Another Word on the ARP and Preaching
Well, back to the regularly scheduled program as we continue in our plan thinking about distinctives of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. The first three installments of this centered on preaching and this week that will be our subject again, though for the last time. Next our topic will move to something that may seem out-of-date and esoteric, and somewhat Scottish in history. However, my hope is as we think through social covenanting you will see a benefit to it in 2023 America. So back to the matter at hand.
What more can we say on the pulpit ministry of the ARP? Good question.
As the fights took place in the 1710s and 1720s between the forefathers of the Associate Presbytery and their compatriots in the Church of Scotland one of the words that was bandied about to impugn the Associates was “antinomian”. In other words men like James Hadow made the claim that Thomas Boston (who while never a Marrow Man himself, he was certainly a supporter of them) and those who advocated a book called The Marrow of Modern Divinity were promoting a heresy known as Antinomianism. Ebenezer Erskine and others shot back that in fact the CoS was teaching Legalism by requiring something other than faith to be present, namely repentance, before one could be said to be saved. The infamous declaration of the Auchterarder Presbytery cleared (or maybe didn’t) the air saying, “It is not sound and orthodox to teach that we must forsake sin in order to our coming to Christ.” Some folks will tell you that this is hard to understand and only makes things more complicated, I disagree. It makes perfect sense. Ministers, and churches, cannot tell sinners that they must repent, that is confess their sins, before they enter into the redemptive work of the Redeemer. For to tell people they must do that is to add to the Scriptures. Believe On the Lord Jesus Christ and Thou Shalt Be Saved does not say, that one must be cleansed and made right in order that they can be made members of the kingdom. To quote John Newton, “If you tarry ‘til you’re better, you will never come at all.”
In response to the charges of the CoS James Hog described, according to William Vandoodewaard, faith as the “mother-grace”, which means that he understood that all the other graces descend from faith like water from the rock in Exodus 17:6. None of these contribute or cause anything to follow other than that which is gifted and granted by the Father of life. As Hog goes on to say:
The making of works any part of our righteousness before God, whether be the works of the regenerated or the unregenerated, whether by attributing any intrinsic worth to them, or ascribing this to the purchase of Christ, as if they were thus dignified by it, is contrary to the whole design and strain of the gospel, as is cleared by our reformed divines at length. Compare Rom. 3:22-23, Gal. 2:16 and 5:4…by assigning, as the fruit of Christ’s death, a new covenant, made with all, but upon easier terms, yet still of works, which the elect by a good improvement of the more common helps do embrace and perform, thus subverting the gospel by a confusion of the two [works and grace] covenants, see Rom. 4:5 and 11:5-6. Read more here at the link.
Why did I type out that long quotation taken from fellow ARP minister William Vandoodewaard’s book on the Marrow Controversy? Because it perfectly describes what the issue is for the preaching of God’s good news to sinners, and to the saved for that matter. Any system of doctrine which would require of the unbeliever anything of himself to make ready to come to Christ is not free grace. There is not an iota of works involved in our being prepared for glory in the Redeemer and the preaching of the gospel must never mix what should remain separate. That’s why the Associate Presbytery was formed, and that is why when their descendants came to the colonies, and then the States, they remained in the Associate family. This was not a teaching they were willing to part with, nor should they have. All ministers, especially ARP ministers, should be familiar with the Marrow, feel it in their bones (no pun intended), and members of ARP churches should likewise expect their preachers to give them no other offer than the free offer.
If you hear a pastor telling you to forsake sin in order your coming to Christ than there is an issue. Come and welcome to Jesus Christ, the one who relieves you of the burden of sin, the one who removes from your account the wrath of God due for your transgressions ought to be the content of our preaching as a denomination, as a local church, and as a people of the Book. God in His grace has come offering His perfect righteousness as a whole gospel for the lost, not as a partial “pay now, get the rest later” bargain.
Part of the witness that we see here laid down is that the free offer of the gospel is for everyone, no exceptions. We’ve touched on this in the past, but it is worth repeating more fully. What the ARP understands is that when Christ bids His ministers to preach it is that not only must they always preach Him and Him Crucified and raised and mean it each time the word is proclaimed, but they must not discriminate. What that is said to do can be again clarified by our friend James Hog. He notes, “I need not tell you [Dr. Hadow] that the gospel is the channel through which alone the enlivening breathings of the Spirit of God is conveyed…” and “The Gospel exalteth Christ, the whole scope of it, and marrow of what it contains, is to hold forth the relucency of His glory, in what He has done for lost sinners…”.
In closing, we’ve heard the call to preach Christ to all men, to do so without requiring anything other than faith, and to be certain that when we do, we hold nothing back so that men may know their need, and the place to have their need provided for. Our church, and every church in the ARP should be known as a gospel preaching church of free grace for sinners, for all to come and hear the good news of salvation and the eternal life given alone through His blood and love.
Here’s a word:
Blessings in Christ,
Rev. Benjamin Glaser
Pastor, Bethany ARP Church