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.



In Hosea 4:6, we read, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge (HCSB).” It was not because they had no access to it, but (as the rest of the verse says) because they “rejected” it.

The statement has to do with a nation. But it is just as true of those purporting to be “God’s people” as a congregation, as a household or as individuals.

Lack of Knowledge—and, in particular, the willful lack thereof, is a serious matter. Christianity is not fundamentally an emotional religion although emotion plays a secondary and derivative part in it. It is a religion propagated by teaching. It is a religion of truth. It is a religion of propositions. It is a religion that is logical. It is a religion of a Book. It is, primarily, a religion in which everything depends upon a message—the Gospel. Apart from knowledge of and belief in the vicarious death and bodily resurrection of Jesus, there is no Christianity—regardless of what may be taught in its name.

In Hosea, not only the people in general, but the prophet, the priest and the individual are singled out. God says that since they rejected Him, He will reject them.

That is a tragic fact. But how true it is of so many in this land where the message of salvation is widely spread by word of mouth, TV and radio, the printed page. There is no excuse for not knowing it; there is less excuse for rejecting it once one does know.

Knowledge has to do not merely with the communicating of facts. In the passage, as elsewhere in Scripture, it refers to facts believed, and acted upon—what some have called “experimental knowledge.” It refers to acceptance, ready compliance and dependence upon the message that is preached.

Counselor, your counselee will not be helped unless he first knows the truth—then accepts is as true and that upon which he depends for his life and eternity. Don’t assume more than you should. Be certain that he understands and trusts basic Christian knowledge of the truth.

Everything = Nothing

Recently, someone who knew that I was concerned about the matter, sent me a book in which the word “Gospel” (undefined, but grossly overworked) was used in conjunction with practically everything possible. In it the author speaks of “gospel mission, the gospel message, gospel change, gospel dynamic, gospel intentionality, gospel territories, the mission of the gospel, gospel community, gospel life, gospel-driven interactions, gospel truths, gospel care, gospel realities, gospel confrontation, gospel opportunities, gospel relationships,” etc. My friend wrote on the title page “When everything is the gospel, then nothing is the gospel.” How right he is!

In the book the writer states that the “gospel interprets, directs, and changes our lives.”

He writes of “experiencing the gospel.”

And one of his repeated phrases is “live out the gospel,” whatever that means!

He believes “Everyone needs Jesus and His gospel every moment of every day.”

He says, in one paragraph, “We need to correct and instruct others with the gospel so that we might grow in Christ and equip others to do the same.”

This book is symptomatic of what is going on all over the Christian world— people are obsessed with what they call the “gospel,” and believe that reflecting on so-called effects of their “gospel” (as they understand–or misunderstand—it) will help them grow as believers. People (in such contexts) are rarely called to “good works.” The work of the Spirit in the heart to produce His fruit is neglected. The gospel has been greatly misunderstood in their confused thinking. Reflection upon it, and other strange ideas, are being set forth as the means of sanctification.

The gospel is defined in 1 Corinthians 15: 1ff as containing two points:

  1. Christ’s death in the place of guilty sinners (upper ton hamartion hemon)
  2. His bodily resurrection from the dead.

Paul says that believing these facts “saves.” While the Gospel must be proclaimed in clarity, it must not be misunderstood or misused. Otherwise, it no longer is the “good news.”

The Despicable List

Are you on this Despicable List?

In 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10, there is a list of the sort of people who will not “inherit God’s kingdom.” Here, the word “kingdom” refers, obviously, to its eternal phase, heaven.

This list sounds final, the way that it is worded, no hope in sight. But it isn’t. Indeed, in the very next verse we read,

These are what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were declared righteous, in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

If you think you are too bad to go to heaven, then think again. Take a look at the list and see if it includes you. You see, it isn’t good people who are granted eternal life—there are none. What qualifies one for salvation is that he isn’t saved already.

Let me put it another way: if you aren’t a sinner it’s impossible for your sins to be forgiven, for you to be washed clean of them, for you to be declared righteous. Since you are a sinner, you can be cleansed.

The list was not intended to be a final word. It includes only those who remain in the unrighteous condition in which you now find yourself. If you are not saved, you will be excluded from God’s kingdom. But if you believe the Gospel, you will be transformed, placed in a different category—saved!

Now, will you continue in your present state, or will you come to Jesus Christ as Savior? If you want to be freed not only from the guilt of sin, but from its power, then repent of it (I.e., confess to God that you are a sinner, guilty of breaking His law), and believe the Gospel (that Jesus Christ died in the place of sinners like you, bearing their guilt, suffering in their stead the punishment due them).

If you will believe this message, you will be granted a place in God’s eternal kingdom on the basis of His merits. Your faith is but the way to receive the gift of eternal life.

It is a fearful thing to have your name remain on that list. Now is the time for it to be expunged. Don’t delay.



Yesterday, our water stopped! We had it fixed in no time by our local well-man. But I could not help thinking what it would be like to be without a dependable source of water for good! It’s amazing how many things depend on it—not just the normal uses for drinking, toilet purposes, and cooking.

Think, for instance, how ripe you’d begin to smell after a few days! Back in Biblical times, in many places baths were very few and far between. That’s one reason why oil was poured on the head, or formed into little cakes that sat on the head and slowly dissolved. One odor out-smelled the other!

