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.


4 thoughts on “Horatius Bonar

  1. A Christian Pastor/Elder made this comment to me on Facebook: ““There are also times that well meaning Christians quote the Bible at someone with good intentions, but it is unhelpful because the person is not ready to hear the Scripture. They need someone to listen and pray.

    As we come alongside the wounded and broken we can either be: (1) wounded healers or (2) healed wounders. The latter are very dangerous and create much pain, often by quoting the Bible. The former are those saints that are listening to God the Holy Spirit and are able to wisely speak the Scriptures into a person’s life. ”

    1. Is this sound teaching? (“not ready to hear the Scripture” and the part where he says that quoting the Bible can be “very dangerous and create much pain”)
    2. If not, should I respond to this Elder? (he is not in authority over me)

    Thank you.

    • “Quote the Bible AT someone?” Is that his view of the value and use of the Scriptures? This is nonsense. How does he know when someone is “ready to hear?” Of course we should “listen and pray” but if that is all we do we have failed this person in a time of great need and communicated to him that we have no concrete help to offer.

  2. Bonar’s The Everlasting Righteousness s/b required reading for all seminarians.


    Of course, it’s not a bad idea “to read Scripture, put away all known sins, go to church regularly, and so forth.”

    But to try to “prepare” someone to hear the gospel is folly.

    The requirement is only that they’ve experienced the first/ physical birth!

    I agree, Jay & Donn. Thanks for posting this.