Monday, October 20, 2008

The Antinomian's Prayer by John Fletcher

A contemporary of John Wesley and his friend and spiritual fellow, John Fletcher tackled the growing antinomian tendencies of certain Calvinistic churches and advocates in his day. At times his challenging objections to what could only be defined as a lukewarm faith touched on sarcasm and intended wit. The following from his Second Check To Antinomianism is an example of such. Our Calvinist brethren would strongly object to the characterizations contained here but it is understandable to keep in mind that Fletcher was dealing with a Methodist revival in the midst of a dry anti-evangelical, mostly Calvinistic church world caught up in its liturgy with no fire in the belly. Its antinomianism offended his sensibilities as a lover of Christ and his yearning to preach His Good News.


"'Lord, when saw we thee hungry, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to thee?' Had we seen thee, dear Lord, in any distress, how gladly would we have relieved thy wants! Numbers can witness how well we spoke of thee and thy righteousness: it was all our boast. Bring it out in this important hour. Hide not the Gospel of thy free grace. We always delighted in pure doctrine, in salvation without any condition; especially without the condition of WORKS. Stand, gracious Lord, stand by us, and the preachers of thy free grace, who made us hope thou wouldest confirm their word.

"While they taught us to call thee, Lord! Lord! they assured us that love would constrain us to do good works; but finding no inward constraint to entertain strangers, visit the sick, and relieve prisoners, we did it not; supposing we were not called thereto. They continually told us, ' human righteousness was mere filth before thee; and we could not appear, but to our everlasting shame, in any righteousness but thine in the day of judgment.' As to works, we were afraid of doing them, lest we should have 'worked out' abomination instead of' our salvation.'

"And indeed, Lord, what need was there of our 'working it out?' For they perpetually assured us, it was finished; saying, If we did anything toward it, we worked for life, fell from grace like the bewitched Galatians, spoiled thy perfect work, and exposed ourselves to the destruction which awaits yonder trembling Pharisees.

"They likewise assured us, that all depended on THY decrees; and if we could but firmly believe our election, it was a sure sign we were interested in thy salvation. We did so; and now, Lord, for the sake of a few dung works we have omitted, let not our hope perish! Let not electing and everlasting love fail! Visit our offences with a rod, but take not thy loving kindness altogether from us; and break not David's covenant, 'ordered in all things and sure,' of which we have so often made our boast.

"May it please thee also to consider, that if we did not love and assist some of those whom thou callest thy brethren, it was because they appeared to us so exceeding legal; so strongly set against free grace, that we judged them to be Obstinate Pharisees, and dangerous reprobates. We therefore thought, that, in hating and opposing them, we did thee service, and walked in thy steps. For thou hast said, 'It is enough if the servant is as his Lord:' and supposing 'thou didst hate them,' as thou dost Satan; we thought we need not be more righteous than thou, by loving them more than thou didst.

"O suffer us to speak on, and tell thee, we were champions for thy free grace. Like true Protestants, we could have burned against the doctrine of a second justification by works. Let then 'grace' justify us 'freely without works.' Shut those books, filled with the account of our deeds, open the arms of thy mercy, and receive us just as we are.

"If free grace cannot justify us alone, let faith do it, together with free grace. We do believe finished salvation, Lord; we can join in the most evangelical creeds, and are ready to confess the virtue of thy atoning blood. But if thou sayest, we have 'trampled it under foot, and made it a common thing,' grant us our last request, and it is enough.

"Cut out the immaculate garment of 'thy righteousness' into robes that may fit us all, and put them upon us by imputation: so shall our nakedness be gloriously covered. We confess we have not dealt our bread to the hungry; but impute to us thy feeding five thousand people with loaves and fishes. We have seldom given drink to the thirsty, and often 'put our bottle' to those who were not athirst; but impute to us thy turning water into wine, to refresh the guests at the marriage feast in Cana; and thy loud call, 'in the last day of the feast at Jerusalem: If any man thirst, let him come to me and drink!' We never supposed it was our duty to 'be given to hospitality:' but impute to us thy loving invitations to strangers, thy kind assurances of receiving 'all that come to thee;' thy comfortable promises of 'casting out none,' and of feeding them even with thy 'flesh and blood.' We did not clothe the naked as we had opportunity and ability;- but impute to us thy patient parting with thy seamless garment for the benefit of thy murderers. We did not visit sick beds and prisons, we were afraid of fevers, and especially of the jail distemper; but compassionately impute to us thy visiting Jairus' daughter, and Peter's wife's mother, who lay sick of a fever; and put to our account thy visiting putrefying Lazarus in the offensive prison of the grave.

"Thy imputed righteousness, Lord, can alone answer all the demands of thy law and Gospel. We did not dare to fast; we should have been called legal and Papists if we had; but thy forty days' fasting in the wilderness, and thy continual abstinence, imputed to us, will be self denial enough to justify us ten times over. We did not 'take up our cross;' but impute to us thy 'carrying THINE;' and even fainting under the oppressive load. We did not 'mortify the deeds of the flesh, that we might live:' this would have been evidently working for life; but impute to us the crucifixion of thy body, instead of our 'crucifying our flesh, with its affections and lusts.' We hated private prayer; but impute to us thy love of that duty, and the prayer thou didst offer upon a mountain all night. We have been rather hard to forgive; but that defect will be abundantly made up if thou impute to us thy forgiving of the dying thief: and, if that will not do, add, we beseech thee, the merit of that good saying of thine, ' Forgive, and you shall be forgiven.' We have cheated the king of his customs; but no matter; only impute to us thy exact paying of the tribute money, together with thy good advice, ' Render unto Cesar the things which are Caesar's.'

"It is true, we have brought up our children in vanity, and thou never hadst any to bring up. May not thy mercy find out an expedient, and impute to us, instead of it, thy obedience to thy parents? And if we have received the sacrament unworthily, and thou canst not cover that sin with thy worthy receiving, indulge us with the imputation of thy worthy institution of it, and that will do yet better.

"In short, Lord, own us freely as thy children. Impute to us thy perfect righteousness. Cast it as a cloak upon us to cover our filthy souls and polluted bodies. We will have no righteousness but thine. Make no mention, we beseech thee, of our righteousness and personal holiness; they are but" filthy rags," which thy purity forbids thee to take into heaven; therefore accept us without, and we shall shout, Free grace! Imputed righteousness! and finished salvation! to eternity."

Extracted from John Fletcher's Second Check to Antinomianism