In the second part of Piper's eulogies to great men of the faith, in 'The Swans Are Not Silent' series, we get to meet Bunyan, Cowper (pronounced Cooper) and Brainerd. The introduction to the book brings us to an important aspect of the Christian life: the fruit of affliction. It is by these means of trials and tests, that God shapes the character of the lives of men and women, who lay claim to being Christ's. The cost of discipleship is ravaging, demanding, painful and yet, brings much glory to God, only if we continue to see His good in our circumstances.
Of this school, John Bunyan was an unchallenged leader. Most probably the most famous of Puritan preachers and pastors, the Bedford tinker grew in stature and favor with the English folk, which extends right to this day. Those that say Bunyan only had to agree to not preaching without a licence, at no other cost was his gaol term enforced, fail to know those days. As Piper explains, they were the non-conformists, who refused to bow the knee to the Church of England with her popish traditions and catholic conventions. If you read Bunyan's sermons, you will readily see the sort of principle he disagreed with. For example, that they had a Common Prayer Book, and for every circumstance, Holy Day, or gathering, they were required to pray from it word-for-word. NO! says Bunyan, for 'I will pray by the Spirit and by my understanding!' 1 Cor 14:15
What really touched my heart was that Bunyan confessed he loved his oldest daughter most. Blind from birth, she was his weak spot. During the twelve years imprisonment when she had occasion to visit with his second wife, he claims that it was extremely hard to part with her. A father's heart! If ever he needed an excuse to conform and be released from prison, she was there. Yet God graciously supplied in His means of grace to Bunyan.
Quote: 'Let me beg of thee, that thou wilt not be offended either with God, or men, if the cross is laid heavy upon thee. Not with God, for He doth nothing without a cause, nor with men, for...they are the servants of God to thee for good. Take therefore what comes to thee from God by them, thankfully.'
It were as if Bunyan saw Christ in his tormentors, and heard Christ plead with him to transfer their guilt, their actions, onto Christ, and thus be free to love them. Bunyan is with reason well-loved.
William Cowper was a church hymnist and could rise above his melancholy to deliver the most beautiful odes of praise to God. Suffering from bouts of depression, he regularly had to keep the foes of darkness at bay, and dug deeply from the wells of grace to bring forth his fruit, much of which is still well-known and in use today.
Brainerd was made public by Jonathan Edwards, the great American theologian. Brainerd was a missionary who lived in the most depriving of conditions amongst the Indians he was doing missionary work to. He also had ailments and was ill during most of his missionary effort, yet continued to thank God for every breath and word he was able to bring. God sustained him and then He mercifully took him away, at a relatively young age. Missionaries who are pitted against hardship, tests, deaths of various kinds, always refer to Brainerd's work for exhortation.
This is a remarkable book in the sense that these men were principled and knew not the easy way out. They continued to live out their witness, knowing that it was the Holy Spirit at work in their life's calling, despite the odds being stacked against them. In good times and tough, God was sovereignly ruling their lives.