Pristine Grace

A Defense of Robert Sandeman
by David Bishop

Editor's Note: This article was originally titled Antinomian Propositions or No Faith? Dr Alderson’s Confusion from David Bishop's blog.  I am reposting it because it has a good defense of the Gospel preacher and writer Robert Sandeman, a man who has been unfairly maligned and purposefully misrepresented by conditional calvinists throughout history. - Brandan

     I recently came across a book entitled, “No Holiness, No Heaven: Antinomianism Today”.  It was written by the late Dr Richard Alderson, former Senior Lecturer in English as a Foreign Language, Southwerk College, London (Banner of Truth, 1986).

     In his book, Dr Alderson sought to briefly examine the history of and explain the current practice of Antinomianism today.  Whether he succeeded is something I will leave to the reader to examine for himself.

     The bigger problem I have with Dr  Alderson’s book is that Dr Alderson turns out to be  another in a long line of critics who have either failed to do their homework, and/or who have failed to understand some of the men they criticize.

     For example, as I read Dr Alderson’s little book on Antinomianism, wouldn’t you know it, I find myself stumbling yet again across a very distorted and false representation of Robert Sandeman.  Beginning on page 55, Dr Alderson writes:

  Robert Sandeman taught that saving faith is confined to the mind.  Faith is simply a intellectual assent to the facts of the gospel.  Feelings (the heart) and obedience (the will) are rigidly excluded as ‘works’.  Such was Sandeman’s misguided way of ‘safeguarding ‘ justification by faith only. 
        In all such teaching the main emphasis is put on the initial confession of Christ with the mouth, based on Romans 10:9-10: ‘If you confess with our mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with the heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 
        Now it is self-evident that no preacher or evangelist can possibly read another man’s heart.  All the emphasis in handling this verse is therefore put on an individual’s verbal profession.  The enquirer confesses with his mouth that Jesus is Lord; he further professes to believe in his heart that God has raised Christ from the dead.   On this basis he is confidently pronounced saved. 
        Despite the obvious fact that the inevitability of sanctification is clearly here – Jesus as Lord of our lives – all the emphasis in the Sandemanian viewpoint is placed on justification, so that Paul is impiously misconstrued as teaching easy believism – or cheap grace, as it has so rightly been called.  You make your confession – preferably after walking down the aisle – and then you may be assured you are a Christian and can henceforth be untroubled by any qualms of conscience.  No change of life is required – no fruit, no good works, no holiness.  To insist upon these things would be to go back to works.  It would make converts concerned about the subjective and lead them to forget that all is objective – in Christ.
— Richard Alderson, No Holiness, No Heaven: Antinomianism Today, pg 55

     Two things need to be said about these ridiculous charges.  First, Dr Alderson is clearly conflating the heresy of R T Kendall and Zane Hodges with the teaching of Robert Sandeman.  In fact, Alderson even cites Kendall a paragraph or two later as though Kendall and Sandeman were of the same ilk.

     This is a common problem among all Lordship Salvation folks.  They write as though they have only one opponent, Zane Hodges.   Anyone who disagrees with them must either be or be like Zane Hodges.  As far as they will pretend, Zane Hodges is the only opponent they can see.

     In the meantime, if these Lordship Salvationists have any inkling at all of who Sandeman was, then they certainly will have no idea what he actually taught, because they will have never bothered to have actually read him for themselves.  Instead, they will have read only books about him, books written by men who will have themselves only read books abouthim, leaving few, if any, who will actually have read him in his own words.  This his how they come away with these ridiculous conflations and false accusations, knowing not one thing Sandeman actually said.

     Kendall and Sandeman have nothing to do with each other.  Sandeman would have condemned Kendall every bit as much as Kendall would have condemned Sandeman had they lived in the same era.

     Although Sandeman excluded emotionalism from faith, he did not, like Kendall, exclude the will.  He denied the will is free, but he did not deny that the Sovereign Lord of all uses the will, changes it, and makes it willing in the day of His power (Ps 110:3).  Kenall denies there is any will involved at all.

     Unlike Kenall and Hodges, Sandeman also denied that conversion is what justifies the man.  He instead held that Christ’s righteousness imputed to the man is the grounds of the justification of a man.

     In other words, just to make this as plain as I can, a man is not justified by his believing, but rather by the object of his believing.   It is the object of his faith that justifies his faith, rather than his faith itself.   Dr Alderson sounds like an Arminian trying to justify his belief that his belief has justified him.

