Heaven on Earth by Thomas Brooks: A Classic Examination of and Exhortation to Assurance of Faith

Heaven on Earth

Heaven on Earth: A Treatise on Christian Assurance

by Thomas Brooks

eBook, 325 pg.
originally published 1654

Read: July 14 – August 11, 2019

Assurance is not of the essence of a Christian. It is required to the well-being, to the comfortable and joyful being of a Christian; but it is not required to the being of a Christian. A man may be a true believer, and yet would give all the world, were it in his power, to know that he is a believer. To have grace, and to be sure that we have grace, is glory upon the throne, it is heaven on this side heaven.

I am his. I am as sure that I am his, as I am sure that I live. I am his by purchase, and I am his by conquest; I am his by donation, and I am his by election; I am his by covenant, and I am his by marriage. I am wholly his; I am peculiarly his; I am universally his; I am eternally his. This I well know, and the knowledge thereof is my joy in life, and my strength and crown in death.

Here we have a description of assurance, and then an expression of the assured heart. Brooks’ Heaven on Earth is both an explanation of the doctrine and an exhortation to pursue it. Quotations like this are just a hint of that. Brooks is one of the best Puritans on this topic—and everything the Puritans wrote about the doctrine is head an shoulders above their Continental brethren. This is pure gospel gold.

I liked my post about it last time more than anything I’d say this time, so let me just use it (the final paragraph is new):
I just might have myself a new favorite Puritan (I’m not the only one who has a list, right?). I’m kicking myself for not getting to Brooks earlier in life. What a wonderful book—I’m looking forward to getting to read more by him.

Aesthetically, this is fantastic. The language sings—the book begs to be read aloud (and I frequently did so, interrupting whatever anyone around me was doing). You can feel the passion, the fervor throughout. A few paragraphs from different chapters illustrate this:

Divine light reaches the heart as well as the head. The beams of divine light shining in upon the soul through the glorious face of Christ are very working; they warm the heart, they affect the heart, they new mold the heart. Divine knowledge masters the heart, it guides the heart, it governs the heart, it sustains the heart, it relieves the heart. Knowledge which swims in the head only, and sinks not down into the heart, does no more good than the unicorn’s horn in the unicorn’s head.

The only ground of God’s love is his grace. The ground of God’s love is only and wholly in himself. There is neither portion nor proportion in us to draw his love. There is no love nor loveliness in us that should cause a beam of his love to shine upon us. There is that enmity, that filthiness, that treacherousness, that unfaithfulness, to be found in every man’s bosom, which might justly put God upon glorifying himself in their eternal ruin, and to write their names in his black book in characters of blood and wrath. God will have all blessings and happiness to flow from free grace.

Faith is the first pin which moves the soul; it is the spring in the watch which sets all the golden wheels of love, joy, comfort, and peace a-going. Faith is a root-grace, from whence springs all the sweet flowers of joy and peace. Faith is like the bee, it will suck sweetness out of every flower; it will extract light out of darkness, comforts out of distresses, mercies out of miseries, wine out of water, honey out of the rock, and meat out of the eater, Judg 14:14.

But beyond that, the book is sound, it is orthodox, it is Biblical—throughout Brooks points the reader to The Book and The One Who inspired it. His aim is to show “that believers may in this life attain unto a well-grounded assurance of their everlasting happiness and blessedness.” He then goes on to examine the nature of that assurance, hindrances that keep believers from it, reasons to encourage believers to seek it, and how they can go about it, the difference between true and counterfeit assurance, as well as answering questions about assurance. Examining the doctrine from so many angles, you really feel (and probably do) that you come away from this book having an exhaustive look at the doctrine.

Chapter 6—which takes more than its fair share of space, almost half of the book—is an extended detour from the point of the book, but it still serves to support the theme. He begins by saying, “In the previous chapter, you saw the seven choice things which accompany salvation. But for your further and fuller edification, satisfaction, confirmation, and consolation, it will be very necessary that I show you,” these seven choice things. Which are:

(1.) What knowledge that is, which accompanies salvation.

(2.) What faith that is, which accompanies salvation.

(3.) What repentance that is, which accompanies salvation.

(4.) What obedience that is, which accompanies salvation.

(5.) What love that is, which accompanies salvation.

(6.) What prayer that is, which accompanies salvation.

(7.) What perseverance that is, which accompanies salvation.

