The Charge of Antinomianism (5): Denying Justification by Faith Alone

The present-day attack on the truth of the unconditional covenant and salvation, consisting in the slanderous smear of that doctrine as antinomian, has a definite source. That source is the current ascendency and near total victory of the federal vision heresy in virtually every Reformed and Presbyterian denomination and seminary in the United States and elsewhere in the world. This heresy teaches that the covenant of God is made and union with Christ is established with every baptized child. Salvation in that covenant and union with Christ are conditioned on the child’s faith and obedience of faith. The single greatest threat to Reformed churches is this pestilential heresy of the federal vision. This false doctrine is a threat to their very existence as churches of Christ in the world. This is because as part of its doctrine of the conditional covenant, the federal vision denies the doctrine of justification by faith alone, which is the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Justification by faith alone is the truth that God forgives the sins of all those who believe in Jesus Christ and imputes to them Christ’s righteousness by faith alone and declares the believing sinner worthy of eternal life. To corrupt this doctrine is to corrupt the heart of the gospel. The false teacher that corrupts this doctrine is anathema. The church that corrupts this doctrine has become false.

The federal vision denies that the justification of the sinner is by faith only without any works. It teaches that the sinner’s justification in the final judgment will be by works. The way the men of the federal vision promote this is devilishly clever. While paying lip-service to justification by faith, even justification by faith alone, they teach that the faith that justifies is a working faith that justifies with its works. Men like Norman Shepherd, Richard Lusk, Peter Leithart, Douglas Wilson, and James Jordan have introduced this false doctrine into Reformed and Presbyterian churches. This doctrine has overwhelmed these churches. It is the current, popular understanding of salvation.

It is crucial to understand and to be convinced of the fact that the federal vision’s starting point for its denial of justification by faith alone is the doctrine of the conditional covenant. The conditional covenant has had widespread—almost universal—acceptance in Reformed churches. The federal vision has aggressively developed this idea. The covenant is made with both elect and reprobate alike—with Jacob and Esau—so that God promises to be the God of Jacob as well as of Esau. In the covenant, God gives grace to everyone. The continuation of this covenant on earth and perfection of this covenant in heaven depend on the faith and faithful obedience of the covenant-member. For this reason the federal vision teaches that the covenant-member can, and often does, fall out of the covenant and perish. Furthermore, the final judgment will be based partly on the work of Christ and partly on the covenant-member’s faith and obedience by grace: what one does in the covenant by grace will be part of the basis for his salvation. For the federal vision, salvation must be based on the covenant-member’s works by grace, because the covenant is conditional.

In the face of this heresy, there has been no acknowledgment of the cause of the heresy in the doctrine of the conditional covenant, but only a deaf and stubborn defense of the conditional covenant, even while many impotently wring their hands about the federal vision’s denial of justification by faith alone.

The widespread acceptance of this false doctrine, chiefly its doctrinal foundation of the conditional covenant, is the source of the false charge of antinomianism raised against the unconditional covenant and unconditional salvation. The proponents of the federal vision are busy redefining the term antinomian. Not content to introduce false doctrine, they must also damn the truth as antinomian.

Mark Jones’ book Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest? is playing its part in this deadly conflict. His attack is couched as a question, but he makes clear in his book that he does not believe it is an open question whether antinomians, defined as he has defined them, are unwelcome guests. By suspect theology and by associating it with the names of some reputed antinomians from former ages, Jones seeks to render the whole doctrine suspect and therefore its teaching and those who teach it dangerous to the church and the church’s holiness as insipient antinomianism.

Mark Jones has written a glowing forward to the book By Faith, Not by Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation, written by federal vision defender and theologian Richard Gaffin. Jones approvingly quotes from this book in his book Antinomianism. In his book Richard Gaffin vigorously defends the idea that justification is by faith and works. He does so in typical federal vision fashion, insisting that the faith that justifies, in that justification is never alone, is a faith that works. He does not merely insist that faith is never alone, so that the Abraham of Romans 4, “ungodly” in his justification, is also the Abraham of James 2, who shows his faith by his works, but rather that the Abraham of Romans 4 is the Abraham of James 2 who works for his justification. In Gaffin’s words:

