When we sin, we tend to run to one of two extremes.
Hello, and welcome to Renewing Your Mind. Now, we are continuing our studies in what began as an adventure into the central part of Scotland, into the little town of Ochter Arder and the Ochter Arder Creed, and then the famous book, The Marrow of Modern Divinity, and some of the problems that arise not only in Christian theology but in Christian living, problems of to the question of how do we preach the gospel? How do we offer Christ to sinners?
Do we tell them that they need to repent and then we will offer Christ to them? How do we deal with the deep-seated problem of legalism and how do we do that without becoming antinomians? And I want us to focus in this study on something I've said once or twice in our studies that I find some people find difficult to take in, that we are all by nature legalists and all antinomians are by nature legalists. We could come at this by a kind of word association test. So, as I read these words, think of what you regard as the word you associate. It might be the opposite word. So, if I say Old Testament, probably most of you think New Testament. If I say David, then some of you will think Jonathan and others of you will think Goliath.
If I say Jerusalem, then maybe some of you would think, well, Babylon. But if I were to say antinomianism, my guess is most Christians would immediately think that the opposite of antinomianism is legalism. And of course, in a dictionary sense, that may be true. They do seem to be opposites of one another. But actually, the opposite of antinomianism is gospel, and the opposite of and the opposite of legalism is also gospel, or grace, or Jesus Christ. And this gives us a real clue into the fact that both antinomianism and legalism are rooted in exactly the same deviations.
They simply respond to that deviation in different ways. They respond to the character of God. Remember, we spoke about legalism essentially as divorcing the law of God from the character of God, seeing the law of God simply as commandments and not related to God's loving generosity to us, and therefore being suffused with God's desire for our very best, with God's concern that we should enjoy Him being our God and that we should enjoy living for His glory. And the same would be true, on the other hand, of antinomianism. Most antinomians would think, well, I'm really reacting against the crippling effects of the law of God in my life. But actually, they're really reacting against the gracious God who gave that law. And so, deep down, the reactions, although they pull us in different directions, share the same sickness. And that sickness, we noticed in Genesis chapter 3, is the sickness of that legalism that was produced in the heart of Eve when the serpent tempted her and distorted her understanding of God, distorted her sense of God's generosity. He had given commandments to enjoy everything, and one tree that He said, show that you really love Me by not eating the fruit of that tree.
It was a tiny element in His commands, surrounded by commands that in a way said, as our Father might say, now go and enjoy yourselves to children. Now, go and have a great time. Just remember, just remember you're a Ferguson. As simple as that. That's all I ask of you.
Remember you're a Ferguson. And the whole thing was turned on its head. Children are sometimes like that, aren't they? And you provide them with everything, and they say, now, just for my sake, don't do that. And they say, you never let me do anything. And you see, that's exactly what happens in the Garden of Eden, the way the serpent works. Actually, our children's response is a clear evidence how well the serpent's tactics worked. This sense of legalism and this reaction to a generous father by a child, you never give me anything.
The kind of reaction that the elder son in the parable that Jesus tells in Luke chapter 15, exactly his reaction. The father has said, everything I have is yours. And he says, you never give me anything. You're always with me.
You never give me anything. So both legalism and antinomianism are bad reactions to God's graciousness. And we've been emphasizing that it all begins with legalism, and people who become antinomians never deliver their hearts from that legalism by their antinomianism.
It never really sets their hearts free from the spirit of bondage that their legalism had produced in the first place. And it's very interesting when you begin to read around the stories of Christians in the history of the Christian church, how often this is acknowledged by people who were antinomians. One of the most famous of those was a man called Tobias Crisp. He was a very famous figure in the 17th century, and his first biographer says this about him, that he set out first in the legal way of preaching in which he was exceeding jealous. In other words, he began life as a legalistic preacher, and then he reacted to that and became an antinomian preacher. Benjamin Brooke, who wrote famous studies of the lives of the Puritans, wrote about this in terms of its broader context. He says, persons who have embraced sentiments, which afterwards appear to them erroneous, often think they can never remove too far from them.
Have you noticed that? That if someone is really committed to a position and then they realize that position is wrong, they emotionally, instinctively go as far away from that as they possibly can. Sometimes when people become Christians, that happens. Sometimes, actually, I've seen this happen when people have become Calvinists. They become exceedingly sensitive to anything that sounds remotely Arminian.
They want to go as far away as possible. Sometimes they go so far that they stop using biblical language. And the same thing Benjamin Brooke said was true of Tobias Crisp. He says, this was unhappily the case with Dr.
Crisp. His ideas of the grace of Christ had been exceedingly low, and he had imbibed sentiments which produced in him a legal and self-righteous spirit. Shocked at the recollection of his former views and conduct, he seems to have imagined that he could never go far enough from them.
