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How a Marrow Grew

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
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November 21, 2022 12:01 am

How a Marrow Grew

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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November 21, 2022 12:01 am

Do we need to forsake our sin before we can come to faith in Christ? Today, Sinclair Ferguson introduces us to a controversy from church history that shows how important it is that we understand the gospel rightly.

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Renewing Your Mind
R.C. Sproul

Controversy erupted in eighteenth-century Scotland over a book titled The Marrow of Modern Divinity. Twelve pastors became the focus of the dispute. One of the things the Marrow of Modern Divinity did for this group of men and for their preaching was to set them free from some of the misunderstandings of the gospel, which they had inherited from the kind of teaching and preaching that they themselves had heard. It was called the Marrow controversy, and it may not be something that comes up in daily conversation around your house, but it is quite relevant, and you'll find out why today here on Renewing Your Mind.

Welcome. We're glad that you could be with us. Dr. Sinclair Ferguson begins his teaching series titled The Whole Christ. The Scottish creed at the heart of this controversy caused quite a stir, and we can see that the questions it raised three centuries ago are still being asked today.

And one of those questions is this. How do we present Christ to unbelievers if we claim that He died only for the elect? Our teacher is Dr. Sinclair Ferguson. Well, welcome to this series of studies entitled The Whole Christ. The whole Christ is, of course, an English expression, but it's an expression that's been used throughout the history of the Christian church, largely, of course, in Latin, totus Christus. And it's an expression that was used from the days of the early fathers.

Augustine used it. It was used at the time of the Reformation to give emphasis to the fact that the Christian life is a life that's lived in union with Jesus Christ. One of the great texts for this, of course, was Ephesians chapter 1. We have been chosen in Christ as believers before the foundation of the world, and in Christ, we enjoy every spiritual blessing. We're given new birth, we are justified, we are redeemed, we are adopted, and ultimately, we're glorified. And one of the reasons the expression was used by Christian teachers and theologians was because they understood on the basis of the New Testament itself, but also from their pastoral experience, that so often Christians are diverted from the Lord Jesus Christ. Sometimes, as Martin Luther put it, even Christians become incurvatus in se, turned in upon ourselves. We begin to look at the blessings we have received rather than at the benefactor, our Lord Jesus Christ. And we're going to look at this together, not from the perspective of exegeting particular passages of Scripture, but from the point of view of historical theology and from a particular controversy that took place in the Scottish church in the early eighteenth century.

It was a Scottish controversy. Most Christians have never heard about it, but the issues involved in that controversy are issues that affect every single church of Jesus Christ and every single Christian believer. I remember my minister when I was a student saying to me, it takes a whole Bible to teach a whole Christ in order to make a whole Christian.

And that really is a saying worth remembering. But I want us to focus much more narrowly in our studies together on one or two issues that arise in our experience, perhaps also in our churches, when we lose sight of the fact that everything God has to give us, He gives to us in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. And the great message essentially is this, we must never look at the benefits that Christ gives to us without seeing them in the hands of the benefactor, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Because at the end of the day, we have them only in Him. And so we're going to be thinking about how Christ is offered to us in the gospel, how often Christian believers slip either into legalism or into antinomianism, and how it is that the whole Christ brings to us the assurance of salvation. In order to do that, I want you to imagine that you can come with me, not in an airplane, but in a time-traveling machine, back almost exactly 300 years to a little village in Scotland called Ochter Arder, where you might have joined some of the ministers and elders meeting in the Ochter Arder presbytery on the 12th of February 1717. As you probably know, the presbytery is the group of leaders from local congregations who gather together in order to deal with matters of spiritual concern that involve all of the churches in the area. The presbytery also is the group responsible for licensing men to preach the gospel and then for ordaining them to the ministry of the gospel so that they can serve in any of the congregations.

And when some of the other business has been transacted at the presbytery of Ochter Arder in February of 1717, there is an ongoing matter that comes to the presbytery's attention. A young man who has been a student for the ministry has been examined in recent meetings. He is found to be a satisfactory candidate, to be licensed as a preacher of the gospel in preparation for his ordination. His name is William Craig. But in Ochter Arder, in the presbytery of Ochter Arder, there is one unique question that one or other member of the presbytery will ask any candidate who wants to be licensed as a gospel preacher.

It actually came to be known as the Ochter Arder Creed. And at a previous meeting of the presbytery of Ochter Arder, William Craig had said that he could give a satisfactory response to the question he was asked. And now he was having second thoughts. And so he came back to the presbytery. He wanted to speak to the presbytery.

He said that he didn't really think that his first answer had been altogether honest. He was voted on again. His license was revoked. The decision of the presbytery was then appealed to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland overturned the decision of the presbytery of Ochter Arder.

He was still with me. It was a very complicated process. And so William Craig was allowed to go forward to be licensed as a minister of the gospel. So you might well ask, what was this Ochter Arder Creed? What was this question that caused William Craig such difficulties?

