Antinomians

Antinomians (from ἀντί, against, and νόμος, the law), those who reject the moral law as not binding upon Christians. Some go farther than this, and say that good works hinder salvation, and that a child of God cannot sin; that the moral law is altogether abrogated as a rule of life; that no Christian believeth or worketh any good, but that Christ only believeth and worketh, etc. Wesley defines Antinomianism as "the doctrine which makes void the law through faith." Its root lies in a false view of the atonement; its view of the imputation of Christ's righteousness implies that he performs for men the obedience which they ought to perform, and therefore that God, in justice, can demand nothing further from man. As consequences of this doctrine, Antinomianism affirms that Christ abolished the moral law; that Christians are therefore not obliged to observe it; that a believer is not obliged to use the ordinances, and is freed from "the bondage of good works;" and that preachers ought not to exhort men unto good works: not unbelievers, because it is hurtful; not believers, because it is needless (Wesley, Works, 5,196).

1. Antinomianism, i.e. faith without works, is one of the forms of error against which the Epistle of James is directed, showing that even in the apostolic age it had made its appearance. So the tract of Augustine (contra adversairiumn legis et prophetarum) indicates the existence of such opinions in the fourth century.

2. But the full development of Antinomianism is due to John Agricola († 1566), one of the early coadjutors of Luther. SEE AGRICOLA. Some of the expressions of Luther and Melancthon, as to justification and the law, in the ardor of their controversy with Rome, were hasty and extravagant: e.g. Luther declared that "in the new covenant there is no longer a constraining and forcing law; and that those who must be scared and driven by laws are unworthy the name of Christians" (Luther, Werke, Walch's ed. 18, 1855). So, in his writings against the Zwickau enthusiasts, he was hasty enough to say, "These teachers of sin annoy us with Moses; we do not wish to see or hear Moses; for Moses was given to the Jews, not to us Gentiles and Christians; we have our Gospel and New Testament; they wish to make Jews of us through Moses; but they shall not" (Werke, 20, 203). Melancthon (Loci Commnunes, 1st ed. by Augusti, p. 127) declares that "it must be admitted that the Decalogue is abrogated." But these unguarded expressions did not set forth the real views of Luther and Melancthon. So, in the "Instructions to the Pastors of the Saxon Electorate" (1527), it was enjoined that "all pastors must teach and enforce diligently the ten commandments, and not only the commandments themselves, but also the penalties which God has affixed to the violation of them." Agricola saw in these instructions what he thought was a backsliding from the true doctrine of justification by faith only, and charred Luther and Melancthon bitterly with dereliction in faith and doctrine. He affirmed that the Decalogue is not binding on Christians, and that true repentance comes, not from preaching the law, but by faith. Luther confuted Agricola, who professed to retract at Torgau (1527); but Melancthon remarked that "Agricola was not convinced, but overborne" (Corpus Refornatorum, 1, 914). Accordingly, in 1537, when Agricola was established at Wittenberg, he wrote a number of propositions, published anonymously, under the title Positiones inter fratres sparce, on the nature of repentance and its relations to faith, in which his heresy was taught again, even in language so extreme as the following: "Art thou steeped in sin — an adulterer or a thief? If thou believest, thou art in salvation. All who follow Moses must go to the Devil; to the gallows with Moses." After a while Agricola confessed the authorship of these theses; and Luther replied in a series of disputations (Werke, Walch, 20, 2034; ed. Altenb. 7:310 sq.), in which he refuted the doctrines of Agricola, but dealt gently with him personally. Finding mildness of no avail, Luther attacked Agricola violently in 1539 and 1540, classing him with the Anabaptist fanatics, and calling him very hard names. About this time Agricola had a call to Berlin, retracted again, and was reconciled to Luther (Dec. 9, 1540). He continued, however, to be violently attacked by Flacius. After the death of Agricola, Antinomian opinions were in particular advocated in Germany by Amsdorf (q.v.), who maintained that good works are an obstacle to salvation, and by Otto of Nordhausen, who repeated the opinions of Agricola. In the Formula Concordice (pt. 2, cap. 5, § 11) we find the following condemnation of these heresies: "Et juste datnnantur Antinomi adversarii legis, qui prcedicationem legis ex ecclesiae explodunt et afftrmant, non ex lege, sed ex solo Evangelio peccata arguenda et contritionem docendam esse."

