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1838 CONTENTNEA BAPTIST ASSOCIATION

CIRCULAR LETTER

The saints of God by hope composing the eighth annual session of the Contentnea Baptist Association, to the churches of that body, and to all them that have obtained like precious faith with us, through the righteousness of God and our Savior Jesus Christ: Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

We are bound to give thanks always to God for you brethren, beloved of the Lord, not only because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth; but likewise because He hath spared your lives and has not removed your candlesticks out of their places; and has granted us to hear of your peace with each other, and amidst the many winds of doctrine, and sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, that you are enabled to steadfast in one spirit with one mind, striving together for the faith of the Gospel. And we thank God that He has brought a number of us to one more mutual sight, which has refreshed and comforted our spirits, and caused us to sit together in tranquility and brotherly love and for your furtherance and joy of faith, we will lay before you a few thoughts in the subject of: Antinomianism

As we are not certain that the sense of this term has remained fixed and settled since the time of Agricola, we deem it necessary to use some care in defining it: the simplest meaning of antinomianism is, one who is opposed to law. In a religious sense, its true import is, one who is opposed to the law of God. When used in either of these senses, it at once attaches odium to the person(s) to whom it is applied. It bespeaks the citizen to be selfish, turbulent and an enemy to good order, and to men; and denotes the professor of Christianity to be destitute of reverence for the divine character, and more daringly wicked than an open infidel. A more extended signification, and the general acceptation of the term, is one who denies that the law of God, or “moral law,” is in force, and obligatory on men under the Gospel dispensation. It is defined by Charles Buck, one who maintains that the law is of no use or obligation under the Gospel dispensation or who holds doctrines that clearly supersede the necessity of good works. Buck continues: “Some of them (Antinomians) it is said, maintained, that if they should commit any kind of sin, it would do them no hurt, nor in the least affect their eternal state; and that it is one of the characters of the elect that they cannot do any thing displeasing to God.” - (Theo. Dech. Art. Antinomians.)

If we are not mistaken, the term has of late been used improperly, and almost without signification, as when it is applied to those who view the new missionary efforts of the present age as being unscriptural and vainglorious.

The account given by Buck, appears not to be in the words of Agricola, nor of those identified with him, but in the language of those who denied their doctrine; and it cannot be fully relied upon as a true copy of their creed inasmuch as it is difficult for one sect or denomination to describe the faith of another without some coloring or slight inaccuracy. The notions ascribed to them, however, are certainly in our opinion if we understand them – unsupported by the Scriptures if by the law us meant the moral law, and if they intend to say that this was no longer binding on saints or sinners after the Gospel Age commenced. They ran right foul of the doctrine of the Apostles. As in regards good works, either of saints or sinners, we believe they consist chiefly, if not altogether, in giving meat to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, shelter to the stranger and clothing to the naked, and to visit and minister to the sick and the prisoners. - Matt. 25:35-46. These are enjoined upon all men in that command, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” If the Antinomians intended to say that it was not indispensable for these or any other good works, so called, to precede salvation and that too as the means of salvation or grace, they were surely right. For “by the deeds of the law there shall be no flesh justified.” A man is justified by the faith of Christ without the deeds of the law – Romans 3:20-28. But if they meant to say that these works do not accompany salvation, as the product of grace or faith, and that invariably, they were mistaken. “Come ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom &c., for I was hungry, and ye gave Me meat, I was thirsty and ye gave Me drink, I was a stranger and ye took Me in; naked and ye clothed Me; I was sick and ye visited Me; I was in prison and ye came unto Me - Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me – “But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness and the end everlasting life - Matt. 25:35,36,40; Rom. 6:22. If by saying the committing of any kind of sin would do them no hurt, nor in the least affect their eternal state, they simply meant that the soul of the Christian will not be in the general judgment accountable for the sins of the flesh and by saying the elect can do nothing displeasing to God they only mean that, the soul partakes not of all of the guilt of the outward man – then is no fault to be found with them on this point. But if they would be understood that, the soul might possibly sin willfully, or contracts guilt from the sins of the flesh or even feel the workings of sin in the flesh, and not be grieved or any otherwise disturbed or injured thereby, but stand clear before God, their doctrine was condemnable. But that the mind or soul cannot sin, nor contract guilt from the sinning of the flesh and consequently under all possible circumstances, cannot displease God is a truth abundantly set forth in the Scriptures, and affords the only ground upon which the final perseverance of the saints, or even the possible salvation of any soul can be built.

