Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(from the Greek νέος , new, and vopaoc, law) is the appellation of those Christians who regard Christianity as a new law, mitigated in its requisitions for the sake of Christ. Neonomianism has many modifications, and has been held by Arminians as well as Calvinists — 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. Towards the close of the 17th 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 favored those of Mr. Baxter) were accused of neonomianism. Dr. Daniel Williams was a principal writer on what was called the neonomian side. He teaches as follows:
"1. God has eternally elected a certain definite number of men whom he will infallibly save by Christ in the way prescribed by the Gospel.
2. These very elect are not personally justified until they receive Christ and yield themselves up to him, but they remain condemned while unconverted to Christ.
3. By the ministry of the Gospel there is a serious offer of pardon and glory, upon the terms of the Gospel, to all that hear it; and God thereby requires them to comply with the said terms.
4. Ministers ought to use these and other Gospel benefits as motives, assuring men that if they believe they shall be justified; if they turn to God, they shall live; if they repent, their sins shall be blotted out; and while they neglect these duties they cannot have a personal interest in these respective benefits.
5. It is by the power of the Spirit of Christ freely exerted, and not by the power of free will, that the Gospel becomes effectual for the conversion of any soul to the obedience of faith.
6. When a man believes, yet is not that very faith, and much less any other work, the matter of that righteousness for which a sinner is justified, i.e., entitled to pardon, acceptance, and eternal glory, as righteous before God; and it is the imputed righteousness of Christ alone for which the Gospel gives the believer a right to these and all saving blessings, who in this respect is justified by Christ's righteousness alone. By both this and the fifth head it appears that all boasting is excluded, and we are saved by free grace.
7. Faith alone receives the Lord Jesus and his righteousness, and the subject of this faith is a convinced, penitent soul; hence we are justified by faith alone, and the impenitent are not forgiven.
8. God has freely promised that all whom he predestinated to salvation shall not only savingly believe, but that he by his power shall preserve them from a total or a final apostasy.
9. Yet the believer, while he lives in this world, is to pass the time of his sojourning here with fear, because his warfare is not accomplished, and it is true that if he draw back God will have no pleasure in him. These, with the like cautions, God blesseth as means to the saints' perseverance, and these by ministers should be so urged.
10. The law of innocence, or moral law, is still so in force that every precept thereof constitutes duty, even to the believer; every breach thereof is a sin deserving of death: this law binds death by its curse on every unbeliever, and the righteousness for or by which we are justified before God is a righteousness (at least) adequate to that law, which is Christ's alone righteousness; and this so imputed to the believer that God deals judiciously with him according thereto.
11. Yet such is the grace of the Gospel that it promiseth in and by Christ a freedom from the curse, forgiveness of sin, and eternal life to every sincere believer; which promise God will certainly perform, notwithstanding the threatening of the law."
Dr. Williams maintains the conditionality of the covenant of grace; but admits with Dr. Owen, who also uses the term condition, that "Christ undertook that those who were to be taken into this covenant should receive grace enabling them to comply with the terms of it, fulfil its conditions, and yield the obedience which God required therein." On this subject Dr. Williams further says: "The question is not whether the first (viz., regenerating) grace, by which we are enabled to perform the condition, be absolutely given. This I affirm, though that be dispensed ordinarily in a due use of means, and in a way discountenancing idleness, and fit encouragement given to the use of means." The following objection, among others, was made by several ministers in 1692 against Dr. Williams's Gospel Truth Stated, etc.: "To supply the room of the moral law vacated by him, he turns the Gospel into a new law, in the 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 act 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 of 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," etc.
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 afterwards among the same people, in the Assembly of 1720, 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 anything else 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. The Hopkinsians of America are believed in their teachings to espouse the same views. Not only do they fearlessly set forth the extent, spirituality, and unflinching demands of the law; they think it necessary also to urge upon sinners the legal dispensation, if we may so speak, of the Gospel. See Watson, Dict. of Theology, s.v.; Hagenbach, Hist. of Doctrines, 2:431; Chauncey Neonomianism Unmasked; Buchanan, Doctrine of Justification; Hetherington, Hist. of the Church of Scotland, page 341 (on the anti- Neonomian side). (See MODERATES).
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Neonomians'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/n/neonomians.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.