As a lapsed neonomian and a Scotsman, this extract from Joel Beeke’s introduction to The Beauties of Ebenezer Erskine, has given me the appetite to read on.
The beauties of Ebernezer Erkine offers the best portions of his sermons…Read this book as an act of worship. Read it with the goal of being elevated into the great truths of God…I would suggest that you see it as a daily devotional…
Beeke’s summary of the Marrow Controversy, which caused the Erskine brothers and others to be kicked out of the Church of Scotland, shows just how easy it is to mix the law and the gospel. Do sinners need to turn from specific sin before receiving Christ? That was the heart of the controversy.
The Marrow Controversy
The first major trial, which became known as the Marrow Controversy, stirred the Scottish Church from 1717 to 1723. The controversy centered on the Auchterarder creed. In 1717, William Craig, a divinity student, complained to the General Assembly about one of the propositions that the Presbytery of Auchterarder required all candidates for ordination to sign. The proposition, intended as a guard against preparationism, read: “I believe that it is not sound and orthodox to teach that we must forsake sin in order to our coming to Christ, and instating us in covenant with God.” The Assembly sided with Craig, declaring the proposition to be “unsound and most detestable.” It also said the statement tended to “encourage sloth in Christians and slacken people’s obligation to gospel holiness.”
The Assembly’s commission somewhat softened the harshness of the General Assembly’s pronouncement by stating in its report to the 1718 Assembly that the Presbytery was sound and orthodox in its intent, though the word choice was “unwarrantable” and should not to be used again. In the context of that debate, Thomas Boston told John Drummond of Crieff that he had received aid years ago on the disputed issue from a relatively unknown book titled The Marrow of Modern Divinity, written in 1645 by a certain Edward Fisher, who was probably a Presbyterian from London. Drummond mentioned the book to James Webster of Edinburgh, who told James Hog of Carnock about it. Hog wrote a preface for a reprinting of the book in 1718.
Fisher’s book largely reflected the orthodox Reformed thought of its time, despite some Amyraldian overtones. It emphasized an offer of immediate salvation to sinners who looked to Christ in faith. This view was avidly supported by Boston and the Erskines, leaders among the Church’s evangelical minority. Fisher’s emphasis, however, raised the opposition of the controlling party of the Church, which contained many “neonomians” who held that the gospel is a “new law” (neonomos), replacing the Old Testament law with the legal conditions of faith and repentance that must be met before salvation can be offered. These neonomians, who became known as the Moderates, maintained the necessity of forsaking sin before Christ could be received, whereas the Erskines and their evangelical friends said that only union with Christ could empower a sinner to truly forsake sin from the heart.
The Moderates considered a call to immediate trust in Christ and to assurance of faith to be dangerously antinomian (anti=against; nomus=law). An antinomian believes that the law of God is no longer the believer’s rule of life.
I intend to read the sermons and blog extracts…