Thursday 7 May 2015

Freedom from the Law

William Gadsby (1773-1844) was a Particular Baptist preacher and hymn writer, for many years the beloved pastor of Rochdale Road Baptist chapel, Manchester. His vigorous gospel ministry brought him into inevitable conflict, especially his maintaining that as the gospel proclaims forgiveness of sins through Christ, and deliverance from the condemnation of the holy Law of God, believers are 'dead to the law' (Galatians 2:19). This, Gadsby stated, means that they are "in no sense whatever under it." Such a statement was seized on by his protagonists, already stirred up by his strong emphasis on the sovereign grace of God. To the charge of hyper-calvinist they now added the opprobrious term of antinomian - lawless. Andrew Fuller weighed in against him, and others including John Stevens, who otherwise was in sympathy with his theology.
Until now Gadsby's defence of his position has been locked up in the collated two volume 'Works of William Gadsby', printed by his son John Gadsby in 1851. This was never reprinted in full and is now scarce on the secondhand book market. CBO Publications have therefore rendered a valuable service in drawing together Gadsby's writings on the Law, which filled most of Volume One of his Works. This has been published as a 576 pp paperback 'Freedom from the Law', retailing for a modest £9.95. The editor has rearranged the articles - including 'The Perfect Law of Liberty' and 'The Gospel the Believer's Rule of Conduct' - into a more logical order, and included appendices containing the publications of his opponents which are referred to. It is worthy of note that Gadsby's articles are reprinted from their latest unedited editions published during his lifetime, thus avoiding John Gadsby's editorial pen. It accounts for cross-referenced page numbers being different from those found in Volume One of his Works. This however is a minor difficulty and overall the new format is welcome.
The subject of the Christian's relationship to the Law is still a live and hotly debated one in Reformed and Evangelical circles today. The Apostle Paul said 'we establish the law' (Romans 3:31) - but the question is, how and in what way? Is it by reassigning it to a role in governing Christian obedience, or in reaffirming it as the perfectly holy standard which exposes sin? The one view asserts its continuity in sanctification, the other its completion at justification. Gadsby is very clear as to where he stood on this vexed question and he strongly urged the point that the Law has been fulfilled by Christ on behalf of his people, so delivering them from its piercing claims. Justified by faith, believers are freed - not into a moral vacuum, but in fact to begin to 'live unto God' (Galatians 2:19). With spiritual wisdom, and a pastoral heart, Gadsby keeps to the main points, avoiding the many pitfalls that dot this doctrinal battleground. It was no mere intellectual contest for him; he wrote of what he had experienced for himself of Romans 8:2, and he knew that tender consciences in his congregations needed assurance and not disturbance with a revived Law. He is as equally Christ exalting in his aim in these writings on the Law as in his hymn compositions - the most well known today being 'Immortal Honours'.
This is not a book for philosophers; not every detail is pinned down, but it is a notable contribution to the subject, and more importantly, a spiritually profitable read.

Freedom from the Law by William Gadsby, CBO Publications, £9.95

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