Every Work Excluded (Colquhoun)

A Treatise on the Law and Gospel by [Colquhoun, John] One of the great themes of the Reformation – and of the Apostle Paul – was that a sinner is justified not by works, but only by faith in Christ.  In other words, a sinner is justified by faith alone in Christ alone, not by any sort of obedience to the law in any way, shape, or form.  Here’s how John Colquhoun (d. 1827) summarized this point that Paul emphasized in Galatians:

The great design of our Apostle, then, was to draw them [the readers] off from their false views of the law; to direct them to right conceptions of it in its covenant form in which it can admit of no personal obedience as a condition of life, but such as is perfect — and so to destroy their legal hope as well as to confute their wrong notions.

In other words, Paul was telling the Galatian Christians that when a person thinks he can gain salvation from works of the law, he has a false view of the law.  In this way, Paul destroyed their “legal hope” and their “wrong notions” of the law.  Colquohoun continues:

By the reasonings of the apostle upon this subject, it is manifest that every evangelical, as well as every legal, work of ours is excluded from forming even the smallest part of a man’s righteousness for justification in the sight of God. It is evident that even faith itself as a man’s act or work, and so comprised in the works of the law, is thereby excluded from being any part of his justifying righteousness (see the Westminster Confession of Faith XI:I).

When Paul says that all works are excluded, that means we can’t even claim that faith is a sort of work that contributes to our justification.  More:

It is one thing to be justified by faith merely as an instrument by which a man receives the righteousness of Christ, and another to be justified for faith as an act or work of the law. If a sinner, then, relies on his actings of faith or works of obedience to any of the commands of the law for a title to eternal life, he seeks to be justified by the works of the law as much as if his works were perfect.

If he depends, either in whole or in part, on his faith and repentance for a right to any promised blessing, he thereby so annexes [adds] that promise to the commands to believe and repent as to form them for himself into a covenant of works. Building his confidence before God upon his faith, repentance, and other acts of obedience to the law, he places them in Christ’s stead as his grounds of right to the promise; and so he demonstrates himself to be of the works of the law, and so to be under the curse (Galatians 3:10).

Justification by faith alone, as Scripture teaches, means the sinner doesn’t contribute anything towards his justification.  Like the Heidelberg Catechism says,

“It is not because of any value that my faith has that God is pleased with me.  Only Christ’s satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness make me right with God.  And I can receive this righteousness and make it mine in no other way than by faith alone” (Q/A 61).

The above quote is found in John Colquhoun, A Treatise on the Law and the Gospel, p. 19-20.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI


The Agreement Between the Law and the Gospel

Image 1 In historic Reformed theology, the moral law has a very important place in the life of the Christian.  One use of the law is that it shows us our sin and drives us to Christ (Rom. 3:20, Gal. 3:23-26).  The law is distinguished from the gospel in that it cannot justify, redeem, or provide a remedy for sin like Christ does in the gospel.  As far as justification goes, the Christian is no longer under the law, but grace (Rom. 6:14); the Christian is not in a covenant of works by which he must earn his salvation, but is in the covenant of grace, where salvation is freely given and received by faith alone (WCF 19.6).

However, Christians do not throw the law out just because it cannot justify us or save us.  On the contrary, the law is a delight to the Christian – it is a lamp in his life to tell him what pleases God and what doesn’t (Ps. 119:105, 174).  The law is of “great use to [true believers] …as a rule of life informing them of the will of God, and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly” (WCF 19.6).  In fact, the law (as a mirror of sin and as a guide for the Christian life) sweetly complies with the gospel (WCF 19.7).  In Reformed theology, we distinguish between justification and sanctification, but we do not separate the two; a similar statement might be said of the law and the gospel.  Reformed theology is neither legalistic (we distinguish between the law and the gospel) nor antinomian (we also see agreement between the law and the gospel).

Thomas Watson said it like this in his introduction to the Ten Commandments:

“Though the moral law be not a Christ to justify us, it is a rule to instruct us. …We do not say the moral law is a Christ, but it is a star to lead to Christ.  We do not say that it saves, but sanctifies.  They who will not have the law to rule them, shall have the law to judge them.  …The moral law is the copy of God’s will, our spiritual directory.”

“The moral law requires obedience, but gives no strength (as Pharaoh required brick, but gave no straw), but the gospel gives strength; it bestows faith on the elect, it sweetens the law, it makes us serve God with delight.” …Though the moral law is not our Savior, it is our guide.  Though it is not a ‘foedus’, a covenant of life, yet it is a ‘norma’, a rule of life.” …They who will not have the law to rule them, shall never have the gospel to save them.”

