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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Life of Christ by J. Gresham Machen: Short, Helpful, to the Point

Life of ChristLife of Christ

J. Gresham Machen

Kindle Edition, 50 pg.
Monergism Books, 2015
Read: August 18, 2019

This short work is extracted from the 1922 work A Brief Bible History: A Survey of the Old and New Testaments by Machen and James Oscar Boyd, and it felt similar to portions of Machen’s New Testament Introduction: An Introduction to its Literature and History. I think I’ve heard of the former, I’ve read the latter a couple of times. So, that took a little bit away from the experience for me.

But that doesn’t take away from the value of it—a concise summary of the Life of Christ (harmonized) and the beginnings of the Church in Jerusalem. I’m guessing this was some of the Sunday School curriculum material written by Machen while teaching at Princeton Seminary, and it includes study questions. There’s not a lot of interpretation or application (except in the questions), it’s largely just a boiled down run-through of the gospel accounts.

Machen’s possibly my favorite twentieth-century theologian — he’s definitely the clearest and crispest (with the possible exception of R. C. Sproul). All the things people like to say about C. S. Lewis’ popular apologetics apply to Machen (without the stumbling into troublesome weirdness), and his more academic apologetic work still holds up. This isn’t Machen at his best, but it still displays his style and approach (even if only a little).

Really not much to say about this, so I’ll just recommend it for a nice refresher.

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3 Stars
2019 Cloud of Witnesses Reading Challenge

The Lord’s Supper: Answers to Common Questions by Keith A. Mathison: A Helpful, Careful, Encouraging and Challenging Look at some Tricky Questions

The Lord's Supper: Answers to Common QuestionsThe Lord’s Supper: Answers to Common Questions

by Keith A. Mathison

eARC, 99 pg.
Reformation Trust Publishing, 2019
Read: August 4, 2019

There were many laudable things about Mathison’s Given for You: Reclaiming Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper (P & R Publishing, 2002), one of the personal highlights was the final chapter, “Practical Issues and Debates.” This new release from Reformation Trust takes the same impulses that were behind that chapter (and the rest of the book) and delivers a concise introduction to the Reformed doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, looking at the doctrinal landscape, a survey of the relevant passages, and some pressing questions (both theological and practical) for those with little background in the Sacrament, or those who wish to have their understanding sharpened.

Because the chapter titles represent just what you get in this book, let me post them:

1. What Is the Lord’s Supper?
2. What Are the Different Views of the Lord’s Supper?
3. Why Did Jesus Institute the Lord’s Supper on the Passover?
4. What Did Jesus Mean When He Said, “This Is My Body” and “This Is My Blood of the Covenant”?
5. What Does Paul Teach concerning the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 10– 11?
6. Is Jesus Present In The Lord’s Supper?
7. Is the Lord’s Supper a Sacrifice?
8. What Are the Elements of the Lord’s Supper?
9. How Frequently Should the Lord’s Supper Be Observed?
10. How Should Believers Prepare for and Partake of the Lord’s Supper?
11. Should Children Partake of the Lord’s Supper?

The first two chapters cover the ground that a lot of books on the subject doevery author (and reader) need to start with the basics in view, and Mathison handles a survey these ideas very capably.

Chapter 3 is honestly not something I’ve considered before (at least not in a lot of detail)after all, when else could the Last Supper have been held? But I’m glad he covered this idea, and it gave me a good perspective on redemptive-historical place of the sacrament instituted that night.

Chapters 4 and 5 are very helpful and clear while guiding the reader through the passages in question. He doesn’t get too technical with the passages (due to space and the focus of the book), but is efficient enough in his explanation that he provides a solid grounding for further study and meditation. I particularly appreciated that in Chapter 5, Mathison is careful to point out that not only does the sacrament look back (“Do this in remembrance”), but it looks forward in eschatological hope to the consummation.

