Results tagged “Ferguson” from Reformation21 Blog

The Marrow: Some Questions

I believe the Marrow of Modern Divinity will receive some more attention in 2016 due to the publication of Sinclair Ferguson's new book. I have just finished it and in the book, Ferguson makes many wonderful and much-needed pastoral insights. 

His book also got me thinking some more about The Marrow. In fact, I think Ferguson's book will get us thinking about some of the more controversial issues surrounding the Marrow. In this post I'd like to highlight some of these issues. They are, in no particular order:

1. Edward Fisher, author of the Marrow, has an interesting history. John Trapp called him a sly antinomian. Now, forgetting the "antinomian" part, what about the "sly" part? 

Consider this excellent historical digging by Chad Vandixhoorn:

"It seems to me that Fisher almost certainly knew of some members of the assembly's committee for the examination of antinomians and its activities and appears to have tailored his work to avoid their censure. Quite overwhelming the customary references to Protestant Reformers and the puritan authors of the previous decades, Fisher's opening pages wedge in an unusual number of citations of authors who are members of the assembly's antinomianism committee, such as John Lightfoot and Edward Reynolds. Furthermore, he cites only one author who is a member Parliament, Francis Rous, who is also the only member of Parliament to bring accusations against antinomians. Fisher delicately laces one or two pages with references to the accused antinomians John Eaton and Tobias Crispe only at the close of the 1645 edition of the Marrow. He wisely deletes all reference to them in his 1646 edition, replacing that portion of the dialogue with a lengthy monologue and increasing the number of quotations from Westminster divines" (in 'The strange silence of prolocutor Twisse: Predestination and politics in the Westminster assembly's debate over justification', The Sixteenth Century Journal 40 (2009), pp. 395-418). HT: Patrick Ramsey.

There's a lot more work in recent years that has uncovered Fisher's background. We need to remember that for all his Bunyan-esque brilliance, he was not a trained theologian. 

2. How did Thomas Boston's lack of theological training and lack of library resources impact his ability to understand the Marrow in its seventeenth-century context? 

I am not sure Boston was able to understand the texts from the previous century very well because he simply did not have access to them like we do today. If he had read more of Preston, for example, he surely would have come to the conclusion that Preston was a hypothetical universalist. 

I find it interesting that we rarely critique the historical theology of those from earlier centuries. I think we assume they were right without doing the necessary digging to see whether they actually read carefully. Just read the Preface to John Ball's work (1645) where some Westminster divines admit they had been too busy to read his work as carefully as they ought, but they are commending it anyway! Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

3. Related to #2 above, what do we make of the changing historiography that seems to show that Fisher was a hypothetical universalist? 

I know Boston and his friends did not think the Marrow taught hypothetical universalism. And many scholars try with all their might to avoid the implications of this thought, but I simply cannot see how we can deny that the Marrow teaches HU. 

The English hypothetical universalists had pastoral concerns behind their view in relation to the Free Offer of the Gospel. Culverwell, whom Fisher quotes in the Marrow in relation to the Fee Offer, held to HU (Ussher convinced him). No particularist at that point in Reformed history (so far as I know) would be comfortable with the language used by Fisher. That later particularists in Scotland aren't uncomfortable with Fisher's language is a very interesting historical point. 

So when discussing the nature of the Free Offer in relation to the Marrow, and all of the pastoral issues surrounding this topic, our view of the Marrow controversy in Scotland will in some sense be dictated by whether we believe the Marrow teaches HU or not. 

4. Would the Marrow Men be comfortable with Witsius (and others)?

The famous Auchterarder Creed says:  "It is not sound and orthodox to teach that we must forsake sin in order to our coming to Christ." In 1716 the Presbytery of Auchterarder gave a series of propositions for candidates to give their assent if they were to be ordained to the ministry. This proposition from the Creed was designed to guard against a type of preparationism.
The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland considered this phrase as "unsound and detestable doctrine."

