Heidelcast 60: Nomism And Antinomianism (3)

With this episode I had intended to begin a survey of The Marrow of Modern Divinity but Chris Gordon, my friend, colleague, and pastor at Escondido URC put in my hands a terrific little volume from 1831, which was an assessment of the Marrow controversy (described in episode 59). This rare volume has some very interesting things to say about the source and nature of nomism. So, this week we’re considering how the Marrow controversy looked a century later and at what John Brown of Whitburn thought were the major problems with nomism (legalism in justification and sanctification).

Here’s episode 60:

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  1. LadyTWR and I listened last night. Good and necessary stuff. The Marrow is not an old historical dusty controversy. It continues today. And the issues are as relevant today as they were then. As has been said before, history doesn’t repeat itself yet it often rhymes!

    Looking forward to Pt. 4


  2. Dr. Clark,

    Thank you for this series. It has been very helpful. In my 9 years in the PCA, I have seen much more legalism by far than any form of antinomianism.

  3. Dr. Clark, what book is it that you are referring to from 100 years after the Marrow controversy? Thanks!

  4. Dr. Clark,

    Thank you for the series and your detailed explanation of the historical Reformed Creeds. A quick question, I’ve always thought repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin, as in the Bible when the two words are often used interchangeably when calling people to salvation. So I am confused are you saying that faith precedes repentance, not something happening concurrently when one trust Jesus as Lord and savior over his life?

    • Hi Andrew,

      There are two distinct questions here: time and logic. Relative to time or our experience, we might speak of concurrence. The other question is the logical order. That’s the more important question. This gets to the ordo salutis or the logical order of the application of redemption. Here we want to say that it is believers who repent. We should say that the Holy Spirit regenerates, gives faith and repentance.

      Whether it’s right to call them “two sides of the same coin” is a matter of debate. I understand that Mr Murray spoke that way but other of our Reformed writers have spoken different. I’m influenced by Olevianus and others who don’t speak that way. He tends to speak of faith relative to the gospel and repentance relative to the law. Faith has one object, Christ and it is Christ who makes faith powerful.

      Repentance is another thing. It’s object, if you will, is not Christ. Repentance is a turning away from sin and toward Christ but it is always imperfect. Here’s one way to distinguish them: We are not justified through repentance but through faith (sola fide), so faith and repentance are not exactly symmetrical. They are symmetrical.

      We should keep them closely related since true faith always issues in or results in true repentance but it is faith, i.e., resting in Christ, that is the instrument of justification. Look at Belgic Confession articles 23 and 24. They are quite helpful in this regard.

  5. That is a very profound point you made about faith being the leading logical order of salvation. Not only does it tell us what a true saving faith is apart from a humanly illusion, but in regard to sanctification, since all the saints are continuing a life of repentance, it also means that I can no more effectively repent from dead works, without being led by a stronger trust in every promise of God spoken to Christians, i.e. being free from sin, Holy Spirit working in us, no separation from Christ, etc.

    Also thank you for the pointer to the Belgic Confession; regarding to articles 24 I believe Johnathan Edwards might have made a similar point about true virtue are works done by the elect for the sole purpose of pleasing God.

    • Andrew,

      Thank you.

      What exactly Edwards was about in re justification and sanctification is not always easy to discern. I’m not confident that DeBres (the author of the Belgic) was thinking what Edwards was later thinking. On Edwards’s doctrine of justification the seminal essay is Thomas A. Schafer, “Jonathan Edwards and Justification by Faith,: Church History 20 (1951): 55–67. This essay is often mentioned but I’m not sure that it has always been read carefully especially by those who are zealous to defend Edwards’ orthodoxy on justification. I saw a volume recently discussing this very topic in which there did not seem to be a single reference to this essay. The evidence is ambiguous at best. There have been numerous attempts to defend Edwards’ orthodoxy but here’s an essay that concedes that Edwards’ view rejects the classic Protestant, confessional doctrine and thinks it’s a good thing too:

      G. R. McDermott, “Jonathan Edwards on Justification—More Protestant or Catholic?” There’s a discussion of this too in Recovering the Reformed Confession.

      • Dr. Clark,

        I just read McDermott’s paper, goodness that was a load of analysis merely on the various definitions of justification.

        In reading Edward and Luther’s proclivity to see justification as a work something God does (or infused) in a believer, in an addition to a forensic declaration, I wonder if Reformed simply sliced and diced it further into regeneration and justification? That said, I wonder too if Luther’s pursuit on the “union with the presence of Christ” can possibly confuse the “distinct and separate” character of Trinity, and runs danger to the side of Unitarianism. Modern movement such as Witness Lee and Living Stream Ministry took that (union with Christ) to heart and ran with it, claiming Trinitarian God is more a Nicean Creed and not biblical.

        There are many more questions and thoughts, but I must refrain from spamming your blog further 🙂

        • The Reformation was about, in large measure, the definition of justification. Rome defines justification as a process, in which we shall be finally justified by Spirit-wrought sanctity and cooperation with the same. The Protestants rejected that definition categorically in favor of a legal definition of justification on the basis of Christ’s righteousness accomplished for us and imputed to us and received through faithg alone.

          On justification and union in Luther see this essay.

          The point that Schafer et al have been making for the last 70 years is that Edwards departed from Luther and the other magisterial Reformers on justification.

          I doubt that Luther’s doctrine of union was much different from that of most of orthodox Reformed. Here are some resources on union.

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