Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Grace of Law by Ernest F. Kevan

Image of cover The Grace of Law (Puritanism)

The Grace of Law: A Study in Puritan Theology,
Ernest F. Kevan, Soli Deo Gloria, 1993, 294pp.

A confession. I'm something of a chronological snob. Not a full blown one, mind you. I count Augustine, Calvin, Owen and Bavinck among my favourite authors. But I'm a chronological snob none the less. Unless it's stuff that's over, say, a hundred years old, I have difficulty in reading anything other than recent publications.  This year's titles and last year's, yes. The year before that, maybe. But anything before 2009 is so out of date. It's an unfortunate quirk, I know, but there we are.

What to do, then with a book originally published in the 1960's and reprinted in 1993. That's neither decently old or fresh and up to date. Best leave it gathering dust on the shelf. But then I was sent a copy of the author's biography to review, Ernest Kevan: Leader in Twentieth Century Evangelicals, by Paul E. Brown (Banner of Truth, 2012) . How could I do a proper review of the subject's life  if I wasn't acquainted with his key book? Time to crucify my chronological snobbery, swallow hard and dust off The Grace of Law. Glad I did too. 

In their historical context the Puritans had to engage with three divergent, yet erroneous views on law of God.  They had to avoid the Scylla of the legalists, who taught salvation by law and the Charybdis of the antinomians, who rejected the law as a rule of life for believers. To make things more complicated, they also had to resist the Siren voices of the neonomians, who turned the gospel into a new, easier-to-keep version of the law. That all sounds very seventeenth century. But like the poor, legalists and antinomians are always with us in one form or another. And there is more than a passing resemblance between Richard Baxter's neonomian conception of the law and the position advocated by Tom Wright and his 'new perspective' fellow-travellers. The Puritans provide us with the theological resources to respond to contemporary versions of  the heterodox views on the law with which they had to battle.

Kevan ransacked the works of the Puritans in order to recover their thinking on the law of God. He provides a richly  detailed and nuanced study of the Puritan view of the law as an expression of God's commanding authority. Amongst other things he discuses the law and sin, the place of the law in the covenant purposes of God, the law and justification, and grace-enabled Christian law keeping. The Puritans did not regard the law of God as a burden on the believer. Rather, they taught that the joyful keeping of  the law is the authentic expression of  Christian liberty from the bondage of sin. In the words of William Perkins, "The more we are bound to obedience, the freer we are: because the service of God is not bondage, but perfect libertie." (Cited on p. 247-248). 

The Grace of Law, Kevan's Phd thesis makes for a demanding, yet rewarding read. If nothing else, his work has helped liberate me from my chronological snobbery against books that either aren't new enough or old enough to warrant my usual attention. Now I'm ready to make a start on the author's biography. 


Ben said...

I'll endorse that: it's a book well worth (re)reading, and one which would come near the top of my list to rescue if ever the house starts to burn down.

Gary Brady said...

The importance of being earnest, eh?

Guy Davies said...

SDG. Sorry, I deleted your comment by mistake when moderating comments on my phone ('Publish' is right above 'Delete'). Please submit your helpful comment again and I'll try not to zap it.

Peter Ratcliff said...

Many thanks. I am glad things like this still appear when searching in Google many years after you wrote this!