The Marrow of Modern Divinity on the Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel

1645, reprinted in 1718

The original printing had recommendations by Joseph Caryl, Jeremiah Burroughs and William Strong, who were members of the Westminster Assembly.  The 1726 edition contained explanatory notes by Thomas Boston.




by Travis Fentiman

The Marrow of Modern Divinity  Buy  was written in 1645, being attributed to an E.F., which may have been Edward Fisher.  The Marrow was apparently largely unknown in its own day, though it rose to prominence in the early 1700’s as it was read and promoted by Rev. Thomas Boston in the Church of Scotland.  The book is a compendium of the marrow (core) of the theology of the major orthodox theologians of the early-mid 1600’s.  Dr. David Lachman writes of it:

In placing such stress on a free offer of Christ and in affirming that Christ put Himself in the place of the elect, the Marrow reflects the consensus of the Reformed thought of the preceding fifty years [1595-1645], which, while describing Christ’s work as a fulfilling of the Covenant of Grace for the elect, affirmed that He was to be offered to all.”  (The Marrow Controversy, Edinburgh: Rutherford House, p. 27-28)

The book came under fire in the Church of Scotland in the early 1700’s as it included a phrase from Ezekiel Culverwell (1554-1631) that Christ’s death was a ‘Deed of Gift and Grant’ for all mankind, and a phrase from John Preston (1587-1628) that ‘Christ is dead for him [the gospel-hearer]’.    

Regarding Culverwell’s use of the phrase that Christ’s death is a Deed of Gift to all mankind, Lachman concludes (quoting Culverwell):

“…it is ‘to be taken of God’s dispensation of his mind in and by the Gospel’ and his intention in it is ‘to draw every one that hears the gospel, to believe’ that Christ and his benefits are offered to and will be bestowed on any who believes. [Footnote: Culverwell, A Brief Answer to Certain Objections against the Treatise of Faith, 1633, pp. A10a/b.]”   (The Marrow Controversy, p. 26)

Regarding Preston’s use of the phrase “Christ is dead for him”, Lachman concludes

Preston is presenting the gospel offer and makes no reference to the extent of the atonement.  In such a context the phrase ‘Christ is dead for him’ can only be understood as a paraphrase of the gospel offer, that Christ is available to all.  There is no ground here for interpreting it as importing the doctrine of universal redemption.”  (The Marrow Controversy, p.27)

Thomas Boston makes a detailed argument for Preston not teaching a universal atonement in a lengthy note to the Marrow below.

Regarding Edward Fisher’s use of the phrases (1645), Lachman argues:

“An examination of the context of the passages in question in the Marrow shows that the Assembly was mistaken in its interpretation [who charged the book as teaching universal atonement].  The phrases ‘Deed of Gift and Grant’ and ‘Christ is dead for him’ are used in Evangelista’s reply to Neophytus’s question: “hath such an one as I, any warrant to believe in Christ?”  His further objection, expressing a fear that he may not be one of the elect and therefore, though he be called, he shall not be saved, makes it clear that he understands Evangelista to be speaking of the gospel offer and not of a universal redemption.  Evangelista’s reply confirms this, steering him away from God’s secrets of election and reprobation and directing him, not to the death of Christ for all, but rather to the offers of ‘Pardon generally to all.’  

[Footnote: The Marrow, 1718, pp. 119-123.]  

Yet more decisively indicative of the opinion presented in the Marrow is the sentence immediately prior to the quotation from Luther.  Here reference is made to Christ’s putting ‘himself in the Room and Place of all the faithful,’

[Footnote: Ibid., p. 108]

an expression which, as Riccaltoun later pointed out, an advocate of universal redemption could not use.”  (The Marrow Controversy, p. 24-25) 

The Marrow Men in 1722 said that by the phrase “the Deed of Gift or Grant unto all Mankind” they meant nothing more

than the Revelation of the Divine Will in the Word, affording Warrant to offer Christ to all, and a Warrant to all to receive Him… [we] believe the Purchase and Application of Redemption to be peculiar to the Elect, who were given by the Father to Christ in the Counsel of Peace.”  (Queries, Agreed unto by the Commission of the General Assembly; …Together with the Answers… to The said Queries, 1722, pp. 73-74, as quoted in Lachman, The Marrow Controversy, p. 383)

For your help in reading, do note that the Marrow is a dialogue between four friends (only three are quoted below).  Neophyte is the new Christian.  Evangelista is the evangelical and the voice of Fisher, the author.  Nomista is a legalist.  Boston’s very helpful explanatory notes from 1726 are inserted throughout the text in maroon.

