A Camaraderie of Confidence: The Fruit of Unfailing Faith in the Lives of Charles Spurgeon, George Müller, and Hudson Taylor (Swans Are Not Silent) by John Piper. Crossway. 128 pages. 2016
This is John Piper’s seventh book in his popular biography series entitled The Swans Are Not Silent. This time the swans he looks at are Charles Spurgeon, the greatest preacher of the nineteenth century, George Müller, the great lover of orphans and supporter of missions, and Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission. Piper writes that some of the things that bind them together are that they were “all contemporaries, based in England, knew each other, encouraged each other, and took inspiration from each other’s lives.”
Piper states that all three were clearly nineteenth-century men. All three of these men were part of British culture. He states that the mark of evangelicalism that linked the three most clearly to their age was their activism. He states that in addition to the depth of their theology and spirituality, all three were consummate doers. All three rejected debt as a way of running any Christian ministry.
Spurgeon loved Müller as a close comrade in ministry and as one of his heroes. Müller preached occasionally in Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle. Spurgeon’s praise for Müller was unparalleled for any man in his day. Perhaps only slightly less was Spurgeon’s admiration for Taylor.
Piper looks at each of his three subjects in separate sections of the book. He writes that theirs was a camaraderie of confidence in the goodness, glory, and power of God. He states that the glory of God was always the preeminent issue in their lives.
If you are looking for short biographical sketches of some of the great heroes of the faith, I highly recommend each of Piper’s seven volumes in his Swans are Not Silent series. Piper states that the series title comes from the story of Augustine’s retirement as the bishop of Hippo in North Africa in AD 426. He tells us that Augustine’s successor, Eraclius, contrasted himself with Augustine by saying, “The cricket chirps, the swan is silent.” When Piper says that the swans are not silent, he means that there are voices from church history that are still heard, and should be heard, in the ongoing history of the church. This series gives voice to some of those swans.
A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness by John Piper. Crossway. 304 pages. 2016
This is Piper’s first major work since 2011’s Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian. His objective is to answer the questions of how are we to know that the Scriptures are the word of God, how can we trust the Bible, and what do the Scriptures claim for themselves. Piper’s main passion has been toward the non-scholarly. He asks how the common (non-seminary trained, non-scholar) Christian has a well-grounded trust in Scripture. How can they know for certain that the Bible is confirmed by the peculiar glory of God?
He begins with his own biographical story about the Bible. He asks the reader ‘on what do you stand?’ He writes that God was holding onto him by making the view compelling. Piper didn’t just hold a view of Scripture, he was held by His glory through His Word. He tells us that he went from being a teacher of the Bible in Bible College to a preacher of the Bible for 33 years at Bethlehem Baptist Church.
He then looks at what the Scriptures claim for themselves, and how we can know such claims are true. His concern is the Bible’s self-attestation, or the internal witness of the Holy Spirit. He then looks at what books make up the Scriptures. From there he looks at what the Scriptures claim for themselves through the Old Testament, Jesus and the Apostles. Piper writes that he believes in the inerrancy of the original manuscripts, though we do not have the original manuscripts at our disposal.
He then addresses the main questions that are listed above. He concludes the book with six chapters on how the Scriptures are confirmed by the peculiar glory of God.
Piper contends that God’s Glory and His Word are inseparable. He draws heavily from Jonathan Edwards, John Calvin, the Apostle Paul (specifically 2 Corinthians 4:3-6) and Westminster Larger Catechism question 4 to address the questions the book poses. He argues that the Bible exposes us to the glory of God and in that way gives us complete confidence that it is, indeed, God’s own word.
As he addresses the questions he sets out for this book he looks at saving faith and what he calls Pascal’s “misleading wager”, miracles and how the New Testament fulfills Old Testament prophecies about Jesus. He writes that we may believe that the Bible is the word of God but not be able to explain why. He offers helpful illustrations here, including one from the life of Billy Graham.
He states that Jesus is the embodiment of the peculiar glory of God. He looks at God’s self-glorification and how that confirms the Scriptures. He states that the Bible has the final authority in all areas of our lives.
This is a serious and thorough work by Piper. I recommend that it be read slowly so that you can fully grasp his points. He tells us that a second volume on the Scriptures is planned. Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture will be published April 30, 2017.
Enjoy these 10 Quotes from the book: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/10-quotes-from-john-pipers-new-book-on-scripture
Living in the Light: Money, Sex and Power by John Piper. The Good Book Company. 144 pages. 2016
This book was birthed from conference messages that the author delivered in 2015. Piper states that the main thesis of this book is that money, sex, and power, which began as God’s good gifts to humanity, have become dangerous because all human beings have exchanged the glory of God for images. In addition, money, sex, and power will be restored to their God-glorifying place by the redemption that God brought into the world through Jesus Christ. He approaches his subject with a strategy to define, defeat and deploy. He gives us definitions and foundations, dangers and how to defeat them, potentials and how to deploy them.
In defining money, he tells us that money is the symbolic representation of quantities of value. It becomes a moral issue because of the rightness or wrongness of what we pursue with this gift God has given us. We can pursue good, and we can pursue evil. We can use it to show that we value money more than Christ; or we can use it to show that we value Christ more than money. He tells us that there is no link between having much money and knowing much happiness in this life—or the next.
In defining “sex” he means experiencing erotic stimulation; seeking to get the experience, or seeking to give the experience. He tells us that sex is a good gift from God in all those ways. He writes that our sexual sinning is rooted in the fact that we don’t treasure the glory of God as supremely desirable over all things. Jesus, Peter, Paul, John and the writer to the Hebrews all sound the note of danger that lies ahead for those who do not repent of sexual sin. He tells us that when it comes to our sex lives, the issue is this: Do we see the glory of God? Do we treasure the glory? Are we deeply content?
In defining power, he writes that it is the capacity to get what we want. How we use our power shows where our heart is, what we love, what we treasure most—what we worship. The greatest danger of power is craving it in order to exalt ourselves. He writes that the reason we abuse power is because we do not delight in the glory of God’s right to all power.
Piper tells us that money, sex, and power are three good gifts of God. He also shows that we can use them to reveal a heart of darkness, or reveal a heart of light. He writes that “Living in the light is seeing God as supremely glorious, supremely beautiful, supremely desirable, and supremely satisfying.”
He describes the doctrine of justification, stating that by Christ’s death he took the punishment we deserved, and His perfect life was credited to our account. All the legal barriers between us and God were removed and we now have peace with Him. Hallelujah!
He concludes the book by looking at some examples of what happens to money, sex, and power when we live as those whose sins are forgiven and who live in the light; when we are born again, and the glory of God in Christ has been restored as the greatest treasure and sweetest pleasure of our lives.
There is much of value in this short read from one of our most respected theologians. Highly recommended.
You can watch the original conference messages that were the foundation of the book here.
20 Great Quotes from Living in the Light: Money, Sex and Power by John Piper
- Everything hangs on what we value as supreme. What is our highest treasure? What is our greatest satisfaction?
- Money is one cultural symbol that we use to show what we value. It is a means by which we show where our treasure is; who our treasure is. The use of money is an act of worship—either of Christ, or of something else.
- The way you think and feel and act about money, sex, and power puts your heart’s treasure on display—either God, or something he made.
- Power, money and sex are all God-given means of showing what you value.
- Sin is the deepest, strongest and most pervasive problem of the human race.
- These are the two great heart-conditions in human life: the heart that values God over all, or values something else more.
- We must lay to rest forever the notion that our sin is mainly what we do. It’s not: it is mainly who we are—until we are a new creature in Christ.
- Living in darkness means seeing God as minimally desirable, and seeing his creation as maximally desirable.
- Same-sex relationships stand as a vivid, enacted parable of the disordered sexuality that stems from a disordered relationship with God—specifically, a relationship in which the glories of creation are preferred to the glory of God.
- Fight sexual sin (and every other sin) with the same seriousness as tearing out an eye and cutting off a hand. Your life depends on it. Eternally.
