(Review of Prepared by Grace for Grace' (Kevin Wilkening - 9 Marks Journal)

Joel Beeke, president and professor of systematic theology at Puritan Reformed Theological preparedSeminary and pastor of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Paul Smalley, his teaching assistant, came together to write Prepared by Grace, For Grace: The Puritans on God’s Ordinary Way of Leading Sinners to Christ.

The primary question they seek to answer from the writings of the Puritans is: “What is the ordinary way in which God leads sinners to Christ?” The answer at which they arrive is the preparatory work of the Spirit of God. The Puritans used this word “preparation” in many contexts. For this book, Beeke and Smalley specifically refer to the Puritan’s understanding of preparation for saving faith in Christ (3).

The Puritans believed that without the work of the Spirit, no one can confess that Jesus is Lord (1 Cor. 12:3). And while “the Spirit could sweep aside such obstacles and bring the sinner immediately to faith…that is not the Spirit’s usual or ordinary way, for He created the mind and conscience of man and generally prefers to work through those faculties…So, the Spirit works to prepare the lost sinner’s soul for grace” (9). This is the essence of the Puritan doctrine of preparation.

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(Taken from What is a Reformed Church by Malcolm Watts)

The Way of Salvation

In 1618–1619, a General Synod was held at Dordrecht, with representatives (eighty-four in all) from the Netherlands, Great Britain, Germany, and Switzerland. The Synod began its sessions on November 13, 1618, and, after careful consideration of the Scripture, it dealt with the five articles of the Remonstratns (followers of Arminius), setting forth under five heads the true doctrine of God’s Word. The Synod’s five leading doctrines later became known as the five points of Calvinism. They are usually presented as follows.

Total Depravity

As a result of the Fall, people are totally alienated from God, subject to the corrupting power of sin, and in a totally helpless position: “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). Such is the human state that people cannot will or do anything spiritual; they certainly cannot believe or repent. Christ said, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him” (John 6:44), and early Jewish believers recognized that “God [hath] also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18). This doctrine does not mean that people are as bad as they can possibly be. Rather, it means that we have been corrupted in the totality of our beings, so that every fac- ulty has been impaired. Mind, heart, and will have all been adversely and tragically affected by sin. We are evidently therefore “without strength” (Rom. 5:6). As Paul made clear in Romans 9, this means that in the matter of salvation, “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” (v. 16).

Unconditional Election

God’s electing of a people is the eternal expression of His mercy and grace. God, who willed to permit the Fall, deter- mined to rescue some from their sin and misery. Had He not done so, the whole human race would have perished under divine judgment like Sodom and Gomorrah (Rom. 9:29). It was therefore an election to salvation. That is exactly what Paul said in his letter to the Thessalonians: “We are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation” (2 Thess. 2:13). This was according to God’s own good plea- sure, not according to anything foreseen in men and women. This is taught in passages of Scripture such as Ephesians 1:5. Elsewhere, the apostle categorically denied that God chooses sinners on the grounds of works foreseen. In Romans 9, for example, he said concerning Jacob and Esau that “the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil,” God showed His sovereign preference for Jacob in order that “the purpose of God according to election might stand” (v. 11).

Election is gracious. It is never deserved. God did not foresee that certain individuals would repent and believe, and then upon that basis, elect them to eternal life. That would make His choice dependent upon merit, whereas election is by God’s free favor: “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace” (Rom. 11:5–6). In His eternal decree, God viewed mankind as fallen and ruined. He determined, in His own mind, to show mercy to multitudes, while justly leaving others to the conse- quences of the Fall. Instead of questioning this doctrine, we should fall before the throne in praise and thanksgiving, for if God had not elected some, every single soul would face a dark and fearful eternity. As it is, multitudes upon multitudes will be in the kingdom of heaven, to the glory of sovereign grace!

Limited Atonement

This point, sometimes called particular atonement, teaches that the Son redeemed those elected by the Father. In other words, Christ did not die for everyone, but only for the chosen people of God. Christ’s own statement was “the good shep- herd giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:11; see also v. 15). He would never have said that He gives His life for the goats. In Acts 20:28, Paul told the Ephesian elders to look after God’s church, “which he hath purchased with his own blood.” So, what has been bought? What now is the Lord’s special pos- session: the whole human race, or the chosen part of it? The answer to all these questions is—the church!

We are told that the glorified in heaven sing this new song: “Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” (Rev. 5:9). Let me state the obvious. They are not singing that He redeemed every kindred, tongue, people, and nation, but that he redeemed us out of every kindred, tongue, people, and nation. Christ died to save the elect. His was particular redemption.

