I have read all the major Reformers from Augustine to Calvin to Luther, all the big name classics, but I must admit, I have never read anything clearer than Brakel. When first purchasing this set the man who sold it to me said that “if he was forced to live on a desert island and could only take one set this wd. be it” . I thought he was crazy, and very much under read. Then I read Brakel for myself. The man’s rational was totally justified! I wd. take Brakel over Calvin. To many Christians this sounds like a big leap, but Brakel is possibly the easiest work I have ever read. Far easier than Calvin, and for myself, I take what I can know. No point in reading a book if you will never understand it. For the record, I do understand Calvin, Luther and friends, but I can understand Brakel first and I can understand him better. Importantly, this work is not readable because it contains shallow fragments and watered down doctrine suitable only for beginners. Instead, the work is in-depth and easy to understand; in most cases this is a rare combination. Contains no puritanical-wordiness, or John Owen five page sentences, doctrine is sound, thoroughly Reformed, practical and concise. If I only had one choice wd. I take this set to a desert Island? Well… I wd. have to give it a bit more thought, but I assure you it wd. be on the very top of my list and should be on every Christian’s shelf...
Joel R. Beeke says:
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.
“Wilhelmus à Brakel’s The Christian's Reasonable Service is a tremendously insightful work that showcases the marriage between scholastic precision and a warm pastoral piety. À Brakel not only challenges the mind as he plumbs the depths of the teachings of Scripture, but he also challenges the heart as readers must grapple with the truth and its implications for their growth in grace. Not only can historians read à Brakel to learn about historic Reformed theology, but scholars, pastors, and laymen can all benefit from a close reading of these wonderful volumes.”—J. V. Fesko, Academic Dean and Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Westminster Seminary California
“With its fine balance of Reformed doctrinal statement and application to Christian life and personal piety, à Brakel’s Christian’s Reasonable Service provides a superb illustration of the theological project associated with the late seventeenth century development of the Dutch Nadere Reformatie, or ‘Further Reformation.’ Although it abounds in sound definition and detailed exposition, this vernacular theology was intended not for the academic setting but for the purpose of educating the laity in both faith and practice. It remains a significant study in Reformed theology even as it exemplifies the true sense of the old Reformed maxim, Ecclesia reformata semper reformanda—namely, that the doctrine of the church has been reformed but the life of the Christian is always to be reformed, guided by the teachings of the Reformation. The Elshout translation beautifully conveys the sense and the spirit of à Brakel’s work.”
—Richard A. Muller, P. J. Zondervan Professor of Historical Theology, Calvin Theological Seminary
“No systematic theology compares to Wilhelmus à Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service for its explicit concern to weld the objective and subjective in theology. Emerging from the Dutch Further Reformation, à Brakel is without equal in exploring both the intricate details of the Reformed theological system whilst ensuring that at every turn theology is done in the interests of piety and the glory of God. In an era when the subjective has either been lost in a sea of postmodernity or viewed with suspicion for its apparent lack of academic integrity, only those who have never read this monumental treatise would dismiss it as guilty of either. An achievement to place alongside Calvin’s Institutes and the systematic theologies of Turretin, Hodge, and Berkhof.”—Derek W. H. Thomas, John E. Richards Professor of Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary