Nothing can be more important, at once to the comfort, and the fruitfulness of the Christian life, than a clear discernment of the difference between the Law and the Gospel. [emphasis added]
Art. III. A Treatise on the Law and the Gospel By John Colquhoun, D.D. Minister of the Gospel, Leith 12mo. pp. 351. Edinburgh: 1816.
The time is gone by in which writings like those of Dr. Colquhoun, would be sure to obtain all the consideration they deserve; not but what they will yet prove highly acceptable, and we doubt not, very
profitable to many readers.
Good and useful books may be divided into two classes; namely, those which being written under the guidance of a correct estimate of the moral and intellectual character of the times, are addressed, immediately, to the popular mind, such as it is today; and those in which the writer, possessing that intellectual vigour which repels internal influences, produces simply a transcript of his own mind, upon the subject he adopts. Works of the latter class, belong to no time, but to all ages. They are truly the property of that small number of persons who really think. They cull their readers scantily, from the millions of many centuries. Their influence upon the mass of mankind, is indirect and reflective; and so far as they obtain a contemporaneous celebrity, it is chiefly owing to some lower, or extrinsic excellence. Beside these two classes, there appears, from time to time, a straggler, which seems to have dropped behind the march of its predecessors. The book is perhaps good, but it ought to have been printed a full hundred years ago. If however, it be not of the rank that will command attention at any period, its merits may at least be such as might well apologize for a superannuated manner. It would, indeed, be a hopeful circumstance, if this green and hasty age, without being frighted by the ruff and the beard, would suffer itself to be schooled down into a little more of the carefulness, and laboriousness,and seriousness, which distinguished times that are passed. The wish that something of this sort might take place, makes us rejoice in the appearance of books like the one now before us; especially when they are accompanied, is in the present instance, by the sanction derived from the eminent worth and piety of the writer,
Dr. Colquhoun handles Theology in the manner which became general at the time of the Reformation, and which has long since ceased to be popular. It resulted immediately from that great maxim, or rather motto, of those who introduced Christianity a second time to the world: "To the Law and to the testimony." It may be designated as the forensic style. It is apt to be more occupied with terms than with, things, and is naturally produced when general attention forcibly reverts to the sense and authority of an acknowledged canon. This style neither rises among philosophical generalities, nor digresses into the regions of sentiment and imagination. It is a species of writing, perhaps, beyond any other, which taxes the attention of the reader; and this is a kind of tax which will never be readily submitted to, but in an age distinguished for laborious intellectual habits. Such is certainly not the character of the present day; and to fix the attention, is, perhaps, now, generally felt to be the most difficult and painful of all the efforts of the mind.
Dr. Colquhoun's method of presenting the subject to the reader, is as little in vogue as his manner of treating Theology. He adopts, to a great extent, the plan of a logical completeness of arrangement. For that virtual, and actual repetition of the tame thoughts, which is the inevitable fault, if it be a fault, of this attenuating plan, Dr. C. apologizes, by saying, that
'Though to some readers, there may appear, in several passages of the following work, a redundancy of words, and too frequent a recurrence of the leading sentiments, and even of the same modes of expression; yet, the Author cannot but hope that, to others, these will, in some degree, serve to render his meaning the more obvious and determinate.'The contents of the volume are arranged under twelve, general heads, in which are considered, The Law of God in general; The Law of God as promulgated to the Israelites from Mount Sinai; The properties of the Moral Law; The rules for understanding rightly the Ten Commandments; The Gospel of Christ; The uses of the Gospel, and also of the Law, in its subservience to the Gospel; The difference between the Law, and the Gospel, The agreement between them; The establishment of the Law by the Gospel, or, the subservience of the Gospel to the authority and honour of the Law; The Believer's privilege of being dead to the Law, as a Covenant of Works, with the necessary consequence of it; The great obligations under which every believer lies, to perform even perfect obedience to the Law as a rule of life; and, lastly, The nature, necessity, and desert of good works.
