ANTINOMIANISM TRUE AND FALSE
D. M. PANTON, M. A.
- a term invented by Martin Luther - means ‘against
law,’ that is , an antagonism to all law for
the child of God. In its extreme form it is a revolt against all law for
the saved soul so drastic as to receive the challenge of Paul: - "Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?"
(Rom. 6: 1). If the grace of the
Gospel covers a [regenerate] believer’s present [wilful] sin, sin
known and continued, then the more sin, the more covering grace; to
continue in sin, therefore, is to multiply grace. Here it is in its full
nakedness. Put thus tersely and tensely, the whole
First of all, it is vital that we carefully discriminate Antinomianism true and false; for there is a true Antinomianism, or right abolition of the Law for the child of God. Paul has put it with absolute finality: - "Christ is THE END OF THE LAW to every one that believeth" (Rom. 10: 4). That is, ‘the law’ is always the Law of Moses. The Law of Moses said: - "Statutes and judgments, which if a man do, he shall live by them" (Lev. 18: 5) - live for ever, have eternal life: Christ, in my place, and acting for me, did it; and therefore all I must do, for the eternal life the Law names, is to be, and to remain [by faith], in Christ, having thus for ever finished with the Law. Throughout His life Jesus perfectly obeyed the Law, and on the Cross He suffered the final fate of all broken law: so, in Him, I have utterly satisfied the Law, and am therefore done with it, as a ground of [eternal] salvation, for ever. "If ye receive circumcision" - the stamp of the Law, without which it could not be observed - "Christ will profit you nothing" (Gal. 5: 2). "Wherefore, my brethren, ye also were made dead to the law" (Rom. 7: 4).
But there is a further abrogation of the Law of Moses which is essential to the Gospel. The whole manner of life commanded by the Law, God Himself has now abrogated for the new People of God. "The law was given by Moses; grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" (John 1: 17). On certain points our Lord expressed it as sharply as it could be put. To take but one typical example: - "Ye have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth! - a summary of all law: "but I say unto you, Resist not him that is evil" (Matt. 5: 38) - a complete reversal of righteous law. So Paul sums it up: - "Now we have been discharged from the law, having died to that wherein we were holden" (Rom. 7: 6). Grace, mercy, love are to control the Christian, until our Lord’s return brings in a completely new dispensation, with a radical change of conduct.
the false Antinomianism can be simply stated. All a [regenerate] believer’s
sins, past present and future, are so ‘judged’ on the Cross, and
so wiped out by the Atonement, that they can never be brought up for judgment,
and are already totally forgiven. We find it astoundingly stated by an
Anglican divine of the seventeenth century, Tobias Crisp, D.D.
Dr. Crisp says (1600-1642): - "Though a
believer does sin, yet he is not to be reckoned as a sinner; his sins are
reckoned to be taken away from him. God reckons not sin to be his.
Every elect vessel, from the first instant of his being, is as pure in the eyes
of God from the charge of sin as he shall be in the glory. Though such
persons do act rebellion, yet the loathsomeness and hatefulness of this
rebellion is laid on the back of Christ; and God can dwell with such persons
that act the thing, because all the filthiness of it is translated from
them upon the back of Christ. There is as much ground to be confident of
the pardon of sin to a believer, as soon as he has committed it, as to believe
it after he has performed all the humiliation in the world. God does
no longer stand displeased, though a believer do sin
often. There is no sin that even believers commit that can possibly
do them any hurt."* Here is an Antinomianism unutterably shocking: that
a Christian man can so write is a startling revelation of the perils of the
[* Antinomianism Revived, p. 138; by Daniel Steel, D.D.]
Instinctively we feel and see the gulf between the true Antinomianism and the false. The false is embodied in Indian paganism. The missionary, William Taylor, tells of a Fakir who in his presence, while professing spotless holiness, was rebuked by the crowd as a liar, a cheat, and an adulterer. Admitting the truth of these charges, the Fakir triumphantly replied: - "I am vile in myself, but perfectly holy in Vishnu." The Scriptural child of God, on the contrary, says with G. H. Pember:- "The believer may feel assured that he has eternal life, and yet tremble at the thought of what the holy judging light of the judgment may reveal. The easy-going confidence with which some believers seem to be able to speak of judgment is not the spirit of Scripture; for every believer who is keenly conscious of the faults and failures of his own Christian life cannot but view the coming judgment seat of Christ with deep concern." So far from putting our present un-abandoned sins on the back of Christ, the degree of our holiness is measured by our shock at sin, our sensitiveness to our own guilt. Luther’s cry is ours: - "I am more afraid of my own heart than of the Pope and all his Cardinals. I have within me the great Pope-self."
One phrase of Paul, delivering us from becoming outlaws, defines just how and in what we believers are not antagonistic to law, but actually under it. We are, he says, "not without law to God, BUT UNDER LAW TO CHRIST" (1 Cor. 9: 21). This expression can have but one meaning. Christ is not only our Saviour, but our Lawgiver; and all His commands are as binding on us, as the laws of a country are binding on its citizens. "One is your teacher" (Matt. 23: 8), Jesus Himself says; and so His parting command enforces all His utterances on all believers. "Go ye and make disciples of all the nations, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you; and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the age" (Matt. 28: 19). That is, the whole Church is under the whole law of Christ for the whole dispensation. "God manifest in the flesh" (1 Tim. 3: 16), "in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" (Col. 2: 9): - manifestly it is impossible to yield anything but absolute and total obedience.
