I appreciate books that seek to clarify misunderstanding and misconception. So often, in the biblical-theological world and otherwise, the proverbial pendulum is swung to the far right or left and a valuable topic and/or perspective is terribly misconstrued, or even lost, in the process. The matter of “preparatory grace” is no stranger to the aforementioned. In their new volume, Prepared by Grace, for Grace: The Puritans on God’s Ordinary Way of Leading Sinners to Christ (Reformation Heritage Books, 2013), Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley offer a thorough look at this important subject among an array of Reformed and Puritan theologians.
Table of Contents:
Introduction: The Question of Preparationism
- Preparation and Modern Scholarship
- Precedents to Puritan Preparation: Augustine to Calvin
- Preparation and Early English Puritans: Perkins, Sibbes, and Preston
- Preparation for Conversion: William Ames
- Preparation in Early New England (I): Thomas Hooker
- Preparation in Early New England (II): Shepard and Pemble
- Preparation and the Antinomian Controversy: John Cotton
- Preparation at the Pinnacle of Puritanism: Westminster, Burroughs, and Guthrie
- Preparation under a Scholastic Lens: Norton
- Preparation and Later Puritan Critiques: Goodwin and Firmin
- Later Puritan Preparation: Flavel and Bunyan
- Jonathan Edwards and Seeking God
- Continental Reformed Perspectives: Zwingli to Witsius
- The Grace of Preparation for Faith
Appendix: William Ames’s Theological Disputation on Preparation
I must say at the outset that which is duly noted by Sinclair Ferguson in the foreword, that the authors examining the topic at hand may be characterized as both meticulous scholar and gifted pastor. Thus their writing is not only academically thorough, but also readable and edifying.
In terms of the book’s content and structure, Beeke and Smalley begin with a chapter entitled “The Question of Preparation.” This chapter lays the groundwork of defining terms and paving the way for the remainder of the book. In their foundational chapter, the authors note that their study will be conducted from the perspective of those that believe firmly that “a righteous and holy God saves sinners “by grace through faith” (Eph. 2:8)” (p. 1). Thus, the book is designed to address the question of “how God ordinarily brings sinners to the point of trusting in Christ alone for salvation” (p. 1). Being a work that examines God’s work in saving sinners, the authors are careful to avoid the terms of “preparationism” or “preparationist” so as to not confuse their subject with those that would argue for the notion that the human being prepares himself for God’s saving activity.
The book then moves through Puritan history making mention of a handful of Puritans who both advocated and critiqued certain aspects of “preparatory grace”. Notably, the authors deal with Augustine and Calvin who held a high view of God’s sovereignty in salvation and how they understood preparatory grace. Additionally, in terms of the Puritan figures who posited a sort of separation from sin via human effort, prior to salvation, the authors expose their errors.
For me, while this book is thoroughly readable, for many, much of the content may be quite tedious to work through. The highlights would be the chapters on Calvin/Augustine and particularly “Jonathan Edwards and Seeking God”. The final chapter that summarizes the book’s findings is immensely helpful as well. The authors note 8 ways in which the doctrine of Puritan preparation is helpful for the believer to consider:
1.) Puritan preparation assists the free offer of the gospel.
2.) Puritan preparation is thoroughly Reformed, not Roman Catholic or Arminian.
3.) Puritan preparation highlights the common work of the Holy Spirit.
4.) Puritan preparation engages sinners with the law but not legalism.
5.) Puritan preparation respects the mystery of regeneration in its timing.
6.) Puritan preparation honors God as Creator and Savior.
7.) Puritan preparation reveals the sufficiency of Christ.
8.) Puritan preparation is biblical.
In sum, the Puritans were those who sought to know the Lord with great fervor. Their desire to understand the way in which a holy God saves sinners was far from casual. Studying the way the Puritans understood God’s saving activity ought to lead the believer to a greater sense of God’s rich grace, a great humility, and a response of praise and worship for God’s immense kindness in revealing His Son to underserving sinners. Whenever I read a book by Joel Beeke, I come away with a greater desire to know God in Christ Jesus with the same depth, ardor and sincerity as the Puritans did. Encountering this book was no exception. I recommend it!
*A copy of the book was provided by the publisher, at no charge, for the purpose of review. I was under no obligation to offer a positive review.