Witsius on Law, Gospel, and Antinomianism

Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain  In 1696 at Utrecht, Herman Witsius’ book against antinomianism and neonomianism was first published.  The long title is Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain.  I’m still working through it, and will comment more later.  For now, I want to mention a section I thought helpful – a section on the law and the gospel.

Finally, it is required, in what manner and order the preaching of the law should accompany that of the gospel. To the determination of which question, we must first know, 1) what is understood by the law, and 2) what by the gospel.

1) The law here signifies that part of the Divine word which consists in precepts and prohibitions, with the promise of conferring a reward upon them who obey, and a threatening of punishment to the disobedient.  …Every prescription of duty belongs to the law, as the venerable Voetius, after others, hath inculcated to excellent purpose.

2) The gospel signifies the doctrine of grace, and of the fullest salvation in Christ Jesus, to be received of elect sinners by faith. …If we take the word gospel in a strict sense, as it is the form of the testament of grace, which consists of mere promises, or the absolute exhibition of salvation in Christ, then it properly prescribes nothing as duty, it requires nothing, it commands nothing, no not so much as to believe, trust, hope in the Lord, and the like. But it relates, declares, and signifies to us, what God in Christ promises, what he willeth, and is about to do.

Therefore every prescription of virtues and duties, all exhortations and dissuasions, all reproofs and threatenings also all the promises of a reward in recompense of perfect obedience, belong to the law. But to the gospel appertains whatever can give a sinner the hope of salvation, namely, the doctrine concerning the person, offices, states, and benefits of Jesus Christ, and all the promises wherein is included the pardon of sins, and the annexed possession of grace and glory, to be obtained by faith in him. This is the strictest notion of both words, to which we must attend, in the whole of this disputation.

Witsius later talks about the general or broad definitions of law and gospel and what it means to properly preach the law and the gospel.  Here’s a great note on preaching the gospel:

“I do not conceal, however, that in my judgment, the beginning of the new life is not from the preaching of the law, but of the gospel.”

There’s more to Witsius’ argument – and it is a helpful one!  You can find this book on Logos (click here for a Reformed Reader discount) or via xerox-type copy on Amazon (here).  I’m sure it’s also on the internet somewhere but haven’t checked.  If you’re interested in the topics of law, gospel, justification, sanctification, good works, and so forth from a historic Reformed perspective, Witsius’ book is a good resource:

Herman Witsius, Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain, trans. Thomas Bell (Glasgow: W. Lang, 1807), chapter XVII.

shane lems

5 thoughts on “Witsius on Law, Gospel, and Antinomianism”

Comments are closed.