3. Similar sentiments were maintained in England during the protectorate of Oliver Cromwell, especially by his chaplain Saltmarsh, and some of the so-called "sectaries," who expressly maintained that, as the elect cannot fall from grace nor forfeit the divine favor, the wicked actions they commit are not really sinful, nor to be considered as instances of their violation of the divine law; and that, consequently, they have no occasion either to confess their sins or to break them off by repentance.

4. Antinomianism arose also, in the 17th century, from ultra-Calvinism, especially as taught by Dr. Crisp (1, 1642). It is true he acknowledges that, "In respect of the rules of righteousness, or the matter of obedience, we are under the law still, or else," as he adds, "we are lawless, to live every man as seems good in his own eyes, which no true Christian dares so much as think of." The following sentiments, however, among others, are taught in his sermons: "The law is cruel and tyrannical, requiring what is naturally impossible." "The sins of the elect were so imputed to Christ, as that, though he did not commit them, yet they became actually his transgressions, and ceased to be theirs." "The feelings of conscience, which tell them that sin is theirs, arise from a want of knowing the truth." "It is but the voice of a lying spirit in the hearts of believers that saith they have yet sin wasting their consciences, and lying as a burden too heavy for them to bear." "Christ's righteousness is so imputed to the elect, that they, ceasing to be sinners, are as righteous as he was, and all that he was." "An elect person is not in a condemned state while an unbeliever; and should he happen to die before God calls him to believe, he would not be lost." "Repentance and confession of sin are not necessary to forgiveness. A believer may certainly conclude before confession, yea, as soon as he hath committed sin, the interest he hath in Christ, and the love of Christ embracing him" (Crisp, Works, 2, 261-272; Orme, Life of Baxter, 2, 232).

This form of High Calvinism, or Antinomianism, absolutely "withers and destroys the consciousness of human responsibility. It confounds moral with natural impotency, forgetting that the former is a crime, the latter only a misfortune; and thus treats the man dead in trespasses and sins as if he were already in his grave. It prophesies smooth things to the sinner going on in his transgressions, and soothes to slumber and the repose of death the souls of such as are at ease in Zion. It assumes that, because men can neither believe, repent, nor pray acceptably, unless aided by the grace of God, it is useless to call upon them to do so. It maintains that the Gospel is only intended for elect sinners, and therefore it ought to be preached to none but such. In defiance, therefore, of the command of God, it refuses to preach the glad tidings of mercy to every sinner. In opposition to Scripture, and to every rational consideration, it contends that it is not man's duty to believe the truth of God — justifying the obvious inference that it is not a sin to reject it. In short, its whole tendency is to produce an impression on the sinner's mind that, if he is not saved, it is not his fault, but God's; that, if he is condemned, it is more for the glory of the Divine Sovereignty than as the punishment of his guilt. So far from regarding the moral cure of human nature as the great object and design of the Gospel, Antinomianism does not take it in at all, but as it exists in Christ, and becomes ours by a figure of speech. It regards the grace and the pardon as every thing, the spiritual design or effect as nothing. Hence its opposition to progressive, and its zeal for imputed sanctification: the former is intelligible and tangible, but the latter a mere figment of the imagination. Hence its delight in expatiating on the eternity of the Divine decrees, which it does not understand, but which serve to amuse and to deceive, and its dislike to all the sober realities of God's present dealings and commands. It exults in the contemplation of a Christ who is a kind of concretion of all the moral attributes of his people; to the overlooking of that Christ who is the Head of all that in heaven and on earth bear his likeness, and while unconscious of possessing it. It boasts in the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, while it believes in no saint but one, that is Jesus, and neglects to persevere" (Orme's Life of Baxter, 2, 243).

