The Marrow of Modern Divinity is still worth reading today. It gives not only doctrine but great pastoral wisdom. Regardless of whether or not one reads the book, the issues remain current today. We must always guard the gospel against legalism and antinomianism. In resisting one, we must not fall into the error of the other. We must also proclaim the free offer of the gospel and yet to the saved, the gospel will bring transformation as one is united to Christ.
The book that started the “Marrow Controversy” was Edward Fisher’s The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher. It was first published in 1645 and 1649. In 1726, a new addition of the Marrow was published with the accompanying notes from Thomas Boston. This is the version that is republished today.
The general focus of the book is to guard against the twin dangers of legalism and antinomianism. The book does not read like a cold treatise but is set up as if various actors are speaking on the issues. The characters are given the names based on the position they represent: Evangelista for the Minister of the Gospel, Nomista for the legalist, Antinomista for an antinomian, and Neophytus for a young Christian. While the names themselves are not very creative, structure the book in dialogue makes it more engaging for the average lay reader, particularly in Fisher’s day.
The character of Evangelista is placed between Nomista and the Antinomista. In chapter 1, Evangelista discusses with Nomista the role of the Law as a Covenant of Works. But, then in chapter two, Evangelista dialogues with Antinomista concerning the Covenant of Grace and God’s purposes in grace. What one gets is a basic introduction to redemptive history.
Fisher’s work is filled with practical advise and tidbits that are relevant your Christian living today and current debates on the nature and role of sanctification. So for example, at one point Evangelista speaks of the common human tendency towards self-righteousness:
“Alas! there are thousands in the world that make a Christ of their works; and here is their undoing, &c. They look for righteousness and acceptation more in the precept than in the promise, in the law than in the gospel, in working than in believing; and so miscarry. Many poor ignorant souls amongst us, when we bid them obey and do duties, they can think of nothing but working themselves to life; when they are troubled, they must lick themselves whole, when wounded, they must run to the salve of duties, and stream of performances, and neglect Christ” (Marrow, 106).
One of the most important issues addressed in the Marrow of Modern Divinity, and the primary one that sparked the Marrow Controversy is the issue of the free offer of the gospel. The legalist, Nomista, is portrayed as one who wishes to see sufficient preparation in the life of the person before they believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Evangelista continually stress one must simply come to Christ.