William Huntington (1745 – 1813) preached in London to many hundreds, sometimes thousands, in the latter part of his life. After his death a number of preachers followed in his footsteps, such as William Gadsby, John Kershaw, William Tiptaft and, notably, J C Philpot. The movement changed its name in order to separate from what was considered erroneous and in order to define what was seen to be true and the names ‘Strict Baptist’ then ‘Gospel Standard Strict Baptist’ were applied.

Huntington, and those who followed, denied that the Christian was under law (whether ‘moral’ or ‘ceremonial’) and he advanced a variety of texts to support this : I am crucified with Christ, Galatians 2:20 ; Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth, Romans 10:4 ; ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ, Romans 7:4.

Aside from these texts (which are not the subject of this question) Huntington also argued with regard to Old Testament believers - who lived before Moses' delivery of the law, and before the enunciating of the ten commandments to Israel at Sinai.

If no law had yet been delivered, he argues, how then did these saints live ? Such as Abel, Enoch, Noah, Job, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph ? They are specifically said to be justified and accounted righteous in the sight of God, but how did they live, thereafter, without law to guide them ?

In his book Law and Grace Contrasted Huntington says :

By faith Enoch had this testimony that he pleased God, Hebrews 11:5 ; but without faith it is impossible to please him, Hebrews 11:6. Then faith is a rule that God approves of, and is pleased with. If the ten commandments be the believer’s only rule of a righteous life, what then of Abel who obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts, Hebrews 11:4, an entire dispensation before the commandments were given ?

Noah, who became heir of the righteousness of faith, Hebrews 11:7, was certainly without the legal rule of works, when he prepared an ark and condemned the world, by faith, without a law to guide him.

Abraham, the friend of God and the father of the faithful and heir of the world must also walk uncertainly [if only law could truly guide him (edit)].

I think it is important to notice that Mr Huntington is not arguing about justification by faith (and how it is achieved), he is arguing regarding a sanctified life, thereafter.

This argument, regarding saints who died before the law was laid down, is that which engages me and I would be interested to know what Protestants have made of it.

I am aware that some Protestants have not accepted what Mr Huntington preached and indeed many have called him, inaccurately, an ‘Antinomian’.

But what do they make of this argument regarding Old Testament saints ?


5 Answers 5


I think there is some misunderstanding around the Law. From a protestant view the Law always existed as that which the created owed God by virtue of being created. It is the same things as what we call conscience. (Rom 2:14)

Then there is the Law of Moses that externalizes this natural older law into the form of commandments. They are written on stones because they are intended to govern those alienated from God. (The law was not made for the righteous 1 Tim 1:9)

The problem is that nobody born of Adam can obey this Law, so it has no ability to save anyone and no ability to confer righteousness. Not even partially, rather it was meant to increase sin. (Rom 5:20)

True, Adam might have theoretically been able to obtain righteousness but after his fall, mankind was enslaved to sin and therefore unable to obtain righteousness through the Law forever more, u til faith should be revealed.

However in parallel to the Law their was also the Promise made to Eve, (Gen 3:15) and symbolized in the ceremonial Laws of Moses (especially the mercy seat on top of the ark keeping the tablets from breaking again) and spoken of in visions by the prophets of the true way of obtaining righteousness not from Law but from a new Adam (Messiah) who would act as a federal head of humanity to provide righteousness from his own obedience to the Law.

So those before the law , were righteous by faith in the promise and no one was ever righteous by the Law.

In this sense although those with faith like David or Samson etc., were under the period of history when the Mosaic law was in force, they themselves were not under Law because they had already found righteousness by faith. The Law was not made for them.

To be under a law is to he under its jurisdiction and power so someone fully righteous through the death and resurrection of Christ can’t be under the jurisdiction of a law that has nothing to say to them due to their perfect legal standing.

So in summary faith in promise and law have always been there and people have always been saved in the same way. The only difference is after Christ everything becomes so much clearer.

