The Solution to a Great Lot of Problems

marrow-of-modern-divinityAntinomianism and legalism will always be with us. They have plagued the church since the apostolic age (read Galatians and 1 Corinthians). In the seventeenth century, however, appeared a marvelous remedy for both: The Marrow of Modern Divinity. The adjective “modern” is misleading in our ears today as there’s nothing “modern” about this divinity. This is the good stuff. When Edward Fisher (see the excellent account by William VanDoodewaard in the volume) says “grace,” and “God” and “Christ” and “law” and “gospel,” nothing is watered down.

He’s not writing about mere subjective apprehensions or experiences but about objective, revealed truths and realities. This volume rocked the Scottish Presbyterian Church when it was republished in the 18th century by Thomas Boston (see Phil Ryken’s helpful introduction) because it put the gospel squarely before the church and exposed the moralism that was passing for Reformed Christianity. We need this volume more than ever today and we should all be thankful that the good folks at Christian Focus have produced an outstanding edition of The Marrow of Modern Divinity. This truly evangelical volume is remarkably well done. This would be a great gift for your pastor and, if he takes it to heart and it changes his preaching, it could be a great gift to the whole congregation! It’s in hardcover.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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44 comments

    • Against The Marrow? Saith who? Read it, my friend. Thomas Boston, the Erskines, and several of the Westminster Divines before them thought it was terrific. They were right.

      • As I understand, Dr. Clark, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland didn’t share your view of this work. It was condemned by the GA in 1719, 1720, and 1722 as being antinomian and “inconsistent with our Confession of Faith.”

        Are you able to shed a little light on why the GA consistently condemned this work? Also, why should we think that the Kirk of Scotland’s GA was wrong and Boston, the Erskines, and several Westminster divines are right? Shouldn’t the church’s judgment be of more weight than a handful of men?

          • Sure, I can go research the details myself. I didn’t ask for info cuz I wasn’t able to check a book out of the local library. That said, I sure think it’s interesting (read: ironic) that you taut the Marrow as a veritable key to orthodoxy – “the solution to a great lot of problems” – when it was condemned by the GA of the Kirk of Scotland no less than three times.

            Here’s the skinny: I brought it up to give you an opportunity to clear away the notion that a teaching is heresy if the church opposes it and YOU, Dr. Clark, think it’s wrong, but it’s not heresy if the church opposes it and YOU, Dr. Clark, think it’s right. One wonders what side of this controversy you would have been on, were you a churchman in Scotland in the early 18th century like you’re a churchman now. I mean, the Kirk of Scotland in 1720 isn’t exactly medieval Rome; it’s only thirty years since the Glorious Revolution, for the sake of dear Pete! Yet here you are opposing the voice of the GA of the Kirk.

            …maybe you’re closer to the CREC than you think you are!

            • The WCF says that synods & coucils do err.

              If you’ll listen to Ferguson’s lecture and/or otherwise relieve yourself of ignorance you’ll see why virtually all the Reformed churches concluded that the neonomian majority was & remains wrong on the substance of the issues.

              • Synods and councils do not create truth. They recognize it. They act ministerially. In the case of the GAs to which you refer the GAs did not recognize truth and since that time virtually all the Reformed churches (and I say virtually because I don’t know all the history of every single church) have recognized implicitly that those GAs erred. We know the reasons they erred. We know the assumptions under which they erred. We can see two analogous cases in recent years. In 1995 the CRC synod set aside the church order restricting pastoral office to females on the grounds that they were led by the Holy Spirit. This was part of a pattern of decisions that were contrary to the word. Seeing no hope of Reformation according to the Word many congregations and ministers left the CRC and formed the URCs. When Erskine left the Kirk of Scotland he did so for similar reasons. More recently the OPC GA erred, in m view, in judging Kinnaird not on the basis of what he had written and said prior to GA, but upon what he said on the floor of GA. Synods and councils do err. He convinced them that he hadn’t meant to say what he said and then started saying it again after GA. So, not long after that the OP GA constituted a study committee which repudiated his views.

                Confessional Reformed people are neither papist in their devotion to conciliar infallibility nor are we churchless evangelicals. We are Protestants who confess the perspicuity and normativity of the Word and we can see it when Synods and councils fail to act according to the Word. In the case of the Scottish GAs in the Neonomian controversy it was evident that they were blinded by bad assumptions combined with moralism. The views of the majority were not too far distant from the FV errors. I’m grateful for Boston and the others who resisted the moralism of their day.

