James Buchanan on Edward Fisher’s Marrow of Modern Divinity

The Marrow controversy in Scotland was a protest against alleged Antinomianism, on the one side, and a reaction against real Neonomianism, on the other. It was occasioned by the republication in this country of a work entitled ‘The Marrow of Modern Divinity,’ which had been written by Edward Fisher, an Independent, and published in 1647 with the approbation of Caryl, Burroughs, and Strong. It was assailed by Principal Hadow, of St. Andrews, in a work entitled ‘The Antinomianism of the Marrow Detected:’ and Mr. Hog, of Carnock, with the brethren who concurred with him in recommending the book, were cited to appear before the Church Courts, and ultimately forbidden to teach the doctrines contained in it. This Act of Assembly gave rise to a keen and protracted controversy, and ultimately led, in concurrence with other causes, to the secession of some of the ablest and best ministers of the Church. The discussion involved many important points of doctrine, but it mainly turned on a question of fact,—the one party affirming, and the other denying, that certain Antinomian errors were contained in Fisher’s work,—while these errors were equally rejected by both. In so far as it related merely to that fact, the controversy could have no permanent importance; and it would have resembled that which was waged between the Jansenists and the Jesuits, whether certain propositions, which were equally disclaimed by. both parties, were contained in Jansen’s ‘Augustinus,’—or that between the Neonomians and their opponents in England, whether certain doctrines, which were disclaimed by both parties, were taught in the writings of Dr. Crisp.

In regard to this question of fact, in the case of the ‘Marrow,’ we shall only say, that a book which is held even by its admirers to require explanatory or apologetic notes, may be fairly presumed to contain some unguarded expressions, which might be understood in a sense dangerous to some part of the scheme of divine truth; and that this remark applies equally to Fisher’s ‘Marrow of Modern Divinity,’ which was annotated by Thomas Boston, and to Dr. Crisp’s ‘Sermons,’ which were annotated by Dr. Gill.

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