Gregory E. Reynolds
The Marrow of Modern Divinity: A Simplified Version of Edward Fisher’s Seventeenth-Century Classic, edited and revised by Andy Wilson. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform: Andy Wilson, 2018, iv + 196 pages, $13.99.
I have rarely reviewed self-published books due to the lack of critical review and editing, and I am not a fan of abridgments, because they often mar the quality of the original. On both counts this book is a rare exception.
Editor Andy Wilson explains his reason for publishing the book:
The Marrow of Modern Divinity has been one of the most important books that I have ever read. While I wish that every Christian would read The Marrow, I realize that its antiquity, intricacy, and format can make it daunting for many readers. This is why I decided to undertake the task of producing a simplified version that would make the book’s message accessible to a wider audience. (iii)
The 1978 Reiner edition of The Marrow of Modern Divinity is 370 pages. So, Wilson has almost cut half of the original. But unlike most abridgments the essential content is not marred, especially since the editor is wholly sympathetic with the original.
The Marrow is, as Wilson states in his introduction, an inoculation against the two common religious errors of legalism and antinomianism. Hence, the dialogical format of the book features four characters: Nomista the legalist, Antinomista the antinomian, Neophytus the new untaught Christian, and Evangelista the orthodox minister of the gospel.
This edited version covers only Part I of the original, which was published separately in 1645. Part II was published four years later, making the first part truly a stand-alone work. Wilson has kept the first three divisions of the original: 1) The Law of Works, 2) The Law of Faith, and 3) The Law of Christ. The fourth section of the original dealing with the soul’s rest becomes the conclusion of Wilson’s version. Wilson artfully distills thirty-five chapters of the original into twelve. Boston’s notes are helpfully brought into the main text and distinguished by italics.
In place of the single appendix in the original by John Brown of Haddington, Wilson provides six appendices, the first and last of which are a “Glossary of Names Cited by Fisher and Boston” and “How the Reformed Confessions Distinguish between Law and Gospel.” Appendix 2 articulates the gist of the The Marrow, while setting the work in the context of the theological controversy of Thomas Boston’s day: “A Righteousness Apart from the Law That Is Not Against the Law: The Story and Message of The Marrow of Modern Divinity.” This appeared originally in Ordained Servant. The other three appendices are sermons preached by Pastor Wilson, germane to the main themes of The Marrow. These should be of considerable help to preachers in bringing the power of the gospel home to their congregations through the biblical themes enunciated in The Marrow.
A few pithy examples of the content of The Marrow will suffice. Regarding the Sinai covenant Boston notes:
In short, while the Sinai covenant was primarily an administration of the covenant of grace, the covenant of works was added to it so that men might see what kind of righteousness is needed to be justified in God’s sight. The law showed them that they were destitute of that righteousness so that they might be moved to embrace the covenant of grace, in which that righteousness is held forth to be received by faith. (33)
Wilson comments in a footnote:
The same idea is succinctly expressed in this quote from the Reformed theologian Geerhardus Vos (1862–1949) . . . “At Sinai it was not the ‘bare’ law that was given, but a reflection of the covenant of works revived, as it were, in the interests of the covenant of grace continued at Sinai.” (33)
An example of the tender pastoral concern of Fisher, Evangelista, the minister of the gospel, comforts the troubled young convert Neophytus:
So, my dear Neophytus, to turn my speech directly to you (because I see that you are so disturbed), I urge you to be persuaded that here you are to work nothing, here you are to do nothing, here you are to render nothing to God, but only to receive the treasure, which is Jesus Christ, and lay hold of him in your heart by faith. (66)
I highly recommend this book as I do the original. It would make an excellent text for an adult Sunday school class.
Gregory E. Reynolds is pastor emeritus of Amoskeag Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Manchester, New Hampshire, and is the editor of Ordained Servant. Ordained Servant Online, March 2019.