In this regard, it is hardly gratuitous to suggest that the Abraham of James 2:21–24, as well as anyone, exemplifies the response of Romans 1:5 to the gospel promise of the covenant that was eventually fulfilled in Christ (vv. 2–4), the response of “the obedience of faith.” This Abraham, the Abraham of the obedience of faith, implicitly brackets and so qualifies everything Paul says about him and his faith elsewhere in Romans. In fact we may say, in Romans we in effect meet the Abraham of James both in [Romans] 1:5, before Abraham is introduced explicitly in chapter 4, and also after that in [Romans] 16:26. These two are not somehow different persons, nor does each function as a theological construct in tension with the other. They are one and the same, and we can never properly understand one without the other.[1]

Thus for Gaffin, Rome was right. James and Paul speak of justification in the same sense. The faith by which Abraham was justified in Romans 4 was the obedient faith of the Abraham of James 2, and he was justified by that obedient faith. Justification is after all by faith and the works of faith, because the faith that justifies is never alone in that justification, but works. For Gaffin, it not that faith, being justified, also works, but that in the matter of justification faith works.

Gaffin’s reference to Abraham is preposterous on the plainest reading of the Bible. The Abraham of Romans 4 and the Abraham of James 2 are indeed very different according to the doctrine under consideration in each passage. In Romans 4 the doctrine of justification is under consideration, as Gaffin readily admits, and there the apostle does not call Abraham obedient, but “ungodly.” The Abraham of Romans 4 was an “ungodly” Abraham. There is not a more thorough way to exclude the works of the believer from his justification than to call him “ungodly” in his justification. So far are his works excluded that in his justification he has only evil works, not only because he sinned but also because he corrupted all the good works that God gave him. Abraham was that because that is who God justifies, and that is what Abraham confessed about himself by faith before the judgment seat of God. God will not justify the righteous or the good. He will only justify the ungodly. He justifies and by that justification takes into his fellowship ungodly people, not obedient people. In James 2 the inevitability and necessity of works as the fruits and justification of faith are under discussion. The Abraham of James 2 is obedient, because that is what the justified believer is by faith, because the faith that justifies without its works is also a faith that works by love.

Defending his obvious corruption of the texts, Gaffin says further,

Paul does not teach a “faith alone” position, as I have sometimes heard it put. Rather, his is a “by faith alone” position. This is not just a verbal quibble; the “by” is all-important here. The faith by which sinners are justified, as it unites them to Christ and so secures for them all the benefits of salvation that there are in him, perseveres to the end and in persevering is never alone.[2]

Gaffin puts himself out here as one who is scrupulous about grammar, but he uses his grammatical point to deny the truth. His point would be well taken if he were speaking merely about all the benefits that come to a believer in Christ. By faith the believer receives both Christ’s righteousness by imputation and his holiness worked in the believer by the Spirit. After all, according to 1 Corinthians 1:30, Christ is made both righteousness and sanctification to us. But Gaffin speaks about justification, which he indicates when he refers to the Reformation’s classic phrase about justification, “by faith alone.”

When the Reformation theologians said faith alone, they spoke about justification. Their position was, and that of the entire scripture and all the Reformed creeds is, that the believer is justified by faith alone, faith all by itself, so that without any of its works faith justifies. The Reformed creeds are crystal clear. For instance, article 24 of the Belgic Confession says, “It is by faith in Christ that we are justified, even before we do good works.” “Howbeit [these works] are of no account towards our justification.”

They said that on the basis of scripture. Paul’s position regarding justification—and that of the Holy Ghost and the creeds—is exactly a “faith alone” position. Faith alone justifies, that is, believers are justified by faith alone without any of faith’s works. This position Gaffin is intent on overthrowing by his grammatical quibble, so that with the word “by” he can still make faith the only instrument of justification and appear orthodox, all the while including in faith all of faith’s obedience and perseverance as part of the faith that justifies, the ground of justification, and without which faith cannot justify.

In the forward to Gaffin’s book, Mark Jones endorsed the book as “deeply influential” for his own theology.[3] By his endorsement of By Faith, Not by Sight as “deeply influential” for his own theology, Jones shows that he dwells comfortably among the men of the federal vision camp.

Gaffin’s book Jones also connects with his own views on antinomianism. Jones views By Faith, Not by Sight as important and necessary as an “implicit critique of a sort of antinomianism current in the church today, whereby the gospel (or salvation) is understood—practically, if not theoretically—almost exclusively in terms of justification.”[4]

This minimization of justification is also present throughout Jones’ book Antinomianism, when he says repeatedly about antinomians, “The gospel was, in their view, synonymous with justification.” He criticizes as indicative of such a view the statement, “Yea let us know for certainty, that free justification is the very head, heart, and soul of all Christian religion and true worship of God.”[5] If saying this is indicative of antinomian tendencies, both Luther and Calvin had antinomian leanings, because Luther called justification the article of the standing church and Calvin called it the main hinge on which all religion turns.

