Title:  Heaven Taken by Storm

Author:  Thomas Watson

Publisher:  Soli Deo Gloria Books, 1992; 129 pp. $17.00

Recommendation (4-star scale):  3-stars2

One of my favorite Peanuts cartoons shows a series of panels in which Charlie Brown is seen alternately writing something and then crumpling it up and tossing it into a pile.  In the last panel, with a resigned look on his face and a large accumulation of crumpled paper on the floor he says, “it’s hard writing a thank you letter for a toy you’ve already broken.”

I feel somewhat like that this morning.  It’s hard to recommend a book with a basic interpretive flaw.  I have a great appreciation for the Puritan writer Thomas Watson.  No question, he’s my favorite.  I’ve read a number of his books, and always gleaned much from his contemplations of the spiritual life.  And in many ways, this book fits that pattern.

Except the title is based on a verse of Scripture that he has misinterpreted.  The verse is Matthew 11:12, which quotes Jesus as saying,

From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.

It is not a commendation, but a condemnation.  As Carson notes, there were (and are) violent men who are attempting to subvert the kingdom of God and persecute, imprison, and kill the followers of John the Baptist and Jesus.  Violent men do not love Christ and cannot be redeemed by their violence.  And in fact, it is those who are weary from these onslaughts and trust Christ that will find rest for their souls (v. 28).

Instead, Watson (along with others) understands Jesus to mean that it is difficult to enter the kingdom of God (e.g., Mt. 7:13-14).  The truth is right — it is difficult to enter the kingdom of heaven — however, this passage does not appear to teach that.

That being said, the book itself is very helpful as an encouragement to progressive sanctification.  He addresses the vigilance that a believer must exert in his spiritual life in mortifying the flesh, reading and hearing the Word of God, prayer and meditation, self-examination, and resisting the influences and temptations of Satan and the world.

He also offers correction to those who are not vigilant, and tests to determine whether we really are being vigilant, and motives to encourage our vigilance, among other topics.

Again, these are very helpful discussions and encouragements, though in places the language is confusing enough to make the reader question whether he is speaking of sanctification or justification.  Is he suggesting that by perseverance an individual might will himself to be redeemed of his own accord and actions?  He is not; but the language of “violence” that he has chosen has left a few question marks in the margins.

The real strength of the book is in his consideration of the spiritual disciplines of the Scripture and prayer.  He has several chapters on reading and hearing and meditating on Scripture, and the editors have appended an additional sermon entitled, “How We May Read the Scriptures with Most Spiritual Profit.”  This topic is where Watson is regularly most helpful.  A few samples:

  • “Read the Scriptures with reverence; think about every line you read; God is speaking to you.”
  • “Meditation is the concoction of Scripture; reading brings a truth into our head, meditation brings it into our heart…Meditation without reading is erroneous; reading without meditation is barren.  The bee sucks the flower and then works it into the hive, and so turns it into honey; by reading we such the flower of the Word, by meditation we work it into the hive of our mind, and so it turns to profit.  Meditation is the bellows of the affection.”
  • “Learn to apply Scripture; take every word as if spoken to yourselves.  When the Word thunders against sin, think thus:  God means my sins; when it presseth any duty, God intends me in this.”
  • “Leave not off reading the Bible till you find your hearts warmed.…Read the Word not only as a history, but strive to be affected with it.  Let it not only inform you, but inflame you.”
  • “If the Word be not regarded, it will not be remembered.  Many complain they cannot remember.  Here is the reason:  God punishes their carelessness in hearing with forgetfulness.”
  • “Get a love for spiritual things.  We usually meditate on those things which we love.  The voluptuous man can muse on his pleasures; the covetous man on his bags of gold.  If we loved heavenly things, we would meditate more on them.  Many say they cannot meditate because they lack memory; but is it not rather that they lack affection?  If they loved the things of God, they would make them their continual study and meditation.”

These kinds of insights are why I am drawn to read Watson, and why this book is helpful in encouraging discipline in the spiritual life.