With these notes of explanation please enjoy the excerpts from The Marrow of Modern Divinity  Buy  on the Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel below.   



The Marrow of Modern Divinity


p. 106-113 in the 1837 edition, which corresponds to p. 145-150 in the newer 2009 Christian Focus Publications edition.  Buy


But, Sir, has such a one as I any warrant to believe in Christ?


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, has 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 [John 3:16],

(1645 Note: [Ezekiel] Culverwell, of Faith, p. 15)

(Boston’s Note: Mr. Culverwell’s words here cited, stand thus at large:

‘The matter to be believed unto salvation is this, that God the Father, moved by nothing but his free love to mankind lost, has made a deed of gift and grant of his Son Christ Jesus unto mankind, that whosoever of all mankind shall receive his gift by a true and lively faith, he shall not perish, but have everlasting life.’

Dr. Gouge, in his preface to this treatise of that author, has these remarkable words concerning him, ‘Never any took such pains to so good purpose, in and about the foundation of faith, as he has done.’

This deed of gift and grant, or authentic gospel-offer is expressed in so many words, ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life’ (John 3:16).  Where the gospel comes, this grant is published, and the ministerial offer made, and there is no exception of any of all mankind in the grant.  If there was, no ministerial offer of Christ could be warrantably made to the party excepted, more than to the fallen angels; and without question, the publishing and proclaiming of heaven’s grant unto any, by way of ministerial offer, presupposes the grant, in the first place, to be made to them: otherwise, it would be of no more value than a crier’s offering of the king’s pardon to one who is not comprehended in it.  This is the good old way of discovering to sinners their warrant to believe in Christ; and it does indeed bear the sufficiency of the sacrifice of Christ for all, and that Christ crucified is the ordinance of God for salvation unto all mankind, in the use-making of which only they can be saved; but not an universal atonement or redemption.

“What is thy faith?  My sure belief that God both may and will save me, etc.  Tell me the promise whereon thou leanest assuredly?  ‘Whosoever (says God) will believe in the death of my Son Jesus, shall not perish, but get eternal life’” (Mr. James Melville’s Catechism, ubi sup).

“He freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved.” (Mark 16:15-16; John 3:16WCF 7.3).

“The visible Church hath the privilege of enjoying offers of grace by Christ to all the members of it in the ministry of the gospel, testifying that whosoever believes in Him shall be saved” (WLC 63).

“This general offer, in substance, is equivalent to a special offer made to every one in particular, as appears by the apostle making use of it (Acts 16:31).  The reason of which offer is given (John 3:16)”  ([The] Practical Use [section] of [the Sum of] Saving Knowledge; [As printed with the Westminster] Confession, p. 380)

The Synod of Dort may be heard without prejudice on this head. 

‘It is the promise of the gospel (say they), that whosoever believeth in Christ crucified should not perish, but have life everlasting; which promise, together with the injunction of repentance and faith, ought promiscuously, and without distinction, to be declared, and published to all men and people, to whom God in his good pleasure sends the gospel” (Chapter 2, Article 5).

“But forasmuch as many, being called by the gospel, do not repent nor believe in Christ, but perish in their infidelity, this comes not to pass for want of, or by any insufficiency of, the sacrifice of Christ offered upon the cross, but by their own default” ([Chapter 2], Article 6).)

and hence, it was that Jesus Christ Himself said unto his disciples, Matt 16:15, ‘Go and preach the Gospel to every creature under heaven,’

(Boston’s Note: That is, from this deed of gift and grant it was that the ministerial offer was appointed to be made in the most extensive terms.)

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.

(1645 Note: Doctor [John] Preston, of Faith, p. 8)

(Boston’s Note: That the reader may have a more clear view of this passage, which is taken from Dr. Preston’s Treatise of Faith, I shall transcribe the whole paragraph in which it is found.  That eminent divine, speaking of that righteousness by which alone we can be saved, and having shown that it is communicated by gift, says,

‘But when you hear this righteousness is given, the next question will be, to whom is it given?  If it be only given to some, what comfort is this to me?  But (which is the ground of all comfort) it is given to every man-there is not a man excepted; for which we have the sure word of God, which will not fail.  When you have the charter of a king well confirmed, you reckon it a matter of great moment: what is it then when you have the charter of God Himself?  Which you shall evidently see in those two places, ‘Go preach the gospel to every creature under heaven’ (Mark 16:15); What is that?  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 it; restraint is not; but go tell every man under heaven.  The other text is, ‘Whosoever will, let him come, and take of the water of life freely’ (Rev. 22:17).  There is a [in Latin] quicunque vult, whosoever will come (none excepted) may have life, and it shall cost him nothing.  Many other places of Scripture there be to prove the generality of the offer; and having a sure word for it, consider it’ (p. 7-8).