And why did it become so controversial? And why did the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland eventually rule that the Ochter Arder Creed should be condemned? Well, let me tell you the question that William Craig and others were asked. Do you agree to this, that it is not sound and orthodox to teach that we forsake sin in order to our coming to Christ? Think about it again. Do you agree it is not sound and orthodox to teach that we forsake sin in order to our coming to Christ? We won't do it, but I think it would be quite interesting to have a straw poll, a show of hands. If you had been William Craig and your future ministry had depended on your answer to this question, would you have agreed with this or not?

It's not sound. It's not orthodox to teach people you need to forsake sin in order to come to Christ. Well, later that year at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, a very remarkable happenstance, providential happenstance, took place. One of the ministers in the presbytery, a man by the name of John Drummond, at the end of the decision that the General Assembly had made to counteract the decision of the Ochter Arder presbytery, he was sitting beside a minister that I think he didn't really know. And they fell into conversation. And this neighbor, beside whom he was sitting, said to this minister from the presbytery, You know, there is a book I discovered about twenty years ago that greatly helped me on this question of how we offer the gospel of Jesus Christ to people, and this whole question of the relationship between repentance and coming to faith in Jesus Christ.

Do we need to repent first in order that we may come to faith in Jesus Christ? This minister was, I think, then forty-one years old. He was ministering in a very small church literally in the back of beyond in Scotland.

If you can still visit the church, if you get off the main highway, go into a forest, go up a river valley, and turn right, you will come to the little church of Ettrick where Thomas Boston was the minister. Thomas Boston was about to publish what for centuries was the most famous spiritual book in the Scottish church, Human Nature in its Fourfold State. He had exercised a remarkable ministry in his congregation in Ettrick, but it was when he was minister on the other side of the country in a tiny church in a place called Sumprin that he had been visiting somebody in his parish, and he noticed there were a couple of books lying on the window ledge. He borrowed both of them, one he never finished, the other was this book that helped him in his ministry, and it was called The Marrow of Modern Divinity. It was written by a man called Edward Fisher, although he simply put his initials E.F. on the book. It had been published first of all in 1645, and it dealt with issues of how do we present the gospel? What is legalism? What is antinomianism?

Is it possible for a Christian believer to have assurance of salvation? Well, Boston recommended this book to the minister who was sitting next to him, John Drummond. John Drummond mentioned it to somebody else.

Somebody else mentioned it to somebody else. Somebody else then mentioned it to a minister by the name of Hogg, who within a matter of months had the book republished in Scotland. And it was fuel to the fire of the controversy that the Ochterarder Creed had begun. Then the General Assembly started discussing not only the Ochterarder Creed, but this book, The Marrow of Modern Divinity, and eventually decided to ban the book.

And so the book went on to a prescribed list of books so that ministers in the Church of Scotland, and I don't think the ban has ever been lifted, ministers in the Church of Scotland were told they must not recommend The Marrow of Modern Divinity to members of their congregation. A group of men, among them Thomas Boston, protested. There were 12 of them. They were sometimes called the Twelve Apostles.

Usually they were called the Brethren or the Marrow Brethren, and in history they have become known as the Marrow Men. And they had felt as they had read this book, as they had thought about Scripture, as they had sought to understand the Gospel, that although this was far from being a perfect book, it was a book that wonderfully enabled them to offer Jesus Christ freely, to help Christians who were struggling on the one hand with legalism or antinomianism, and to bring doubting Christians to a full assurance of faith. Now why did this book cause so much controversy? What is The Marrow of Modern Divinity? Well, it's written actually in the form of what we would know as a Socratic dialogue. You've read Plato's Republic and different characters appear, and usually rather like Pilgrim's Progress later in the seventeenth century, these characters represent in Plato's writings different philosophical perspectives, in Pilgrim's Progress, as you know, different spiritual problems and needs.

The Marrow of Modern Divinity was a very basic form of that kind of dialogue. It has four characters, and their names express where they really stand. There is Neophytus, who is the new Christian, the neophyte. And then there is a man called Nomister, and he is a legalist. And then there's another man with the imaginative name Antinomister, and he is the antinomian.

And then there is the wise pastor, and he is known as evangelister. And they work their way through personal pastoral theological issues that surround the nature of the gospel, the problems of legalism and antinomianism, and the questions of Christians enjoying the assurance of faith. And the accusations that arose against the book and then against the Marrow men for defending the book and promoting the book were essentially these. That they were teaching, contrary to the Westminster Confession of Faith, that they were teaching a universal offer of the gospel based on a universal redemption. Second, they were teaching antinomianism, that in Christ, Christians are free from the law. And thirdly, that they were teaching, it was said, contrary to the Westminster Confession of Faith, that assurance is of the essence of salvation.

If you're a Christian, then you will have assurance. Those charges, as a matter of fact, were false. Those were not the views of the Marrow men. They believed that those were not really the views of the Marrow of modern divinity. And so they vigorously and over a lengthy period of time sought to explain their understanding of the gospel and how it was that the Marrow of modern divinity had given them some help in living the Christian life and in proclaiming Jesus Christ.

And you can see, I think, immediately that these are issues that keep coming around in the Christian church. How do we present Christ to people if we believe that Christ died to secure the salvation of the elect? Does that mean that we offer Christ only to the elect?