     The second thing that needs to be said here is that Sandeman nowhere taught that Romans 10:9-10 is the main emphasis of a person’s confession.  In point of fact, not even Kendall himself does this, although for a different reason than Sandeman doesn’t.   This makes me wonder whether some of these Lordship Salvationists ever bother to read anyone they criticize.

     Sandeman had no room for modern Calvinism in his theology.   He made no room for “saving faith”, and even mocked it.  He never bought into the idea that an act of believing is what saves a person.  Rather, faith is just faith; a mental act of the regenerated intellect.   As far as the cause of salvation goes, he maintained throughout his converted life that it was the cross of Christ alone that did all the saving.  The act of believing simply meant intellectual assent to all the historical and spiritual facts and consequences which encompass this historical event.  The propositions of Romans 10:9-10 do not even begin to do this.  We must go far beyond the mere facts of Romans 10:9-10.

     For Kendall and Hodges a single proposition will do – “Jesus promises eternal life to all who believe on Him” (see “The Lordship Salvation Controversy” here: ). It needs hardly be said how much I condemn this.

     What Sandeman saw was a problem with the way some men were defining faith.   Erskine, for example, and Boston, as well as many others had taken to splitting up the single act of faith into several different, separate acts for which each act then had to then be properly qualified in order to count as true faith.  The same holds true for the modern Calvinists today.

     For example, we hear men like R C Sproul and James White tell us that justification is by grace alone through faith alone.  Yet these same men then quickly turn right around and tell us that this faith alone is an act to be qualified by a heartfelt sorrow for our sins; a life of obedience to God; and some immediate change in our behavior.

     Sandeman never denied, nor do we deny today that Scripture does command us to turn from our sins, to devote ourselves to the performing of works pleasing to God, and to rely exclusively upon God for all our needs.  The question instead is, do these acts qualify and define faith?  Absolutely not.

To avoid the absurdity of saying we are justified by aught else but faith, they commonly divide faith into as many different acts or motions as will serve all their purposes. Hence we hear of the various acts of faith, direct and reflex. Hence the faith of reliance, affiance, assurance, the act of flying, and the act of trusting, a believing application, appropriation, and c. Mr. Boston, I think, divides saving faith into four acts. And others again choose to assure us, that one single act of faith is sufficient to save our souls forever; but, then, that single act must be properly qualified. In the same view, many epithets are given to faith; as a true, sincere, lively, manly, generous, triumphant faith, &c. Here I am ready to express my wish, that Aspasio had carried his aversion to the terms and phraseology of the popularly doctrine much farther than he has done. The dialogues are far from being sufficiently purged of them.
        It would be tedious to take particular notice of all these forms of expression. But one thing in the general may be freely said, that where the faith necessary to justification is described, every epithet, word, name or phrase, prefixed or subjoined to Faith, not meant as descriptive of the truth believed, but of some good motion, disposition, or exercise of the human soul about it, is intended, and really serves, instead of clearing our way, to blindfold and decoy us; to impose upon us, and make us take brass for gold, and chaff for wheat; to lead us to establish our own, in opposition to the Divine righteousness, even while our mouths and our ears are filled with high sounding words about the latter.
        In vain shall we consult catechisms, confessions, and other publicly authorized standards of doctrine for direction here. These are framed by the wisdom of the scribes, and disputers of this world. We can receive no true light about this matter, but from the fountain head of true knowledge, the sacred oracles of Divine revelation. Thence it will appear, that justification comes by bare faith. Ask a Christian, what’s his faith, the spring of all his hope? And he answers you in a word, the blood of Christ. Ask a proficient in the popular doctrine the same question, and he immediately begins to tell you a long-winded story, how grace enabled him to become a better man than he was, and this he calls conversion. Thus we see what a wide difference there is betwixt the false and true grace of God.
— Robert Sandeman, Letters On Theron and Aspasio: Addressed to the Author, pgs 281-282