Such a denigration of justification and a minimization of the reality that it is salvation and that the whole doctrine of the sinner’s gracious salvation turns on it as on a hinge are not Reformed at all. The Belgic Confession teaches in article 23: “We believe that our salvation consists in the remission of sins for Jesus Christ’s sake, and that therein our righteousness before God is implied.” The Reformed have no problem equating salvation and justification and summarizing the whole doctrine of salvation by that single truth. The problem with real antinomians is not that they view salvation in terms of justification, but that they do not have a clue what justification is because they are careless and profane men and not believers at all. It is impossible that this doctrine, preached and emphasized to the hilt in the churches, will ever make any believer careless or profane.

By his endorsement of Gaffin’s book and its heretical theology of justification, Mark Jones shows himself no friend, but an enemy, of the Reformed doctrines of grace. He pays lip-service to the doctrine that by association and words he denies. It also shows that his book on antinomianism stands in the service of that false doctrine by taking up the old tactic of the enemies of the doctrines of grace against the truth. The Reformed faith, churches, and believers do not need a proponent of works’ righteousness telling them who their enemies are or what constitutes an antinomian, any more than Paul needed the Judaizers to teach him about works.

In his war on the truth, specifically justification by faith alone, Jones also speaks about the role of works in the believer’s salvation.

To that I will turn next time.

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[1] Richard B. Gaffin, By Faith, Not By Sight, 2nd ed. (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013), 118–19.

[2] Ibid., 119.

[3] Jones, in ibid., vii.

[4] Ibid., xii.

[5] Jones, Antinomianism, 40.

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This article was written by Rev. Nathan J. Langerak, pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church in Crete, Illinois. If you have a question or comment for Rev. Langerak, please do so in the comment section.

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The Charge of Antinomianism (1): A False Charge

The Charge of Antinomianism (2): A Novel Definition

The Charge of Antinomianism (3): Against an Unconditional Covenant

The Charge of Antinomianism (4): Hyper-Calvinism?

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The Charge of Antinomianism (4): Hyper-Calvinism?

Antinomianism is a real heresy that denies the necessity of good works in the life of the justified Christian. It is also a false and slanderous charge against the gospel of grace raised by those who hate that doctrine. Practically ignoring real antinomianism in the church world and its real root in the idea of God’s universal grace, Mark Jones in his book Antinomianism attempts to list certain theological characteristics of antinomians by means of which they can be sniffed out. This list is problematic. It involves the condemnation as antinomian the doctrine of the unconditional covenant of grace taught in the Reformed creeds. While making this charge against the doctrines of grace, he also compares antinomianism and hyper-Calvinism. Understanding this comparison goes miles to understanding his charge of antinomianism and reveals that charge and the whole book in which it is made as a thinly veiled attack on the truth of grace.

Mark Jones characterizes antinomians as those who “make Christ totally responsible, not only for our imputed righteousness, but also for our imparted righteousness.”[1] He is criticizing the thought trumpeted by all the great reformers, including Luther and Calvin, that Christ is our justification (imputed righteousness) and our sanctification (imparted righteousness). He is criticizing the thought included in Lord’s Day 6 on the basis of scripture that the Mediator is “our Lord Jesus Christ, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” By faith we are made one with Christ and receive the whole Christ and all his benefits, and he is responsible for our justification and sanctification. How a Reformed man could possibly object to this is mystifying. But Jones will not let such things get in the way of his pursuit of the scabbed antinomian sheep fouling the flock.