So the Marrow Men ended up fighting a battle in order to defend the Auchterarder Creed. But, the big question remains, have Reformed theologians in the past affirmed that one must forsake sin in order to come to Christ?

Interestingly, Herman Witsius, the so-called "middle-man" in the Antinomian-Neonomian debates that emerged in the latter part of the seventeenth century, asks whether repentance precedes the remission of sins. 

Does sorrow for sin (repentance) precede justification, "as a disposing condition, prerequisite in the subject"? 

Witsius claims that the simplicity of Scripture is to be preferred over the "subtleties of the schools."

When a principle of new life is infused into a sinner by the Holy Spirit, all sorts of spiritual actions take place in the person who has this Spirit of grace. When this happens the soul, "quickened by the Spirit," sees itself as defiled and Christ as full of grace. When this happens, the person is displeased with himself and flees to Christ. "Hence arises the receiving and accepting of Christ, that it may be delivered from the filthiness and guilt of its sins." Here is where it gets interesting:

"Hence it follows, that that act of faith, whereby we receive Christ for righteousness, cannot be exercised, without a previous, or at least a concomitant repentance, and purpose of a new life."

In other words, it is "sound and orthodox" for Witsius to say that an awakened sinner will, in his experience, have a previous (or, concomitant/accompanying) hatred for sin and purpose of a new life before receiving Christ. 

Would the Marrow Men be okay with that language? Is this all their opponents were saying? Regarding the former question, I think it would make them uncomfortable. As to the latter, this is where a lot more work needs to be done (and will be done in the near future, dv.).

Faith goes before justification, as does repentance. Repentance, according to Witsius, is a privilege of the covenant of grace; but it is a duty required by God "as an act to be performed" by the sinner "in order to obtain pardon, not that it any how merits pardon...but that at least it shows the man that is effectually called and regenerated..."

There's also the view of Vos: "Without the conviction of sin, the act -- the exercise -- of faith is unthinkable. Also, believing in Christ is something reasonable that occurs in the light of truth, not a blind, mystical urge. Thus it is not subject to any doubt that, in order, repentance and the knowledge of sin precede surrendering faith." (See also Davenant, pt. 5).

5. Is it possible to question the Marrow today without being accused of being a "sly neonomian"? 

Thankfully, with the excellent historical work that has been done in recent years by the likes of David Como, Jonathan Moore, Aaron Denlinger, Donald John Maclean, William Vandoodewaard, Richard Snoddy, and Michael Lynch, it means that these types of questions are not the mad ravings of neonomians, but of those who are concerned about what really happened, not what we would like to imagine happened. 

Boston had reservations about the conditionality of the covenant of grace, but pretty much every orthodox Reformed theologian I have read affirmed the conditionality of the covenant of grace (e.g., Bishop Davenant; see also ch. 19 of A Puritan Theology). According to Ferguson: "Later, however, [Boston] was of a very different mind: 'I had no great fondness for the doctrine of the conditionality of the covenant of grace'" (p. 67).  Boston says also, "I had no great gust for faith's being called the condition..."

The Reformed theologians that I have studied in the seventeenth century were very careful in describing how faith is an antecedent condition for receiving the benefits of the covenant. They had to in order to ward off the Antinomian view that faith was not a condition for receiving the benefits of Christ. 

There are many more issues that deserve further consideration; and indeed the questions above are just scratching the surface of the exceedingly complicated history of The Marrow of Modern Divinity
Various social media websites and the news outlets are still ablaze after the #FergusonDecision. While I am concerned about how the world is reacting, both positively and negatively, I am also concerned about how the Church is responding. As I shared here, what I am observing further confirms that we, as followers of Christ, are still divided on these issues. Unfortunately, while disagreement is one thing; we can disagree on issues related to ethnicity and culture, terminating friendships and assassinating someone's character are completely different. (Yes, I have seen these things occur). The latter must cease.

In light of all the current dialogue about ethnic and cultural issues, specifically as they surround the #FergusonDecision or more broadly the conversations in general, allow me to provide 3 don'ts of ethnic/cultural conversation. These mistakes are being made all over the place, and it does not aid in this most important discussion.

I do not claim that these are standard across the board, specifically as it relates to blacks and whites, but from the vast majority of conversations with brothers and sisters in the faith, these observations seem quite consistent. 

3 Don'ts of Ethnic/Cultural Dialogue While Speaking to African-Americans:

1. Don't tell us we make everything about race. It is easy to avoid conversations about race, or ethnicity, when it is not a category you are accustomed to discussing. To the same degree and in the same manner we have had to be concerned about the color of our skin, you have not. Driving, shopping, and walking while black are things that will never concern you. Instead of telling us we make everything about race, it will be helpful for you to learn about our pain because there is truth to our story.

2. Don't be so quick to respond. #blacklivesmatter . At times, it seems like you have no desire to sympathize with us. While we do not expect you to feel our pain as we do, surely you can weep with us. The racial/ethnic tension in this country has existed for hundreds of years, and it is still present today. At times, however, it takes more subtle forms. When we mention this unfortunate reality, please refrain from pulling the trigger of your keyboard so quickly or providing a verbal rebuttal. Just listen. You may gain a new friend and/or develop a deeper relationship with us.

3. Don't quote other African-Americans in support of your position. We know there are African-Americans who disagree with us in certain areas. Quoting from one of our own, according to the flesh, may do more to hurt your position than help you. From an extreme perspective, it may appear like you are trying to turn us against our own. From a much narrower point-of-view, when you quote an African-American, it is akin to quoting "your one black friend." In other words, you only use him when it is to your advantage. 

3 Don'ts of Ethnic/Cultural Dialogue While Speaking to White Americans:

1. Don't make us feel guilty. There are many of us who desire to help and move forward in this highly charged area, but we sometimes feel as if you are pointing the finger at us without giving us an opportunity to say, "We are on your side." Furthermore, you sometimes make us feel as if everything is our fault when, in fact, many of us are immigrants, and our ancestors had nothing to do with much of this tragic history of this nation.

2. Don't disregard our position simply because we differ. Sometimes we feel as if you do not want to hear our position because we may have another perspective. Is it wrong to disagree? Perhaps in conversation you may convince us of your position, or quite possibly we may convince you of ours, whether in part or in total. But please listen to us. We feel like we have something valuable to add, too.

3. Don't act like we do not care. We know there are many issues at hand, issues that are far more numerous than we understand. Nevertheless, that does not mean we do not care. We want justice to be upheld. We want God to be honored. We do care. We will never be able to walk in your shoes, but we can walk along side you to hear your frustrations and pain. 
According to some sources, Officer Darren Wilson could have been indicted with one of several crimes (e.g., first degree murder, second degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, or others) for killing an unarmed African-American young man. Many around the world were quite disgusted at his actions. Others believed Officer Wilson acted rightly and was simply seeking to defend himself from the attacks of Mr. Michael Brown. 

Since the incident occurred months ago, the conversation about police brutality, the history of African-Americans in this nation, and ethnic, or race, discussions have more frequently occurred in a condensed manner. People have wondered whether this was an isolated incident. Others have thought that African-Americans, far too frequently, have their lives taken by white law enforcement? Still yet, some posed the question, "Was this even about race?" They further mused that some African-Americans make certain situations about race, or ethnicity, when they should not; it only makes matters worse.

With all the conversations that happened, whether on social media sites (e.g., Facebook, Twitter) and/or in the news, the world, and literally I mean the world, waited with baited breath as the verdict concerning Officer Darren Wilson was announced. At about 9PM Eastern Standard Time (EST) on Monday, November 24, 2014, St. Louis County Prosecutor, Bob McCulloch, announced that a grand jury comprised of nine whites and three blacks did not indict Officer Wilson. Many people were shocked. Others thought the appropriate decision was made.

