Horatius Bonar

This Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland minister sought to meet a trend in his day that was sapping the life of the church. It was the burgeoning tide of Preparationism (adopted from the Roman Catholic doctrine of congruism).

Preparationism teaches, in effect, that in order to become regenerate a person has to put himself in the way of it. He is to read Scripture, put away all known sins, go to church regularly, and so forth. Then, in time, if he becomes “sensible” (aware and concerned about his sins), it would be allowable to present the Gospel to him.

People were put off for months–even years–before some self-righteous prig would deem them ready for the Gospel. I first ran into this at a conference years ago, when one of the other speakers told me after a message (and these are his exact words), “You’re preaching the Gospel too soon.” I was bowled over by such a comment, and so I investigated this entire movement.

It turns out that Bonar was right. He wrote against this works-righteousness, and even wrote some of our most beloved hymns to counter it. Bunyan, who seems to have been adversely affected by this teaching for a while (read Pilgrim’s Progress carefully), at length wrote a sermon entitled, “Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ.” And Jonathan Edwards was taught it. But, instead of groaning for months on end about his sins, Edwards, it seems, came to a sudden happy conversion. But it had made strong inroads into his thinking. And if Cherry, his biographer, is correct, it bothered him all his life that his Conversion didn’t fit the pattern. It was preparationism that, in New England led to the halfway covenant that wreaked havoc upon the region.

The Puritans who adopted and propagated this view (not all Puritans did) were the first psychologizers of religion. By laying out a pattern that was to be followed in order to be regenerated, they tried to understand the steps of conversion and then, having done so, attempted to program conversion step by step in individuals.

We must avoid ever returning to such teaching. Along with this astounding statement that almost bowled me over, another incident knocked me for a loop. The third speaker at that conference was also a preparationist. In his preaching, he spent the entire week trying to assure people that unless they had experienced the pattern I just described, they weren’t saved. I had encouraged a young girl who had just become a Christian to attend the conference (not knowing what we were about to run into since at such previous conferences nothing such as this had ever occurred). His preaching so unsettled her that she became uncertain of her salvation. When I spoke to the preacher who has caused this, he said, “Well when you plow with the Word, you sometimes take up the wheat with the tares.” I let him know that I was dismayed at such an unbiblical comment. It took us several weeks to put this girl’s faith back together again.

Why am I talking about this? Because there are signs that this teaching isn’t dead. While not yet widespread, some of the materials that teach it are out there on the “evangelical” market. Perhaps the most alarming is Alleine’s Alarm to the Unconverted. It is a virtual handbook of the doctrine. There is a chapter in it entitled, “Directions to the Unconverted” in which such things as I have mentioned above are advised, but nowhere is the reader told, “Repent and believe the Gospel.”

Keep a sharp eye cocked to detect any inklings of preparationism and refute it as soon as you detect it. Horatius Bonar’s materials and hymns will be a great help to you in the effort.

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Denominations

“Now there’s another one.”

What are you talking about?

“Denominations.”

Denominations?

“Yep. Every time I turn around there seems to be a new one I never heard about before. Since the Anglicans split, we now have two Episcopal churches in the USA.”

Wrong. Back in 1873 the first split took place, and the Reformed Episcopal Church was begun. They have a seminary in Philadelphia and one in South Carolina. They divided over sacerdotalism. But, apart from that, what bothers you about denominations?

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Calvin the Counselor

During this year of commemoration of John Calvin and the many discussions of his remarkable work for the Lord, one element of his ministry has been neglected.

Calvin was a counselor—par excellence.

I have just read through all of his letters as they were carefully collected, edited, and published by the Parker Society. Not only did many (most) of then focus on some practical personal problem that others were having—about which he offered biblical counsel—but it was counsel of a very robust sort; sometimes extending to pages.

Calvin didn’t mind telling people that they were thinking wrongly when they did, or even that what they did was reprehensible. But he always did so as a friend. When necessary to do so for the sake of the church as well as the individual concerned, he had no respect of persons. He would rebuke his closest friends (such as Farel or Viret) if he thought their words or actions were detrimental to the work of Christ. He did do, always in a helpful way, and in the spirit of friendship, but always putting the Lord before anyone or anything else.

But his counsel was not always of that sort. He counseled people in grief; those in suffering; many who were in prison, some of whom were facing death. He counseled Kings and queens; insignificant people who sought help, and other leaders of the Reformation (including Luther—who didn’t take well to any criticism, even though Calvin was respectful and tender when doing so!).

The very first extant letter of Calvin, in 1534, was written about counsel he had given to a young girl who was being pressured into becoming a nun. He had laid out all of the facts and encouraged her to think carefully before making the decision; at the death of his own infant son, in deepest grief, he wrote, “But He is Himself a Father, and He knows what is good for His children.”

In speaking of a case of discipline, he wrote, “I shall treat her not according to what she deserves, but according to what my office demands.” Thus, he could divorce the personal from the unpleasant task itself when necessary.

No one can read through the vast correspondence, a taste of which I have just given you, without seeing that here is a man very much concerned about individuals and what he can do, as a minister of the Lord, to help them. He spent hours speaking with people who came to his home to seek advice; even welcoming some of them into his home to stay for periods of time. When necessary, he took the initiative to deal with the sins and heartaches of others. He began an academy, a hospital, and a foreign missions board. He visited the sick during the plague, until the elders of the city fearing he’d catch it, forbade him. Calvin was a counselor—perhaps more so than any other Reformer. There is much to be learned from his letters both about the matter and the manner of counseling. His care for people was immense; for those who were suffering, it was unmeasured. And all of this, in addition to his prodigious theological works, while sick with various illnesses. Some of his letters were dictated from bed!

No minister of the Word can afford not to become acquainted with Calvin’s letters. To read through them is a course in pastoral theology not to be obtained anywhere else! Obtain, read, enjoy, become convicted, repent and follow!

Church History

Perhaps one of the most serious defects today among Bible-believing Christians is their insufficient knowledge of church history. There is much to learn from the Reformation, for instance, that would keep believers from going off on some wrong theological track. There is much to learn from the lives and deaths of the Christian martyrs of both yesterday and today that would put spine into modern preaching and Christian living. There is a great deal to learn from studying the missionary movement (in modern times largely begun by John Calvin’s mission to Brazil) that would help us to become less insular. There is very much to learn from the origins of many denominations (see previous blog about denominationalism) that would keep us pure in our beliefs. And I could go on—but, probably, you get the point.

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Five Hundred Years Ago

John Calvin was born July 10, 1509 (d. 1564). That is nearly 500 years ago! No one in the history of the Church, since the New Testament itself, has been so influential! It is worth remembering him and what he was able to accomplish for the Lord. There will be no pilgrimages to his grave, however, since he wanted to be buried in an unmarked grave, which remains unknown.

What did Calvin accomplish? He was the first to truly systematize the Reformation faith. The Institutes, to this day, are read with profit. They are a monumental piece of work that no Christian should neglect in his reading.

Until Calvin’s commentaries, there was only Chrysostom. But Calvin outstripped the former to become the father of modern commentaries.

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