The Marrow Controversy and Seceder Tradition
: Marrow Theology in the Associate Presbytery and Associate Synod Secession Churches of Scotland (1733-1799)

  • William Edward Van Doodewaard

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (awarded by OU/Aberdeen)


Edward Fisher’s The Marrow of Modern Divinity, first published in 1645 in
England, was republished in Scotland in 1718 by Church of Scotland minister James Hog, quickly becoming the focal point of what would be known as the Marrow controversy. Rival parties developed within the Church of Scotland, the smaller of which were the supporters of The Marrow, or the Marrow brethren. In the context of the controversy over the book they formulated a defense of it, with particular reference to the doctrines of the atonement, saving faith, and the gospel offer: this was the Scottish expression of Marrow theology. Leading figures among the Marrow brethren included Thomas Boston, Robert
Riccaltoun, and Ebenezer Erskine. In 1733, little more than a decade later, Ebenezer Erskine and several other Church of Scotland ministers separated from the church over the issue of patronage, forming the Associate Presbytery, the beginning of a new Scottish Presbyterian and Reformed denomination. Historians and theologians, particularly in the 20th century, have suggested that Marrow theology was characteristic of the Secession church movement; however, no thorough examination and analysis of existing historical
evidence (ecclesiastical documents and the published sermons and theological writings of Secession ministers and theologians) supporting or challenging this claim have been made.
This dissertation, based on research conducted through the years 2006-2009, argues there is evidence for both a general or thematic continuity of Marrow theology as expressed in the context of the Scottish Marrow controversy, and, at points, for direct historical dependence on the published works and distinctive theology and language used by the Marrow brethren. This dissertation also argues that towards the end of the 18th century and
into the 19th century the Associate stream of the Secession churches manifested an increasing theological diversity and a declension from what was an initially dominant Marrow theology.
Date of Award28 Nov 2009
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Edinburgh
SupervisorNick Needham (Supervisor) & Robert Shillaker (Supervisor)

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