The Marrow  On Law And Gospel

Now, the law is a doctrine partly known by nature, teaching us that there is a God, and what God is, and what he requires us to do, binding all reasonable creatures to perfect obedience, both internal and external, promising the favour of God, and everlasting life to all those who yield perfect obedience thereunto, and denouncing the curse of God and everlasting damnation to all those who are not perfectly correspondent thereunto. But the gospel is a doctrine revealed from heaven by the Son of God, presently after the fall of mankind into sin and death, and afterwards manifested more clearly and fully to the patriarchs and prophets, to the evangelists and apostles, and by them spread abroad to others; wherein freedom from sin, from the curse of the law, the wrath of God, death, and hell, is freely promised for Christ’s sake unto all who truly believe on his name.

The Marrow of Modern Divinituy


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  1. Dr Clark,
    Does the Marrow man here infer that God still promises his favor and everlasting life to all those who yield perfect obedience? I think he does. And does he also infer that the curse of God which is upon the whole human race because we have all sinned in Adam would be denounced for that individual who kept the whole moral law perfectly? I think he does.

    I believe he is wrong on both accounts. The promise was only made to Adam and to us in him. Therefore, when he failed, we failed and there is no doing it over. Therefore death passed to all men for all have sinned.
    He is wrong in the second statement because in the personal keeping of the law there is no promise of atonement for past sins.

    Am I reading this man correctly?


  2. Hi Rick,

    There’s been debate about this in Reformed theology since at least the mid-17th century. Most have agreed that there are ways in which the promise implied in the covenant of works is abrogated and ways in which it isn’t.

    I think, to some degree, the differences are semantic.

    Scripture does say, “Do this and live.” Is there an implied promise in that? Well, yes and no. it is a reminder of the promise that was made but things have changed so we’re not able to meet the terms of the covenant any longer. If one says, on account of sin the promise isn’t really in effect since the outcome can never be realized by a sinner, then in that case it’s true the promise isn’t in effect, at least not in the same way.

    For sinners, the command/promise persists, however, more as a taunt than a genuine promise. To the sinless (Jesus), however, the promise is real and he fulfilled it.

    It’s a matter of parsing and defining.

    You should read the Marrow for yourself. It’s quite worth reading.

  3. Rick,

    Some have argued that the covenant of works was still operative after the fall alongside with covenant of grace; sort of a dual principles thing … Owen argues that the ‘covenantal’ nature of the CoW is no longer operative; i.e. life is not held out. But because of the Creator-creature distinction the law still remains and the curses that come with lawbreaking.

    I think Rollock may have argued for a dual principles (life held out for either perfect obedience or faith in Christ) thing but I’d have to check the sources! It all gets rather confusing when you then throw Sinai into the mix (no pun intended) since some have understood it belonging to the cov of grace (Calvin, Turretin) and some have argued that it is a different covenant altogether (Owen, Petto).

    However, I think Scott is right … sometimes the differences are semantic and Calvin still allows for the diversity of Sinai that Owen gives; he just doesn’t go as far in suggesting ‘another covenant’.

  4. Dr. Clark,
    Why do we have to force the principle of works and merit in the statement “do this and live”? This is the gracious covenant keeping God speaking in the midst of the instituted bloody types of his only Begotten son addressing his chosen people. Why not read, do this *by faith* and live? Just as we would normally read Ps. 119, interpreting all David’s law keeping as evangelical obedience.

  5. Rick,

    Because “do and live” is a different sort of word/speech than “it has been done for you.”

    When Jesus said “do and live” he was preaching the law in the 1st use. He wasn’t preaching the gospel nor was he preaching the law in the third use (“now that you have believed, go and live in the light of the gospel according to the law”).

    The modern refusal among some Reformed folk to get to grips with this distinction has created a good deal of havoc in Reformed thinking, preaching, and teaching.

  6. ps. Rick,

    The categories of merit and works are inherent in the law. That’s why our theologians consistently taught that Jesus merited our justification. That’s why we confess that Jesus’ merits are imputed to us. It’s not a matter of reading them into the law, it’s a matter of refusing to re-interpret the law, it’s a matter of refusing to make the law something that it isn’t. See the ch on the imputation of active obedience in CJPM for a much more complete explanation.

  7. Rick,

    I don’t think the intent and method is “forcing” the principle of works into those words. It comes from exegesis of Scripture. Paul seems to set it up as a works principle in Rom 10:5f and Galatians 3:10f (using the phrasing of Lev 18:5) when he identifies it as the righteousness by the law. And this is set in contrast with the righteousness that is by faith, not identified with it.

    Coming to think of it, to read in, as you suggest, “do this *by faith* and live,” would seem to amplify what Paul identifies as the righteousness by the law as, “The man who does these things *by faith* will live by them.” This would then be set in opposition to the righteousness by faith. Such a reading in the way you seem to want to take it (if I’m reading you correctly) might end up being nonsensical — Paul would then be saying, righteousness is by faith or by faith. But he doesn’t do that (“The law is not of faith…” Gal 3:12). Or, ironically, this reading would reinforce and amplify the point of the Marrow, since it would say that even our works done out of faith are not instrumental to our justification.

  8. Thanks Dr. Clark for your responses, and Mark and Darren. I know I would error if I held that by our evangelical obedience we live, because it is only by Christ fulfilling of the law and redeeming our souls by his death and it is only by his Spirit working in us that we can live by faith.
    Like you say, it is kind of yes and no. I live because he lives. I work, yet not I.
    Carry on men, I will read the Marrow. I read Mark’s , Samuel Petto book and I was shouting ‘right on’ in some places and in others moaning at his inconsistency.

    Be good,

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