Robert Traill


But if our brethren will not forbear their charge of Antinomianism, we entreat them that they will make it justly, such as:

1. Against those who say that the sanction of the holy law of God is repealed so that no man is now under it, either to be condemned for breaking it, or to be saved by keeping it, which to us is rank Antinomianism and Arminianism both. Indeed, they say that the law does not now require perfect holiness. But what else can it require? For it is no law if its sanction is repealed.

2. On those let the charge lie that are ungodly under the name of Christianity. And both they and we know where to find such true Antinomians in great abundance, who nevertheless are never called by that name. And is it not somewhat strange that men who have so much zeal against an Antinomian principle have so much kindness for true Antinomians in practice?

3. Let him be called by this ugly name who does not judge the holy law and Word of God written in the Old and New Testament to be a perfect rule of life to all believers, and does not admit that all should study conformity to this rule (Rom. 12:2).

4. Against him who encourages himself in sin and hardens himself in impenitence by the doctrine of the gospel. No man that knows and believes the gospel can do so. What some hypocrites may do is nothing to us, who disown all such persons and practices and own no principle that can really encourage the one or influence the other.

5. Against him who thinks holiness is not necessary to all that would be saved. We maintain not only that it is necessary to, but that it is a great part of, salvation.

6. Against whoever thinks that when a believer comes short in obeying God ís law he does not sin, and that he ought not to mourn because of it as provoking to God and hurtful to the new creation in him, and that he need not renew the exercise of faith and repentance for repeated washing and pardoning.

7. Against those who say that a sinner is actually justified before he is united to Christ by faith. It is strange that such as are charged with this, of all men do most press on sinners to believe on Jesus Christ and urge the damnation threatened in the gospel upon all unbelievers. That there is a decreed justification from eternity, particular and fixed as to all the elect, and a virtual, perfect justification of all the redeemed, in and by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Isa. 53:11; Rom. 4:25; Heb. 9:26, 28 and 10:14) is not yet called in question by any amongst us; and more is not craved, but we affirm that a sinner, for his actual justification, must lay hold on and plead this redemption in Christís blood by faith.1

But, on the other hand, we glory in any name of reproach (as the honourable reproach of Christ) that is cast upon us for asserting the absolute boundless freedom of the grace of God, which excludes all merit and everything like it; and the absoluteness of the covenant of grace ó for the covenant of redemption was plainly and strictly a conditional one, and the noblest of all conditions was in it, the Son of Godís taking on him manís nature and offering it in sacrifice being the strict condition of all the glory and reward promised to Christ and his seed (Isa. 53:10, 11) ó wherein all things are freely promised, and that faith that is required for sealing a manís interest in the covenant is promised in it, and wrought by the grace of it (Eph. 2:8).

That faith at first is wrought by, and acts upon, a full and absolute offer of Christ, and of all his fulness óan offer that has no condition in it but that one native to all offers, acceptance; and in the very act of this acceptance, the accepter expressly disclaims all things in himself but sinfulness and misery. That faith in Jesus Christ justifies (although, by the way, it is to be noted that it is never written in the Word that faith justifies actively, but it is always expressed passively: that a man is justified by faith, and that God justifies men by and through faith; yet admitting the phrase) only as a mere instrument, receiving that imputed righteousness of Christ, for which we are justified. And this faith, in the office of justification, is neither condition, nor qualification, nor our gospel-righteousness, but is in its very act a renouncing of all such pretences.

We proclaim the market of grace to be free (Isa. 55:1-3). It is Christís last offer, and his lowest (Rev. 22:17). If there is any price or money spoken of, it is no price, no money. And where such are the terms and conditions, if we are forced to call them so, we must say that they look more like a renouncing than a boasting of any qualifications or conditions. Surely the terms of the gospel bargain are Godís free giving and our free taking and receiving.

We are not ashamed of teaching:

The ineffectualness of the law, and all the works of it, to give life; either that of justification, or of regeneration and sanctification, or of eternal life;

That the law of God can only damn all sinners; that it only rebukes, and thereby irritates and increases sin; and that it can never subdue sin, till gospel grace comes with power upon the heart; and then when the law is written in the heart it is copied out in the life;

That we call men to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, in that condition the first Adam brought them to and left them in; in that condition that the law finds and leaves them in, guilty filthy, condemned; out of which condition they can only be delivered by Christ, and by believing on him;

That we tell sinners that Jesus Christ will surely welcome all that come to him; and, as he will not cast them out for their sinfulness, in their nature and past life, so neither will he do so for their misery, in the want of such qualifications and graces as he alone can give;

That we hold forth the propitiation in Christís blood, as the only thing to be in the eye of a man that would believe on Christ unto justification of life; and that by this faith alone a sinner is justified, and God is justified in doing so;

That God justifies the ungodly (Rom. 4:5), neither by making him godly before he justifies him, nor by leaving him ungodly after he has justified him; but that the same grace that justifies him does immediately sanctify him;

If for such doctrine we are called Antinomians we are bold to say that there is some ignorance of, or prejudice against, the known Protestant doctrine in the hearts of the reproachers.

There are some things we complain of, such as:

1. That they load their brethren so grievously with unjust calumnies, either directly or by consequence: as when they preach up holiness, and the necessity of it, as if it were their proper doctrine and disowned by us; when they cannot but know in their consciences that there is no difference between them and us about the nature and necessity of holiness, but only about its spring and place in salvation. We derive it from Jesus Christ and faith in him; and know assuredly that it can spring from nothing else. We place it between justification and glory, and that is its Scripture place; and no where else can it be found or stand, let them try it as much and as long as they will.

