The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters by Sinclair B. Ferguson
I first picked up this scholarly and challenging book because I have been leading a Bible study on Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia. The subtitle “Legalism, Antinomianism and Gospel Assurance” fits perfectly with the message of Galatians.
The Whole Christ begins with a discussion of a theological controversy that began in Scotland around 300 years ago, called the Marrow Controversy. It was about the marrow, or as we would say the heart, of the gospel and how we understand it. Ferguson presents the basics of the controversy and its main players before beginning his presentation on legalism and antinomianism. What makes this important to us is that this controversy still goes on today as we wrestle with the same essential ideas. Ferguson breaks the book down into 4 basic discussions:
“1) The gospel of the grace of God and its offer to all.
2) The gospel and legalism.
3) The gospel and antinomianism.
4) The gospel and assurance of salvation”
In the chapter titled “Grace and the Gospel” Ferguson states that “The benefits of the gospel (justification, reconciliation, redemption, adoption) were being separated from Christ who is himself the gospel. The benefits of the gospel are in Christ. They do not exist apart from him. They are ours only in him…” Later he states that “…salvation becomes our in Christ and not merely through Christ” His discussion of the nature of our being in Christ because of the gospel had me hooked. It seems obvious, but the author offers a perspective that is enlightening.
In the chapter titled “Danger! Legalism” Ferguson states that legalism is “a failure to see the generosity of God and his wise and loving plans for our lives – that lies at the root of legalism and drives it…Thus the essence of legalism is rooted not merely in our view of law as such but in a distorted view of God as the giver of his law.” Again, as he explores how legalism is a distorted view of the character and nature of God, and how that plays itself out in our everyday experience of salvation, I found myself in the midst of an “aha” kind of moment.
I hope that your curiosity is stirred and you will get a hold of this book. It is not an easy book to read, but it is worth every effort because we wrestle with the same questions and controversies that our brethren in Scotland wrestled with so long ago – how to remain true to the gospel. The Whole Christ speaks clearly to issues that we need to understand and apply.