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The Marrow Controversy and Seceder Tradition

By William VanDoodewaard
May 2012 | Review by Mostyn Roberts


After the Reformation, the Marrow Controversy of the eighteenth century is noted as one of the most significant and defining events in the Scottish church. However, until now, there has not been a serious analysis of the theology of the Marrow Men as it relates to churches in Scotland during the aftermath of the controversy. In this important study, William vanDoodewaard identifies characteristic understandings of Marrow theology on the atonement, saving faith, and the free offer of the gospel and traces them out in the theology of the Seceder tradition. In doing so, he presents substantial evidence for the continuity of Marrow theology in the Associate Presbytery and Associate Synod in Scotland during the eighteenth century. He ably demonstrates that while Marrow theology was not the primary cause of the Secession churches, the Seceders were aware of the significance of Marrow theology and consciously made it an integral part of their churches.

  • Publisher: Reformation Heritage Books
  • ISBN: 978-1-60178-149-9
  • Pages: 314
  • Price: 0.00
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Book Review

The Marrow Controversy and Seceder Tradition

 – Atonement, Saving Faith and the Gospel Offer in Scotland (1718-1799)

William VanDoodewaard

Reformed Heritage Books

302 pages, $19.00

ISBN: 978-1-60178-149-9

Star rating: 3


In 1733 four ministers left the Church of Scotland, establishing the ‘Secession’ church. They were strong advocates of the theology of ‘The Marrow of Modern Divinity’ (written in 1645 by one Edward Fisher of London – VanDoodewaard has a helpful chapter about the work and its presumed author), which had caused controversy in the Church of Scotland some years earlier. This controversy was not the occasion of the secession but Marrow theology has always been taken to characterise the Secession churches.

      The author’s purpose in this volume is to ascertain more exactly the degree of continuity of Marrow theology in the Associate Presbytery and Synod (the Secession churches) from 1733 to1799. In doing so, he aims to show that the current appreciation of Marrow theology is part of ‘a continuity of a vibrant, historic stream of gospel-focused, Christ-centred, Reformed theology’.

      By examining the writings and sermons of numerous ministers, along with church records and other documents, VanDoodewaard establishes his case. He discusses their teaching on the atonement, saving faith, assurance and the ‘free offer’ of the gospel and shows in contrast to the opponents of the Marrow how the Marrow brethren insisted that a free, universal offer of the gospel is biblically required and in full harmony with particular redemption. A brief chapter touching on the nineteenth century shows how the ‘free offer’ lost its theological context, as the basic federal framework and the theology of the atonement were undermined. The author concludes that, nonetheless, the Marrow’s evangelical Calvinism was a potent force in Scottish Reformed theology and, through ‘migration, colonialism and missionary endeavour’, exerted a worldwide influence.

      This book makes a fascinating read for anyone interested in church history and in the development and decline not so much of doctrine itself but of the church’s grip on doctrine and of doctrine’s influence in the church.


Mostyn Roberts



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