Rachel Contra Mundum? The 5 Solas and John Piper: Part 3, Beginning at the End: The Marrow Men


Rachel Miller Contra Mundum? The 5 Solas and John Piper: Part 1

Rachel Miller Contra Mundum? The 5 Solas and John Piper: Part 2, “Salvation”


As we move on to the third phase of our response to John Piper’s defenders, I would first like to react to the most recent Calvinist International post on the topic, “Assessing Piper’s Critics: Love Hopes All Things” by Mark Jones and D. Patrick Ramsey. The piece makes a good foil for moving forward with the series.

The main point of the piece is that “The Aquila Report”, R. Scott Clark, and Rachel Miller “continue their onslaught against a foe that doesn’t actually exist” by uncharitably reading Piper’s words. To my mind, they make this point in part by uncharitably reading Clark to be arguing (in his vast corpus of work on the subject) that “works just are,” and by even more uncharitably arguing that Rachel Miller just “doesn’t seem to be able to understand” the distinction between Right and Possession. But my favorite line of the piece is the following:

If someone wants to carefully examine, in Latin, the language of Twisse, and then argue he’s saying something totally different to Piper, we’re willing to listen. [Italics mine]

Thus the bar is set: Twisse in Latin.

But, irony and condescension aside, the most egregious aspect of this piece is the authors’ continuing insistence that Piper did not say what he did in fact say. Again, in the original article, “Does God Really Save us by Faith Alone?” Piper does in fact answer his proposed question. And his answer “no.”  The Five Solas only apply to Justification, not to Salvation broadly considered.

The clause that allows these modifying prepositional phrases [the Solas] to do their wonderfully clarifying work for the sake of the essence of the gospel and the heart of the Reformation is the clause: We are justified before God… or Justification before God is…

Only after justification can the five prepositional phrases follow and do their magnificent work to define and protect the gospel from all unbiblical dilution.

All five phrases serve to modify God’s work of justification

Don’t Substitute with the Solas

Why? Because,

In final salvation at the last judgment, faith is confirmed by the sanctifying fruit it has borne, and we are saved through that fruit and that faith.

The five solas provide wonderful clarity about the crux of the Reformation and the heart of the gospel, if the clause that the five prepositional phrases modify is “Justification before God is…”

Jones and Ramsey are indeed quite charitable to Piper here—so charitable that they seem to be actually just reading their own position into Piper’s words. Simply put: the game here, in seeking to assess Piper’s words in light of the Reformed orthodox, is not to show that both he and they teach good works are necessary, or that there is a distinction between Right and Possession (especially in Twisse in Latin), but rather to assess whether it is Biblical, Confessional, and consistent with Reformed orthodoxy to say that the Five Solas, particularly Sola Fide, only apply to Justification and not to Salvation broadly considered. And if there is still any question whether this is in fact Piper’s claim to be assessed, we were granted a little gift from Desiring God at the end of last week. Author Greg Morse cuts to the chase,

But what about being saved by faith alone? You’re not. You’re justified through faith alone. Final salvation comes through justification and sanctification — both initiated and sustained by God’s grace.

Complete with a link to Piper’s article to justify his claim.

3) Piper’s Teaching is in Accord with the Mass of 16thand 17th Century Reformed Scholarship

We have shown in Part one that by faith (Sola Fide) we are United to Christ and thereby receive all His benefits—not just Justification, but also Regeneration and the progressive renewal of our corrupt nature culminating in glory. Further, we have shown in Part 2 that Salvation itself, broadly considered, is once and for all adjudicated in Justification, the present declaration of our Final Salvation at the Judgement Seat of God; and this, Sola Fide. We now move on to assess whether Piper’s teaching is actually consonant with the mass of orthodox Reformed scholarship. Or as Jones and Ramsey say, could what Piper has written have just as easily flowed from the pen of Turretin, Witsius, the Westminster Divines, etc.

3.a Beginning at the End: The Marrow Men

And I do intend to bring to the fore the teachings of Luther, Calvin, Turretin, Ursinus, Olevianus, Witsius, Wollebius, Zanchius, Rutherford, Davenant, Boston, and…well, more in the coming posts. But I also think it will do us well to widen the aperture a bit to catch up more than just Piper’s unorthodox claim, bringing also into critical review the teaching of his defenders relative to the necessity of Good Works, Right vs. Possession, the Last Judgement, and Final Salvation.