Against this Reformed view he makes the supposedly devastating charge: “this view obliterates human responsibility to the point that antinomianism ends us becoming a form of hyper-Calvinism.”[2] He speaks later of “how similar antinomian theology is to hyper-Calvinism.”[3]

What Mark Jones believes to be the dreaded error of hyper-Calvinism he explains in the book, A Puritan Theology. Throughout that book he never misses an opportunity to slander denial of the well-meant gospel offer with the name hyper-Calvinism. He does not actually get around to explaining his understanding of hyper-Calvinism until late in the book. He says that the hyper-Calvinist believes “that God does not sincerely offer grace unconditionally to every hearer of the gospel.”[4]

He should know that this is not historic hyper-Calvinism. Real hyper-Calvinism taught that the church could only preach to the elect. Mark Jones’ version is the loaded redefinition of hyper-Calvinism that is bandied about by proponents of the well-meant gospel offer in order to dismiss with a name a doctrine with which they violently disagree—the particular call of the gospel—namely, that in the promiscuous preaching of the gospel God intends the salvation of only his elect people and does not offer Christ or grace to all hearers of the gospel with a sincere desire that all of them be saved. Who else in the world today except the Protestant Reformed Churches and her sisters denies the well-meant gospel offer? It is well known that this is the standard charge by which all her careful and history-long criticism of the well-meant gospel offer is dismissed without actually engaging in a debate about it. Who else does Jones have in view? And if the Protestant Reformed Churches are hyper-Calvinists for their rejection of the well-meant gospel offer, why might not their faithful maintenance of the truth of grace in the creeds, especially the unconditional covenant, be dismissed as antinomian as well?

Jones’ definition of hyper-Calvinism, though false, is revelatory about his view of antinomianism, since he makes them basically the same. By all his talk about conditions in salvation and by revealing that he believes in a universal offer of grace, he shows what he means by responsibility. When he speaks about man’s responsibility in salvation, he does not mean that in salvation God treats man as a rational creature, so that man is responsible for his rejection of the gospel, even though God reprobated him. By responsibility he does not mean that when God works faith in a man that man actually believes and repents as the fruit and effect of God’s work. When Jones uses responsibility he means man’s response to God’s universally offered grace, upon which response the offer depends as the condition of his salvation.

This understanding of responsibility must also inform everything he says about conditions in salvation and in the covenant, including faith and works. When Mark Jones speaks of faith as a condition in the covenant, he does not mean what so many in the old days meant when they referred to faith as a condition, namely, that God works faith in his elect as the necessary means of their salvation. When he speaks of faith as a condition, he means man’s response in the covenant to universally offered grace, by which man distinguishes himself from others in the covenant who are equally furnished with grace and upon which response the covenant depends. For Jones, faith is man’s contribution to his salvation, without which there is no salvation. The same thing must be said of his view of works as a condition. It is man’s response by grace to grace and that upon which his salvation really depends in some sense.

By these terms he means what the proponents of the well-meant offer mean when they speak about conditions and responsibility: God offers grace to all hearers of the gospel, and man must respond to that offered grace in faith and so distinguish himself from others who are equally furnished with grace in the preaching. For Jones the supposed hyper-Calvinist—who denies the well-meant offer—and the supposed antinomian—who denies conditions in the covenant and salvation—are the same. For him they both deny a universal offer of grace, a grace made effectual by an act of the sinner and without which the grace of God fails to save the sinner. He sees the “antinomianism” of the unconditional covenant and the “hyper-Calvinism” of the particular call of the gospel as one and the same false doctrine.

By these definitions he makes the denial of conditions in the covenant and in salvation the new antinomianism. The definitions are false, as false as the definition of hyper-Calvinism as the denial of a well-meant offer. The charge of antinomianism against the unconditional covenant is false and slanderous, as false as the slander that to deny the well-meant offer is hyper-Calvinism. The charge is nothing more than a naked attempt to make the doctrine of the unconditional covenant and unconditional salvation suspicious in the eyes of the churches. By this charge he would induce the suspicion that where unconditional salvation and the unconditional covenant are taught there lurks the reality of antinomianism.

This attack on the unconditional covenant and salvation has a background.

To that I will turn next time.

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[1] Jones, Antinomianism, 29.

[2] Ibid., 29.

[3] Ibid., 84.

[4] Beeke and Jones, A Puritan Theology, 963.

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This article was written by Rev. Nathan J. Langerak, pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church in Crete, Illinois. If you have a question or comment for Rev. Langerak, please do so in the comment section.

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The Charge of Antinomianism (1): A False Charge

The Charge of Antinomianism (2): A Novel Definition

The Charge of Antinomianism (3): Against an Unconditional Covenant

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The Charge of Antinomianism (3): Against an Unconditional Covenant

Antinomianism is the heresy that denies the necessity of good works in the life of the believer. The outstanding characteristic of the antinomian is lawlessness in life. Antinomianism is also a slanderous charge that throughout history has been leveled against the truth of the gospel to make that doctrine wicked and dangerous to the church.

