This is Book No. 5 in the series The Swans Are Not Silent. Piper explains the series title in the Preface, where he writes, "By swans I mean the inspiring lives of faithful Christians in history. They are not silent in the sense that their lives still speak powerfully for our encouragement and guidance. He then quotes Eraclius at the retirement of Augustine as Bishop of Hippo in A.D. 430 when he said, "The cricket chirps, the swan is silent." Piper wrote when he read that, he thought, "No, Eraclius the swans are not silent. They go on speaking. That is, they continue speaking if someone tells their story and gives them a voice."
Concerning the book title, Piper explains in his Introduction that it is based on Colossians 1:24 where Paul wrote, "I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church." His point is that "this voluntary suffering and death to save others is not only the content but it is also the method of our mission." He then illustrates this principle by reviewing the lives and work of William Tyndale, the English Reformation leader who translated the Bible into the English language and was burned at the stake for it in 1536; John G. Paton, Scottish missionary to the island of Tanna in the South Pacific's New Hebrides chain beginning in 1824; and Adoniram Judson, the American missionary to the southeast Asian country of Burma, now Myanmar.
Other books in the series are The Legacy of Sovereign Joy: God's Triumphant Grace in the Lives of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin; The Hidden Smile of God: The Fruit of Affliction in the Lives of John Bunyan, William Cowper, and David Brainerd; The Roots of Endurance: Invincible Perseverance in the Lives of John Newton, Charles Simeon, and William Wilberforce; and Contending for Our All: Defending Truth and Treasuring Christ in the Lives of Athanasius, John Owen, and J. Gresham Machen. You must remember that Piper is an evangelical Calvinist, so some of the doctrines of evangelical Calvinism, like salvation by faith alone and total hereditary depravity, pop up from time to time. However, the men whom he discusses were all important figures in religious history who have a lot to tell us. Whether we agree with everything which they taught or not, we can admire their conviction to stand up for what they believed in and learn the important lessons which their attitudes and actions can teach us.
John Piper has a series of books titles The Swans are not Silent in which he writes mini-biographies of some of the martyrs of the faith. Piper gives a little background on the lives of those he writes about but he mainly focuses on the ministerial hardships each man faced.
In book five, Filling up the Afflictions of Christ (title taken from Colossians 1:24), Piper writes about three giants of the faith, William Tyndale, Adoniram Judson and John Patton. Each of these men gave their lives to take the Gospel to the nations.
William Tyndale was the first to translate the Bible into English, a task the Catholic Church told him not to partake of. In 1536 the church had him strangled then burned at the stake. Piper writes about the environment that Tyndale lived in and how it led to his death.
John Patton was a Scottish missionary to the New Hebrides in 1824. He lost his wife and children, fought false accusations and had courage to face threats from the natives, all the while never losing sight of the call that God had given to reach those people with the gospel.
Adoniram Judson, at the age of 24, took his young bride to Burma. He lived among those people for 38 years during which time he spent 17 months in prison, lost two wives and several children.
Piper writes about each man in a heart wrenching fashion. Reading of these men gives me courage to stand in the face of any persecution I may face for the sake of the Gospel. We are indebted to these men who gave us the English Bible and had the courage to take the Gospel to the hardest areas of the world. I pray that I will have just a fraction of their dedication. This book will help me gain confidence in the grace of God to do what He has called me to do.