Upon the whole, if either good works which consists chiefly, or altogether in acts of kindness to our fellow men, or forms of worship, such as reading the Scriptures, prayers, singing, hearing, preaching, meditations and abstaining from wicked actions, be plead as means of obtaining salvation or grace, or as means of keeping ourselves in divine favor, then inevitably the reward is not reckoned of grace, but of debt – Romans 4:4.; whereas grace comes through faith and is not the reward of anything, but is a free gift – Romans 5:16. And if the Antinomians of 1538 only meant that the law does not require of man, nor bind them to Gospel exercises, as a life-giving covenant; nor execute its severest penalty upon the saints for every sinful act of the flesh, then are they not worthy of the name of Antinomians; but are establishers of the law; and their accusers are themselves Antinomians, as we shall proceed to show.

In order to do this, we shall promise that the moral law of God, under the Gospel dispensation, is obligatory and binding both in its precepts, and penalty on the unbeliever; and in its precepts on the believer. Moreover, that the whole duty of man to God, as Creator, Lawgiver, and Judge, is embraced in that law. And whoever adds to, substitutes, abrogates, repeals, derogates from, or diminishes that law is, according to the above definition and Scriptures an Antinomian. Furthermore all who do not believe that every Gospel blessing is a free gift; and that they who are saved by grace through faith, and no more liable to eternal death, are antinomians.

To carry out and establish the above propositions, we will have recourse to the Epistle to the Romans. The writer of this epistle it seems had been charged by certain people about Rome (professors of religion we should judge) with being what in our tongue would be called an Antinominian. To acquit himself in this matter, he lays down in his epistle, with the positive and absolute certainty of divine asseveration the continued, and strict obligation of the Law; and shows how perfectly the doctrine of salvation by grace harmonizes with the obligations of that Law.

He shows them, first, that the law was binding even in the Gentiles, who had not received a dispensation of it after the manner of the Jews; and that the Gentiles were guilty, of its violation, and by it stood condemned. “The invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse;” – “As many as have sinned without law, shall also perish without law” – Romans 1:20 - 2:12.

Secondly: That it was binding upon the Jews, who had received it and condemned them for the least breach or deviation from it. “For As many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. For when the Gentiles which have not the law do by nature the things contained in the law, these having not the law, are a law unto themselves: which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing, or excusing one another.” - Romans 2:12-15.

Thirdly; that it was in such force that its friends who approved it; and pleaded for its being obeyed, were condemned by it to suffer its penalty, if they departed in the smallest degree from one of its precepts; “Behold, thou art called a Jew, and resteth in the law, and makes thy boast of God. Thou that makest thy boast of the law through breaking the law dishonorest thou God? Thou that preachest A man should not steal – dost thou steal? And thinkest thou this, A man that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?” - 2:17,23,29.

Fourthly, That under all circumstances, it was obligatory on Jews, Gentiles and all men, so that all stood guilty by its transgression, and condemned by its sentence. For we have before proved, both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin. “What things so ever the law saith, it saith to them that are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God.” 3:9,19.

Fifthly, That such was the force and firmness that it relaxed and relinquished nothing from its requirements, and abated and remitted nothing from its penalty; so that man’s justification by its deeds was to all intents, and forever impossible. “Yea, let God be true and every man a liar, as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings and mightest overcome when thou are judged. By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight.” - 4:2.

Sixthly. That so unalterably binding were its precepts, and so inflexibly just was its penalty, that sooner than excuse or justify a single transgression against it, God would magnify it by the obedience and death of His own Son – would wound Him – and bruise Him and deliver Him up to death, even the death of the cross. “Being justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ; whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins, that are past through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, His righteousness that He might be just, and the justifier of Him which believe in Jesus. He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all.” - 3:24,25,26; and 8:32.

