This blog gains its name from the book Steele's Answers published in 1912. It began as an effort to blog through that book, posting each of the Questions and Answers in the book in the order in which they appeared. I began the project on Dec. 10, 2011. I completed it on July 11, 2015. Along the way, I began to also post snippets from Dr. Steele's other writings — and from some other holiness writers of his times. I still do that every once in a while.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Antinomian Error

Theological errors move in cycles, some times of very long periods. They resemble those comets of unknown orbits which occasionally dash into our solar system; but they are not as harmless. Often they leave moral ruin in their track. Since all Christian truth is practical, and aims at the moral transformation of men, all negations of that truth are deleterious; they not only obscure the truth and obstruct its purifying effect, but they positively corrupt and destroy souls.

This is specially true of errors which release men from obligation to the law of God. After St. Paul had demonstrated the impossibility of justification by works compensative for sin, and had established the doctrine of justification through faith in Christ which works by love and purifies the heart, there started up a class of teachers who drew from Paul's teachings the fallacious inference that the law of God is abolished in the case of the believer, who is henceforth delivered from its authority as the rule of life. Hence they became, what Luther first styled, Antinomians (Greek anti, against, and nomos, law).

We infer from Rom. iii. 8, 31; vi.1; Eph. v. 6; 2 Peter ii. 18, 19, and James ii.17-26, in which warnings are given against perversion of the truth as an excuse for licentiousness, that Antinomianism, in its grosser form, found place in the primitive church. All along the history of the Church, a revival of the cardinal doctrine of justification, by faith only, has been followed by a resurrection of Antinomianism, which Wesley defines as "the doctrine which makes void the law through faith." Those who aver that ultra-Calvinism is the invariable antecedent of Antinomianism, would be unwilling to accept the necessary inference that the apostle to the Gentiles was an ultra-Calvinist; yet it is true that the doctrines of Calvinism can be logically pushed to that conclusion. It is also true that other forms of doctrine which emphasize faith in Jesus Christ, as the sole ground of acceptance with God, are more or less liable to have the tares of Antinomianism spring up in their field.

The root of this error lies in a false view of the mediatorial work of Christ, that He performs for men the obedience which they ought to perform, and that God can justly demand nothing further from the delinquents. It is claimed that Christ's perfect virtues are reckoned to the believer in such a way as to excuse him for their absence; His chastity compensating for the absence of that moral quality in the believer. Hence, adultery and murder in King David, being compensated by the purity and benevolence of Jesus imputed to him in the mind of God, did not mar David's standing as righteous before God.

Theologians who state the doctrine of the atonement with proper safeguards, are careful to limit its vicarious efficacy to the passive obedience of the Son of God, His sufferings and death. His active obedience constitutes no part of His substitutional work. The germ of Antinomianism is found in the inclusion of the latter in the atonement. It is true that the God-man was actively obedient to the Father's will, but this obedience was personal, and not mediatorlal. Hence, every one justified through faith in the shed blood of Christ, is under obligation to render personal obedience to God's law. In this respect Jesus cannot be his proxy or representative.