Taken from J.V. Fesko’s book titled Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine, 32-34
One of the famous eighteenth-century debates that surrounded the doctrine of justification was the Marrow Controversy. The debate erupted in Scotland surrounding the republication of the a book entitled The Marrow of Modern Divinity. The book was likely written by Edward Fisher, a seventeenth-century theologian, and was published in two parts in 1645 and 1649. The book is a series of dialogues on the doctrine of atonement and the dangers of antinomianism and neonomianism. At the time of its publication, the book was recommended by two prominent Westminster divines, Joseph Caryl (1602-73) and Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646). Moreover, the author claimed to derive his work from the teachings of a number of prominent Reformed theologians including John Ball (1585-1640), Theodore Beza, Heinrich Bullinger (1504-75), John Diodati (1576-1649), Thomas Goodwin (1600-80), Thomas Hooker (1586-1647), John Lightfoot (1602-75), Martin Luther, Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499-1562), Wolfgang Musculus (1497-1563), William Perkins, Amandus Polanus (1561-1610), Robert Rollock (1555-99), and Zacharia Ursinus, to name a few. When the book was originally published, there was no uproar. The same cannot be said when it was republished in Scotland.
In Scotland in 1718 the book was republished because an English Puritan soldier brought the book with him into Scotland, and it eventually fell into the hands of Thomas Boston (1676-1732). Boston was so pleased with the work that he and a colleague had the work republished. The book displeased a number of ministers who apparently held neonomian views and therefore condemned the book for its supposed advocacy of antinomianism. A careful reading of the book will reveal that it did not advocate antinomianism, but rather set forth sola fide. Like Calvin before, Fisher was careful to distinguish but not separate justification and sanctification and recognize that sinful man is justified by faith alone to the exclusion of works:
[Fekso quoting The Marrow of Modern Divinity] “Therefore, whensoever, or wheresoever, any doubt of question arises of salvation, or our justification before God, there the law and all good works must be utterly excluded and stand apart, that grace may appear free, and that the promise and faith may stand alone: which faith alone, without law or works, brings thee in particular to the justification and salvation, through the mere promise and free grace of God in Christ; so that I say, in through the mere promise and free grace of God in Christ; so that I say, in the action and office of justification, both law and works are to be utterly excluded and exempted as things which have nothing to do in that behalf. The reason is this: for seeing that all our redemption springs out from the body of the Son of God crucified, then is there nothing that can stand us in stead, but that only wherewith the body of Christ is apprehended. Now, forasmuch as neither the law nor works, but faith only, is the thing which apprehends the body and passion of Christ, therefore faith only is that matter which justifies a man before God, through the strength of that object Jesus Christ, which it apprehends.”
Despite the book’s careful delineation between justification and sanctification the Assembly of the Church of Scotland condemned it as antinomian. Nevertheless, there were a number of minister, including Thomas Boston, who cam to the book’s defense, noting that it simply contained doctrinal truths couched in scriptural language and in phrases taken from Reformed confessions and catechisms. The Assembly eventually rebuked those who defended the book, but no further action was taken and the controversy eventually dissipated.
Marrow men unite!