Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Edward Fisher, The Marrow of Modern Divinity, Christian Heritage, 2009.

According to Derek Thomas, the Marrow ‘is one of the most important theological texts of all time’. Sinclair Ferguson states that ‘Anyone who comes to grips with the issues raised in the Marrow of Modern Divinity will almost certainly grow by leaps and bounds in understanding three things: the grace of God, the Christian life, and the very nature of the gospel itself.’ When Thomas Chalmers read it shortly after his conversion, he stated that he now had ‘a growing delight in the fullness and sufficiency of Christ. O my God, bring me nearer and nearer to him.’

This hardback edition has been produced in a very attractive and user-friendly format, which makes it easy to read the original text by Fisher alongside the later notes by Boston. There is also an informative essay detailing the process by which this book came to be written and how its author has been identified (to begin with, he was known by the initials EF), as well as a summary of what became known in Scotland as the Marrow Controversy.

Although the title contains the word ‘Modern’, the book is a classic from the Puritan period. Originally written in England, it became a major influence in Scottish evangelicalism through the instrumentality of Thomas Boston, who provided extensive comments throughout the work (in a 1726 edition), and the group of evangelical ministers to which he belonged (later called the Marrowmen). The book helped many understand the gospel afresh, especially because the Church of Scotland at that time was affected by a form of legalism that diminished the doctrine of justification and distorted why and how believers should obey God’s commandments.

Even before Boston’s discovery of the book, it had been highly regarded in evangelical Scottish spirituality: according to David McIntyre, it was read by many suffering believers during the days of the Covenanters and was of great help to Fraser of Brea. After Boston’s contribution, the Marrow quickly became very influential in Scottish evangelical church life and it took its place on the bookshelves of the pious, alongside Samuel Rutherford’s Letters, William Guthrie’s The Christian’s Great Interest, Thomas Boston’s Fourfold State and John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.

Its republication is timely because we live in a day when the Reformed doctrine of justification is again under attack and antinomianism is spreading even within Reformed churches (perhaps we should anticipate another round of legalism in response). Reading this classic work will help us, including ministers and preachers, appreciate the wonder of God’s way of salvation and the effects his grace has in the lives of his people. It contains a helpful discussion on the Ten Commandments.

The form the work takes is that of a dialogue between a Christian pastor and several individuals over matters connected to salvation, and we can see in their discussions many issues that trouble people today. The book will be useful in guiding readers towards assurance of salvation and protecting them from the many dangers antinomianism and legalism create.

It is also worth noting that a book written by an obscure author has stood the test of time. This is another reminder that a Christian does not have to seek prominence in order to provide sources of spiritual blessing, not only in his own day, but also in the days after he has gone.

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