The Life And Ministry Of John Piper
The testimony of John Piper’s life and ministry is recorded in the Earthen Vessel (1888). On pages 264 and 331, we are given the following account of his life:
“To The Editor.—Dear Sir,—I will (D.V.) forward you particulars of the late Mr. Piper’s call by grace, voyage to this country, &c., which I received from his lips when spending an hour or two at his house. They made a deep impression upon my mind, and may be very interesting to your readers. Yours sincerely, W. Paul. 191 Shakespeare-road, Herne Hill, S.E.”
Some Account Of The Call By Grace, Ministry, And Voyage To England Of The Late Mr. John Piper, Of Demerara.
By W. Paul, of Herne Hill
Mr. Piper was endowed with a largely developed physique, and strong intellectual powers, and when in the vigour of early manhood entered with zest into worldly pursuits and sports, more especially horse-racing; fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; a child of wrath, even as others, evidenced in ridiculing and despising God’s Word and His people, until, in the good pleasure of His will,
“The appointed time rolled on apace—
Not to propose but call by grace;
Give a new heart and change his will,
And turn his feet to Zion’s hill.”
Strolling along one evening arm-in-arm with one of his companions, they neared a little mission-room, and placing the end of his lighted cigar under the eaves, Mr. Piper suggested that they should go in to “have a bit of fun.” They had scarcely taken their seats when the words of the text, “If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear,” fell with effectual, convicting power on his ears and in his soul, causing him to feel and acknowledge that he was the ungodly man and sinner, and to ask what he must do to be saved; for being without God and without hope in the world,
“He felt the arrows of distress,
And found he had no hiding place.”
He was kept in great distress of soul until a friend put in his hand part of an old sermon by the late Joseph Irons, saying, “Here’s something that will do you good if yon read it.” This was the means of giving him hope. He often wandered in the fields, crying to the Lord for deliverance, and on one occasion, having dropped on his knees by the hedge-row, the Lord visited him with a glorious manifestation of pardon and acceptance to Him, with the words, ”I have blotted out thy transgressions as a thick cloud,” &c. He blessed and praised the Lord, and said, with one of old, “What wouldst Thou have me to do?” His mouth was shortly opened to—
“Tell to sinners round—
What a dear Saviour he had found,
To point to His redeeming blood,
And say, Behold the way to God!”
Some of the earliest fruits of his ministry were visible in the effectual, calling of his mother and brother, and signs followed his testimony in open-air meetings, &c. Persecution by the arch-adversary was the natural consequence, for the pulling down of some of his strongholds roused his venom, which manifested itself through its numerous instruments, and not the least was the Harlot of Rome. One of the local military officials ordered the congregations to be dispersed at the point of the bayonet, and friend Piper to be lodged in gaol, calumniously charged (like his Master) with causing obstruction and riot. He confronted his accuser with the vehemence and grace of a Paul, being enabled to vindicate his conduct to the approval of his judge, and to the censure and disgrace of his adversary.
After this it was laid on Mr. Piper’s mind to leave his native country for England, having an impression that the Lord would open a sphere of labour for him here. He was informed that the captain of a vessel shortly to sail was a professor of religion, and under such an auspicious circumstance he took his passage and embarked; but when out at sea, found himself in the midst of horrible wickedness, the crew cursing and swearing amid the raging of the elements. So great was the fury of the storm that the wicked sailors were, at length, awed, and begged of Mr. Piper (who, calm and peaceful, remained alone on deck) to pray for their deliverance. He assented, and was heard, for there was soon after a calm. The effect, however, was but transient on these hardened sinners, who soon returned to their habitual course, and the storm came on again with redoubled violence, such as they had never before witnessed.
Mr. Piper was again called upon to entreat for them; all hope of getting to land having been given up. “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much,” and the assurance granted to him, that the vessel with those who sailed thereon should be brought safely to land was fully verified. Arriving in England Mr. Piper was first located in Devon and Somersetshire, being engaged by the Plymouth Brethren for mission work. After a while the Town Hall at Lewes was taken for him to preach in, where he had instances of the Word being attended with power; one incident relative to which is certainly amusing. An old lady who had heard Mr. Piper preach, determined to test, in her own way, whether the Word was of the Lord, had said within herself, “If it be of the Lord I shall meet the dear man in such a street to-morrow morning.” They met at the time and place, but the emotion of the old lady being mistaken by Mr. Piper for evidence of intoxication, he endeavored to escape the warm greeting which apparently awaited him. But she was not to be daunted by his turning away, and following him succeeded in giving him testimony that he had been made useful to her.