Effectual Calling

Since by reason of sin we have lost the ability to will and do any spiritual good, we cannot even answer the call of mercy in the gospel. God therefore calls us not only by His Word, but also by His Spirit, who powerfully draws us to Christ that we might be saved. “No man can come to me,” Jesus said, “except the Father which hath sent me draw him” (John 6:44). As Paul was careful to explain, “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling” (Eph. 4:4).

Is the Spirit’s work always effectual? Yes, it certainly is. There is a great verse in Romans which says, “Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glo- rified” (8:30). Who, then, are the “called”? Are they all those people who hear the gospel of Christ? No! Looking back, they are those who were predestinated; and looking forward, they are those who will be justified, and ultimately glorified. This calling, peculiar to the elect, is God’s way of saving people in time and for eternity. Accordingly, we find that to be called (in this sense) is nothing more nor less than to be saved. The words are used interchangeably, as in 1 Corinthians 1, where the gospel is said, on the one hand, to be “the power of God” to the “saved,” and on the other hand, “the power of God” to the “called” (vv. 18, 24). The calling is viewed as all one with being brought into a state of salvation, and so the apostle can write in another place: “[God] hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling” (2 Tim. 1:9). How indebted we all are to this sovereign and irresistible call, which does not simply invite, but graciously brings us to Christ!

John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress contains a help- ful little illustration. In the Interpreter’s House, Christiana encounters a hen and its chicks. The Interpreter points out that the hen “had a common call, and that she hath all day long”; but he goes on to say that she also “had a special call, and that she had but sometimes” (italics added). We have all observed a mother hen clucking in such a way that her chicks come run- ning to her. This shows us the different ways in which the Lord deals with men and women. When He calls in a general way in the gospel, sinners will not come to Him, but when He calls them effectually by His Spirit, they come running, to find their refuge under the shadow of His wings. As Bunyan’s Interpreter says, “by his common call he gives nothing,” whereas “by his special call, he always has something to give.”1

Perseverance of the Saints

True believers will never totally or finally fall away. They will continue in faith and holiness to the end of their lives. “The righteous also shall hold on his way, and he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger” (Job 17:9). This is not because of anything in them. Rather, it is because God will carry on the work of grace to completion: “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day ofJesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). God has no intention of abandon- ing His people, nor of forsaking the work of His hands. “The author” of their faith will also be its “finisher” (Heb. 12:2). Why? Because “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (Rom. 11:29). God does not bestow grace for a temporary purpose. He will never withdraw it and leave a soul to perish. Believers are therefore eternally safe and secure. Christ said, “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:28).

God’s Covenant of Grace

A Reformed church understands that a covenant is at the heart of God’s relationship with man. Therefore, Reformed churches emphasize the unfolding and developing of God’s covenant of grace. John Murray called covenant theology “a distinguishing feature of the reformed tradition.”16

Biblically speaking, a covenant is an arrangement into which God enters for the benefit of men and women. The Reformers recognized the importance of this concept, and made free use of it in their sermons and writings.

The Covenants of Works and Grace

There are two covenants that relate to eternal life. They are usually referred to as the covenant of works and the covenant of grace, the former being that bond established with Adam, the representative of mankind, and the latter being the bond established from eternity with the Son of God, the representative and surety of God’s elect.

Read Part 3 next week. 

For the fifth week commemorating our 20th anniversary, we are giving away a copy of our 1998 publication: 'Truth that Frees: A Workbook on Reformed Doctrine for Young Adults'.

We felt a need to publish a workbook of questions that would lead teenagers and young adults through all the doctrines of the Christian faith. The 1300 questions, together with the Teachers’ Guide, is intended for church catechism classes, home schoolers, and individual use. We trust that this book, as Sinclair Ferguson writes, “helps put much needed protein and fiber into the spiritual diet of today’s Christians.”

(Taken from What is a Reformed Church by Malcolm Watts)

In our day, the term Reformed is used freely and without thought. Great variety exists among churches that claim this title. In many cases, the term means little more than some adherence to the “five points of Calvinism.” The term has lost its great historical richness and depth as the struggles of the Reformation have faded into distant history. The stand taken by the Reformers is virtually forgotten, and many consider it irrelevant today. If, however, we have a true and earnest desire to maintain the faith and fight the adversaries of God’s Word, we would do well to look back to those who so clearly searched the Scriptures and stood firmly for the great truths of the Word of God.

If asked what a Reformed church is, one could give a short biblical answer from 1 Timothy 3:15: “the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” A true church, Reformed according to God’s Word, is the dwelling place ofGod, maintaining and declaring the truth which He has been pleased to reveal. However, over the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the term Reformed was under- stood to have at least three quite specific meanings, so it will be helpful to take a brief look at the historic use of the term.

