Marrow Controversy

Marrow Controversy The Marrow of Modern Divinity was a work published in 1646 by Edward Fisher (q.v.), of the University of Oxford. It was in the form of a dialogue, to explain the freeness of the law — to expose, on the one hand, Antinomian error, and also, on the other, to refute Neonomian heresy, or the idea that Christ has, by his atonement, so lowered the requirements of the law that mere endeavor is accepted in room of perfect obedience. A copy of the book, which had been brought into Scotland by an English Puritan soldier, was accidentally found by Boston, then minister of Simprin, and was republished in 1718, under the editorial care of Mr. Hogg, minister of Carnock. It had been recommended long before by several divines of the Westminster Assembly. The treatise, consisting of quaint and stirring dialogues, throws into bold relief the peculiar doctrines of grace, occasionally puts them into the form of a startling proposition, and is gemmed with quotations from eminent Protestant divines. The publication of the Marrow threw the clergy into commotion, and by many of them it was violently censured. But not a few of the evangelical pastors gave it a cordial welcome, and among multitudes of the people it became a favorite book, next in veneration to the Bible and the Shorter Catechism. In 1719 its editor, Mr. Hogg, wrote an explanation of some of its passages, but in the same year principal Haddow, of St. Andrew's, opened the Synod of Fife with a sermon directed against it. The synod requested the publication of the discourse, and this step was the signal for a warfare of four years' duration. The Assembly of that year, acting in the same spirit with the Synod of Fife, instructed its commission to look after books and pamphlets promoting such opinions as are found in the Marrow, though they do not name the book, and to summon before them the authors and recommenders of such publications. The commission, so instructed and armed, appointed a committee, of which principal Haddow was the soul; and before this committee, named the "Committee for Purity of Doctrine," four ministers were immediately summoned. The same committee gave in a report at the next Assembly of 1720, in the shape of an overture, classifying the doctrines of the Marrow, and solemnly condemning them. It selected several passages which were paradoxically expressed, while it severed others from the context, and held them up as contrary to Scripture and to the Confession of Faith. The passages marked for reprobation were arranged under distinct heads such as the nature of faith, the atonement, holiness, obedience and its motive, and the position of a believer in reference to the law. The committee named them as errors, thus-universal atonement and pardon, assurance of the very essence of faith, holiness not necessary to salvation, and the believer not under the law as a rule of life. Had the Marrow inculcated such tenets it would have been objectionable indeed. The report was discussed, and the result was a stern condemnation of the Marrow; and "the General Assembly do hereby strictly prohibit and discharge all the ministers of this Church, either by preaching, writing, or printing, to recommend the said book, or in discourse to say anything in favor of it; but, on the contrary, they are hereby enjoined and required to warn and exhort those people in whose hands the said book is or may come not to read or use the same." That book, which had been so highly lauded by many of the southern divines — such as Caryl and Burroughes — by the men who had framed the very creed of the Scottish Church, and who were universally acknowledged to be as able as most men to know truth and detect error, was thus put into a Presbyterian Index expurgatorius. Nobody can justify the extreme statements of the Marrow, but their bearing and connection plainly free them from an Antinomian tendency. In fact, some of the so-called Antinomian statements condemned by the Assembly are in the very words of inspiration. But the rigid decision of the Assembly only added fuel to the controversy which it was intended to allay, and the forbidden book became more and more an object of intense anxiety and prevalent study. The popular party in the Church at once concerted measures to have that act repealed. Consultations were repeatedly held by a section of the evangelical clergy, and at length it was agreed to hand in a representation to the court, complaining of the obnoxious decision, and of the injury which had been done by it to precious truth. This representation was signed by twelve ministers, and it briefly called the Assembly's attention to the fact that it had( condemned propositions which are in accordance at once with the Bible and the symbolical books. The names of the twelve were Messrs. James Hogg, Carnock; Thomas Boston, Etterick; John Bonar, Torlphichen; JohnWilliamson, Inveresk; James Kidd, Queensferry; Gabriel Wilson. Maxton; Ebenezer Erskine, Portmoak; Ralph Erskine and James Wardlaw, Dunfermline; Henry Davidson, Galashiels; James Bathgate, Orwell; and William Hunter, Lilliesleaf. These are the famous "Marrow Men"also known as the "Tweelve Brethren" and the "Representers." They were long held in great veneration by the lovers of evangelical religion. Says Buck (Theol. Dict. s.v.), "The Representers were not only accurate and able divines, and several of them learned men, but ministers of the most enlightened and tender consciences, enemies in doctrine and practice to all licentiousness, and shining examples of true holiness in all manner of conversation. They were at the same time zealous adherents to the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms." Other discussions followed; the Representers were summoned, in 1722, to the bar of the Assembly and admonished, against which they solemnly protested. As the Assembly was not supported in the position it had assumed by the religious sentiment of the nation, no further steps were taken in the matter, and thus the victory virtually lay with the evangelical recusants. It was, however, substantially this same doctrinal controversy — though it did not go by the same name — which, eleven years later, resulted in the deposition of Ebenezer Erskine and the origination of the secession of 1734. See Eadie, Eccles. Cyclopaedia, s.v.; Brit. and For Ev. Rev. 1868 (April), p. 261; Hetherington, Eccles. Hist. Ch. of Scotland (see Index in vol. 2). SEE ERSKINE, EBENEZER.

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