- Handling money is like handling a live wire that can electrocute you.
- Money is a great deceiver (Mark 4 v 19). It can deceive us into thinking and feeling that what we can buy is more satisfying than God.
- Jesus is telling the disciples that power is given for serving others. The greatest power is in humility and service. Power comes from God by renouncing power in ourselves, and praise comes from God as we renounce the pursuit of praise from others.
- It is absolute folly to claim a power for ourselves that belongs only to God. It is, strictly speaking, treason. And that is a capital offense.
- As fallen sinners, we do not see God as glorious, and we do not treasure God above all things. This is why money, sex, and power are so dangerous. They look more attractive than God, because we are spiritually blind to the all-satisfying beauty of God.
- Treasuring God above all things turns money into the currency of worship and love.
- Sex is made for the glory of Christ—for the Christ-exalting glory of covenant-keeping faithfulness in marriage, and for the glory of Christ-exalting chastity in singleness.
- When God grants us power—and he does in many ways—his aim is that he will be glorified by the way that power is used.
- Money exists so that it will be plain by the way we use it that God is more to be desired than money, while sex exists so that it will be plain that God is more to be desired than sex. Power exists so that it will be plain that admiring and depending on his power is more to be desired than exalting our own.
- As fallen sinners, money, sex and power are so dangerous because we don’t see God as glorious, and we do not treasure God above all things.
Lessons from a Hospital Bed by John Piper. Crossway. 80 pages. 2016
As I was finishing this short book from John Piper, I received a call that my Dad was in the Emergency Room of a local hospital. He would be admitted and spend three nights in the hospital. Talk about God’s providential timing for a book!
Joni Eareckson Tada, who has certainly spent more than her fair share of time in a hospital bed writes the Foreword for the book. There are few people that I respect more, so when she recommends a book it gets my attention. Joni writes “Read its lessons prayerfully and act on their counsel intentionally. Next to your Bible, this little book is your best guide in making certain your hospital stay does genuine good for your soul.”
Piper writes that he wrote the book in two stages. The heart of it came after he was hospitalized due to an unexplained blood clot in his lung. The rest of it was added about a year later as he reflected more on what God has taught him over the years through sickness and suffering. He concludes the book with a prayer.
I highly recommend this quick read from a respected pastor and author. I’ve read it once and plan to read it again and refer to it often in the future.
Good News of Great Joy: Daily Readings for Advent by John Piper. Desiring God. 78 pages. 2013
In this short book of daily readings for Advent, John Piper writes that Advent is for adoring Jesus. It is an annual season of patient waiting, hopeful expectation, soul-searching, and calendar-watching marked by many. Advent is a tradition that developed over the course of the church’s history as a time of preparation for Christmas Day. He writes that many have found observing Advent to be personally enjoyable and spiritually profitable.
Piper tells us that the English word “Advent” is from the Latin adventus, which means “coming.” Although the advent primarily in view each December is the first coming of Jesus two millennia ago, Piper tells us that Jesus’s second coming gets drawn in as well, as the popular Christmas carol “Joy to the World” makes plain.
Advent begins the fourth Sunday before Christmas and ends Christmas Eve. Piper states that Christians throughout the world have their different ways of celebrating Advent, such as lighting candles, singing songs, eating candies, giving gifts and hanging wreaths.
My wife and I started reading these meditations yesterday (December 1), to help us prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus and to keep Him as the center of our celebrations and the greatest treasure of our Advent season. The readings are short and can be completed in just a few minutes each day. I would recommend reading them with your spouse or family, if possible. An Appendix on Old Testament shadows and the coming of Christ coordinates with the meditation for December 12.
This is the second book I’ve read about Charles Spurgeon this year, and this short book by John Piper certainly has some similarities to Zack Eswine’s excellent Spurgeon’s Sorrows: Realistic Hope for Those Who Suffer from Depression. Piper writes “The question for pastors is not, ‘How do you live through unremitting criticism and distrust and accusation and abandonment?’—but, How do you preach through it? How do you do heart work when the heart is under siege and ready to fall?”
Piper offers seven reasons why Spurgeon is a model saint for modern saints. He writes that Spurgeon knew the whole range of adversity that most preachers suffer—and a lot more.
He writes about the impact on Spurgeon of a tragedy that took place when he was preaching at age twenty-two, when someone shouted “Fire!” and seven people were killed in a stampede, with many injured. Spurgeon also dealt with a wife who at age thirty-three became a virtual invalid, could no longer have children, and seldom heard her husband preach for the next 27 years until his death.
Spurgeon himself suffered from gout, rheumatism, and Bright’s disease (inflammation of the kidneys). The diseases eventually took his life at age 57. In addition to the physical suffering, Spurgeon had to endure a lifetime of public ridicule and slander, sometimes of the most vicious kind.
Spurgeon also had recurrent battles with depression, which he said was his “worst feature”, but he saw three specific purposes of God in his struggle with depression. Piper writes that there are innumerable strategies of grace in the life of Spurgeon, and then shares a few of them.
This short book will be most helpful to pastors.
The Dawning of Indestructible Joy: Daily Readings for Advent by John Piper. Crossway. 96 pages. 2014. ****
John Piper released this short book of devotions in 2014. My wife and I used them last year, and benefitted from them, in our preparations to celebrate the birth of Jesus. I commend them to you as well to aid you in your preparations.
Piper wrote this little book of Advent devotional readings to stir us up, or awaken us. It is a book of reminders and stirrings. He states that we usually don’t need brand-new teaching. No, what we need are reminders about the greatness of old truths, or to say an old truth in a fresh way.
Piper titled the book The Dawning of Indestructible Joy, because the joy Jesus was bringing into the world was like no other kind in history. He aims to awaken and stir up our affections for the greatest wonder of all – the arrival of Jesus.
May you be richly blessed by this book this Advent season.
Rethinking Retirement: Finishing Life for the Glory of God by John Piper. Crossway. 32 pages. 2009
This short booklet contains much wisdom on finishing our life for the glory of God. Many look forward to the day that they can retire and relax. Piper has some different ideas on how we can finish strong. Here are a few passages that I highlighted as I read this book:
• Finishing life to the glory of Christ means finishing life in a way that makes Christ look glorious. It means living and dying in a way that shows Christ to be the all-satisfying Treasure that he is. So it would include, for example, not living in ways that make this world look like your treasure. Which means that most of the suggestions that this world offers us for our retirement years are bad ideas. They call us to live in a way that would make this world look like our treasure. And when that happens, Jesus is belittled.
• Finishing life to the glory of Christ means resolutely resisting the typical American dream of retirement. It means being so satisfied with all that God promises to be for us in Christ that we are set free from the cravings that create so much emptiness and uselessness in retirement. Instead, knowing that we have an infinitely satisfying and everlasting inheritance in God just over the horizon of life makes us zealous in our few remaining years here to spend ourselves in the sacrifices of love, not the accumulation of comforts.
• So Raymond Lull was eighty years old when he gave his life for the Muslims of North Africa. Nothing could be further from the American dream of retirement than the way Lull lived out his last days.
• One of the great obstacles to finishing life to the glory of Christ is the fear that we will not persevere in treasuring Christ and loving people—we just won’t make it.
• There are two opposite ways to ruin your life in trying to overcome this fear. One is to assume that perseverance in faith and love is not necessary for final salvation. And the other is to assume that perseverance is necessary and then depend on our efforts in some measure to fulfill that necessity and to secure God’s favor. Let me show why both these are devastatingly misguided and deadly, and then what is the biblical way of finishing life to the glory of Christ.
• So it is a tragic and deadly mistake to try to overcome the fear of not persevering in old age by saying you don’t have to persevere.