On one occasion feeling deeply impressed to go to Paddock Wood to preach, he took his stand under the porch of an unfinished house, and a number of persons being gathered, the Word was listened to with power. After the service, one of the hearers (whose wife was, at that time, opposed to the truth) took Mr. Piper to his house, and afterwards realized a rich blessing in carrying out the Apostle’s injunction relative to extending hospitality to strangers, for his wife was subsequently prevailed upon to hear Mr. Piper, and in her case the Word was attended with saving power. But the God-sent messenger was without means for his return journey, and his kind entertainers, though willing enough that he should reap of their carnal things in return for the spiritual things sown to them, were unable to help him. They betook themselves to prayer on his behalf, while he went into the garden to make known his necessities to his Father in heaven, Who, while they were yet speaking, heard and graciously answered their call. A choice parrot, straying from its home, settled in their garden, and was sought for by its mistress, who marked her delight at recovering it by presenting a sovereign, which was at once applied to Mr. Piper’s necessity.
His next sphere of labour was at East Grinstead, to which place his aforesaid host and hostess had removed. It was here that Mr. Piper became acquainted with Mr. Head, of London, who was supplying at a little cause of truth in that neighbourhood. Although they occupied rooms in the same establishment, yet some time elapsed ere they became associated. Mrs. Piper happened to hear Mr. Head preach, and requested her husband to go and hear him, as the preaching was akin to his own. The two ministers afterwards enjoyed communion and fellowship, weeping, praying and praising together, for the wonder of the Lord’s grace and providence towards them, and a bond of indissoluble affection and union was cemented between them which nothing in time or eternity will dissolve. We believe that this acquaintance had much to do, through the Spirit’s power, with the directing of Mr. Piper’s mind in the way of truth more perfectly.
He afterwards removed to St. Albans, where he at first ministered to a mixed multitude, some of whom came out of curiosity to see and hear a coloured man, and others of the ordinary congregation then meeting in the iron mission-room in Verulam-road. Many seals to his ministry were there given, his testimony being of a decidedly higher character than the ordinary yea and nay type, which they had been accustomed to listen to. At this time also, testimony was given to the power and unction accompanying the Word spoken by some of the lovers of Truth in the city, who occasionally heard our brother to great profit.
The wise and prudent in high places now began to show signs of dissension from him, the truth, as in Jesus, manifesting its separating power, and raising opposition among those who have no taste for that testimony which “takes forth the precious from the vile.”
Mr. Piper’s severance from them approached the climax when at one of the meetings he struck at the root by declaring his full and hearty belief in the doctrines of distinguishing grace, and openly denounced the conduct of those who, whilst breaking the bread and pouring out the wine, yet denied the power and efficacy of the covenant ordered in all things and sure, of which these memorials are the seal. Mr. Piper then endured a course of hardships as a good soldier of Jesus Christ—
“From sinner and from saint,
He met with many a blow.”
He was, however, kindly received by one and another of the friends who had heard the Word gladly, and occasionally preached in their houses, until a small chapel was erected for him, in which souls have been established and strengthened in the faith. About this time Mr. Piper renewed his association with Mr. Head, who preached for him from time to time, and introduced Denham’s Hymn-book for the use of the congregation. Mr. Head asked Mr. Piper to come to an anniversary at Grove Chapel, Camberwell, and he attended the morning service there. When he had taken a seat, his attention was attracted to the memorial tablet of the late Joseph Irons, and he was amazed to find it bore the name of the writer of the sermon which had first given him hope. This circumstance, coupled with the power which attended Mr. Bradbury’s discourse, so overcame him that (as he said) “he was so full he must go home,” which he did. He was invited to supply at the Grove on several occasions during the pastor’s absence, and many are the testimonies of blessings received at those times. Mr. Piper’s ministry was characterized by the simplicity, gentleness, and meekness of Christ, and found its way to many hearts. His sermons were frequently extended beyond the usual time, and then became (to some) prosy and inconveniently long.
His engagements increased both in the country and metropolis, and he often longed for retirement from the lightness and curiosity of the frivolous. One portion of the Word was very prominent with him. “Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh” (2 Cor. 5:16).
Mr. Piper had his idiosyncrasies, but great allowance must be made for his nationality, position, &c. He always spoke in the most affectionate terms of his dear wife, and his congregation. Forgiving and forbearing in love, he endured (in pent-up grief) a current of calumny and wicked reproach (consequent upon his geniality and warm-heartedness) which caused him great depression of mind and consequent weakness of body. He felt the difference of climate very much, and had many severe attacks of ague. Abundant testimony is given to his moral character as a gentleman, good citizen, and minister of the gospel.
To the praise of the glory of God in His dispensation of free, rich, sovereign grace to His children, it may be said of the late John Piper, that being one of God’s chosen, redeemed and sanctified vessels of mercy, and having accomplished here the good pleasure of His will as a faithful, suffering follower of the Lamb, his spirit is now glorified with Christ, on His throne, dwelling in unclouded light, and enjoying in undisturbed felicity his predestined inheritance, where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.
