Are You “Prepared” For This?

The rise and development of preparationism is an interesting subject.  Key in studying this, of course, is an accurate definition of what preparationism is and what it is not.  I take the following as the key point of genuine preparationism:

  1. The gospel offer is restricted to the “thirsty” or to those who have a “sense of sin” i.e. “sensible sinners”.
  2. The sinner must therefore be prepared before accepting the gospel offer by finding within himself an appropriate degree of conviction of sin.
  3. Consequently, the warrant to accept the offer of the gospel is placed within the sinner, for the gospel is only offered to sinners that are qualified or prepared.

My point in raising the issue of preparationism is to note how alien it is to Durham’s system of theology.  He explicitly denies this:

Grace does not stand precisely on forepreparations (where souls honestly and sincerely come), such as saying that you have not been so and so humbled, and have not such and such previous qualifications as you would have. Nay, in some way it excludes these, as offering to bring money and some price, which would quite spoil the market of free grace; nay yet, I say further, if it were possible that a soul could come without sense of sin, grace would embrace it…
Unsearchable Riches of Christ (rept.; Morgan: Soli Deo Gloria, 2002),156-7

There are some important elements here but the key point is that free and sovereign grace excludes the idea of “forepreparations”.  It is those without money who are invited to come and preparationism inverts this by demanding that a certain warrant must be produced by a sinner before they can come to Christ.  In another place Durham notes:

There is this prejudice in some that they think none can go and warrantably take hold of God’s covenant till they are so humbled, that they cannot go with convictions or challenges till they get some more deep heart work or are in a better and more tender frame … This in particular is one great prejudice that the devil labours deeply to possess the minds of awakened sinners with, to make them think that it is presumption for them … to come to Christ and by faith to close with Him unless they be so and so qualified.
, 225-6

We see here Durham’s pastoral application of his anti-preparationism.  Sinners somehow feel that they have to produce a certain amount of conviction of sin before they can come to Christ but this is nothing more than a “great prejudice that the devil labours deeply” to drive into the minds of sinners.  It is therefore to be utterly rejected.

Now in saying all this I’m not denying the place of the law and of conviction of sin – indeed I would argue that the poverty of much modern evangelical (and dare I say Reformed) spirituality and theology is due to a lack of conviction of sin and consciousness of God’s holiness.  Again, I am not denying that it is only the sick who will seek a doctor.  (It is because people like Durham emphasised this truth that they are sometimes falsely called preparationists.)  But I am arguing that in no way is this a preparation for salvation in the sense of providing a warrant for us to come to Christ – all men have sufficient warrant to come by virtue of the free offer of the gospel (God’s hearty invitation, to use the phraseology of the Sum of Saving Knowledge).

This is the first time I’ve posted on Durham in ages – maybe this is the James Durham thesis after all 🙂

8 Responses to “Are You “Prepared” For This?”

  1. J.R. Polk Says:

    I can’t but help seeing some similarity between “preparationism” and Trent’s decree and canons on Justification.


    On the necessity, in adults, of preparation for Justification, and whence it proceeds.

    The Synod furthermore declares, that in adults, the beginning of the said Justification is to be derived from the prevenient [Page 33] grace of God, through Jesus Christ, that is to say, from His vocation, whereby, without any merits existing on their parts, they are called; that so they, who by sins were alienated from God, may be disposed through His quickening and assisting grace, to convert themselves to their own justification, by freely assenting to and co-operating with that said grace: in such sort that, while God touches the heart of man by the illumination of the Holy Ghost, neither is man himself utterly without doing anything while he receives that inspiration, forasmuch as he is also able to reject it; yet is he not able, by his own free will, without the grace of God, to move himself unto justice in His sight. Whence, when it is said in the sacred writings: Turn ye to me, and I will turn to you, we are admonished of our liberty; and when we answer; Convert us, O Lord, to thee, and we shall be converted, we confess that we are prevented by the grace of God.

    The manner of Preparation.

    Now they (adults) are disposed unto the said justice, when, excited and assisted by divine grace, conceiving faith by hearing, they are freely moved towards God, believing those things to be true which God has revealed and promised,-and this especially, that God justifies the impious by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; and when, understanding themselves to be sinners, they, by turning themselves, from the fear of divine justice whereby they are profitably agitated, to consider the mercy of God, are raised unto hope, confiding that God will be propitious to them for Christ’s sake; and they begin to love Him as the fountain of all justice; and are therefore moved against sins by a certain hatred and detestation, to wit, by that penitence which must be performed before baptism: lastly, when they purpose to receive baptism, [Page 34] to begin a new life, and to keep the commandments of God. Concerning this disposition it is written; He that cometh to God, must believe that he is, and is a rewarder to them that seek him; and, Be of good faith, son, thy sins are forgiven thee; and, The fear of the Lord driveth out sin; and, Do penance, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost; and, Going, therefore, teach ye all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; finally, Prepare your hearts unto the Lord.

