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21 Servants of Sovereign Joy

Faithful, Flawed, and Fruitful

by John Piper

When Augustine handed over the leadership of his church in AD 426, his successor was overwhelmed by a sense of inadequacy. Declaring, “The swan is silent,” he feared the spiritual giant’s voice would be lost in time.

But for 1,600 years, Augustine has not been silent — and neither have the men who faithfully trumpeted the cause of Christ after him. This book compiles all seven volumes in John Piper’s series The Swans Are Not Silent, in which he explores the lives of Christians who have inspired generations of believers toward a greater passion for God.

Focusing on twenty-one leaders from church history, this book offers a close look at the course of their individual lives and their impact on our own spirituality today.

 

John Piper is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For more than thirty years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis. He is the author of more than fifty books, and his sermons, articles, books, and more are available free of charge at desiringGod.org.

Considered by many to be the greatest book by enormously influential American preacher and theologian JONATHAN EDWARDS (1703 1758), this provocative 1754 work explores the necessity of God s grace for the redeeming of the damaged will of humanity and argues that free will is an extension of and connected to the grace of God. What is the nature of morality? Can God be evil? What constitutes sin? How does God s foreknowledge of all events impact concepts of morality? How does intent inform our acts of vice and virtue?

Still controversial and hotly debated in the 21st century, this demanding evangelistic work some call it the best argument for the sovereignty of God is among the essential reading of the thinker whose philosophies inspired the 18th-century religious of the Great Awakening, which continues to hugely influence American Protestantism to this day.

Freedom of the Will will enthrall and challenge serious readers of the Bible as well as students of theology’s impact on American history.

Professor Berkhof died in 1957, at the age of 83. He was an outstanding American teacher and the author of some 22 books. After two pastorates, he began his long career as a professor at Calvin Seminary, Grand Rapids, in 1906. Here he remained for 38 years, devoting his talents and immense stores of knowledge to the training of men for the ministry. His ‘Systematic Theology’ was his magnum opus, being revised and enlarged during his lifetime until it reached its present final form. Berkhof’s loyalty to the well-defined lines of the Reformed Faith, his concise and compact style and his up-to-date treatment have made this work the most important twentieth-century compendium of Reformed Theology. ‘The work seemed particularly important to me’, writes the author, ‘in view of the widespread doctrinal indifference of the present day, of the resulting superficiality and confusion in the minds of many professing Christians, of the insidious errors that are zealously propagated even from the pulpits, and of the alarming increase of all kinds of sects.

Listening to someone else pray gives you an insight into their mind – their hopes, concerns, and understanding of their relationship with God. Spurgeon thought that prayer was a measure of the vitality of the church – he once ushered some visitors into the prayer meeting at his church with the words ‘would you like to see the church’s power plant?’ These are Spurgeon’s prayers taken down as he prayed them. You can learn a lot about how to pray by studying their structure and content. Each short prayer shows you the knowledge of the Bible he had and his understanding of human needs.

As a perusal of this volume will reveal, Mr. Spurgeon’s prayers were eminently “theological.” It is a warning, well worthy to be heeded, which a devotional master gave, “Beware of an untheological devotion.” The “theological” quality of C. H. Spurgeon’s prayers was very notable. How he knew God—the Holy Trinity; Jesus, the Son of God and Savior of men; the blessed Spirit. These noble prayers will be seen to be full of theology. They were the utterances of one who studied God, delighted in God, and walked with God, especially with the God-man. Precious to him beyond compare was the divine Redeemer. The blood of our redemption was his glory. The atoning cross was all in all to him. I would especially commend the “theological” contents of these prayers, for they are rich with enduring wealth.
The sweet and holy memories of the prayers we heard no man taketh from us. Many such memories will be aroused in many of the readers of this book.

Only the Bible has sold more copies than The Pilgrim’s Progress. Bunyan’s classic, first published in 1678, quickly became a hallmark among English readers and beyond, enduring down to our day as a unique resource for spiritual edification. This new edition from Desiring God contains Bunyan’s original version, unabridged and designed for modern readability.

Featuring an introduction by John Piper to Bunyan’s life and ministry, as well as a foreword by Leland Ryken, this volume also includes a preface by John Newton written in 1776, which was nearly lost in history until recently rediscovered.

© Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

Charity and Its Fruits is a thorough exposition of Biblical love as found in 1 Corinthians 13. As one of Edward’s best known works, it is entirely free from sentimentality. Preached as a series of moving sermons in 1738 from the pulpit of his small “Church at Northampton,” Connecticut, it reveals Edward’s insistence both that Christian experience is highly supernatural and that “all true Christian grace tends to practice.”