John Piper’s association with the Strict and Particular Baptists is recorded in the Earth Vessel (1888), pages 188 and 246:
“Wellingborough. On Easter Monday, Mr. John Piper, a gentleman of colour, preached two full, free-grace sermons to good congregations at this chapel About 80 friends sat down to an excellent tea, given by friends in the Church and congregation. The dear Lord provided just the amount required to pay half year’s interest on mortgage of the chapel. Our good brother Piper, although of another nation and colour has been deeply taught by the blessed Spirit in divine things. The Lord be with him continually in his work, is the prayer of yours, A. BLISS.”
“Clapham. The all-day services at Ebenezer, Wirtembuerg-street, on Tuesday, July 3, were well attended and much enjoyed. The prayer meeting before breakfast was a savoury season to many. At 10 o’clock another prayer meeting was held, with a short address by W. H. Lee, of Bow. At eleven and 6:30 two savoury Gospel sermons were preached by Mr. John Piper, of St. Albans, with much pathos and liberty. Though weak in body, he exalted his Lord and Saviour; the fervour with which he spoke of the love of Christ implanted in the heart of a poor sinner by the power of the Holy Ghost, knitted the attention of his hearers. With so much emphasis (enforced by his native eloquence) did he speak the joys of salvation through a “precious, precious, precious Christ” that it proved to be a soul-melting time to many of God’s aged saints. The afternoon of the day was devoted to several short sermons by brethren Battson, Dearsly, Evans, Harsant, Myerson, Parnell and Tooke. Mr. J. Crutcher occupied the chair, and gave an outspoken address on the joy and pleasure of meeting in the Lord’s name, and holding communion together on the great theme of salvation by grace. There were also present Messrs. Sylvester, H. Welch, H. F. Noyes, Aaron Miller, and others, who came together to thank God and encourage our highly-esteemed friend Mr. Henry Hall, the pastor, in keeping the 27th anniversary of the opening of the chapel. Breakfast, dinner and tea were served in the schoolroom. To many it was a very happy day, and we hope much good was done. Part of the money collected was given to the Aged Pilgrims’ Friend Society. Mr. Hall, at the close of the evening service, thanked his neighbors and friends from a distance for their presence.—J. W. B.”
The announcement of John Piper’s death and a record of the funeral service are given in the Earth Vessel (1888), pages 261 and 262:
His Funeral Service
The Late Mr. John Piper
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”—1 Corinthians 15:54
We have been led for many years to regard death (in any form} as a solemn event. There is a fearful mysteriousness about death which no living person can fully describe, the sting of it being unpardoned sin! Thus it is sin that gives to death its sad significancy. “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Death, with which we all must grapple, only to surrender in the end to its cruel force—unless the Lord shall prevent by His glorious appearing—is doing its grim work in our midst to-day.
“One by one we cross the river,
One by one we’re passing o’re;
One by one the crowns are given,
On the bright and happy shore.”
The fact of the large number of ministerial brethren having been taken from us this year, must be acknowledged as a serious calamity, and a reminder, too, that we are mortal, and must, in due course, face the sword of the “King of terrors.” There is nothing pleasing in our view about death itself. The thought of separation, the fatal throes, and the last struggles for the mastery, together with the cold and gloomy grave in the distance, can, we think, afford no joyous emotions in the breast of any person, apart from the hope of being with Jesus in immortal felicity when death has done its work. But with death as regarded from a mere natural point of view and as an object of tenor, we, as Christians, have little or nothing to do. The late Dean Alford wrote, not long before his death, that as “believers in, and servants of One who has in these senses abolished death, our schemes and hopes are not terminated by death, but reach onward into a state beyond it.”
“O the rest for ever, and the rapture!
O the band that wipes the tears away!
O the golden home beyond the sunset,
And the hope that watches o’er the clay!”
With our beloved brother, John Piper, death was but a gentle sigh, a falling asleep on the softest and sweetest of all pillows, the bosom of Jesus. Dissolution was to his rapt soul the appointed order of admission, with other blood-bought saints, into glory.—
“Where the watching, waiting angels,
Lead them from the shadow dim,
To the brightness of His presence,
Who has called them unto Him.”
In our many recent travels we have heard of several pleasing accounts relating to the labours of our departed brother, and of the calm resignation of his mind to the will of God during his last sufferings. We were deeply affected with the words he uttered in his discourse at Mr. Henry Hall’s Chapel, on July 3rd, as recorded by our beloved brother, Mr. J. W. Banks. Speaking of the joys of salvation, the dying preacher remarked that they came “through a precious, precious, precious Christ!” Truly, as an old favourite poet sang:—
“Heaven was in him,
Before his spirit entered there!”