The doctrine of the unconditional covenant belongs to the gospel of grace taught in sacred scripture and summarized in the Reformed creeds. The doctrine teaches that God makes his covenant with the elect alone, that he makes an unconditional promise of salvation to them alone, gives grace to them alone, and that he surely and infallibly fulfils that promise for their everlasting happiness in heaven. The doctrine of the unconditional covenant faithfully maintains all the Reformed doctrines of grace, including election as the eternal decree controlling membership in the covenant, the cross of Christ as the only meritorious ground of every benefit of the covenant promised to and bestowed on the elect, the gracious regeneration of every elect person, the gift of saving faith incorporating every elect into Christ, justification by faith alone without any works, and the preservation of every covenantal member to eternal salvation in a life of holiness and good works. To attack that doctrine as antinomian is slander and an open attack upon the truth as it is in Christ Jesus.

Mark Jones engages in just such an attack. Throughout the book he brings up the matter of conditions. Among the questions that he says were historically involved in the antinomian debates and were used to expose the antinomian is the question, “are there conditions in salvation?” According to him, the antinomian is one who teaches that there are no conditions in salvation. He further asserts about antinomian theology that “the divine element and human responsibility”—what he calls the “conditional aspect of the covenant of grace”—were not upheld “by the majority of antinomian theologians.”[1] He speaks later of the antinomians’ “denial of conditions in the covenant of grace.”[2]

He further explains his view of conditions in the covenant in the book, A Puritan Theology, which he co-authored with Joel Beeke.

The conditions of the covenant were principally faith in Christ and its fruit of new obedience. The former condition was understood, against the Antinomians, as an antecedent condition, so that no blessing procured by Christ could be applied to the believer until he or she exercised faith in Christ…To maintain that the covenant of grace is not conditional…has no biblical warrant, for that reason, the Reformed orthodox spoke of requirements or conditions demanded of those who would inherit the promise of salvation.[3]

For Mark Jones the covenant is emphatically conditional. No blessing procured by Christ can be applied to the believer until he exercises faith in Christ. He calls faith “an antecedent condition required of sinners in order to receive pardon of sins.” And he makes clear what he means by an “antecedent condition” when he writes, “In the garden of Eden good works were antecedent conditions to the promise of life.” In the same way Adam had the promise of life by what he did, so a man has the promise of forgiveness only by what he does. Faith is what he does to be saved in the same way as Adam had life by what he did. Jones writes about the death of Christ, “The covenant is therefore the context in which man exercises faith in order to receive the saving benefits of Christ’s works of impetration [accomplishing redemption].”[4] He says about good works, “In other words, are good works a necessary part of our perseverance in the faith in order to receive eternal life (i.e. glorification)? This brings up the matter of conditions for salvation. Are good works in any way a condition for salvation?”[5] He concludes that the Reformed teach that “good works are consequent conditions of having been saved.” What he means by “consequent conditions” is that they are new conditions of salvation imposed on the believer because he is saved. Jones goes to great lengths to establish that good works are necessary for salvation, especially by dragging out some quotations in which Reformed theologians spoke about works as necessary for salvation, even though in the same breath they admitted that their language was not at all safe and threatened the consciences of men and gave occasion to the Roman Catholic enemies of the truth. Further, what Jones means by necessary for salvation is different from what Reformed theologians said in the past. He means that good works are necessary as conditions to salvation and without which the believer cannot receive salvation. They are really and genuinely conditions performed by the believer in his strength by the grace of God.

This is not Reformed at all. Faith as a condition? Faith as a condition to receive the benefits procured by Christ? The Reformed speak of faith as a gift earned by the cross of Christ and graciously bestowed on the elect. The Canons say about faith in relation to the death of Christ, “The quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of his son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith.” No benefits applied before faith is exercised? Is not faith itself applied before it is exercised? What about regeneration? What about conversion? Are not these blessings of God applied before faith is exercised? Works as conditions to salvation? Works a “consequent condition?” Use whatever modifying term you choose with “works,” this is not Reformed language at all. It is Arminian language and was condemned by the Synod of Dordt, which said that the Arminians spoke of “new conditions,” which were “faith itself and the obedience of faith, although imperfect” (Canons 2, errors 2–3).

