Edwardsean Preparation For Salvation -- By: John H. Gerstner

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 42:1 (Fall 1979)
Article: Edwardsean Preparation For Salvation
Author: John H. Gerstner

Edwardsean Preparation For Salvation

John H. Gerstner

Jonathan Neil Gerstner

(“… if it be that you do not suffer damnation, you have a great work to do before you die.”)1


To examine adequately the history of the concept of preparation in Reformed theology, it is essential to note a distinction between two different ways in which the term was used. One may be called preparation for glorification.2 This is preparation of an already regenerated individual for his final eternal state. He is working out his own salvation with fear and trembling. Since it is God who is at work within him, there is clearly no inconsistency here with the Calvinist dogma of moral inability which applies to unregenerate man. However, there is another type of preparation (more characteristic of Puritan theology) which has been erroneously interpreted by some as incipient Arminianism. This preparation for regeneration, or seeking, is done by an awakened sinner who hopefully seeks the gift of regeneration.

Examining the history of preparation in Reformed thought, it becomes clear that the preparation of the saint was universally

accepted. God always used the means of grace in preparing his people for glory.

Norman Pettit, in a very useful study, The Heart Prepared, unfortunately attributes to Ulrich Zwingli the idea that God’s dealings with sinners are “absolutely arbitrary” and claims that he differed with later reformers, such as Calvin, who believed that God himself might prepare the unregenerate.3 Zwingli in the very context of speaking of conversion as “the immediate act of God’s Spirit” declared “it is necessary that the Word be preached, through which God plants the faith.”4 All Reformed theology always maintained that God himself prepares the elect unregenerate for regeneration through his providential provision of the means of grace.

So though the concept of God preparing his elect for conversion through the use of secondary means can be traced in Reformed thought back to its seeds in the Reformation, it remains to be shown how the concept of preparation for the man in general developed in Reformed thought.

John Calvin in his Institutes already conceived of preparation taking place in the unregenerate in general. He even entitles a chapter “Fallen Man Ought to Seek Redemption in Christ.”5 Ca...

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