Legalists Properly speaking, a legalist is one who "acts according to the law;" but in general the term is made use of to denote one who seeks salvation by works of law (not of the law, but of "law" generally, whether moral or ceremonial, ἐξ ἔργων νόμου, Romans v. 20) instead of by the merits of Christ. Many who are alive to the truth that it is impossible to do anything that can purchase salvation, and who desire that this doctrine should be earnestly and constantly inculcated by Christian ministers in their teaching, conceive that there is a danger also on the opposite side; and that while plain Antinomian teaching would disgust most hearers, there is a kind of doctrine scarcely less mischievous in its consequences, that which only incidentally touches on good works. They think that whatever leads or leaves men, without distinctly rejecting Christian virtue, to feel little anxiety and take little pains about it; anything which, though perhaps not so meant, is liable to be so understood by those who have the wish as to leave them without any feeling of real shame, or mortification, or alarm on account of their own faults and moral deficiencies, so as to make them anxiously watchful only against seeking salvation by good works, and not at all against seeking salvation without good works — all this (they consider) is likely to be much more acceptable to the corrupt disposition of the natural man than that which urges the necessity of being "careful to maintain good works." Those who take such a view of the danger of the case think that Christian teachers should not shrink, through fear of incurring the wrongful imputation of "legalism," from earnestly inculcating the points which the apostles found it necessary to dwell on with such continual watchfulness and frequent repetition. But in general the term is made use of to denote one who expects salvation by his own works. We may further consider a legalist as one who has no proper conviction of the evil of sin; who, although he pretends to abide by the law, yet has not a just idea of its spirituality and demands. He is ignorant of the grand scheme of salvation by free grace: proud of his own fancied righteousness, he submits not to the righteousness of (God; he derogates from the honor of Christ by mixing his own works with his; and, in fact, denies the necessity of the work of the Spirit by supposing that he has ability in himself to perform all those duties which God has required. Such is the character of the legalist, a character diametrically opposite to that of the true Christian, whose sentiment corresponds with that of the apostle, who justly observes, "By grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph 2:8-9). — Eden, Theol. Dict. s.v.; Buck, Theol. Dict. s.v.; Buchanan, Doctrine of Justification, Lect. 6, especially p. 153 sq.

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