Motions Of Law And Grace: The Puritan In The Antinomian -- By: David Parnham

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 70:1 (Spring 2008)
Article: Motions Of Law And Grace: The Puritan In The Antinomian
Author: David Parnham


Motions Of Law And Grace:
The Puritan In The Antinomian

David Parnham

David Parnham is an independent scholar who lives in Melbourne, Australia.

The Puritan divine Anthony Burgess once remarked that every man’s belly housed a pope and an antinomian. Each occupant of the belly had a truth to tell, but trouble lay in the wake of imprudent privileging of the one over the other. To trust too much in “godlinesse” was, with papists, to play the “Pharisee”; to separate sanctification from justification was to tread, with antinomians, in the lawless footprints of the “Publican.” Burgess exhorted his audience, “Follow holinesse as earnestly, as if thou hadst nothing to help thee but that; and yet rely upon Christs merits as fully, as if thou hadst no holinesse at all.” The exhortation was spiced with practical implication: the coupling of doctrinal and moral considerations gave notice that much was at stake. For all that one’s “intent” might be “to set up Christ and Grace, yet a corrupted opinion may soon corrupt a mans life; as rheume, falling from the head, doth petrifie the lungs, and other vitall parts.”1 Of Burgess’s troublesome twins, it is the antinomian who will claim our attentions here. Interestingly, Burgess proceeded to specify the credentials of his incubating bellies. The “every man” who hosted the antinomian within makes his way through Burgess’s Vindiciae Legis as the “orthodox” proponent of grace and defender of law. That Burgess would publicly imagine his own kind as potential nurturers of interior antinomians testifies to the dangers that were perceived to follow upon plausible mishandling of, or defection from, doctrinal and moral truth. For while Burgess proved himself something of a bloodhound in pursuit of the exploitations of the theology of grace that rendered antinomianism so enticing a heresy, he was interested—for the sake of prosecuting truth’s case—more in obscuring than in clarifying the lines that connected Puritan and antinomian.

I would like to hazard a filling in of some of those lines. Much of what follows will attend to Puritan and antinomian ruminations on law and grace. On the antinomian side, my ruminants will be Tobias Crisp, who shot to notoriety in London in the early 1640s as a powerful enunciator of the antinomian word; John Eaton, whose hefty Honey-Combe of Free Justification by Christ Alone has been described as “the fullest and most systematic statement of early English antinomian opinion”;2 and Robert Towne, a veteran of heated theological disputes

that raged among...

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