All of this serves his attack on the unconditional covenant. For Mark Jones, to speak of the covenant as unconditional is not Reformed, but antinomian. Ignoring wickedness, even gross wickedness of life, as the mark of the antinomian, he labels and dismisses with the charge of ungodly antinomianism those whose only crime is to deny that God saves sinners conditionally. Only if one teaches that there are conditions in the covenant and in salvation, can he be saved from the dreaded charge of antinomianism.

This is also a new understanding of antinomianism. By means of it, denial of the conditional covenant and the defense of the unconditional covenant of grace are smeared as the gross false doctrine of antinomianism, in a similar way as denial of the well-meant gospel offer and defense of the particularity of the call of the gospel are repeatedly and without proof slandered as hyper-Calvinism.

To that I will turn next time.

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[1] Jones, Antinomianism, 28.

[2] Ibid., 109.

[3] Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), 318.

[4] Jones, Antinomianism, 63.

[5] Ibid., 62.

This article was written by Rev. Nathan J. Langerak, pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church in Crete, Illinois. If you have a question or comment for Rev. Langerak, please do so in the comment section.

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The Charge of Antinomianism (1): A False Charge

The Charge of Antinomianism (2): A Novel Definition

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The Charge of Antinomianism (2): A Novel Definition

Antinomianism is the error that denies the necessity of good works in the life of the justified Christian. It is a real threat to the church and to the holiness of the church. The Bible warns against it. It is gross heresy. Antinomianism is also a false charge raised by the opponents of grace against the truth to slander it and to make it appear wicked in the eyes of the churches. Christ, Paul, and Luther all suffered this false charge. It is being used yet today against the doctrines of grace. The instrument for this attack is a novel and historically inaccurate understanding of what constitutes antinomianism.

This novel definition is found in the recent book Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest? written by the well-known, learned, and articulate author Mark Jones. The book has been widely reviewed, and the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. The book is viewed as a correct analysis of antinomianism, is presented as a new tool in the war on antinomianism, and its author is cited as a recognized authority on the subject. The book is being recommended to members of the pew as sound and Reformed and instructive for understanding antinomianism and its threat to the churches today.

The author’s conclusions are being accepted as the new standard for exposing antinomians, and his implied program to root out these “unwelcome guests” is being carried out, beginning with his charges of antinomianism against those who maintain and stubbornly defend the truth of the unconditional covenant and with it all the doctrines of grace. At the very least he has succeeded in raising the suspicion that where the unconditional covenant and the pure gospel of grace are taught antinomianism lurks.

Jones minimizes the classic definition of antinomianism: “we have not understood the debate if we simply identify antinomians as those who flatly reject the use and necessity of the moral law in the life of Christians.”[1] This also comes out in his repeated warnings that antinomianism “must not be confused with the etymological meaning of antinomian (i.e., ‘against the law’).”[2] Again he writes, “Antinomianism is more complex than its etymology might suggest.”[3] He concludes, “If antinomianism is understood simply as all indicatives without imperatives, and legalism simply as all imperatives without indicatives, then there has been very few true antinomians or true legalists in the Christian tradition.”[4]

For him to define an antinomian as one who is literally against the law—that is, one who says, “God saves sinners, so let us sin”—is inadequate. By this he ignores the obvious. By this he also fails to recognize that this is exactly what those real antinomians who appeared in the Bible and in history did: they flatly rejected the law and lived however they pleased. For proof one need only read Jeremiah 7 or Revelation 2 or examine the history of the Anabaptist antinomians during the time of the Reformation.

Flatly rejecting the use and necessity of the moral law is the outstanding characteristic of real antinomians today. They are against law; they reject those who bring the warnings and admonitions of the law and are characterized by lawlessness. For example, where is the law of God about marriage honored today? It is ironic in the extreme that the warnings against antinomianism come from those who by appeals to grace defend or fail to condemn the rank violations of the law of God concerning marriage by pew and clergy. Those who live impenitently in the sin of divorce and remarriage are comforted in that wickedness and given an honorable place in the pew and in the offices. Where is the outrage against this antinomianism of rampant and undisciplined divorce and remarriage? It is troubling in the extreme that from the same quarters as issue glowing reviews, recommendations of, and appeals to the world’s movies and music—evidence of antinomian worldliness—there comes also this shrill cry of antinomianism. What of the patent violations of the Lord’s day by those who do not diligently frequent God’s house and are found instead working, at the beach, at football games, or on boats? Where is the indignation at the ungodliness of labor union membership, lodge membership, and membership in other worldly associations that are rife today in Reformed and Presbyterian churches? What of the antinomianism of the near universal acceptance of the doctrine of common grace that flatly denies the antithesis and encourages unity with the ungodly world? What of the antinomianism of false doctrine that is tolerated by vigorously and viciously defending those who teach it, so that in Mark Jones’ own church, the Presbyterian Church in America, and others, heretics who have the audacity to deny that justification is by faith alone have been exonerated and doctrinal lawlessness against the creeds and in rank violation of the oath of subscription reigns?

