Heidelcast Series: Nomism And Antinomianism

Almost since the beginning of the Reformation there were two reactions to the recovery of the gospel: legalism, or nomism, and antinomianism. There are associated doctrines and practices but the core of antinomianism is the rejection of the abiding validity of the moral law. In the 1520s already, there were those who concluded that if we are saved (justified, sanctified, and glorified) by grace alone (sola gratia), through faith alone (sola fide) and the Reformation rightly rejected Rome’s confusion of law and gospel, then we do better not to talk about the moral law at all. Luther reacted strongly against this view. Indeed, he coined the term “antinomian” in his critique. In his Larger Catechism (among many other places) he taught the substance of what Philipp Melanchthon would later call the “third use of the law” (tertius usus legis). Nevertheless, those who are ignorant of Luther continue to repeat the slander that he himself was antinomian. The other great false reaction to the Reformation recovery of the gospel was nomism, i.e., the doctrine that in order to be saved we must obey law as the ground or instrument of our justification or salvation. The nomists were unsatisfied with the Reformation doctrine that new life and true faith given by the Holy Spirit necessarily produces good works as fruit and evidence of our justification and salvation. Then as now, the nomists sought to make works (obedience to the law) either the instrument (alongside of faith) or the ground (the legal basis alongside Christ’s obedience) of our salvation. As one, the confessional Protestant churches (the Lutheran and Reformed) rejected the nomists. The rejection by the confessional Reformed churches of both antinomianism and nomism (or neonomianism) has not kept them from reappearing like clockwork and even, at times, flourishing. It was in the midst of a renewal of both antinomianism and nomism in the 17th century that Edward Fisher published The Marrow of Modern Divinity. Against neonomianism in 18th century Scotland, Thomas Boston reprinted The Marrow and added to it his notes as part of the “The Marrow Controversy.” Today we have neonomians who, as in eighteenth-century Scotland, suggest falsely that The Marrow is antinomian. Perhaps, however, the greatest danger is sheer ignorance of The Marrow. So, to provide some prospective on our current debates over nomism and antinomianism and to help retain the Reformation gospel, The Heidelcast explored The Marrow in some detail.

  1. Nomism and Antinomianism (1): Definitions
  2. Nomism and Antinomianism (2): How The Marrow Helps Us Avoid Both
  3. Nomism and Antinomianism (3): The Sources of Nomism
  4. Nomism and Antinomianism (4): The Covenant of Works
  5. Nomism and Antinomianism (5): A Tour of the History of Redemption
  6. Nomism and Antinomianism (6):The Three Uses of the Moral Law
  7. Nomism and Antinomianism (7): Why Do Good Works If They Do Not Justify or Save?
  8. Nomism and Antinomianism (8): The Third Use of the Law
  9. Nomism and Antinomianism (9): The Acid Test of Nomism
  10. Nomism and Antinomianism (10): What Is “The Law of Christ”?
  11. Nomism and Antinomianism (11): The Two Ways of Participating in the Covenant of Grace
  12. Nomism and Antinomianism (12): More on The Third Use of the Law
  13. Nomism and Antinomianism (13): Was The Marrow Antinomian?

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  1. Thank you for this series of lectures on nomism and antinomianism, going through the Marrow of Modern Divinity. Although it is not an easy read, I have been greatly helped to navigate it by these lectures and by three lectures by Sinclair Ferguson, available on Sermon Audio. In the wake of the FV and the justification controversy, this book deserves serious reading and study for anyone interested in the Reformed doctrines of justification and sanctification, and how they are to be distinguished. I would also highly recommend The Pearl of Christian Comfort by Petrus Dathenus as a prologue to the Marrow since it is a much shorter and easier read on these topics. Both are available from Reformation Heritage Books.

    • David R.,
      I have read this critique of the Marrow. This critique champions the exact error that the Marrow was written to expose, confusing justification with sanctification. As Dr. Clark recently commented, “Sanctification is the consequence of justification not the ground of justification nor the instrument of justification.” Sanctification is the fruit and evidence of true, saving faith, but it is not part of the faith through which we are justified, by grace alone. The quotation from Witsius is wrongly used to say that the evidences of true faith which Witsius identifies are part of saving faith. That is the neonomian error that we see in a long line of nomists that includes Richard Baxter, Norman Shepherd, Federal Vision, Roman Catholics, and those who advocate two stage justification. Yes, repentance, love of God, and as desire to please God by new obedience are among the EVIDENCES and FRUITS of saving faith but they are not what makes faith saving. What makes faith saving is the object of faith, Christ alone!

  2. Dr. Clark,

    Thanks. I listened to the final episode in your series, since that seemed to be the one that would most likely answer my question, and the thrust of it seemed to be that the anti-neonomianism of The Marrow must be distinguished from the antinomian error. However, I don’t believe the critique I linked was making the claim that The Marrow is antinomian; rather, it was making essentially the same critique as that offered by James Buchanan (as you know, author of arguably the definitive Reformed work on the Reformed doctrine of justification, whom you’ve quoted on your blog numerous times in support of the doctrine of republication): “[W]e shall only say that a book which is held even by its admirers to require explanatory or apologetic notes, may be fairly presumed to contain some unguarded expressions, which might be understood in a sense dangerous to some part of the scheme of divine truth.” I was just wondering if you view this caveat to be warranted (if you discuss this in your series anywhere I’d be interested in listening).

    • David,

      I went to the trouble to write and record more than a dozen episodes to explain how to read the Marrow. You’re welcome to listen to them. They’re free but you can’t expect me to do here what I did there.

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