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Kevan at Keswick

Category Book Excerpts
Date May 26, 2024

There is a great lack of clarity on the subject of the place of God’s law in the life of the believer. One man who sought to address this topic was Ernest Kevan, whose biography the Trust publishes. The following excerpt from the book describes how Kevan brought a Reformed view of God’s law to some circles in which confusion abounded:

‘In 1955, Kevan gave the Tyndale Lecture at Tyndale House. His subject was ‘The Evangelical Doctrine of Law’. The following year this was published as a Tyndale Monograph. 1955 also saw him at Keswick to give the Bible Readings once again. This time his subject was ‘The Law of God in Christian Experience: A Study in Galatians’. These addresses appear to have made a deep impression on those attending the convention; the Keswick Week for 1955 speaking of ‘upward of 4,000 people, of all ages, listening intently to the closely reasoned studies of the Rev. E. F. Kevan.’1Keswick Week (1955), p. 98.

We have already seen an evidence of his interest in the subject of God’s law, and it was one to which he gave a great deal of thought and study. This was the theme of studies which later led to a Doctorate of Philosophy degree from London University. For this he chose to look at the subject historically from the teaching of the Puritans. Several of the tutors in the College studied for a doctorate at around this time. Both Dermot MacDonald and Donald Guthrie received their PhD before he did.

Kevan’s choice of subject for his Bible Readings at Keswick raises the question whether he believed there was a particular need at that time to remind evangelicals of the law of God.

There is some evidence to suggest that he did. ‘Antinomianism’ is the name given to the view that the law is not a guide for the life of the Christian. In the published version of his PhD thesis he wrote of ‘the dispensationalist Antinomianism of certain schools of orthodoxy’, and ‘the evangelical Antinomianism of holiness movements’.2Kevan, The Grace of Law, p. 261. People influenced by dispensationalism and holding to varieties of holiness teaching were very likely to be present at Keswick.

In his second address, entitled, ‘Wherefore then serveth the law?’ he quoted from an older writer of the horrifying shock that the novelist George Eliot felt at the following incident. A woman, an evangelical, had told a lie and was confronted with it. ‘“Ah well,” she replied, “I do not feel that I have grieved the Spirit much.”’ Such an attitude was appalling to Kevan, too. He went on in his  sermon to apply each of the ten commandments, in a sentence or two, very directly to his hearers. For example: ‘What about our evangelical cliché, “God willing”? Do you mean it, or is this another taking of the name of God in vain?’3Ernest Kevan, The Law of God in Christian Experience (London: Pickering and Inglis, 1955), pp. 43-4.

It is, however, very important to understand precisely how he understood the believer’s relation to the law. In his final address, ‘So fulfil the law of Christ’, he said:

It cannot be said too often that law-keeping can never be the means of sanctification, but it will certainly be the result… The new life of the believer, expressed in a new and active obedience, is itself freedom. ‘For freedom did Christ set us free.’ ‘Oh how I love Thy law,’ cries the Christian. Love now binds him in a manner that legalism never could; but this ‘bondage’ is liberty itself. Love obligates him to an obedience to the will of God from which he has no desire to be released, and this is perfect freedom. As the liberty of a railway train is that it should keep to the track, and to jump the rails would bring nothing but disaster, so the believer, constrained by the love of God will run in the way of his commandments (Psa. 119:32). The Christian now does as he likes, but he has such a new and powerful set of likes that he is held to his Lord and Master in mightier ways than ever he had been held in his slavery to sin. His spiritual freedom is such as the musician experiences when the scales and exercises have become easy, and work has turned to play. The rules are lost in the delight of musical satisfaction.4Kevan, Christian Experience, pp. 77-9.


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