"A voluntary obligation to endure the punishment of another is not guilt, any more than the consequent exemption from obligation in the offender, is innocence. Both guilt and innocence are transferable in their effects, but in themselves, they are untransferable. To say that Christ was reckoned or counted in the divine administration as if he were the sinner, and came under an obligation to endure the curse or punishment due to our sins, is one thing; but to say he deserved that curse, is another. Guilt, strictly speaking, is the inseparable attendant of transgression, and could never therefore for one moment occupy the conscience of Christ." -Fuller
"That the Scriptures represent believers as receiving only the benefits of the effects of Christ’s righteousness in justification, is a remark of which I am not able to see the fallacy: nor does it follow that his obedience itself is not imputed to them. Obedience itself may be, and is imputed, while its effects only are imparted, and consequently received. Neither sin nor righteousness are in themselves transferable." -Fuller
"I apprehend, then, that many important mistakes have arisen from considering the interposition of Christ under the notion of paying a debt. * * Sin is a debt only in a metaphorical sense: properly speaking it is a crime, and satisfaction for it requires to be made not on pecuniary, but on moral principles. The reason of this difference is easily perceived. Debts are transferable, but crimes are not. A third person may cancel the one, but he can only obliterate the effects of the other: the desert of the criminal remains." -Fuller
William Rushton responds to Fuller's view on imputation in these words,
"...I cannot pass by the very exceptionable manner in which Mr. Fuller has explained himself on the subject of imputation. I have quoted his words in my first letter, to which I beg leave to refer you, and also to the original. We are there informed what the term signifies: we are also told that, like many other words, it has a proper and an improper meaning. We are informed, moreover, that the word, in a proper sense, means so and so; and in an improper sense, it means so and so; the conclusion of all which is, that when the Scripture speaks of the imputation of sin to Christ, or of righteousness to the sinner, the term is to be taken not in a proper, but in an improper sense. Now, all this sounds very philosophically; but what real instruction or comfort can such a detail communicate to a sincere, inquiring soul? Such a one, on meeting with this explanation of Mr. Fuller, would immediately start, and say, "Alas! I did indeed think that all my sins were imputed to the Lord Jesus, and this was the ground of my comfort; but Mr. Fuller tells me that this was so only in what he calls an improper sense. And I have comforted myself with the thought that Christ’s righteousness was mine, being truly imputed to me; but Mr. Fuller has perplexed and distressed me, for he says this is not properly the case." In this manner would Mr. Fuller’s philosophy be worse than thrown away. But his whole statement on this subject is badly illustrated, and essentially deficient.
In the first place, then, the statement itself is liable to be misunderstood, owing to the indistinct and confused manner in which he has attempted to illustrate it. To give an instance or two. The proper sense of imputation, we are told, is, "the charging, reckoning, or placing to the account of persons and things THAT WHICH PROPERLY BELONGS TO THEM." And the very first instance of the imputation in a proper sense, which Mr. Fuller has adduced, is the case of Eli charging Hannah with drunkenness. "Eli thought she had been drunken." Now there is reason to think that many of Mr. Fuller’s readers would not clearly comprehend his meaning here; and if they did not understand the deep metaphysical sense of the word "proper," they wouldbe weak enough to imagine that Eli’s imputation was an improper imputation. But even amongst those who are more expert in the meaning of words, there may be some, who, being aware that Eli charged Hannah unjustly, would perhaps not find it so easy to understand how he imputed to her "that which properly belonged to her." Equally at a loss would some readers be to find that the Lord’s not imputing iniquity to men, is to be understood in a proper sense; that is, he does not properly impute iniquity to his people. They would be still more at a loss, on reflecting that Mr. Fuller understands the imputation of sin to Christ in an improper sense, and might naturally conclude that, as the Lord does not properly impute sin to his people, nor yet to Christ, that their sin is never properly imputed at all. It is truly a pity to find so important, and yet so simple a subject darkened as it is in Mr. Fuller’s explanation. Indeed, the artificial distinctions and scholastic phrases are sometimes worse than useless, and often good for nothing but to increase the importance of the teacher, and to serve the same purpose in divinity as a barbarous kind of Latin is made to answer in law and in physic.
But Mr. Fuller’s explanation of this important subject is not only confused and indistinct, but it is essentially deficient. In short, the imputation of sin to Christ is explained away. According to Mr. Fuller, sin was not really, or, as he terms it, properly imputed to Christ, but only in appearance. He was treated as though sin were really imputed to him; he suffered as though he were guilty; but yet, according to Mr. Fuller, guilt itself was not truly imputed to him. Not to dispute about words, the subject may be illustrated by transactions among men. When one man imputes sin or crime to another, this is the same thing as charging him with that crime. Thus Saul imputed treason to Ahimelech, when he charged him with it. But such imputation may be real, or it may be only in appearance; an imputation may be just, or it may be unjust. When Nathan charged David with sin in the matter of Uriah, the imputation was both real and just. When Joseph imputed bad motives to his brethren, he charged them not really, but only in appearance, for he knew they were not spies; and when Eli imputed drunkenness to Hannah he did so really, but he did so unjustly. Now, when God imputed sin to Christ he charged him either really, or only in appearance, justly or unjustly. With respect to justice we shall not now inquire; but the question relates to the former, namely whether God really imputed sin to Christ, as a sinner’s surety, or whether he did so only in appearance. Mr. Fuller denies that he did so really, or that Christ suffered real and proper punishment; and although he does not say, in the very words, that this imputation was only in appearance, yet this is his meaning. He tells us that the imputation of sin to Christ is to be understood in an improper sense. By imputation in an improper sense, he understands "charging, reckoning, or placing to the account of persons and things that which does not properly belong to them, as though it did." As an instance of this improper imputation, he gives us the complaint of Job, "Wherefore hidest thou thy face and holdest me for thine enemy?" Now the Lord did not really count Job for an enemy; he imputed enmity to him only in appearance, or he dealt with him as though he were an enemy. Yet in this very sense does Mr. Fuller understand the imputation of sin to Christ. "He was counted," says he, "in the divine administration, as if he were, or had been the sinner, that those who believe in him might he accounted as if they were, or had been righteous." The plain meaning of which is, that God gave his Son to suffer, as though sin had been found upon him, or, in other words, that Christ bore the punishment of guilt, but not guilt itself. Now, for Christ to suffer instead of theguilty is one thing, but to have guilt itself imputed to him is another. The difference is so manifest that it scarcely needs the following illustration. A certain man is found guilty of high treason, and condemned to die. His brother, from mere compassion, offered to die in his stead. The ransom was accepted, and the innocent man underwent the penalty of the law as a voluntary substitute for his guilty brother. Now, in this case, the innocent man bore the punishment of his brother’s guilt, but not the guilt itself. He underwent, indeed, the sentence of the law, but treason was not imputed to him—justice forbade that it should. He was treated .as though he were guilty, and that is one thing, but to lie under the imputation of guilt is another. Thus Mr. Fuller explains away the doctrine of imputation. By denying the transfer of our guilt to Christ, he admits of no real imputation of our sins to him, but only a transfer of punishment. Imputation of sin, therefore, in Mr. Fuller’s improper or figurative sense, means no real imputation at all." -William Rushton