I love mornings. I only wish I had two hours instead of one to enjoy the great pleasure of a strong cup of coffee and a good book. My morning routine begins with turning the coffee maker on and doing my Bible reading. After the Bible reading, the coffee is ready and the first book is started. I usually read 10 to 20 pages of about 3 books on the morning stack.
Sinclair Ferguson, a Scotsman who had spent lots of years pastoring and teaching in the U. S., is one of my favorite writers. I first heard of him and actually heard him many years ago at a conference in Pensacola, Florida. He spoke there on the Book of Ruth. Or as he called it Rrrrrr-uth, with his Scottish accent. He is a representative of the best of Scottish Reformed preaching and teaching. Last year, I read his book In Christ Alone and thorougly loved it.
This book, however, is of a different nature. This was some tough theology, for it was an examination of an older theological work titled The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher. In its time, some 250 years ago, the Marrow controversy created quite a stir among the Scottish ministers. Formost among the defenders of the Marrow proponents was Thomas Boston, pastor and author of the Reformed classic Human Nature in Its Fourfold State.
While this is not a fluff book, it is an amazing work, as Tim Challies has noted HERE. What Ferguson does is to take this old, largely forgotten and obscure controversy and explain in an understandable way. But his goal was not simply to weigh in with clarity on a historical theological dispute. Instead, he makes it pertinent to modern Christians. Legalism still affects the Church and the Christian community. Many think that antinomianism (without law) is the opposite reaction to legalism.
In other words, a person goes from obeying a set of partially Biblical and partially man-imposed laws as a means of or proof of salvation. It is easy to see how this morphs into works-salvation. In reaction to this, other Christians oversell grace and freedom in Christ and open the door to any kind of living or acting. “We are not under law, but under grace.”
Ferguson contends that the opposite of legalism is not antinomianism, but rather is grace. Also he contends that legalism and antinomianism are not opposites, but are quite closely connected.
Tim Challies writes, “The core issue was whether or not a person must first forsake his sins in order to come to Christ. The Marrow Men, those who agreed with Fisher’s book, believed that this demanded works as a precursor to faith and was, in that way, opposed to the free offer of the gospel. Their opponents taught that the gospel should only be offered to those who were beginning to show evidence of being among God’s elect.”
I commend Challies’ review as a fuller explanation of the problem and as a short way of getting to the heart of this book. This work is not a “once through rapidly” kind of read. I already look forward to reading this book again, perhaps supplemented by some readings in both Fisher’s original work and Boston’s work.