COLONIAL AMERICA’S REJECTION
OF FREE GRACE THEOLOGY
L. E. BROWN
Many Free Grace adherents assume that grace theology, the de facto
doctrine of the first century church, was lost until recently. Such is not
the case. Michael Makidon has demonstrated, for example, that Free
Grace views surfaced in Scotland in the 18th century Marrow Controversy.1 The “Marrow Men” were clear: faith is the sole condition of justification, and assurance is the essence of justifying faith.
Eighty years earlier peace was broken in the Massachusetts Bay Colony (MBC) over these doctrines. That upheaval, labeled the “Antinomian
Controversy,” occupied the MBC for seventeen months from October
1636 to March 1638. The civil and ecclesiastical trials of Anne
Hutchinson (1591-1643), whose vocal opposition to the “covenant of
works”2 gained unfavorable attention from the civil authorities, and
served as a beard for theological adversaries John Cotton (1585-1652)
and Thomas Shepard (1605-1649).
This article will survey the three main interpretations intellectual historians offer for the Antinomian Controversy. The primary focus will be
on the doctrine of assurance, with an emphasis on sixteenth-century British Calvinism. We will evaluate the opposing views of John Cotton and
Thomas Shepard. Finally, we will consider the opportunity that Free
Grace theology missed in the Antinomian Controversy.
Michael Makidon, “The Marrow Controversy,” Journal of the Grace
Evangelical Theological Society 16:31 (Autumn 2003), 65-77. See also Edward
Fisher, The Marrow of Modern Divinity [book on-line] (No Pub: ND); available
from http://www.mountzion.org/text/marrow/marrow.html; Internet; accessed
August 6, 2007.
She was vocal in her opposition to the regnant view in the MBC that the
unregenerate were capable of preparing themselves for conversion through a
prescribed sequence of actions deemed necessary but not sufficient.