Joel R. Beeke and Paul Smalley have done the church a favor. Much like Beeke's new work A Puritan Theology, he has made the focus of this work the thoughts and teachings of the Puritans themselves. The Puritan teaching of preparation is basically that it is God's normal means to use the preaching of the law and it's requirements to convict men of sin so that they see their need for a Savior. At the beginning Beeke and Smalley show us why this is necessary and significant for the church today.
"Neglecting to preach law and judgement to lost sinners is one reason (though not the only one) why many churches are unhealthy today. Too many of their members are self-righteous, self-satisfied Christians in name only, whose spiritual pride has never been broken by the Spirit of Christ working through the Word of God. They have never come to see their true plight as sinners abiding under God's wrath, who merit nothing but condemnation and punishment, with no one to turn to for help other than Jesus Christ. A shallow view of sin must inevitably produce a shallow kind of faith. Feeling little need for grace, they want very little from God or from Christ apart from what they think they are entitled to." pg.7
The book then leads us through examples of puritans such as Richard Sibbes, William Ames, Thomas Hooker, and John Bunyan, showing how they taught and practiced the doctrine of preparation. Beeke and Smalley show that this is not just a Puritan teaching, but that it can be traced to Calvin, Augustine, and most importantly, the Bible.
My favorite aspect of this book was its emphasis on the practical use of the teaching of preparation. Understood properly, this teaching greatly impacts the way we preach the gospel. It is a great reminder that we should seek to expose unbelievers to God's law and His holiness so that the Spirit can convict that person of sin. Without a conviction of sin, people will see no need for a Savior.
This work ends much how it began. "The Puritan doctrine of preparation was a response to a situation in which nominal Christianity abounded. Virtually everyone in the seventeenth century had a connection to a church, at least through baptism, but many showed no signs of walking with God."pg 244. Though our culture is becoming less religious, we are still very convinced of our own righteousness. Pastors and teachers must take the message of God's love to the world, but we must make sure to show men and women their sin. This exposure to our depravity can then lead us to the exposure of God's glorious grace, which is greater than all our sin, but then and only then will people see their need for Christ.
I highly recommend this book. While at times a bit heady, it is full of heartfelt, encouraging truths. It will also introduce you to some men from the past who will deeply affect your walk with Christ. This is a great book about great men teaching an important truth.