Friday, March 20, 2020

Colquhoun's The Law and the Gospel, part 1

Years ago I read John Colquhoun's book, A Treatise on the Law and the Gospel, written in the early 1800s and recently published (2009) by Soli Deo Gloria Publications.

I decided to re-read this book, having studied many aspects of theology in the past 8 years. Below are my observations of the first half of chapter one. Lord willing, I will write up notes on the balance of the book over the coming weeks.

In the Publisher' Introduction to the 2009 edition published by Soli Deo Gloria Publications, Joel Beeke said "Colquhoun was a Reformed experiential preacher. His sermons and writings reflect those of the Marrow brethren".

In chapter 1, Colquhoun recognizes that "law" has diverse meanings in Scripture. He says law "is used to signify the declared will of God, directing and obliging mankind to do that which please Him, and to abstain from that which displeases Him. This, in the strict and proper sense of the word, is that law of God; and it is divided into the natural law and the positive law."  (page 1) He uses the classic papists and Reformed terms of moral, ceremonial, and civil law but does not divide them in the usual way; this makes following his arguments somewhat difficult.

He says the Old Testament Sabbath, which took place on the 7th day of the week, was altered to the first day under the New Testament (page 2) - but this is a passing comment with no reference to Scripture. There is no Scripture which supports this idea. He repeats this assertion on page 3, saying "It was upon moral ground that Christ the Mediator proceeded when He changed the seals of the covenant of grace, altered the Sabbath from the seventh to the first day of the week, and instituted new ordinances of worship and government for His Church." Note this "standard Reformed fare" as Joel Beeke calls it: the covenant of grace encompasses everything and is only modified by the advent and sacrifice of Christ; whereas the Scripture tells us the Old Covenant was ended as the New Covenant pushed it aside (Hebrews 8:7 & 13). Why Reformed paedobaptists do this becomes clear as one reads more of their material: they must draw equivalence between the ekklesia of the New Covenant and that of the Old in order to establish a connection between circumcision of the flesh and water baptism. They ignore that the ekklesia of the New Covenant is all and only the believing while the ekklesia of the Old Covenant included all who underwent that religious rite of fleshly circumcision. And entrance into the New Covenant comes by circumcision of the heart, not water baptism. There are similarities but there are differences; this is the case in comparing shadow and substance.

Colquhoun goes on to say Adam was as the redeemed are, using Col 3:10 and Eph 4:24 to claim "God, then, created man in His own moral image by inscribing His law, the transcript of His own righteousness and holiness, on man's mind and heart." (page 3). Note how he inserts "moral" to modify image to make a connection to his "moral law." I find nothing in the Bible that hints at any law being inscribed on Adam's heart; we have Reformed presupposition so they can build their case to strap the Law of Moses on the backs of the saints.

On page 8 our author that the law transcribed on Adam's heart was "much obliterated" and "continues still to be, in a great degree, defaced and even obliterated in the mind of all His unregenerate offspring." Hence, when Jesus said (Hebrews 8:10) that He would write His laws on the hearts of His people, Colquhoun claims this means the law given to all men is merely inscribed "anew on the hearts of the elect." If this were true, would not we read that Jesus would re-new the law on our hearts? The author tells us "The law of creation, or the Ten Commandments, was, in the form of a covenant of works, given to the first Adam after he had been put into the garden of Eden. ... An express threatening of death, and a gracious promise of life, annexed to the law of creation, made it to Adam a covenant of works proposed; and his consent, which he as a sinless creature could not refuse, made it a covenant of works accepted." (pages 10 & 11) Pay attention to the theology of the white space: nowhere do we read that Adam was promised life if he obeyed the ONE COMMAND (not ten) given to him; nowhere do we read that Adam was given the opportunity to accept (or reject) the one command. "And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.”" (Genesis 2:16-17). No promise of eternal life upon obedience, but a sober warning that death would come if he disobeyed that one command which is NOT written on the tablets of stone. Yet Colquhoun asserts that this passage "was, in effect, a summary of all the commands of the natural or moral law; obedience to it included obedience to them all, and disobedience to it was a transgression of them all at once." (page 12) This shows up on pages 18 and 22 as well. When you derive your theology from your system, rather than from the Bible, you will make bold, unsupportable claims that must be blindly accepted or taken in merely by human wisdom; those "good and necessary inferences" which are used to paper over the white spaces upon which the system rests.

