Four ‘Antinomians’ Tried and Vindicated

A book review by Stuart Brogden

Antinomian! It’s a charge levied at grace preachers in every generation – beginning with the Lord Jesus, who was accosted by the law-keepers of His day for not being as “diligent” as they were in keeping the law. Paul addressed this in Romans 5 & 6, wherein he was explaining the believer’s relationship to law:

Romans 5:20-6:2 (HCSB) The law came along to multiply the trespass. But where sin multiplied, grace multiplied even more so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace will reign through righteousness, resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. What should we say then? Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply? Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

Law does not provide nor guide life. Grace does not endorse nor permit lawlessness. These are ditches on either side of the path. On one side there are legalists, who think all who do not live according to the law (however they define that) are lawless (which is what antinomian means – without law). On the other side are those who are truly lawless, claiming all who endorse godly living are legalists! In the middle is the narrow way of God’s gospel truth. The believer’s response to temptation to sin is NOT to hide behind the law; it’s to flee to Christ!

And this is the theme brother David H.J. Gay brings out in his most excellent book, Four ‘Antinomians’ Tried and Vindicated. David examines the work of four men who were written off as antinomians in the 17th century by those who embraced the Westminster/Puritan view of “the Moral Law.” Tobias Crisp, William Dell, John Eaton, and John Saltmarsh were all what we would call Calvinists, yet they did not align with John Calvin’s view on the role of law in the life of the saint. Hence they were all called antinomians. Sigh,

In examining Dell’s perspective on the law and the believer, David tells us that Dell said “‘When a believer has in him the law of the Spirit, the law of the letter has no more power over him; that is, so far as he is taken up into that other law of the Spirit, but no further.’ This sort of talk, as Dell well knew, is a red rag to the Reformed. While they argue vehemently that the believer is still under the law of Moses (having, without biblical warrant, reduced this to the ten commandments, which they call ‘the moral law’), here we have Dell claiming that ‘the law of the letter has no more power over him’ since he is dead to the law, and that he is governed by the law of Christ. A more direct clash you could not wish to see! Dell knew how the Reformed would react.”

“More important, of the utmost importance, Dell was making a point of major significance. He was arguing that it is only by the law of Christ that the believer can fulfil the law of Moses – and that, by meeting the goal of the commandment, which is love. In the new covenant, the child of God is not merely free from the old law, he is under the law to Christ. And there is no danger in making such an assertion. In fact, it has to be preached, taught and believed, so that saints can fully appreciate the glorious liberty they have in Christ. The believer is under the law to Christ, not the law of Moses, and it is only because he has this new relationship that he can possibly be sanctified (Rom. 7:1-6). As I say, Dell was making a point of huge significance, showing, moreover, that he was no antinomian.

“But, of course, he was flying in the face of Reformed teaching. But not only Reformed! Dell knew he faced two opponents to what he was saying. First, he knew he would offend real antinomians. He did not shirk the battle!

“The presence of Christ, that is the living word of God, within us, is the killing and crucifying of the body to all sin… by the presence of the Spirit… by the baptism of the Spirit… So it is plain that the destruction of sin in our bodies, by the living word and Spirit of God, is our crucifying with Christ… The apostle would have those who are crucified with Christ to reckon themselves dead to sin… As far as the same word and Spirit of Christ prevail in us, they will make us dead to sin for the time past and present, and for the future will preserve us from sin.”

From Dell: “This, then, is the sum of this matter… A man, in union with Christ, has his own life destroyed out of him, and Christ’s own life communicated to him, so that, in the true believer, the soul and body of man live in the life of the Son of God… And thus the flesh lives a life that is not of the flesh; indeed, thus the creature lives in itself the life of God. For as that eternal life, that was with the Father, was manifested in the Son – that is, in his flesh or humanity – and all believers have seen and known it, so also that very life of the Father and the Son, is both communicated to the saints, and also manifest in them, as faith very well knows. And this is the great mystery of the gospel. Let them receive it that can receive it.”

