Let me commend to you again Mark Jones’ fine monograph Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest. This slim academic volume is not a quick read, but it is important, for Jones demonstrates convincingly from history that antinomianism is much more than saying “let us continue in sin that grace may abound.”

For example, in 1637 the Synod of Elders, with an eye toward refuting antinomianism in New England, declared a number of theological propositions “unsafe.”  These statements from antinomian theologians were deemed by the Synod to be out of bound with the Reformed faith.

1. To say we are justified by faith is an unsafe speech; we must say we are justified by Christ.

2. To evidence justification by sanctification or graces savours of Rome.

3. If I be holy, I am never the better accepted by God; if I be unholy, I am never the worse.

4. If Christ will let me sin, let him look to it; upon his honour be it.

5. Here is a great stir about graces and looking to hearts; but give me Christ; I seek not for graces, but for Christ. . . .I seek not for sanctification, but for Christ; tell me not of meditation and duties, but tell me of Christ.

6. I may know I am Christ’s, not because I do crucify the lusts of the flesh, but because I do not crucify them, but believe in Christ that crucified my lusts for me.

7. If Christ be my sanctification, what need I look to anything in myself, to evidence my justification. (8-9)

Remember, these are the statements the Synod in New England considered unsafe, as in not good. Many have a familiar ring to them. People like John Cotton and Anne Hutchinson were arguing that we should not look for evidences of grace in our lives as confirmation of our election and justification. The antinomian impulse was one which maintained that good works were not necessary for salvation, that God delights in all Christians in the same way, that God does not see sin in the believer, that the moral law is no longer binding for Christians, that law and gospel are diametrically opposed in every way, that to strive after holiness smacks of legalistic effort, that we should not speak of spiritual duties or spiritual progress, that the subject of spiritual activity is not the believer but Christ. Clearly, antinomianism was much more complicated and went much deeper than a simple indifference to sin.

As we would expect, J.I. Packer does a masterful job of unraveling the errors of antinomianism.

Thus, with regard to justification, antinomians affirm that God never sees sin in believers; once we are in Christ, whatever our subsequent lapses, he sees at every moment only the flawless righteousness of the Savior’s life on earth, now reckoned to be ours.

Then, with regard to sanctification, there have been mystical antinomians who have affirmed that the indwelling Christ is the personal subject who obeys the law in our identity once we invoke his help in obedience situations, and there have been pneumatic antinomians who have affirmed that the Holy Spirit within us directly prompts us to discern and do the will of God, without our needing to look to the law to either prescribe or monitor our performance.

The common ground is that those who live in Christ are wholly separated from every aspect of the pedagogy of the law. The freedom with which Christ has set us free, and the entire source of our ongoing peace and assurance, are based upon our knowledge that what Christ, as we say, enables us to do he actually does in us for himself.

So now we live, not by being forgiven our constant shortcomings, but by being out of the law’s bailiwick altogether; not by imitating Christ, the archetypal practitioner of holy obedience to God’s law, but by burrowing ever deeper into the joy of our free justification, and of our knowledge that Christ himself actually does in us all that his and our Father wants us to do.

Thus the correlating of conscience with the Father’s coded commands and Christ’s own casuistry of compassion need not and indeed should not enter into the living of the Christian life, as antinomians understand it.

The bottom line of all this? The conclusion of the matter? Here, as elsewhere, the reaction of man does not lead to the righteousness of God, but rather obstructs holiness. In God’s family, as in human families, an antinomian attitude to parental law makes for pride and immaturity, misbehavior and folly. Our true model of wise godliness, as well as our true mediator of God’s grace, is Jesus Christ, our law-keeping Lord. (x-xi)

The reason for this post, the reason for Jones’ book, and the reason for Packer’s foreword is to show that antinomianism is not a phantom, a straw man, or an unheard of error in our day. Throughout history we see that the recovery of grace and the triumph of gospel-centrality are often accompanied by confusion surrounding sanctification and less than careful statements about the nature of obedience, the love of God, and human exertion. We need to know our Bibles better, our history, and our confessions. For then we would remember that the moral law is not “contrary to the grace of the gospel,” but does “sweetly comply with it” (WCF 19.7).