While researching toward this end, I could not help but note the striking resemblance of this current controversy with that of the Marrow Controversy of the early 18th Century. Scottish Presbyterianism had found itself steeped in Legalism and Neonomianism—if not actually in confession, then at least in profession and preaching (see Richard Baxter). Thomas Boston, having providentially come across an obscure book, The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher, found in it a call to proclaim yet again the Gospel of Free Grace as taught in the Scriptures and championed by the Reformers. The teachings were not well accepted in Boston’s current climate and the defenders of the book and its doctrines were called before the Assembly and denounced. A series of questions were issued by the Assembly to the so called “Marrow Men” and were answered with beautiful Gospel clarity by the books defenders. The signatories to this set of answers were the following:




JAMES KID, Queensferry.



RALPH ERSKINE, Dunfermline.

JAMES WARDLAW, Dunfermline.



WILLIAM HUNTER, Lilliesleaf.

Two of the questions and answers are so perfectly pertinent to our current debate that I think their answers perfectly suitable to represent our position contra John Piper and his Presbyterian and Reformed defenders. They not only set out the proper relationship of good works to salvation, safeguard Salvation Sola Fide, and defend the Gospel of free grace, they also recognize that their opponents were NOT heretics, but may nevertheless have beeen speaking, writing, and preaching in words and phrases that may not be in accord with the Scripture, the Confessions, and the Doctors of the Reformed tradition. As such, I think it a useful method to begin at the end with the answers given below, and then work back, beginning with Luther and Calvin, all along the way demonstrating the accuracy of the Marrow Men’s reading of the tradition.

Though the following is lengthy, I believe the reading will prove quite rewarding and appropriately orienting. (All bold in the answers are mine.)


QUERY VI. If a sinner, being justified, has all things at once that are necessary for salvation? And if personal holiness, and progress in holy obedience, is not necessary to a justified person’s possession of glory, in case of his continuing in life after his justification?

Ans. The ground of this query, marked out to us, is, in these words of holy Luther, “For in Christ I have all things at once, neither need I anything more, that is necessary unto salvation.” And to us it is evident, that this is the believer’s plea, viz: Christ’s most perfect obedience to the law, for him, in answer unto its demand of good works for obtaining salvation, according to the tenor of the first covenant, which plea the representation alleges to be cut off and condemned by the Act of Assembly, But, without saying any thing of the old Popish reflection on the doctrine of free justification by faith, without works, as it was taught by Luther and other reformers, or the hardship of having this question put to us, as if we had given ground of being suspected for enemies to gospel holiness, which our consciences bear us witness, is our great desire to have advanced in ourselves and others, as being fully persuaded, that without it neither they nor we shall see the Lord; we answer to the first part of the query—

That, since a justified person, being passed from death to life, translated from the power of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son, and blest with all the spiritual blessings in Christ, is, by virtue of his union with him, brought into and secured in a state of salvation; and therefore, in the language of the Holy Ghost, actually, though not completely, saved already; and since, in him, he has particularly a most perfect, law-binding, and law-magnifying righteousness, redemption in his blood, even the forgiveness of sins, peace with God, access, acceptance, wisdom, sanctification, everlasting strength, and, in one word, an over-flowing, ever-flowing fullness, from which, according to the order of the covenant, he does, and shall receive whatever he wants; hence, according to the Scripture, in Christ all things are his and in him he is complete. Considering, we say, these things, we think a justified person has in Christ at once all things necessary to salvation, though of himself he has nothing.

To the second part of the query we answer, that personal holiness, and justification, being inseparable in the believer, we are unwilling, so much as the query does, to suppose their separation. Personal holiness we reckon so necessary to the possession of glory, or to a state of perfect holiness and happiness, as is the morning light to the noon-day warmth and brightness, as is a reasonable soul to a wise, healthy, strong, and full grown man, as an antecedent is to its consequent, as a part is to the whole; for the difference betwixt a state of grace and of glory, we take to be gradual only, according to the usual saying, “Grace is glory begun, and glory grace in perfection.” So necessary, again, as motion is to evidence life, or in order to walking, not only habitual, but actual holiness and progress in holy obedience, one continuing in life, we are clear, are so necessary, that without the same none can see the Lord. And as it is not only the believer’s interest, but his necessary and indispensable duty, to be still going on “from strength to strength, until he appear before the Lord in Zion”; so the righteous, we believe, “will hold on his way, and he who is of clean hands will grow stronger and stronger”: for though the believer’s progress in holy obedience, by reason of the many stops, interruptions, and assaults he frequently meets with from Satan, the world, and in-dwelling corruption, is far from being alike at all times, yet “the path of the just,” though he frequently fall, will be “as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” Though he may, at times “become weary and faint in his mind,” yet shall he, by waiting on the Lord, “renew his strength, and mount up as with eagles’ wings,” etc. But still the believer has all this in and from Christ: for whence can our progress in holiness come, but from the supply of his Spirit? Our walking in holy obedience, and every good motion of ours, must be in him, and from him, who is the Way and the Life, who is our head of influences, and the fountain of our strength, and who “works in us both to will and to do.” “Abide in me,” says he, “and I in you. For without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered.”