The chief English writers of the 17th century who have been charged as favoring Antinomianism, besides Crisp, are Richardson, Saltmarsh, Hussey, Eaton, Town, etc.' These were answered by Gataker, Witsius, Bull, Ridgely, and especially by Baxter and Williams. For Baxter's relation to the controversy, see Orme, Life of Baxter, vol. 2, chap. 9, where it is stated that "Baxter saw only the commencement of the controversy, which agitated the Dissenters for more than seven years after he had gone to his rest († 1691). He was succeeded by his friend Dr. Williams († 1716), who, after incredible exertion and no small suffering, finally cleared the ground of the Antinomians." In the eighteenth century Antinomianism again showed itself, both in the Church of England and among the Dissenters, as an offshoot of what was called High Calvinism. Its most powerful opponents were John Fletcher, in his Checks to Antinomianism (Works, N. Y. ed. 4 vols. 8vo) and John Wesley, Works (N. Y. ed. 7 vols. 8vo). The error of Antinomianism lies chiefly in the sharp contrast which it draws between the law and the Gospel. Wesley saw this, and dwells, in many parts of his writings, on the relation and connection of law and Gospel. We give an instance: "There is no contrariety at all between the law and the Gospel. Indeed, neither of them supersedes the other, but they agree perfectly well together. Yea, the very same words, considered in different respects, are parts both of the law and of the Gospel. If they are considered as commandments, they are parts of the law; if as promises, of the Gospel. Thus, 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,' when considered as a commandment, is a branch of the law; when regarded as a promise, is an essential part of the Gospel-the Gospel being no other than the commands of the law proposed by way of promise. There is, therefore, the closest connection that can be conceived between the law and the Gospel. On the one hand, the law continually makes way for, and points us to the Gospel; on the other, the Gospel continually leads us to a more exact fulfilling of the law. The law, for instance, requires us to love God, to love our neighbor, to be meek, humble, or holy. We feel that we are not sufficient for these things; yea, that 'with man this is impossible.' But we see a promise of God to give us that love. We lay hold of this Gospel, of these glad tidings; it is done unto us according to our faith; and 'the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us' through faith which is in Christ Jesus. The moral law, contained in the Ten Commandments, and enforced by the prophets, Christ did not take away. It was not the design of his coming to revoke any part of this. This is a law which never can be broken, which 'stands fast as the faithful witness in heaven.' The moral stands on an entirely different foundation from the ceremonial or ritual law, which was only designed for a temporary restraint upon a disobedient and stiffnecked people; whereas this was from the beginning of the world, being written, not in tables of stone, but on the hearts of all men" (Sermons, 1, 17, and 223). The heresy showed itself at a later period, especially through the influence of Dr. Robert Hawker (q.v.), vicar of Charles the Martyr, Plymouth, who was a very popular preacher, and "poisoned the surrounding region" with Antinomian tendencies. Against him, Joseph Cottle wrote Strictures on the Plymouth Antinomians, and Burt, Observations on Hawker's System of Theology. See Robert Hall, Works (N. Y. 2:458); Bennett, History of the Dissenters, p. 344. A full account of the Antinomians of the Crispian type, and of the controversy about it, is given in Nelson, Life of Bishop Bull (vol. 7 of Bull's Works, ed. of 1827). On the English Antinomianism, see further, Gataker, God's Eye on Israel (Lond. 1645, 4to); Antidote against Error (London, 1670, 4to); Williams (Daniel), Works, vol. 2 (1738-50); Witsius, Animadversions Irenicoe (Miscell. ed. 1736, 2:591 sq.); Wesley, Works, 1, 225; 5,196; 6, 68 et al.; Neal, History of the Puritans, 4; Fletcher, Works (4 vols. N. Y.); Andrew Fuller, Gospel worthy of all Acceptation; Antinomianism

contrasted with Scripture (Works, edition of 1853); Watson, Theol. Institutes, 2, 140. On Agricola and the German Antinomianism, consult Nitzsch, De Antinomismo Agricole (Wurtemb. 1804); Elwert, De Antinomia Agricolke (Tur. 1836); Nitzsch, in Studien u. Kri. 1846, pt. 1 and 2; also Schulze, Hist. Antinomorumn seculo Lutheri (Vitemb. 1708); Wewetzer, De Antinomismo Agricolke (Strals. 1829); Murdoch's Mosheim, Ch. Hist. c. 16, pt. 2, ch. 1, § 25; Herzog, Real-Encyklopdadie, 1, 375, sq. SEE ANTONIANS.

 
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