Joel R. Beeke is president and professor of systematic theology and homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, and also a pastor of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation. Oh, and also he writes books in his spare time, which is facilitated in no small measure by his teacher’s assistant Paul Smalley. Together, they’ve put together Prepared By Grace For Grace: The Puritans on God’s Ordinary Way of Leading Sinners to Christ.
As they explain in their introduction,
This book addresses the question of how God ordinarily brings sinners to the point of trusting in Christ alone for salvation. Specifically, is conversion an event or a process? If a process, how does the work of conversion begin? There may be exceptional cases, but in general, is there a pattern of conversion?
Important questions no doubt, and it is not an understatement to say “this subject has massive implications for how we preach the gospel” (1). What the remainder of the book will discuss is the doctrine of preparation.
Though the Puritans used the word in many contexts to mean many things, the specific focus is the preparation for saving faith in Christ. At issue is whether the Puritans held to a 1) evangelical or legalistic version of the doctrine and 2) whether they were consistently Reformed or more Arminian. In Beeke and Smalley’s study the goal is to simply let Calvin and the Purtians speak for themselves to clarify where they stood. 1
Chapter 1 further orients readers by introducing how modern scholarship has handled this question in Puritan studies. 2 With this orientation, Beeke and Smalley then turn to the two most important forerunners in Reformed/Puritan theology. See if you can guess who they are. If you guessed Augustine and Calvin, you nailed it! No study in Reformed theology would be complete without some foray into Calvin’s thought. 3 So once Beeke and Smalley have taken us there, we’re on to Puritans proper.
We start with early English Puritans (Perkins, Sibbes, and Preston) and then William Ames gets a chapter all to himself, as does Thomas Hooker (4 & 5 respectively). Ames however is a little more important since he gets his Theological Disputation on Preparation reprinted as an appendix to this volume. 4 Then to round out the picture in early New England, chapter 6 is devoted to Thomas Shepard and William Pemble.
From there the stage is set for discussing the antinomian controversy involving John Cotton (chapter 7), 5 while chapter 8 focuses on the Westminster Divines, particularly Jeremiah Burroughs, as well as (now) little known Scottish preacher William Guthrie. Beeke and Smalley locate the apex of Puritanism with this latter chapter. Part of this may have to do with the Westminster Standards being put together at this time, but as the authors note, “No chapter, section, or question and answer in the Westminster Standards is specifically devoted to preparation for saving faith” (130). Because of this, there was room for continued commentary and refinement.
The latter chapters move in this direction first by looking through a scholastic lens courtesy of John Norton and then through the critiques of Thomas Goodwin and Giles Firmin, both of whom are predominantly responding to Thomas Hooker. The next chapter allows two Johns, Flavel and Bunyan, the opportunity to speak before a chapter devoted to the last of the Puritans, Jonathan Edwards. Before the true concluding chapter we are able get a summary of continental Reformed perspectives. This means voices like Zwingli, Bullinger, Beza, van Mastricht, Ursinus, Turretin, Brakel, and Witsius, 6 and includes a look at how the Heidelberg Catechism and Canons of Dort handle the question of preparation.
The concluding chapter wraps everything together nicely with the adding bonus of undermining the thesis in popular scholarship that Calvin’s views were somehow opposed to later Puritans on the question of preparation. The positive lessons from this historical study of the Puritans’ doctrine of preparation are as follows (254-260):
- It assists the free offer of the gospel
- It is thoroughly Reformed, not Roman Catholic or Arminian
- It highlights the common work of the Holy Spirit
- It engages sinners with the law but not with legalism
- It respects the mystery of regeneration and its timing
- It honors God as Creator and Savior
- It reveals the sufficiency of Christ
- It is biblical
All in all, I think this is a valuable book. Readers who are most interested in the Puritans in general will find it most valuable, as will those who are interested in time tested wisdom on this theological question. Really, anyone who is interested in the gospel and Christian theology can find value in this book. Even though it is allowing a lot of room for these Puritan writers to speak for themselves, it is still readable and anyone giving semi-concentrated effort should have no trouble following the argument. Pastors will especially benefit from the Puritan wisdom on preparation since it gives insight into gospel preaching. But, that wisdom from the past isn’t just reserved for pastors, and so anyone who wants to better understand how the doctrine of preparation works should probably pick up a copy of this book and give it a read.
- Author: Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley
- Title: Prepared By Grace For Grace: The Puritans on God’s Ordinary Way of Leading Sinners to Christ
- Publisher: Reformation Heritage Books (May 23, 2013)
- Paperback: 297pgs
- Reading Level: Bible School or Avid General Reader
- Audience Appeal: Pastors/Counselors/Students interetested in a Puritan perspectiveon the preporatary work of the Holy Spirit
- Gratis Review Copy: Yes (courtesy of RHB and a CrossFocused Blog Tour)
- This means lots of footnotes and historical exposition if you’re keeping score at home ↩
- Which is different than how the question is handled in “Puritanical” studies ↩
- Fun fact I probably can’t use anywhere else: When Calvin was a student, his nickname was “The Accusative Case” ↩
- Ames originally published this in Latin under the title Praeparatione peccatoris ad conversionem (1633). So, next time you feel smart, remember that really smart people write books in Latin even though no one speaks it. Also, this wasn’t the only book Ames published in Latin during 1633. Think of that next time you open Netflix on your iPad ↩
- If you haven’t experienced an antinomian controversy in your theological lifetime, just wait, you’ll get one eventually ↩
- Or if we’re using first names, Ulrich, Henry (or really Heinrich), Theodore, Peter, Zacharius, Francis, Wilhelmus, and Herman ↩