10 February 2012

The Marrow of Modern Divinity

Edward Fisher's The Marrow of Modern Divinity has been hailed as a uniquely valuable work when it comes to understanding how the gospel ignites, and sustains, the Christian life--something I've been wrestling with the past several years, and continue to.

Sinclair Ferguson says, "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. I personally owe it a great debt." Sign me up.

Phil Ryken says the book explains what "sanctification by grace rather than by the law" is all about, and Derek Thomas comments similarly.

Most blurbs make my eyes gloss over; these ones catch my attention.

The book is a conversation between Evangelista (a gospel-wise, seasoned saint), Neophytus (a gospel-ignorant young man who is converted midway through the book), Nomista (a legalist), and Antinomista (an antinomian). It's written by Edward Fisher, about whom we know little--but the well-respected and much-beloved Puritan Thomas Boston (on whom Ryken did his doctorate) provides theological commentary throughout. Fisher himself loves to quote Luther more than anyone, while Boston relies most heavily on the Reformed confessions, especially Westminster.

There's an interesting historical backdrop to the story. The book was originally written in the 1640s in England, and when Boston read it in Scotland 70 years later he sought to have it reprinted. Many of his fellow ministers in the Church of Scotland resisted, viewing it as leaning too far in an antinomian direction. All this is what is referred to as the "Marrow Controversy," if you've heard that term. Not to be confused with this.

The edition I'm using is a beautiful one, published by Christian Focus. Clearly laid out, nice font, virtually no typos, big margins for notes, and one of those nice velvety-ish covers. Perfect.

Here's the first of many quotes I'll be putting up in days to come. Evangelista is speaking.
Alas! there are thousands in the world that make a Christ of their works; and here is their undoing. 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.

It is to be feared that there be divers who in words are able to distinguish between the law and gospel, and in their judgments hold and maintain, that man is justified by faith without the works of the law; and yet in effect and practice, that is to say, in heart and conscience, do otherwise. And there is some touch of this in us all; otherwise we should not be so up and down in our comforts and believing as we are still, and cast down with every weakness as we are.
--Edward Fisher, The Marrow of Modern Divinity (Christian Focus, 2009), 106

"The salve of duties." !

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