The words ‘under heaven’ are taken from Colossians 1:23The scope here [in Col. 1:23] is the same with that of our author [Edward Fisher], not to determine concerning the extent of Christ’s death, but to discover the warrant sinners have to believe in Christ, namely, that the offer of Christ is general, the deed of gift or grant is to every man This necessarily supposes Christ crucified to be the ordinance of God for salvation, to which lost mankind is allowed access, and not fallen angels, for whom there is none provided: even as the city of refuge was the ordinance of God for the safety of the man-slayer, who had killed any person unaware (Num. 35:16); and the brazen serpent for the cure of those bitten by a serpent (Num. 21:8).  Therefore he [Fisher] says not, ‘Tell every man Christ died for him’; but, Tell every man ‘Christ is dead for him’; that is, for him to come to, and believe on; a Savior is provided for him; there is a crucified Christ for him, the ordinance of heaven for salvation for lost man, in the use-making of which he may be saved; even as one had said of old, Tell every man that has slain any person unaware, that the city of refuge is prepared for him, namely, to flee to, that he may be safe; and every one bitten by a serpent, that the brazen serpent is set up on a pole for him, namely, to look unto, that he may be healedBoth these were eminent types of Christ; and upon the latter, the Scripture is full and clear in this very point. 

‘And the Lord said unto Moses, make you a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole; and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looks upon it, shall live’ (Num. 21:8). 

‘And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the son of man be lifted up; that whosoever believes on Him should not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:14-16).  ‘For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever,’ etc.

Thus, what (according to Dr. Preston and our author [Fisher]) is to be told every man, is no more than what ministers of the gospel have in commission from their great Master, ‘Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready, come unto the marriage’ (Matt 22:4).  There is a crucified Savior, with all saving benefits, for them to come to, feed upon, and partake of freely.  See also Luke 2:30-31; Proverbs 9:2-4; Isaiah 25:6.

To confirm this to be the true and designed sense of the phrase in question, compare the following three passages, of the same treatise [of Preston’s], giving the import of the same text (Mark 16),

Christ has provided a righteousness and salvation, that is, his work that He has done already.  Now, if you will believe, and take Him upon these terms that He is offered, you shall be saved.  This, I say, belongs to all men.  This you have expressed in the gospel in many places: ‘If you believe you shall be saved’: as it is (Mark 16), ‘Go and preach the gospel to every creature under heaven; he that will believe shall be saved.’”  (Preston, on Faith, p. 32)

You must first have Christ Himself [in offer], before you can partake of those benefits by Him: and that I take to be the meaning of that in Mark 16, ‘Go preach the gospel to every creature under heaven; he that believes and is baptized shall be saved’; that is, he that will believe, that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, and that He is offered to mankind for a Savior, and will be baptized; that will give up himself to Him, that will take his mark upon him, shall be saved’ (Ibid., p. 46).

‘Go and preach the gospel to every creature; go and tell every man under heaven, that Christ is offered to him, he is freely given to him by God the Father; and there is nothing required of you but that you marry Him, nothing but to accept of Him’ (Ibid., p. 75).

Thus, it appears, that universal atonement, or redemption, is not taught here [by Preston], neither by our author [Fisher].  But that the candid reader may be satisfied as to his sentiments touching the question–‘for whom Christ died’? let him weigh these two things [that demonstrate that the Marrow teaches Limited Atonement]:

1. Our author [Fisher] puts a man’s being persuaded that Christ died for him in particular, in the definition of saving faith, and that as the last and highest step of it [that is, one comes to exercise saving faith in Christ, and then lastly he may come to be assured that Christ died for him].  But Arminians, and other Universalists, might as well put there a man’s being persuaded that he was created, or is preserved by Jesus Christ; since in being persuaded that Christ died for him, he applies no more to himself than what, according to their principles, is common to all mankind, as in the case of creation and preservation.