Seventhly, That so intensely binding was the law, that it could not but punish Him who was found in human nature, with only the imputation of our offences upon Him. “For in that He died, He died unto sin once; but in that He liveth, He liveth unto God. God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh; who was delivered for our offences and was raised again for our justification.” - Rom. 6:10; 8:3; 4:25.

In the foregoing view of the subject, the accusers of the Apostle could no longer reasonably consider him an Antinomian. But in the Apostle’s view of it, we must set down as being Antinomians:

First, All who hold the doctrine, that Christ by His obedience and death, released all men from their obligation to the law and required their obedience to the Gospel, as the condition of their salvation. For this doctrine takes from the law its right in judgment and gives it to another power, that is, the Gospel, to judge offenders against the law. In doing this it robs the law of its strength, or power, to punish; for the strength of sin is the law, and not the Gospel. By this doctrine too, the righteousness of the law fails to be fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For it leaves us still upon the plan of our obedience for salvation; but it robs the law of that obedience, and transfers it without fulfillment in us to the claims of the Gospel. This doctrine likewise in effect, destroys the law, inasmuch as it is of no more use, and cannot speak in time not eternity to any many, but must give back for the Gospel to command and to punish. “Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets. I an not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” Matt. 5:7.

Secondly, Those who hold that salvation is suspended upon any effort or condition on the creatures’ part, such as repenting and believing, as the means of grace or salvation. Because that doctrine makes salvation by debt; since every condition on the creature’s part is a work (for he can perform nothing but what is a work) and the law is satisfied with no payment, but in Christ: it is resolved upon having either Christ’s obedience or man’s death. Every debt punishable with, or to be discharged, death is due to the law; and if it be paid to the Gospel the law is wronged out of its right. Every claim of this kind upon sinners as due to the Gospel, is a contempt and trespass upon the rights of the law. “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” - Romans 4:4,5. This is the reason why help is laid upon that is mighty, and without sin; and to Him alone the law looks for the debts of all His people, for He is the Husband and they are the wife. “Much more then being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were sinners, we were reconciled to God, through the death of His Son, much more being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. By the obedience of one, shall many be made righteous” - Rom. 5:9,10,19. Conditional salvation, whether in time or eternity, places it in the hands of man to buy up the decrees of the law, by some little turn or shift of his own, whereas, the law holds its degrees too sacred to be bartered or sold – too firm to be suspended upon the willing or running, on the working of its offenders: “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.” – Rom. 9:16,16.

Thirdly. Those who hold the doctrine of free will, self-sufficiency, or independent control of the will are Antinomians. For this is to affirm that man may at any moment discharge himself from the law’s sentence by a new direction of his own will, so that the law turns him loose if he has a mind to go with no other satisfaction than the criminal’s own choice. Whereas the truth says, “Being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” “It is not of him that willeth.” – Romans v.1.ix.16. The law therefore will still hold its grasp until faith comes and offers it an obedient and punished Christ.

Fourthly. Those who hold the doctrine that faith, repentance, &c., are duties and obligatory upon the impenitent and unbelieving. Now hearken to Paul: “For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.” – vi.20; While men are under the law, no Gospel obligation rests upon them. To hold the graces and gifts of faith and repentance to be the duty of unawakened sinners is to maintain that man did not owe all his duty and service to the law, but reserved a part to be discharged when the Gospel should come; or else that the law, when the Gospel came, made a compromise and surrendered part of its claims, and agreed that if the sinner would pay certain duties, not specified in the law, that it would yield all its proper claims. We may add, if these Gospel gifts be duties, then upon failing to repent and believe, the Gospel must usurp the law’s seat, and pass sentence itself on the offender; whereas the law cannot punish a man for offences committed against the Gospel, nor vice-a-verse. Else the Gospel becomes the ministration of death and cheats the law of its demands. It likewise ascribes to the law demands which it never made, and cheats the Gospel of its free gifts. It is the old leaven of the Pharisees, “do and live;” whereas all who do, must do for the law and all who do for the law, must die: for this the law requires.