As he turned to John Eaton’s work, brother David is swept up with the glories of the grace in Christ given to wretched sinners. “If I may answer that right at the beginning, by giving my own experience of Eaton’s work, I can only say that in reading it, and then preparing it for this publication, I have discovered that for over fifty years I have had too low a view of justification by faith, altogether too dry a view of it. Of course, I knew the doctrine. Yes, I could argue the texts. But the depth, the fullness, the sheer wonder of free justification simply had not penetrated my heart as it ought to have done. I had not realised how God sees me in Christ. Oh! I had sung about it, I had preached it, and I had written about it. But until I read John Eaton’s work – a true honeycomb indeed – I had far too academic a view of this most wonderful truth of free justification; namely, that the weakest believer, trusting Christ, is absolutely sinless in the sight of God, and sinless for ever. Far too often, I had taken marvellous New Testament statements about justification, and the effects and benefits of it, and shuffled them off to eternity to come. But those statements are true of me, NOW! That is what I have come to feel, and to feel in a way I have never felt before.”

From Eaton: “Before we are justified, and while we are in the state of nature, we are the children of the devil and of wrath (Eph. 2:3), but when we are justified with this internal and secret justification, and made thereby the children of God, then…

“None are made… perfectly holy and righteous, but such of the elect as are actually called, because although all the elect shall be justified in their time, and none but the elect shall be justified (for whom he justifies, these he glorifies – but he glorifies none but the elect), yet the very elect are not actually and really justified, but are darkness, and live in sin and darkness, until they are effectually called… (Rom. 8:30).”

The four men examined in this book were no antinomians, but men who saw the gospel clearly: justification is by grace through faith in Christ. The Spirit gives life – what need has He for law to prepare a sinner for salvation? The law condemns, incites sin – how can it work to make a man savable? These men denied antinomianism, exhorting the saints to walk as children of the light – as if the Scriptures told us such things!

David sums up, “As I will show, Eaton worked it out in detail: the glorious nature of justification; the two parts to justification – before God and before men; justification is received by faith, contrary to reason, sense and feeling; justification and sanctification are inseparably linked; justification always leads to sanctification, being its spur and motive; the law is not the motive of sanctification – in fact, preaching the law actually hinders sanctification; the nature of saving faith; the joy of the justified; and the way of assurance.

“Read Eaton himself, read him for yourself. Indeed, why worry about Eaton? Read the New Testament! What does the New Testament set out as the believer’s rule and way of sanctification? Whatever you find there, hold on to, and seek to put into practice. For my part, I have no doubt that Eaton got it right: the New Testament sets Christ before me, and sets him before me for all – for justification, for sanctification and for glorification.”

I will point out one repeated idea in this book where I disagree with David. He repeatedly talks about the offer of the gospel and the offering of Christ to sinners. I strongly disagree! The gospel is not an offer but a proclamation and command! You can find a short article on this topic written by me on the Pristine Grace web site.

As David did not write off these four men over some disagreements he had with them (such as Saltmarsh’s view that the elect are eternally justified, rather than being as Paul described us Ephesians 2), nor do I write David off because I disagree with him on this “gospel offer” idea.

This is an excellent book that will help every child of God grasp the free grace that Christ has bestowed upon us and God Himself might use this book to work in us a new awe of the work of our Savior on our behalf – but primarily for His glory

Justice Served in the Wrong Way

Due to what we are seeing in America today, I am republishing (with some edits) a post I wrote over 11 years ago. Almost 70 million babies have been murdered since 1973. These are just the numbers reported. This is equivalent to the population of Thailand or France or the United Kingdom!

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A little over eleven years ago, George Tiller was murdered in cold blood. Here are a few thoughts from a biblical perspective and a reflection on the devastation that I have seen stemming from abortion on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

George Tiller was the abortionist who bragged about being willing and having practiced even late-term (3rd trimester) abortions more than 60,000 times in his blood-filled career. 

Who is wrong and who is right in the current battle?

Is it the pro-choice or the pro-life camp? Each claim to have God on their side (especially the liberal religious pro-choice groups) even as evidenced by Tiller’s hypocritical service on Sundays as an usher in a Lutheran Church. On the other hand, even evangelicals in the pro-life camp do not always see the big picture and get sucked into the philosophy of the world in attempt to justify certain actions.

However, what does God say in His Holy Word? The principle in no uncertain terms is this - two wrongs never make a right! 

What and who was wrong? Let’s look at a few points to consider.

1. The Old Testament law made it clear that those who shed blood by man would their blood be shed. Yes, we recognize that this was given under a theocracy and referred to the matter of capital punishment.

2. This law was not given to individuals to take justice into their own hands. Vengeance belongs to God alone.

3. God instituted human government so that the sword might not be carried in vain. However, human government is often corrupted and does not seek to gain their wisdom from the Almighty God, maker of heaven and earth.

