Drawing on newly available primary sources, this title contends that the initial concern of the Westminster Assembly (1643-53) was the growing influence of antinomianism: the belief that, in Christ, the people of God are not subject to the law of God.
After tracing the development of this belief, Gamble recounts the Assembly’s interrogation of leading antinomian ministers, and its conclusion that their doctrine was a theological and social threat.
However, the issues raised provoked lengthy and heated debates within the Assembly itself. Is Christ’s active obedience imputed to the believer? Are repentance and faith ‘preparatory works’ that must precede justification? Are all good works inherently sinful, but perfected through Christ? It is stimulating to follow their nuanced arguments and occasional theological acrobatics.
The book shows convincingly that the Assembly’s early draft revisions to the 39 Articles of the Church of England, and the later wording of its Confession of Faith, were shaped significantly by a desire to exclude and refute the antinomians.
Despite subscribing to the Confession’s statements on these matters, this reviewer found an unexpected degree of sympathy for the antinomians’ (misguided) desire to maximise the grace of God and the effectiveness of Christ’s atonement. At times the divines appeared overly ready to condemn those who did not fully agree with their position. The civil penalties faced by their opponents are a reminder that it was a dangerous time to be a theologian.
This is an expensive volume, and a demanding one, with many extensive quotations in their original 17th century spelling. But those with an interest in historical theology will find its exploration of these issues engaging and enlightening.