Marrowmen: Our Good Works Are Not Instrumental Or Causal In Our Justification Or Salvation

“If a sinner, being justified, has all things at once that are necessary for salvation? And if personal holiness, and progress in holy obedience, is not necessary to a justified persons’s possession of glory, in case of his continuing in life after his justification?

…[F]or though the believer’s progress in holy obedience, by reason of the many stops interruptions, and assaults he frequently meets with from Satan, the world, and in-dwelling corruption, is far from being alike at all times, yet ‘the path of the just,’ though he frequently fall, will be ‘as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.’ Though he may, at time ‘become weary and faint in his mind,’ yet he shall he, by waiting on the Lord, ‘renew his strength, and mount up as with eagles’ wings,’ &c. But still the believer has all this in and from Christ: for whence can our progress in holiness come, but from the supply of his Spirit? Our walking in holy obedience, and every good motion of ours, must be in him, and from him, who is the Way and the Life, who is our head of influences, and the fountain of our strength, and who ‘works in us both to will and to do.’ ‘Abide in me,’ says he ‘and I in you. For without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered.’
But if the meaning of the query be, of such a necessity of holy obedience, in order to the possession of glory, as imports any kind of causality, we dare not answer in the affirmative; for we cannot look on personal holiness, or good works, as properly federal and conditional means of obtaining the possession of heaven, though we own they are necessary to make us meet for it.

These answers, contained in this and the preceding pages, (viz. of the manuscript given in,) are subscribed at Edinburgh, March 12th, 1722, by us,

James Hog, Carnock.
Thomas Boston, Etterick.
John Williamson, Inveresk.
James Kid, Queensferry.
Gabriel Wilson, Maxton.
Ebenezer Erskine, Portmoack.
Ralph Erskine, Dunfermline.
James Wardlaw, Dunfermline.
Henry Davidson, Galashiels.
James Bathgate, Orwel.
William Hunter, Lillieslead.

Edward Fisher, The Marrow of Modern Divinity, ed. Thomas Boston (Scotland, UK: Christian Focus Publications, repr. 2009), 358, 376.


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  1. I am totally flummoxed by the question marks, each following a conditional clause in the first paragraph – as Thomas Boston and the Erskines signed it, the deficiency must be with myself.
    Dr Clark, can YOU please explain what’s there?

      • I realise now they’re rhetorical questions. I haven’t read Marrow, only read and heard about it, and that only in connection with the Free Offer of the Gospel, which marrowmen (including, I am told, virtually every minister in the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, which is why one minister I know chose to join the Free Church instead – to his credit, he cast in his lot with the FCoSC) hold. I reconcile the Free, Sincere and Well-Intentioned Offer with Particular Redemption on the basis of Ecclesiastes 3:11 and Hebrews 13:8.
        I believe you have made the Marrow available?

  2. A Mr. Lee (Westminster Discount Books) out of New York published a soft version on his own out of a Korean establishment, and sold the Marrow (with Boston’s notes under the text). During the upheaval in the Presbytery of the NW of the OPC over re-publication I carefully read the first portion and the “Queries” brought by the GA to the 12 Marrowmen. It confirmed me in the law-gospel distinction as deeply rooted in covenant theology. Since then Christian Heritage re-typecast the text and published a beautiful hard volume in 2009. Just for the sheer joy of it I bought and am now reading this edition. I cross checked it at about 6 places in the text, footnotes and in the Queries and found it to be identical to Mr. Lee’s edition. Few things have impacted my theological formation and preaching like the Marrow of Modern Divinity. Etched in my mind with a broad smile is Boston’s note regarding the WCF proof-text of Lev.18:5 for the original covenant of works: “How, then, one can refuse the covenant of works to have been given to the Israelites, I cannot see.” Read and embrace the Marrow and you will never wonder off into mono-covenantalism, Murray’s re-casting of covenant theology, Federal Vision, Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy or any other insipid works righteousness program. The Marrow will fix your faith in the Pauline Gospel of grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. The Marrow is rich meat!

    • Which Murray is this? I hope you’re not going to disillusion me about the Murrays I’ve been led to believe are sound!?

      • Anthony,

        Mr Murray was quite sound and orthodox in his systematics but he was dissatisfied with traditional Reformed covenant theology and thus, arguably, set the stage for later problems. This is a debated question but it is beyond debate that, by the mid-1950s he set about to revise Reformed theology in significant ways, e.g., re “definitive sanctification” over against progressive sanctification, by re-casting the covenant of works solely as a “covenant of life” and defining all covenants as gracious and thus blurring the line between the covenants of works and grace.

        • I mean John Murray of Westminster East who concluded that “covenant” was solely a redemptive category and that God’s relationship with Adam was not a covenant but
          an administration. As such, as you indicated, he recast and confused covenant theology.
          This not only opened the door for further unfortunate developments but provided a distorted hermeneutic for understanding the Old Testament and its application to the Christian life.
          For example, seeing on the one hand the law as a standard for the Christian life (good) then on the other enforcing its threat sanctions of cursing for disobedience. (bad)

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