And how do we know who the elect are? Well, we would know because they would repent of sin, and if we saw them repenting of sin, we would be able to offer Christ to them and say, Christ will save you. And then there's the whole question of the law. That's been a problem ever since the days of the apostles, hasn't it?

Paul has to deal with that issue. Remember how he actually raises the question in Galatians, if the gospel is true, what's the purpose of the law now that we have become Christian believers? And that question of the assurance of salvation, many people find themselves struggling with the issue, if I'm really a Christian, shouldn't I enjoy the full assurance of salvation?

And one of the things the Marrow of modern divinity did for this group of men and for their preaching was to set them free from some of the misunderstandings of the gospel which they had inherited from the kind of teaching and preaching that they themselves had heard. The notion that there are only some people to whom you can offer Jesus Christ because he died only for some people. And the problem of legalism, so often characteristic of Christians, I remember myself as a very young Christian being taught that every day I should have my quiet time.

And if I didn't have my quiet time before I went out, I would feel guilty and feel that God would not bless my day. And Christians who often then come to think that by their obedience they can somehow or another add to their justification. Isn't it true that it's actually quite difficult for many Christians to believe that they can never add to their justification? That they will never be more justified than they are the moment they come to faith in Jesus Christ. Well, surely my sanctification will add to my justification, not if it's the justification of the gospel.

It might add to your justification if your justification was derived from yourself, but it can't add to your justification if your justification is derived from Jesus Christ. And so the great burden of the marrow men in their exposition of the gospel was to hold up Jesus Christ. They understood, for example, what Paul is doing in Ephesians chapter 1. He's saying to these Ephesian Christians, don't first of all look at yourself. Don't first of all isolate the blessings you have received in the gospel.

Look first of all to Jesus Christ and keep looking to Jesus Christ because all the blessings of the gospel are found in Jesus Christ. And this, as we'll see, is the reason why the characteristic way the New Testament describes Christians is not by calling them Christians. I think a case can be made out that in the New Testament the word Christian is almost a swear word.

It's hardly ever used, and it's characteristically used in a context of other people who aren't believers calling these believers Christians, almost as though they would spit the word out. Well, is the characteristic way in which the New Testament describes us disciples? It certainly does describe us as disciples, but that's not the big word. Well, surely it must be saints. Paul greets the saints.

Yes, we are saints. It's a wonderful thing to discover, isn't it, that every Christian is a saint, but that's not the big term the New Testament uses. So what is the big term the New Testament uses? Well, paradoxically, it is a term rarely heard in the Christian church, rarely used by evangelical believers. It's the term in Christ. Of course, it's especially the Apostle Paul that uses the expression, but he uses the expression in thirteen relatively small letters.

In the course of letters that can be gathered into a relatively short paperback that you can read in a matter of hours, he uses that expression or its equivalent way over a hundred times. There is no page in Paul's letters, as it were, where believers are not described as being in Christ. And yet it may well be true of you. It certainly was true of me until I'd been a Christian for a couple of years. No one had ever told me that through faith I am in Christ and that in Christ every spiritual blessing is immediately mine. And those blessings, yes, progressively will work out in my life. But if I'm in Christ, everything He has done for me is immediately and simultaneously mine. I think I was seventeen, perhaps just sixteen, when I heard for the first time that we are in Christ. And I remember lingering after the service and then walking up the road from the church I attended as a rather shy boy looking right and left to make sure nobody was watching me.

And then I danced home at the thought that every spiritual blessing was mine in Christ Jesus. That was the big issue for the Marrow Men. That was why, although Thomas Boston thought the Octor Rader Creed had been badly worded, there is nothing you do to qualify yourself to come to Jesus Christ.

You simply come to Him because He's invited you. And we'll see what that means as we go on in our studies. On the surface, this Merrill controversy could seem to be arguing over nuance. But as we dig in more, we see that the disagreement required both sides to sharpen their understanding of Scripture. To come to grips with this controversy really is to come to grips with the gospel.

That's why we're spending time on it this week here on Renewing Your Mind. Dr. Sinclair Ferguson taught this series titled The Whole Christ over the course of twelve lessons. And we'd be happy to send you the two DVD set for your donation of any amount today to Ligonier Ministries. Once you've completed a request, we will add the digital study guide for the series to your learning library.

Our offices are closed this week for the Thanksgiving holiday, so we're not answering the phone. But you can give your gift and make your request online when you go to Developing a Christian worldview requires us to think deeply about things from a biblical perspective. Ligonier Ministries' monthly magazine is a great resource to help you do just that. Every month the editors of Table Talk provide articles on theology and Christian living, worldview and culture, and church history. In addition, you'll find daily Bible studies to foster your spiritual growth. Learn more and subscribe at Well, tomorrow as we continue Dr. Ferguson's series, he'll clarify the relationship between the doctrine of election and the free offer of the gospel. That's Tuesday, here on Renewing Your Mind. I hope you'll join us. .
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-11-21 02:32:16 / 2022-11-21 02:40:53 / 9

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