• God makes his ongoing favor depend on my efforts.” That, I say, is deadly and leads either to despair or pride. And certainly not to perseverance. Which means that all those who belong to Christ will persevere. They must, and they will. It is certain. Why? Because God is already now in Christ 100% for us. Perseverance is not the means by which we get God to be for us; it is the effect of the fact that God is already for us. You cannot ever make God be for you by your good works because true Christian good works are the fruit of God’s already being for you.
• My hard work is not the cause but the result of blood-bought grace.
• If every exertion you make in the discipline of perseverance is a work of God, then these exertions do not make God become 100% for you. They are the result of his already being 100% for you. He is for you because you are in Christ. And you cannot improve on the perfection or the sacrifice of Christ.
• So what is the right way to overcome the fear of not persevering in old age? The key is to keep finding in Christ our highest Treasure.
• This is the key to finishing life to the glory of Christ. If we are going to make Christ look glorious in the last years of our lives, we must be satisfied in him. He must be our Treasure. And the life that we live must flow from this all-satisfying Christ. And the life that flows from the soul that lives on Jesus is a life of love and service. This is what will make Christ look great.
• When our hearts find their rest in Christ, we stop using other people to meet our needs, and instead we make ourselves servants to meet their needs.
• When we are so satisfied in Christ that we are enabled to willingly die for him, we are freed to love the lost as never before, and Christ is shown to be a great Treasure.
• Millions of Christian men and women are finishing their formal careers in their fifties and sixties, and for most of them there will be a good twenty years before their physical and mental powers fail. What will it mean to live those final years for the glory of Christ? How will we live them in such a way as to show that Christ is our highest Treasure?
• When you don’t believe in heaven to come and you are not content in the glory of Christ now, you will seek the kind of retirement that the world seeks. But what a strange reward for a Christian to set his sights on! Twenty years of leisure (!) while living in the midst of the Last Days of infinite consequence for millions of people who need Christ. What a tragic way to finish the last mile before entering the presence of the King who finished his last mile so differently!
• Everything in me said, “O God, don’t let me waste my final years! Don’t let me buy the American dream of retirement—month after month of leisure and play and hobbies and putzing around in the garage 27 and rearranging the furniture and golfing and fishing and sitting and watching television. Lord, please have mercy on me. Spare me this curse.”
• Live dangerously for the one who loved you and died for you in his thirties. Don’t throw your life away on the American dream of retirement.
In this book, John Piper continues what he began in A Godward Life, Book One (2001), continued in A Godward Life, Book Two (2003), Pierced by the Word (2003), Life as a Vapor (2004), and Taste and See (2005). This new book contains 50 short articles or meditations on a variety of subjects. It makes sense that you will be more interested in some of the topics than in others.
I highlighted a number of passages as I read the book and I wanted to share some of them with you below:
- The great obstacle to seeking the Lord is pride. Therefore, humility is essential to seeking the Lord.
- The great promise to those who seek the Lord is that he will be found. And when he is found, there is great reward.
- In other words, God’s plan that there be sin and wrath in the universe was ultimately to bring about “the praise of his glorious grace” in the death of Christ (Ephesians 1:6).
- A major question people have when they hear biblical texts about God’s passion for his own glory is, how is this not a sinful form of narcissism and megalomania? The answer is, God’s passion for his glory is the essence of his love to us. But narcissism and megalomania are not love.
- Love is doing whatever you need to do, even to the point of dying on the cross, to help people see and savor the glory of God forever and ever. Love keeps God central, because the soul was made for God.
- O how we need to see that Christ, not comfort, is our all-satisfying and everlasting treasure. So I conclude that magnifying the supremacy of God in all things and being willing to suffer patiently to help people see and savor this supremacy is the essence of love. It’s the essence of God’s love. And it’s the essence of our love for people. Because the supremacy of God’s glory is the source and sum of all full and lasting joy.
- Most of us realize that enjoying anything other than God, from the best gift to the basest pleasure, can become idolatry.
- Paul said that covetousness is idolatry (Colossians 3:5). Covetousness means “desiring something other than God in the wrong way.” But what does “in the wrong way” mean?
- So here is my effort to think biblically about what those wrong ways are. What makes an enjoyment idolatrous? What turns a desire into covetousness, which is idolatry? 1. Enjoyment is becoming idolatrous when it is forbidden by God.
- Enjoyment is becoming idolatrous when it is not permeated with gratitude.
- Enjoyment is becoming idolatrous when it does not see in God’s gift that God himself is to be desired more than the gift.
- Enjoyment is becoming idolatrous when it is starting to feel like a right, and our delight is becoming a demand. Enjoyment is becoming idolatrous when it draws us away from our duties. Enjoyment is becoming idolatrous when it awakens a sense of pride that we can experience this delight while others can’t.
- Enjoyment is becoming idolatrous when it is oblivious or callous to the needs and desires of others. Enjoyment is becoming idolatrous when it does not desire that Christ be magnified as supremely desirable through the enjoyment. Enjoyment is becoming idolatrous when it is not working a deeper capacity for holy delight. Enjoyment is becoming idolatrous when its loss ruins our trust in the goodness of God. Enjoyment is becoming idolatrous when its loss paralyzes us emotionally so that we can’t relate lovingly to other people.
- Voting is like marrying and crying and laughing and buying. We should do it, but only as if we were not doing it. That’s because “the present form of this world is passing away” and, in God’s eyes, “the time has grown very short.”
- When we say that God never lies, but ordains that lying happens, we do not mean that he approves of lying or that his law permits lying. We mean that God governs all things in the universe, including the sins of sinful men. Sin does not cease to be sin because God governs it and guides it for the good of his people and the glory of his name.
- When huge pain comes into your life—such as divorce, or the loss of a precious family member, or the shattered dream of wholeness—it is good to have a few things settled with God ahead of time. The reason for this is not because it makes grieving easy, but because it gives focus and boundaries for the pain.
- But there is always one thing you can know God is doing when pain comes into your life. This is something you can settle with God ahead of time. He is always testing you.
- The upshot of all this is that, without explicitly prohibiting slavery, Paul has pointed the church away from slavery because it is an institution that is incompatible with the way the gospel works in people’s lives. Whether the slavery is economic, racial, sexual, mild, or brutal, Paul’s way of dealing with Philemon worked to undermine the institution across its various manifestations. To walk “in step with the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:14) is to walk away from slavery.
- Therefore, let us humble ourselves. There are clouded views that are so obscured by error that the God on the other side of the unclear glass is not the true God. So the measure of truth in our views matters infinitely. But also, there is no guarantee that right thinking will produce right living. There is more to godliness than having clear views of God. Trusting him and loving him through those views matters decisively.
- What the Bible teaches is that God becomes 100 percent irrevocably for us at the moment of justification, that is, the moment when we see Christ as a beautiful Savior and receive him as our substitute punishment and our substitute perfection.
- Or, when did God become for us so fully that there was not any wrath or curse or condemnation on us, but only mercy?
- In other words, it happened at the point of justification. The implication of this is that all our works, all our perseverance, all our continuing faith and obedience does not cause God to be 100 percent for us, but is the result of his being 100 percent for us. This is a hugely important distinction for your own soul, and how you press on in the fight of faith.
- Therefore, exult in the truth that God will keep you. He will get you to the end because in Christ he is 100 percent for you. And therefore, getting to the end does not make God to be 100 percent for you. It is the effect of the fact that he is already totally for you.
- So this meditation is not unified by a theme. It’s a glimpse of what happens often in my morning stroll through the beautiful and nourishing garden of God’s Word. Come with me to four very different parts of the garden.
- G. K. Chesterton was a British journalist and a brilliant writer. Nobody exploits the power of paradox like Chesterton. I heartily recommend his book Orthodoxy. The title gives scarcely a clue as to what you will find inside. It had a huge influence on me forty years ago in ways that would have exasperated Chesterton. He did all he could to keep me from becoming a Calvinist, and instead made me a romantic one—a happy one.
