Thus, therefore, Scripture emphasizes the necessity and the reality of the sanctification of the people of God in the midst of the world. In principle they are sanctified at the moment of regeneration and calling, and they are cleansed and purified. Principally, too, they have already put off the old man and put on the new. For they are born of God. They are crucified with Christ. They are liberated from the law of sin and death. They are also being continually confirmed and strengthened through grace, and live continuously out of the Spirit. And God Himself preserves in them the good work which He has begun. At the same time, they themselves also perfect holiness in the fear of God. They keep themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and of the spirit. They work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. They fight the good fight of faith even unto the end, that no one take their crown. Thus Scripture presents the truth of sanctification in all its implications.
We must remember in this connection that also in the work of sanctification God is first. Without Him we can do absolutely nothing. Only when He works in us to will and to do of His good pleasure can we work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. Only when God realizes His promises unto us, so that we actually have hold of those promises, can we cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and of the spirit, and perfect holiness in the fear of God. Our work is rooted in the work of God, and is the fruit of His work in us. He constantly works in us the spiritual power, or the spiritual energy, the living, spiritual strength, to work out our own salvation and to walk as children of light. All spiritual power is alone from Him. From Him is life. From Him is the gift of regeneration. From Him is the gift of faith, love, hope, purity of heart, the illumination of our understanding, knowledge, righteousness and holiness. All this is of God alone. And His work always precedes anything that we may do. Nevertheless, we must also understand that God preserves us, not as stocks and blocks, but as rational and moral creatures, so that we bear fruit consciously and willingly, and perfect holiness in the fear of God. God works within us not without our will, but rather in such a way that we willingly present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God and make our members subservient to righteousness. This is also the teaching of our Reformed confessions. In the Canons of Dordrecht, 3 and 4, Article 11, we read: “But when God accomplishes his good pleasure in the elect, or works in them true conversion, he not only causes the gospel to be externally preached to them, and powerfully illuminates their minds by his Holy Spirit, that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God; but by the efficacy of the same regenerating Spirit, pervades the inmost recesses of the man; he opens the closed, and softens the hardened heart, and circumcises that which was uncircumcised, infuses new qualities into the will, which, though heretofore dead, he quickens; from being evil, disobedient, and refractory, he renders it good, obedient, and pliable; actuates and strengthens it, that like a good tree, it may bring forth the fruits of good actions.” And in Article 14 of the same chapter of the Canons our fathers emphasize that faith is not of ourselves, but is the gift of God. There we read: “Faith is therefore to be considered as the gift of God, not on account of its being offered by God to man, to be accepted or rejected at his pleasure; but because it is in reality conferred, breathed, and infused into him; or even because God bestows the power or ability to believe, and then expects that man should by the exercise of his own free will, consent to the terms of salvation, and actually believe in Christ; but because he who works in man both to will and to do, and indeed all things in all, produces both the will to believe, and the act of believing also.” From these quotations it is very evident that our fathers attributed the whole work of sanctification to God alone, in Christ Jesus our Lord. However, this work of God does not violate the rational, moral nature of man.
In the same chapter of the Canons, Article 16, we are taught as follows: “But as man by the fall did not cease to be a creature, endowed with understanding and will, nor did sin, which pervaded the whole race of mankind, deprive him of the human nature, but brought upon him depravity and spiritual death; so also this grace of regeneration does not treat men as senseless stocks and blocks, nor take away their will and its properties, neither does violence thereto; but spiritually quickens, heals, corrects, and at the same time sweetly and powerfully bends it; that where carnal rebellion and resistance formerly prevailed, a ready and sincere spiritual obedience begins to reign; in which the true and spiritual restoration and freedom of our will consist. Wherefore unless the admirable author of every good work wrought in us, man could have no hope of recovering from his fall by his own free will, by the abuse of which, in a state of innocence, he plunged himself into ruin.” In the same chapter of the Canons our fathers also emphasize the necessity of the use of means, namely, of the well-known means of grace, the preaching of the gospel and the use of the sacraments and of Christian discipline. For we read in Article 17: “As the almighty operation of God, whereby he prolongs and supports this our natural life, does not exclude, but requires the use of means, by which God of his infinite mercy and goodness hath chosen to exert his influence, so also the before mentioned supernatural operation of God, by which we are regenerated, in no wise excludes, or subverts the use of the gospel, which the most wise God has ordained to be the seed of regeneration, and food of the soul. Wherefore, as the apostles, and teachers who succeeded them, piously instructed the people concerning this grace of God, to his glory, and to the abasement of all pride, and in the meantime, however, neglected not to teach them by the sacred precepts of the gospel in the exercise of the Word, sacraments and discipline; so even to this day, be it far from either instructors or instructed to presume to tempt God in the church by separating what he of his good pleasure hath most intimately joined together. For grace is conferred by means of admonitions; and the more readily we perform our duty, the more eminent usually is this blessing of God working in us, and the more directly is his work advanced; to whom alone all the glory both of means, and of their saving fruit and efficacy, is forever due. Amen.”
