Dr. Ernest Kevan (1903-1965) was a Strict Baptist Minister, and Founder and Principle of London Bible College (now London School of Theology). He is best known for his often referenced PhD thesis, “The Grace of Law” which is a study of the Puritan’s understanding of The Moral Law. What follows is Pastor Guy Davies’ (Ebenezer Baptist Church, West Lavington, Wiltshire, England) review of this work.
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 But anything before 2009 is so out of date.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.