Filling Up the Afflictions of Christ, the fifth installment in John Piper’s excellent series of biographical sketches, looks at the lives of William Tyndale, Adoniram Judson, and John Paton. The book’s title is taken from Colossians 1:24 where the apostle Paul says that he rejoices in his suffering, “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” Piper makes clear at the outset his contention that suffering, and ultimately martyrdom, are not just the result of obedience to spread the gospel, but that it is one of God’s explicit, intentional strategies for making Christ known to the world. He explains that Paul was not saying that there is anything lacking in the worth of Christ’s suffering, but in the extent to which they are known and trusted and loved among the vast majority of the world’s population. More than that, he contends that God’s purpose is “for the afflictions of Christ to be presented to the world through the afflictions of His people.”
The first biographical sketch is of William Tyndale. Before his death in 1536 by strangulation and burning at the stake, he gave the world the first English translation of the New Testament, and a good portion of the Old Testament. His translation of the New Testament was the first to be made from the Greek text rather than the Latin. Piper examines the theological climate in which Tyndale lived, and discusses the parallels between Tyndale and the Roman Catholic scholar Erasmus, and looks at why the established church of that day was so hostile to the idea of having the Bible available in English.
The story of John Paton, Scottish missionary to the New Hebrides beginning in 1824 A.D., is a story I heard often in my youth from my pastor. Piper chooses to highlight Paton’s courage: courage to overcome criticism at home and false accusations; the courage to continue after the deaths of his wife and children; and the courage needed to face the threats to his life from hostile native people and tropical illness. Piper then examines both the source and results of Piper’s courage.
If a seasoned missionary advised you not to go to the foreign field to which you believed God had called you, would you still go? This is the situation Adoniram Judson faced when William Carey told him not to go to Burma. But the twenty-four-year-old and his young bride did go, staying until his death thirty-eight years later. Piper focuses attention on Judson’s faith in God’s sovereignty throughout a life of suffering: “If I had not felt certain that every additional trial was ordered by infinite love and mercy, I could not have survived my accumulated sufferings.” Such faith was not only a legacy from his godly father, but also a result of his own absolute confidence in the Bible. It was this faith that enabled him to endure seventeen months in prison; to bear the loss of two wives and several children; and to persevere in completing a translation of the Burmese Bible and a dictionary.
The book concludes with Piper’s characteristic pastoral exhortation. After a brief outline of current ethnolinguistic statistics, the reality of martyrdom in the work of spreading the gospel, and the question of the importance of suffering and martyrdom in world evangelism, Piper writes: “My hope for this book is that our hearts and minds have been shaped more deeply by the work of the Spirit, so that when the crisis comes, we will be guided more by the ways of God and less by the worldly assumptions of security and comfort. . . . And let us resolve to set our faces like flint on the path of obedience and never turn back. And with a full grasp of the possible cost before us, and with full courage because of Christ, let us walk softly to every unreached people that remains.” Highly recommended. – Pamela Glass, www.ChristianBookPreviews.com
The fifth volume in Piper's acclaimed The Swans Are Not Silent series illustrates powerful and enduring lessons through the missional sufferings of Tyndale, Judson, and Paton.
Jesus' words in John 12 are sobering: unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it will bear little fruit. The history of Christianity's expansion proves that God's strategy for reaching unreached peoples with the gospel includes the sufferings of his frontline heralds-the missionaries who willingly die a thousand daily deaths to advance God's kingdom.
Pastor John Piper's latest addition to The Swans Are Not Silent series focuses on this flesh-and-blood reality in the lives of William Tyndale, Adoniram Judson, and John Paton. The price they paid to translate the Word of God, to pave the way for missionary mobilization around the world, and to lead the hostile to Christ was great. Yet their stories show in triplicate how the gospel advances not only through the faithful proclamation of the truth but through representing the afflictions of Christ in our sufferings.