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48 thoughts on “Antinomianism: It’s Bigger than You Think”

  1. mark mcculley says:

    toever, A Faire and Easy Way, explains that “John Cotton professed himself unable to believe it possible for a person to maintain that grace works a condition in him, reveals it, makes a promise to it, and applies it to him, and still not trust in the work. Even if a person did not trust in the merit of the work, he still probably would not dare to trust a promise unless he could see a work…”

    “Grace and works (not only in the case of justification) but in the whole course of our salvation, are not subordinate to each other but opposite:as that whatsoever is of grace is not of works, and whatsoever is of works is not of grace.”

  2. mark mcculley says:

    The Precisianist Strain: Disciplinary Religion and Antinomian Backlash in Puritanism to 1638 (Published for the Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia), by Theodore Dwight Bozeman, p 20:

    “Penitential teaching expressly echoed and bolstered moral priorities. In contrast, again, to Luther, whose penitential teaching stressed the rueful sinner’s attainment of peace through acknowledgment of fault and trust in unconditional pardon, many puritans E included moral renewal. In unmistakable continuity with historic Catholic doctrine that tied ‘contrition, by definition, to the intention to amend,’ they required an actual change in the penitent. For them, a renewal of moral resolve was integral to the penitential experience, and a few included the manifest alteration of behavior. They agreed that moral will or effort cannot merit forgiveness, yet rang variations on the theme that repentance is ‘an inward sorrow . . . whereunto is also added a . . . desire to frame our life in all points according to the holy will of God expressed in the divine scriptures.” However qualified by
    reference to the divine initiative and by denial of efficacy to human works, such teaching also adumbrated Puritan penitential and
    preparationist teaching of later decades.”

  3. a. says:

    “not by imitating Christ”
    despising of this clear teaching of our Lord, always one clue, for that perhaps would be too convicting – our Lord, Himself, emptying Himself and choosing to submit and walk by the Spirit with power (Acts 10:38);

    clues too:lack of emphasis on teaching, practice, training of senses to discern good and evil Heb 5:14; 1Kings 3:9

    “We need to know our Bibles better, our history, and our confessions”..
    ..and be ever calling upon the Lord, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name,that He would grant us, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, Eph 3:15-16

    it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes, so it is sorrowful when any of our errors are not often “nipped in the bud” with love and truth, for love of the Lord, our brothers, ourselves

  4. mark mcculley says:

    Of course there are many Arminian antinomians with us today who teach that the Holy Spirit takes over the agency from Christians so that Christians have no duty to obey the law of Christ. Those who teach the “exchanged life” fall into this category, people like Steve McVey, Malcolm Smith, Andrew Farley and Paul Ellis. The tolerant Anglican J I Packer is rightly intolerant to this kind of antinomianism.

    Packer is certainly right to criticize the “hyper-grace” movement which either denies or is ignorant of Christ’s satisfaction of the law for the elect. But in a day when those who teach penal satisfaction by Christ’s death for the elect alone are known not as “five point” Calvinists but as “scholastics” living in the past, we need to say that not all ideas denounced as “hyper” are really antinomian. Instead of throwing all accusations of antinomianism together in one convenient “package” (as Jones does), we need to look at the identifying descriptions one by one, to see which are accurate and which are not. Certainly the distinction between law and gospel is not inherently “antinomian”, because the Bible itself tells us that “law is not of faith”.

    And when it comes to the word “sanctification”, first we need to define the word, because biblically it has more to do with binary status than it does with process or progress. I would recommend David Peterson’s Possessed by God on this, but in brief we need to always remember the teaching of Hebrews 10;10-14 that those individuals being sanctified in time are thus sanctified by the blood of Christ. It is election that first sets us apart. Christ died only for the elect, and it is Christ’s death which sets the elect apart when God imputes the death of Christ to them. So we need to define sanctification.

    Even when we say “definitive sanctification”, we need to make it clear if we are talking about the work of the Holy Spirit in initially causing us to understand and believe the gospel (II Thess 2:13) or if we are talking about a claim that Christians cannot sin as much or in the same ways as we did before conversion (John Murray)

  5. lisa says:

    In statement #5, where it says, “Tell me now of meditation and duties…” should it say, “Tell me *not* of meditation and duties”?

  6. Mark B. says:

    Good post Kevin.