Now, there's a very significant sentence there that Benjamin Brooke writes. It's this, his ideas of the grace of Christ had been exceedingly low. Alas, that is so true of many of us as Christians, isn't it? So, when we have low views of the grace of Christ, our immune system to both legalism on the one hand and antinomianism on the other hand is down because it's the understanding of our union with Christ and the grace of God and the favor of God upon us in Jesus Christ, the reality of our justification. That's as it were the God-given immune system that stops us imbalancing over onto the side of legalism, or on the other hand onto the side of antinomianism, or in particular failing to see that grace in Jesus Christ in union with Him is the solvent of our legalism and antinomianism never is. And this is something that we find in some of the masters of the Christian life. I find people are sometimes astonished if you say we are all legalists at heart, more astonished if you say that antinomianism is simply a false escape from our legalism, and it doesn't really deliver us.
And so, let me explore some of the masters in different ways. Here is Richard Baxter whose comments I think are quite insightful. He says, antinomianism, he's writing in the seventeenth century when there was an upsurge of antinomianism especially interesting in Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army. And Richard Baxter writes this, antinomianism rose among us from an obscure preaching of evangelical grace and insisting too much on tears and terrors.
You see what he's saying? He's talking about the very thing that caused the moral controversy, preaching that insists if you're going to come to Christ, then you need to have a John Bunyan-like experience. You need to have a Martin Luther-type experience.
And these sometimes are held up to us as though they were the best God-given models of how we come to faith in Jesus Christ. And so we feel, you know, I didn't feel the agony of Martin Luther. I'm not fit to come to Christ. I didn't feel the burdens that the pilgrim had as he was directed by evangelists. I'm not ready to come to Christ yet.
And here Richard Baxter is saying this is actually what happened. There was such an insistence on you've got to get ready, that people were never ready. They could count their tears, but how could they know they had shed a sufficient number of tears to be ready to come to Christ? And so he's really saying the problem here was an obscure preaching of evangelical grace. Isn't that interesting? That it's when the grace of God in Jesus Christ is not adequately preached or understood that antinomianism results. You would think, well, shouldn't it be the other way around? It's when the grace of God is preached that antinomianism results.
No, because when the grace of God is preached, one of the things that's preached is what the Apostle Paul says, the grace of God has appeared, teaching us to deny ungodly lusts. But then here is Ralph Erskine. Ralph Erskine was a minister in Scotland. He actually was one of the ministers who was involved at the beginning of the denomination to which I actually belong. He was a very interesting man. One of his ways of relaxing on a Sunday night at the end of his sermons was to turn his sermons into verse. And we have hundreds of pages of these sermons turned into verse from Ralph Erskine. He was one of the original marrow men. And here is what he wrote.
Listen to this. The greatest antinomian is actually the legalist. Isn't that striking? The greatest antinomian is actually the legalist. And you see, I think he had found this in himself. I think he had seen it in others. It's this whole idea that we try to dissolve our legalism but we use the wrong chemistry.
And instead of dissolving it, we simply, in a sense, push it further down into our hearts and we remain legalists still. And the interesting way in which that pops out is pride in our antinomianism, dismissing and demeaning those who don't have our liberties. Isn't that very interesting? Have you seen that?
I have seen that far too frequently for my comfort. People entering into what they regard as the liberty of the way they live their lives, and they demean these immature Christians who don't do what they do. Now, who does that remind you of? It reminds you of the Pharisee, doesn't it, in the story of the Pharisee, the tax collector.
I thank you, God, that I'm not like him. And then listen to Thomas Boston himself. Boston says, this antinomian principle, that it is needless for a man perfectly justified by faith to endeavor to keep the law and do good works, is a glaring evidence that legality is so ingrained in man's corrupt nature that until a man truly come to Christ by faith, the legal disposition will still be reigning in him. Let him turn himself into what shape or be of what principles he will in religion.
Though he run into antinomianism, he will carry along with him his legal spirit, which will always be a slavish and unholy spirit. And this, of course, because the wonderful thing about the gospel is the freedom it creates is a freedom for obedience. The freedom the gospel creates is a freedom that makes obeying God a delight.
It makes the burdens that we felt in the law before we became Christians, as some of the older writers used to say, it makes them feel as though they are now wings and help us to fly. I have a very personal illustration of that in my own life. I was brought up in Scotland, as you know, a wonderful close-knit, very tightly knit family, an unusual family in many ways. We kept the Ten Commandments to the letter without ever going to church. The idea that I would go out and play on the Sabbath day when my folks later on came to church and to trust, my mother thought I was old enough to be told this story of how I was a seven-year-old boy. I was a budding Pharisee. I had looked out the window of our sitting room on a Sunday afternoon, and then I came running to her and I shouted to her, Mommy, Mommy, and then I mentioned the name of the boy across the road whom I met 30 years, 40 years later when he had just come to faith in Christ.