But if the meaning of the query be, of such a necessity of holy obedience, in order to the possession of glory, as imports any kind of causality, we dare not answer in the affirmative; for we cannot look on personal holiness, or good works, as properly federal and conditional means of obtaining the possession of heaven, though we own they are necessary to make us meet for it.

 QUERY VII. Is preaching the necessity of a holy life, in order to the obtaining of eternal happiness, of dangerous consequence to the doctrine of free grace?

[…] To the query, we answer, that we cordially and sincerely own a holy life, or good works, necessary, as an acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty, and in obedience to his command: for this is the will of God, even our sanctification; and, by a special ordination, he has appointed believers to walk in them: necessary, for glorifying God before the world, and showing the virtues of him who hath called us out of darkness into his marvellous light: necessary, as being the end of our election, our redemption, effectual calling, and regeneration; for “the Father chose us in Christ, before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy; the Son gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify to himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works”; and by the Holy Spirit are we created in Christ Jesus unto them: necessary, as expressions of our gratitude to our great Benefactor; for being bought with a price, we are no more our own, but henceforth, in a most peculiar manner bound, in our bodies and in our spirits, which are his, to glorify, and by all possible ways, to testify our thanksgiving to our Lord Redeemer and Ransomer; to him “who spared not his own Son, but gave him up to the death for us all”; to him “who humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, for us”: necessary, as being the design, not only of the world, but of all ordinances and providences; even that as he who has called us is holy, so we should be holy in all manner of conversation: necessary, again, for evidencing and confirming our faith, good works being the breath, the native offspring and issue of it: necessary, for making our calling and election sure; for they are, though no plea, yet a good evidence for heaven, or an argument confirming our assurance and hope of salvation: necessary, to the maintaining of inward peace and comfort, though not as the ground and foundation, yet as effects, fruits, and concomitants of faith: necessary, in order to our entertaining communion with God even in this life; for, “if we say we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth”: necessary, to the escaping of judgments, and to the enjoyment of many promised blessings; particularly there is a necessity of order and method, that one be holy before he can be admitted to see and enjoy God in heaven; that being a disposing mean, preparing for the salvation of it, and the king’s highway chalked out for the redeemed to walk into the city: necessary, to adorn the gospel and grace our holy calling and profession: necessary, further, for the edification, good, and comfort, of fellow-believers: necessary, to prevent offence, and to stop the mouths of the wicked; to win likewise the unbelieving, and to commend Christ and his ways to the consciences: necessary, finally, for the establishment, security, and glory of churches and nations.

Though we firmly believe holiness necessary upon all these and more accounts, and that the Christian ought to live in the continued exercise of gospel repentance, which is one main constituent of gospel holiness, yet we dare not say a holy life is necessary in order to the obtaining of eternal happiness; for, to say nothing of the more gross sense of these words, [manifestly injurious to the free grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, by faith in whose righteousness alone we are appointed to obtain salvation, from first to last,] which yet is obvious enough, though we are far from imputing it to the Assembly; we cannot, however they may be explained into an orthodox meaning, look upon them as wholesome words, since they have at least an appearance of evil, being such a way of expression as Protestant churches and divines, knowing the strong natural bias in all men towards seeking salvation, not by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, but by works of righteousness done by themselves, and the danger of symbolizing with Papists and other enemies of the grace of the gospel, have industriously shunned to use on that head; they choosing rather to call holiness and good works necessary duties of the persons justified and saved, than conditions of salvation; consequents and effects of salvation already obtained, or antecedents, disposing and preparing the subject for the salvation to be obtained, than any sort of causes, or proper means of obtaining the possession of salvation; which last honour, the Scripture, for the high praise and glory of sovereign grace, seems to have reserved peculiarly unto faith; and rather to say, that holiness is necessary in them that shall be saved, than necessary to salvation; that we are saved, not by good works, but rather to them, as fruits and effects of saving grace; or that holiness is necessary unto salvation, not so much as a mean to the end, as a part of the end itself; which part of our salvation is necessary, to make us meet for the other that is yet behind.