    “If Christ be my sanctification, what need I look to anything in myself, to evidence my justification. (8-9)”

    These sayings sound very familiar to me. The Church needs to be on guard with regard to this heresy.

  7. JR says:

    Not to name names, but I am going to name names…to what extent are respected teachers like Tulian Tchividjian and Steve Brown espousing ideas on grace which at least contain an antinomian odor to them?

    And should these men be cautioned or are they being cautioned?

  8. Daryl Little says:

    I’m less familiar with Tullian’s work (although I think he does lean that way), but I’d be hard pressed to see how Steve Brown is NOT an antinomian. I think he is or at least his teaching could easily create them.

  9. Kate says:

    @JR
    To what extent is Tulian Tchividjian espousing ideas on grace that contain an antinomian odor? I’m gonna go with to no extent. His main point regarding this topic is that those who truly understand grace are motivated to obey God more, not less.

  10. Rob Vaughn says:

    I do wonder, as JR above does, whether Kev might be willing to offer (in his inimitable charitable way) some statement-specific critiques of current writers (e.g., T.T.) to whom he may — may — be alluding in posts like this one. Just to help some of us who appreciate the Gospel Coalition writings of both Tullian and Kevin, yet who regularly sense a bit of tension between the two. That would be great!

  11. JR says:

    @Kate, with most any doctrine it’s easier to go to a consistent extreme than stay at the center of biblical tension. I don’t think TT is antinomian, but I do think he steps out of the tension and in that direction. This point has been well argued by Kevin and others (a point I had forgotten until after I posted my comment).

    Please notice I did say he was a respected teacher and I believe that. Further, to say his writing has an antinomian odor isn’t a full blown accusation, it’s just the recognition of a bent. Not all odors are awful. Some are just there.

    Ranging from what he has written on sanctification to those who make up his Liberate Conference it’s clear that he views grace as being opposed to earning, which is good, but he might also say it’s opposed to effort, which is where the biblical tension lies.

  12. Chris says:

    With regards to Tullian and an engagement by DeYoung of Tullian’s ideas, they went back and forth on these very topics a few years ago; I believe that’s what triggered, or perhaps fanned the flame, DeYoung’s writing of “Hole in our Holiness.”

    For example, check out the following posts from a few years ago:

    http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2011/06/14/gospel-driven-effort/

    http://theaquilareport.com/the-role-of-effort-in-sanctification-a-dialogue-between-kevin-deyoung-and-tullian-tchividjian/

    Keller and Carson also wrote a brief blog post at the time, but I can’t seem to find it.

    As far as whether or not Tullian leans in an antinomian direction, I would say yes, he absolutely does. The tenor of his posts is entirely antinomian most of the time; but don’t take my word for it, just hop on over and check it out for yourself. Just don’t expect clear-minded discussion in the comments. Truly, you will be called a legalist faster than you thought possible if you even mention obeying the law out of gratitude or crucifying the sinful man.

    As far as this post itself, thank you, Kevin. I had not yet heard that the familiar phrase “God sees no sin in us” is certainly antinomian. I was raised in Sonship theology, of which there is much good to be said, but there is certainly room to grow as well.

    God bless.

  13. Rob Vaughn says:

    Thanks, JR and Chris. Very helpful. KD certainly has some of the most thoughtful and gracious commenters.

  14. FWIW, the Anne Hutchinson (no relation) trial needs to be understood in context. I have read a lot of the primary sources of the early Mass. Bay Puritans, and she and Cotton were reacting to legitimate legalisms which were becoming more and more prevalent. They at places went too far (the point of this post), but what they were reacting too was real and may have been worse.

    They were concerned to provide comfort to those who strained under the weight of what it looked like to live as part of this new Holy Commonwealth experiment with its huge transformational aspirations for the world as the “New Israel” in special covenant with God. See Miller, Sears, Marsden, etc., etc.

    I am afraid I do not have time to cite sources now, but as a discussion of the overall trend in Puritanism, one may consult Fitzsimmon Alison’s monograph, “The Rise of Moralism.” One should just be careful how one uses complicated historical situations as weapons in contemporary theological disputes.

