The Marrow Controversy: A Fantastic Resource

I have long been of the view that one of the most instructive controversies in the history of the Reformed churches is the Marrow Controversy in early 18th century Scotland.  The Marrow Controversy went to the heart of the gospel itself.  An excellent article from the Mid America Journal of Theology on the Marrow Controversy, as it specifically relates to the free offer of the gospel is now online:

This is highly recommended reading.  A few important quotes from the article:

  • “The heirs of Calvin have sometimes departed from the balance of the Genevan Reformer, allowing the nerve of evangelism to be severely strained, if not cut altogether. In this way God’s gracious sovereignty is allowed to swallow up man’s responsibility. Calvin himself did not take this path. In his Institutes, after treating the doctrine of reprobation, Calvin remarkably stresses that believers should try to make everyone they meet partakers of Christ.  It is therefore lamentable that some in the Reformed churches in the past as well as today have failed to maintain the balance between an electing God whose salvation is all of grace and a gospel freely offered to all. This has been to the impoverishment of such churches and constitutes disobedience to the Great Commission of our Lord. There have been tendencies to allow the very important truth of the particularism of the covenant of grace to overshadow the free offer of the gospel. We see this not only in the Marrow Controversy of the eighteenth century in Scotland … but its reemergence in the Scottish church in the nineteenth century. In this century similar tendencies have been reflected in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in the United States during the 1940s, which called for the official affirmation of the free offer of the gospel. Sadly, the denial of the free offer of the gospel has become the official position among some Dutch Reformed, especially the Protestant Reformed Churches, as well as the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia.”
  • “…the Marrow men patiently affirmed, on the one hand, God’s well-meant offer of the gospel to all men universally. On the other hand, they rejected the doctrine of universal atonement or universal salvation. The “gift and grant” inherent in the gospel offer is not that of “possession,” which is given only to those actually believing in Christ. Nevertheless, the “gift and grant” is a divine, well-meant offer which warrants persons to believe in Christ. The offer is not simply a bare verbal offer, but an offer and revelation of Christ himself to be believed and received. Thus there is no separation of Christ from the offer of grace. To offer the gospel is to offer the Christ of the gospel; it is therefore to offer the grace of the gospel.”
  • “Although the Marrow men were charged with antinomianism and Amyraldianism, their teaching and preaching was, in my judgment, fully biblical and confessional. Indeed the burden of proof was upon the moderatistic, doctrinally declining Scottish Church to demonstrate that the Marrow men compromised the truth. Consequently no apodictic certainty regarding these charges ever came. By their testimony, even to the point of expulsion from the church, the Marrow men promiscuously preached and taught the gospel of free salvation, thereby restoring Reformation integrity to at least a small segment of the Scottish Church.”
  • “Particularly we must ask ourselves whether we affirm the free offer of the gospel in relation to the doctrine of predestination. Our answer is of utmost importance. Our Lutheran brothers (though not Luther himself [cf. Pieper, et al.]) are quick to charge the Reformed with rationalism and precisely in denying the free offer of the gospel the “rationalist” label sticks. Lamentably, we must own that charge if we fail to reckon God’s Word and wisdom as higher than our own (see Romans 11:33-36). Thus when God’s Word affirms both election and the well-meant offer of the gospel, proper theological methodology bids us simply to believe God’s revelation and act upon these truths according to the measure of revelation given to us. We do not claim to comprehend fully all that his Word teaches us. To fail to proceed along this path is sheer hubris. In that connection, dare we call our Lord’s tears, shed over unrepentant Jerusalem, “crocodile tears?” Dare we claim to know with certainty who are the elect, apart from their having heard the free offer of the gospel, having placed their trust in Christ, and living a credible testimony? It is much better to emulate Augustine and Calvin in their desire to see all reconciled to Christ and partakers of all his benefits. They did not arrogantly pretend to know who the elect are. Neither do we know who the elect are. Since this is so, we proceed to preach the gospel promiscuously to all people. That gospel is not a gospel, a “good message,” devoid of grace or divorced from Christ; rather, Christ is the grace offered. Christ is himself the message of the gospel; he is offered to sinners. Therefore we may not deny the offer of the gospel of grace to all sinners, for we have the warrant of God’s Word (Isaiah 55:1-3; John 3:16, passim.). Moreover, if we embrace the confessions, let us recall that our votive integrity of subscription calls us to the same faithfulness of offering the gospel to all freely (Canons of Dort, II, 5; III/IV, 8-9; Westminster Confession of Faith, 14:1-2; 15:3, Larger Catechism, Q/A 191).”

Amen, and amen.

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