    What the justification of the impious is, and what are the causes thereof.

    This disposition, or preparation, is followed by Justification itself, which is not remission of sins merely, but also the sanctification and renewal of the inward man, through the voluntary reception of the grace, and of the gifts, whereby man of unjust becomes just, and of an enemy a friend, that so he may be an heir according to hope of life everlasting . . .

    CANON IV.-If any one saith, that man’s free will moved and excited by God, by assenting to God exciting and calling, nowise co-operates towards disposing and preparing itself for obtaining the grace of Justification; that it cannot refuse its consent, if it would, but that, as something inanimate, it does nothing whatever and is merely passive; let him be anathema.

    CANON IX.-If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.

  2. David Says:

    Hey Donald,

    Preparationism grew out of the idea of the sensible sinner. Even Calvin says that the Matt 11 “Come unto me all you who are weary….” That became the basis of the sensible sinner idea. Hooker took it to the point of madness. It then laid the foundation for the Hussey-Gillite idea of the warrant to believe. I like Boston’s take on the Matt 11 invitation. I think its a much more common sense read. I am not sure tho on the role of the law to convict sin before the Gospel. The ideas are all inter-related.

    Thanks and take care,

  3. Donald John MacLean Says:

    J.R. Polk

    Thanks for that – I hadn’t made that link at all. It is interesting how hyper-calvinism comes full circle and sits comfortably with semi-pelagianism.

    Hi David

    I can see that preparationism could have grown out of some unhelpful exegesis of relevant passages. This is evident in the Westminster Annotations where from memory Is 55:1ff was handled very poorly. When I read that I thought how it could lead someone on a trajectory that would end up with Gill etc. Some of the language of “sensible sinners” is evident in John Ball and I treat this a bit in my thesis – also Durham uses the phrase occasionally. But they did not use it in the way it came to be used in extreme hyper-calvinism i.e. the offer was not restricted to them.

    The Marrowmen are indeed excellent on this. I originally was going to post on Ralph Erskine contra preparationism but thought it was about time I posted some Durham.

    I am a fairly classical law/gospel man in the Scottish tradition myself – although as you know with a hopefully helpful emphasis on the well meant gospel offer.


  4. David Says:

    Hey Donald,

    Have you thought about the related issue on the subtle re-tuning of the gospel and the idea of the reflex act of faith? and when this was combined with the practical syllogism. The combined effect of this was to turn the sinner to himself for warrant or grounds for an interest in Christ. When you compare the later definitions of faith and what is the gospel, with earlier constructions, its clear that the idea of discovering a warrant or interest in the individual could never have arisen out of the earlier forms of expression.

    As an aside, I would love to be able to blog a Durham file on all the instances where he expresses a divine wish or desire that all sinners be saved. If you have such a file I would love to blog it and give you the full credit.

    Keep up the good work.

  5. Donald John MacLean Says:

    Hi David

    Yes, I will cover this a bit when I discuss Torrance’s take on Durham in my thesis. I’ll happily provide you with a Durham file. I’m currently typing up my notes from Durham to write my next two chapters so when I have done that I will send it across.

    Every blessing
    Donald John

  6. David Says:

    Hey Donald,

    I would love to post any Durham material you are willing to give. My policy is to either give credit or cite “posted with permission”. I will do that for sure.

    The aim of my site is twofold. 1) to provide and historical-theological resource that seeks to show how hypercalvinism (whether Gillite, Hoeksemian or Clarkian) is not part of the Reformed tradition in either its higher or lower wings. For this I am trying to document the various aspects or nuances of common grace, general love, the will of God, etc. The other aspect of my site is to document the older view on the expiation, demonstrating the complexity and diversity within the broader Reformed tradition.

    Regarding common grace, there is hardly anything like this on the web today, even after all these years. And yet there are plenty of hypercalvinist sites, boards and blogs. my desire is have a sort of ‘at a glance’ database when its all there ‘at a glance.’ Tony has been trying to the same in this reqard. Our desire is that folk become interested again in some of these obscure historical figures and get back to reading the primary sources.

    I appreciate your help.

    Thanks and take care,

  7. Rise and Development of Preperationism « Leviticus and Stuff Says:

    […] April 28, 2008 by David at James Durham Thesis […]

  8. Antinomian, neonomian or pure gospel? « Transforming Grace Says:

    […] required all candidates for ordination to sign. The proposition, intended as a guard against preparationism, read: “I believe that it is not sound and orthodox to teach that we must forsake sin in […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: