Antinomians (Gr. against, and law), those who reject the moral law as not binding upon Christians. Some go further and affirm that a child of God cannot sin; that the moral law is abrogated as a rule of life; and that good works hinder salvation. Wesley defines antinomianism to be " the doctrine which makes void the law through faith." Antinomianism in a modified form early showed itself in the Christian church, as appears by the Epistle of James, and later in the writings of Augustine, by whom it was opposed. Its full development is due to John Agricola (1492-150(5), one of the early coadjutors of Luther. He maintained that the moral law was superseded by the gospel; that the law is binding-only upon unbelievers, but as soon as a man exercises faith in Christ, he comes under anew moral economy with which the law has no possible relations; that the law is not in any way instrumental in bringing men to the benefits of the new dispensation, but that faith and repentance arc to be secured only by the preaching of the gospel. He affirmed that these conclusions followed as necessary consequences from the doctrines taught by Luther, and that he and Melanchthon were inconsistent in not admitting them. The controversy between Luther and Agricola became violent.
It was partially reconciled at a conference at Torgau (1527), when after a sharp debate Agricola retracted his doctrines; but, according to Melanchthon, "he was not convinced, but overborne." In 1537 Agricola, being then established at Wittenberg, put forth anonymously a series of theses on the nature of repentance and its relations to faith, in which his former views were more strongly expressed: "Art thou steeped in sin, an adulterer or a thief, if thou believest, thou art in salvation. All who follow Moses must go to the devil: to the gallows with Moses." Luther replied in a series of disputations, in which Agricola, who had in the mean time acknowledged the authorship of the theses, was at first treated tenderly; but afterward Luther used harsh language, classing Agricola with the Anabaptist fanatics. In 1540 Agricola again retracted, and was reconciled with Luther. The controversy was however carried on by others in Germany. - Antinomianism appeared in England during the protectorate of Cromwell, some of the sectaries maintaining that "as the elect cannot fall from grace nor forfeit the divine favor, any wicked actions which they may commit are not really sinful; and that, consequently, they have no need to confess their sins or to break them off by repentance." In the 17th century antinomianism again made its appearance in England, its supporters maintaining that it was a logical consequence from the doctrines taught by Calvin. It reappeared in the 18th century to a considerable extent among the followers of "Wesley. It was earnestly opposed by Wesley and John Fletcher, the latter of whom wrote "Checks to Antinomianism," probably the ablest of his works.
In America antinomianism properly so called has never been maintained except by isolated individuals, although it is sometimes used by polemics as a term of reproach. Among the prominent writers in English who have opposed antinomianism are John Wesley, John Fletcher, Robert Hall, and Andrew Fuller.