Doctrinism and Antinomianism (Newton)

 Here’s a section from one of John Newton’s sermons on those who are orthodox in doctrine but destitute of good works.  Or, in other words, their doctrine is right, but they have no deeds that show their faith to be true.  Maybe we could call this “doctrinism,” when a person is only concerned about doctrine and not practice.  Notice below how “doctrinism” goes hand in hand with antinomianism.

It is very possible, yea, very easy, by the help of books, sermons, and conversation, to acquire an orderly and systematic knowledge of divine truths.  It may be learned thus, like any other branch of human science, and the head be well stored with orthodox sentiments.  There may also be an ability to prove and defend them, in a way of argumentation, while the heart is utterly a stranger to their salutary influence.

Such characters are too common. None make a greater parade and boast of seeing than these persons. None are more fatally blinded. They smile, with disdain, when they speak of a self-righteousness founded upon prayers, alms-deeds, and sacraments but are not aware that they themselves live in the very spirit of the Pharisees (Lk 18:2) so clearly described and so expressly condemned in the New Testament. Their supposed knowledge of the doctrines which they misunderstand and abused is the righteousness on which they base their hopes.  And trusting to this, they despise all those who are stricter in practice than themselves, as ignorant and legal.  They discover, almost as great a dislike to close and faithful preaching, as they could do to poison.

Though the doctrines of the Gospel, when rightly received, are productive of godliness, it is to be feared, there are people who espouse and plead for them, to quiet their consciences, by furnishing them with excuses for the sins they are unwilling to forsake. It is not surprising, that they who are displeased with the yoke of our Lord’s precepts, should seem friendly to the idea of salvation without the works of the law.

In other words, there are some people who have their doctrine straight but they do not live godly lives.  It’s one strain of antinomianism: I know my doctrine, so I can live how I want.  Newton continues his discussion about those people who are doctrinally sound but lacking in good works:

The notion of the final perseverance of believers, may afford a pillow for those to rest on, who being at present destitute of all feeling of spiritual life, labour to persuade themselves that they are Christians, because they had some serious thoughts, and made some profession of the truth, many years ago. So, likewise, in what the Scriptures teach, of the total inability of fallen man, they think they have a plea to justify their negligence and sloth, and therefore are not disposed to contradict the testimony. They evade the invitation and command to wait, and watch, and strive, in the ways and means of the Lord’s appointment, as they think, with impunity, by confessing the charge, and saying, ‘I am a poor creature indeed, I can do nothing of myself aright, and therefore to what purpose should I attempt to do any thing?’

A minister may preach upon these points, in general terms, and obtain their good word. But if he speaks plainly and faithfully to conscience; if he bears testimony not only against dead works, but against a dead faith, against spiritual pride, evil tempers, evil speaking, love of the world, and sinful compliances; if he insists that the branches of the true vine should bear grapes, and not the same fruit as the bramble, hearers of this stamp will think they do God service by censuring all he can say, as low and legal trash. How awful(!) that people should be blinded by the very truths which they profess to believe!

Yet I fear such cases are too frequent. God grant a delusion of this kind may never be found amongst us! For if the salt itself should lose its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? (Mt 5:13). May we come simply to the light, with a desire of seeing more of ourselves, and more of our Savior; that we may be more humble and spiritual, more afraid of sin, more watchful and successful in striving against it; and, in our whole conversation, more conformable to our glorious Head!

John Newton, Works, volume 4 pages 145-146.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

1 thought on “Doctrinism and Antinomianism (Newton)”

Comments are closed.