  • Much appreciated. Very astute. Up-voted +1 and accepted as the answer.
    – Nigel J
    Apr 10 at 16:59
  • 1
    @NigelJ - In case you may have never encountered it, I most highly recommend the Commentary of Martin Luther on Galatians for the most engaging and convincing material I have ever encountered on the subject. This understanding was nearly unanimous from Luther up until shortly after the time of Charles Hodge (1878 departing from Princeton) at which point we see a gradual but noticeable departure of this well established truth by those who consider themselves wiser than such a long and impressive cloud of witnesses, which some think are represented by the two witnesses in Revelation.
    – Mike
    Apr 11 at 13:14
  • If you are not already familiar, I thoroughly recommend the entire writings of William Huntington, now available online who faithfully preached true freedom from law throughout his effective ministry in England. (1745-1813).
    – Nigel J
    Apr 11 at 16:16

Even though the law was not given until Moses, God had given many rules for righteous living. They began with His command to Adam not to eat from the tree of Knowledge of good and evil:

Genesis 2:9 And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Genesis 2:16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:

Genesis 2:17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

When Adam disobeyed God it is necessary that we remember that from that moment all mankind knew Good from Evil. When God decided to send the flood He stated:

Genesis 6:5 And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

Genesis 6:6 And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.

Genesis 6:7 And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.

God was unhappy, that once man knew the difference between Good and Evil, he continually chose evil over good. However, God recognized that Noah; even though not being totally righteous; found GRACE. The key word here being grace; or something freely given rather than being earned. We are not given the reason Noah received grace; but we are given a clue in the New Testament by Jesus.

Mark 3:33 And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren?

Mark 3:34 And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren!

Mar 3:35 For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.

Those same precepts apply to all mankind today as they did in The Old Testament. The word Christian derived from little Christ, which was applied to the first converts to Christ. Even today the word Christian is applied to the followers of the Christian faith; or those believers that their sins were paid for in the death of Christ. In the Old Testament and in the New Testament; the key to believing in grace is in doing the will of God. True Christianity involves denying the old evil ways, and assuming the new life in the image of Christ.

Hope this helps.

  • 1
    God warned that humanity should not partake of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. That is not the way for humanity to Live. The tree of Life is that which imparts Life. The tree of knowledge of good and evil is a way of death. And this is the argument on the opposite side of the controversy ? Really ? That Abel and Enoch and Noah and Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Joseph should partake of the tree of knowledge of good and evil ? ? Which Protestants actually state this, please.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 13, 2019 at 15:55

Romans 2:14 For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, 15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, 16 on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.

The Gentiles did not have the "Law" in the same way those who pre-date Moses did not have the written law, and like those who do not yet have the Bible in their language do not have the written law.

I believe Paul in Romans is saying that whether one has the written law or not, they have been given the law in the form of a conscience.

  • But that is the gentiles, being accused or defended in their own conscience. Are the faithful not guided in the same matters by the presence of the Holy Spirit ? Which Protestants put this forth as an argument, may I ask ?
    – Nigel J
    Dec 13, 2019 at 16:43
  • I don't think the Gentiles, who do not have the law, are any different than Jews prior to the law of Moses. My guess is that Adam and Eve and Noah were not Jewish per se. In the OT was see the the Holy Spirit 'filled' certain people for a time and left to fulfull God's purpose. This is different the the Holy Spirit dwelling within the believer after Pentecost.
    – Lionsden
    Dec 13, 2019 at 22:18
  • 1
    @Lionsden great quote. You could include the next verse as well, Roman 2:15 "Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)" They had the law written in their hearts, same as those who were righteous pre-dating Moses.
    – Beestocks
    Dec 14, 2019 at 3:28

"saints who died before the law was laid down" is the key issue with this question. Does "laid down" mean first created, or formalized in writing.

I know you asked for a Protestant position, but it's good to know what people believed before that too.

In particular, Commandments/Laws followed by Avraham - Mi Yodeya, in the Judaism SE site indicates that Jews believe the Law existed in oral form long before it was put into writing by Moses. This possibly includes even the holy days and feasts such as Passover (long before the actual Passover event).