4. True believers are commanded to give honor to the government but only as far as it does not supercede the law of God for we ought to obey God rather than man.

5. To kill another and take their life in premeditated murder is contrary to the moral law of God which proclaims, “Thou shalt not kill.” Thus taking the life of Tiller belonged to nobody but God.

6. The government must take part of the blame for the murder of this doctor for it was they who allowed him to practice the murder of innocent babies including those who would have been viable had he delivered them alive at the moment he was murdering them.

7. The government is to blame in that they have openly and willfully defied the commands of God in regards to God being the giver of life and that life begins at conception. They have stated that in the depths of their human wisdom they are nothing but fools when compared to the wisdom of the Most High. Our justices and judges are to blame as they flaunt their foolishness over and over despite the will of the people and more importantly despite the law of God.

8. The church and leadership of where Tiller was a member must take their part of the blame for they allowed a mass murderer in their midst each Sunday while proclaiming that what they were doing was worship to God. Yet, all they were doing was thumbing their noses at God and daring Him to bring judgment.

9. The church was to blame for allowing one to call himself a “Christian” when what he did was diametrically opposed to the Word of God and for not bringing church discipline into the equation many years ago. Instead, they catered to many other factors probably to include the financial benefits that a rich man like Tiller brought into their coffers thus showing their the god they worshipped was the mammon of the world.

10. The man who pulled the trigger was to blame because it was a premeditated murder calculated to take the life of the man who had killed so many thousands. He probably justified in his head that he was to be the instrument of death.

11. America at large must take their part of the blame as well for her citizens have forgotten the principles upon which this great country was founded. They have forgotten that government is to be by the people and for the people. They have failed to use their votes to remove those who thumb their noses at God and flaunt His holy commands.

12. America is to blame for allowing the murder of millions to take place for the sake of a small vocal group of feminists who have been allowed to push their agenda on a gullible public.

13. America is to blame for the gross immorality and lack of morals which allow for men and women to have intimate relationships being driven by nothing but lust and hatred for the thought of commitment.

14. Many evangelicals are to blame because they think they have had the right to introduce situational ethics into the clear express teaching of Scripture. Many have decided that it is ok to punish the infant because of the sins of the father; therefore, abortion is murder UNLESS it is for the sake of rape or incest!

15. Evangelicals are to blame because they have not had a united front because many of them years ago decided that catering to man instead of preaching the infallible Word of God through faithful exposition of the Word is more favorable to large offerings. They took the passages they liked and left the ones they didn’t thus producing large congregations who have theology miles wide but 1/2 inch deep!!

16. Evangelicals are to blame because we have been a much larger moral voice than any other fringe group in America and yet we have not used our voices to take a stand for what is right. We have not expressed our disgust and rage at the senseless murder of millions! We have not followed in the footsteps of Nehemiah and fallen to our knees crying to God for forgiveness for our own sin, the sins of our families and the sins of our nation!

17. Many pastors are to blame because many fear man instead of God. They have become babysitters not shepherds. They fail to study the Scriptures and proclaim loudly, “THUS SAYS THE LORD.” Instead they choose to proclaim, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. This is your best life now. You can live anyway you wish to do so with no discipline from the church. You can do what you want to with your body and disregard the Scripture that says if you are a believer then your body belongs to God NOT TO YOU!”

Many are to blame for the events that led up to the killing of Tiller. Even though only one pulled the trigger, many more were just as wrong before God for their complacency or complicity in the occupation which Tiller chose to engage. God is and always will be the Sovereign of the universe. He will not be mocked and whatsoever a man sows that will he reap. While God is not the author of sin, He does control what He allows to happen and He obviously has allowed the life of this murderer to be taken. Judgment for Tiller will now commence for all of eternity at the hands of the Giver of Life.

To conclude, I did not mourn for the killing of a murderer. However, I did and still rejoice that the lives of thousands of infants were spared his weapons of mass destruction. 
However, I must have a sense of compassion though for his family who must grieve although they enjoyed the fruits of not allowing others to grieve and enjoyed the fruits of blatant murder on a weekly basis. 

As a true believer, I must grieve that America has come to the dismal state she has and that millions like Tiller are dying every day with no hope of eternal life, and no hope of anything but eternal judgment and condemnation from the righteous Lord of glory.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Mark Escalera