[Boston’s argument is that hypothetical universalists teach that one does not need saving faith to know that Christ died for him, but he only needs to be a created human being to know this; Fisher, rather, reserves this knowledge for those with saving faith; Therefore it is not likely that Fisher is a hypothetical-universalist]  

Hear [Hugo] Grotius [a prominent Arminian theologian] upon this head: ‘Some [Reformed theologians]’ says he,

‘have here interpreted faith to be persuasion [assurance], whereby a man believes that Jesus died for him in particular [by a Limited Atonement for the elect], and to purchase salvation all manner of ways for him [that is, completely and effectively], or (what with them [Reformed theologians] is the same thing) that he is elected; when, on the contrary [according to Arminianism and Grotius], Paul in many places teaches, ‘that Christ died for all men’; and such a faith as they [reformed theologians] talk of, has not in it anything true or profitable’ (Grotius, apud Pol. Synop).

Those whom this learned adversary here taxes, are Protestant anti-Arminian divines.  Those were they who defined faith by such a persuasion, and not the [Hypothetical] Universalists.  On the contrary, he [Grotius] argues against that definition of faith from the doctrine of universal atonement or redemption.  He rejects that definition of it, as in his opinion having nothing in it true, namely, according to the principles of those [reformed theologians] who gave it, viz. that Christ died, not for all and every man in particular, but for the elect only, and as having nothing in it profitable; that being, according to his [Grotius’s] principles, the common privilege of all mankind. 

2. He [Fisher] teaches plainly throughout the book, that they were the elect, the chosen, or believers, whom Christ represented, and obeyed, and suffered for. See among others, pages 22-3, 54, 86.  I shall repeat only two passages; the one, page 81:

‘According to that eternal and mutual agreement that was betwixt God the Father and Him, He put Himself in the room and place of all the faithful.’

The other in the first sentence of his own [Fisher’s] preface, viz.

‘Jesus Christ, the second Adam, did, as a common person, enter into covenant with God his Father for all the elect, (that is to say, all those that have or shall believe on his name) and for them kept it.’

What can be more plain than that, in the judgment of our author [Fisher], they were the elect whom Jesus Christ, the second Adam, entered into covenant with God for; that it was in the elect’s room He put Himself when He came actually to obey and suffer, and that it was for the elect He kept that covenant, by doing and suffering what was required of Him as our Redeemer?  As for the description, or character he gives of the elect, viz. that be the elect he understands all that have or shall believe in it, he follows our Lord Himself, ‘Neither, pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on Me’ (John 17:20); and [in] so doing, he [Fisher] is accompanied with orthodox divines. 

‘Thus did the sin of all God’s elect, or all true believers (for of such, and only such, he there, viz. Isa. 53:6, speaks) meet together upon the head of their common surety, the Lord Christ; (Brinsley’s Mesites, p. 64). 

‘The Father is well satisfied with the undertakings of the Son, who entered Redeemer and Surety to pay the ransom of believers’ (Practical Use of [the Sum of] Saving Knowledge, [Sub-]Title 4). 

‘The invisible church is the whole number of the elect that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the head’ (WLC, 64). 

‘Christ’s church, wherein standeth only remission of sins, purchased by Christ’s blood to all them that believe’ (The Confession of Faith used in Geneva, approved by the Church of Scotland, Section 4, Section last). 

But Arminians neither will nor can, in consistency with their principles touching election and the falling away of believers, admit that description or character of the elect, else they are widely mistaken by one of their own, who tells us that,

‘Upon the consideration of his [viz: Christ’s] blood, as shed, He [viz: God] decreed [according to Arminians], that all those who should believe in that Redeemer, and persevere in that faith, should, through mercy and grace, by Him be made partakers of salvation’ (Examination of Tilen., p. 131). 

‘Brought unto faith, and persevere therein; this being the condition required in everyone that is to be elected unto eternal life’ (Ibid., p. 139). 

Behold the Arminian election:

‘They [Arminians] do utterly deny that God did destine, by an absolute decree, to give Christ a Mediator only to the elect, and to give faith to them alone’ (Ibid., p. 149).

As for [Hypothetical] Universalists, [that are] not Arminians,

‘They contend, that the decree of the death of Christ did go before the decree of election, and that God, in sending of Christ, had no respect unto some, more than others, but destined Christ for a Savior to all men alike.’ 

