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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary
so called from the Greek νεος , new, and νομος , law. This is not the appellation of a separate sect, but of those both among Arminians and Calvinists who regard Christianity as a new law, mitigated in its requisitions for the sake of Christ. This opinion has many modifications, and has been held by persons very greatly differing from each other in the consequences to which they carry it, and in the principles from which they deduce it. One opinion is, that the new covenant of grace which, through the medium of Christ's death, the Father made with men, consists, according to this system, not in our being justified by faith, as it apprehends the righteousness of Christ; but in this, that God, abrogating the exaction of perfect legal obedience, reputes or accepts of faith itself, and the imperfect obedience of faith, instead of the perfect obedience of the law, and graciously accounts them worthy of the reward of eternal life. Toward the close of the seventeenth century, a controversy was agitated among the English Dissenters, in which the one side, who were partial to the writings of Dr. Crisp, were charged with antinomianism, and the other, who favoured those of Mr. Baxter, were accused of neonomianism. Dr. Daniel Williams was a principal writer on what was called the neonomian side.
The following objection, among others, was made by several ministers in 1692, against Dr. Williams's "Gospel Truth Stated," &c: "To supply the room of the moral law, vacated by him, he turns the Gospel into a new law, in keeping of which we shall be justified for the sake of Christ's righteousness, making qualifications and acts of ours a disposing subordinate righteousness, whereby we become capable of being justified by Christ's righteousness." To this, among other things, he answers: "The difference is not,
1. Whether the Gospel be a new law in the Socinian, popish, or Arminian sense. This I deny. Nor,
2. Is faith, or any other grace or acts of ours, any atonement for sin, satisfaction to justice, meriting qualification, or any part of that righteousness for which we are justified at God our Creator's bar. This I deny in places innumerable. Nor,
3. Whether the Gospel be a law more new than is implied in the first promise to fallen Adam, proposed to Cain, and obeyed by Abel, to the differencing him from his unbelieving brother. This I deny.
4. Nor whether the Gospel be a law that allows sin, when it accepts such graces as true, though short of perfection, to be the conditions of our personal interest in the benefits purchased by Christ. This I deny.
5. Nor whether the Gospel be a law, the promises whereof entitle the performers of its conditions to the benefits as of debt.
This I deny. The difference is,
1. Is the Gospel a law in this sense; namely, God in Christ thereby commandeth sinners to repent of sin, and receive Christ by a true operative faith, promising that thereupon they shall be united to him, justified by his righteousness, pardoned, and adopted; and that, persevering in faith and true holiness, they shall be finally saved; also threatening that if any shall die impenitent, unbelieving, ungodly, rejecters of his grace, they shall perish without relief, and endure sorer punishments than if these offers had not been made to them?
2. Hath the Gospel a sanction, that is, doth Christ therein enforce his commands of faith, repentance, and perseverance, by the foresaid promises and threatenings, as motives to our obedience? Both these I affirm, and they deny; saying, the Gospel in the largest sense is an absolute promise without precepts and conditions, and a Gospel threat is a bull.
3. Do the Gospel promises of benefits to certain graces, and its threats that those benefits shall be withheld, and the contrary evils inflicted for the neglect of such graces, render these graces the condition of our personal title to those benefits? This they deny, and I affirm," &c.
It does not appear to have been a question in this controversy, whether God in his word commands sinners to repent, and believe in Christ, nor whether he promises life to believers, and threatens death to unbelievers; but whether it be the Gospel under the form of a new law that thus commands or threatens, or the moral law on its behalf, and whether its promises to believing render such believing a condition of the things promised. In another controversy, however, which arose about forty years afterward among the same people, it became a question whether God did by his word, call it law or Gospel, command unregenerate sinners to repent and believe in Christ, or do any thing also, which is spiritually good. Of those who took the affirmative side of this question, one party maintained it on the ground of the Gospel being a new law, consisting of commands, promises, and threatenings, the terms or conditions of which were repentance, faith, and sincere obedience. But those who first engaged in the controversy, though they allowed the encouragement to repent and believe to arise merely from the grace of the Gospel, yet considered the formal obligation to do so as arising merely from the moral law, which, requiring supreme love to God, requires acquiescence in any revelation which he shall at any time make known.
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Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Neonomianism'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​wtd/​n/neonomianism.html. 1831-2.