- Read Orthodoxy. A few of you may be swept away into the folly of Roman Catholic sacramentalism. A few others may be confirmed in your tiff with joyless Calvinists. But for many readers, especially the Bible-saturated ones, this book will awaken such a sense of wonder in you that you will not feel at home again until you enter the new world of the wide-eyed children called the happy Reformed.
- This implies that the husband, who is to love like Christ, bears a unique responsibility for the moral and spiritual growth of his wife, which means that over time she will change.
- If a husband is loving and wise, this will feel, to a humble wife, like she is being served, not humiliated.
- So from these and other observations that could be made from the New Testament, I hope it is clear that a faithful, covenant-keeping marriage is not merely forgiving and forbearing. It is also confronting—in loving and wise ways formed by the calling of headship and submission. To see how I worked all this out more fully, the sermon series actually made its way into a book called This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence.
- This is a radical call for us to look hard at our present lives to see if they are shaped by the hope of the resurrection. Do we make decisions on the basis of gain in this world or gain in the next? Do we take risks for love’s sake that can only be explained as wise if there is a resurrection? Do we lose heart when our bodies give way to the aging process and we have to admit that we will never do certain things again? Or do we look to the resurrection and take heart?
- There are as many answers to the question, How shall we love our Muslim neighbor? as there are ways to do good and not wrong.
- We focused on 1 Corinthians 13, especially verses 4–7. What is Paul doing here? He says fifteen things about what love does and does not do.
- When you try to group the fifteen elements into categories, there are two big ones: (1) statements about how love is durable and doesn’t give up, and (2) statements about how love is not proud. Thirteen of the fifteen elements seem to fit into these two categories.
- Satan’s work is not the chief peril dealt with in the death of Christ. God’s wrath is. God is opposed to us in his righteous wrath, and he is for us in his love. Therefore, in his great love, he sends his Son to endure his own wrath against us. In this way, his righteousness is upheld and his love is expressed. His wrath and curse and condemnation of our sin are endured for us by another—a substitute, Jesus Christ.
- Rightness is thinking, feeling, and doing what flows from a true perception of the supreme value of God. It is seeing truly, savoring duly, and showing consistently in action the infinite worth of God. Therefore, we are doing what is right when we are understanding the truth of God’s value for what it is, feeling it proportionately to his universal supremacy, and acting in ways that express God’s supreme value. That is what “right” means.
- Hero worship means admiring someone for unholy reasons and seeing all he does as admirable (whether it’s sin or not). Holy emulation, on the other hand, sees evidences of God’s grace, and admires them for Christ’s sake, and wants to learn from them and grow in them.
- The veneration given to Mary in the Roman Catholic Church is beyond what is warranted by the New Testament. Let us honor her unique motherhood. Let us count her blessed as the mother of our incarnate Lord. But let us not put her on a pedestal that neither she nor Jesus would have approved of.
- Most striking of all is the way Jesus intentionally deflected a certain kind of honor from his mother. Once a woman in the crowd “raised her voice and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!’ ” But Jesus replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:27–28). Jesus ranks obedience to the Word of God above the special veneration of his mother.
- Into his forties, Abraham Lincoln remained skeptical, and at times even cynical, about religion. But it is remarkable how, as time went by, personal and national suffering drew Lincoln into the reality of God, rather than pushing him away.
- As I write this I am praying for you the reader—you who sooner or later will suffer loss and injury and great sorrow. I pray that it will awaken for you, as it did for Lincoln and Solzhenitsyn not an empty nihilism, but a deeper reliance on the infinite wisdom and love of God’s inscrutable providence. “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33).
- It was an amazing thing to watch week after week as my father came and went. He went, and my mother ruled the whole house with a firm and competent and loving hand. And he came home, and my mother deferred to his leadership.
- And here is what I learned: a biblical truth before I knew it was in the Bible. There is no correlation between submission and incompetence. There is such a thing as masculine leadership that does not demean a wife. There is such a thing as submission that is not weak or mindless or manipulative.
- If I were the last man on the planet to think so, I would want the honor of saying that no woman should go before me into combat to defend my country. A man who endorses women in combat is not pro-woman; he’s acting like a wimp. He should be ashamed. For most of history, in most cultures, he would have been utterly scorned as a coward to promote such an idea. Part of the meaning of manhood as God created us is the sense of responsibility for the safety and welfare of our women.
- One of the serious challenges to freeing ourselves from ethnocentrism, or racism, is discerning when using a generalization is, in fact, the use of a stereotype. There is a difference.
- This is the implication for Christians: Beware of forming stereotypes, or unjustified generalizations. Not only do they tend to hurt people (or unduly puff up the pride of others), but they are also unreliable guides in life.
- When I read about prosperity-preaching churches, my response is, if I were not on the inside of Christianity, I would not want in. In other words, if this is the message of Jesus, no thank you.
- One of the most important and least known facts about the battle to abolish the slave trade in Britain two hundred years ago is that it was sustained by a passion for the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
- Not coveting means not desiring anything in a way that diminishes God as your supreme treasure. And not having any gods before God means the same thing: Don’t treasure anything or anyone in a way that competes with God’s supreme place in your life. Idolatry is what we call disobedience to the first commandment. And idolatry is what Paul called disobedience to the tenth commandment (“covetousness, which is idolatry,” Colossians 3:5).
- I have some amazingly practical help for us. Pick out some people whose lives show that they treasure Christ above other things. Then keep your eyes on them, as Paul said. Watch them. That is a good way to conquer covetousness.
- God approves of New Year’s resolutions. And midyear and three-quarters-year and monthly and weekly and daily resolutions. Any and all resolutions for good have God’s approval—if we resolve by faith in Jesus. I would like to encourage you to make some resolutions.
- So sometime soon pause and examine your life. Examine what is missing that should be there. What is there that should be removed? What new dreams for ministry might you venture? What new habits do you want to build into your schedule?
This short book from John Piper has become known as the “Five Points of Calvinism” or the Doctrines of Grace. It is a very good and easy to read introductory resource for those wanting to know more about this subject. I highlighted a number of passages as I read the book and want to share some of them with you below. However, I would highly recommend that you read the entire book, which would only take a few hours. It would be time well spent.
• He is infinite—and that answers our longing for completeness. He is eternal—and that answers our longing for permanence. He is unchangeable—and that answers our longing for stability and security. There is none like God. Nothing can compare with him. Wealth, sex, power, popularity, conquest, productivity, great achievement—nothing can compare with God.
• The more you know him, the more you want to know him. The more you feast on his fellowship, the hungrier you are for deeper, richer communion. Satisfaction at the deepest levels breeds a holy longing for the time when we will have the very power of God to love God.
• Yes, the more you know him and love him and trust him, the more you long to know him. That’s why I have written this little book. I long to know God and enjoy God. And I want the same for you.
• My experience is that clear knowledge of God from the Bible is the kindling that sustains the fires of affection for God.
• To experience God fully, we need to know not just how he acts in general, but specifically how he saves us—how did he save me?
• 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.
• I pray that because of our meeting here you will move “Towards a Deeper Experience of God’s Grace.”
• The Arminians drew up their creed in Five Articles, and laid them before the state authorities of Holland in 1610 under the name Remonstrance, signed by forty-six ministers.
• The official Calvinistic response came from the Synod of Dort which was held November 13, 1618, to May 9, 1619, to consider the Five Articles.
• The Synod wrote what has come to be known as the Canons of Dort. They state the Five Points of Calvinism in response to the Five Articles of the Arminian Remonstrants.
• So the so-called Five Points were not chosen by the Calvinists as a summary of their teaching. They emerged as a response to the Arminians who chose these five points to disagree with.
• The five points came to be summarized in English under the acronym TULIP. T – Total depravity U – Unconditional election L – Limited atonement I – Irresistible grace P – Perseverance of the saints
• These five points are focused on the central act of God’s saving sinners.
