The Marrow of Modern Divnity: Edited and Abridged (Wilson)

 Many of our readers are perhaps familiar with Edward Fisher’s excellent 17th century publication called “The Marrow of Modern Divinity.”  It is a wonderful treatment of the great Reformation themes of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, to God’s glory alone.  I’ve mentioned it quite a few times here on the blog and it has been helpful to me in my own Christian walk.  The thing is, it’s not overly easy to read since it’s somewhat lengthy and the language is quite dated.  It’s not a book that every Christian would be able to sit down and read through and understand well.

However, Andy Wilson has given much of his time and energy to make “The Marrow” easier to read by abridging it and updating the language.  His abridgment is called, “The Marrow of the Marrow of Modern Divinity: A Simplified Version of Edward Fisher’s Seventeenth-Century Classic.”  Andy sent me a copy, which I was excited to read and now I am happy to recommend.  To be sure, abridging and editing a book like “The Marrow” is no easy task, and we all might go about it in a slightly different way.  But in my opinion Wilson’s summarization is a good and accurate one.  I’ll give a few quotes below in case you’re interested:

“…Adam and his offspring are no more freed from their duties because they have no strength to perform them than a debtor is freed from his debt because he lacks money to pay it” (p. 17).

“So if you desire to be justified before God, you must either bring him a perfect righteousness of your own, and wholly renounce Christ, or else you must bring the perfect righteousness of Christ, and wholly renounce your own” (p. 56).

“Because the law’s threatenings of eternal death have been satisfied for the believer in Christ, those threatenings cannot be renewed against the believer any more than a debt that ahs been paid can be held against a person” (p. 65).

“Certainly, the strongest believer of us all needs to take heed to the advice of Tyndale, who says, ‘Seek the Word of God in all things, and without the Word of God do nothing” (p. 97).

Again, no abridgement will be perfect in everyone’s eyes, but if you’re looking for a more readable version of Fisher’s Marrow, you should for sure check out Wilson’s summary.  If you read the summary first, I’m pretty confident it will help you better read and understand the full text of The Marrow.  In fact, one of Wilson’s goals of writing the summary was to get more people to read the original Marrow.  Both the abridgement and the full text will help you understand what Scripture says about “free grace,” “faith alone,” and “Christ alone” in the sinner’s justification.

Andy Wilson, The Marrow of the Marrow of Modern Divinity.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

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The Difference Betwixt the Law and the Gospel (Boston)

The Marrow of Modern Divinty by [Fisher, Edward] In my opinion, one of the best brief discussions about the law/gospel distinction was written by Thomas Boston and it’s found in the second part of his comments on Edward Fisher’s Marrow of Modern Divinity. In this section Boston explains why a law/gospel distinction is necessary, what the difference is between the law and the gospel, and how to properly distinguish between the two.  Below is one section that I found very helpful and comforting – and notice how he explains justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone in light of the law/gospel distinction (the emphasis below is mine):

Briefly, then, if we would know when the law speaks, and when the gospel speaks, either in reading the word, or in hearing it preached; and if we would skilfully distinguish the voice of the one from the voice of the other, we must consider,

Law. The law says, “Thou art a sinner, and therefore thou shalt be damned;” Rom. 7:2; 2 Thess. 2:12.

Gos. But the gospel says, No; “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners;” and therefore “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,” 1 Tim. 1:15; Acts 16:31.

Law. Again the law says, “Knowest thou not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God; be not deceived,” &c. 1 Cor. 6:9. And therefore thou being a sinner, and not righteous, shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Gos. But the gospel says, “God has made Christ to be sin for thee, who knew no sin; that thou mightest be made the righteousness of God in him, who is the Lord thy righteousness,” Jer. 23:6.

Law. Again the law says, “Pay me that thou owest me, or else I will cast thee into prison,” Matt. 18:28, 30.

Gos. But the gospel says, “Christ gave himself a ransom for thee,” 1 Tim. 2:6; “and so is made redemption unto thee,” 1 Cor. 1:30.

Law. Again the law says, “Thou hast not continued in all that I require of thee, and therefore thou art accursed,” Deut. 27:6.

Gos. But the gospel says, “Christ hath redeemed thee from the curse of the law, being made a curse for thee,” Gal. 3:13.

Law. Again the law says, “Thou art become guilty before God, and therefore shalt not escape the judgment of God,” Rom. 3:29; 2:3.

Gos. But the gospel says, “The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment to the Son,” John 5:12.

And now, knowing rightly how to distinguish between the law and the gospel, we must, in the fifth place, take heed that we break not the orders between these two in applying the law where the gospel is to be applied, either to ourselves or to others; for albeit the law and gospel, in order of doctrine, are many times to be joined together, yet, in the case of justification, the law must be utterly separated from the gospel.

Therefore, whensoever, or wheresoever, any doubt or question arises of salvation, or our justification before God, there the law and all good works must be utterly excluded and stand apart, that grace may appear free, and that the promise and faith may stand alone: which faith alone, without law or works, brings thee in particular to thy justification and salvation, through the mere promise and free grace of God in Christ; so that I say, in the action and office of justification, both law and works are to be utterly excluded and exempted, as things which have nothing to do in that behalf. The reason is this; for, seeing that all our redemption springs out from the body of the Son of God crucified, then is there nothing that can stand us in stead, but that only wherewith the body of Christ is apprehended.

 Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: An Explication of the Assembly’s Shorter Catechism, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 7 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1850), 461–462.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Excluding Our Righteousness (Buchanan)

James Buchanan Collection (2 vols.) When it comes to justification, the terms “the righteousness of God” and “his righteousness” are very important (Rom 3:21-22, 2 Cor 5:21, etc.).  These phrases have to do with the fact that an ungodly sinner is not justified by his own righteousness, but by the righteousness of Another that is given by grace alone and received by faith alone.  James Buchanan explained this well (I’ve divided the paragraphs to make it easier to read):

…This righteousness is called ‘the righteousness of One,’ and ‘the obedience of One’—expressions which serve at once to connect it with the work of Christ, and to exclude from it the personal obedience of the many who are justified.

It is called ‘the free gift unto justification of life,’ and ‘the gift of righteousness,’ to show that it is bestowed gratuitously by divine grace, and not acquired by our own obedience.

It is called ‘the righteousness which is of faith,’ or ‘the righteousness which is by faith,’ both to distinguish it from faith itself, and also to contrast it with another righteousness which is not received by faith, but ‘sought for as it were by the works of the law.’

It is called ‘the righteousness of God without the law,’ to intimate that, while it was ‘witnessed by the law and the prophets,’ and while, as ‘a righteousness,’ it must have some relation to the unchangeable rule of rectitude, it was above and beyond what the law could provide, since it depends, not on personal, but on vicarious obedience.

And it is called the righteousness ‘which God imputes without works,’ to show that it is ‘reckoned of grace,’ and not ‘of debt,’—that ‘God justifies the ungodly’2 by placing this righteousness to their account,—and that He makes it theirs, because it was wrought out for them by Him, ‘who was delivered for their offences, and rose again for their Justification.’

All these expressions relate to one and the same righteousness—the only righteousness which God has revealed for the justification of sinners — they are all applicable to the vicarious righteousness of Christ — and they serve, by their very diversity, to exhibit it in all its various aspects and relations, and to exclude every other righteousness from the ground of our pardon and acceptance, since there is no other to which all these terms can possibly be applied.

In the next section, Buchanan moves on to prove this related point:

This righteousness —being the merit of a work, and not a mere quality of character —may become ours by being imputed to us, but cannot be communicated by being infused; and must ever continue to belong primarily and, in one important respect, exclusively to Him by whom alone that work was accomplished.

James Buchanan, The Doctrine of Justification: An Outline of Its History in the Church and of Its Exposition from Scripture. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1867), 319–320.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Denial of All Our Own Righteousness (Witsius)

Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain In his book on the controversies surrounding law, gospel, and grace in England around the year 1700, Herman Witsius (d. 1708) gave an excellent defense of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, based on God’s grace alone.  At one point he talked about the errors of legalism, the Judaizers, and non-Christian views.  Following those paragraphs, he wrote this:

All these errors together, Paul impugns and confutes: proving, at large, that there is none, neither Gentile, nor Jew, who by any work done, either according to the law of nature, or the law of Moses, or devised by men themselves, can acquire, either in whole or in part, an immunity from punishment, and a right to life and salvation: but that with the denial of all our own righteousness, all these things must be sought in Christ alone, to whom we are not united but by faith.

He then noted the righteousness of God as Paul talked about it in Romans 1:16-17.  Here are  his comments:

Now this righteousness is from faith. It is revealed, offered, and conveyed by the gospel, as the hand of God exhibiting it: it is accepted by faith, as the hand of the soul apprehending it. Further, it is so from faith, that it is also to faith. It is from faith, whereby I believe the testimony of God the Father concerning his Son, and the life which is in him; whereby I draw near unto him, that I may claim the right of the sons of God; whereby, I flee to him as the strong-hold of my salvation; whereby, in summary, I receive him to be my Savior.

But why was it necessary that the righteousness which is from faith should be revealed by the gospel? For this reason, because neither Gentiles nor Jews have any righteousness of their own, by which they can obtain expiation of sins and a title to life.   …Further, this righteousness is not placed in the observation of the duties prescribed by the gospel, as if that were not obtained by it, …for we are said to be justified freely, without any cause of justification being in us.   But it is placed in the grace of God, and in the redemption which is in Christ, whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood. In fine, all things tend to this, that the glory of our salvation should be wholly transferred to God and Christ, and our boasting entirely banished.