This account of their principles is given us by Turretin (Chapter 14, Question 14, Thesis 6).  I leave it to the impartial reader to judge of the evident contrariety betwixt this and our author’s [Fisher’s] words above repeated.)

Therefore says a[n anonymous] godly writer,

(1645 Note: In a little book called, The Benefit of Christ’s Death)

for as much as the holy Scripture speaks to all in general, none of us ought to distrust himself, but believe that it does belong particularly to himself,

(Boston’s Note: Namely, the deed of gift and grant, or the offer of Christ in the word, of which our [anonymous] author [of “a little book called the benefit of Christ’s death] is all along speaking.  And if there be any man to whom it does not belong particularly, that man has no warrant to believe on Jesus Christ: and whosoever pretends to believe on Him, without believing that the grant or offer belongs to himself particularly, does but act presumptuously, as seeing no warrant he has to believe on Christ, whatever others may have.)

and to the end that this point wherein lies and consists the whole mystery of our holy faith, may be understood the better, let us put the case, that some good and holy King should cause a proclamation to be made through his whole Kingdom by the sound of a Trumpet, that all rebels and banished men, shall safely return home to their houses, because that at the suit and desert [merit] of some dear friend of theirs, it has pleased the King to pardon them, certainly none of these rebels ought to doubt but that he shall obtain true pardon for his rebellion, and so return home and live under the shadow of that gracious King: even so our good King the Lord of Heaven and Earth has for the obedience and desert [merit] of our good brother Jesus Christ, pardoned us all our sins,

(Boston’s Note: So far as he has made the deed of gift and grant, or authentic gospel-offer of the pardon of all our sins, as of all other saving benefits in Christ.  Such a thing, among men, is called the king’s pardon, though, in the mean time, none have the benefit of it but such as come in upon its being proclaimed, and accept of it; and why may not it be called the King of heaven’s pardon?  The holy Scripture warrants this manner of expression.  ‘And this is the record, that God has given [in offer] to us eternal life’ (1 John 5:11); in which life, without question, the pardon of all our sins is included: ‘Through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins’ (Acts 13:38).  The preaching of the gospel is the proclaiming of pardon to condemned sinners.  But pardon of sin cannot be preached or proclaimed, unless, in the first place, it be granted [in offer], even as the king’s pardon must be, before one can proclaim it to the rebels.

That this is all that is meant by pardon here, and not a formal personal pardon, is evident from the whole strain of the author’s [Fisher’s] discourse upon it.  In the proposal of the simile, whereof this passage is the application, he tells us, that after it has pleased the king (thus) to pardon the rebels, they ought not to doubt but they shall obtain pardon; and in the following paragraph he brings in Neophytus objecting, that in such a case an earthly king doth indeed intend to pardon all, but the King of heaven does not so; the which Evangelista in his answer grants.  So that, for all this general pardon, the formal personal pardon remains to be obtained by the sinner, namely, by his accepting of the pardon offered.  And in the foresaid answer, he expounds the pardon in question, of the Lord’s offering pardon generally to all.  This, one would think, may well be admitted as the fruit of Christ’s obedience and desert, without supposing an universal atonement or redemption.  And to restrain it to any set of men whatsoever under heaven, is to restrain the authentic gospel-offer: of which before.)

and made a Proclamation throughout the whole world, that every one of us may safely return to God in Jesus Christ, wherefore, I beseech you, make no doubt of it, but draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith [Heb. 10:22].

(Boston’s NoteMake no doubt of the pardon offered, or of the proclamation, bearing, that every one of us may safely return to God in Christ; but thereupon draw near to him in full assurance of faith.  That there can be no saving faith, no acceptance with God, where there is any doubting, is what can hardly enter into the head of any sober Christian, if he is not under a grievous temptation, in his own soul’s case, nor is it in the least insinuated here.  Nevertheless, the doubting mixed with faith is sin, and dishonors God, and believers have ground to be humbled for it, and ashamed of it, before the Lord; and therefore the full assurance of faith is duty.  The Papists indeed contend earnestly for doubting, and they know very well, wherefore they so do; for doubting being removed, and assurance of faith in the promise of the gospel brought into its room, their market is marred, their gain by indulgences, masses, pilgrimages, etc., is gone, and the fire of purgatory extinguished.  But, as Protestant divines prove against them, the holy Scripture condemns it, ‘O thou of little faith! Wherefore didst thou doubt?’ (Matt 13:41); ‘Neither be ye of doubtful mind’ (Luke 12:29); ‘Lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting’ (1 Tim. 2:8).)