• I have found, however, that people grasp these points more easily if we go in the order in which we ourselves often experience them when we become Christians. We experience first our depravity and need of salvation. Then we experience the irresistible grace of God leading us toward faith. Then we trust the sufficiency of the atoning death of Christ for our sins. Then we discover that behind the work of God to atone for our sins and bring us to faith was the unconditional election of God. And finally we rest in his electing grace to give us the strength and will to persevere to the end in faith. This is the order we follow in the pages ahead. I will try to lay out what I believe the Scriptures teach on these five points. My great desire is to deepen your experience of God’s grace and to honor him by understanding and believing his truth revealed in Scripture.
• But in general I am willing to be called a Calvinist on the five points because this name has been attached to these points for centuries and because I find this Calvinist position to be faithful to Scripture. The Bible is our final authority.
• It might be helpful for some readers to summarize the meaning of each of the five points briefly before we go into more biblical detail.
• Our sinful corruption is so deep and so strong as to make us slaves of sin and morally unable to overcome our own rebellion and blindness. This inability to save ourselves from ourselves is total. We are utterly dependent on God’s grace to overcome our rebellion, give us eyes to see, and effectively draw us to the Savior.
• God’s election is an unconditional act of free grace that was given through his Son
• Jesus before the world began. By this act, God chose, before the foundation of the world, those who would be delivered from bondage to sin and brought to repentance and saving faith in Jesus.
• The atonement of Christ is sufficient for all humans and effective for those who trust him. It is not limited in its worth or sufficiency to save all who believe. But the full, saving effectiveness of the atonement that Jesus accomplished is limited to those for whom that saving effect was prepared. The availability of the total sufficiency of the atonement is for all people. Whosoever will—whoever believes—will be covered by the blood of Christ.
• And there is a divine design in the death of Christ to accomplish the promises of the new covenant for the chosen bride of Christ. Thus Christ died for all people, but not for all in the same way.
• This means that the resistance that all human beings exert against God every day (Rom. 3:10-12; Acts 7:51) is wonderfully overcome at the proper time by God’s saving grace for undeserving rebels whom he chooses freely to save.
Perseverance of the Saints
• We believe that all who are justified will win the fight of faith. They will persevere in faith and will not surrender finally to the enemy of their souls. This perseverance is the promise of the new covenant, obtained by the blood of Christ, and worked in us by God himself, yet not so as to diminish, but only to empower and encourage, our vigilance; so that we may say in the end, I have fought the good fight, but it was not I, but the grace of God which was with me (2 Tim. 4:7; 1 Cor. 15:10).
• Romans 14:23 makes plain that depravity is our condition in relation to God primarily and only secondarily in relation to man. Unless we start here, we will never grasp the totality of our natural depravity.
• Man’s depravity is total in at least four senses.
1. Our rebellion against God is total.
• Religion is one of the chief ways that man conceals his unwillingness to forsake self-reliance and bank all his hopes on the unmerited mercy of God (Luke 18:9-14; Col. 2:20-23).
• It is a myth that man in his natural state is genuinely seeking God. Men do seek God. But they do not seek him for who he is. They seek him in a pinch as one who might preserve them from death or enhance their worldly enjoyments.
2. In his total rebellion everything man does is sin.
• Therefore many outwardly good acts come from hearts without Christ-exalting faith, and therefore, without love, and therefore without conformity to God’s command, and therefore are sinful.
• So, what Paul is saying in Romans 7:18 is that apart from the work of God’s Spirit all we think and feel and do is not good.
• For example, we will have to say that it is good that most unbelievers do not kill and that many unbelievers perform acts of benevolence. What we mean when we call such actions good is that they more or less conform to the external pattern of life that God has commanded in Scripture.
• However, such outward conformity to the revealed will of God is not righteousness in relation to God. It is not done out of reliance on him or for his glory. He is not trusted for the resources, though he gives them all. Nor is his honor exalted, even though that’s his will in all things (1 Cor. 10:31). Therefore even these “good” acts are part of our rebellion and are not “good” in the sense that really counts in the end—in relation to God.
3. Man’s inability to submit to God and do good is total.
• So natural man has a mindset that does not and cannot submit to God. Man cannot reform himself.
4. Our rebellion is totally deserving of eternal punishment.
• Therefore, to the extent that hell is a sentence of total condemnation, to that extent must we think of ourselves as totally blameworthy apart from the saving grace of God.
5. This Terrible Truth of Total Depravity
• In summary, total depravity means that our rebellion against God is total, everything we do in this rebellion is sinful, our inability to submit to God or reform ourselves is total, and we are therefore totally deserving of eternal punishment.
• The aim of this book is to deepen our experience of God’s grace. The aim is not to depress or to discourage or to paralyze. Knowing the seriousness of our disease will make us all the more amazed at the greatness of our Physician. Knowing the extent of our deep-seated rebellion will stun us at the long-suffering grace and patience of God toward us. The way we worship God and the way we treat other people, especially our enemies, are profoundly and wonderfully affected by knowing our depravity to the full.
• You will notice that I am changing the traditional order of T U L I P. The I stands for irresistible grace and usually comes fourth. I am putting it second after the T which stands for total depravity.
• The doctrine of irresistible grace does not mean that every influence of the Holy Spirit cannot be resisted. It means that the Holy Spirit, whenever he chooses, can overcome all resistance and make his influence irresistible.
• The doctrine of irresistible grace means that God is sovereign and can conquer all resistance when he wills.
• More specifically, irresistible grace refers to the sovereign work of God to overcome the rebellion of our heart and bring us to faith in Christ so that we can be saved.
• If a person becomes humble enough to submit to God, it is because God has given that person a new, humble nature.
• In John 6:44, Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” This drawing is the sovereign work of grace without which none of us will be saved from our rebellion against God.
• In ourselves we are all just as resistant to grace as Judas. And the reason any of us has come to Jesus is not that we are smarter, or wiser, or more virtuous than Judas, but that the Father overcame our resistance and drew us to Christ. All are saved by irresistible grace—amazing grace!
• It should be obvious from this that irresistible grace never implies that God forces us to repent or believe or follow Jesus against our will.
• Irresistible grace does not drag the unwilling into the kingdom, it makes the unwilling willing.
• Therefore irresistible grace is compatible with preaching and witnessing that tries to persuade people to do what is reasonable and what will accord with their best interests. God uses the ministry of the word to accomplish his supernatural changes in the heart. These changes bring about repentance and faith.
• First, the preaching of Paul goes out to all, both Jews and Greeks. This is a general call of the gospel. It offers salvation impartially and indiscriminately to all. Whoever will believe on the crucified Christ will have him as Savior and Lord. But often this general call to everyone falls on unreceptive ears and is called foolishness.
• But notice, secondly, that Paul refers to another kind of call. He says that among those who hear, both Jews and Greeks, there are some who, in addition to hearing the general call, are “called” in another way. “But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (v. 24). In other words they are called in such a way that they no longer regard the cross as foolishness but as the wisdom and power of God.
• Let’s describe this not as the general call but as the effectual call of God.
• The effectual call is the miracle of having our blindness removed. God causes the glory of Christ to shine with irresistible beauty. This is irresistible grace.
• Unless God opens our hearts, we will not hear the truth and beauty of Christ in the message of the gospel. This heart-opening is what we mean by irresistible grace.
• New birth is a miraculous creation of God that enables a formerly “dead” person to receive Christ and so be saved. We do not bring about the new birth by our faith. God brings about our faith by the new birth.
• Believing in Jesus is not the cause of being born again; it is the evidence that we “have been born of God.”
• In other words, it is necessary to receive Christ in order to become a child of God, but the birth that brings one into the family of God is not possible by the will of man. Only God can do it.
• Man is dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). He cannot make himself new, or create new life in himself. He must be born of God. Then, with the new nature of God, he sees Christ for who he really is, and freely receives Christ for all that he is. The two acts (new birth and faith) are so closely connected that in experience we cannot distinguish them.
• The Atonement is the work of God in Christ on the cross in which he completed the work of his perfectly righteous life, canceled the debt of our sin, appeased his holy wrath against us, and won for us all the benefits of salvation.
