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The Marrow Controversy

One of the most significant controversies the Church of Scotland has ever known, it began in England in 1645 with publication of a work entitled The Marrow of Modern Divinity. Authorship was traditionally attributed to Edward Fisher,* but this seems improbable. An exposition of Federal Theology, the book largely comprises extracts from Reformers, including Luther and Calvin, and from the English Puritans. It had gone through seven editions by 1648, when a second part was published: an exposition of the Ten Commandments which, like the first part, contrived a middle course between antinomianism and legalism.

About 1700 Thomas Boston* purchased the first part from a Berwickshire parishioner, and it greatly influenced his preaching. His recommendation led finally to the book's reprinting in 1718, with a preface by James Hog of Carnock. It proved anathema to the legalism of the Moderates,* and in 1720 the general assembly, condemning the book as heretical and antinomian, passed an act prohibiting ministers from commending it, and enjoining them to warn their parishioners against it. Despite a document signed by Boston, Ebenezer Erskine,* and ten other “Marrowmen,” who saw an attack on evangelical truth, the protesters were formally admonished and rebuked by the 1722 assembly. Many Moderates had urged a more severe sentence, and embarked on a systematic persecution of Marrowmen, whose preaching nevertheless attracted great numbers. The controversy gradually subsided, and when Boston produced in 1726 a new edition of The Marrow with extensive notes, the establishment found it prudent not to pursue the matter further.

See D. Beaton, “The `Marrow of Modern Divinity' and the Marrow Controversy,” Records of the Scottish Church History Society, vol. I, part III (c.1925), pp. 112-34.

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