Evangelical Repentance, The Marrow, And The Auchterarder Creed

How did the theological examination of a man in a presbytery (body of regional church elders) in a small town in Scotland in 1717 fuel a deep-seated theological schism among ministers in the Church of Scotland and result in a movement that still has bearing on the church in our day? In short, it was based on the Auchterarder Creed—a statement certain presbyters would ask those coming for ordination to affirm or deny. Though arguably a poorly worded statement, it read as follows:

“It is not sound and orthodox to teach that we must forsake sin in order to our coming to Christ.”

That particular question inevitably revealed something of what the ministers in the Church of Scotland at that time believed about the place of repentance in the life of one who wished to come to Christ for forgiveness and redemption. The concern of those who affirmed the Auchterarder Creed was that those who rejected it viewed repentance as a legal condition of the covenant of grace. In other words, those who opposed the creed functionally taught that the moral reformation of a sinner was necessary if he were to be welcomed by Christ for the forgiveness of his sins and the other benefits of the gospel. Those who affirmed the creed wanted to highlight the free grace of God extended to any sinner who came to Him for redemption. They certainly stressed the absolute necessity of repentance as a condition of covenant blessing, seeing it as the flip side of faith in Christ. However, they viewed it as an evangelical condition, rather than a legal condition, of the covenant. They were clear that in coming to Christ by faith for the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to God, men and women also come repenting. But those who affirmed the creed argued that men and women do not repent in order to come to Christ. Those who affirmed the creed were called the Marrow Men. Those who opposed the creed came to be known as Neonomians.

Among those who affirmed the creed were Thomas Boston, Ralph Erskine, Ebenezer Erskine, and John Colquhoun. These men came to be known as the Marrow Men on account of their adherence to the theology of a book that had been written by a member of the Westminster Assembly—Edward Fisher. The title of that book was The Marrow of Modern Divinity. This book, most highly prized by Boston, became the source of the theological controversy between the two groups of ministers in the Church of Scotland. The Church of Scotland would ultimately ban the book and forbid its ministers and parishioners from reading it. Boston would subsequently write notes on the content of the Marrow and publish a version of it with those notes included. He would say, “The Church of Scotland may have banned the Marrow, but it did not ban the Marrow with Boston’s notes!”
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Nick Batzig | “What Is Evangelical Repentance?” | June 2022


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6 comments

  1. It really comes down to cause and effect. Is faith and repentance necessary, as the cause of acceptance with God, or is it the necessary fruit, after coming to the apprehension of God’s undeserved gracious acceptance for the sake of Christ’s perfect obedience? It is absolutely fatal for our salvation if we fail to make that distinction.

  2. Not sure the author is correct about Edward Fisher being a member of the Westminster Assembly. Not sure he was even a minister. My understanding is that he was a barber.

    • William,

      I talked to Nick. You’re right Fisher was not a member of the assembly. According to William van Doodeward, Fisher was a barber or perhaps a surgeon (there was a lot of overlap between those two jobs) in the old Bailey.

      Nick’s not sure why he wrote what he did.

  3. I highly recommend “The Whole Christ” by Sinclair Ferguson for a very readable treatment of this controversy. The audiobook is well narrated, too.

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