2. That they seem very zealous against Antinomianism, and forget the other extreme of Arminianism; which is far more common, as dangerous, and far more natural to all men. For though there have been, and may be this day, some true Antinomians, either through ignorance or weakness reeling to that extreme, or by the heat of contention with and hatred of Arminianism (as it is certain some very good and learned men have inclined to Arminianism through their hatred of Antinomianism, and have declared as much); and some may and do corrupt the doctrine of the gospel through the unrenewedness of their hearts; yet how destructive soever this abuse may be to the souls of the seduced, such an appearance of Antinomianism is but a meteor or comet that will soon blaze out and its folly will be quickly hissed off the stage. But the principles of Arminianism are the natural dictates of a carnal mind which is enmity both to the law of God and to the gospel of Christ; and, next to the dead sea of Popery ó into which this stream also runs ó they have, from Pelagius to this day, been the greatest plague of the church of Christ and, it is likely, will be till his second coming.

3. We also justly complain that, in their opposing of true Antinomian errors, and particularly the alleged tenets of Dr Crisp, they hint that there is a party of ministers and professors that defend them; whereas we can defy them to name one minister, in London at least, that does so.

4. That expressions capable of a good sense are strenuously perverted, contrary to the scope of the writer or speaker. But this and methods like it are the usual methods of unfair contenders. Were the like methods taken on the other side, how many Popish, Arminian, yes, and Socinian expressions, might be published? If any gospel truth should be preached or published that reflects on the idol of self-righteousness, and justification thereby, it is soon quarrelled with. But reproaches cast on the free grace of God and the imputed righteousness of Christ are, with them, if not approved, yet but venial, well-meant mistakes. Let menís stated principles be known, and their expressions explained accordingly, or mistakes and contentions will be endless.

5. We also complain that love to peace has made many grave and sound divines forbear to utter their minds freely in public on these points; whereby the adverse party is emboldened; and such ministers as dare not purchase peace by silence, when so great truths are undermined, are exposed as a mark. But we do not question but that these worthy brethren, when they shall see the points of controversy accurately stated (as they may shortly), will openly appear on truthís side, as we know their hearts are for it.

6. Lastly, we complain that the scheme of the gospel contended for by our opposers is clouded, veiled, and darkened by school2 terms; new, uncouth, and unscriptural phrases, whereby, as they think to guard themselves against opposition, so they increase the jealousies of their brethren and keep their principles from the knowledge of ordinary people, who are as much concerned in those points as any scholar or divine.

This controversy looks like a very bad omen. We thought we might have healed our old breaches in smaller things; and, behold, a new one is threatened in the greatest matters. We did hope that the good old Protestant doctrine had been rooted and rivetted in the hearts of all the ministers on our side; but now we find the contrary, and that the sour leaven of Arminianism works strongly.

Their advocates do not yet own the name; but the younger sort are more bold and free. And with them no books or authors are in esteem and use but such as are for the new, rational method of divinity. Rational is a fitter commendation of a philosopher than of a divine; and yet it is somewhat better applied to a divine than to divinity; for true divinity has a higher and nobler origin than manís reason, even divine revelation; and it can never be rightly learned by those that do not have a higher principle in them than reason, namely the teaching of the Holy Ghost. But as for Luther, Calvin, Zanchius,3 Twisse, Ames, Perkins and divines of their spirit and stamp, they are generally neglected and despised.

We were in hope, that after the Lord had so signally appeared for his truth and people in preserving both under the rage of that Antichristian spirit of persecution and apostasy to gross Popery that wrought so mightily under the two last reigns, and when he had given us the long-desired mercy of a legal establishment of our gospel-liberty in this, that all hearts and hands should have been unanimously employed in the advancing of the work of Christ. But we find that, as we have for a long time lost, in a great measure, the power, we are now in no small danger of losing also the purity of the gospel. And without them, what does liberty signify!

There is no doubt that the devil designs to obstruct the course of the gospel. And in this he has often had the service of the tongues and pens of good men as well as of bad. Yet we are not without hope that the Lord, in his wisdom and mercy, will defeat him; and that these contentions may yet have good fruit and a good issue.


  1. This corrects William Twisseís error (see footnote on pp. 23ó4), as does the Westminster Confession (XI:iv).
  2. i.e., scholastic
  3. Girolamo Zanchi (1516-90), a Reformed scholastic theologian who was a convert from Roman Catholicism.


Robert Traill (1642-1716): Friend of William Guthrie of Fenwick, attendant of James Guthrie of Stirling on the scaffold, son of the Greyfriars Church manse where the 1638 Covenant was signed, Scot ordained in England, exile in Holland, prisoner on the Bass Rock, scholar, preacher and saint ó Robert Traill lived to span the ripest period of the Puritan age. Distinguished in the classes at Edinburgh University, Traill early felt the inner constraint to preach Christ. Too intimate an association with the younger John Welsh drew the swift displeasure of the civil arm upon him. Denounced as a ĎPentland Rebelí he fled to join the bright galaxy of British divines weathering the storm of Stuart Absolutism in the Low Countries (1667).

Traillís literary output began there. As assistant to Nethenus, professor at Utrecht, he prepared Samuel Rutherford's Examination of Arminianism for the press. Back in London in 1692 he took up his pen, as Isaac Chancy (Owenís successor) and the younger Thomas Goodwin were having to do, to defend the doctrine of Justification against the new Legalism. After serving Presbyterian charges in Kent and London he died at the age of 74.

This article is part of a book written by Traill, Justification Vindicated, first published in 1692 and republished by the Banner of Truth Trust in 2002.

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