Chapter 6 is obviously going to be controversial and might cause problems for many. Mathison is irenic, yet he doesn’t waver from his position (or provide much wiggle room for those who might disagree). Carefully building on the aforementioned texts and the Niceno-Chalcedonian doctrine concerning the person of Christ, he then explains the teachings of the magisterial Reformers (the non-Lutheran ones, anyway) in a way relevant to today’s believer.

Like Chapter 6, Chapter 9 covers ground that he focused on in the longer previous workand those who want more on those subjects have a ready resource in his work. What’s here is a great start, but it’s not everything Mathison has to say on the ideas.

Chapter 10 is pure gold, it’s one of the best things I’ve read this year. It’s helpful and encouraging (and, yes, a little challenging)worth the purchase price alone.

Overall the writing is cleareasy enough for anyone to approach and understand, while not losing the depth and rigor necessary when dealing with something as important as this. Mathison cites other authors (contemporary and historical) to help (and the footnotes provide great fodder for further study), but shoulders most of the work himself. If you’ve never read Mathison, this is a good way to see one of his strengths is always taking complex ideas and presenting them in an accessible fashion.

I have two complaintsneither are enough to keep me from recommending the book, and possibly gifting itbut they’re things that bugged me. Brevity. It’s just too short, it doesn’t have to be as long as Given for You, but each chapter could be just a little longer and more developed.

The second complaint (semi-related) is the lack of a conclusion, just a page or two of wrap-up, an exhortation to use these answerssomething. It just ends abruptly after Chapter 11*, and the absence of anything else was a deafening silence.

*There’s a bankruptcy joke begging to be made there, but it seems cheap.

Those a great resource for those with questions about the Reformed position on the sacrament. Like Guy Prentiss Waters’ The Lord’s Supper as the Sign and Meal of the New Covenant from last year, it’s a great introductory work and would make a great companion to it, the two would round out each other. Mathison helps to deal with practical and theoretical issues that young believers, or believers new to the Reformed tradition, stumble on and struggle with. Faithful, helpful, wise, and encouraging, this book is a great help and you’d do well to check it out.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Reformation Trust Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for this post—thanks to both for this, I appreciate the opportunity, but not enough to change my opinion of the book.

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3.5 Stars

Not Home Yet by Ian K. Smith: This *is* My Father’s World

Not Home YetNot Home Yet: How the Renewal of the Earth Fits into God’s Plan for the World

by Ian K. Smith

eARC, 176 pg.
Crossway, 2019
Read: August 4, 2019

In the beginning, we’re told, God created the heavens and the earth. As Rod Rosenbladt used to say (maybe still does, it’s been a while since I heard him), “God likes matter, He made it.” The Scriptures are replete with post-Fall references to God visiting Earth, coming to Earth and dwelling with His people. This is what the Incarnation and the bodily resurrection are about. Yes, the risen Christ ascends to Heaven—but He’s coming back to renew the planet. That’s what it’s all about. The goal of humanity is not going to Heaven after we die, but to live with Him in our resurrection bodies on a renewed Earth. That’s what this book is about, in a nutshell—how Creation isn’t to be abandoned, discarded and therefore it doesn’t matter what we do. Instead, we’re caretakers of this place waiting to be renewed when our pilgrimage is complete.

Smith begins his case with Genesis 1-2 and what this tells us about God’s attitude toward His creation. Then he moves on to the Fall and God’s work through his redeemed people to renew the Earth, through the Flood and the covenant made with Earth, to the eventual establishment of Israel and his dwelling with His people in the Tabernacle and Temple—all of which points to the ultimate tabernacling with humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. Then Smith moves into a discussion of Christ’s resurrection and what it means for His people and this world as explained by the Apostles—what it means for this world and how we should view the world.

