The Legacy of Sovereign Joy: God’s Triumphant Grace in the Lives of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin

John Piper

160 pages

Crossway Books (2000)

Recommend: Yes

Genre: Biography/Church History

Introduction:

Aurelius Augustine [354-430]. Martin Luther [1483-1546]. John Calvin [1509-1564]. When we think of these men, we often get the picture of stained-glass saints who had some sort of deep unknowable union with God which we will never experience as they did.

John Piper, in this part one of The Swans Are Not Silent series, examines the lives of these three men with their imperfections who beheld the glory of God and were transformed by the work of the “sovereign joy” of His grace.

Book Structure:

Neatly structured, the book begins with an introduction into all three men and how they all shared the passion to “. . . display above all things the glory of God through the exaltation of his omnipotent grace” (p.24). Piper then follows with part 1 as he gazes at the life of Augustine who abandoned all earthly pleasure for the sake of the “liberating power of holy pleasure.”

Following suit, part 2 focuses on Luther and his passion for the studying of the Word which led to his finding of the unadulterated gospel which ultimately paved the way to the Reformation itself.

Part 3 then looks at Calvin and his astonishment of the majesty of God revealed in Scripture which molded him to be a preacher of the Word and to proclaim it to the common people who had been denied it for so long. The book then finishes with four very practical lessons to be gleaned from the lives of these flawed saints whom God graciously used to reflect, however dimly, the glory of Himself.

Notable Quotes:

  • “God ordains that we gaze on his glory, dimly mirrored in the ministry of his flawed servants. He intends for us to consider their lives and peer through the imperfections of their faith and behold the beauty of their God . . . . The history of the world is a field strewn with broken stones, which are sacred altars designed to waken worship in the hearts of those will take time to read and remember . . . . Those who nurture their hope in the history of grace will live their lives to the glory of God” (pp.17,18).
  • “Beware of replacing the pure mountain of Scripture with the sullied streams of great saints. They are precious, but they are not pure” (p.37).
  • “We need to make plain that total depravity is not just badness, but blindness to beauty and deadness to joy; and unconditional election means that the completeness of our joy in Jesus was planned for us before we ever existed; and that limited atonement is the assurance that indestructible joy in God is infallibly secured by the blood of the covenant; and irresistible grace is the commitment and power of God’s love to make sure we don’t hold on to suicidal pleasures, and to set us free by the sovereign power of superior delights; and that the perseverance of the saints is the almighty work of God to keep us, through all affliction and suffering, for an inheritance of pleasures at God’s right hand forever” (p.73).
  • “Prayer is the echo of the freedom and sufficiency of God in the heart of powerless man” (pp.110-111).
  • “The quest for holiness is the quest for satisfaction in God. And satisfaction in God is a divine gift of sovereign joy . . . . The battle for holiness is a battle to be fought mainly by fueling the fires of our passion for Christ” (pp.145,146).

Conclusion:

Though small and non-exhaustive, this book serves as a general introduction into these three men who unquestionably made an indelible impression on this world for the glory of God.

These men, though centuries apart from me, have become my dearest friends. In seeing the lives of these men, I see myself and my complete inadequacy before a holy and righteous God. They weren’t great at all, but they did serve a God who, under no obligation, used them mightily to turn this world upside down (or better said, rightside up). My heart’s passion has been rekindled by the gazing of these men who understood the glory of God better than I ever will. I hope it does the same for you.

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