We are obligingly indebted to our kind friend, Mr. W. Paul, of Herne Hill, for the interesting account he has furnished us with of the late Mr. Piper, and which we insert below.—W . WINTERS, Editor. Church Yard, Waltham Abbey, Essex.
A Few Particulars Of The Last Illness, Death, And Interment Of Mr. John Piper (Late of Demerara, West Indies).
By W. Paul, Of Herne Hill
Mr. J. Piper was present a few weeks back as the guest of Mrs. Lett, of Dulwich, on the occasion of the annual gathering of the Aged Pilgrims, when we last conversed with him. We were struck with his altered appearance as he sat close to the fire, being distressed with that hollow cough which was doing its certain and fatal work. Every kindness was shown him during his further stay, even to calling in medical opinion the testimony of which was “that he was very ill.” He, however, preached in Woodbridge-street Chapel on the following Lord’s-day: shortly after which he preached at Clapham, on the occasion of Mr. Henry Hall’s anniversary, with power, but in much bodily weakness. This increased on his return to St. Albans, causing much anxiety. He took to his bed on the Tuesday week before his death, suffering much pain. He rose suddenly on the following Lord’s-day morning, to the surprise of his wife and friends, stating that he had a message from the Lord. He was led into the pulpit, and dropped on his hands and knees, in which posture he continued while preaching his last sermon upon “The Bread of Life.” A great change was noticed on his countenance, and towards the last his words were incoherent and his mind evidenced signs of wandering. He again took to his bed, when the consolations of Christ abounded over his sufferings, for those present said that it was precious to hear him for
THREE DAYS BLESSING AND PRAISING GOD,
wishing them to see and feel what he did. On a friend entering the room, he said, “The Lord bless and keep you;” “The Lord sent you;” “I am bad.”
On Saturday he showed signs of approaching dissolution, his mind wandering and very restless in body. About mid-day on Monday he opened his eyes, and with a heavenly smile, gazed around and immediately fell asleep in Jesus.
Rapid consumption and pleurisy are said to have been the immediate cause of death, but it is well-known that for a long season his mind had been heavily burdened with monetary cares and difficulties, in connection with bricks and mortar.
The following was a favourite hymn of his:—
“I have a treasure which I prize,
Its like I cannot find;
There’s nothing like it on the earth,
‘Tis this, a quiet mind.
But ’tis not that I’m stupefied,
Or senseless, dull or blind;
‘Tis God’s own peace within my heart,
Which forms my quiet mind.
I found this treasure at the cross,
‘Tis there, to every kind,
Of heavy-laden weary soul,
Christ gives a quiet mind.
My Saviour’s death and risen life,
To give this were designed,
And that’s the root and that’s the Branch,
Of this my quiet mind.
The love of God within my heart,
My soul to Him doth bind;
This is the mind of heaven on earth,
This is my quiet mind.
I’ve many a cross to take up now,
And many left behind;
But present troubles move me not,
Nor shake my quiet mind.
And what may be to-morrow’s cross,
I never seek to find;
The Saviour says, ‘leave that to Me,’
And keep a quiet mind.
And well I know the Lord hath said,
To make my heart resigned:
That mercy still shall follow such
As have this quiet mind.
I meet with pride, and wit, and wealth,
And scorn, and looks unkind;
It matters nought, I envy not,
For I’ve a quiet mind.
I’m waiting now to see the Lord,
Who’s been to me so kind;
I want to thank Him face to face,
For this my quiet mind.”
The interment took place in St. Albans cemetery, on Saturday, August 4th, being witnessed by a large concourse of people. Nine mourning coaches followed the hearse. Beside the principal mourners there were many from the country as well as from London, including Messrs. Josiah Crutcher, Hall, Sweet, Otben, Mr. and Mrs. Head, Mr. and Mrs. Peacock besides his bereaved and sorrowing congregation.
The services in the chapel and at the grave were conducted by Messrs. Taylor, Grey, and Dr. Morris, of St. Albans.
After seeking the Lord’s presence, the hymn, “Why should we mourn, departed friends,” was sung, portions of Scripture were read-viz., Psalms, John 14, 1 Cor. 15, and Thess. 4. Another hymn was sung at the grave, expressive of the commitment of the dust into the Lord’s safe keeping till the resurrection morn, and addresses were delivered by Mr. Taylor and Dr. Morris.
The coffin bore the inscription:—
Of Demerara, West Indies
Died July 30th, 1888, Aged 45 Years
On the following Lord’s-day Mr. Head preached to the sorrowing congregation from the words, “This is the Lord’s doing, and is marvellous in our eyes.”
John Piper (1843-1888) was a Strict and Particular Baptist preacher. He was a native of the West Indies, but having migrated to England, gravitated towards the Strict Baptists with whom he discovered a kindred spirit. He was appointed the pastor of a Baptist church in St Albans, Hertfordshire.