  15. mark mcculley says:

    I agree with Chris that the gospel of John Cotton is to be preferred to that of the moralistic neonomians who opposed the idea of assurance as the essence of faith. The puritans on the “sanctification by works” side of things traded in the gospel for “the practical syllogism”. When we look for a judgement either according to or based on what the Holy Spirit does in our lives, then
    we no longer follow the rule of Galatians 6 to glory in Christ’s finished work completed at the cross.

  16. mark mcculley says:

    Allison, in The Rise of Moralism, explains that there is a sense in which the neonomians saw righteousness as being infused and worked
    in the elect before being imputed to the elect. This was the prior union with Christ as the psychological basis (logically first) of justification.

    Solafideans were not opposed to inherent righteousness except as a
    justifying righteousness, which was precisely what Rome claimed it to be. Allison opposes the moralism of Baxter, Goodwin,
    and Woodbridge to those who taught the imputation of Christ’s righteousness (Owen, Eades, early Anglicans Hooker, Andrewes, Downame…)

  17. mark mcculley says:

    Williams James

    The moralist must hold his breath and keep his muscles tense; and so long as this athletic attitude is possible all goes well–morality suffices. But the athletic attitude tends ever to break down, and it inevitably does break down even in the most stalwart when the organism begins to decay, or when morbid fears invade the mind. To suggest personal will and effort to one all sicklied o’er with the sense of irremediable impotence is to suggest the most impossible of things. What he craves is to be consoled in his very powerlessness, to feel that the spirit of the universe recognizes and secures him, all decaying and failing as he is. Well, we are all such helpless failures in the last resort. The sanest and best of us are of one clay with lunatics and prison inmates, and death finally runs the robustest of us down. And whenever we feel this, such a sense of the vanity and provisionality of our voluntary career comes over us that all our morality appears but as a plaster hiding a sore it can never cure, and all our well-doing as the hollowest substitute for that well-being that our lives ought to be grounded in, but, alas! are not.

    http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/wjames/ch02.html

  18. mark mcculley says:

    Certain anti-antinomian proposals about “union” and definitive sanctification “have us infused with sanctity in exact logical parallel with our justification. By doing this, they think to forestall the criticism that we marginalize sanctity. This is a serious mistake. The moralists will never be satisfied. This move is like trying to pay off a loan shark with a quarter. No, he wants the whole thing with interest. We’re justified on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Christ. Full stop. Sanctity flows from that. That’s the Reformed faith. Let the moralists scream. I could care less.”
    Scott Clark

    http://heidelblog.net/2008/07/on-olevian-calvin-and-union-points-5-and-6/

  19. Richard UK says:

    KdY’s blog has some unclear (sloppy) logic in it.

    1. He writes “Jones demonstrates convincingly from history that antinomianism is much more than saying “let us continue in sin that grace may abound.”
    No – Jones simply demonstrates that some/many people have defined antinomianism in very broad ways. That is an historical exercise not a theological one. The obverse would be to accept all complaints against ‘moralism’ as ‘demonstrating convincingly …’ In both cases it probably tells us more about the author than the subject – unless the points can be proven from scripture which KdY does not attempt.

    2. KdY also writes “The antinomian impulse was one which maintained that good works were not necessary for salvation..” Is he saying that good works are necessary for salvation? He would certainly want to uphold the converse of all the other statements in his list.

    3. He also writes “The antinomian impulse was one which maintained that …the moral law is no longer binding for Christians”. What does ‘binding’ mean? Is it a helpful term? Does it not smack of the ‘bondage’ from which Christ came to set us free? Do Romans and Galatians mean for him that we are free from the condemnation of the law but not free from the requirements of the law? Is Luther an antinomian for him? Of course antinomianism is not a phantom, but surely it is ‘denying the relevance of the Law (to Christians)’. Those are the Enthusiasts Luther opposed. Even Packer argues antinomianism to be essentially a rejection of the pedagogical role

    4, Packer’s foreward is, I fear, far from masterful. Much of what he says about antinomians would not sound out of place coming from a moralist or a reformed believer, viz “with regard to sanctification, there have been [some of us] who have affirmed that the indwelling [Spirit] is the personal subject who [empowers us] once we invoke his help in obedience situations, [us, whom we might therefore call pneumatic ‘infusionist’ reformed believers]

    5. As with KdY’s black and white pictures, is Packer also then saying we remain within “the law’s bailiwick” living “by imitating Christ, the archetypal practitioner of holy obedience to God’s law”, thus reducing the Christian life to a crypto-catholic series of second chances? Where is the love in that – no wonder people talk of ‘Protestant scholasticism’!

