This Week's Focus Passage

Luke 13:3, 5 ‘Except ye repent, ye shall all in like manner perish.’

In the days of the so-called Second Great Awakening there arose practices that are continued even into our own day. It may not be unfair to attribute the initiation of these methods to the developed thought of the ‘great revivalist’ Charles Grandison Finney. It has been said of Finney; ‘he was best known as an innovative revivalist during the period 1825-1835 in upstate New York and Manhattan, an opponent of Old School Presbyterian theology [i.e. Calvinism], an advocate of Christian perfectionism, and a religious writer.’ In his preparationist practices, likely the most consequential and, certainly, the best remembered was the innovation of the ‘anxious bench’ as it soon became to be known. The “development of the anxious seat, a place where those considering becoming Christians could sit to receive prayer, and public censure of individuals by name in sermons and prayers.” This was surely the precursor to the ‘altar call’ of our day. This call for individuals to ‘come down the aisle’ if they are inclined to ‘consider becoming Christians’ is conspicuously the offspring of Finney’s ‘anxious seat.’ The common denominator of these practices, I would assert, is that they are both appeals to the will of man rather than the heart. Neither should this surprise us, for these are each practices employed by those that believe, often vehemently, that the natural man retains the ability to choose Christ apart from the work of God upon his heart in regeneration.

This difficulty is expressed by Norman Pettit in his volume under the title of ‘The Heart Prepared.’ In this volume, Pettit speaks of the advocates of this form of understanding the application of salvation to the sinner; Pettit wrote: “Those who preached preparation and believed it to be consistent with predestination were concerned with the problem of a possible period in time before conversion that was neither wholly the work of the Law nor entirely beyond man’s control. Although natural man, under the Law, did not have the power to make the Gospel effectual or to choose Christ out of the power of his nature, he could respond to the Law in a gradual way and need not be constrained all at once. By preparation they meant a period of prolonged introspective meditation and self-analysis in the light of God’s revealed Word. In this process man first examined the evils of his sins, repented for those sins, and then turned to God for salvation. From conviction of conscience, the soul moved through a series of interior stages, always centered on self-examination, which in turn were intended to arouse a longing desire for grace.”—Norman Pettit, A Heart Prepared, p. 17.

This does give the impression of an understanding of God’s sovereignty in salvation, yet it is actually still Arminianism for it depends upon the work of man to bring himself to God. It is another example of synergism, i.e, ‘God has done His part, now it’s up to you to do your part.’ When this is uttered, they who speak to this concept do not seem to realize that they are saying, in effect, ‘God has done all that He can do; the rest is up to you.’ Rather that depicting man as the helpless creature that he surely is, they postulate a helpless God. This is the sentiment that has given birth to such ‘portraits’ of Christ depicting Him as helplessly pleading with sinners. This is a turning of the truth of the Gospel into a falsehood.

Preparationism? Is repentance a work? Is this something which may later allow us to boast of that ‘work’ by which we were saved, even our required repentance? What are the works of God that we must work? We must believe; is faith a work of which we may then be tempted to boast in? Where is the line drawn between grace and works? Paul has stated in unequivocal terms that by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man should glory.—Ephesians 2:8. The celebrated apostle to the Gentiles has clearly echoed the sentiment of Jonah 2:9, Salvation is of Jehovah. There is no salvation apart from God. Apart from Him, man can do nothing.

Look into the truth that it is God who must make us willing. It is God who gives faith. It is God who grants repentance. We have nothing of which to boast. It is God alone who has made us to differ; we have nothing but that which we have received. We have received all things from God, whether directly or indirectly. Jesus Himself said, ‘Except ye repent ye shall all in like manner perish.’ But are we able to bring ourselves to repentance? Are we able to repent without being made aware of our sin? Are we able to believe without hearing the gospel? Where is the line drawn? Yes, God requires us to repent; yes, He demands that we believe the gospel. But all praise unto Him, that which God requires, He provides. See Zephaniah 2:3; ‘Seek ye Jehovah;’ is this a part of preparation on our part? ‘All ye meek,’ must we make ourselves to be meek? ‘All that have kept his ordinances;’ if we have not kept God’s ordinances, may we then not seek Him? ‘Seek righteousness, seek meekness; it may be ye will be hid in the day of Jehovah’s anger.’ If we don’t seek these things, will we be then exposed to the anger of God in the great day? Are we not to seek Christ? Look unto me! Behold, the Lamb of God! Our God grants all the He requires.

It is God that prepares the heart; He who alone can regenerate a heart must alone be the One who prepares, if any preparation is to be done. We must have a new heart; we must be born again. But, praise God;

The wind bloweth where it will, and thou hearest the voice thereof, but knowest not whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.  

This is the true ‘preparation.’ Ye must be born again. Yes, it is very true that there are circumstances that may be, in God’s plan, employed in one coming to God. But it is He that employs them, not man. It was God moving circumstances to bring Naaman the Syrian to Elisha, whence he was healed of his leprosy, 2 Kings 5. But it was God that put the little Israelitish maiden in his household to inform him of the prophet in Israel. It was Paul’s fury brought him to the Damascus road, but it was God gave him a new heart to believe.


David Farmer, elder

Fellowship Bible Church


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