I. The Marrow of Modern Divinity
A. a book written by English theologian, Edward Fisher, in 1645-1649.
B. The book is fictional conversation between four characters – a young convert, an evangelist, a Neonomian and an Antinomian.
C. The book was first published in two parts.
1. In the first part of the book Fisher’s four characters discuss, among other things, Adam’s fall as well as the dangers of Neonomianism and Antinomianism.
2. The second part, published a few years later, is where Fisher came off the rails. In this part of his book, Fisher’s characters discuss something Fisher called the Free Offer of Grace.
D. Fisher argued in his book that Christians should not speak about election or the extent of the atonement when speaking to unbelievers, because the unbeliever may assume he or she is not elect since they do not believe. Fisher argued Christians should instead tell unbelievers “there is good news for them; Jesus died for them, and if they will but take Christ and accept His righteousness, then they shall have Him.”
QUOTE FROM THE BOOK
“Evan (Evangelista). I beseech you consider, that God the Father, as he is in his Son Jesus Christ, moved with nothing but with his free love to mankind lost, hath made a deed of gift and grant unto them all, that whosoever of them all shall believe in this his Son, shall not perish, but have eternal life. And hence it was, that Jesus Christ himself said unto his disciples, (Mark 16:15), ‘Go and preach the gospel to every creature under heaven’: that is, Go and tell every man without exception, that here is good news for him; Christ is dead for him; and if he will take him, and accept of his righteousness, he shall have him. — The Marrow of Modern Divinity, Edward Fisher, Chapter 2, Section 3, 3
F. Fisher came to this conclusion after proposing the utterly ridiculous notion that God has two wills:
1. a hypothetical or secret will (that is, He secretly desires to save only the elect . . . )
2. and a determinative or revealed will (. . . but He has revealed that He desires to save everyone)
G. Fisher used this schizophrenic notion of two wills in God to say we can tell everyone Jesus died for them, because God has revealed that He desires to save everyone. And if they reject His “offer”? Then it will prove they were not among the elect whom alone God has secretly revealed to save.
QUOTE FROM THE BOOK
Evan. I beseech you to consider, that although some men be ordained to condemnation, yet so long as the Lord has concealed their names, and not set a mark of reprobation upon any man in particular, but offers the pardon generally to all, without having any respect either to election or reprobation, surely it is great folly in any man to say, It may be I am not elected, and therefore shall not have benefit by it; and therefore I will not accept of it, nor come in: 8 for it should rather move every man to give diligence “to make his calling and election sure,” (2 Peter 1:10), by believing it, for fear we come short of it, 9 according to that of the apostle, “let us, therefore, fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of us should seem to come short of it,” (Heb 4:1). Wherefore, I beseech you, do not you say, It may be I am not elected, and therefore I will not believe in Christ; but rather say, I do believe in Christ, and therefore I am sure I am elected. 10 And check your own heart for meddling with God’s secrets, and prying into his hidden counsel, and go no more beyond your bounds, as you have done, in this point: for election and reprobation is a secret; and the Scripture tells us, “that secret things belong unto God, but those things that are revealed belong unto us,” (Deut 29:29). Now this is God’s revealed will, for, indeed, it is his express command, “That you should believe on the name of his Son,” (1 John 3:23); and it is his promise, “that if you believe, you shall not perish, but have everlasting life,” (John 3:16). — The Marrow of Modern Divinity, Edward Fisher, Chapter 2, Section 3, 3
II. Thomas Boston and the Church of Scotland
A. The book was published in 1649 and then went out of print. However, it was republished in Scotland in 1718 after Scottish minister, Thomas Boston found it on the book shelf of someone in his congregation and then read it.
B. Boston began recommending the book to his congregation as well as to other ministers. He was eventually joined by eleven other ministers who also began recommending the book to their congregations.
C. Eventually, the Church of Scotland discovered the book. Immediately following examination they condemned it! Unfortunately, this had the unwanted effect of increasing the curiosity of the general public which caused sales of the book to explode.
