This is a biographical series written by John Piper. He is a gifted servant of the Lord. Whenever I read his books, the purpose for which he has written his books is accomplished. His purpose, as stated in the end of his books, is ” to fan the flame of your passion for God and spread that passion to others.” So, to fulfill that second part of that purpose, I am blogging the review of this series!
The series title is borrowed from an analogy that was mentioned by the incoming bishop of Alexandria, Eraclius (A.D. 430), on the occasion of St. Augustine’s farewell from the same office. He quipped – “The cricket chirps, the swan is silent” referring to himself as the cricket and the silent Augustine as the swan. John Piper contends that Augustine and the other swans (his term for other great saints of Church History) are not silent and have us much to teach through their lives. This is what this series tries to achieve. Piper provides brief biographical sketches and draws inspirational lessons from the lives of these saints.
There are 5 books in the series. I have read 3 of them and am half way through the 4th; but could not resist writing the review for them all.
The first book is Legacy of Sovereign Joy. It traces the lives of probably the 3 most important saints in Church History – Augustine, Luther and Calvin. John Piper explores how the doctrine of God’s sovereign election in salvation empowered them to live the kind of godly lives that they lived.
For Augustine it was the sovereign joy of God which helped him come out of his fruitless joys of sensual lusts. It made Augustine a valiant defender of God’s saving electing grace in his battle with heretics who clamoured for man’s free will. For Luther, his sacred study of the external Word – the Bible – helped him discover the “gate to paradise” – the imputed righteousness of Christ by faith. This was the expression of God’s sovereign grace in Luther’s life which made him the spokesperson of the doctrine that the Bible is only means of God’s revelation. For Calvin, the word of God was self-authenticating. God opened his blind eyes to witness the majesty of God contained in the sacred scripture and that made the sacred scripture indeed sacred and divine – another expression of God’s grace enabling Calvin to be the passionate advocate and example of expository preaching. Piper then draws many lessons from the lives of these saints which are very pertinent to the 21st Century Church.
The second book is The Hidden Smile of God. It focusses on the life of John Bunyan (The author of Pilgrims Progress), William Cooper(John Newton’s hymn partner) and David Breinard(role-model missionary) and how God used the sufferings of these saints to touch the lives of others.
The third book is Contending for Our All which is based on the life of Athnasius (the saint who fought for the doctrine of the trinity), John Owen (the Puritan par excellence) and J Gresham Machen (an important figure in the 20th Century Christian Academia). The other 2 books, although I have not read fully, are also very well written.
There is a general apathy in our churches to Church History. It can spell great disaster for us by opening the flood-gates of same-old heresies which the past saints so valiantly battled. This biographical series goes a long way in helping us come out of our predicament and in equipping us to fight the battles ahead.
[All the books are available in pdf in John Piper’s ministry website]