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The Anatomy of Antinomianism

Category Book Excerpts
Date June 16, 2023

The following passage is excerpted from Richard Alderson’s No Holiness, No Heaven: Antinomianism Today (BoT., 1986, rep. 2001). In it, Alderson speaks to the issue of antinomianism and its proponents.

They have their (false) prophets of love whose favourite texts are I John 4:8 (‘God is love’) and Romans 13:8 (‘Love one another; for he who loves his fellow-man has fulfilled the law’). Putting love in opposition to law, they reject the objective law of God in favour of their own subjective impressions of what is right. They soon discover that ‘love’ can condone virtually any sin. Instead of fulfilling the law, they are unashamedly breaking it – witness the flagrant immorality of the notorious Moses David and his Family of Love, the so-called ‘Children of God’. ‘God’s only law is love,’ says this practising Antinomian. ‘I don’t have to keep the Ten Commandments! All I have to do is love and do whatever I do in love.’1 This has had a devastating effect on the church as well as the world, so that the situation is now very critical. It is the bounden duty of every Christian to resist with might and main the evils of this latter-day Antinomianism.

MISINTERPRETING LAW

Antinomianism is thus essentially an attack on God’s law—and a very misguided attack at that. We must therefore examine its failure to understand the biblical teaching on this vital subject. We believe that it is precisely because of their misinterpretation of the law that Antinomians have failed to understand the biblical doctrines of human sin and guilt, repentance, faith, justification, sanctification, and assurance.

As we discuss some of these topics in more detail in the chapters which follow, their relationship to Antinomianism will emerge. Antinomians have sometimes attempted to avoid the thrust of Scripture by asserting that they are under the law – but the law that they are under is the Law of Christ, not the Law of God! We must examine further this extraordinary attempt to drive a wedge between Father and Son.

MORAL LAW V. LAW OF CHRIST?

Modern Antinomians are drawing a totally false distinction between the Ten Commandments, which are said to produce ‘mere morality’, and the Law of Christ, which produces holiness. Listen to Dr R. T. Kendall expounding this view: ‘The Moral Law is not the Christian’s code of conduct, for true godliness is never to be achieved by being under the Moral Law. It will make you a legalist—long-faced, grouchy, without joy or peace’.2 The same author tells us that some Jewish Christians had ‘sunk so low and degenerated so far’ that James had to quote the Ten Commandments to them— ‘something he ought not to have to do’! After this misinterpretation of James, he proceeds to enlist the Apostle Paul in his cause. To this end, he quotes Romans 3:28, ‘Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law’. ‘What Paul meant,’ we are told, ‘was that the Moral Law has no place in Christian experience’! But Paul meant no such thing. This is the typical Antinomian confusion of justification with sanctification.3 Dr Kendall senses some difficulty, for to be ‘without law’ means that one is Antinomian. So he hastens to add, ‘That doesn’t mean that the law has no place. We as Christians are not under the Moral Law, but we are under the Law of Christ.’ Dr Kendall then proceeds to claim that the Law of Christ is ‘a much higher law than the Moral Law, far more demanding. It presents a far greater challenge than the Moral Law, which is really the easy way out. It’s just so easy to keep the Moral Law and hate the Law of Christ.’ Has the writer of these words never read the Sermon on the Mount where we have Christ’s summary of the Moral Law as perfect love to God and man? Who ever found that ‘so easy’?

We must answer this view further. There can be no dichotomy between Father and Son. The Father’s Moral Law is the Law of Christ the Son. This ought to need no demonstration. It is the law of love which is laid down by both James and Paul: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself. They are quoting Leviticus 19:18 and it is the heart of the Moral Law! How can the New Testament law be ‘much higher’ when it goes no further than quoting and explaining the Old Testament Law? The suggestion of some other and higher law is entirely without foundation. It was the Moral Law, already in existence, of which Christ said that He came not to destroy but to fulfil it (Matt. 5:17).

LAW V. LOVE?

There is, however, a further fallacy attaching to Antinomian reasoning. If we have love, they argue, we do not need any external law to guide us. But the Moral Law is not external to the Christian. God’s promise in the new covenant was to put His Law in the mind and write it on the heart (Jer. 31:33). So Paul says of the Corinthian Christians, ‘You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God; not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts’ (2 Cor. 3:3). So we can agree with Thomas Manton that if the Spirit has engraved God’s Moral Law so legibly on our hearts, Christ is not going to erase it.4 That, we might add, would be to drive a wedge between Spirit and Son.

Antinomians certainly drive a wedge between love and law, as if they were mutually incompatible. Gerald Coates writes, ‘When the believer properly fulfils the royal law of love for God and neighbour, he renders the law obsolete.’5 But there is no essential conflict. They ‘belong inseparably together,’ as J. I. Packer tells us: ‘Law is needed as love’s eyes; love is needed as law’s heartbeat. Law without love is Pharisaism; love without law is Antinomianism.’6 Samuel Bolton agrees: ‘Without law, love is blind.’ In fact, the Apostle Paul shows us the eyes needed by love. Those eyes are the Ten Commandments and he shows how the highest form of love is inherent in the very meaning of the Commandments: ‘He who loves his fellow-man has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “Do not commit adultery”, “Do not murder”, “Do not steal”, “Do not covet”, and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Rom. 13: 8—10).

So when Paul says that ‘he who loves his fellow-man has fulfilled the law,’ he means that love is essentially obedience to the law. In Theodore Beza’s words, ‘Love is not perfected, except as the fulfilling of the law.’ The Apostle John says exactly the same thing: ‘This is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands’ (2 John 6).

Scripture instinctively thinks of love, not as mere feeling, but in terms of loving action. ‘God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son’, says John 3:16 (the verse described by Martin Luther as ‘the gospel in a nutshell’). And we must show our love in action – the action explicitly prescribed by God’s holy law. ‘Carry each other’s burdens,’ says Paul, ‘and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ’ (Gal. 6:2). Our Lord Himself said: ‘If you love me, you will obey what I command’ (John 14:15). We can but agree with John Wesley, who wrote, ‘Keep close to the law if thou wilt keep close to Christ.’ In the words which were so often on the lips of Dr Lloyd-Jones, ‘Holiness is not an experience you have; holiness is keeping the law of God.’

 

Citations:

1 Moses, David. Quoted in Davis, Deborah. The Children of God (1984), p. 190. Marshalls.

2 Kendall, R. T. Antinomianism Exposed (Sermon, 12/10/1980). Westminster Chapel cassette.

3 Dr Kendall’s confusion is very evident in his ‘Antinomianism and the Law’ in Westminster Record (March 1985), pp. 14ff.

4Quoted in Kevan, Ernest F. The Grace of Law: A Study in Puritan Theology (1964), p. 157. Carey Kingsgate.

5 Coates, Gerald. What on Earth is this Kingdom? (1983), p. 71. Kingsway.

6Packer, J. I. God has spoken: Revelation and the Bible (1979), p. 130. Hodder & Stoughton.

 

This excerpt is sourced from pages 15 and 27–30 of No Holiness, No Heaven!: Antinomianism Today.

Photo by Soheb Zaidi on Unsplash

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