D. Pressured by a majority of its faithful ministers, the Church of Scotland convened a general assembly whereupon they rightly and officially condemned the book. The Assembly also took the extra step of restricting Boston and his eleven fellow ministers from ever rising to any office in the church higher than minister.
1. Nevertheless, despite the church’s official stance which remains in effect even today, Fisher’s poisonous theory continues to plague Protestant churches around the world.
III. The Controversy
A. The controversy began when Boston and his fellow ministers submitted a petition to the Church of Scotland in which they argued the Church had inadvertently made it impossible to preach the gospel to unbelievers when they condemned the book. Furthermore, by condemning the book, the Church had also succumbed to hyper Calvinism.
In regards to this second accusation, they accused the General Assembly of teaching the following:
1.That because the grace of God in Christ saves the elect;
2. therefore the elect are known by the forsaking of sin,
3.which means grace is given to those who forsake sin;
4. therefore the gospel should only be preached to those who show signs of forsaking their sin
B. This was a false accusation. The Church of Scotland had never taught this. Rather, the Church of Scotland had always faithfully insisted the gospel must be preached indiscriminately to all men, and that all men should be informed of the fact that God now commands them to believe the gospel. Where they disagreed with Boston and the other eleven is that election and Christ’s definite atonement be preached as part of this gospel. This is what Boston and his fellow ministers did not like. This is what they were trying to silence.
C. After Boston accused the Church of teaching hyper Calvinism, he proposed the Church should begin teaching the following:
1. Christ died only for His elect.
2. but Christ is also dead for everyone
3. therefore, everyone can be told Christ died for them
D. This was nothing more than an attempt to sneak Arminian general atonement into the church. Thomas Boston and his fellow ministers were simply twelve functionally Arminian heretics who sought to infect the Church of Scotland with an Amyraldian/Arminian universal atonement.
Today, there are hundreds of Presbyterian and Protestant churches around the world that have surrendered to Boston’s heresy. It even has a name today – the “Free Offer of the Gospel” or the “Well Meant Offer of the Gospel.” And the same as it was back then, anyone who rejects this so called new doctrine is immediately accused of hyper Calvinism, the same as the Church of Scotland was.
IV. Investigating the controversy in the light of Scripture
Romans 15:8-9 For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs,and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.
A. We find in Scripture God had made a number of promises to the fathers which He promised Christ would secure for His elect. By fathers, I mean the Jewish patriarchs who had a particular faith, like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
B. These promises included
1. the promise of the Holy Spirit.
Acts 2:33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.
Galatians 3:13-14 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
2. the promise of resurrection
Acts 26:6-8 And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, 7 to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! 8 Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?
Acts 13:30-33 But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus
3. the promise of descendants who shared the same faith, which today we call the church
Hebrews 11:9-10 By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.
Galatians 3:29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
4. the promise of eternal redemption
Hebrews 9:11-12 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.
Hebrews 9:15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.
C. The procurement of these promises was contingent upon Christ securing atonement for His people. The question is, whose sins did He secure atonement for?
Hebrews 10:12-14 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
1. If Christ secured atonement for everyone’s sins, then everyone would receive the promises.
2. However, if Christ only secured atonement for some people’s sins, then only those people whose sins He secured atonement for are redeemed. If you are someone who believes He secured atonement for everyone’s sins, but only some people will be redeemed, then how can you be certain you are one of those whom He will redeem? You have to make the answer about you, about something you did or are doing.
D. The fatal flaw in Fisher’s argument is this: Fisher did not think it important for the unbeliever to know and believe Christ secured atonement for the sins of His people alone. Instead, he thought it important for the unbeliever to believe Christ would secure redemption for him if he made a choice to accept Christ’s offer. This is why Fisher did not want to say or do anything that might offend the unbeliever at the start.
1. If I let you think He secured atonement for everyone’s sins by not telling you He died for His elect alone, then I am leaving it up in the air as to whether He succeeded in securing atonement for anyone’s sins. Maybe He secured atonement for your sins, maybe He didn’t. How can you be certain either way? Someone who believes Christ died for everyone is stuck turning to himself for the answer; to some choice he made or to his law keeping.