Editor’s note: The statements by the antinomian that are in quotation marks are quotations that Wesley selected from an antinomian writer. In this essay he cited the source, “Mr Cudworth’s Dialogue.”
“Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: Yea, we establish the law.” (Romans 3:31).
FRIEND. — You have had time to consider. What do think of our last conversation?
ANTINOMIAN. — I think, “The giving of scandalous names has no warrant from Scripture.” (Mr. Cudworth’s Dialogue, p. 2).
Friend. — Scandalous names?
Ant. — Yes; you called me antinomian. But “Our Savior bids me not return railing for railing.” (Ibid.)
Friend. — St. Peter does, and that is the same. But how is that a scandalous name? I think it is very appropriate, for it means, “one that speaks against the law.” And you did this quite freely at that time. But what would you like for me call to you?
Ant. — “A Preacher of God’s righteousness.” (Ibid., p. 1).
Friend. — What do you call me then?
Ant. — “A Preacher of inherent righteousness.” (Ibid.)
Friend. — So you mean that inherent righteousness is opposite to that righteousness of God which is by faith.
Ant. — Yes; for, “I plainly perceive you know but one sort of righteousness, that is, the righteousness of inherent qualities, dispositions, and works.” Let me ask you one question. Do you believe that “Christ hath appeared, to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself?”
Friend. — I do.
Ant. — But in what sense?
Friend. — I believe He made, by that one offering of himself, a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. And yet He has not done all that was necessary for the inevitable salvation of the whole world. If He had, the whole world would be saved; but it remains that, “he that believeth not shall be damned.”
Ant. — But is it not said, “‘He was wounded for our transgressions, and with His stripes we are healed?’ And is He not ‘the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world?’” (p. 4).
Friend. — Yes. But this does not prove that He “put an end to our sins before they had a beginning!” (Ibid.)
Ant. — Ignorance! Did our sins not begin in Adam?
Friend. — Original sin did. But Christ will not put an end to this before the end of the world. And, as for actual sin, if I feel anger toward you in my heart, and it comes out in reproachful words; to say that Christ put an end to this sin before it began is absurd.
Ant. — Then you believe that Christ has only redeemed us from the punishment that our past transgressions deserve. “Then who must redeem us from those which are to come, since there remains no more sacrifice for sin?” (Cudworth’s Dialogue).
Friend. — The same Jesus Christ, by the same merit of that one sacrifice, which is applied to the conscience when we believe, as you yourself have often asserted. But whatever punishment He redeems us from, that punishment assumes that sin has already been committed. After all, it must first exist, before it can be either punished or pardoned.
Ant. — You have a strange way of talking. You say, “We are forgiven for the sake of the blood of Christ.” (Ibid.)
Friend. — And do you not?
Ant. — No; I say, “We have forgiveness in His blood, and not merely for the sake of it.”
Friend. — You are perfectly welcome to say so.
Ant. — Well, enough of this. Let me ask you another question. Do you believe that salvation is “conditional?” (Ibid.)
Friend. — I believe, “He that believeth shall be saved, and he that believeth not; shall be damned.” Can you deny this? If not, why do you fight over a word; especially after I told you, “Find me a better one, and I will lay this aside?”
Ant — “Then this faith leaves you just in the same state it found you; that is, still having the condition to perform.” (Ibid.)
Friend. — Not so; for faith itself is that condition.
Ant. — No, “faith is only necessary in order to receive forgiveness or salvation; not to procure it by way of condition.” (Ibid.)
Friend. — Enough of this. We are in agreement then. If you allow that “faith is necessary in order to receive forgiveness or salvation,” this is all I mean by calling it a condition. A condition that earns salvation is something entirely different.
Ant. — Will you answer one more question? Is a believer not free from the law?
Friend. — He is free from the Jewish ceremonial law; that is, he does not need to observe it. And he is free from the curse of the moral law; but he is not free from observing it. He still walks according to this rule, and all the more, because God has written it in his heart.
Ant. — But St. Paul says, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” (Ibid.)
Friend. — He is. He put an end to the Mosaic dispensation, and established a better covenant, in which “faith is counted for righteousness to every one that believeth.”
Ant. — And yet, “as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse” (Galatians 3:10), are they not?
Friend. — They are; those who still “seek to be justified by the works of the law;” that is, by any works which come before, or are independent of, faith in Christ.
Ant. — “But does not the Apostle also say, ‘Ye are become dead to the law?’ (Romans 7:4).” (Ibid.)
Friend. — You are, as to its condemning power, if you truly believe in Christ. For “there is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” But you are not dead as to its directing power; for you “walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” You “love Him, and keep His commandments.”
Ant. — But I maintain, “a believer is entirely free from the law.” (Ibid.)
Friend. — By what Scripture do you prove that?
Ant. — By Galatians 4:4, 5: “God sent forth His Son, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law.”
Friend. — I mentioned the clear meaning of this before: “‘God sent forth His Son, made under the law’ (the Jewish dispensation), ‘to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons;’ might ‘serve God without fear, in righteousness and holiness,’ with a free, loving, child-like spirit.’” Do you mean only that he obeys the law of Christ by free choice, and not by force? That he keeps the commandments of God out of love, not fear? If so, no one will oppose you. But if you mean he is free from obeying that law, then your liberty is a liberty to disobey God.
Ant. — God forbid. It is “a liberty to walk in the Spirit, and not fulfill the lust (or desire) of the flesh.” (Ibid., p. 8).
Friend. — Why, this is the very thing I am contending for. The thing I continually assert is this, that Christian liberty is a liberty to obey God, and not to commit sin.
Ant. — Then you must consider these words of our Lord to exclude the moral law: “Think not that I am come to destroy the Law or the Prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, until heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in nowise pass from the law, until all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5:17, 18). But I say that our Lord has fulfilled the moral law too.
Friend. — I agree that He has. But do you infer from that, “therefore He has destroyed the law?” Our Lord’s argument is the opposite of yours. He mentions His coming to “fulfill the law,” as a proof that He did not come to “destroy” or “take it away.” But suppose you could get past the first verse, what can you do with the next one? “Verily I say unto you, One jot or one tittle shall in nowise pass from the law, until heaven and earth pass;” or, which is to say the same thing, “until all be fulfilled.” Here, the word “all” does not refer to the law, but to heaven and earth and “all things” therein.
I cannot, in good conscience, speak in the way that you do because it is an unscriptural way of speaking. Both the Old and New Testament speak of holiness, of good works, of the law and the commandments of God, as clearly and frequently as they speak of believing in Jesus Christ.
I also find, by experience, that it is a dangerous way of speaking, both to the speaker and to the hearers. As for the speaker, it has a tendency to make him exalt himself (under the pretense of exalting the grace of God) and despise others. As for the hearers, it keeps many from ever waking from the sleep of spiritual death; it lulls others back into that fatal slumber, who were just beginning to awaken; it stops many in their Christian walk, and turns others completely out of the way; and even plunges many into unclean living. Considering this, I earnestly desire to “speak as the oracles of God;” that is, to express scriptural meanings in scriptural words; to keep as close as I can to “the law and the testimony;” being convinced that there are no words so fit to express the deep things of God, as those which “holy men of old spake” when “they were moved by the Spirit of God.”
This excerpt from John Wesley, edited for conciseness and readability, was originally published in A Timeless Faith: John Wesley for the 21st Century by Stephen Gibson.