Thus, then, God works continuously in us to will and to do of His good pleasure. He it is that regenerates us, not only in principle; but He also sanctifies us through the Spirit of Christ continuously. Nevertheless, that work of God in us is of such a nature that we now consciously and willingly bear fruit unto righteousness. It is not thus, that God works our sanctification, and that we work also, as the synergists would have it, and that these two aspects of the work of salvation stand independently from each other, or must be conceived as an irreconcilable contradiction. Nor is it thus, that God must do it, and that we are being dragged along as stocks and blocks on the way of sanctification, as is the presentation of the antinomians.
Concerning these antinomians we must also write a few words.
The term antinomian is derived from the Greek preposition anti, meaning “against,” and the Greek noun nomos, meaning “law.” Literally, therefore, the term denotes those that are opposed to the law.
What then do the antinomians really teach?
There appear to have been some antinomians in the very early age of the history of the New Testament church, perhaps even already at the time of the apostles. It would seem, at least, that the epistle of James is largely directed against a class of Christians whom we in our day would call antinomians, or against those that emphasized faith without works. And in the fourth century Augustine suggests in one of his works that there were antinomians even before his day. But one of the fathers of the more recent antinomians is Agricola, who lived at the time of the Reformation and was a supporter and co-laborer of Luther. Luther himself in his defense of justification by faith over against Roman Catholicism sometimes gave the impression of being inclined to antinomianism; but this is probably to be attributed rather to a strong opposition to the Romish doctrine of good works. When, however, Luther and Melanchthon enjoined all the pastors that they should diligently teach and exhort their flocks to teach the, commandments, Agricola accused them of backsliding and of denying the truth of free grace and justification by faith. After his death some others propagated the antinomian views.
Among the English Calvinists of the seventeenth century there were other theologians who were reputed to be antinomians. We must not forget, however, that it makes considerable difference who writes about them and characterizes them as antinomians. Many of the quotations made from their works that are supposed to reflect antinomian errors are thoroughly sound and Scriptural. Others may appear to be erroneous when considered all by themselves; nevertheless these also may be interpreted in a sound sense when they are taken in their proper connection. There are, for instance, quotations like the following, taken from the sermons of Dr. Crisp, who died in 1642: “The law is cruel and tyrannical, requiring what is naturally impossible.” Again: “The sins of the elect were so imputed to Christ as; that, though He did not commit them, yet they became actually His transgressions, and cease to be theirs.” Once more: “Christ’s righteousness is so imputed to the elect that they, ceasing to be sinners, are as righteous as He was, and all that He was.” The following quotation, however, is rather confusing: “An elect person is not in a condemned state while an unbeliever. And should he happen to die before God calls him to believe, he would not be lost.” And once more: “Repentance and confession of sin are not necessary to forgiveness. A believer may certainly conclude before confession, yea, as soon as he hath committed sin, the interest he hath in Christ, and the love of Christ embracing him.” On the other hand, however, that Dr. Crisp does not deny the calling to live in a new and holy life may be evident from the following: “In respect to the rules of righteousness, or the matter of obedience, we are under the law still, or else, we are lawless, to live every man as seems good in his own eyes, which no true Christian dares as much to think of.” As I said before, it makes a great deal of difference whether one who writes about those so-called antinomians is himself in sympathy with the truth of sovereign grace and absolutely free justification, or opposed to it; whether he is an Arminian or a Calvinist. The Arminian Dr. Orme, in his “Life of Baxter,” II, 243, certainly shows no sympathy for the doctrine of antinomians, nor, for that matter, of Calvinists in general. He writes that this doctrine “withers and destroys the consciousness of human responsibility. It confounds moral with natural impotency, forgetting that the former is a crime, the latter only a misfortune; and thus treats the man dead in trespasses and sins as if he were already in his grave. It prophesies smooth things to the sinner going on in his transgressions, and soothes to slumber and the repose of death the souls of such as are at ease in Zion. It assumes that, because men can neither believe, repent, nor pray acceptably, unless aided by the grace of God, it is useless to call upon them to do so. It maintains that the gospel is only intended for elect sinners, and therefore it ought to be preached to none but such. In defiance; therefore, of the command of God, it refuses to preach the: glad tidings of mercy to every sinner. In opposition to Scripture, and to every rational consideration, it contends that it is not man’s duty to believe the truth of God—justifying the obvious inference that it is not a sin to reject it. In short, its whole tendency is to produce an impression on the sinner’s mind that, if he is not saved, it is not his fault, but God’s; that, if he is condemned, it is more for the glory of the divine sovereignty than as the punishment of his guilt. So far from regarding the moral cure of human nature as the great object and design of the gospel, antinomianism does not take it in at all, but as it exists in Christ, and becomes ours by a figure of speech. It regards the grace and the pardon as everything, the spiritual design or effect as nothing. Hence, its opposition to progressive, and its zeal for imputed sanctification: the former is intelligible and tangible, but the latter a mere figment of the imagination. Hence its delight in expatiating on the eternity of the divine decrees, which it does not understand, but which serve to amuse and to deceive, and its dislike to all the sober realities of God’s present dealings and commands. It exults in the contemplation of a Christ Who is a kind of concretion of all the moral attributes of His people; to the overlooking of that Christ Who is the head of all that in heaven and on earth bear His likeness, and while unconscious of possessing it. It boasts in the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, while it believes in no saint but one, that is, Jesus, and neglects to persevere.”