 Herman Witsius, Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain, trans. Thomas Bell (Glasgow: W. Lang, 1807), 82.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

“Of Pure Grace and Most Unmerited Favor” (Witsius)

  The Apostle Paul is very clear that a sinner is justified by faith alone apart from works (Rom 3.28, Gal 2:16). He also says that we are justified by grace (Titus 3:7).  When it comes to being justified by God, being declared righteous by him, it is not at all based on anything we’ve ever done.  Instead, our justification is based on the works of Christ, which we receive by faith alone. His righteousness is imputed to us.  We’re justified by his works!  I like how Herman Witsius discussed this in light of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace:

The Scripture confirms this truth, when it sets the grace of Christ in diametrical opposition to our works, maintaining, that there can be no mixture of the one with the other. “If righteousness comes by the law,” saith the apostle, that is, if, by our works, we can acquire a right to life eternal, “then Christ is dead in vain,” Gal. 2:21. And more clearly, Rom. 11:6. “And if by grace, then it is no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace; otherwise work is no more work.”

In order clearly to discern the force of the apostle’s inference, it is to be observed, that there are but two ways by which we can come to the possession of salvation, according to the two covenants entered into between God and man: 1) either one has a right to life because he has fully satisfied the demand of the law, according to the covenant of works, and to him that thus “worketh is the reward reckoned of debt,” Rom. 4:4; 2) or he hath a right to life, because the surety of a better testament has made satisfaction for him, which of pure grace and most unmerited favor is imputed to him, who worketh not, in order to acquire that right, ver. 5, according to the covenant of grace.

As these covenants do in the whole essence of them differ, and in this respect are contradistinguished from, and set in opposition to each other, it is evident they conjoin inconsistencies, who would join together our works with the grace of God, our righteousness with the righteousness of Christ, in the matter of justification.

Witsius, H. (1837). The Economy of the Covenants between God and Man: Comprehending a Complete Body of Divinity. (W. Crookshank, Trans.) (Vol. 1, p. 369). London: T. Tegg & Son.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Are Our Good Works Accepted by God? (Boston)

 The Bible teaches that a sinner is justified by faith alone apart from works (e.g. Rom 3-4).  One question the Christian might ask in light of “faith alone” is this:  “How can any of our works be accepted by a holy God since there is so much sinfulness in even best of them?”  Thomas Boston (d. 1732) asked that question, and answered it this way:

Answer 1. In point of justification they are not, nor cannot be accepted; that is, our persons cannot be accepted as righteous for our works, since they are not legally perfect, perfect in every point. In the way of the covenant of works, the work was first to be accepted for its own sake, as absolutely perfect; and then the person for the works’ sake. So that whosoever seek by their works to be accepted of God, they go back to the covenant of works; and must either bring works every way perfect, or be rejected; and because they cannot do such works, “therefore by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified,” Gal. 2:16.

Answer 2. In point of sanctification the good works of the justified may be accepted; that is, one’s person being accepted, his works may be accepted, being evangelically perfect, though not legally; being perfect in parts, though not in degrees. For in the way of the covenant of grace, the person is first accepted in Christ, and then his work though imperfect. Hence it appears,

(1.) That to a person’s being accepted of God in Christ, there is no working, but believing required; Mark 5:36. For till the person be accepted of God in Christ, he can do no acceptable work. He can yield no savory fruit till he be ingrafted by faith in Christ.

(2.) That the way to bring sinners to good works, is to bring them to Christ in the first place by faith, that they may be justified and accepted in him. Men may be made proud legalists otherwise, but not evangelical Christians; whited sepulchers, but still full of rottenness.

(3.) That there is very good reason why the good works of unbelievers are rejected, because they are imperfect; and yet the good works of believers are accepted, though they be imperfect….

The Westminster Confession (16.6) says it in a similar way:

“The persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in him; not as though they were in this life wholly unblamable and unreprovable in God’s sight, but that he, looking upon them in his Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections.”

The above quote is from Thomas Boston, (1852). The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: Discourses on Prayer. (S. M‘Millan, Ed.) (Vol. 11, pp. 131–132). Aberdeen: George and Robert King.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Principal Foundation of our Salvation (Turretin)

 I’ve always appreciated Francis Turretin’s discussion of justification by faith alone.  Here are some of his quotes on this topic that I’ve found quite comforting:

For the righteousness of Christ alone imputed to us is the foundation and meritorious cause upon which our absolutary (absolving) sentence rests, so that for no other reason does God bestow the pardon of sin and the right to life than on account of the most perfect righteousness of Christ imputed to us and apprehended by faith.  Hence it is readily gathered that we have not here a mere dispute about words (as some falsely imagine), but a controversy most real and indeed of the highest moment.  In it we treat of the principal foundation of our salvation, which being overthrown or weakened, all our confidence and consolation both in life and in death must necessarily perish.

…The gospel teaches that what could not be found in us was to be sought in another, could be found nowhere else than in Christ, the God-man; who taking upon himself the office of surety most fully satisfied the justice of God by his perfect obedience and thus brought to us an everlasting righteousness by which alone we can be justified before God; in order that covered and clothed with that garment as though it were of our first-born (like Jacob), we may obtain under in the eternal blessing of our heavenly Father.

…The obedience of Christ rendered in our name to God the Father is so given to us by God that it is reckoned to be truly ours and that it is the sole and only righteousness on account of and by the merit of which we are absolved from the guilt of our sins and obtain a right to life….”

Francis Turretin, Institutes, vol 2, p. 639, 647, 648.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI