Marrow Controversy

Marrow Men

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Between approximately 1717 and 1722 the Church of Scotland was agitated by a controversy between evangelicals, known as "Marrow Men," and moderates, or "neonomians," over the relationship between law and gospel in salvation. Prominent evangelical ministers such as Thomas Boston and Ralph and Ebenezer Erskine had reprinted The Marrow of Modern Divinity (ascribed by some to Edward Fisher of London in 1645), which maintained an immediate, free offer of salvation by looking to Christ in faith.

This raised the opposition of the controlling party of the church, who as neonomians held that the gospel is a "new law" (neonomos), replacing the OT law with the legal conditions of faith and repentance needing to be met before salvation can be offered. They maintained the necessity of forsaking sin before Christ can be received, whereas the Marrow Men replied that only union to Christ can give us power to be holy. Hence the neonomians considered the call to immediate trust in Christ and to full assurance to be dangerously antinomian.

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Led by Principal Haddow of St. Andrews, the church condemned The Marrow of Modern Divinity in 1720. The evangelicals protested this action without avail. They were formally rebuked by the church's General Assembly in 1722 but not removed from their ministries. Nevertheless, the writings of the Marrow Men (such as Boston's Fourfold State of Human Nature) were as influential in the popular piety of Scotland for the next two centuries as was Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress in English and American piety.

D F Kelly
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

Bibliography:
D Beaton, The Marrow of Modern Divinity and the Marrow Controversy; W M Hetherington, History of the Church of Scotland; J MacLeod, Scottish Theology.


The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

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