Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Dr. Joel R. Beeke’s Endorsement of The Christian’s Reasonable Service

In my opinion, Wilhelmus à Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service is one of the most valuable set of books available in English today. I don’t say this because I had the privilege of organizing the task, raising the funds for its translation and printing, and serving as its final editor, but I believe this is true because of the rich doctrinal, experiential, practical, pastoral, and ethical content this classic conveys. When one reads Brakel, one is not surprised to learn that for centuries this set of books was as popular in the Netherlands as John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress was in English-speaking countries. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, most Dutch farmers who were of Reformed persuasion would typically read a few pages of “Father Brakel,” as he was fondly called, every evening to his family as an important part of their family worship. When he completed the entire work, he would start over!

This massive work is arranged in three parts. The first volume consists of a traditional Reformed systematic theology that is packed with clarity of thought, thoroughness of presentation, and helpfulness of application. The concluding applications at the end of each chapter, applying the particular doctrines discussed to the lives of believers and unbelievers, are the highlight of this section. I believe that à Brakel’s practical casuistry in these applications supersedes any other systematic theologian, both in his day and ever since. They represent Reformed, Puritan, experiential theology at its best.

The second part expounds Christian ethics and Christian living. This part covers the concluding section of volume 2, all of volume 3, and most of volume 4. It is the largest and most fascinating section of à Brakel’s work, packed with salient applications on a variety of topics pertinent to living as a Christian in this world. In addition to a masterful treatment of the ten commandments (chs. 45-55) and the Lord’s Prayer (chs. 68-74), this part addresses topics such as living by faith out of God’s promises (ch. 42); how to exercise love toward God and His Son (chs. 56-57); how to fear, obey, and hope in God (chs. 59-61); how to profess Christ and His truth (ch. 63); and how to exercise a host of spiritual graces, such as courage, contentment, self-denial, patience, uprightness, watchfulness, neighbor love, humility, meekness, peaceableness, diligence, compassion, and prudence (chs. 62, 64-67, 76, 82-88). Other topics treated most helpfully include fasting (ch. 75), solitude (ch. 77), spiritual meditation (ch. 78), singing (ch. 79), vows (ch. 80), spiritual experience (ch. 81), spiritual growth (ch. 89), backsliding (ch. 90), spiritual desertion (ch. 91), temptations (chs. 92-95), indwelling corruption (ch. 96), and spiritual darkness and deadness (chs. 97-98).

The third part (4:373-538) is devoted to a history of God’s redemptive, covenantal work from the beginning to the end of the world. It is reminiscent of Jonathan Edwards’s History of Redemption, though it is not as detailed as Edwards; à Brakel’s work confines itself more to Scripture, and has a greater covenantal emphasis. It concludes with a detailed study of the future conversion of the Jews from six passages of Scripture (4:511-38).

The Christian’s Reasonable Service represents, perhaps more than any other work, the Puritan heartbeat and balance of the Dutch Second Reformation. Here systematic theology and vital, experiential Christianity are scripturally and practically interwoven with a covenantal framework, the whole bearing the mark of a pastor-theologian deeply taught by the Spirit. Sweeping in coverage, nearly every subject treasured by Christians is treated in an unusually helpful way, always aiming for the promotion of godliness.

In my opinion, this pastoral set of books is an essential tool for every pastor and is extremely valuable for lay people as well. Happily, you can now read it freshly translated into contemporary English. Buy and read this great classic. You won’t be sorry. As publisher, we have already sold more than 10,000 sets and have never received a single complaint about it; rather, we have been inundated with encouraging comments about its merits.

Joel R. Beeke, President of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids

Wilhelmus à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 4 vols., trans. Bartel Elshout, ed. Joel R. Beeke (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2001), Retail $160; available from Reformation Heritage Books for $90 plus postage.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Articles About À Brakel and The Christian’s Reasonable Service

One of the objectives of this developing web-site is to make this the one place where you will be able to find anything (and someday everything!) that has been written about à Brakel and The Christian’s Reasonable Service.

I have made a small beginning by posting four articles. Under the rubric “Articles” you will find:

1. Wilhelmus à Brakel and the Importance of Hope, written by Derek Baars in 2006 in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the course I teach at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, entitled The Theology of Wilhelmus à Brakel.

2. Seeking God in Personal Devotions In Wilhelmus à Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service, written by Rev. Maarten Kuivenhoven in 2006 in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the course I teach at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, entitled The Theology of Wilhelmus à Brakel.

3. Wilhelmus à Brakel—A Biographical Sketch, written by Rev. Cornelis Vogelaar (written in Dutch). Rev. Vogelaar is the pastor of the Gereformeerde Gemeente (Netherlands Reformed Congregation) of Zwolle, the Netherlands. During the years that I translated the CRS (1989-1995) he was my pastor, who, due to his expertise in seventeenth century Dutch, provided me with invaluable assistance in arriving at the correct translation of archaic vocabulary and/or idiomatic expressions.

4. The Covenant of Works and the Stability of Divine Law in Seventeenth-Century Reformed Orthodoxy: A Study in the Theology of Herman Witsius and Wilhelmus à Brakel, written by Dr. Richard Muller (Calvin Theol. Seminary). This is a scholarly article by one of the world’s foremost scholars of Reformation and Post-Reformation theology.

Early next year, the Lord willing, some papers from Th. M. students at PRTS, who took the course The Theology of Wilhelmus à Brakel this past May, will be posted as well.

I am actively searching for additional written material (English or Dutch) about à Brakel and The Christian’s Reasonable Service. Should you have access to such material, I would be greatly indebted if you would forward this to me, so that I can post it as well. Please contact me at Thanks.