Water. In the Scriptures it was at a premium—take your handy, exhaustive concordance and notice how many references there are to water. Surprise you? Well, people were so hard up for water in some areas that they were even willing to put up with drinking the sickening, lukewarm water, that Jesus noted when writing to Sardis.

Wells were trysting places—sorta’ like the office water cooler (or coffee machine). People gathered around them and chatted before returning home with their precious commodity in a clay-fired pitcher. There’s Jacob’s well, for instance. And the oasis was a place where small communities developed around wells (e.g., Beer-sheba—the first word in that double place name means “well”) or gatherings took place.

So, when rain was withheld from Ahab’s Israel in judgment, that was a very serious matter.  Crops didn’t grow without the early and latter rains, people were without access to the wadis that ran dry and baked hard in the Palestinian sun—it meant famine, and often – – -death! Water is essential to life.

No wonder Jesus called Himself the Water of Life—without Him, there’s nothing but barrenness here and now and, eventually, eternal death. Have you trusted Him for salvation and come to know the refreshing knowledge and experience of becoming one who has drunk deeply of Him?


Wage and Gift

People are all different in many ways, but in one respect, they are all alike:

For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.                                    Romans 3:23

And that, my friend, includes you!

But what are the consequences of that fact? What does it mean to come short of the glory of God? Listen to some further words from Romans:

The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.                             Romans 6:23

That means there will be a payday someday, as one preacher put it, when you will receive the wages you earned: death. Not physical death alone, but spiritual death as well. That means eternal separation from God, and eternal punishment in hell, unless . . .

Unless you receive the gift of God, which is eternal life in heaven.

Notice, you deserve hell; you don’t deserve heaven. So heaven is a gift. You can do nothing to earn it. The gift of eternal life can be “received” only by faith—faith in what Jesus did to save sinners like you from hell. He died on the cross in the place of all who would confess their sin and believe in Him as the One Who took the punishment for their sin. You cannot earn heaven; you have already earned hell. Isn’t it time to consider these matters seriously? Think. The gift God offers is heaven—



The Primary Purpose of the NT

What’s the Primary purpose of the New Testament? Is it to preach the Gospel to the lost or is it to enable believers to glorify God by their lives? The question might seem unnecessary but for the insistence upon the first option by some who do all they can to promote it and to debunk the latter view. So, it is necessary to consider the matter.

There are those who seem to think that option number one is the larger, more comprehensive one. However, the opposite is the case. Surely, 1 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, James—or most any other NT book you examine is written to believers about their lives.

“What of the Gospel of John?” you ask.

It was written to unbelievers to help them believe and be saved. But what of 1 John? It was written to believers to help them to come to an assurance of their salvation—and it states so. It was not primarily written to bring people to faith in Christ. That’s clear. And, as for Luke/Acts, these books were written to a Christian that he might know the historical certainty of what he believed. Many purposes. Eh?

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There are reasons behind Paul’s declaration that some find difficult to understand.

“What declaration?”

This one:

Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any account; but what counts is a new creation.
                                                                      Galatians 6:15

“Oh. What are they?”

For one, his desire to warn people from adding obsolete rites and ceremonies to the pure and simple Gospel, as if they are necessary for salvation

“That’s serious, I admit. Any other reasons?”

Yes, but I’ll mention two more: some of the Judaizers seemed to want to add another name to their growing lists of “re-converts.” Others found they could escape Jewish persecution by doing so. Someday, take a gander at Galatians 6:13, and you’ll understand what I mean.

“Was there serious controversy over the matter?

You betcha’. The first general council of the church was held to confront the issue head on. You can read all about it in Acts 15.

“What did they decide?”

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“What do you mean by, ‘Yes?’”

Just what I said—Yes.

“But you can’t possibly mean that.”

Yet, I certainly do!

“Did you hear me correctly?”

Yes, again.

“But I asked you whether or not you knew you were going to heaven when you die. How could you possibly give an unequivocal ‘Yes?’ Suppose you do something that so displeases God you won’t deserve to go to heaven?”

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Getting Down to Earth

I find that’s the way most people like it. They’re tired of the airy-fairy, academic presentations that are so much a part of our upper-crusted society today. They like simple, plainspoken, unpretentious talk. They don’t like government gobbledygook either. The despise legalize and they want you to tell it like it is . . .

That is. . . .

Until you tell them the truth!

Then, they’d rather shave it down, not hear it at all, block it out, etc., etc., etc.

The truth is that all men are sinners

Who have offended a holy God by ignoring Him, thinking they don’t need Him and outright disobeying Him.

The truth is that men cannot save themselves from punishment by God.

They must humble themselves before Him, recognize that He, and He alone, has provided the way of salvation from that punishment

And trust Jesus Christ as Savior.

How does He save?

The truth is He came into this world in order to die for guilty sinners so that all who put their trust in Him might be forgiven their sin against God. But He also rose from the dead, is alive, and knows all about you. He is willing to save from everlasting punishment everyone who will depend upon what He did on the cross.

There—you heard it like it is. It’s the truth

But it’s not down-to-earth—

We’re talking up to heaven!