Chabad.org, How Did the Torah Exist Before it Happened? - Questions & Answers, says:

This is discussed in many places in Talmud and Midrash. Not only Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but also Noah and even Adam knew the Torah. Concerning Noah, the Torah itself writes clearly that G‑d told him to take onto his ark "of the animal which is ritually pure (tahor), seven, seven." Apparently, he was expected to know for himself that pigs are not ritually pure and cows are.

What was the Torah before it was given to us? The Torah is G‑d's wisdom, as He considers Himself, as He considers us and as He considers His world. It contains the wisdom with which He creates the world and manages it. Think of a concept paper that a producer might write before developing a video game or some other such product. The Torah contains exactly that (and much more1). Each of the lofty souls we mentioned was able to attain insight into this wisdom and thereby know the hiddenmost secrets of the universe.

As for "Protestants" that's a large category, with many conflicting beliefs.

Some definitely go along with the Jewish teaching, believing that God's Law was in effect before Moses wrote it down, with only the ceremonial and civil laws being created specifically for Israel following the Exodus as part of the "old" Covenant.

Here are a few examples:

Were the Ten Commandments in Force Before Moses? gives examples of each of the Ten Commandments being obeyed before Moses recorded them.

Did Abraham Keep the Same Commandments God Gave to Moses? | United Church of God

10 Commandments Moses - Life, Hope & Truth

  • Paul's reply to your argument is that where no law is (stated) there is no transgression. Law has to be documented officially (not verbally conjectured by unauthorised parties). Only God may state what law is. And if God did not state that believers were to keep certain specified commandments (the argument goes) then the faithful are to live by faith.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 13, 2019 at 17:38
  • The three references are to sources who would certainly not be considered Protestant historically. They are either anonymous internet presences or a sect with very divergent doctrines.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 13, 2019 at 19:44
  • @NigelJ, I interpreted "Protestant" to mean "not Catholic or Orthodox". And some of them count Waldensians, Puritans, and other similar groups as their antecedents. Dec 13, 2019 at 20:06

If the Law is Love and God is Love, then the law is simply a reflection of God's character. It has always existed and always will.

About the law:

For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. Roman 13:9-10

About God:

He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. 1 John 4:8

The relationship between faith and law is the same before Moses as it is now. Put simply, the law is suppose to be written in our hearts by the hand of God, by faith. If the law truly did not exist before Moses, then Adam would not have sinned, neither Cain, not even Satan, "for sin is the transgression of the law" 1 John 3:4. In fact, we can find multiple evidence that murder, adultery, idolatry, coveteousness was sin long before Moses and Sinai, it existed both verbally and written in the heart. "Thy law is within my heart" Psalm 40:8.

About Abraham, it is written:

Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws. Gen 26:5

So if this is the case, why then did Paul say "And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. Gal 3:17"? If the law was given not until 430 years after Abraham, is that not a contradiction of Genesis 26:5 (above)? No, Paul was comparing Covenant against Covenant. Specifically, the Covenant of Grace against the Covenant of works (old covenant). We are sanctified not by the law written externally on "tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart" 2 Cor 3:3. Therefore the written law cannot disannul the Covenant of Grace, containing the promise of salvation. Even David wrote "Thy word have I hid in mine heart" Psalms 119:11. Rather, the purpose of the written law was suppose to lead them to see the need for a Saviour.

Again we see evidence of this when Paul writes "I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died" Roman 7:9. Paul, as a Jew, was never truely without the written law. But it was not properly understood, when the true meaning of the law hit him, he died.

Now to quote a third party:

"This was from the beginning of the world, being ‘written not on tables of stone,’ but on the hearts of all the children of men, when they came out of the hands of the Creator. And however the letters once wrote by the finger of God are now in a great measure defaced by sin, yet can they not wholly be blotted out, while we have any consciousness of good and evil. Every part of this law must remain in force upon all mankind, and in all ages; as not depending either on time or place, or any other circumstances liable to change, but on the nature of God, and the nature of man, and their unchangeable relation to each other." From the book, The Great Controversy Page 262

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