How do you feel? I write to those who are frustrated. Does the verdict remind you of all the years of oppression our people (cf. Exod. 2:11) have faced? Do you feel rage? Do you want to express it somehow, but for fear of misunderstanding you do nothing? Do you write something on Facebook or Twitter secretly hoping people will validate your concerns by 'liking', commenting, or retweeting your post? Do you wonder about the Brown family and how they are feeling and healing? Mr. Michael Brown Sr. said

"We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions. While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change. We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen. Join with us in our campaign to ensure that every police officer working the streets in this country wears a body camera."

Despite Brown, Sr.'s comment to "channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change," perhaps one of your chief concerns in moving forward is that some white people seem to stand in the way. "How can we make change positively if they seem to oppose us?", you may think. Or perhaps you continue to ponder why more whites do not understand your pain, and instead of seeking to better comprehend you and your position, they assume they know, then write things on social media (e.g., "Don't make this about race") that are extremely insensitive and only further frustrate and offend you. It may seem as if #blacklivesdontmatter. 

Do you wonder if some whites lack concern that another image-bearer has lost his life? Deep down, do you wish they would remain silent and simply "weep with those who weep" (Rom. 12:15) instead of telling you, "A decision has been made. Color does not matter. The facts are in"? As I have been taught in my marriage, sometimes it is best to remain silent and enter into another person's world insofar as one is able to better garner another person's position. 

I know you are hurting. I am, too, because the Ferguson, MO incident reminds me of so many other things, not to mention we have not progressed as far as we should have regarding ethnic, or race, relations in the church. Nevertheless, my plea to you, as brothers and sisters in Christ and according to the flesh, is that you realize whites, particularly white Christians, are not your enemies. The same flesh that was torn and blood that was shed for you was equally broken and poured out for them. We are called, therefore, "so far as it depends on you, [to] live peaceably with all" (Rom. 12:18). As difficult as that may be at times, are you willing to do that? More pointedly, are you willing to be at peace with your white brothers and sisters, and even reconcile with them if they have offended you, before the Sunday comes when you participate in the Lord's Supper? Do you realize what may be at stake if you do not?

"Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died" (1 Cor. 11:27-30). 

The context of the aforementioned passage includes, but is not limited to, reconciliation with each other (cf. 1 Cor. 11:17-22). If we have not attempted to mend the brokenness of our relationships in the local church, we drink judgment upon ourselves. In fact that is why some people were dying in the first century. It is frightening to consider how seriously we should take participating in Communion.

You see, just as God, the offended party, has reconciled us, the offending party, to himself through Christ by pursuing us and ultimately sending his Son to a cross, so, too, we must pursue those who have offended us in an attempt to fasten the loose areas in our relationships with them. Along with all the pain and confusion we may experience during this time (#FergusonDecision), we must maintain hearts full of forgiveness and love (Col. 3:12-17). We must grow together; we must live together; we must love together. We have enough problems in the world. Far too often those same problems exist in the Church, when in fact the Church should be a place of refuge and comfort.

To get to that place, however, it will take time and many more conversations, but God is able. In his providence, he has brought us thus far. He continues to create a people for himself, a people from every tribe, nation, and tongue, who should be willing, ready, and able to worship the Lord under the same roof, live together in neighborhoods, and have these kind of conversations. Our communion more broadly (i.e., relationships) and our Communion more specifically (i.e., the Lord's Supper) all point to our salvation, redemption, and reconciliation with God through Christ, as well as our reconciliation with each other.

Please pursue and reconcile with those who have offended you. Take the more difficult road. It will be that much sweeter as you participate in the Lord's Supper and look across the pews knowing you are truly one in Christ and that no temporal issue has caused separation. I really and truly hope it works out that smoothly. I also hope that, as you pursue those who have offended you, God will be glorified in the reconciliation of his people as you seek to learn from each other and grow together.