Horatius Bonar

Lately, I’ve been re-reading Horatius Bonar’s Fifty-Two Sermons. The book is out of print, but a friend of mine found it on the internet and graciously bought and gave it to me. Of course, I am impressed all over again with the content. But there is something more that I can’t help mentioning.

“What’s that?”

Two things, actually.

“What are they?”

Matters of form—or style, if you will.

“What was impressive?”

First, the use of repetition. Again, in sermon after sermon, you can hear the building of his point to a crescendo as he repeats, not the same thought, but words or phrases (usually the latter) leading up to that thought.

“What’s the second thing?”

His use of question clusters.

“Question clusters?”

Yep. He will throw a series of questions at you in clusters of eight, nine—one cluster even had eleven. And that really can get you thinking.

“Well, why are you telling me all of this?”

Because you asked.

“But I asked because you mentioned Bonar’s preaching style.”

That’s right.

“Anything else you noticed of interest?”


Sure, you want to know? Are you certain of your own interest? Do you want me to expound? Will you listen? [that’s only four!]

“OK. OK. You can stop all of that and tell me.”

All right. I noticed how frequently he refuted the heresy of his day that we call “preparationism.”

“What’s that?”

A doctrine adopted by some Puritans from the Roman Catholic teaching of congruism.


It is the idea that by doing good works, Bible reading, confessing sin –etc., etc.—one can get himself into a state where he is fit to be regenerated by the Holy Spirit. Basically, he must become sensible [Puritan language for “deeply aware”] of his sin to be prepared for regeneration. The Half-Way Covenant that ruined the churches of New England grew out of this doctrine. People were doing all of these preparatory works in order to become regenerated, and most of the time it didn’t happen, and . . . Really, that’s too large a subject to take up here, but you can read about it in all of the Church History textbooks if you’re interested enough to do so.

“Is it important enough to take the trouble?” That’s one you’ll have to decide. I can tell you this about preparationism—Bonar says, that it “is the entrance of gloom, and trouble, and doubt; nay, this is, in many cases, the first step of apostasy; this is to renounce the cross, and to fall from grace (p. 257).”

“Sounds serious.”

Tis. He pictures what happens to people this way: “They have been moved under sermons; roused by searching books; done many things and taken many steps which seemed to be religious. . . Earnestness has faded away, and left nothing but its dregs” (p. 257). . . It says that the sinner is not warranted in tasting the full cup of blessing . . . till he has wrought or prayed himself into a more suitable, more receptive frame of spirit (252) . . . His object [is] to amend self, to improve self, or it might be to mortify self, in order that thereby he might recommend himself to God” (p. 237). Such preparationist teachers, he says, have a “dislike of sudden conversions . . . a dislike of assurance . . . and it looks like a questioning of the work of Christ—the denial of its sufficiency to give immediate peace to the awakened conscience” (p. 338). . . “And with regard to one’s salvation preparationism “makes the settlement of it one of the most subtle, prolonged, and intricate process which a tried person , ever undertook” . . . He describes it as “one of the most tedious and painful processes of metaphysical analysis and mental scrutiny ever attempted by man” (p. 255). In contrast, he observes, “knowledge of a risen Christ, which in apostolic days, was the ending of all doubt, and suspicion, and perplexity, should, in our day, with so many, be only the beginning of these” (pp. 255. 256).

“Wow! It is an important issue. How come we don’t hear much about it?”

Well, it was refuted by Bonar’s writings and hymns, along with the teaching of others. But in some places, there are those who are trying to reintroduce preparationism anew. To understand it is to be forewarned—or, you might say, “prepared!”.

“Thanks. Think I’ll read up on it a bit.”

“Good idea.”


Comments are closed.