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Calvin, Witsius (1636–1708), and the English Antinomians

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At the core of the Reformation lies the belief that good works are excluded from man’s justification before God. Roman Catholic adversaries feared the rise of immorality and thus accused the Reformed of antinomianism. In this paper the term “doctrinal antinomians” is used for those who deny any human activity within the order of salvation. Within the Reformed tradition we do indeed find examples of such antinomians. As might be expected, they were highly criticised from within their own Reformed camp. However, as part of their defensive strategy they appealed to Calvin as one of their champions. This paper first investigates the manner in which the antinomians referred to him, and then goes on to consider whether their appeal is justified. In order to evaluate to what extent antinomian aspects can be detected in Calvin’s theology, the analysis of the antinomian position by Herman Witsius, a seventeenth-century Dutch theologian, will be used as an investigative tool.

Affiliations: 1: Utrecht University, The Netherlands


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