Further, if Adam had been given the Decalogue, he would have known good and evil before the Fall for the law brings knowledge of sin. He did not know both good and evil until after he ate the forbidden fruit. After the Fall, after the curses spoken by God, we read, "The LORD God said, “Since man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil, he must not reach out, take from the tree of life, eat, and live forever.”" (Genesis 3:22) Adam was in a state of innocence before the Fall, not knowing good and evil. He knew the goodness of God and when he sinned, he knew good and evil, for evil was in his being.

Colquhoun's covenant of grace, being "standard Reformed fare," includes the Old Covenant, as he references obligations therein, found in Romans 9:31-32. He claims that every man is in this covenant and subject to its curses for disobedience! He continues with his alleged promise of life to Adam, saying, "That a promise of life was made to the first Adam, and to all his natural descendants in him, on condition of his perfect obedience during the time of his probation." (pages 14 & 15).  This latter statement is "supported" by a citation of Matthew 19:17 and Luke 10:28 wherein Jesus told Jews they would have life if they obeyed the law of Moses perfectly (page 16). He ignores the context of these passages and asserts they describe Adam's situation, as if redemptive history was an all-in-one bucket that applies to everyone at all times.

Our author is not bereft of solid teaching; we read this on page 19 speaking of those trusting in their own works for justification: "they perverted both the law and the gospel, and formed them for themselves into a motley covenant of works."

Again he asserts that the "law of nature" given to all men is the Decalogue (page 25), contradicting the biblical witness that the tablets of stone were given to national Israel and not to any other people. It IS true that the "law of nature" (which I term God's universal law) is from God and reflects the same character, but the law is not the same as that given to national Israel. Why is it inconceivable for some to see that God DOES give different laws to different people? There's no record of the Mosaic Law, in part or whole, being given to the Syrians or any other pagan nation. Why insist the Decalogue is anything more than what the Bible clearly teaches it to be - the testimony of the covenant with national Israel (Exodus 31:18, 32:15, 34:27 - 29). Consider this one aspect: the Bible tells us the weekly Sabbath was a sign between God and national Israel of the covenant He had made with them (Exodus 31:12-18; Ezekiel 20:11-13; 18-21). With this being a biblical fact, how could the Sabbath be a sign to national Israel if it was given to all mankind?

Colquhoun digs this hole deeper by claiming (page 27) that "The Apostle Paul accordingly call it (the Decalogue) "the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2)." Consider the nature of the law written on the stone tablets: 8 prohibitions; one command to rest; one command to honor one's parents. This law was written on stone, given to people with stone hearts, who ended up worshiping God in a stone temple.

When the New Covenant came, the stone temple was destroyed, the stone tablets had been lost in anticipation of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 3:14-17), and all the members of this New Covenant have new hearts of flesh (the heart is not renewed, a new one is implanted - Ezekiel 36:24-32) with the new law written thereupon. And these people are the temple of the living God! Do you see the change from shadow to substance? The priesthood was also changed and with that change, a change of law was required: Hebrews 7:12 (HCSB) "For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must be a change of law as well." Jesus became the guarantee of a better covenant (Hebrews 7:22). Jesus obtained a superior ministry and to that degree (superior) He has become the mediator of a better covenant which has been legally enacted on better promises (Hebrews 8:6). For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion for a second one. By saying, a new covenant, He has declared that the first is old. And what is old and aging is about to disappear." (Hebrews 8:7 & 13) To say that the New Covenant is merely another part of the mythical "covenant of grace" which includes the Old Covenant is to ignore the explicit Biblical witness in favor of "good and necessary inferences." This is very bad theology and cannot be accepted.

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