It is such a great chapter, and would make a remarkable little booklet unto itself that I really can’t complain too much that it’s such a departure from the rest of the book (though it did take me a little bit to get used to the notion).

Banner of Truth puts this out in paperback, monergism.com puts this out as a free e-book. Either way you go for it, this is a treasure I heartily suggest you grab.

When I read this five years ago, it struck me like a breath of fresh air, it was precisely what I needed at the time. I read it again last month, looking for the same thing. I didn’t find it—don’t misunderstand, it was very helpful, inspiring, and insightful. I was reminded and grew in my understanding of assurance. And, I collected a handful of great quotations from Brooks. But…the book as a whole didn’t sing for me. The first time, I didn’t know what to expect. This time, I probably came in with expectations that were too high. Last time I read it, I gave it 5 Stars. This time, I logged it as 3 Stars. So…let’s call it 4, shall we?


4 Stars

2019 Cloud of Witnesses Reading Challenge

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Saving the Reformation: The Pastoral Theology of the Canons of Dort by W. Robert Godfrey: A great Intro to the Canons of Dort and a valuable tool for study

Saving the Reformation: The Pastoral Theology of the Canons of DortSaving the Reformation: The Pastoral Theology of the Canons of Dort

by W. Robert Godfrey


eARC, 265 pg.
Reformation Trust Publishing, 2019

Read: February 3 – 10, 2019


I’m halfway inclined to just copy and paste the Table of Contents here and say, “If you want to know about any of this, here’s where you start.” Slap a nice little graphic with some stars on it, and we’re done. But I’m not that lazy. This is a historically-based study of the Synod of Dort’s major product — the Canons of Dort (although it does look at some other concerns), the defense of the Reformed doctrines in answer to the challenges of Jacob Arminius and the Remonstrants that took up and furthered his cause following his death. The Canons gave us the so-called “5 Points of Calvinism” and are often misunderstood because of that and as mischaracterized as those points themselves. If this book only helps people stop doing that, it’d be well worth the effort (it won’t, but it’s pretty to think so) — but it’s so much more.

There are four parts to this book — any one of which can be read independently from the others. I’m not sure why you would do that, but they’re self-contained enough that you don’t have to.

Part I focuses on the historical and theological context for the calling of the Synod, those who attended and the topics it would address. Godfrey is a Church Historian and former History professor, this is his bread and butter, and you can tell that from these chapters. You also get the impression that he could’ve written a book about the same length as this one just on the historical matters without breaking a sweat. This isn’t the best part of the book, but it gets things off to a great start.

Part II is a “Pastoral” translation of the Canons prepared by Godfrey for this book. I’m not familiar enough with other translations to really have much to say about this. I’ve read others, but I don’t have them committed to memory. Besides, I don’t know Latin well enough to evaluate the translation. But I can say that this was a clear translation, it didn’t read like something written in Latin for experts, but something written to help me and other Christians to wade through some weighty topics. As the problems caused by the Remonstrants were in the churches more than in the academy, the language matched that.

The heart of the book is in Part III, An Exposition of the Canons of Dort. Godfrey beings with some observations about the Canons as a whole — how they’re structured before he dives in to the Canons themselves. In addition to the errors of the Remonstrants, the Canons address other issues related to the doctrines involved, providing a resource for believers for generations not just an answer to their contemporary problems. The pastoral focus of the Canons — and Godfrey — is evident throughout the Exposition, he’s frequently talking about comfort, encouragement, and assurance. It’s not just an explanation and defense of the Reformation and Protestant teaching, it’s an aid and comfort to believers.

It may come as a surprise to see what Godfrey points out as a result of compromise, and the reasoning behind those things that needed no compromise. The behind-the-scenes portions of the book are as interesting as the exposition (giving an indication to those of us who didn’t sit under Godfrey’s Church History lectures that we really missed out on something). Godfrey also points out how the Canons weren’t as successful in some ways as they wanted to be — not as a failure, just that some of their goals were out of reach of the assembly.

Some of this section gets repetitive — because each Head of Doctrine is complete in itself, capable of standing alone — so similar points are covered repeatedly. Godfrey’s exposition both points that out and is written to keep the repetition from being dull, but instead an indication of the importance of the various points. This section is so helpful that I really can’t do justice — my copy is full of highlighted lines/paragraphs. I will be returning to it often, I know that. Concise, clear, insightful — everything you want in this kind of study.