                Thankfully the moralist majority has been forgotten and the gospel ministry and preaching of Boston, the Erskines, and the others lives on.

    • As Gil Garcia points out the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRCA) are against it as well as other here and there Christians that are in agreement with Hoeksema but not part of the PRCA. I.e. Hyper-Calvinists…they are still around…some can also be found in NAPARC churches, believe it or not. Hence the great need for this book still…not just for historical curiosity! However the Marrow Theology is firmly grounded in the Word of God.

    • Without wasting my time reading another PRCA screed, let me guess what it says . . . the free/well-meant offer is not Reformed because we say so, the Marrow Men believed this, ergo, the Marrow Men are un-Reformed.

      • It’s interesting to me how men who disparage logic and therefore systematic theology are willing to use logical syllogisms once in a while (even if it be in jest). If only these men used logical syllogisms when dealing with the errors of common grace, the “free offer”, analogical knowledge (whatever that is), paradox, etc…, they would have half a chance warding off the false gospel of the FV, particularly when it is within their own denomination. Men like this are usually silly and always weak.

      • Yes … please do not waste your time … continue to follow blindly the babble set forth by the Marrow babblers that throughout history has show itself to be nothing but a bone cancer which bit by bit weakens the distinctively reformed faith and replaces it here and there with the same old vomit from hell … arminianism and semi pelagianism.

        “From all this, the central issues in the Marrow controversy are clear.

        In the first place, the idea of preaching as generally taught involved a conception of conversion and faith different from historical Reformed theology. Conversion in the line of the covenant is essentially no different from conversion when it is effected among the unchurched. It took place later in life and not in infancy, and it was preceded by a conviction of sin that was not the work of saving grace, but resulted from the preaching and an accompanying preparatory grace. It brought a man into a state of conviction in which he hungered and thirsted for righteousness and sought escape from the burden of sin and guilt that afflicted his tortured conscience.

        By this view of preparatory grace, a certain common grace was introduced into the thinking of the church and was made responsible for acts in the unregenerate that Scripture assigns only to the regenerate child of God.

        In the second place, the Marrow Men spoke of the offer as necessary to the troubled sinner that he could have no reason why he should not come to Christ. The offer was not merely the proclamation that set forth Christ as the God-ordained way of salvation. The offer was a “warrant” to believe in Christ. The Marrow Men wanted to press home the demands of faith not only, but to do this by giving to everyone the right to believe in Christ. Everyone had not only the obligation to believe, but also the right. In this way they thought to urge upon sinners the blessedness of finding salvation from sin in Christ. Thus the offer expressed God’s earnest desire to save all. It revealed God’s intention to make all partakers of Christ. It spoke of God’s love that extended to all.

        In the third place, this necessarily involved a conception of the atonement. By their distinction between the statements, “Christ died for all” and “Christ is dead for all,” they gave a certain universality to the atonement; for though they denied the former statement, they maintained the latter. The atonement was not only sufficient for all, but it was intended for all by God, for it was a manifestation of a universal love of God for all. It thus established the warrant for all to believe; and in this way it was also made available for all.

        In the fourth place, this all involved a certain view of predestination that was essentially Amyrauldian. The counsel of God with respect to predestination contained a determinative decree and a hypothetical decree. The former belonged to God’s secret will and the latter to God’s revealed will. It was especially the latter that was proclaimed through the preaching. But the revealed will of God expressed God’s will as desiring the salvation of all who hear the gospel.

        Finally, all this in turn introduced a conditional salvation into the work of God. The Marrow Men claimed that by making this salvation conditioned upon faith, they in fact made the work of salvation particular because only the elect actually came to faith. But the fact is that the whole work of salvation was made dependent upon man’s work of faith (even though the Marrow Men denied this), because one had to explain how only some were saved when in fact God desired the salvation of all, earnestly urged all to come to Christ, and provided an atonement which was sufficient for all, intended for all and available to all, In fact, this atonement was the warrant for a man to believe and gave him the right to come unhesitatingly to Christ. Why then do not all come? They do not all come because they do not all exercise saving faith.