A consequence follows of the uttermost gravity. Paul states it :- "We must" - it is inevitable because we are under law - "all" - even Paul himself - "be made manifest" - 'appear in our true light' (Alford) - "before the judgment seat of Christ" - a throne radically different from the Mercy Seat before which we stand now - "that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath done" - that is, an exact quid pro quo - "whether it be good or bad" (2 Cor. 5: 10). It is to be a complete judgment of our discipleship. In the words of Dr. Pusey:- "Judgment which did not take account of everything would be a partial, unjudging judgment: in man’s sight imperfect; in God, an impossible contradiction." So also in the words of Lange:- "Every action of God’s children, during their bodily life, must there be judged according to the law of strict righteousness, and each believer must be rewarded according to his good or evil conduct. The necessity of this judgment on the part of God is the only way to secure such a righteous retribution as would be honourable to God, is to have such a revelation of the hearts and conduct of us all." It is precisely lawlessness which will bring back law.
So there is no escape from the grave consequences of this truth. It is for not seeing it that so many Evangelicals, who are unconsciously antinomian, deny, or at least evade, those Scriptures which foretell exceedingly grave, though temporary, punishments for [regenerate] believers. Bishop Wordsworth states the truth thus:- "That which shall then be received will be either a reward or punishment; a reward for the good, a punishment for the evil, done in the body: and that which shall receive the reward, and be liable to the punishment, is not only the soul, but the body." No one states the truth more drastically than our Lord Himself, the Judge. In His forecast of the Judgment Seat to the Seven Churches, Jesus says to the Laodicean Angel:- "I know thy works: because thou art lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spew thee out of my mouth" (Rev. 3: 16). The unbeliever is never lukewarm, but cold as a corpse: this is a child of God. The Judge Himself says what will happen. "Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. But that servant which knew his lord’s will, and made not ready nor did according to his will shall be beaten with many stripes*; but he that knew not, and did things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes" (Luke 12: 47) - that is, exact judgment (not mercy) will be executed on each discipleship. The Epistle to the Hebrews (10: 26) sums it up: "If we" - the Apostle includes himself - "sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth NO MORE SACRIFICE FOR SINS, BUT A CERTAIN FEARFUL EXPECTATION OF JUDGMENT." The Lamb returns a Lion (Rev. 5: 5).
[* Such find their lot "with the unfaithful" (Luke 12: 46, R.V.); not (as in the Authorized Version) "with the unbelievers": for as there are "good and faithful servants" (Matt. 25: 21), so there are servants evil and unfaithful; or, in our Lord’s phrase, "wicked and slothful servants" (Matt. 25: 26).]
So, finally, the solution of the problem is given us in golden words. "If we judged ourselves, WE SHOULD NOT BE JUDGED *- but when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world" (1 Cor. 11: 31). We can now control our own future at the Judgment Seat of God. In the very beautiful words of Lange: - "A Christian judges himself alone, and trusts none less than himself; and he who does not daily stand in judgment upon himself, cannot stand well in a state of grace: but the more severe a man is upon himself, the more sparing is God toward him." To this end, let us open our eyes to all Scripture ,¹ evading and avoiding none - only the single eye (our Lord says) is flood-lit: let us grip all: let us live all. Then will be fulfilled the judgment Word:- "HE WILL SET HIM OVER ALL THAT HE HATH" (Luke 12: 44).
[* That is, judged adversely, chastened; for even the holiest are judged, for approval: in proportion and if we chastise ourselves, we shall not be judged adversely. This passage has especially in view chastisement in this life. "Many among you are weak and sickly, and not a few sleep" (ver. 30).]
In one of G. H. Lang’s letters we read: "What but carelessness of soul can possibly be the effect of such a statement as the said professional man made with emphasis: ‘No matter how you live as a Christian, you are certain to be part of the bride of Christ and to reign with him’? or of a similar mischievous assertion I heard in 1935 from one who has taught these views for sixty years, ‘Every believer will be raised when Christ comes, no matter how worldly you may be’? Many teachers of the general views would shrink from putting the matter so baldly, but it is what they mean, it is inherent in their doctrine.”
"What the Church of God now needs imperatively is men able to show fearlessly what the Word of God teaches as to the future that will guide life through difficulties and dangers, perplexities and perils; also how to gain strength to be faithful and holy, and what will be the heavenly recompense; and able to show also what will be the sorrowful penalties the Christian must face if unfaithful to Christ and the word of His patience. But this demands close scrutiny of the Word of truth free from the bias and fetters of preconceived schemes of interpretation. It calls for zeal and courage, and the making known of the results demands liberty of utterance, if saints are to profit by it ... The maintaining of popular prophetic orthodoxy may prove the death of spirituality."
Dr. A. T. Pierson has been recorded to have said: "We have a saying, ‘Great is the truth, and will prevail.’ That is never so in this age. Truth is always with the minority; and so convinced am I of this that if I find myself agreeing with the majority on any matter, I make haste and get over to the other side, for I know I am wrong."
What good is a D.D., an M.A., or any other worldly qualification, if one lacks courage to teach the whole truth? If there is no evidence or desire to disclose responsibility truths to the people of God, what consequences must surely follow at the judgment-seat before the righteous Judge? "Here, moreover, IT IS REQUIRED IN STEWARDS, THAT A MAN BE FOUND FAITHFUL" (1 Cor. 4: 2). R.V.