• The term “limited atonement” addresses the question, “For whom did Christ do all this?” “For whom did he die?” “Whose sin did he atone for?” “For whom did he purchase all the benefits of salvation?” But behind these questions of the extent of the atonement lies the equally important question about the nature of the atonement. What did Christ actually achieve on the cross for those for whom he died?
• Therefore, it becomes evident that it is not the Calvinist who limits the atonement. It is those who deny that the atoning death of Christ accomplishes what we most desperately need—namely, salvation from the condition of deadness and hardness and blindness under the wrath of God. They limit the power and effectiveness of the atonement so that they can say that it was accomplished even for those who die in unbelief and are condemned. In order to say that Christ died for all men in the same way, they must limit the atonement to a possibility or an opportunity for salvation if fallen humans can escape from their deadness and rebellion and obtain faith by an effectual means not provided by the cross.
• On the other hand, we do not limit the power and effectiveness of the atonement.
• Rather we say that in the cross, God had in view the actual, effective redemption of his children from all that would destroy them, including their own unbelief. And we affirm that when Christ died particularly for his bride, he did not simply create a possibility or an opportunity for salvation, but really purchased and infallibly secured for them all that is necessary to get them saved, including the grace of regeneration and the gift of faith.
• We do not deny that Christ died to save all in some sense. Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:10 that in Christ God is “the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” What we deny is that the death of Christ is for all men in the same sense.
• God sent Christ to save all in some sense. And he sent Christ to save those who believe in a more particular sense. God’s intention is different for each.
• When the gospel is preached, Christ is offered to all without discrimination. And the offer is absolutely authentic for all. What is offered is Christ and anyone—absolutely anyone—who receives Christ receives all that he bought for his sheep, his bride. The gospel does not offer a possibility of salvation. It is the possibility of salvation. But what is offered is Christ, and in him the infinite achievement that he accomplished for his people by his death and resurrection.
• The Arminian view portrays sinners as needing divine assistance in order to believe. That’s true. We do need assistance. But more assistance than Arminianism assumes. In that view the sinner, after being assisted by God, provides the decisive impulse. God only assists; the sinner decides. Thus, “the blood of the covenant” does not decisively secure our faith. The decisive cause of faith is human self-determination. The atoning work of Christ, they say, sets up this possibility. But it does not secure the outcome. But the new covenant, bought by the blood of Christ, teaches something very different.
• In summary, the biblical point of limited atonement is that in the death of Christ God had a particular design for his elect.
• He was purchasing not just a possibility for them to believe and be saved, but he was purchasing the belief itself. The conversion of God’s elect is blood-bought. The overcoming of our deadness and rebellion against God is not performed decisively by us so that we then qualify for the atonement. God’s sovereign grace overcomes our deadness and rebellion. And that grace is purchased for us in the death of Christ.
• If all of us are so depraved that we cannot come to God without being born again by the irresistible grace of God, and if this particular grace is purchased by Christ on the cross, then it is clear that the salvation of any of us is owing to God’s election. He chose those to whom he would show such irresistible grace, and for whom he would purchase it.
• Election refers to God’s choosing whom to save. It is unconditional in that there is no condition man must meet before God chooses to save him. Man is dead in trespasses and sins. So there is no condition he can meet before God chooses to save him from his deadness.
• In Romans 9, Paul stresses the unconditionality of election.
• God’s election is preserved in its unconditionality because it is transacted before we are born or have done any good or evil.
• Ephesians 1:3-6 is another powerful statement of the unconditionality of our election and predestination to sonship.
• Perhaps the most important text of all in relation to the teaching of unconditional election is Romans 8:28-33.
• In other words, the calling of Romans 8:30 is irresistible, faith-creating grace.
• Therefore, what this magnificent text (Rom. 8:28-33) teaches is that God really accomplishes the complete redemption of his people from start to finish. He foreknows (that is, elects) a people for himself before the foundation of the world, he predestines this people to be conformed to the image of his Son, he calls them to himself in faith, he justifies them through that faith alone, and he finally glorifies them. And nothing can separate them from the love of God in Christ forever and ever (Rom. 8:39). To him be all praise and glory!
PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS
• It follows from what we saw in the last chapter that the people of God will persevere to the end and not be lost. The foreknown are predestined, the predestined are called, the called are justified, and the justified are glorified (Rom. 8:30). No one is lost from this group. To belong to this people is to be eternally secure.
• But we mean more than this by the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. We mean that the saints will and must persevere in faith and the obedience which comes from faith. Election is unconditional, but glorification is not. There are many warnings in Scripture that those who do not hold fast to Christ can be lost in the end.
• The following eight theses are my summary of this crucial doctrine. 1. Our faith must endure to the end if we are to be saved.
• Therefore what we mean when we say that faith must persevere to the end is that we must never come to a point of renouncing Christ with such hardness of heart that we can never return, but instead only prove ourselves to have been hypocrites in our professed faith. An example of such hardness is Esau.
• On the other hand the New Testament is at pains to make sure we do not despair thinking that backsliding and waywardness in sin is a one-way street. It is possible to repent and return. That process of wandering and returning is included in “the perseverance of the saints.”
2. Obedience, evidencing inner renewal from God, is necessary for final salvation.
• This is not to say that God demands perfection.
• But the New Testament does demand that we be morally changed and walk in newness of life.
• The perseverance of the saints is not the guarantee of perfection, but rather that God will keep us fighting the fight of faith so that we hate our sin and never make any lasting peace with it.
3. God’s elect cannot be lost.
• This is why we believe in eternal security—namely, the eternal security of the elect. The implication is that God will so work in us that those whom he has chosen for eternal salvation will be enabled by him to persevere in faith to the end and fulfill, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the requirements for a new kind of life.
• In other words, the promise of Jesus never to lose any of his sheep is the sovereign commitment of the Son of God to preserve the faith of the elect for whom he laid down his life.
4. There is a falling away of some believers, but if it persists, it shows that their faith was not genuine and they were not born of God.
• The fact that such a thing is possible is precisely why the ministry of the gospel in every local church must contain many admonitions to the church members to persevere in faith and not be entangled in those things which could possibly strangle them and result in their condemnation. Pastors do not know infallibly who of his listeners are the good soil and who are the bad. His warnings and exhortations to persevere are the way he helps the saints endure. They hear the warnings and take heed and thus authenticate their humble and good hearts of faith.
5. God justifies us completely through the first genuine act of saving faith, but this is the sort of faith that perseveres and bears fruit in the “obedience of faith”.
• The point here is the emphasis above on the necessity of persevering faith and obedience does not mean God is waiting to observe our perseverance and obedience before he declares us completely righteous in union with Jesus Christ.
• The point is that faith is a receiving of Christ who performed what we could not, a punishment for our sin and provision of our perfection. Faith is not the ground of our acceptance but the means or the instrument of union with Christ who alone is the ground of our acceptance with God.
• The role of the obedience in our justification is to give evidence that our faith is authentic.
6. God works to cause his elect to persevere.
• We are not left to ourselves in the fight of faith, and our assurance is rooted in the sovereign love of God to perform what he has called us to do.
• One of the most precious of all those promises relates the new covenant to God’s absolute commitment to cause us to persevere: “I will make with them an everlasting covenant that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me” (Jer. 32:40).
7. Therefore we should be zealous to confirm our calling and election.
• In other words we make eager efforts to trust the promises and power of God so deeply that sin is put to death in our lives by the Spirit and the goal of love is joyfully pursued. Faith working through love (Gal. 5:6) is the way we make our calling and election sure.
8. Perseverance is a community project.
• God never meant us to fight the fight of faith alone. We are to fight for each other.
• These ten points are my personal testimony to the effects of believing in the five points of Calvinism—the doctrines of grace.
1. These truths make me stand in awe of God and lead me into the depth of true God-centered worship.
2. These truths help protect me from trifling with divine things.
• The greatness of God that stands forth from the doctrines of grace has been a weighty ballast in my boat. It gives me great joy, and guards my heart from the plague of silliness.
