Edward Fisher: The Marrow of Modern Divinity

For the past four years I have been on the look out for The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher.

The Marrow of Modern Divinity

It was not available in print or on-line but it has now been published in both media. Christian Focus republished a really beautiful version last year, complete with margin notes by Scottish theologian pastor Thomas Boston, which I bought a couple of weeks ago. For a full review see Reformed Books.net.

The book takes the form of two conversations between four characters. Evangelista, a minister of the true gospel, Neophytus, a recent convert, and two false Christians, Nomista (a legalist) and Antinomista (an antinomian).

Long time readers of this blog will know that I have written a refined understanding of the covenant of works, which should more properly be called the covenant of grace between God and Adam. This covenant is by nature, but not by means, the same covenant offered to us in Christ.

In the first conversation, Evangelista discusses the covenant of works with Nomista:

[the] covenant the Lord made with all mankind in Adam before his fall; the sum whereof was, “Do this, and thou shalt live,” (Lev 18:5); “and if thou do it not, thou shalt die the death,” (Gen 2:17). In which covenant there was contained first a precept, “Do this”; secondly a promise joined unto it, “If thou do it thou shalt live”; thirdly, a like threatening, “If thou do it not, thou shalt die the death.”

The prohibition or law of God is the primary focus in the covenant of works. But there is more to the covenant than one law. There are two promises (eternal life and the knowledge of good and evil) and the last line of the conversation between Evangelista and Nomista turns the covenant of works into the covenant of grace, as the promise of eternal life was always freely available for Adam to secure by faith:

Nomista. Well, sir, I do perceive that Adam and all mankind in him were created most holy.

Evangelista. Yea, and most happy, too: for God placed him in paradise in the midst of all delightful pleasures and contents, wherein he did enjoy most near and sweet communion with his Creator, in whose presence is fullness of joy, and whose right hand are pleasures evermore, (Psa 16:11). So that if Adam had received of the tree of life, by taking and eating it, while he stood in the state of innocency before his fall, he had certainly been established in a happy estate for ever, and could not have been seduced and supplanted by Satan, as some learned men, do think, and as God’s own words seem to imply, (Gen 3:22).

This is the refinement the covenant of works requires. In most reformed writings the primary emphasis is on the prohibition. But the focus should properly be on the promise of God given in the names of the trees, eternal life and the knowledge of good and evil, with the prohibition taking a secondary, though crucial role, in revealing God’s will for mankind. Choose life (Deut 30:19).

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