  20. Kyle B says:

    @JR,
    Mark Jones avoided “naming names” in his book, save for one. He called out Tullian and said his book Jesus+Nothing=Everything was nothing but one long antinomian diatribe. So those who disagree (e.g. Kate) can take it up with Mark.
    Cheers!

  21. mark mcculley says:

    Tullian today writes about “the law is not of faith”:

    Leviticus 18:5b (both in Gal. 3 and Rom. 10) is a summary of the salvation-structure of the law: “if you keep the commandments, then you will live.” Here there is a promise of life linked to the condition of doing the commandments and a corresponding threat for not doing them: “cursed is everyone who does not abide in all the things written in the Book of the Law, to do them” (Gal 3.10 citingDeut 27.26). When this conditional word encounters the sinful human, the outcome is inevitable: “the whole world is guilty before God” (Rom 3.19). It is the condition that does the work of condemnation.

    Galatians 5 “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore stand firm (imperative) and do not be subject (imperative) again to the yoke of slavery.” Are these imperatives equal to Paul’s description of the law? No! The command here is precisely to not return to the law

  22. John R. says:

    Most of the confusion evidenced in the comments here–particularly those of mark mcculley–would be abated by actually reading and digesting Jones’ book.

  23. Mark says:

    Now that’s a thought, John!

    Mark Mcculley is an expert commenter on blogs and one wonders where he gets the time to be so prolific…

  24. Richard UK says:

    I am not clear about the content, purpose or spirit of the last two comments but I for one have found Mark Mcculley useful here as elsewhere – especially these two commands in Gal 5

  25. “We need to know our Bibles better… For then we would remember that the moral law is not “contrary to the grace of the gospel,” but does “sweetly comply with it” (WCF 19.7).”–from this blog

    If we knew our Bibles better we would know that there is no such thing even hinted at as “the moral law”. If you refer to the decalogue then you must know that in God’s word there is no dissection of the Law–there is no idea of part of the Law. If you are under the Decalogue then you are under the whole law Mosaic. No C of F can trump the sacred Scriptures breathed by the mind of God.

    P.S.
    I believe that the law which you are under is moral since it is implemented by God. If you want to know which law you are under you must first establish which covenant you are under. When there is a change in the covenant there is also a change in the law: Mosaic Covenant=law of Moses;
    New Covenant=law of Christ (Galatians 6:2; 1 cor 9:21)

  26. Richard UK says:

    T J Archibald

    Intriguing!

    I’m glad someone rightly put a sword into the notion that we can divide the Mosaic law into parts.

    In your PS, are you suggesting that everyone is under a law – unbelievers under the Law from Sinai, and believers under the law of Christ?

    If so, how do you reject the charge of neonomianism – that you have simply replaced one law with another?

  27. John R. says:

    Richard UK:

    His comments on this are useful if “useful” means “re-presenting the flawed arguments, definitions, and misunderstandings the book specifically deals with, as if he hasn’t read the book.”

  28. Richard UK says:

    John R

    So no Christmas cards between you two then!!

    Seriously, point taken, but I still find McCulley’s comment about those 2 commands in Gals 6.2 an interesting argument for how commands must be taken in context.

    My own comments were about the wording of the endorsements by KdY and Packer, neither of which incline me to read the book itself. My disinclination is further strengthened by reviews which suggest that (i) Jones is accusing Tullian T of antinomianism and (ii) he does not specify which laws are to be followed for holiness

  29. mark mcculley says:

    Mike Horton: “It is inappropriate to import the monergism-synergism antithesis (typically belonging to the debate over the new birth and justification) into sanctification. It is better simply to say that we are working out that salvation that has Christ has already won for us and given to us by his Spirit through the gospel.”

    Tullian again–
    John 8.11. Once the accusers of the adulterous women left, Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you. Depart. From now on, sin no more.” Does this final imperative disqualify the words of mercy? Is this a commandment with a condition? No! Otherwise Jesus would have instead said, “If you go and sin no more, then neither will I condemn you.” But Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” The command is not a condition.