In the 1500s, people first used Reformed to refer to churches that, under the vigorous preaching of the early Reformers, separated from the corrupt Church of Rome. Churches that embraced Luther’s doctrine soon became known as Reformed.

In the mid-1500s, the term assumed a new emphasis: It was used to identify the so-called Calvinist wing of the Reformation.

The term Reformed evolved further until it came to identify churches that were Puritan in belief and in practice. The Puritan movement inherited Calvin’s theological legacy but expanded his teaching on law, grace, and the covenants. Believing the visible church was still corrupted by the remains of popery, Puritans sought even more thorough reformation according to the Word of God.

In all the cases considered above, we can see common distinctives between churches that have been called Reformed. It is true that, proceeding historically, the later Reformed churches were more consistent in the outworking of theseprinciples, yet it is clear that these emphases were present in each. Today, when the term is so loosely used, it is important to consider what these common distinctives were, and to understand that these essential attributes of a Reformed church are what make a biblical church.

Scripture Alone

A Reformed church must acknowledge Scripture, God’s written Word, as the sole authoritative expression of the divine will for all aspects of church life.

The Reformers believed the Scriptures to be the pure Word of God. As Luther put it, they “ascribe[d] the entire Holy Scripture to the Holy Spirit.”As for Calvin, he too affirmed the total veracity of the Scriptures: “We owe to the Scripture the same reverence which we owe to God, because it has proceeded from Him alone, and it has nothing of man mixed with it.”

For the Reformers, then, and also for the later Puritans, the Bible was infallible and inerrant. They consistently upheld its unique authority over the church’s life and mission. The Puritans sought consistently to apply this principle. Whatever lacked biblical authority they declared to be ungodly and unlawful, and they disowned human inventions and traditions.

God’s Transcendence

A Reformed church emphasizes the divine sovereignty, majesty, and glory, and therefore the great gulf existing between God in His transcendence and man in his sin and misery.

This was the distinctive doctrine of the Reformation. It was present in Luther’s teaching, but it was even more prominent in Calvin’s. Believing Scripture to be the ultimate source of all true knowledge of God, Calvin sought to ascertain exactly what Scripture revealed, and thus he drew aside the veil, as it were, to show us God in all the glory of His being. “Surely,” he wrote, “his infinity ought to make us afraid to try to measure him by our own senses. Indeed, his spiritual nature forbids our imagining anything earthly or carnal of him. For the same reason, he quite often assigns himself a dwelling place in heaven.”

The Westminster divines, with astonishing precision of thought and language, articulated the truth that God really is God. Consider this grand and awesome statement: “God hath all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of himself; and is alone in and unto himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which he hath made, not deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting his own glory, in, by, unto, and upon them: he is the alone foundation of being, of whom, through whom, and to whom, are all things; and hath most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them, whatsoever himself pleaseth.”

Part 2 coming next week.

For the fourth week commemorating our 20th anniversary, we are giving away a copy of our 1997 publication: 'Backsliding, Disease and Cure' (reprinted as '
Getting Back in the Race: The Cure for Backsliding')

Getting back raceEarly on in my ministry I was so convinced of the danger of believers backsliding from God and of its dreadful tendency in my own soul that I determined this would be the first subject that I would write on. I later revised and retitled my first little book as Getting Back Into the Race, structuring it more around Hosea 14—a chapter that addresses this subject and its cure in a most amazing way. Many years later, I am as convinced as ever of the importance of true believers reading books like these to assist them in holding back this dreadful evil which is such an offense to God. - Joel Beeke

A Vine-Ripened Life: Spiritual Fruitfulness through Abiding in ChristGale-front

Stanley Gale

Paperback, 160 pages

Retail Price: $12.00/ Our Price: $9.00

The grace that stimulates the fruit and maturity of a sanctified life comes to us through Jesus Christ. We bear much fruit only as we abide in Him. In A Vine-Ripened Life, author Stanley Gale points us to Jesus, the Vine of life of John 15, in whom we, as branches, must live and grow to bear the fruit of a grace-grown life. He explains, “Having begun in Christ we remain in Christ, continuing to draw our life from Him and maturing in grace.” With pastoral sensitivity and an engaging style, Gale teaches readers both about the fruit of Christian character and how to cultivate it. Questions at the end of each chapter make this an ideal study for individuals or groups.

Endorsements A Vine-Ripened Life will encourage, empower, and equip you to be all you can be in Christ so you are able to produce fruit in accordance with God’s Word and will. Stan Gale has whet my appetite, and I look forward to devouring his next publication!” — Leslie Montgomery, author of The Faith of Condoleezza Rice and Redemptive Suffering

“This was too important to read just once. The possibilities for growth were too good to pass up, so I read it again. So consider reading it this way: go through it slowly, try to do it with someone else, read it aloud, and pray together as you go. Blessing and growth will follow.” — Edward T. Welch, counselor and faculty member at the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF) and author of When People Are Big and God Is Small.