O! but, Sir, in this similitude the case is not alike, for when an earthly King sends forth such a proclamation, it may be thought that he does indeed intend to pardon all, but it cannot be thought that the King of heaven does so, for does not the Scripture say, that some men are ordained before to condemnation [Jude 4], and does not Christ Himself say, that many are called, but few are chosen [Matt 22:14], and therefore it may be I am one of them that are ordained to condemnation, and therefore, though I be called, I shall never be chosen, and so shall not be saved.


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,

(Boston’s Note: Had the author [Fisher] once dreamed of an universal pardon, otherwise than that God offers the pardon generally to all, all this had been needless; it would have furnished him with a short answer, viz. That God has pardoned all already.)

for it should rather move every man to give diligence to make his calling and election sure, [2 Pet. 1:10] by believing it, for fear we come short of it,

(Boston’s Note: By believing the offered pardon, with particular application to himself; without which one can never accept of it, but will undoubtedly come short of it.)

according to that of the Apostle, Let us therefore fear, least 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,

(1645 Note: Poor Doubting Christian, p. 69)

and therefore, I am sure I am elected,

(Boston’s Note: Like that man mentioned Mark 9:24, who at once did and said.)

and check your own heart, for meddling with Gods 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 Scriptures 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, and it is his promise, that if you believe you shall not perish, but have everlasting life [1 John 3:23]: Wherefore,

(1645 Note: Doctor Sibbes’, Soul’s Conflict, p. 621)

you having so good a warrant as God’s command, and so good an encouragement as his promise, do your duty,

(Boston’s Note: [that is,] Believe on the name of Christ)

and by the doing thereof you may put it out of question, and be sure that you are one of God’s elect: Say then, I beseech you, with a firm faith, the righteousness of Jesus Christ belongs to all that believe; but I believe

(Boston’s Note: This is what is commonly called the reflex act of faith, which presupposes, and here includes the direct act, namely, a man’s doing of his duty, in obedience to the command to believe on Christ; by reflecting on which, he may put it out of question that he is a believer, one of God’s elect, and one of those for whom Christ died.  This passage is taken out of Dr. Preston’s Treatise of Faith, p. 8)

and therefore it belongs to me, yea, and say with Paul, [Gal. 2:20] I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me, and gave himself for me.  He saw in me (says Luther, on the text) nothing but wickedness going astray, and flying from Him, yet this good Lord had mercy on me, and of his mere mercy He loved me; yea, so loved me, that He gave Himself for me, (who is this ‘me’) even I wretched and damnable sinner was so dearly beloved of the Son of God, that He gave Himself for me, Oh print this word ‘me’ in your heart, and apply it to your own self, not doubting but that you are one of those to whom this me belongs.

(Boston’s Note: ‘This manner of applying’ says Luther, ‘is the very true force and power of faith.’)


But may such a vile and sinful wretch as I am be persuaded that God commands me to believe, and that he has made a promise to me?

(Boston’s Note: He had told him, that for his warrant to believe on Christ, he had God’s command (1 John 3:23).  And for his encouragement, God’s promise (John 3:16).  Thereupon this question is moved; the particular application to oneself being a matter of no small difficulty in the experience of many who lay salvation to heart.)


Why do you make a question where there is none to be made, Go, says Christ, and preach the Gospel to every creature under Heaven, that is, go tell every man, without exception, whatsoever his sins be, whatsoever his rebellions be, go and tell him these glad tidings, that if he will come in, I will accept of him, his sins shall be forgiven him, and he shall be saved, if he will come in and take Me, and receive Me, I will be his loving husband, and he shall be mine own dear spouse: let me therefore say unto you in the words of the apostle, Now then, I as an Ambassador for Christ, as though God did beseech you by me, I pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled unto God, for he hath made him to be sin for you, who knew no sin, that you might be made the righteousness of God in him [2 Cor. 5:20,21].