It is true without repentance men must perish; without faith they shall be damned. But these are the gifts of God, and are the path along which the sinner is led from condemnation and perishing. In repentance He is pleased to make known the claims of justice in man’s condemnation and death; in faith to make known the satisfaction of those claims rendered by the Lord Redeemer and the propriety of His discharge from the law and his title to eternal life.

Fifthly. Those who maintain that the prayer efforts and wealth of men, would be instrumental in saving souls which for lack of such things are lost, must also be set down as Antinomian. For this doctrine declares that the law punishes those of whom it has received full satisfaction already through the sacrifice of Christ Jesus. For if the heathen or any others were not atoned for by Christ the money and efforts of men could avail no more for them, than the tears of Esau could towards receiving his birthright blessings. The law could not surrender them into the hands of the money, efforts, and prayers of men without satisfaction. And to all who are atoned for by Christ, the gifts of faith will make the atonement known. “Therefore it is of faith that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed.” – iv.16. The law lets none go without the uttermost farthing. And if the law received satisfaction for them, so that it could make a tender of many precious souls “to the means of the jewelry, &c., of American ladies, then none but Antinomians believe that the law is now executing its wrath upon them in the quenchless fires of hell!

The law acknowledges the elect are justified by God, and is pleased to hear God defy all beings and all things to lay any thing to their charge. “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth?” Romans viii: 33,34. But the doctrine that money and efforts would save many who are otherwise lost denies the doctrine of election and the finished work of Christ, and makes money and efforts, means and measures, a Savior to men and leaves the law to such its satisfaction long after Christ’s death, in works which it never required or to go forever unsatisfied. This the law cannot do, if God be just and all the benevolent institutions, religious business enterprises which are manifestly the offspring of Antinomianism and Antichristianism, are now mocking the law, shaming the Gospel and deluding tens of thousands of people with their plausible appearance.

Seeing that it is proved from the whole epistle to the Romans that he who believes the law will abate aught from its precepts or penalty save for the obedience and death of Christ, is an Antinomian; because he is opposed to the immutability and inflexible Justice of the law; and seeing likewise that the saints of God do through faith establish the law by being able to receive and offer Christ a complete answer to the law’s demand, and by which faith, as the law written in their hearts – and working by love, they are led to choose and delight in the law of God after the inward man which proceeds from God in the new birth, and serve it with their mind – do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid! Yea, we establish the law. “For I delight in the law of God after the inward man; So with the mind, I myself serve the law of God.” - Romans iii. 31; vii: 22,25. And seeing moreover that those who depart from it are Antinomians; it is clearly shown that the New School Baptist amongst others are such. And while they have departed from the written word of God and thereby treated the law of God with contempt and the Gospel of Christ with reproach; they have added to their lists, the sin of charging the Old School Baptist with their own errors. And now until they shall have changed in this faith and practice they must stand whither they confess or deny it, as Antinomians. May the Lord teach them as well as us the good and the right way.

These thoughts beloved of the Lord, we freely submit to your careful examination exhorting you to compare them with the Scriptures, and if they agree with them to receive them, but we do not consider ourselves infallible, nor do we now serve ourselves in laying these thoughts before you. If you find us in error you may then have opportunity to be of great service to us with but little trouble to yourselves, by evincing to us our error. But should you discover us to be wrong and not appraise us of it you could not be considered faithful to God, to us, nor to yourselves. We would be strictly dealt with by our brethren and even sharply, rather than remain in error. And we exhort you to remember that he is neither a faithful Christian, nor a faithful minister who is unwilling to have his thoughts and opinions examined controverted and refuted too, when erroneous.

And be assured that Predestinarian Old School Baptist have to make another advance before this reach the standard of the primitive and apostolic candor and faithfulness if they would countenance error for the sake of avoiding controversy. Discipline of disputed and opposite opinions should be conducted in a Christian-like manner, and they are so conducted when we act for Christ; but if you would hazard the truth in preference to discipline, you are not worthy of the name of Christ.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all, Amen.
October 29th, 1838.
Mark Bennett

Transcribed by Stanley Phillips – May 2009