Not by Faith Alone: The Neonomianism of Richard Baxter -- By: Michael G. Brown

Journal: Puritan Reformed Journal
Volume: PRJ 03:1 (Jan 2011)
Article: Not by Faith Alone: The Neonomianism of Richard Baxter
Author: Michael G. Brown


Not by Faith Alone:
The Neonomianism of Richard Baxter

Michael G. Brown

During its so-called Counter-Reformation of the mid-sixteenth century, Rome sharply criticized the Protestant doctrine of justification for being a teaching that inevitably led to antinomianism, that is, a belief that rejects the moral law of God as the rule of life for believers in the new covenant.1 Understanding Protestants to teach that good works are an evidence but not the ground or instrument of one’s justification and that a sinner is justified “by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ” apart from all good works, Rome declared in its Council of Trent (1546) that anyone teaching such things was anathema.2 Their concern was that such a doctrine would result in moral laxity. Protestants, on the other hand, insisted that Rome’s fears were unfounded. As they codified their doctrine in confessions and catechisms, they contended that it did not make Christians careless and profane, for, as the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) states, “it is impossible that those who are implanted into Christ by true faith should not bring forth fruits of thankfulness.”3

Rome’s denouncement of the Protestant doctrine of justification continued into the seventeenth century, spearheaded by Catholic apologists such as the Jesuit Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621). Yet, Rome was not the only critic of this doctrine. Arminians, such as Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) and Socinians, such as Jonas Schlichtingius

(1592-1661), opposed it as well.4 For the heirs of Calvin, a defense of the Protestant doctrine of justification became significantly more complex than it had been for the early Reformers.5 Moreover, there arose an internal challenge for the Reformed orthodox, particularly those in Britain, in the teachings of Richard Baxter (1615-1691), a minister in Kidderminster, England, who sought to revise the Protestant doctrine of justification.

In recent decades, scholars have assessed Baxter’s treatment of justification and come to different conclusions as to what Baxter taught. C. Fitzsimons Allison, for example, has argued that Baxter’s doctrine of justification is difficult to distinguish from that of the Council of Trent.6 Hans Boersma, on the other hand, has sought to exonerate Baxter of these charges and claims that Allison makes “an unfair criticism, based on a misunderst...

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