The kind people at Cross Focused Media have asked me to do another book review. I am grateful for the pulpit and pen ministry of Joel Beeke, so I jumped at the opportunity to read and review “Prepared by Grace, for Grace: The Puritans on God’s Ordinary Way of Leading Sinners to Christ”, which is co-authored with Paul Smalley. I must admit that I had no prior knowledge about the Puritan doctrine of “preparation” before encountering this book, so I was a bit intimidated knowing I would have to review it.
The concept of “preparation” is summed up in the subtitle: “God’s ordinary way of leading Sinners to Christ”. In other words, preparation is the means God uses to draw sinners to Himself prior to regeneration and faith. The authors of this book aim to defend the Puritan practice of preparation from those who argue that it is a departure from the theology of the Reformers.
The book consists of fourteen chapters, wherein Beeke and Smalley take the reader on a historical and theological tour of notable Puritan preparatory proponents. It begins by presenting the contemporary challenges to preparation in modern scholarship, which are claims the authors seek to undo throughout the rest of the book. Next, we read about the “Precedents to Puritan Preparation”… the men who paved the way for puritan theology (Augustine, Luther, Calvin). From here, we learn of a number Puritans who, while teaching the doctrine of preparation, maintain the sovereignty of God in salvation and monergistic regeneration. The authors clearly show that they have done the necessary work with primary source material and take pains to refute the claims of modern scholars. The Puritans featured in the book clearly held to the God-centered orthodoxy of Reformed soteriology while keeping in tension the truth of man’s responsibility.
The Puritans featured in this book are:
William Perkins (1558–1602)
Richard Sibbes (1577–1635)
John Preston (1587–1628)
William Ames (1576–1633)
Thomas Hooker (1586–1647)
Thomas Shepard (1605–1649)
William Pemble (1591–1623)
John Cotton (1585–1652)
Jeremiah Burroughs (1600–1646)
William Guthrie (1620–1665)
John Norton (1606–1663)
Thomas Goodwin (1600–1680)
Giles Firmin (1614–1697)
John Flavel (1627–1691)
John Bunyan (1628–1688)
Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758)
After presenting a long trail of evidence supporting the consistency between the preparatory theology of the magisterial reformers and that of the Puritans, the authors then compare Puritan preparation with the doctrine of the “continental divines” (some of them also belonging to the “magisterial” group): Ulrich Zwingli (1484–1531); Heinrich Bullinger (1504–1575); Theodore Beza (1519–1605); Peter van Mastricht (1630–1706); Zacharias Ursinus (1534–1583); Francis Turretin (1623–1687); WIlhelmus à Brakel (1635–1711); Herman Witsius (1636–1708); and Arthur Dent (1553–1607). Beeke and Smalley show repeatedly that the ordinary means of preparing sinners for salvation (i.e. the preaching of the Law) is a practice that the entire Reformed tradition has in common.
The book closes with a reprise of the contemporary criticism of Puritan preparation and the summation of the investigative work of the authors to refute such claims. They point out that while some Puritan concepts with regard to preparation were erroneous (for instance, Thomas Shepard and Thomas Hooker taught that one must necessarily be content with being damned prior to conversion, which many in the Reformed tradition rightfully deny), the majority views amongst those who hold to the ordinary means of preaching the Law with a view toward preparatory humiliation are consistent with Reformed theology and practice. The appendix contains William Ames’ “Praeparatione Peccatoris ad Conversionem” (On the Preparation of the Sinner for Conversion).
While this book is not necessarily a leisurely read and therefore one that I would broadly recommend, it would nonetheless benefit a great number and variety of people if they were to read it. For the preacher, teacher, and evangelist, it presses upon them the importance of preaching the Law as the necessary means of God in bringing about conviction in the sinner. This book would also be especially valuable to those who have been recently convinced of the truth of Reformed theology. Often times when one is confronted with biblical doctrines such as predestination, election, and monergistic regeneration, they experience a brand of zeal commonly referred to as “the cage stage” (in which they are overcome with a strong urge to vehemently proclaim these grand truths to anyone and everyone with little tact or wisdom). This book, when read with discernment, reminds the reader of the responsibility of man within the framework of God’s sovereignty in salvation. We must remember that the Law is the pedagogical means in which God drives men to His Gospel and He employs men to preach this Law in the power of the Holy Spirit, so that the Spirit may give new life and grant repentance and faith in them. While God is sovereign in His electing grace, it is our responsibility to preach the Law and Gospel to all and rely on the effectual work of the Holy Spirit to regenerate those who are predestined for salvation. The authors do a masterful job of maintaining the balance (for a lack of a better word) of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility while refuting the claims of critics who say that the Puritan doctrine of preparation is antithetical to Reformation theology.
For more on this subject, visit Meet the Puritans.
Effective December 1, 2009, Federal Trade Commission guidelines state that bloggers receiving any kind of compensation should disclose that information clearly on their blog when posting a review of the product… that being said: I RECEIVED A FREE COPY OF THE BOOK.