3. These truths make me marvel at my own salvation.
4. These truths make me alert to man-centered substitutes that pose as good news.
• These doctrines are a bulwark against man-centered teachings in many forms that gradually corrupt the church and make her weak from the inside, all the while looking strong or popular.
5. These truths make me groan over the indescribable disease of our secular, God-belittling culture.
• Christians exist to reassert the reality of God and the supremacy of God in all of life. We are therefore in need of a great awakening. These truths keep me aware of that and impel me to pray toward it. For only a sovereign work of God can make it happen.
6. These truths make me confident that the work which God planned and began, he will finish—both globally and personally.
• The truth that God will use all his sovereign power to keep me for himself is supremely precious.
7. These truths make me see everything in the light of God’s sovereign purposes—that from him and through him and to him are all things, to him be glory forever and ever.
8. These truths make me hopeful that God has the will, the right, and the power to answer prayer that people be changed.
• Prayer is where most Christians sound like Calvinists.
9. These truths remind me that evangelism is absolutely essential for people to come to Christ and be saved, and that there is great hope for success in leading people to faith, but that conversion is not finally dependent on me or limited by the hardness of the unbeliever.
10. These truths make me sure that God will triumph in the end.
• The aim of this book has been to persuade the mind concerning biblical truth and thus awaken a deeper experience of God’s sovereign grace.
• To this end, I have gathered here some testimonies of what these truths have meant to some great Christians of the past.
Augustine of Hippo (354–430)
A thousand years before the Reformation, Augustine savored the sovereignty of grace in his own life. He was resoundingly converted by the irresistible grace of God after leading a dissolute life. For Augustine, the truth of irresistible grace was the foundation of his prayers for the conversion of the lost and of his thanks to God when they were converted.
Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758)
Jonathan Edwards, the great New England preacher and theologian, had an equally deep love for these truths.
George Whitefield (1714–1770)
Whitefield was a great evangelist and said, “I embrace the Calvinistic scheme, not because Calvin, but Jesus Christ has taught it to me.”
George Mueller (1805–1898)
George Mueller is famous for the orphanages he founded and the amazing faith he had to pray for God’s provision. Not many people know the theology that undergirded that great ministry.
Charles Spurgeon (1834–1892)
Spurgeon quote: “I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and him crucified, unless we preach what is nowadays called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else.”
Spurgeon started a college for pastors and was intent that the key to being a worthy teacher in the church was to grasp these doctrines of grace.
Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. Crossway Books. 2003. 191 pages.
Tammy and I always look forward to picking out our “vacation books”. This book was my “vacation book” for a trip to Orlando a few years back. This is a powerful and life changing book. In this extended look at the book, I will try to focus on the use of the concept of a wasted life. My recommendation to you is to READ and meditate on this book!
In the “Preface” to the book, Dr. Piper writes: “It was not always plain to me that pursuing God’s glory would be virtually the same as my joy. Now I see that millions of people waste their lives because they think these paths are two and not one.” “Please know that I am praying for you, whether you are a student dreaming something radical for your life, or whether you are retired and hoping not to waste your final years. My joy grows with every soul that seeks the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Remember, you have one life. That’s all. You were made for God. Don’t waste it.”
Dr. Piper tells his story in the first two chapters of this book so the reader can know what he means by glorifying God. “Compounding the problem was that many who seemed to emphasize the glory of God in their thinking did not seem to enjoy Him much. And many who seemed to enjoy God most were defective in their thinking about His glory. But now here was the greatest mind of early America, Jonathan Edwards, saying that God’s purpose for my life was that I have a passion for God’s glory and that I have a passion for my joy in that glory, and that these two are one passion.” “God created me – and you – to live with a single all-embracing, all transforming passion – namely, a passion to glorify God by enjoying and displaying His supreme excellence in all the spheres of life. Enjoying and displaying are both crucial. If we try to display the excellence of God without joy in it, we will display a shell of hypocrisy and create scorn or legalism. But if we claim to enjoy His excellence and do not display it for others to see and admire, we deceive ourselves, because the mark of God-enthralled joy is to overflow and expand by extending itself into the hearts of others. The wasted life is the life without a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples.”
Piper, who is not ashamed of his affection for Jonathan Edwards, writes, “I thank God that Edwards did not waste his life”. Later in that same chapter, “We waste our lives when we do not pray and think and dream and plan and work toward magnifying God in all spheres of life.” A few pages later, in writing about loving
people, he writes: “Every good work should be a revelation of the glory of God. What makes the good deed an act of love is not the raw act, but the passion and the sacrifice to make God Himself known as glorious. Not to aim to show God is not to love, because God is what we need most deeply. And to have all else without Him is to perish in the end. The Bible says that you can give away all that you have and deliver your body to be burned and have not love (1 Corinthians 13:3). If you don’t point people to God for everlasting joy, you don’t love. You waste your life.”
In discussing the single passion for which we were made, he writes: “God created us to live with a single passion to joyfully display His supreme excellence in all the spheres of life. The wasted life is the life without this passion.” Later in that chapter, “Life is wasted if we do not grasp the glory of the cross, cherish it for the treasure that it is and cleave to it as the greatest price of every pleasure and the deepest comfort in every pain.”
In discussing the passion of the apostle Paul, Dr. Piper says, “Nobody had a more single-minded vision for his life than Paul did. He could say it in many different ways. He could say: ‘I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God’ (Acts 20:24). One thing mattered: ‘I will not waste my life! I will finish my course and finish it well. I will display the Gospel of the grace of God in all I do. I will run my race to the end”.
In discussing the God-glorifying life, he writes: “Therefore every enjoyment in this life and the next that is not idolatry is a tribute to the infinite value of the cross of Christ – the burning center of the glory of God. And thus a cross-centered, cross-exalting, cross-saturated life is a God-glorifying life – the only God-glorifying life.
All others are wasted.
Dr. Piper mentions that the book that “set fire” to the faith of thousands in his generation was The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonheoffer. “Probably the most famous and life-shaping sentence in the book was, ‘The cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise God-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die’. Fleeing from death is the shortest path to a wasted life.
On that same page, Piper continues with” “A life devoted to making much of Christ is costly. And the cost is both a consequence and a means of making much of Him. If we do not embrace the path of joy-laden, painful love, we will waste our lives. “If Christ is not made much of in our lives, they are wasted. We exist to make Him appear in the world as what He really is – magnificent. If our life and death do not show the worth and wonder of Jesus, they are wasted. That is why Paul said that his aim in life and death was “that…Christ be honored”.
In discussing running from pain, he writes: “This design for the Christian life is so crucial that we should open our eyes to see how extensively the Bible speaks about it. Untold numbers of professing Christians waste their lives trying to escape the cost of love. They do not see that it is always worth it. There is more of God’s glory to be seen and savored through suffering than through self-serving escape”.
In discussing the promise and design of God, he writes: “But when all is said and done, the promise and design of God for people who do not waste their lives is clear: ‘All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted’ (2 Timothy 3:12). A few paragraphs later, Dr. Piper continues: “What a tragic waste
when people turn away from the Calvary road of love and suffering. All the riches of the glory of God in Christ are on that road. All the sweetest fellowship with Jesus is there. All the treasures of assurance. All the ecstasies of joy. All the clearest sightings of eternity. All the noblest camaraderie. All the humblest affections. All the most tender acts of forgiving kindness. All the deepest discoveries of God’s Word. All the most earnest prayers. They are all on the Calvary road where Jesus walks with His people. Take up your cross and follow Jesus. On this road, and this road alone, life is Christ and death is gain. Life on every other road is wasted.
