Title: “Prepared by Grace, for Grace”
Author: Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley
Publisher: Reformation Heritage Books
Release Date: May 23, 2013
Rating: 5/5 (caveats below)
In this book, Joel Beeke and Paul Smalley take a look at what Reformers and Puritans thought about the doctrine of preparatory grace. According to the Reformed system of theology, preparatory grace is the grace given by God to the unconverted so that they can see their sin and their need for a savior; this prepares men to receive the gospel. This thinking developed in start contrast to the Roman Catholic idea of preparation, which is the idea that saving grace is given to those who earn favor with God by trying as hard as they can to know Him (135, 224), as well as in contrast to the Arminian idea, which is that God prepares those who are most inclined to believe the gospel (99, 230). The Reformed doctrine of preparatory grace believes that it is indeed grace, given freely by God without regard for who the recipient is.
This book is highly informative on an area that is rarely discussed, even among the most Reformed and doctrinal people I know. This is the first book I have seen that addresses the idea of preparatory grace. To that end, Beeke and Smalley do an excellent job of explaining and exploring the most important concepts regarding preparatory grace. What is preparatory grace? What is the distinction between sorrow over sin for the punishment it merits and true saving repentance? How does the Reformed position differ from the Catholic and Arminian positions? All of these questions, and more, are answered deeply and clearly by this book. This book increased my understanding of the how God ordinarily prepares a sinner to come to saving grace, that it usually occurs through the humbling weight of the Law to bring to the knowledge of sin. I also thought the book did an excellent job of clarifying that though it is by grace that we are saved, this does not absolve the sinner of the responsibility of responding to the gospel once his heart has been prepared by grace to receive it.
The greatest drawback that I see is in its style. In my mind, this is primarily an academic volume, which makes it somewhat inaccessible for the casual reader. The way Beeke and Smalley approach writing this book is to refute claims of modern academics that the doctrine of preparatory grace “[denies] the Calvinistic doctrine of salvation” (18). To explain that preparatory grace is indeed a longstanding Reformed doctrine, they examine the writings of Augustine, Calvin, and English and American Puritans.
This approach means that the reader should be fully aware that this book is not a simple exposition of Scripture regarding preparatory grace. If that is what you are looking for, this book is not it. I thought I was going to read a book weaving together Puritan expositions on preparatory grace, concluding in some sort of consensus as to what preparatory grace is. I don’t really need to know the erroneous claims of modern academics like Miller, Pettit, and Kendall; I personally am not as interested in knowing how the various Puritans sought to correct each others’ understandings of preparation, nor in how Hooker and Shepard went beyond Scripture in claiming that a person needs to be content to be damned before he can receive saving grace (172, 213). These things all have their places and usefulnesses, but one should be aware that an intense academic focus is the style of the book.
Such an approach is also not without its strengths. Because of the careful study of the authors, we are treated to a thorough look at how different Puritans viewed preparatory grace. Different nuances show us how each Puritan interpreted Scripture and thought about the order of salvational steps. Moreover, I am always thankful for a book on church history, because it reminds me that we are not the first generation to think about a doctrinal issue. There are many faithful men who came before us and devoted hours and pages to thinking through their theology. There are councils and confessions of orthodox believers who refuted heresies and false teachings. Studying church history teaches us about the common errors the church has combated, as well as positions that have been held as orthodox through the centuries because they have been readily defended from Scripture. Finally, I am thankful for a look at the Puritans, because of how deeply they thought on these issues. I am led to wonder if I have ever thought about any theological issue with as much intensity as they, and I desire that my convictions be as biblical and deeply thought through as theirs.
Beeke and Smalley do an excellent job in what they aim to do. They explain the Puritans’ positions on preparatory grace, and they refute the false claims of modern scholars who misinterpret the Puritans’ thoughts. In their bibliography, they have 130 primary sources and 111 secondary sources. This is an extremely rigorous academic examination of the Puritans on this issue, and it shows. So long as this treatment is what you are looking for, or you are willing to read through portions that may not be what you wanted, you should read this book. The authors are academic in pursuit of biblical truth, and I commend them for that. Prepared by Grace, for Grace is a fine result of their hard work.
(This book was provided free for review by Reformation Heritage Books, with reviewing managed by Cross Focused Reviews, but the opinions contained herein are solely my own.)