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The Hidden Smile Of God: The Fruit of Affliction in the Lives of John Bunyan, William Cowper, and David Brainerd Paperback – Feb 28 2008
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About the Author
John Piper (DTheol, University of Munich) is the founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. He served for 33 years as the senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and is the author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God, Don't Waste Your Life, This Momentary Marriage, Bloodlines, and Does God Desire All to Be Saved?
Top Customer Reviews
The first section is on the life of John Bunyan, best known for writing The Pilgrim's Progress, one of the best-selling books of all times, although he wrote at least fifty-seven other books. Bunyan was a "brasyer", a tinker who became a nonconformist preacher. He suffered in many ways throughout his life, including spending 12 years in jail away from his wife and children for refusing to stop preaching. Bunyan's imprisonment drove him to God's word, and developed in him a keen sense of the presence of Christ. Hie suffering and what he wrote about suffering in the life of the Christian can teach us much about following Christ in difficult times.
Next up is William Cowper, who suffered from from depression and insanity, and yet left behind marvelous hymns of God's goodness that we still sing two hundred years later. He is proof of the truth of one of his most famous hymns, God Moves in a Mysterious Way His Wonders to Perform.
And then there's David Brainerd.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This is the second in a series of books called, The Swans are Not Silent. Each book in this series takes a theme and then examines that theme in the Scripture and the lives of believers of the past. The theme of this work is suffering and affliction.
As always, Piper stretches our faith well beyond the normal comfort zones of evangelical thought. One can feel hid sorrow as Buyan parted from his family to spend 12 years in prison. It was in that prison however, that Pilrgims Progress was born. Piper carries us with William Cowper into the darkness of an insane asylum where in utter despair he finally found the grace and mercy of God. From that darkness Cowper broke into glorious light, writing that great hymn, There is a Fountain Filled With Blood. We are transported back to the apparent failure of David Brainerd as he was expelled from Yale for questioning the salvation of an instructor. We walk with Brainerd through his short years as a missionary to the Indians. Piper reminds us that none of us know what waves will spread out from a pebble dropped into the ocean of God's will.
The Hidden Smile of God is the kind of book that you won't put down once you open it. This is a much needed book in our day. So-called Christian broadcasting is beaming a message around the world of feel-good easiness. It may be a hard word to embrace but it is true. God's people are not spared from affliction and trouble. They are brought through these things in the grace and mercy of God.
Piper gives us a good introduction to Bunyan, the tinker turned Baptist preacher who spent twelve years in Bedford jail in the 1600's because he wouldn't promise to quit preaching. Bunyan was also the author of The Pilgrim's Progress - probably the most widely-read Christian book besides the Bible ever published. Piper shows how Bunyan learned the secret to enduring suffering by "seeing God who is invisible." This sketch is a great encouragement to persevere.
The second biography is of a different sort, looking at the life of the melancholy poet, William Cowper, who authored the best hymn on God's providence ever written, "God Moves in a Mysterious Way." Cowper's life was checkered with depression, insanity, and multiple suicide attempts - a strange candidate for a Christian hero. Yet, Piper shows how through John Newton's tireless encouragement, Cowper managed to find windows of hope in his all but despair-filled life. It is a sad story, but an encouraging one. Those who appreciate poetry and the agony of soul that often breeds it, will appreciate this sketch of Cowper.
The third sketch covers the life of David Brainerd, the Yale student who was expelled for an untimely word, and became a missionary to the Indians. Despite tuberculosis and harsh living conditions, Brainerd pressed on in the wearisome labor of translation and preaching for the conversion of dozens of Indians. Drawing from the diary and journal compiled by Jonathan Edwards, Piper shows how Brainerd's fasting, prayer, and study helped sustain him through unmitigated suffering and affliction in the work of evangelizing the heathen - and how his example has inspired generations of missionaries (William Carey, Henry Martyn, and Jim Elliot to name a few) ever since. Brainerd's great passion was well expressed in his own words: "O that I may not loiter in my heavenly journey!" What an example.
These biographical masterpieces were first delivered as lectures at the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where Dr. Piper pastors. The audio cassettes are available from their ministry outreach (web site). I recommend these without reserve to those who want to be encouraged in the midst of suffering for the sake of the Kingdom.
In a country where suffering is avoided at all costs and seen by many as spiritual weakness, the lives of Bunyan, Cowper and Brainerd shout a different story about the sovereign hand of God in the lives of His children. 1 Peter chapter 4 tells us that we should not consider suffering strange, but rather as a sign that the Lord truly is in control and that He is working out our salvation for His own glory through our hardships. Looking back at the lives of these three saints, it is easy to see how God has been glorified in their struggles - from the writings of Bunyan to the poems and hymns of Cowper to the effectual call to ministry that the life of Brainerd has had on hundreds if not thousands who followed him. While these three struggled greatly, many have tasted the fruit of eternal peace from their hardships.
All four books of this series are outstanding - highly recommended for all Christians to read. Piper introduces us to some great men of the faith and challenges us with their lives to walk in a manner worthy of our calling as those who went before us have done.
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.
I survived his laughter all thru my police career with NOPD.
We read their stories and wonder how they endured. How does one survive twelve years in a dank prison cell? How does one survive month after month of a depression so debilitating that death seems the only hope? How does one endure tuberculosis? Or cancer, or emptiness, or death, or loneliness, or divorce? Whatever the trial may be, how does one endure without the soul shriveling up and blowing away with the breeze?