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.