However, if by antinomians are meant those that teach that Christ has so fulfilled the moral law, considered as the law of love, that believers have nothing to do with it any more, if we may indeed believe that they deny sanctification and the calling to put off the old man and put on the new man and to walk in a new and holy life, who, moreover, make such a separation between the old and the new man of the Christian that the believer is no longer responsible for the sins committed in the flesh and does not have to be sincerely sorry for them if all this is supposed to be implied in antinomianism, it must be condemned as a very serious error. At the same time, however, it is safe to say that in this sense no true believer can be antinomian, either doctrinally or practically.
I am of the opinion that some sincere antinomians place a wrong emphasis on justification at the expense of sanctification. They place all the emphasis on the work of Christ for us and in our behalf and in our stead. And they do this at the expense of the work of Christ in us and through us by His Holy Spirit. Their motive is, no doubt, the fear to minimize the work of free grace, the fear to give any credit to man, and the desire to let God in Christ be all and let the sinner be nothing. By doing this they undoubtedly detract from the glory of Christ as a complete Savior.
Let us return now, after this brief discussion of the antinomians, to the question concerning the relation between the work of God and our work. We reject the theory of the Pelagians, which teaches that the relation between the work of God and our work is such that we must work and that if we work, God will help us to a life of sanctification. Also this theory, as well as the others we mentioned, is not according to Scripture. But the true conception of this relation is always thus that we work out of the power of the work of God in us. God is always first, and we always follow. God is the fountain out of which we live, God works our salvation to will and to do of His good pleasure; and we work out our own salvation as the fruit of the work of God. God is light; we are always light-bearers, and no more. God energizes us through Christ, and we manifest this energy as rational, moral creatures. He gives, preserves, and strengthens our life; and we live. He works and continues to work in us the true faith; and we believe. He works in us continued conversion, and we turn and repent. He gives us and preserves in us the love of God, and we love Him and taste His love. He works within us the sorrow after God, and we call upon Him in penitence for the forgiveness of sins. He gives us true humility, and we walk in meekness of heart and life. He enlightens us, and we know with a true, spiritual knowledge of God. He leads us by His Spirit, and we walk. He makes us hungry am1 thirsty for the bread and water of life, and we hunger and thirst after righteousness. He calls us efficaciously, and we come to Him. He give us the power to persevere, and we persevere. The power and the operation of the power, faith and believing, love and loving, hope and hoping, the eye and the seeing, the ear and the hearing, the understanding and the knowledge, the will and the willing, the power to fight and the fighting—all this in connection with gifts and talents, with means and circumstances, is from God alone. He sanctifies us, and we walk in sanctification. But exactly because of this arises the possibility and the high calling of the people of God to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling, because all this does not violate the moral, rational nature of the sanctified people of God, but rather always preserves it. We must not say, therefore, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, but God must do it.” Still less must we say, “Work out your own salvation, and then God will do it.” But according to Philippians 2:13: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for God works in you to will and to do of His good pleasure.” Of Him and through Him and unto Him are all things: to Him be the glory forever!
We must still briefly discuss the theory and the teachings of the perfectionists. According to this doctrine, which is defended by all that make salvation dependent on the free will of man, it is possible for the child of God in this world to attain to complete perfection in this life, and therefore to walk without sin. And they also appeal, of course, for this teaching to the Word of God.