The remainder of the book is Appendices. There’s an outline of the Canons, an explanation for the pattern of each head of doctrine (very similar to the same idea in the Exposition) and a handy guide to the relation of the positive articles to the rejection of errors. The last appendix is a new translation of the Synod’s provisional position on the Sabbath, giving some insight into the relation of the Synod’s stance to that of British Puritanism. The largest, and probably most helpful (and maybe controversial) is an extended look at Arminius and his overall project. Godfrey takes a position that argues against some recent scholarship (as I understand) and insists that he wasn’t a moderate Reformed churchman, but someone seeking to overturn segments of the church’s teaching and introduce serious Pelagian error.

In this anniversary year, I know this will not be the only book about the Synod released (I have another pre-ordered, and am sure I’ll pick up others) — but I can’t imagine that it won’t be one of the better. It is well-researched, careful, encouraging and pastoral — this is not dry and dusty history, nor dry and dusty doctrine. This book, like the Synod it focuses on, seeks to defend, protect and further the cause of the Protestant Reformation, the Gospel itself. As such, it succeeds and you’d do well to study it.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Reformation Trust Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

Baptism: Answers to Common Questions by Guy M. Richard: A Solid and Encouraging Introduction to a Complicated Topic

Baptism: Answers to Common QuestionsBaptism: Answers to Common Questions

by Guy M. Richard


eARC, 129 pg.
Reformation Trust Publishing, 2019
Read: February 3, 2019

It’s been awhile since I’ve read a book on baptism — it’s been awhile since I’ve seen a new one published, too (but maybe I stopped paying attention), so when I saw this on NetGalley, I had to take a chance. I’m very glad I did. Richard discusses in his introduction that questions about this sacrament are some of the most frequently asked to Presbyterian (and, I assume, Reformed) pastors. Sadly, they’re usually asked when pastors can’t give the kind of answers they should — at least based on his experience.

He begins looking at the meaning of Baptism — both the Greek terms translated as “baptism” and the sacrament. He does so very well, covering all the bases. Following that he moves to the method of baptism — how should the water be applied? Once he’s finished with these matters he moves into the more complicated question — who should be baptised? He begins with the “household” baptisms in the New Testament before turning to the objections and arguments of Baptist and baptistic brothers. He not only examines and explains them fairly well, he responds to them in an irenic manner, but not giving an inch to them.

The conclusion, “What Can We Take Away from All This” is just fantastic. Richard’s meditations on how our baptisms should shape our lives and our faith, to build our faith and give us assurance. It’s easily worth half of whatever you pay for the book, and maybe more.

This is probably not a book that will convince any detractors. It may not be enough to convince the earnest seeker. But it will explain the basics for each topic considered. It will demonstrate the systematic and biblical basis for Richard’s positions exists and they aren’t mere tradition. These are outlines to be filled in with further reflection, reading and research by the reader.

Along those lines, each chapter could really use a “For Further Reading” to help the reader get deeper into the topics covered — or one at the end of the book. But I do think as each chapter is so topic-focused, it’d be very helpful. As good as each chapter is, they are just an overview. Not every reader is going to want to go deeper into, say, the mode/method of baptism but they might want to spend more time on the meaning of Baptism, or his response to Baptist interpretations of Jeremiah 31. For example, I think I agree with his differing from Murray on the former — but I’d like to read more about that, if it’s possible.

Richard’s tone throughout is gracious, kind, yet unbending. It’s not easy to putt off in print, especially on a topic like Baptism. There were many times he could’ve gone for the jugular, rhetorically speaking. He never did, trusting that the arguments would carry the day. And, in my not so humble opinion, he’s right to trust that.

Gracious, encouraging, thorough and easy to read — this introduction to “the waters that divide” Christians is just what you want in a book on this topic. But more than those, it’s deeply biblical in nature. Richard’s focus in bringing the light of the canon to this topic, and he succeeds there. I strongly encourage you to read it.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Reformation Trust Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

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4 Stars

The Person of Jesus by J. Gresham Machen

The Person of JesusThe Person of Jesus: Radio Addresses on the Deity of the Savior

by J. Gresham Machen

Paperback, 101 pg.
Westminster Seminary Press, 2017

Read: March 19, 2017


If it’s J. Gresham Machen, it’s gotta be good! Yeah, that might be an oversimplification, but it’s true.

