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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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are those who maintain that the law is of no use or obligation under the Gospel dispensation, or who hold doctrines that clearly supersede the necessity of good works and a virtuous life. The Antinomians took their origin from John Agricola, about the year 1538, who taught that the law was in no wise necessary under the Gospel; that good works do not promote our salvation, nor ill ones hinder it; that repentance is not to be preached from the decalogue, but only from the Gospel. This sect sprung up in England during the protectorate of Oliver Cromwell; and extended their system of libertinism much farther than Agricola, the disciple of Luther. Some of their teachers expressly maintained, that as the elect cannot fall from grace nor forfeit the divine favour, the wicked actions they commit are not really sinful, nor are to be considered as instances of their violation of the divine law; and that consequently they have no occasion either to confess their sins, or to break them off by repentance. According to them, it is one of the essential and distinctive characters of the elect, that they cannot do any thing which is displeasing to God. Luther, Rutherford, Schlusselburgh, Sedgwick, Gataker, Witsius, Bull, Williams, &c, have written refutations; Crisp, Richardson, Saltmarsh, &c, defences, of the Antinomians; Wigandus, a comparison between ancient and modern Antinomians.

The doctrine of Agricola was in itself obscure, and is thought to have been represented worse than it really was by Luther, who wrote against him with acrimony, and first styled him and his followers Antinomians. Agricola, in defending himself, complained that opinions were imputed to him which he did not hold. The writings of Dr. Crisp in the seventeenth century are considered as highly favourable to Antinomianism, though he acknowledges that, "in respect of the rules of righteousness, or the matter of obedience, we are under the law still, or else," as he adds, "we are lawless, to live every man as seems good in his own eyes, which no true Christian dares so much as think of." The following sentiments, however, among others, are taught in his sermons: "The law is cruel and tyrannical, requiring what is naturally impossible." "The sins of the elect were so imputed to Christ, as that though he did not commit them, yet they became actually his transgressions, and ceased to be theirs." "The feelings of conscience, which tell them that sin is theirs, arise from a want of knowing the truth." "It is but the voice of a lying spirit in the hearts of believers, that saith they have yet sin wasting their consciences, and lying as a burden too heavy for them to bear." "Christ's righteousness is so imputed to the elect, that they, ceasing to be sinners, are as righteous as he was, and all that he was." "An elect person is not in a condemned state while an unbeliever; and should he happen to die before God call him to believe, he would not be lost." "Repentance and confession of sin are not necessary to forgiveness. A believer may certainly conclude before confession, yea, as soon as he hath committed sin, the interest he hath in Christ, and the love of Christ embracing him." These dangerous sentiments, and others of a similar bearing, have been fully answered by many writers; but by none more ably than by the Rev. John Fletcher, in his "Checks to Antinomianism."

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Antinomians'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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