Our College Hymn

Posted On April 24, 2024

Written by Dr. Stephen Nichols, president and professor of apologetics

The doctrine of imputation is essential to the Christian faith because it gets to the heart of the orthodox understanding of justification by faith alone, which is essential to the gospel. This doctrine was one of the major rallying cries of Dr. R.C. Sproul over his fifty-plus years of faithful ministry. So, it should come as no surprise to us that Dr. Sproul, our first president, wrote a hymn on imputation and that it would serve as RBC’s college hymn, “Clothed in Righteousness”:

Fallen race in Eden fair
Exposed and full of shame
Fled we naked from Thy sight
Far from Thy holy Name

Clothe us in Your righteousness
Hide filthy rags of sin
Dress us in Your perfect garb
Both outside and within

Sent from the garden to the east
Outside of Eden’s gate,
Banished there from Thy pure light
Were Adam and his mate


Scarlet souls are now like snow
By Thy atoning grace
Crimson hearts become like wool
For Adam’s fallen race


No work of ours is good enough
For evil to atone
Your merit, Lord, is all we have
It saves and it alone


The word imputation does not actually appear in the hymn. What rhymes with imputation, after all? Instead, the hymn uses vivid imagery to capture the contours and texture of the word. There is a simplicity to the hymn that belies the complexity of its main subject. The four stanzas and simple refrain start with the fall and the imputation of Adam’s sin to the human race and then move effortlessly to the atonement and imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Our condition in Adam has left us naked, ashamed, “East of Eden,” and sent out from the presence of God. The work of Christ makes scarlet souls like the pure white snow, and by Christ’s work alone “crimson hearts become like wool.”

We recently found the original handwritten manuscript of the hymn. R.C. wrote it out in one sitting, nearly perfectly. The first stanza would later be edited, but only minor edits were made on the final three stanzas and the refrain. One edit in the first line of the refrain is worth mentioning. R.C. originally wrote, “Clothe us in your righteousness, hide our blemished souls.” He then struck those final three words, substituting in “filthy rags of sin.” The phrase “blemished souls” conveys the truth sufficiently enough, but not with the concreteness and simplicity of “filthy rags of sin.” And, of course, a sola had to make it into the college hymn. The final line of the final stanza crescendos that Christ’s merit “saves and it alone.” There’s that singular essential truth of the gospel coming at the end of the hymn, like an exclamation point.

While R.C. wrote out the hymn on his typical yellow notebook paper, he didn’t write the title. That was added to this manuscript later by his wife, Vesta. I remember watching R.C. sing from the platform of Saint Andrew’s Chapel or from various conference platforms. As he sang, he always carefully watched Vesta. He loved to see her so joyfully singing along. They were always a team, to which this manuscript fittingly attests.

“Clothed in Righteousness” has become a favorite for all of us here at RBC, and we all enjoy our tradition of singing it to begin chapel every week and at our convocation and commencement ceremonies. It reminds us of the beauty and simplicity of the essential doctrine of our Reformed faith. It reminds us of the great exchange of our filthy rags for Christ’s righteous robe. It reminds us that His atoning grace is all we have and all we need. So we praise His holy name.