Before I had even finished the foreword to Prepared by Grace, for Grace, I was afraid I had gotten in over my head. This book, promises Sinclair B. Furgeson of First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, S.C., “will be eagerly read by students of seventeenth-century theological literature, whether literary scholars, historian, or theologians.” Uh-oh. I’m no student of 17th-century theological literature—scholar, historian, theologian or otherwise.
It’s true: This book reads more like assigned reading from a seminary syllabus than it does like the latest paperback by Chan or Platt (introduction, no doubt, by whichever of the two didn’t write the rest). But—and this is key—do not let this dissuade you. It’s accessible, intelligent and rewarding.
In Prepared by Grace, for Grace: The Puritans on God’s Ordinary Way of Leading Sinners to Christ, Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley address “the question of how God ordinarily brings sinners to the point of trusting in Christ alone for salvation.” More than this, though, it seeks to explain what exactly the Puritans believed about preparation and to defend that it sits squarely in the camp of historic Reformed teaching. Rather than standing in opposition to the sovereignty of God, preparation, as the Puritans understood it, described the “ways in which the sovereign God ordinarily worked out His eternal decree in human lives.” Beeke and Smalley write:
Certainly the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone excludes all merit in human works. But the Reformed doctrine of divine sovereignty also includes God’s use of human means in conversion and sanctification. God does not treat men like stocks of wood and blocks of stone but deals with them according to their created nature as beings of mind, feelings, and will.
Preparation, then, is not an issue of salvation by our own merit or action, as many have (mis)understood it. It “is not our hearts opening themselves by our own power to let the Spirit enter, but rather, the Spirit opening our hearts by His power so that He may come in.”
Beeke and Smalley spend the bulk of the book fitting Puritan preparation into its historical context, showing where it has been misunderstood by other scholars. In that way, it reads like an effective parry to the thrusts of an enemy in a duel I didn’t know existed until a few weeks ago. Remember, I am not a scholar; before this book, I hadn’t given much thought to the Puritan understanding of how preparation relates to God’s sovereign grace.
All of this to say that it’s an excellent book for an admittedly limited audience. It’s not for your everyday reader, and it will take no little effort, but people of moderate intelligence and an interest in Reformed theology are sure to find it rewarding.
Oh, and I should probably note that Cross Focused Reviews provided me with a copy of Prepared by Grace, for Grace for the purposes of this review.