The Marrow Controversy
My notes on Sinclair Ferguson’s lectures on the marrow controversy.
The full text of Fisher’s book The Marrow of Modern Divinity, including Boston’s notes, is available online.
Antinomianism and legalism were surface issues. The book itself was a surface issue — Boston claimed surface only. The gospel and grace were at stake.
- marrow controversy opens question of nature of grace and offer of gospel
- opens rlsp between saving faith and assurance (Ferguson will not speak much on this)
- it opens answer of grace of gospel to legalism
- it opens answer of grace of God to antinomianism
These men were confusing the fruit of grace with qualifications for grace, turning the free grace of god in the gospel upon its head and distorting the message of the glorious grace of God.
Four errors written in to the position that the marrow men opposed, into which our reformed theology so readily slips.
- Christ was being separated from his benefits in the preaching of the gospel. Rather, the benefits of the gospel were being separated from Christ. Adopted a wrong starting place in thinking of the gospel: “To whom belong the benefits of the work of Christ?” But then concluded that we must offer the benefits only to the elect. Then we offer the gospel only to those who seem to show some sign of belonging to the elect.
But Christ himself in all his fullness and sufficiency to save all who come to him may be offered to all, even though the benefits be received only by those who believe. There is a savior, and in his death and resurrection he is sufficient to save all who come to him by faith.
This was the same error that Arminians fell into — “there is no well-meant offer”. Throughout scripture, Christ himself is offered to all men. We will never discover his benefits until we find him as savior and lord, clothed with the benefits of the gospel to all who receive him. He is magnified and glorified in the gospel.
Aside: this reminds me of Murray’s comments on union with Christ in Redemption Accomplished and Applied.
- Conditional offer of the gospel.
Conviction, faith, repentance, forsaking sin. These are fruit of conversion and grace. Only these enable us to forsake sin.
Forsaking sin cannot be a condition of hearing the offer of Christ. Conviction is not a condition men must meet, but is a means God powerfully uses in various ways and to various degrees.
Bunyan Pilgrim’s Progress — burden should be released at beginning of pilgrimage. Cross is right in front of us. We may cast ourselves upon it immediately.
We do not preach conviction as the warrant of faith. We must offer Jesus in all his sufficiency as the warrant of faith.
- God’s sovereign free grace became diminished, because God became conditional. God’s election and atonement and redemption is unconditional. Also, it is not the case that Jesus persuaded an unwilling Father to save us.
No conditionality in the fellowship of the trinity; no covenant within the trinity that “I will save them if you die for them”. So-called “covenant of redemption”. The father himself loved the world and gave his son for them. Jesus’s death is not the reason God loves us. He loved us first.
His love is wholly without condition. His grace is wholly free. Pharisees preached conditional salvation. Jesus invited those without to come to him unconditionally. It is not even an unconditional election that works through a conditional grace.
- It changes the character of pastoral ministry.
We know the pattern of grace, the ordo salutis. We have mastered the pattern of grace, but not been mastered by grace itself, so grace will not flow from us to others. Our ministry will be conditional!
Owen – knowledge of truth who have never been mastered by the power of the truth.
Does our love for orthodoxy prevent us from preaching unconditional grace, whether to unbelievers or to anguished believers? Are we more like the prodigal son’s father or brother?
Scottish Presbytery showed greater kindness to Arminianism, which proved to be a halfway house to full-blown legalism, than to those who reveled in the wonder of free grace. It was already going down the road to legalism.
Legalism is not an academic problem. It is a constant and prominent pastoral issue. It is “one of the most subtle and all-pervasive influences that can ever twist a man’s soul away from the gospel of Jesus Christ.” It is “the ultimate pastoral problem of all”, addressing the very lie about God that underlies Satan’s first temptation and our bondage to sin.
False idea of “covenant of works”, that God is restrictive and legalist. Even first covenant was a gracious covenant. Legalism is not the response to antinomianism/easy-believism. God’s glorious and free grace is.