A very extensive, comprehensive, and well digested knowledge of the Scriptures, is exhibited in the illustration of these topics; and this knowledge is uniformly brought to bear upon the experience and practice of the Christian. If we have said a word that may seem likely to obstruct the circulation of this volume, we are persuaded that we can in no way so effectually do Dr. Colquhoun justice, as by allowing him to speak for himself. We select two or three passages, which are the most easily broken off from the connexion in which they stand. In speaking of the Law in the hand of Christ the Mediator, as a rule of life to believers, it is remarked, that
'To the law as a rule in the hand of Christ, belongs also a threatening of paternal chastisements. In order to deter believers from disobedience, as well as to promote in them the mortification of sin, the Lord threatens that, although he will not cast them into hell for their sins, yet he will permit hell, as it were, to enter their consciences; that he will visit them with a series of outward afflictions; that he will deprive them of that sensible communion with him, which they sometime enjoyed; and that he will afflict them with bitterness instead of sweetness, and with terror instead of comfort. These chastisements are, to a believer, no less awful, and much more forcible, restraints from sin, than even the prospect of vindictive wrath would be. A filial fear of them, will do more to influence him to the practice of holiness, than all the slavish fears of hell can do. A fear, lest he should be deprived of that sweetness of communion with God, with which he is favoured, will constrain him to say to his lusts, as the fig-tree in Jotham's parable, "Should I forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over you?" "Shall I leave the spiritual delight which I had, in the communion with my God and Saviour, and have fellowship with you?" Or, if, for his iniquities, he be already under the dreadful frowns of his heavenly Father; his recollection of the comfort which he formerly enjoyed, and of which he is now deprived, will make him say, " I will go and return to my first husband; for then was it better with me than now."' p. 44
Nothing can be more important, at once to the comfort, and the fruitfulness of the Christian life, than a clear discernment of the difference between the Law and the Gospel.
'If an exercised and disquieted Christian, do not distinctly know the difference between the law and the gospel, he cannot attain to solid tranquility, or established comfort of soul. He will always be in danger of building his hope and comfort, partly, if not wholly, upon his own graces and performances, instead of grounding them wholly, on the surety-righteousness of Jesus Christ; and so, he shall be perpetually disquieted by anxious and desponding fear. For since the law knows nothing of pardon of sin, the transgressions which he is daily committing, will be greater grounds of fear to him, than his graces and performances can be, of hope. The spirit of a depressed Christian, cannot be raised to solid consolation; but by being able so to distinguish between the law and the gospel, as to rely only, and with settled confidence, on the spotless righteousness of the second Adam, presented to him in the gospel, for all his title 'to the justification of life"' pp. 158, 9Dr. Colquhoun makes frequent appeals to the consciences of those who are living under the infatuation which persuades them to rest their hopes upon an already violated covenant.
'How inexpressibly miserable are they, who are alive to the law as a covenant of works! They may "have a name to live, but they are dead." They are dead to God; to the favour, the image, the service, and the enjoyment of God. They are legally dead; for they are under the tremendous curse of the violated law, and are liable, every moment, to the intolerable and eternal wrath of Almighty God. They are morally dead likewise; for they are destitute of spiritual life; and they have no inclination, nor ability, to live unto God. Such persons know not, what it is to live a life, either of justification, or of satisfaction, or of consolation. The righteous law condemns them, because they have transgressed it; and its awful sentence not only shuts them up under the dominion of spiritual death, but binds them over to all the horrors of death eternal. Oh! secure sinner, the state in which you are, is that of a criminal condemned to death, temporal, spiritual, and eternal. Do not say, " I hope, that is not my state:" for you "are of the works of the law;" you are depending on your own works, for a title to the favour of God, and the happiness of heaven; and this renders it certain, that you are under the curse or condemning sentence of the law; for thus saith the Spirit of inspiration, " As many as are of the works of the law, are under the curse.'' O renounce, and that without delay, all dependence on your own works. Believe that, the Lord Jesus with his righteousness and salvation, is freely, wholly, and particularly, offered to you; and, relying on his consummate righteousness alone, for all your right to justification and salvation, trust in him, not only for deliverance from the curse of the law, but for complete salvation. So shall you become dead to the law of works, and, in union with the second Adam, be instated in the covenant of grace.' pp. 277, 8.