And I shouted to her, naming his name, he is out in the street playing football or what you would call soccer, and, Mommy, it is Sunday, but we never went to church. And so for me, Sunday was by far the most miserable day of the week. Other days were filled with activity, do all kinds of things, but Sunday was like the do-nothing day. It was obey the commandment and do nothing. And I still remember the transformation, the emotional transformation as well as the mental transformation when I became a Christian. And instantaneously, Sunday was changed from being the worst day of the week into the best day of the week, not because the commandment had been removed, but because the heart now loved the commandment. And that would be true of all of the commandments. If it were the Sabbath commandment, that might be idiosyncratic to Sinclair Ferguson, but it could be other commandments.
Think of Zacchaeus, the transformation. You know, he loved stealing from the people. He loved filling his pockets. He knew he was a crook, but then when Christ's grace enters his life, what does he do? Well, the commandment that he hated because he was breaking was a commandment he began to love because he loved Christ. And the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ brought him into conformity with the Word and Law of God. A century after Thomas Boston, James Henley Thornwell, who was a predecessor of mine and Derek Thomas' in First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, noted the same thing.
Whatever form, however, antinomianism may assume, he says, it springs from legalism. None rush into the one extreme but those who have been in the other. And so when you begin to look at the writings of the Masters of the spiritual life, it's pretty fascinating how they all come to the same conclusion.
Let me move from a Southern Presbyterian to a Scotsman, John Cahoon, who lived in the second half of the eighteenth century into the early nineteenth century and was a kind of latter-day marrow man. He says, you know, some degree of a legal spirit or an inclination of heart to the way of the covenant of works still remains in believers and often prevails against them. That's what Bunyan was saying when he spoke about faithful inclining to Adam I. They sometimes find it exceeding difficult for them to resist that inclination, to rely on their own attainments and performances for some part of their title to the favor and enjoyment of God.
Now, isn't that the truth? I mean, haven't we all experienced that? That sense that because we have let God down, what we need to do is to compensate to get back into God's favor.
Now, what's obscured when that happens? Or when we say, well, you know, I know I've let him down, but it doesn't matter. You see, two forms of the same reality both bypassing what the grace of God in the gospel does when it unites us to the Lord Jesus Christ.
But there's something interesting here that we ought to notice before we end this session. We've been saying all along that both legalism and antinomianism fail to understand the gospel. But it's also true that both legalism and antinomianism fail to understand the law of God. Do you remember how Paul wrestles with this in Romans chapter 7? In Romans chapter 7, when he speaks about this tremendous sense he has that he is a sinner and that he wants to keep the law, but he doesn't keep the law. He was in a prime position to tilt over and say, I just want to forget the law and become an antinomian. I mean, in a sense, he felt the law was his problem.
But then do you notice as he works this through in Romans chapter 7, he comes to a twofold realization. The first is that in a remarkable way, the law is good, God-given, and it's spiritual. The law is spiritual, and it's good. He emphasizes that in 7, 12, and 14, I think it is, that the law is good, and it's good for us. So you see, he is discovering or he's helping the Roman Christians and ourselves to discover the law is good. The law is good because it's God's law.
The problem is not with the law. The problem is with me and my sin. And when he sees that, he understands that the way to deal with sin is not to get rid of the law and become an antinomian. The way to deal with sin is to cry out, as he does at the end of the chapter, who is going to deliver me from this body of death in which I continue to break the law and feel sometimes that the law is accusing me as though it were my enemy, as though it were my enemy. Well, I need to go to Jesus Christ. I need to keep going to Jesus Christ.
Who will deliver me? It's like faithful going up the hill, isn't it, feeling that Moses is beating him and doesn't know how to show mercy because he's a sinner. That's the problem. And it's grace that deals with that sin, not legalism or antinomianism, but the grace of God in Jesus Christ. And we'll see more of this when we come back for our next session. As Dr. Sinclair Ferguson said today, we are all legalists by nature. We must immerse ourselves in the Word of God to understand the connection between law and grace. Thanks for listening to Renewing Your Mind on this Thursday. I'm Lee Webb, and this week Dr. Ferguson's series, The Whole Christ, has shown how several errors were exposed during the so-called marrow controversy in 18th-century Scotland. The resulting dispute clarified the gospel. Dr. Ferguson taught this series in 12 sessions, and we'd be happy to send you the two-DVD set for your donation of any amount.
Since today is Thanksgiving, our offices are closed today, but you can make your request and give your gift online at renewingyourmind.org. God's free grace can be shocking to our legalistic hearts, can't it? Throughout history, though, Christians have misunderstood grace and obedience. Even Paul was falsely accused of teaching antinomianism, as he recognizes in Romans chapter 3. That's why it's important for us to remember that it's important for us to study these kinds of controversies.
Church history matters. Each lesson is about 24 minutes, making the series useful as a teaching tool, perhaps in a Sunday school class at your church. So contact us today and request this two-DVD set with your donation of any amount, and we'll add the study guide to your online learning library as well. Again, the series is titled The Whole Christ. You can make your request and give your gift online at renewingyourmind.org. Well, over the last few days, we have studied the errors of antinomianism, and as we wrap up the series tomorrow, we will learn some cures for it. Hope you'll join us Friday for Renewing Your Mind. .
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