Tested By Fire:

The fruit of suffering in the lives of John Bunyan, William Cowper and David Brainerd.

You may not be familiar with the names above - Bunyan maybe, who wrote The Pilgrims Progress. But the other two are by no means obscure: -- David Brainerd died aged 27 taking the Gospel message to the major tribes of teh American Indians. His story was made famous by Jonathan Edwards as one of the great testimonies of the Revival.

Piper describes them in this book as 'swans' - beautiful things far out-reaching those around them. However, each was familar with suffering -  of the physical kind, but also of the mental kind. The book is of course worth a read, but three stories are worth telling below to whet your appetite.
 
  1. John Bunyan spent 12 years in a prison he could have walked out of any day - if only he would agree not to preach the gospel. He sufferd in losing his health, his wealth and his family. Extreme, some may say, but the understanding he came to have of the place of suffering in the life of the believer has informed much of what is known today. He lived over 350 years ago and wrote over 60 books - most of which are still in print today. 
 
  1. William Cowper had already had three bouts of depression and was convalescing. He left his house with a mind to go down to the river to throw himself in and kill himself. However, he was met with a vision - a ray of sunshine from heaven. He went back to his house and wrote the hymn which contains these words: "Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His Grace... God is His own interpreter, and He will make it plain."
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  3. David Brainerd experienced the same stigma against mental illness that we can still see today. When Jonathan Edwards published his diaries, he left out the six pages that described his blackest moods as somehow inconsistent with the man. Brainerd wrote, "My whole soul was unspeakably bewildered... I thought my convictions were all gone and that seemed dreadful."
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Piper's writing is at times melancholic itself, and he gives quite a few hints that he himself has learnt much through these men - and the many other Puritans he has biographied over the years. The text is occassionally old-fashioned - but the themes are crisp and the truths eternal!
 
John Piper, 03/05/2014