"The Legacy of Sovereign Joy: God's Triumphant Grace in the Lives of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin" by John Piper

Joanne Erickson
Tuesday, June 12th 2007
Mar/Apr 2001

In 426 A.D., Augustine handed over leadership of his church to his assistant, Eraclius. Overwhelmed by his own inadequacy and fearing his predecessor's voice would be lost, Eraclius lamented, "The cricket chirps, the swan is silent."

A thousand years later, Augustine's doctrine of grace reverberated through the voice of John Hus, who was burned at the stake for convictions that anticipated the Reformation by one hundred years. Hus wrote in his cell before dying, "Today you are burning a goose [ "Hus" in Czech]; however, a hundred years from now, you will be able to hear a swan sing…[and] you will have to listen to him." Augustine's song of grace crescendoed in Luther and Calvin. In 1531, Luther wrote, "John Hus prophesied of me … from his prison in Bohemia: 'They will now … roast a goose but after a hundred years they will hear a swan sing; him they will have to tolerate.' And so it shall continue, if it please God."

John Piper, senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis since 1980 and director of Desiring God Ministries, continues singing this song of divine grace in The Legacy of Sovereign Joy, which opens his series, "The Swans Are Not Silent." A compilation of biographical sketches originally presented at the annual Bethlehem Conference for Pastors, the book centers on the lives of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin, who experienced God's grace and then built their ministries upon it. In a post-modern and post-Christian culture hostile to this grace, pastors and laity must follow their example.

Piper's premise is that saving, converting grace is a divine gift of "sovereign" (or uncontested) "joy" (or rest in God) that triumphs over all other joys and sways the will. Sovereign joy freed Augustine from sin's "pleasant slavery": "You drove [fruitless joys] from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy… and took their place." Sovereign joy in justification by faith propelled Luther's love for study of God's Word. Sovereign joy in the self-authenticating supremacy of God as revealed in his Word fueled Calvin's zeal and his relentless consistency in preaching.

Above the Reformed doctrine of salvation, Piper hears a descant of God's grace as the sovereign joy that frees us from sin's bondage:

total depravity is not just badness, but blindness…and deadness to joy;… unconditional election means…our joy in Jesus was planned for us before we ever existed;… limited atonement [means] indestructible joy in God is infallibly secured for us …;… irresistible grace is the commitment and power of God's love to make sure we don't hold on to suicidal pleasures, [because we have been] set … free by the sovereign power of superior delights; and … the perseverance of the saints is the almighty work of God to keep us…for an inheritance of pleasures at God's right hand forever [p. 73]. Sovereign joy, the essence of grace, grants "gutsy guilt"-a freedom from the paralysis

that can come with the perception of our weaknesses or flaws. It sets the battle for sanctification at the level of what we love. The majesty of God revealed in his Word severs our will from the root of sin.

These swans are not silent. Their songs of triumphant grace continue to be sung in The Legacy of Sovereign Joy. And so they shall continue to sing as long as it pleases God.

Tuesday, June 12th 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
Magazine Covers; Embodiment & Technology