Now, I shared the general, overall thesis of the book before I read this—but I hadn’t given it much thought, and didn’t see it in the kind of detail that Smith brought out. I found most of this book fascinating and relish the opportunity to give it a slower, more careful read in the future. I found the explanations and arguments carefully framed and well-reasoned. There’s a chapter or two that I highlighted the majority of, and every chapter has a good amount of highlighting, the way he put certain points was very helpful. I could’ve used a little more depth (not possible in a book of this length, and the goal was probably something involving length to draw in—or not scare off—readers).

There are some problems with the book if you ask me. I can’t buy, at all, his arguments about Genesis 6:1-4 (that “sons of God”=angels*), but as it’s not pivotal to his overall argument, it’s not a big deal for me (it just gave me a little pause).

* I know it’s not unique to Smith, but it’s rare enough that I run into it that it stuck out to me. And, no, I won’t waste anyone’s time debating that here, it’s not that type of book. Read Bavinck for one of the quickest arguments against it, or check out Christ the Center, Episode 373.

My major reservation about this book is the lack of application—I’d have preferred a chapter or two (or four?) of “given this, how then should we live?” Smith hints at, even points toward, what the believer should do in light of this thinking. But to me, it seemed as if he was reticent to show how these ideas should affect the way that readers should put these ideas into action, how they should impact what they do from day to day—or how to think about their actions and society (ecclesiastical, political, geographic—take your pick). Yes, a good deal is self-evident, but I’d appreciate having it spelled out (if for no other reason than it’d be good to put some meat on these bones).

The book is a bit brief, and (again) I’d like to see some of what he said expanded upon, but what’s there is really good, thought-provoking, faithful to the text of Scripture and consistent. It was a rewarding read, and I think it’ll be an even more rewarding re-read. It’s an accessible book and one that I’d encourage people to pick up and discuss.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Crossway via NetGalley in exchange for this post—I am grateful that both groups gave me the opportunity.

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3 Stars

The Whole Armor of God by Iain M. Duguid: An Encouraging and Devotional Look at a Famous (and oft Misunderstood) Passage

(slightly updated)

The Whole Armor of GodThe Whole Armor of God: How Christ’s Victory Strengthens Us for Spiritual Warfare

by Iain M. Duguid


eARC, 128 pg.
Crossway, 2019

Read: July 28, 2019

When I was in High School, it would’ve been easy to get the idea that the central defining pericope for the New Testament believer’s life was Ephesians 6:10-18 — thanks to Frank Peretti, Carmen, ETW, and the like. The idea was this is a call to arms — notably with a stirring call to victory — to stand against Satan’s schemes and wrestle with the spiritual forces. It’s a militant type of sanctification, and while well-intentioned, it’s sloppy exegesis and ignores too many other things that Paul, Peter, other apostles, and the rest of Scripture tell us about the struggle of faith and the slow work of repentance. Of course, that was a long time ago, and many of those names would be unfamiliar to people (especially contemporary high schoolers), but the ideas are not. I know that Duguid is familiar with this because he talks about it in Chapter 1, which was pretty encouraging, because I’d mentally drafted this paragraph before I started the book.

After that dash of synchronicity, Duguid goes on to describe the armor Paul is actually describing in the passage — the armor that God Himself wore into battle and now provides for His people to wear. The rest of the book is devoted to him showing how Christ’s work and benefits are depicted through this armor. He spends a chapter per piece of armor: The Belt of Truth, The Breastplate of Righteousness, Gospel Boots, The Shield of Faith, The Helmet of Salvation, The Sword of the Spirit and Praying Always. He traces the use of the imagery throughout Scripture, showing Paul’s lines of thought — primarily through the Psalms and Prophets. These are not new ideas that Paul introduces to the Ephesians, but part of the warp and woof of redemptive history.

Yes, frequently Duguid calls his readers to use the armor in ways similar to the abuses I mentioned above (abuses might be too strong a word in some cases, but I think it fits the overall movement). But he does so while they’re properly rooted, and done in faith. And that’s always the last thing in his chapters.