    “Neither do I condemn you” is categorical, it comes with no strings attached. “Neither do I condemn you” creates an unconditional context within which “go and sin no more” is not an “if.” The only “if” the gospel knows is this: “if anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous” (1 John 2.1).

    The reason Paul says that Christ is the end of this law is that in the gospel God unconditionally gives the righteousness that the law demands conditionally. So Christ kicks the law out of the conscience by overcoming the voice of condemnation produced by the condition of the law. The unconditional voice of the gospel says “It is finished.”

    http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tullian/2014/01/10/antinomianism-legalism-and-the-relationship-between-law-and-gospel/

  30. Mike says:

    I assume this post is directed somewhat toward TT and Liberate which is diappointing. I can only speak for my self, after a decade of calvinistic pietism I had concluded that either I was not “elect/saved” or they were getting something wrong. I thank The Lord for guys like Steve brown, Tullian, Paul zahl and the like. It is no exsageration to say that I was STUNNED at their teachings on radical grace so much so that I could not believe it to be true, nor wrap my mind around it truly “Good News” and it is no exsageration to say that it is a true battle to believe it. Wether they are antinomians or not I’ll leave that to the scholors I just know that the law is very much at work on me every day and it drives me to the good news that Christ took care of it for me. I will also say that many of of the compulsions toward particular sins and failures that have tormented me for a life time are weakening significantly which I attribute to a clearer understanding of what the gospel of grace really is. Thanks Mike

  31. Richard UK says:

    Mark McC

    You quote Horton’s “It is inappropriate to import the monergism-synergism antithesis (typically belonging to the debate over the new birth and justification) into sanctification. It is better simply to say that we are working out that salvation that has Christ has already won for us and given to us by his Spirit through the gospel.”

    But why is it inappropriate? He gives no reasoning; IMHO it is a very good point to analyse!

    His comment is even worse than those who say X is a mystery, or Y and Z need to be held in tension. This often means simply ‘I don’t know’. Christianity is a revealed faith – it makes no comment about whether or why evil existed before the creation of heavens and earth, and how the Trinity ‘works’, so those are mysteries. But when God claims to control all things, then it is appropriate, to be able to glorify God, to study prayerfully how this is integrated with the existence and actions of man

  32. Matthew says:

    Thank you Kevin! This is a real issue, especially in young reformed churches. Keep sounding the call.

  33. Jack Brooks says:

    Some (though not all) of what this author calls antinomianism is what the New Testament calls the Gospel. The British Puritan tradition is deeply legal.

  34. Richard UK says:

    Amen Jack Brooks Amen

    I think much of American Puritan tradition is equally legalistic judging by this post, others by KdY, and many of those chipping in – indeed more explicitly so

    Try ‘Liberate.org’ for a breath of fresh air, or Paulson’s ‘Lutheran Theology’ (effectively a commentary of Romans)

  35. Conor says:

    Well if the ‘1637 the Synod of Elders in New England’ said that, then I guess that settles the issue. That’s as good as gospel.

  36. Curt Day says:

    Does saying, “To say we are justified by faith is an unsafe speech,” mean that Paul used unsafe speech in Galatians 3:8 when he said:

    “And the Scriptures, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith”

    The emphasis on the technical and precision may cause us to miss what was wrong with antinomianism to such an extent that we would not only be willing to correct Paul, we would be willing to engage in unsafe speech from the other side of the problem.

  37. Mark says:

    Curt,

    I think you missed the point. It was the antinomians who said “To say we are justified by faith is an unsafe speech.” The New England elders rightly corrected the antinomians by affirming that one can say we are justified by faith.

    Mark

  38. Richard UK says:

    Mark, Curt

    Surely context is king

    Followers of John Cotton in New England were making the perfectly reasonable point that we are justified by the sovereign work of Christ rather than by any work of ours – including ‘faith’ if faith was going to be seen as a work/act of the will, for which latter viewpoint there was very strong support – such a view would smack of semi-Pelagianism at best.

    The supposedly antinomian Cottonites were not advocating anything more than that. The title of Janice Knight’s PhD thesis is ‘Orthodoxies..’ (plural) in New England, making the point that Cotton’s views cannot be simply dismissed as antinomian, although that continues to be a powerful word used by some to try to cower opponents.