Few Christian leaders since the Reformation have been as gifted as Jonathan Edwards. A man of intense personal devotion to Christ, he was a leader of revival, and a creative Reformed theologian as well as being a missionary and a philosopher fully meriting Hugh Martin’s description of him as ‘that greatest of metaphysical divines’. Yet it is likely that he would have preferred to be remembered simply as ‘pastor of the Church of Northampton’. Preached in 1738 (the same year that Edwards published A Narrative of Surprising Conversions), Charity and Its Fruits gives us an insight into his regular pulpit ministry in the years between the Northampton revival of 1735 and ‘the Great Awakening’ of 1740. Entirely free from sentimentality this moving exposition of 1 Corinthians 13, like the better known Religious Affections, reveals Edwards’ insistence both that true Christian experience is ‘supernatural’- Spirit produced and Christ centered- and that ‘all true Christian grace tends to practice’. These sermons show how it is possible to steer between Arminianism on the one hand and Antinomianism on the other. The concluding chapter on heaven as a world of love is perhaps the most beautiful in all Edwards’s writings.

Election is a foundational doctrine. In the past, many of the ablest teachers were accustomed to commence their systematic theology with a presentation of the attributes of God, and then a contemplation of His eternal decrees; and it is our studied conviction, after perusing the writings of many of our moderns, that the method followed by their predecessors cannot be improved upon. God existed before man, and His eternal purpose long antedated His works in time. “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18). The divine councils went before creation. As a builder draws his plans before he begins to build, so the great Architect predestinated everything before a single creature was called into existence. Nor has God kept this a secret locked in His own bosom; it has pleased Him to make known in His Word the everlasting counsels of His grace, His design in the same, and the grand end He has in view.” Arthur Walkington Pink was an English Christian evangelist and Biblical scholar known for his staunchly Calvinist and Puritan-like teachings. Though born to Christian parents, prior to conversion he migrated into a Theosophical society (an occult gnostic group popular in England during that time), and quickly rose in prominence within their ranks. His conversion came from his father’s patient admonitions from Scripture. It was the verse, Proverbs 14:12, ‘there is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death,’ which particularly struck his heart and compelled him to renounce Theosophy and follow Jesus.

Written between 397 and 400 A.D., “The Confessions of Saint Augustine” is thought to be the first autobiography in Western civilization and is considered by many to be one of the most important religious works of all time. While not a complete account of Augustine’s life, for Augustine wrote “Confessions” in his early forties and would live well into his seventies, it is one of the most complete first-hand accounts of anyone’s life from the fourth or fifth century, in which the author outlines the sins of his youth and conversion to Christianity. “The Confessions” tells of its author’s upbringing in Algeria, his place at the Imperial court of Milan, his struggle to overcome his sexual desires, and the ultimate dedication of his life to Christ and Christian ways. “The Confessions” are not simply a recount of the author’s life but a true exploration of what it is to be Christian and the struggles that one must overcome in order to find Christ and live a more pious life. A pioneering work of autobiography, “The Confessions” remains one of the most important works of spiritual devotion ever written. The Confessions of Saint Augustine is considered the all time number one Christian classic. It is an extended poetic, passionate, intimate prayer. Augustine was probably forty-three when he began this endeavor. He had been a baptized Catholic for ten years, a priest for six, and a bishop for only two. His pre-baptismal life raised questions in the community. Was his conversion genuine? The first hearers were captivated, as many millions have been over the following sixteen centuries. His experience of God speaks to us across time with little need of transpositions.

The purpose of this book is not to set forth a new system of theological thought, but to give a re-statement to that great system which is known as the Reformed Faith or Calvinism, and to show that this is beyond all doubt the teaching of the Bible and of reason. Among the past and present advocates of this doctrine are to be found some of the world’s greatest and wisest men. It was taught not only by Calvin, but by Luther, Zwingli, by Bullinger, Bucer, and all of the outstanding leaders in the Reformation. While differing on some other points they agreed on this doctrine of Predestination and taught it with emphasis. Luther’s chief work, “The Bondage of the Will,” shows that he went into the doctrine as heartily as did Calvin himself. He even asserted it with more warmth and proceeded to much harsher lengths in defending it than Calvin ever did. Augustine’s doctrine of Predestination set against him all the half-hearted elements in the Church and arrayed him against every man who belittled the sovereignty of God. He overcame them, and the doctrine of Predestination entered the belief of the universal Church. The great majority of the creeds of historic Christendom have set forth the doctrines of Election, Predestination, and final Perseverance, as will readily be seen by anyone who will make even a cursory study of the subject. Every student of God’s Word should take the time to read this, even those who have never explored the Reformed perspective. Dr Boettner presents the heart of the Calvinistic principle with two feet firmly planted on the gospel and his reasoned explanation will be challenging those who have a different perspective.

