What is the relationship between law and gospel? For centuries the Christian church has been divided by various parties who have answered in different ways. Some stand on the side of Paul in saying that the Law cannot save and is purely a work of grace, others stand on the Decalogue in saying that these rules must be kept if one is to realize his/her entrance into heaven one day. Sinclair Ferguson masterfully navigates the muddied waters between legalism on the one hand and license on the other in his newest work, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters.
The Whole Christ: What The Marrow Controversy Was Really About
1717 saw a rather strange meeting of the Presbytery at Auchterarder when one, William Craig, was asked to agree to a statement which held a huge weight but carried with it a hint of difficulty of answering correctly. He was asked by the presbytery to agree to the following statement: “I believe that it is not sound and orthodox to teach that we forsake sin in order to our coming to Christ, and instating us in covenant work with God” (28)
William Craig had already held reservations about that exact wording and yet was a signatory on the Presbytery’s copy of the Westminster Confession of Faith. The decision had been reached by those at the meeting to render the license to preach, which Craig held, null and void. Had it not been for a providential conversation happening afterwards, the matter would have little significance for us today.
Who Were the Marrow Men?
The Marrow Men were a group of 12 men who objected to the condemnation of the “Auchterarder Creed” which Craig was pushed to confirm. Names of the men include, Ralph Erskine, Ebeneezer Erskine, and first among equals, Thomas Boston. Though Boston held that the creed was poorly worded, he held his tongue when attending that fateful meeting of the Presbytery in 1717. These men were formally rebuked by the church’s General Assembly in 1722 but not to the effect of being removed from their ministries.
So Why Does the Controversy Matter Today?
This volume is more than a mere perusal through a dusty 18th century debate, it holds significant value for the church of the 21st century. Here in this volume we have everything we need to know in order to have a firmer foundation of faith and a deeper well of salvation than we ever thought possible. Ferguson shows us that both legalism and antinomianism are both dangerous errors. They both fail to grasp at the nature of God and the power of his saving arm.
Ferguson does an excellent work of Historical Theology for us in navigating the difficult issues with precision and clarity. He examines the entire controversy, not from the eyes of Boston, but from the revelation of Scripture as his guiding principle. He let’s the text speak for itself in a powerful way. Not only does this little volume show Ferguson’s love of history and theology, but of his immense love for Christ and biblical orthodoxy.
The crescendo of this books comes not with bells and whistles but with a soft, hushed voice with an oddly Scottish accent, telling us that The Whole Christ is “language that stresses that all our salvation comes to us from God the Father in Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit. This is salvation by grace alone, in Christ alone, through faith alone. It is Ephesians 1:3-14, Christ-centered, Trinity-honoring, eternity-rooted, redemption-providing, adoption-experiencing, holiness-producing, assurance-effecting, God-glorifying salvation. It was the fuller realization of this that created the ‘tincture’ in Boston’s life and ministry.”
May it be said in our own day that pastors preach with this in mind, to this end, that God is glorified and exalted in the proclaimed word. As we look back to the Divines who have carved a path for us, let us be energized by the fact that God is the same today as He was in the 18th century and will be forevermore. We must teach our people to treasure Christ more deeply than ever before, love him more dearly than previously though possible, and adore him more with each passing breath.
What does this book mean for me?
- Ferguson teaches us that living an inconsistent Christian life “leads to lack of assurance”…”God anchors us to himself in Christ.” This means we can life confidently before the face of God knowing that we are in union with His glorious Son.
- A well-written historical theology keeps the people of God from repeating age-old mistakes. Here we can learn from giants like Boston and the Erskine brothers in how to approach the grace of God in Christ.
- Knowing that those giants who went before us struggled, we can be confident as Christians when the same happens to us. We are not on an island free from error. We stumble and fall but there is grace for repentant sinner.
Official Product Description
Since the days of the early church, Christians have wrestled with the relationship between law and gospel. If, as the apostle Paul says, salvation is by grace and the law cannot save, what relevance does the law have for Christians today?
By revisiting the Marrow Controversy—a famous but largely forgotten eighteenth-century debate related to the proper relationship between God’s grace and our works—Sinclair B. Ferguson sheds light on this central issue and why it still matters today. In doing so, he explains how our understanding of the relationship between law and gospel determines our approach to evangelism, our pursuit of sanctification, and even our understanding of God himself.
Ferguson shows us that the antidote to the poison of legalism on the one hand and antinomianism on the other is one and the same: the life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ, in whom we are simultaneously justified by faith, freed for good works, and assured of salvation.
Sinclair Ferguson. The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016. 256 pp. $24.99.