Antinomianism is present wherever these evils take place, whoever participates in them is an antinomian, and churches that tolerate such guests undisciplined at their communion tables promote antinomianism. Antinomianism as denial of the law is not as rare today as Mark Jones assumes. However, this all passes him by in his pursuit of a new understanding of antinomianism.

It is a serious fault of a book that purports to teach about antinomianism that the fruits of the antinomian error in the actual ungodliness that characterizes the life of the antinomian are not pointed out, dealt with, and condemned. There is hardly a syllable in the whole book dealing with these very real manifestations of antinomianism today. It is a serious fault of the book that, without a single rebuke from this instructor about the antinomian error, it allows unwelcome guests at many Reformed communion tables to continue in the illusion of their righteousness and allows many Reformed churches and officebearers to tolerate that lawlessness. One would expect, at least in fairness to the Reformed world, which Jones charges with the “real problem” of “practical antinomianism,” that he would point this out for the brethren.

By this neglect he also turns the attention of the church away from real ungodliness of life as the most obvious and dangerous characteristic of real antinomianism that the church can lay its hands on. It is as if a shepherd would tell his sheep dogs to go sniffing about for the wolf in sheep’s clothes while ignoring the huge loafer wolf lying in the middle of the flock chewing on a leg of lamb. Jones sends Reformed sheep dogs on a nearly hopeless and futile quest to ferret out antinomians according to some vaguely defined theological characteristics.

In Jones’ pursuit of antinomians, he never actually defines the antinomian error. Rather, he seeks to give certain theological characteristics of the antinomian and concludes that “when all or at least most of these errors are combined in a preaching ministry, you have an antinomian. And, despite loud protestations to the contrary, antinomian theology leads to practical antinomianism, which is a serious problem in the church today.”[5]

He also accuses the antinomians in his sights of being duplicitous and hypocritical: “They have a habit of saying mutually contradictory things, as well as affirming truths that they deny in practice. That is, their public ministry is not always in accord with what they will tell you when they are, in private, pressed on certain points.”[6] Jones is interested in the theology of antinomianism, and upon this theology he heaps all of the opprobrium for the practical antinomianism that he sees—but does not explain—as a serious problem today.

It is not that his point about the slipperiness of the real antinomian is not well taken. The real antinomian, as any heretic, is as slippery as a snake in the presentation of errors. Rather, the problem is that when the theological characteristics that Jones cites as indicating a real antinomian are examined one finds that he actually indicts the truth as being antinomian. The book ends up casting aspersions upon the truth, so that Christ, the apostle Paul, Luther, and the Reformed creeds are laid under the suspicion of antinomianism.

Part of Jones’ attack on the truth involves the unconditional covenant of grace.

To that I will turn next time.

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[1] Mark Jones, Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest? (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013), 124.

[2] Ibid., 124.

[3] Ibid., 18.

[4] Ibid., 124.

[5] Ibid., 128

[6] Ibid.

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This article was written by Rev. Nathan J. Langerak, pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church in Crete, Illinois. If you have a question or comment for Rev. Langerak, please do so in the comment section.

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The Charge of Antinomianism (1): A False Charge

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Gospel Truth of Justification - A Review (2): Comforting

Another aspect of the truth of justification by faith alone as proclaimed, defended, and developed in this book, is the comfort that it brings to the believing child of God. Corruptions of justification by faith alone make light of man's sinfulness and “the awesome holiness of God” (p. 489). Engelsma paints a vivid picture of “standing before the holy God in judgment according to divine justice” (p. 489).

