Prepared by grace, for grace is written by Dr. Joel Beeke, president of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and in my opinion, he is the Elisha of this generation with regards to the promotion of puritan theology and literature (J.I. Packer is the Elijah). In this book Beeke strives to do one thing: Introduce the reader to the doctrine of preparation and show that there is an unbroken theological lineage from John Calvin to the English Puritans.
To begin, I find it ironic that the Puritans are often accused of being verbose in their writings and yet in this book, Dr. Beeke is perilously close to following in their footsteps. In the opinion of this reviewer, 263 pages on the doctrine of preparation seemed too long and will leave most novice theological readers exhausted from the literary journey.
Yet if you have an interest in Puritan history or their theology, this book is fascinating. The author spends time with each key supporter of preparationism and therefore, the reader gets a bird’s eye view of the theological conflict surrounding this doctrine (primarily in the 17th century) and some of the extreme variations within.
As an example, one of these variations is found in Thomas Hooker who stated that ‘preparation of the heart for grace is most clearly seen when the individual is “content to be damned by God”’. In other words, a clear sign of a Holy Spirit awakening is when an individual finds God’s justice so sweet that they are content to experience His wrath, if God were to choose this for them. This reviewer had never heard of this theological perspective and though I also find Hooker’s view to be extreme and unbiblical, I appreciate Beeke’s research and honest assessment of it.
My favorite section is chapter eleven, Later Puritan Preparation: John Flavel and John Bunyan. This chapter is worth the price of the book. Beeke does a magnificent job revealing the concept of preparation throughout the pages of Bunyan’s legendary allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress. I have read Bunyan’s work many times and yet I never saw what Beeke described. Therefore, I am convinced that this chapter will forever change the way you read Bunyan’s classic.
Another noteworthy aspect is the treasure of illustrations that Beeke includes in these 263 pages. Space will not allow me to describe each one, but I share my favorite, William Ames’ vivid illustration of drying wood. He states that
“Preparation is like drying the wood before putting it in the fire, which makes the individual more receptive to the Word.”