore the indications of Divine wrath for their sakes, we cannot subscribe to the opinion that they were strictly vicarious, if by this is meant that the sins of those for whom he suffered, their personal desert and their punishment were literally transferred to him. We maintain the doctrine of substitution, but not such a substitution as implies a transfer of character, and consequently of desert and punishment. This we think to be impossible; and unnecessary, if not impossible. It was enough that there should be a transfer of sufferings, and these, not exactly in kind, degree, or duration, but in all their circumstances amounting to a full equivalent in their moral effect upon the government of God. We hold that Jesus died in the room of the guilty, that though innocent himself, he was made sin for us, or treated as a sinner on our account, and in our stead; that the Lord laid on him the iniquities of us all, and that he bore our sins in his own body on the tree, by suffering what was a full equivalent to the punishment due to our offenses. But this, we think, is all the substitution which the Scriptures teach, all that the nature of things will admit, and all that was necessary to effect the same moral ends in the government of God which would have been effected by inflicting on the transgressor the penal sanctions of his law.14

Fuller and Richards are an examples of the more balanced approach of those theologians influenced by the Edwardseans: Christ is treated as though he was a sinner, all the while we remain sinners, and we remain guilty for our sin. At no point is sin or its guilt, or its obligation transferred to Christ.

On the other hand, we can see that within the original Owen-Turretin version of limited atonement, the following elements can be identified as indispensable: 1) pecuniary assumptions, 2) imputation as transference, 3) quantifiable sin (the guilt of) being transferred, and 4) identity of suffering.15 These assumptions, though more often than not unstated and implicit, rely on a causal mechanism that involves transference of guilt, quantifiable sins, pecuniary causalities, and the irrefusability and unconditionality of in the sameness of identity, in kind and quantity, in the substitution (as payment).

To conclude,

The result is that, at least, these elements are operative in the Owen-Turretin16 concept of imputation:17

We see the aspect of pecuniary transactionalism.

We see the aspect of sin-acts, or as I like to say, sin-bits (the guilt of), being a finite, fixed, collated and quantifiable amount which is imputed to Christ; that is, it’s John’s finite and fixed number of sin-bits imputed, but not Harry’s finite and fixed number of sin-bits. Had God elected more, more sin would have been collated and imputed to Christ.

We see the idea of imputation of sin’s guilt functioning as transference (due to a Crispian-like reading of Scripture).

Owen’s double payment dilemma works on two key assumptions, the satisfaction of Christ has the same causal efficacy involved in a pecuniary transaction, and that imputation amounts to transference of sin’s guilt: the debtor is discharged once the surety assumes the debt.

However, if one or both of these key ideas are disconnected from the true biblical picture of penal satisfaction for sin, the double payment dilemma unravels. And for this reason, I believe it was rejected by men such as Charles Hodge and Robert Dabney (to name a few). And of course, because limited atonement is functionally dependent upon the double-payment dilemma, I would also add, therefore, limited atonement, more generally, can only be sustained upon these assumptions.

I have put all this together so that we may have a better understanding of the mechanics of it imputation within the framework of mainstream TULIP Calvinism. The import of this is that we have, at a fundamental level, two versions of penal substitutionary atonement.

A good question for us is, is it the case that pecuniary transactionalism caused the rise of ideas imputation as transference, or is the idea of the transference of sin the fruit of multiple source-errors?



1To paraphrase James Walker, ‘in the sense in which he properly died for any man, he died only for the elect.’ James Walker, The Theology and Theologians of Scotland, Chiefly of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1888), 80.

2Unsaved and non-elect.

3Unsaved elect who have had their sin’s guilt transferred to Christ, but have not yet been justified by faith.

4That is, elect who have been justified upon faith.

5 John Owen, “Death of Death, in Works, 10:285.

6Keep in mind that surety is a properly commercial and pecuniary category and not a penal one.

7 Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology (Phillipsburg, Jew Jersey: P&Rm 1992), 2:466-467

8John Owen, Dissertation on Divine Justice, in Works, 10:600.

9John Owen, “A Brief Declaration and Vindication of the Doctrine of the Trinity,” in Works, 2:436-437.

10John Owen, “On Justification,” in Works, 5:200-201. Owen goes on to explain:

But it is fiercely objected against what we have asserted, that if the guilt of our sins was imputed unto Christ, then was he constituted a sinner thereby; for it is the guilt of sin that makes any one to be truly a sinner. This is urged by Bellarmine, lib. 2, De Justificat., not for its own sake, but to disprove the imputation of his righteousness unto us; as it is continued by others with the same design. For says he, “If we be made righteous, and the children of God, through the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, then was he made a sinner, ‘et quod horret animus cogitare, filius diaboli’; by the imputation of the guilt of our sins or our unrighteousness unto him.” And the same objection is pressed by others, with instances of consequences which, for many reasons, I heartily wish had been forborne. But I answer,–

[1.] Nothing is more absolutely true, nothing is more sacredly or assuredly believed by us, than that nothing which Christ did or suffered, nothing that he undertook or underwent, did or could constitute him subjectively, inherently, and thereon personally, a sinner, or guilty of any sin of his own. To bear the guilt or blame of other men’s faults,–to be “alienae culpae reus,”–makes no man a sinner, unless he did unwisely or irregularly undertake it. But that Christ should admit of any thing of sin in himself, as it is absolutely inconsistent with the hypostatical union, so it would render him unmet for all other duties of his office, Hebrews 7:25, 26. And I confess it has always seemed scandalous unto me, that Socinus, Crellius, and Grotius, do grant that, in some sense, Christ offered for his own sins, and would prove it from that very place wherein it is positively denied, chap. 7:27. This ought to be sacredly fixed and not a word used, nor thought entertained, of any possibility of the contrary, upon any supposition whatever.

[2.] None ever dreamed of a transfusion or propagation of sin from us unto Christ, each as there was from Adam unto us. For Adam was a common person unto us, — we are not so to Christ: yea, he is so to us; and the imputation of our sins unto him is a singular act of divine dispensation, which no evil consequence can ensue upon.

[3.] To imagine such an imputation of our sins unto Christ as that thereon they should cease to be our sins, and become his absolutely, is to overthrow that which is affirmed; for, on that supposition, Christ could not suffer for our sins, for they ceased to be ours antecedently unto his suffering. But the guilt of then was so transferred unto him, that through his suffering for it, it might be pardoned unto us. John Owen, “On Justification,” in Works, 5:201.

11John Owen, “On Justification,” in Works, 5: 246.

12I should say, I have made this phrase up myself, “tranferrential imputation.”



15Again I should note that this essay does not and cannot cover all these elements.

16By these two people I would sum up the High Calvinist side of the Protestant Scholastic movement.

17For this essay I have not discussed Owen’s explicit commitment to Christ suffering the very identical punishment due to any given elect sinner. Owen committed himself to this because for him, the efficacy of a limited satisfaction depended upon that satisfaction being absolutely irrefusable and unconditional.

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