Primarily, this book is an encouragement for the believer. I remember when I first encountered Reformed Theology what a revolutionary and wonderful thing it was to discover that the Gospel is for Christians, too. Duguid’s main task is demonstrating how each part of the armor is Good News for those united to Christ by faith first and foremost. There are parts of this book that I’ll go back to for further study on that point alone.

There are moments of evangelism for the non-believer as well. For the Gospel is to be indiscriminately proclaimed and this book reflects that as much as it argues for it.

Yes, I wish the book was about twice as long and a little more detailed and technical. But that’s not the intention, nor the audience he’s writing for, so I’m not complaining, just noting. Iain Duguid isn’t William Gurnall and doesn’t try to be (the book would be about six times as long if he was), but he does follow similar trajectories. Duguid writes crisply, clearly and effectively. So much so that it’d be easy to breeze through the book without giving it the thought its subject deserves. There’s a lot of meat for reflection and consideration here, and the discriminating reader will take advantage of it — hopefully, less-than-discriminating readers will, too.

I enjoyed this a lot, and will likely be giving copies as gifts, as well as returning to it myself. Recommended for all ages.

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

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3.5 Stars

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

In Their Own Words by David B. Calhoun: Not exactly what I expected, but a profitable read

In Their Own WordsIn Their Own Words: The Testimonies of Luther, Calvin, Knox and Bunyan

by David B. Calhoun


Paperback, 232 pg.
Banner of Truth, 2018
Read: January 13 – 27, 2018

I liked this book — don’t get me wrong. I’d even recommend it heartily to people. But I have some issues with it.

Let’s look at the book blurb, shall we?

           Hundreds of biographies have been written of Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox and John Bunyan. But there is something unique to be gained by listening to these men tell their stories in their own words.

Right there? I’m sold — great idea for a book. What’s more, this is from Banner of Truth — this kind of thing is in their wheelhouse. Who wouldn’t want to read this kind of thing?

           Here, in In Their Own Words, is a collection of testimonial statements drawn from the writings of Luther, Calvin, Knox, and Bunyan. We see men who candidly confessed their sins and boldly testified to the grace, mercy, and goodness of God to them. Their testimonies illustrate the great truth stated by Paul that ‘where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Rom. 5:20-21).

The key word there, is “statements.” I had visions of extended portions of the works of these men. Which seemed odd to me at least in Calvin’s case, as he’s notorious for not talking about his life (as is seen in this book, I should add). But still, that’s what it sounded like to me. But by and large we’re talking a sentence or two of quotation to be followed by Calhoun discussing more about his subject on whatever topic/time period he’s looking at. Sometimes we get a paragraph — sometimes a couple consecutive paragraphs. Sometimes it’s less than a sentence. Really there’s a lot more David Calhoun than I expected. I don’t have a detailed analysis, but I’m pretty sure that the text is 55-65% Calhoun (and a few biographers he quotes), with the remainder by the subjects.

This doesn’t diminish the work by Calhoun — it’s no easy feat finding these snippets and then assembling them into a coherent narrative. But still …

My other issue is the inclusion of Bunyan. He doesn’t fit thematically, or even historically. Also, despite really trying — repeatedly for almost two decades — I can’t muster up that much enthusiasm for him. This is a personal flaw of mine, I realize. But that’s that.

Now, the content of the book? It’s really good — linking these mini-biographies (50-60 pages per subject) to biographical remarks is a great idea, and adds a perspective you don’t normally see. Calhoun is able to focus on the parts of their lives that they cared more about, rather than whatever the prevailing interests of scholars are.

We get good, concise views of their lives, with a lot of flavor of the subjects — their concerns, their thoughts, even some of their personality. A good investment of time — I learned some things, I found some inspiration in some of the words — and relished Calhoun showing the Providential care shown to each of these men.

Read this, think about it — just don’t go in expecting to get saturated by the words of these figures and you’ll enjoy it more than I did.

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3 Stars

2019 Cloud of Witnesses Reading Challenge