Battle for Sovereign Grace in the Covenant, The Declaration of Principles, by David J. Engelsma. Re­formed Free Publishing Association, Jenison, MI. 2013. [Reviewed by Justin Smidstra.]

The Battle for Sovereign Grace in the Covenant is a timely publication. The book provides an ex­amination of the controversy over the doctrine of the covenant. This treatment is merited not only by the present need to preserve the history of the schism of 1953, which becomes more distant with each passing generation, but also by the present ecclesiastical landscape, a landscape in which conditional covenant theology is rampant even within the walls of conservative Reformed churches. The Battle for Sovereign Grace is therefore both an impor­tant historical study and readily applicable to the lives of contemporary Reformed Christians.

The historical coverage of the book extends from the provisional adoption of the Declaration of Principles in 1950, through the tumultuous period of controversy leading up to and following the synod of 1951, and con­cludes with the schism of 1953 and the subsequent return of the schismatic churches to the CRC.

The commentary on this history is engaging, for the author does not simply recount these events, he ana­lyzes them, explains their meaning for the churches, and provides insight into why they occurred. However, this book, while touching upon much of the history surround­ing the schism of 1953, focuses primarily upon the docu­ment that precipitated the controversy, the Declaration of Principles. This Declaration, as the author maintains, is a landmark document in the history of Reformed Christianity. This is not because it teaches anything new. Rather, the Declaration articulates that which the PRC have always confessed, namely that the covenant is sover­eignly established by God with the head of the covenant Jesus Christ and the elect seed of believers. The covenant is therefore governed by election and is dependent for its fulfillment solely on the gracious work of God. In the course of the book, the author articulates this covenant doctrine and decisively refutes the disguised Arminianism of the view of the Liberated, which divorces the covenant from election. In reading this book, one will be impressed by how God used this controversy surrounding the Dec­laration and the subsequent schism to preserve the truth of the gospel of grace, as well as the seminal role that God gave to the PRC in the development of the unconditional covenant.

The author also draws out some important implica­tions of the Declaration for Reformed churches today. First, the doctrine of the unconditional covenant is not a peculiar creation of the PRC alone; rather, it is a doctrine that necessarily arises from a consistently applied Calvin­ist theology. This is accomplished by proving the com­plete harmony of the Declaration with the confessions. For the Declaration is simply an expression of the teach­ings of the creeds. In this way, by illustrating the sound­ness of the Declaration’s creedal argument on behalf of the unconditional covenant, the author demonstrates that all Reformed churches who subscribe to the Three Forms of Unity are bound to confess that the covenant is unconditional. It is a matter of creedal fidelity.

Second is the outstanding application of the Dec­laration to the current controversy surrounding the Federal Vision, a theology that teaches, on the basis of a conditional covenant, that God gives the covenantal promise to every baptized child and that the fulfillment of that promise depends upon the child’s fulfillment of the conditions of the covenant. This latest mutation of “salvation by works” theology that now plagues numer­ous Reformed churches is essentially the same covenant theology that was unmasked and defeated by the PRC in the 1950s. The Declaration holds the cure, but few have sought to learn from history’s light. Indeed, the Battle for Sovereign Grace shows that this battle is an ongoing battle between the true gospel and the false gospel, and, as members of the church militant, we are called to fight the good fight on behalf of God’s truth. In this regard, this book is a very worthwhile read for all, young and old alike, who cherish the truth of the covenant and who desire to see this heritage preserved for the good of the church and the glory of God.