This book is made up of part of a series of radio addresses Machen gave in 1935 — this selection, obviously, focusing on the Person of Christ — his Deity (and what it actually means to describe him as such), what He says about Himself, and what He demonstrated about Himself. These are warm chapters that must’ve been easy to listen to (at one point Machen apologizes for technical language in a way that brought a smile to my face), but rich in teaching. I only wish we had the recordings. I don’t know how, but even with these addresses coming from eight decades ago, they feel like the could’ve been delivered last week.

My favorite chapter, probably, was on The Sermon on the Mount — it’s a long-standing favorite of liberal theologians, and other non-Christians as a way of talking about the “ethics of the New Testament” apart from anything supernatural, miraculous or theological. Machen directly takes on this idea and shows how it’s baseless and impossible to actually do.

These addresses were given towards the end of this life, after he’s gone through “The Presbyterian Conflict” and all the associated drama and trials. Through that experience, he’s a bit more direct. In Christianity & Liberalism Machen’s no less forthright, but he talks about Liberal Theologians, or “other teachers”, etc. Here, he doesn’t waste time — he just calls them “unbelievers.” It’s the same thing, as he demonstrated in his earlier work, but he doesn’t do that here.

This is how apologetics should look — easy to understand and follow, yet rich in doctrine and the Bible. Welcoming and winsome while not giving an inch to his opponents. As always, with Machen, this is how we should all be doing it.

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5 Stars

No Uncertain Sound: Reformed Doctrine and Life by Reformed Forum

No Uncertain SoundNo Uncertain Sound: Reformed Doctrine and Life

by Reformed Forum

Kindle Edition, 102 pg.
Reformed Forum, 2017

Read: March 26, 2017


I’ve been listening to podcasts from Reformed Forum for years now — not as long as I should’ve, no doubt, but for quite awhile — and their guests, discussions and related materials have provided a lot of fodder for my reading lists (both accomplished and planned). So I was excited to hear that they were taking their first steps into book production, not just promotion. Their first book, No Uncertain Sound: Reformed Doctrine and Life is a collection of essays attempting to “set forth the salient features of [their] Reformed identity” and “facilitate the spread of” the gospel. It’s definitely a winner regarding the former, and in the right hands, will help the latter.

Following a brief history of the Reformed Forum, there are six essays from regular contributors to the podcasts, conferences and website sponsored by the Forum. Lane G. Tipton writes about the Redemptive-Historical approach to the Scriptures, focusing on Jesus in the Old Testament’s progressive revelation of the Messiah — this essay also provides some critical interaction with Peter Enns as an added bonus. Camden M. Bucey, writes about the need for theology (professional or personal) to be both Biblical (as in Vosian) and Systematic — an approach I applaud and wish I saw more of. Jeffrey C. Waddington addresses the doctrine of has a great essay on union with Christ and the ordo salutis. Glen J. Clary writes about worship and our need to approach it correctly. James J. Cassidy’s ecclesiastical essay is very helpful and probably not what most people expect from the idea of an essay on ecclesiology. Waddington closes the book with an essay on Reformed apologetics — what’s known as Van Tillian presuppositionalism, or Covenant Apologetics.

All the essays are thought-provoking, and will help those new to thinking in these terms as well as those who’ve been down the path a time or two. At the end of each essay is a listing of podcasts/lectures from the Reformed Forum archives so readers can dive deeper into the topics — a great, and very useful tool. For myself, the essays on the Christ in the Old Testament, Union with Christ and Worship were the more profitable in the collection, but I can easily see where other readers will gain more from the others.

The suggested reading list is great — I’m not 100% convinced that I agree with the levels they assigned to some of the works (some are easier than they suggest, others more difficult). But a great list to have on hand without having to go dig around the website to find it.

This is in many ways an advertisement for their podcasts and website — and it’s good at that. But it is more — thankfully. There’s a lot of meat on these bones for people to chew on — whether they’re regular listeners/readers of the Forum’s output or not. Yes, the material basic, but it’s foundational — both for one’s understanding of what Reformed Forum is about, but for establishing an understanding of Confessional Reformed thought in the Twenty-First Century. This is a good first step into the world of books for Reformed Forum, and I look forward to seeing what they do next.

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4 Stars