Book Review: A Treatise on the Law and the Gospel, by John Colquhoun
Having never before read any of John Colquhoun's considerable output, and only having, for that matter, a very sketchy idea of his place and significance in Reformed history, I was eager to get into what I thought could not but be his most important work, a treatise on the sum of biblical revelation, considered under the headings of Law and Gospel; but if I was eager beforehand, my enthusiasm only grew from the first page and on. â€œHow,â€ I wondered, â€œdid so insightful, meticulous, and applicational a writer escape my notice for so long?â€. The treatise was a feast, and served further to drive home to me the unparalleled tendency of the historic Reformed faith to ground its adherents in the vast and glorious freedom of the Gospel, and always in such a way as not to minimize a life of practical holiness, but rather to excite and encourage true piety and devotion. I would earnestly recommend A Treatise on the Law and the Gospel to anyone at all, and in order to lend force to my recommendation, I would mention a few outstanding features of the work
First, Colquhoun is thorough, precise, and virtually exhaustive in his treatment of his subjects. His definitions and descriptions of the various ways in which the terms â€œLawâ€ and â€œGospelâ€ are employed throughout the scriptures read almost like John Owen; not only does he lay out in good and logical order the major facets of each topic, he is diligent to bring in every nuance and explain every passage that may seem, at first glance, not to fit. In a word, he leaves no stone unturned in his search of a full-orbed biblical understanding of his theme.
Second, the theme of his treatise, Colquhoun would suggest, is one upon which all of salvation, eternal life, true godliness, and every other profitable thing, directly depends. Just about every error and heresy in the Church, it would seem to him, may be said to derive from a confusion of Law and Gospel, or an illegitimate commingling of justification and sanctification. And even apart from rank heresy and apostasy, every true believer's growth in holiness and in the assurance of his acceptance with God is directly related to his ability to distinguish between the Law and the Gospel, and to put either to its appropriate uses.
Third, Colquhoun writes upon a subject which is, in the first place, at the very heart of what it means, in a historic sense, to be Reformed; and in the second place, which is very often obscured or misunderstood today. His candid and well-supported discussions of such themes as the eternal moral Law of God in its natural expression in the consciences of all men, in its first publication in the Covenant of Works made with Adam, in its republication on Mount Sinai, and in its necessary ongoing validity with respect to all creatures, simply as creatures, are not just foundational to Reformed Covenant Theology, but they are terribly misunderstood and frequently maligned today. But as Colquhoun convincingly demonstrates, this understanding of the eternal, moral Law of God is a necessary foundation for understanding the true nature of the Gospel and what it entails and promises, how practically to live a life of true holiness and genuine assurance of God's gracious favor, and many other such things. In the broad world of Christianity today, there are relatively few places in which both solid assurance of grace and fervent devotion to practical piety co-exist, not just in harmony, but in a relationship in which each reinforces and stirs up the other. Is this because the Law and the Gospel, in all their complementary nuances and perfectly harmonious but distinct operations are rarely understood in precise detail? Colquhoun certainly seems to suggest that this is the case, and I think with good reason.
When I think about it, I don't believe there's any problem a believer could come to me seeking counsel for, that it could not be helped in some way by this treatise. Whether lingering doubts or fears, faltering progress in sanctification, those bipolar twins of legalism and antinomianism, or any other specific problem, a clearer understanding of the terrible holiness of the Law, the utter freeness of the Gospel, and the way in which the two relate, showcasing and reflecting the honor of each other, and driving every person to one or the other according to the specific needs of his case, will certainly prove to be of inestimable value.
A Treatise on the Law and the Gospel: available at Monergism Books