Wherefore, since this way of speaking of holiness with respect to salvation, is, we conceive, without warrant in the holy Scripture, dissonant from the doctrinal standards of our own and other reformed churches, as well as from the chosen and deliberate speech of reformed divines treating on these heads; and since it being at best but proposition male sonans, may easily be mistaken, and afterwards improved, as a shade or vehicle, for conveying corrupt sentiments, anent the influence of works upon salvation; we cannot but reckon preaching the necessity of holiness in such terms to be of some dangerous consequence to the doctrine of free grace. In which apprehension we are the more confirmed, that at this day the doctrine of Christ, and his free grace, both as to the purity and efficacy of the same, seems to be much on the wane, and Popery, with other dangerous errors and heresies destructive of it, on the waxing; which certainly calls aloud to the churches of Christ, and to his ministers in particular, for the more zeal, watchfulness, and caution, with reference to the interests of truth; and that especially at such a time, cum hereticis nec nomina habeamus communia, ne eorum errori favere videamur.

(Fisher, Edward. The Marrow of Modern Divinity [Kindle Locations 7425-7528]. Fig. Kindle Edition.)

That, quite frankly, is my position.

Next up:

Salvation Sola Fide: Martin Luther and the Fruits of Faith

Salvation Sola Fide: John Calvin and the Causes of Salvation

Salvation Sola Fide: Zacharias Ursinus and the Heidelberg Catechism

Salvation Sola Fide: Johannes Wollebius; From Justification to Glorification

[For further reading on the Marrow Controversy and the important doctrines at play, please see Sinclair B. Ferguson’s The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance – Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters.]

9 thoughts on “Rachel Contra Mundum? The 5 Solas and John Piper: Part 3, Beginning at the End: The Marrow Men

  1. Alex Harris October 16, 2017 / 1:51 pm

    “Scottish Presbyterianism had found itself steeped in Legalism and Neonomianism” meh idk. I previously had a pastor who looooved the Marrow Men and claimed that I should read/understand/agree with them to be orthodox. After doing so, I can’t say that I liked it all that much. I understand why people do but it is what it is. I expect to see R Scott Clark and Norman Shepherd in heaven (I am far closer to Shepherd on this issue). This whole debate bothers me to no end. I am absolutely positive that the Reformed people that I have read would be closer to the Scottish Presbyterians than the Marrow Men. However, I kind of want to stop appealing to them and just talk about the biblical passages that say “Do this and you will live”. Anyway, good job with the article. 🙂
    Much love, Alex


  2. Amy Mantravadi October 17, 2017 / 8:33 am

    It seems ridiculous to me to demand that other people be charitable when you yourself are not being charitable. I agree that we should all be gracious and loving, even when we disagree, but the Jones article just seems so condescending…and not in a good way. When we start requiring people to have seminary degrees and read Latin in order to write about theology, we are necessarily telling women to sit down and shut up, along with a lot of godly laymen. Moreover, it is not a biblical requirement. Now, I understand that it might be necessary to understand Latin in order to catch all the subtleties of a certain Reformer’s writings, but if we hold to the perspecuity of scripture, then we must believe that the plain facts of salvation are obvious even in our English translations, provided they are done well. Our confessions also are clear enough. I can’t help but feel that what is being suggested in all of this is the need for a kind of…magisterium. Well, I am not suggesting that everyone should just go off and interpret scripture any way they please, but those of us who are guided by our creeds and confessions, the teachings of godly elders, and a willingness to use all practical tools and our disposal to understand the scriptures – such people are capable of understanding the basic teachings of scripture. Knowledge is as nothing in comparison to wisdom, which is the gift of God. The Spirit in you is in me, and it illumines us all.


    • Amy Mantravadi October 17, 2017 / 8:34 am

      Apologies for the typos. Should have re-read before I posted. This is why women shouldn’t do theology, I guess.


      • Timothy Joseph October 19, 2017 / 5:29 am

        Well said on all accounts, except women shouldn’t do theology😎. It is precisely because the Spirit illumines us that all believers can understand the scriptures as relates to salvation. It is because we can look back to those faithful saints that have gone before us, that we can know our understanding is correct. It is the creeds and confessions that keep us from straying afar in our interpretations.
        While Pastors and Teachers are given by this same Spirit, they are given for the building up of the Body of Christ, not to magistrate over it. I believe you have rightly pointed out a current trend in Reformed circles, a new magisterium of scholars, academics and bloggers. All of these are useful and needed, but none can override the scriptures.
        Thanks for your theological insights.


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