One who contemplates standing before the holy God in judgment according to divine justice, all his life opened up, all his motives exposed, all his secret thoughts and desires made known, all the spoiling of his best works by a grievous coming short of perfect love for God and the neighbor, to say nothing of the words and deeds spoken or done in secret in outright violation of the law of God—such a man or woman makes up his or her sanctified, wise mind that on that great day and in that awesome courtroom he or she will raise one plea, and one only: “God be merciful to me the sinner!” That is, “Forgive me, and declare me righteous for the sake, only for the sake, of the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ, whom thou thyself hast given to be my righteousness, especially in his suffering and death.”

One who has even the slightest knowledge of the holiness of God has his mind made up, in all sincerity, that he will bring in the final judgment absolutely nothing of his own obedience and no work of his own as his righteousness upon which the verdict of the Judge must depend (pp. 489-490).

As the author repeatedly points out throughout the book, the believer standing daily in the courtroom of God and entering the judgment at the moment of death “plead[s] the merits of Jesus Christ, and those only” (p. 405). “The idea of marching into the courtroom of the final judgment waving these little, defiled things [the believer's good works—AJC] as deserving what awaits him is to him (and this also is grace) not only the height of wickedness, but also the height of absurdity” (p. 402).

Comforting to the Reformed believer are three truths concerning justification by faith alone that are clearly set forth in the Reformed confessions. In fact, the confessions so clearly set forth the “gospel truth of justification” that, writes Engelsma, “No Reformed teacher has any excuse for deviating from the right doctrine of justification. No Reformed church member has any excuse for being misled by heretical teachers. No Reformed church has any excuse for approving or even tolerating a false doctrine of justification” (p. 92).

First, justification is the legal act of God whereby the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ is imputed to the account of the elect sinner (p. 93). Abhorring all of his own good works, the believer boldly stands in God's divine courtroom and hears the declaration, “Not guilty, for the sake of Jesus Christ and him crucified! Righteous, with the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, which by this declaration I impute to you!” (p. 116).

It cannot be emphasized enough that the righteousness of justification is “wholly and exclusively the doing and dying of Jesus Christ outside the justified sinner....it is a righteousness accomplished for us by another, not at all a righteousness worked within us, taking form as our own efforts” (p. 118). The author reminds the reader that Luther described this as an “alien” righteousness (p. 119).

The second comforting truth regarding justification is that justification is by faith only, completely excluding the sinner's works (p. 95). “The works of the justified sinner that are excluded in justification, the Reformed confessions identify as all the sinner's works, especially the good works that proceed from a truth faith by the operation of the indwelling Spirit of Christ” (p. 98). Again, what believer dares even to contemplate coming into God's courtroom waving “little, defiled things” as deserving the Judges' pronouncement, “righteous!”

A third comforting truth of the gospel truth of justification properly understood is that faith is the “means, or instrument, by which the justified sinner receives the righteousness of another” (p. 100). In other words, justification is unconditional. “The confessions deny that the sinner's activity of believing is itself his righteousness with God, is regarded by God as the sinner's righteousness, or functions as a condition that the sinner performs to make himself worthy of justification” (p. 101). As Engelsma is at pains to point out, the Reformed confessions thoroughly condemn justification “on the condition of faith” as the heresy of Arminianism (p. 101). The Reformed believer confesses the obedience of Jesus Christ as the sole ground of his justification. Nothing else.

That faith is a condition the sinner performs in order to receive the saving benefits of Christ's works is a grievous error. Yet some, under the banner of Reformed, promote this error. Take, for example, Mark Jones, who writes, “The Reformed held firmly to the view that the elect have no role in impetrating their salvation. That honor belongs exclusively to Christ. But in the application of salvation, man plays a role. Thus, the application of justification depends on faith. Faith is an antecedent condition to receiving the blessings of justification, adoption, and sanctification” (p. 63). Further, Jones writes, “The covenant of grace may be unconditional in its origin, but ultimately it requires that conditions be met on man's part because Christ's death was a moral cause” (p. 63). Later, on page 64, Jones identifies “faith” as one of the conditions.[1]

Along with this error is joined the comfort-robbing false doctrine, characteristic of Puritanism, that those who are justified by faith alone doubt their justification and “remain in doubt whether they are saved” (p. 210). This will have to wait for next time.

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[1] Jones, Mark. Antinomianism: Reformed Theology's Unwelcome Guest?, Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 2013. Those who have read the Acts of Synod & Yearbook of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America (2017) will be aware of Mark Jones' book.

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This post was written by Aaron Cleveland, a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. If you have a question or comment for Aaron, please do so in the comment section.

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Gospel Truth of Justification - A Review (1): Timely

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