        It is true that the Marrow Men taught that saving faith was worked in the hearts of the elect of God. And it was in this way that they hoped to escape the charge of Arminianism. But this will not work. And it will not work for two reasons. In the first place, how is it to be explained that God on the one hand desires to save all and expressed this desire in the preaching of the gospel; and on the other hand actually gives faith and saves only a select few? The Marrow Men, as the Amyrauldians before them, resorted to a distinction in the will of God to make this plain, but such a distinction sets God in opposition to Himself as being One Who on the one hand desires to save all, and on the other hand, desires to save only some. In the second place, by making faith the condition of salvation, faith is set outside the work of salvation. If it is true that God desires to save all, but that only such are saved who actually believe, then it is also true that the blessings of salvation are dependent upon faith. Then faith is not one of the blessings of salvation, but is a condition to salvation. One cannot have it both ways. Faith is either the one or the other. It is either part of salvation or a condition to salvation; but both it cannot be. In separating faith from the benefits of salvation, as they had necessarily to do, the Marrow Men made faith the work of man. No pious talk of faith as the work of God would alter this fundamental truth.

        The Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia is correct, when it finds these “ambiguities” in Marrow thought:

        1. “Christ has taken upon Him the sins of all men” and being a “deed of gift and grant unto all mankind” is not a universal purchase of the death of Christ, therefore it logically follows that –

        2. the saving deed of gift and grant of Christ to all mankind is effective only to the elect, i.e., an infallible redemption gifted to all secures only a portion of its objects.

        3. “A deed of gift and grant to all is only an offer.” In other words Christ is gifted to all, without that He died for them.

        4. Since the gift of Christ to all is not a benefit purchased by the atonement, the substance of the free offer of the gospel does not consist of Christ as Redeemer, but only as a Friend. 62

        The Marrow Men were rightly condemned by the General Assemblies of the Scottish churches. They had attempted to introduce into the church ideas that were foreign to the historic faith of Calvinism and had attempted to bring the church into an Amyrauldian theological position. That the Marrow Men could have had such influence on subsequent Presbyterian thought is hard to understand, especially in the light of the fact that their views stand condemned by the church. Those Presbyterians who have their roots in the Scottish churches ought to take note of the fact that, insofar as they teach the offer as maintained by the Marrow Men, they run contrary to their own adopted theological position. ”

        Prof. H. Hanko – The History Of The Free Offer

  1. Rev. Hyde,

    As a scholar/pastor please show us who, where, how, etc. You are a excellent writer don’t let this get to you, do your work as a biblical elder; this means using your God given time (there is no such thing as wasted time)and your gifts for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, etc.

    If the PRCA are wrong, anyone, please lets us know where.

    Brethren, lets be fair!

    ..in humility correcting those who are in opposition 2 Tim. 2:25

  2. Thanks for this notice! I have the work on my laptop, but nothing beats having a something like this in print format. Looks like I’ve found my Christmas present.

    Btw, if you have not yet had a chance to read/review the new (and first) English translation of John Calvin’s sermons on the opening seven chapters of the Book of Acts you should get around to it. Some very good stuff in there.

  3. Sorry Edgar. Try again. Maybe this time you could consult Mr. Hyde and apply some of that silly logic, for that was some serious contradiction. But then again, other than Paul, who ever said one’s word cannot be both yes and no?

  4. Dr. Clark,

    Does this edition of “The Marrow” that you posted on the Heidelblog (Christian Heritage?) have Thomas Boston’s notes and footnotes in it?

    Also- Happy Thanksgiving!

    Chuck Fry

    • Yep, it’s on my gift list as well. Perhaps we have rich relatives who’ll take pity on us…

  5. I assume you meant “on” in the place of “only”

    “…judging Kinnaird not only the basis of what…”

  6. Is the paper quality on this edition good? Christian Focus has had some very poor quality paper on some of their paperbacks – e.g. Owen’s The Mortification of Sin.

  7. Ray,

    You sound like an incipient hyper-Calvinist, wresting the mysteries of particular redemption and the fact that we are commanded to preach the Gospel to every creature in a strange manner.

    Maybe the “Marrowmen” veered slightly in the other direction. The purpose is to get the godly and biblical balance that the Lord and the Apostles had.

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