John Colquhoun made these similar statements in his book under the subheading, “The Agreement Between the Law and the Gospel”:

“The law, as a covenant of works and a rule of life, demands nothing of sinners but what is offered and promised in the gospel; and in the gospel everything is freely promised and offered to them which the law, in any of its forms, requires of them.  …While it [the gospel] reveals and offers righteousness to satisfy the law as a covenant, it promises and offers strength to obey the law as a rule. …Thus, in general, the law and the gospel agree together or mutually subserve each other.”

“Whatever the law requires, the gospel, in the most abundant measure, supplies. …The law in the hand of the Spirit renders the grace of the gospel precious and desirable in the eyes of convinced sinners; and this grace, when it is received, makes the law salutary and pleasing to them.  …What the law as a rule of life binds [Christians] to perform, the grace of the gospel constrains and enables them to do so.”

“When a man spiritually discerns and sincerely loves the grace of the gospel, at the same time he sees and loves the holiness of the law.  The consequence will be that he will sincerely and cheerfully obey the law.  …Everyone, then, who knows by experience the boundless grace of the gospel will perform sincere, cheerful, and constant obedience to the law as a rule.”

John Colquhoun, A Treatise on the Law and the Gospel, chapter 8.

shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond wi

The Law/Gospel Distinction in Scotland Part 2

What are the major differences between the law and the gospel?  Joel Beeke summarizes John Colquhoun’s 11 distinctions:

1) The law proceeds from the very nature of God; the gospel from his love, grace, and mercy, or his good will to men.

2) The law is known partly by the light of nature, but the gospel is known only by divine revelation.

3) The law regards us as creatures who are capable of yielding perfect obedience; the gospel regards us as sinners who have no strength to perform perfect obedience.

4) The law shows us what we ought to be but not how to become holy; whereas the gospel shows us that we may be made holy through communion with Christ and by the sanctification of his Spirit.

5) The law says, ‘Do this and you shall live;’ the gospel says, ‘Live, for all is already done, believe and you shall be saved.’

6) The law promises eternal life for man’s obedience; the gospel promises eternal life for Christ’s perfect obedience.

7) The law condemns but cannot justify a sinner; the gospel justifies but cannot condemn a sinner who believes in Jesus Christ for salvation.

8) The law, by the Spirit, convicts us of sin and of unrighteousness; the gospel presents the perfect righteousness of Christ to justify a sinner before God.

9) The law shows the sinner that his debt is infinitely great and he can make no payment toward that debt; the gospel tells the sinner that, by Christ’s obedience as his divine Surety, his debt is paid to the last penny.

10) The law irritates the depravity of the sinner and hardens his heart; the gospel melts the sinful heart and subdues depravity.

11) The law, when obeyed, prompts boasting; the gospel discourages all boasting because of the law of faith.

John Colquhoun, A Treatise on the Law and the Gospel, p. xv-xvi.

(Part one of this post is found HERE).

rev. shane lems

The Law/Gospel Distinction in Scotland

John Colquhoun (d. 1827) was a minister in the Church of Scotland for 46 years.  Colquhoun was influenced by Thomas Boston and ended up writing quite a few books on theological topics like the covenant of grace, the covenant of works, repentance, and faith.  Below is a selection from his Treatise on the Law and the Gospel (published in 1816).

“By ‘the law’ here is meant the moral law as a covenant of works, and by ‘the gospel’ is meant the gospel in its strict and proper sense.”

“To know the difference so as to be able to distinguish aright between the law and the gospel is of the utmost importance to the faith, holiness, and comfort of every true Christian.  If he does not know the difference between the law and the gospel he will be apt, especially in the affair of justification, to confound the one with the other.  The consequence will be that in his painful experience, bondage will be mixed with liberty of spirit, fear with hope, sorrow with joy, and death with life.  If he cannot so distinguish the gospel from the law as to expect all his salvation from the grace of the gospel, and nothing of it from the works of the law, he will easily be induced to connect his own works with the righteousness of Jesus Christ in the affair of justification.”

“This was the error of the Judaizing teachers in the churches of Galatia.  They mingled the law with the gospel in the business of justification, and thereby they so corrupted the gospel as to alter the very nature of it and make it another gospel.”

Next time I’ll give a summary of Colquhoun’s law/gospel distinction in various points.  The above quote is found in John Colquhoun, A Treatise on the Law and the Gospel, 141.

rev shane lems