THE SUPREME INTEREST in the life of A. W. Tozer was God: He who spoke and brought the world into being, Who justly rules over men and nations, yet deigns to make man His dwelling place. He believed that all that really matters is for man to be in right relationship with God, that his first duty-and privilege-is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” For this reason he delighted to speak to men of God’s majesty and wonder and grace and he ever sought to instruct and exhort Christians to let this be the purpose of their lives. He grieved that they should be content with less.

Nothing he preached or wrote was merely academic or theoretical. What he said about God came out of many hours spent in His presence and with His Word. What he wrote about men was what he knew of his own heart and observed in others. With the Spirit’s anointing came discernment; perception and clarity issued out of a disciplined mind. A broad knowledge averted dullness, and a lively wit brought freshness.

The chapters in this book deal with many aspects of one subject: the relationship of God and man. They are above all practical and all who read them will profit.

Published first in 1536, the Institutes of the Christian Religion is John Calvin’s magnum opus. Extremely important for the Protestant Reformation, the Instituteshas remained important for Protestant theology for almost five centuries. Written to “aid those who desire to be instructed in the doctrine of salvation,” the Institutes, which follows the ordering of the Apostle’s Creed, has four parts. The first part examines God the Father; the second part, the Son; the third part, the Holy Spirit; and the fourth part, the Church. Through these four parts, it explores both “knowledge of God” and “knowledge of ourselves” with profound theological insight, challenging and informing all the while. Thus, for either the recent convert or the long-time believer, for the inquisitive beginner or the serious scholar, John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion is a rewarding book worthy of study!

“I do not begin as a Calvinist and defend a system. I begin as a Bible-believing Christian who wants to put the Bible above all
systems of thought. But over the years—many years of struggle—I have deepened in my conviction that Calvinistic teachings on the five points are biblical and therefore true, and therefore a precious pathway into deeper experiences of God’s grace. My own struggle makes me more patient with others who are on the way. And in one sense, we are all on the way. Even when we know things biblically and truly—things clear enough and precious enough to die for—we still see through a glass dimly (1 Cor. 13:12). There can be many tears as we seek to put our ideas through the testing fires of God’s word.
But all the wrestling to understand what the Bible teaches about God is worth it. God is a rock of strength in a world of quicksand. To know him in his sovereignty is to become like an oak tree in the wind of adversity and confusion. And along with strength is sweetness and tenderness beyond imagination. The sovereign Lion of Judah is the sweet Lamb of God.” – John Piper.

“five points” is about how Christians come into being, and how we are kept forever.

  • It reaches back into times past when we were freely chosen.
  • It reaches forward into the future when we will be safe and happy forever.
  • It reaches down into the mysteries of the work of Christ, purchasing the gift of faith for all God’s children.
  • And it reaches into the human soul, glimpsing the mysteries of the Spirit’s work as he conquers all our rebellion and makes us willing captives of King Jesus.

Piper believes that our experience of grace grows with our grasp of God’s gracious work. He invites us to come with him on this quest.

John Owen was one of the Westminster Divines, Dean of Christ Church of Oxford, Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, and chaplain to Oliver Cromwell. The treatise was written in 1656, roughly 150 years after Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Chapel. It was 100 years after the slaughter of the Huguenots in France, and just 45 years after the King James Bible was published. Some of the animosity between the Protestants and Catholics during that period is openly expressed in this paper and should be taken in its historical context. The restatement of this important work is not intended as a renewed attack. Nonetheless, any current practice of fighting sin that substitutes something in place of God’s grace, and the power of His Spirit, may be judged by the Biblical standards John Owen outlines here.

 

In his book The Sovereignty of God, A.W. Pink outlines the sovereignty of God from a Calvinist standpoint. He defines God’s sovereignty and then explains how God’s sovereignty is characterized in creation and salvation. Then Pink discusses the relationship between God’s sovereignty and the human will. Finally, Pink describes the appropriate attitude Christians should take towards God’s sovereignty, and considers several difficulties that Christian may face in adopting this attitude. The issues Pink raises in this book have previously been addressed by many prominent figures such as St. Augustine, St. Aquinas, Calvin, and Jonathan Edwards. Pink studied these wise men and draws from their conclusions in his own writing, but ultimately, the author places his perspective in light of God’s Word. Pink strongly believed that true faith rests “not in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” Pink wants his readers to gain a firm grasp on the biblical text rather than the secondary literature, and he aims to highlight Scripture in his book.

“When St. Paul wrote his Epistle to Titus about his duty as a minister, he mentioned young men as a class requiring peculiar attention. After speaking of aged men and aged women, and young women, he adds this pithy advice—“Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded” (Tit 2:6). I am going to follow the Apostle’s advice. I propose to offer a few words of friendly exhortation to young men.

“Thoughts for Young Men,” by J. C. Ryle, is a short yet passionate appeal that, a hundred years after it was written, remains relevant for today.

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