I frankly acknowledge, then, that my religion, or my hope toward God, is not founded on argument, not on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God; – not on any deductions from any principles I had hitherto known; but on authority interposed in a manner quite unexpected, baffling, confounding, and repelling all my reasonings; and, if I may be allowed the expression, forcing upon me a new set of principles, by the most convincing and satisfactory, as well as irresistible evidence; – not on any reasoning a priori, but on a plain matter of fact, established by impregnable evidence; – not on any effort exerted, or any motion felt on my breast, but on that motion of divine power, which burst the bands of death when Jesus rose; – not on any operation which men call mystical, to avoid saying unintelligible, but on the simplest and most striking operation of power that can affect the human mind, even the presenting alive again a man who was dead; – not on felling any change on my heart to the better, or the remotest good inclination of my will, but on that fact, which, sore against my will, forced upon me the most shocking view of my guilt, and proved me to be an enemy to Heaven, in that respect wherein I thought to have approved and valued myself to my last hour; – not on a work of power assisting me to fell, will, or do anything, in order to peace with God, but on a work of power, proving to demonstration that everything needful thereto is already completely finished; – to say all in one word, not on any difference betwixt me and others, or any token for good about me whatsoever, but on the token or proof of divine good will expressed, in the resurrection of Jesus, toward sinners of all nations, without regard to any difference by which one man can distinguish himself from another.
Robert Sandeman, Letters to Theron and Aspasio: To the Author, pages 60-61

     For Sandeman, faith was intellectual assent with the propositions of the gospel.  The problem I have with Dr Alderson is that he assumes Sandeman defined those propositions by the contents of Romans 10:9-10.  He did not.  He went far beyond the contents of Romans 10:9-10.

     The propositions defined by Sandeman included the truth about man’s sin and Divine justice, the truth about Divine election and predestination, the truth about the incarnation and virgin birth of Jesus Christ; the truth about the atoning death of Christ, the truth about His resurrection and ascension, the truth about the Divine call and regeneration, and the truth about the second coming of Christ and the resurrection of His saints.  To be sure, there are a few more, but Romans 10:9-10 do not even begin to touch even these.

     I assert that Dr Alderson’s issue was with these propositions rather than with Sandeman’s definition of faith.  During Dr Alderson’s life, he never defined the gospel by these propositions.  No Lordship Salvationist does, because these propositions do not permit the Lordship Salvationist to remain unrepentant about their false conversion.

     For example, if the gospel is defined, in part, by the truth about Divine election and predestination, then this means all my attempts to live obediently to God before I understood and agreed with the truth about Divine election and predestination is but a heap of self righteous and evil works. I commanded to repent of them, not look fondly back at them and label myself an “inconsistent Arminian”.   This is what the Lordship Salvationist despises.

     We must understand, the issue with Antinomianism is not one of faith.  It is not as though the Antinomian believes in nothing at all.   No, he believes in something all right, but what he believes in is not the gospel.

     By attacking the Antinomian’s faith rather than his gospel, Dr Alderson, and the many others who are like him, are giving approval to the Antinomian’s gospel.   Why would they do such a thing?  The answer is simple.  They want a gospel free of the truth about Divine election and predestination so they can continue to count their self righteous efforts to live the law as proof of an authentic conversion.  They want the truths about the gospel to stand as optional doctrine in what they insist is a justified person’s theology.

     This is why we find John MacArthur claiming in his book, The Gospel According to Jesus, that Jesus Christ died for everyone’s sins.  It is why James White has yet to meet an Arminian he hasn’t counted a brother in Christ.  It’s why R C Sproul believes the holiness without which no one will see the Lord is one’s personal holiness.  It’s why John Piper believes there are two kinds of justification; a present justification and a final one.

     Certainly, were we to exclude the truth about our sin and Divine justice from our gospel, then we would be guilty of Antinomianism.  That is, we would be guilty of preaching another gospel.  What we would not be guilty of is preaching a different definition of faith.

     Were we to claim that God is pleased with His people living any old way they want to, or that His command for them to offer their bodies to Him as a living sacrifice is irrelevant, then certainly we would be guilty of preaching alien propositions.  We would not be guilty of preaching an alien definition of faith though.   Faith is just simply faith.  It is just simply intellectual assent.  The question we need to ask is the same question Sandeman asked, what are the propositions you have intellectually assented to?

     In summary, have you ever noticed how Piper, Washer, Mac, White (and all the other popular guys like them) are always criticizing the validity of their opponent’s faith, but never the contents of their opponent’s gospel.  They have little to no problem with the propositions their opponent believes.  They instead just want their opponents to believe whatever propositions they believe “the right way”; that is, with emotion and behavior change.