A Treatise on Christian Assurance
This is the second in a series of ‘taster’ articles to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the Puritan Paperbacks series. Here, our Book Review Editor provides a flavour of one of the early titles to appear in the series.
Heaven on earth! Who would refuse that? But what is it, and where do we find it?
According to Thomas Brooks (1608–80), to be in a state of grace ‘will yield a man a heaven hereafter, but the seeing of himself in this state will yield him both a heaven here and a heaven hereafter.’ In other words, the Christian who knows himself to be a Christian enjoys a real taste of heaven upon earth. And so Brooks offers ‘A Serious Discourse touching a well-grounded Assurance of Men’s Everlasting Happiness and Blessedness,’ in which he will discover ‘the Nature of Assurance, the possibility of Attaining it, the Causes, Springs, and Degrees of it; with the Resolution of several weighty Questions.’
There are at least three reasons why this is such a precious volume. The first is that it is eminently pastoral. Brooks says too many believers lack a well-grounded assurance, and are left living ‘between fears and hopes, and hanging, as it were, between heaven and hell.’ He wants to instruct the ignorant, correct the foolish, comfort the troubled, and establish the true. He works through some basic biblical and experiential realities to do with assurance, talks about hindrances to assurance, encourages God’s people to pursue assurance, describes and applies how to obtain a well-grounded assurance, distinguishes between true and counterfeit assurance, between sound assurance and presumption, and answers some specific questions about assurance. It is the work of a master physician of the soul.
Beyond that, this volume is strikingly positive. It gives the lie to the caricature of a gloomy soul in morbid introspection, trying to persuade oneself that one might not actually be going to hell. For Brooks, ‘it is the very drift and design of the whole Scripture, to bring souls first to an acquaintance with Christ, and then to an acceptance of Christ, and then to build them up in a sweet assurance of their actual interest in Christ.’ He is not going to offer false assurance, and he might need to dismantle failing assurance to rebuild it on a firmer foundation. Nevertheless, he genuinely anticipates that God’s true people could and should arrive at a joyfully confident and enduringly stable sense of their being accepted with God in Christ. There is genuine refreshment in Brooks, sweet water for thirsty souls.
Further still, Brooks is beautifully precise. Here is clarity without coldness, care in making and applying distinctions, a recognition of degrees of assurance and maturity, an appreciation of the spiritual dynamics that may be at play in the life of any believer, a specific application of particular truths to needy souls at distinct points. Brooks, for all the obvious central thrust of his work, does not simply paint in broad strokes. He knows how to do the fine detail work. This is especially evident in the practical sections, dealing with the hindrances to assurance, or the encouragements towards assurance, or the evidences of salvation which help to provide assurance.
Finally, and generally, Brooks is manifestly Christian in his approach to this topic. He does not define and consider assurance in the abstract, but in its connection to the triune God. It is sadly possible, at least in theory, to separate the question of a Christian’s assurance from the Christ in whom the Christian believes. Brooks does not make this mistake. It is the Father’s delight to give assurance to his children, and he has provided means for it; faith in and hope because of Jesus Christ are springs of assurance, together with love for him and his people; the Holy Spirit exhorts and enables the saints to pursue this assurance. Assurance is not a thing divorced from Christ, a theory which bears no relation to the living God. It is, rather, a glistening fruit that hangs on the tree of lively faith, watered by springs of grace. Brooks keeps bringing us back to God in Christ, and the work of the Spirit in the hearts of the saints.
I would urge you to read this book, not just to get assurance, not even simply to strengthen and to enjoy assurance, but to enter more deeply into the joys of God’s salvation in Christ. Personally, it has proved a real blessing. Pastorally, it has been a genuine help. ‘To have grace, and to be sure that we have grace, is glory upon the throne, it is heaven on this side heaven.’ And who would not relish that?
Originally printed in the July 2021 Banner of Truth Magazine.
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