(1645 Note: Doctor Preston, of Love, p. 146)



p. 119-120 in the 1837 edition


Indeed, if you should be encouraged to come to Christ, and speak thus unto Him, because of any godliness, righteousness, or worthiness that you conceive to be in you, that were proud presumption indeed; but for you to come to Christ by believing that He will accept of you, justify and save you freely by his grace, according to his own gracious promise: this is no proud presumption at all, for Christ having tendered it and offered it unto you freely, believe it man, it is neither pride nor presumption,

(Boston’s Note: It is to believe the offer of the gospel, with particular application; to embrace it, and therein to receive Christ.  And no man can ever receive and rest on Christ for salvation, without believing, in greater, or lesser measure, that Christ will accept of him to justification and salvation.  Remove that gospel truth, that Christ will accept of him, and his faith has no ground left to stand upon.)

but true humility of heart to take what Christ offers you.

(1645 Note: [Thomas] Hooker’s, Poor Doubting Christian, p. 108)


But by your favor, Sir, I pray you give me leave to speak a word by the way, I know my Neighbor Neophytus, it may be better than you do, yet do I not intend to charge him with any sin, otherwise than by way of supposition as thus: Suppose he has been guilty of the committing of gross and grievous sins, will Christ accept of him, and justify and save him for all that?


Yea, indeed, for there is no limitation of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, except the sin against the holy Ghost;

(Boston’s Note: I doubt if the sin against the Holy Ghost can justly be said to be a limitation of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.  For in the original authentic gospel-offer, in which is the proper place for such a limitation (if there were any) that grace is so laid open to all men without exception, that no man is excluded; but there is free access to it for every man in the way of believing (John 3:15-16, Rev. 22:17); and this offer is sometimes intimated to these reprobates, who fall into that sin, else they should not be capable of it.  It is true, that sin is a bar in the way of the guilty, so they can never partake of the grace of God in Christ; for it shall never be forgiven (Matt 12:31, Mark 3:29); and any further ministerial application of the offer to them seems to cease to be lawful or warranted (1 John 5:16).  But all this arises from their own willful, obstinate, despiteful, and malicious rejecting of the offer: and fighting against the Holy Ghost, whose office it is to apply the grace of Christ; and not from any limitation, or exclusive clause in the offer, for still it remains true, ‘Whosoever shall believe, shall not perish.’)

‘Christ stands at the door and knocks’ [Rev. 3:20], and if any cruel murdering Manasses, or any persecuting and blaspheming Saul [1 Tim. 1:13], or any adulterous [Mary] Magdalen will open unto him, He will come in and bring comfort with Him, and will sup with him, seek from one end of the Heavens to the other (says evangelical [Thomas] Hooker) turn all the Bible over, and see if the words of Christ be not true, [John 6:37him that comes unto me, I will in no wise cast out.

(1645 Note: Poor Doubting Christian, p. 132)


Why then, Sir, it seems you hold that the vilest sinner in the world ought not to be discouraged from believing in Christ, because of his sins.


Surely if Christ came into the world to seek, and call, and save sinners [1 Tim. 1:15], and to justify the ungodly, as you have heard, and if the more sinful, miserable and distressed a man does judge himself to be, the more willing Christ is to receive him, and relieve him: then I see no reason why the vilest sinner should be discouraged from believing on the name of Christ because of his sins, nay, let me say more, the greater any man’s sins are either in number or nature: the more hast he should make to come unto Christ, and to say with David, for thy name sake, O Lord! pardon mine iniquity for it is great. [Ps. 25:11] 


p. 124 in the 1837 edition, p. 162 in the new edition


Secondly.  Sorrow and grief for displeasing God by sin, necessarily argue the love of God; and it is impossible we should ever love God, till by faith we know ourselves loved of God.