In a chapter on risk (which has since been expanded into a short book titled Risk is Right), the author writes: “If our single, all-embracing passion is to make much of Christ in life and death, and if the life that magnifies Him most is the life of costly love, then life is risk, and risk is right. To run from it is to waste your life.” “But what happens when the people of God do not escape from the beguiling enchantment of security? What happens if they try to live their lives in the mirage of safety? The answer is wasted lives.” “On the far side of every risk – even if it results in death – the love of God triumphs. This is the faith that frees us to risk for the cause of God. It is not heroism, or lust for adventure, or courageous, self-reliance, or efforts to earn God’s favor. It is childlike faith in the triumph of God’s love – that on the other side of all our risks, for the sake of righteousness, God will still be holding us. We will be eternally satisfied in Him. Nothing will have been wasted.”
He concludes the chapter with: “Therefore, it is right to risk for the cause of Christ. It is right to engage the enemy and say, ‘May the LORD do what seems good to Him.’ It is right to serve the people of God, and say ‘If I perish, I perish!’ It is right to stand before the fiery furnace of affliction and refuse to bow down to the gods of this world. This is the road that leads to fullness of joy and pleasure forevermore. At the end of every other road – secure and risk-free – we will put our face in our hands and say, ‘I’ve wasted it!””
In his chapter on “Gladly Making Others Glad in God”, Piper begins with: “Don’t start raising objections about the hard cases. I am talking about a spirit, not a list of criteria for when we do this or that. Nor am I talking about wimpy grace that can’t rebuke or discipline or fight. The question is, do we lean toward mercy? Do we default to grace? Do we have a forgiving spirit? Without it we will walk away from need and waste our lives”. “Forgiveness is essentially God’s way of removing the great obstacle to our fellowship with Him. By cancelling our sin and paying for it with the death of His own Son, God opens the way for us to see Him and know Him and enjoy Him forever. Seeing and savoring Him is the goal of forgiveness. Soul-satisfying fellowship with our Father is the aim of the cross. If we love being forgiven for other reasons alone, we are not forgiven, and we will waste our lives.” “By gladly pursuing the gladness of others in God – even at the cost of our lives – we love them and honor God. This is the opposite of a wasted life.”
In the chapter entitled “Living to Prove He is More Precious than Life”, the author writes: “To make others glad in God with an everlasting gladness, our lives must show that He is more precious than life. ‘Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you’ (Psalm 63:3). To do this we must make sacrificial life choices rooted in the assurance that magnifying Christ through generosity and mercy is more satisfying than selfishness. If we walk away from risk to keep ourselves safe and solvent, we will waste our lives. “Oh, how many lives are wasted by people who believe that the Christian life means simply avoiding badness and providing for the family. So there is no adultery, no stealing, no killing, no embezzlement, no fraud – just lots of hard work during the day and lots of TV and PG-13 videos in the evening (during quality family time), and lots of fun stuff on the weekend – woven around church (mostly). This is life for millions of people. Wasted life. We were created for more, far more.”
In writing about television, Dr. Piper writes” “Television is one of the greatest life wasters of the modern age. And, of course, the Internet is running to catch up, and may have caught up. You can be more selective on the Internet, but you can also select worse things with only the Judge of the universe watching. TV still reigns as the great life-waster.”
Late in that chapter, he writes: “At these moments, when the trifling fog clears and I see what I am really on earth to do, I groan over the petty pursuits that waste so many lives – and so much of mine. Just think of the magnitude of sports – a whole section of the daily newspaper. But there is no section on God. Think of the endless resources for making your home and garden more comfortable and impressive. Think of how many tens of thousands of dollars you can spend to buy more cars than you need. Think of the time and energy and conversation that go into entertainment and leisure and what we can and what call “fun stuff”. And add to that now the computer that artificially recreates the very games that are already so distant from reality, it is like a multi-layered dream world of insignificance expanding into nothingness.”
After quoting a passage from James Bradley’s Flags of our Fathers, he writes: “As I read that, I thought of all the things that high school kids think is cool. I sat on the porch where I was reading and thought, O God, who will get in their face and give them something to live for? They waste their lives in a trance of insignificance,
trying to look cool or talk cool or walk cool. They don’t have a clue what cool is.”
“Of course, we do not use the word cool to describe true greatness. It is a small word. That’s the point. It’s cheap. And it’s what millions of young people live for. Who confronts them with urgency and tears? Who pleads with them not to waste their lives? Who takes them by the collar, so to speak, and loves them enough to show them a life so radical and so real and so costly and Christ-saturated that they feel the emptiness and triviality of their CD collection and their pointless conversations about passing celebrities? Who will waken what lies latent in their souls, untapped – a longing not to waste their lives?
In the chapter on work, Dr. Piper writes: “In this way we fellowship with God, listening to Him through His Word and thanking Him and praising Him and calling on Him for all we need. It is an honor to God if you stay in your secular job “with God” in this way. This is not a wasted life.” When you work like this – no matter
what your vocation is – you can have a sweet sense of peace at the end of the day. It has not been wasted.” “So the third way we make much of God in our secular work is by having such high standards of excellence and such integrity and such manifest goodwill that we put no obstacles in the way of the Gospel but rather call attention to the all-satisfying beauty of Christ. When we adorn the Gospel with our work, we are not wasting our lives.” “We honor God by earning our living because this clears the way for non-Christians to see Christ for who He really is. Aimless, unproductive Christians contradict the creative, purposeful, powerful, merciful God we love. They waste their lives”. “Jesus calls us to be aliens and exiles in the world. Not by taking us out of the world, but by changing, at the root, how we view the world and how we do our work in it. If we simply work to earn a living – if we labor for the bread that perishes – we will waste our lives. But if we labor with the sweet assurance that God will supply all our needs – that Christ died to purchase every undeserved blessing – then all our labor will be a labor of love and a boasting only in the cross.”
As he concludes the chapter on work, he writes “…secular work is not a waste when we make much of Christ from 8 to 5. God’s will in this age is that His people be scattered like salt and light in all legitimate vocations. His aim is to be known, because knowing Him is life and joy. He does not call us out of the world. He does not remove the need to work. He does not destroy society and culture. Through His scattered saints He spreads a passion for His supremacy in all things for the joy of all peoples. If you work like the world, you will waste your life, no matter how rich you get. But if your work creates a web of redemptive relationships and becomes an adornment for the Gospel of the glory of Christ, your satisfaction will last forever and God will be exalted in your joy”.
In his chapter on missions, Dr. Piper writes: “….so He raised up leaders for the Layman’s Missionary Movement who spoke up with such prophetic power that thousands of laymen caught the vision for God’s global purposes. The leader of the movement was not a missionary and not a pastor. He was a businessman. The
partnership that emerged between students, who were going, and businessmen, who were sending, was profound, because there were God-centered visionary leaders in both groups. Both were moved by the same passion not to waste their lives.”
In the final chapter, he prays: “O Father, grant your church to love Your glory more than gold – to cease her love affair with comfort and security. Grant that we seek the kingdom first and let the other things come as You will. Grant that the firm finality of our security in Christ frees us to risk our home and health and money on the earth. Help us to see that if we try to guard our wealth, instead of using it to show it’s not our god, then we will waste our lives, however we succeed”.
He concludes with this prayer:
“Forbid that any, Lord, who read these words would have to say someday, “I’ve wasted it.” But grant, by Your almighty Spirit and Your piercing Word, that we who name Christ as the Lord would treasure Him above our lives, and feel, deep in our souls, that Christ is life and death is gain. And so may we display His worth for all to see. And by our prizing Him may He be praised in all the world. May He be magnified in life and death. May every neighborhood and nation see how joy in Jesus frees His people from the power of greed and fear”. “Let love flow from your saints, and may it, Lord, be this: that even if it costs our lives, the people will be glad in God. ‘Let the peoples praise You, O God; let all he peoples praise You! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy.’ Take your honored place, O Christ, as the all-satisfying Treasure of the world. With trembling hands before the throne of God, and utterly dependent on Your grace, we life our voice and make this solemn vow: As God lives, and is all I ever need, I will not waste my life…”
I cannot recommend this book too highly. How we so not want to waste our lives.