    Cotton is simply echoing Paul in this where Paul says the Gentiles (or anyone in fact) would be justified by faith, and not by works. Cotton is too easily dismissed. He was converted under Richard Sibbes’ ministry and, like Sibbes, stood for an ‘affective’ God who wants an ‘affective’ relationship with the creatures He made in His image.

    This ‘affective’ view (which can be traced back to Augustine and running forward to Jonathan Edwards) was nevertheless strongly opposed by Perkins and the like who formed the majority at the Westminster Assembly and who thus formulated English Reformed ‘orthodoxy’ that has prevailed ever since.

    Perkins’ view however marks a return to ‘Protestant Scholasticism’, much admired by its present-day followers but which is essentially a regression to a view of God, held by Aquinas and indeed Aristotle before him, as a single supreme being without emotion (God’s love etc being simply human metaphors to describe God’s attitude to us – God becomes Dr Spock). This view of God can be found in other contemporary religions but is a million miles from the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – the God who weeps over Jerusalem and at Lazarus’ tomb.

  39. mark mcculley says:

    On the question of assurance of justification by works, I tend to doubt that there can be more than one “orthodoxy” or gospel. The history of the New England theology, from the opponents of John Cotton all the way through those who followed the speculations of Edwards, teach me to keep insisting that faith is “not works” and that works is “not faith”.

    Jonathan Edwards: “We are really saved by perseverance…the perseverance which belongs to faith is one thing that is really a fundamental ground of the congruity that faith gives to salvation…For, though a sinner is justified in his first act of faith, yet even then, in that act of justification, God has respect to perseverance as being implied in the first act.”

    Even Machen,in his work on Galatians, suggested that the works which James commends are different from the works which Paul condemns.

    mark mcculley–I don’t know what you think, Richard, but I think the Machen quotation is dangerous. Yes, there is a difference between works seeking merit, and works not seeking merit. But if justification (in James) is also by works NOT seeking merits, that means justification (in James) is also by works

    And justification is NOT by works. There are two kinds of imputation, one with synthetic transfer and then declaration, the other analytic with only declaration. But there are NOT two kinds of justifications FOR SINNERS (despite Regensburg)

    In Run to Win the Prize, 2010, Crossway, Thomas R. Schreiner argues for a “paradox” (p 73) in which works are necessary but also at the same time for not focusing on works but Christ. How it’s possible to rationally live in that paradox is not so clear to me. Words like “intention” and “byproduct” seem to play a big part.

    SchreIner goes to Jonathan Edwards to argue that works are necessary for final justification. In this respect, Schreiner is following a path already made by Dan Fuller in The Unity of the Bible (1992, Zondervan).

    Fuller in Unity (p 181): “In commenting on Genesis 2:17 –do not eat from that tree—Calvin said, ‘These words are so far from establishing faith that they do nothing but shake it.’ I argue, however, that there is much reason for regarding these words as well suited to strengthen Adam and Eve’s faith…

    Fuller: In Calvin’s thinking, the promise made in Genesis 2:17 could never encourage faith, for its CONDITIONALITY could encourage only meritorious works. ‘Faith seeks life that is not found in commandments.’ Consequently, the gospel by which we are saved is an unconditional covenant of grace, made such by Christ having merited it for us by his perfect fulfillment of the covenant.

    Dan Fuller went on to comment: “I have yet to find anywhere in Scripture a gospel promise that is unconditional…Paul would have agreed with James that Abraham’s work of preparing to sacrifice Isaac was an obedience of faith. He would have disagreed strongly with Calvin, who saw obedience and works as only accompanying genuine faith…p 313

  40. mark mcculley says:

    Christ’s sheep do not contribute any part of their own wool to their own clothing. They wear, and are justified by, the fine linen of Christ’s obedience only. ” Augustus Toplady

    Romans 11:6, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.”

    Titus 3:5 “He saved us, NOT because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we would become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

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  42. Richard UK says:

    Mark (McCulley)

    It is only the latest comment above that has brought to my notice your two replies to me of 1 5 Jan

    I am so sorry for not spotting and not replying as you had kindly done

    I hope to do so later today, or Wed – with thanks

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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