William Greenhill will be back in the near future but I was looking over the Marrow of Modern Divinity (London: Thomas Tegg and Son, 1837) again this week and a few things struck me as interesting.
Now given that the Marrow really came to prominence in Scotland in a controversy in the 18th C it is all too easy to forget that the original context of the work was mid 17th C. Again, it is easy to forget (given how controversial the Marrow became in the 18th C) that the Marrow is really nothing more than a compendium of Reformed thought up to 1650 (with a bit of Luther thrown in for free). According to its author “much of the matter contained in the ensuing Dialogue” came from the great figures of the development and codification of the Reformed faith e.g. Calvin, Beza, Ursinus, Perkins, Ames, Peter Martyr, Polanus, Sibbs, Goodwin, Ball etc (p xx). So really there should not have been much in the Marrow to complain about!
All this is interesting but what has it got to do with my thesis? Well, for one the Marrow provides an insight into the general theological context in which the Westminster Standards were framed. This is important for my work. It also provides an insight into how mid 17th C theologians interpreted earlier Reformed theologians and used their works. Again this is important. Additionally, the Marrow was also cleared for the press by Joseph Caryl, a member of the Westminster Assembly, and was published with commendations from two other Assembly members. So clearly there were members of the assembly who upheld “Marrow doctrine”.
Still, even though useful in these respects and though commended by 3 members of the Assembly we can’t argue for 1:1 identity between Marrow doctrine and the Westminster documents – can we? Well, granted not on the basis I have provided above. More work would need to be done – but has someone else done that work already? Enter Thomas Boston!
Now in his notes on the Marrow, Boston has an extensive comment on the section, “God… moved with nothing but with his free love unto mankind lost, hath made a gift and grant unto them all, that whosoever of them all shall believe in this his Son, shall not perish, but have eternal life” (p106). Boston begins by noting that the phrase comes from Ezekiel Culverwell in a work commended by Westminster Divine William Gouge. He then proceeds to identify this “gift and grant” with the gospel offer of John 3:16 explaining that: “Where the gospel comes, this grant is published, and the ministerial offer made; and there is no exception of any of all mankind in the grant” (p106). This speaking of the gospel offer as a “gift and grant” giving all sinners a warrant to believe in Christ is for Boston, “the good old way of discovering to sinners their warrant to believe in Christ; and it doth indeed bear the sufficiency of the sacrifice of Christ for all, and that Christ crucified is the ordinance of God for salvation unto all mankind, in the use-making of which only they can be saved; but not an universal atonement or redemption” (p106). So a couple of points here. Boston equates Marrow doctrine with “good old doctrine”. For him it is nothing more or less than Reformed orthodoxy. Secondly, Boston here relates the gospel offer to the sufficiency of the atonement (so did John Owen) but this is done in the context of rejecting a universal atonement/redemption.
But what specifically does Boston mean by “good old doctrine”? Well, he means standard Scottish doctrine and he quotes James Melville to this effect. But more specifically he means Reformed theology as set out in the great Reformed confessions. He quotes Westminster Confession of Faith 7:3 (my thesis topic via James Durham), Westminster Larger Catechism 63 as supporting the “gift and grant” in the gospel offer (p106). He also quotes Dort 2:5-6, ” Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel. And, whereas many who are called by the gospel do not repent nor believe in Christ, but perish in unbelief, this is not owing to any defect or insufficiency in the sacrifice offered by Christ upon the cross, but is wholly to be imputed to themselves.” So for Boston, Dort and Westminster are one on the gospel offer and on Marrow doctrine. Boston also quotes the Sum of Saving Knowledge, “Again, consider, that this general offer in substance is equivalent to a special offer made to every one in particular; as appeareth by the apostle’s making use of it, Acts 16:31. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. The reason of which offer is given, John 3:16.” Now the SoSK was, of course, written by James Durham and David Dickson. Thus Boston aligns his view of the gospel offer with that of James Durham.
So for Boston, the Marrow theology of the free offer is the theology of Westminster Assembly and Dort and the Sum of Saving Knowledge and therefore of James Durham! But is he right?….. yes 🙂 This is all very pertinent to my thesis and to the chapter I’m currently writing on: the free offer in the Reformed creeds.
Another item of interest is the proof texts that the Marrow uses to outline its doctrine of the free offer. They are John 3:16 and Mark 16:15. Now what are two of the “proof texts” for WCoF 7:3? – yes, you guessed John 3:16 and Mark 16:15. More evidence for similarity of doctrine!