(Book Review of What Is a Christian? by Ryan McGraw - Caleb Nielson, World Magazine)Christian

The question is hard, but the clarity of this booklet’s treatment makes answering it look easy. What Is a Christian? is Presbyterian minister Ryan McGraw’s thoroughly biblical summary. Briefly put, a Christian believes something. This quality—faith in everything God says, and preeminently in what He says about the saving work of the God-man Jesus Christ—is the essence of Christianity. From that belief flows an experience of union with Christ, and a life of obedience to Him. In short, McGraw insists that a true Christian believes something, experiences something, and does something.

What does it mean to believe the word of God? First, the word of God is found in the Bible. The true Christian believes the Bible because of his conviction that God said it. Since God said it, how could it be wrong? Specifically, the Bible outlines the doctrines of creation, sin, and redemption. One must believe that God created that world, that human beings are God’s creatures and responsible to obey Him, and that the Father’s love has been expressed in the effective saving work of Jesus Christ, in order to be a Christian.

This belief, which involves knowledge and trust, leads to a mystical union with Christ. McGraw identifies three ongoing processes in this union. First is a Spirit-empowered conviction of and repentance from sin. Second is trust and reliance upon Christ. And third is a love for God greater than one’s love for the world. The “almost Christian” may know the truth and think he trusts Christ, but he will lack the key element of love for God overflowing in obedience to God’s commands. In sum, the true Christian experiences the grace of Christ, the love of the Father, and communion with fellow believers through the Spirit’s work (2 Corinthians 13:14).


For the third week commemorating our 20th anniversary, we are giving away three copies of our 1996 publication: The Pearl of Christian Comfort.

We published Petrus Dathenus’s little Dutch classic in English for two reasons. First, we wanted to bring to light some of the early Dutch Further Reformation writers, to show how scriptural and practical they were, and Dathenus seemed like a good place to begin. Second, Dathenus masterfully presents the gospel in a dialogue form that is intriguing, setting forth the relationship between faith and works in an evangelical and experiential way that is easily understood by all.

(Dr. S. Wescott reviews 'Gospel Assurance and Warnings' by Paul Washer)GospelAssurance__49694

This book is the latest in a series by this author, under the general title of ‘Recovering the Gospel’, based on sermon series preached on the mission field and in the United States. The author’s main concern is that not only the gospel be preached, and that what is preached is the real and authentic Bible gospel: the proof of that reality being conversions and changed lives.

As church attendance has declined Washer believes that the gospel message has been progressively watered down into ‘easy believism’, emotionalism, entertainment and persuasion techniques in an ever more desperate attempt to recruit and keep up numbers. The result may be theories of ‘salvation made easy’, but it is a faith ever more made in mans’s image, ever further from the reality of the Word. Thus his concern to RECOVER the Gospel.

In this carefully nuanced study Washer shows that the true Gospel carries with it assurances of salvation, but also warnings which are guidelines or benchmarks by which we can judge whether our salvation is real, and out assurance is God-given and not false or deceptive.

Part I, Assurance, consists of fourteen Chapters (originally sermons) dealing with subjects such as ‘false assurance’, ‘examining yourself’, ‘walking in God’ ‘revelation’, ‘confessing sin’, ‘rejecting the world’, ‘practicing righteousness’ and ‘confessing Christ’.

Part 2, Gospel warnings (subtitled, ‘warnings to empty confessors’). Here  the writer’s concern is directed to those who have entered to those who have entered the church the ‘easy way’, and are deluding themselves and others by a mistaken profession and a false belief in eternal security. The theme of the five Chapters is that of the need to constantly ‘examine yourself’, to be assured that you are in the right way. In this section Washer deals with: ‘Gospel reductionism’  (lowering the gospel to man’s level to please and persuade sinners to make a profession), ‘The small gate’ (Christ alone, through his shed blood, is the gate), (the believer’s walk is governed by obedience to God and his law), ‘Outward evidence of an inward reality’ (changed lives and evidence of progressive sanctification evidence the reality of personal salvation), and ‘The dangers of an empty confession’ (confession without conversion leads to the shock of rejection at last.)

The book is practical-and challenging- throughout. Here is no dry theology, but the vital core of the faith, presented with a pastor’s concern that none who attend the churches be finally lost. Gospel assurance – and gospel warnings – are the daily spirit food of the Christian. If this work helps believers to keep that in mind, it will bring a blessing to the church.