(Boston’s Note:  There is a knowledge in faith, as our divines teach against the Papists, and the Scripture makes manifest.  ‘By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many’ (Isa. 53:11); ‘Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God’ (Heb. 11:3).  Now, saving faith being a persuasion that we shall have life and salvation by Christ, or a receiving and resting on Him for salvation, includes in it a knowledge of our being beloved for God: the former cannot be without the latter.  In the meantime such as the strength or weakness of that persuasion is, the steadiness or unsteadiness of that receiving and resting, just so is this knowledge, clear or unclear, free of, or accompanied with doubtings.  They are still of the same measure and degree.  So that this is no more in effect, but that faith in Christ is the spring of true love to God; the which, how it is attained by a guilty soul, men will the better know, if they consider well what it is.  The true love of God is not a love to Him only for his benefits, and for our own sake, but a love to Him for Himself, for his own sake; a liking of, and a complacency in, his glorious attributes and perfections, his infinite, eternal and unchangeable being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.  If a convinced sinner [who is yet unconverted] is void of any the least measure of persuasion of life and salvation by Christ, and of the love of this God to him; but apprehends, as he cannot miss to do in this case, that He hates him as his enemy, and will prove so at last; this cannot fail of filling his whole soul with slavish fear of God; and how then shall this love God spring up in one’s heart, in such a case? for slavish fear and true love are so opposite the one to the other, that, according to the measure in which the one prevails, the other cannot have access.  ‘God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind’ (2 Tim. 1:7).  ‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; because fear has torment’ (1 John 4:18).  But when once life and salvation, and remission of sin, is with application believed by the convinced sinner, and thereby the love of God towards him is known; then, according to the measure of that faith and knowledge, slavish fear of God  is expelled, and the heart is kindly drawn to love Him, not only for his benefits, but for Himself, having a complacency in his glorious perfections.  ‘We love Him, because He first loved us’ (1 John 4:19).  The love of God to us is the inducement of our love to Him: but love utterly unknown to the party beloved can never be an inducement to him to love again.  Now, in consequence hereof, the sinner’s bands are loosed, and his heart, which before was still hard as a stone, though broken in pieces by legal terrors, is broken in another manner, and kindly melted in sorrow for displeasing this gracious God.)

Thirdly.  No man can turn to God, except he be first turned of God: and after he is turned, he repents; so Ephraim says, ‘After I was converted, I repented’ (Jer. 31:19).  The truth is, a repentant sinner first believes that God will do that which he promises, namely, pardon his sin, and take away his iniquity; then he rests in the hope of it; and from that, and for it, he leaves sin, and will forsake his old course, because it is displeasing to God; and will do that which is pleasing and acceptable to him.  So that, first of all, God’s favor is apprehended, and remission of sins believed;

(Boston NoteNot as that they are pardoned already; but that one must so apprehend the favor of God, as to believe that God will pardon his sin, as the author speaks expressly in the premises from whence this conclusion is drawn; or that God does pardon his sin in the present time.  Now remission of sin is a part of that salvation which faith receives and rests on Christ for.  As for the phrase the author [Fisher] uses to express this, it is most agreeable to the Scripture phrase, ‘Remission of sins preached’ (Luke 24:47; Acts 13:38).)

then upon that comes alteration of life and conversation.

p. 130 in the 1837 edition, p. 164 in the new edition


Yes, indeed; I hold that although it [repentance] go not before [faith] as an antecedent of faith, yet it follows as a consequent.  For when a man believes the love of God to him in Christ, then he loves God because He loved him first; and that love constrains him to humble himself at the Lord’s footstool, and to acknowledge himself to be less than the least of all his mercies;…



p. 220 in the 1837 edition


Why, so far forth as any man hears and knows that there was a covenant [the Covenant of Works] made, betwixt God, and all mankind in Adam, [Job 5:27] and that it was an equal covenant, and that God’s justice must needs enter upon the breach of it, and that all mankind for that cause were liable to eternal death and damnation, so that if God had condemned all mankind, yet had it been but the sentence of an equal and just Judge, seeking rather the execution of his justice then man’s ruin and destruction, and thereupon takes it home, and applies it particularly to himself, and so is convinced that he is a miserable lost and helpless man; I say so far forth as a man does this, Christ executes his Prophetical office in him, in teaching him, and revealing unto him the covenant of works.  And so far forth as any man hears and knows that God made a covenant with Abraham, and all his believing seed, in Jesus Christ, offering Him freely to all, to whom the sound of the Gospel comes, and giving him freely to all; that receive Him by faith, and so justifies them, and saves them eternally, and thereupon has his heart opened to receive this truth, not as a man takes an object, or a theological point into his head, whereby he is only made able to discourse, but as an habitual, and practical point, receiving it into his heart, [Phil. 1:27] by the faith of the Gospel, and applying it to himself, and laying his eternal state upon it, and so setting to his seal that God is true, I say so far forth as a man does this, Christ executes his prophetical office, in him, in teaching him, and revealing to him the Covenant of grace, and so far forth as any man hears and knows that This is the will of GOD, even his sanctification [1 Thess. 1:3], etc. And thereupon concludes that it is his duty to endeavor after it, I say so far forth as a man doth this, Christ executes his prophetical office in him, in teaching and revealing his law to him, and this I hope, is sufficient for answer to your first question.




Related Pages

The Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel

Historic Reformed Quotes on the Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel