The Pleasures of God
by John Piper; 1991, 328 pp. Multnomah, $11.99
Reviewed by Fred A. Malone
“Does God enjoy you?” This is a question which I have frequently asked believers over the past few years. It usually provokes a confused look and is regularly answered in the negative. Either the awareness of remaining sin clouds their concept that a Holy God could have pleasure in them, or else they may not have considered that God has delight in His people at all, beyond His initial joy of salvation! The result may be a sincere trust in Jesus Christ alone to save them as sinners but an uncertain experience of God’s daily pleasure in them. How can He delight in children who fall so far short, who still sin daily, whose best days simply prove that they are men at best? Would it not be a great source of daily joy to know that God has continual delight and pleasure in His yet imperfect children?
John Piper’s The Pleasures of God is a “new classic” designed to clear up misunderstandings and to describe the immeasurable pleasures of our Holy God of Grace. Beginning with the pleasure and delight of God in Himself (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), Piper explains that our perfect God has no need of anything outside of Himself to be happy. The delight of the Trinity in the love and perfections of each other is enough.
However, Piper then moves to God’s delight and enjoyment in all that He does, especially in His created works. His discussion of God’s pleasure in electing sinners to everlasting life shows that this pleasure is not rooted in the worth of the object but rather in God’s own delight in being kind. The cause of God’s electing love is simply that it pleases Him to love; He is that kind of being.
Such a view of God’s pleasure in saving sinners explains the strange yet wonderful pleasure of God in Isaiah 53:10: “It pleased the Lord to bruise Him.” Not the pleasure of causing the Son to suffer but the pleasure in what the Son accomplishes by His death. Included is a thought provoking comparison exposing George MacDonald’s deficient view of the atonement as a God-pleasing self-atonement model in favor of reaffirming Jonathan Edwards view of it as an atoning satisfaction for sin, bringing pleasure to God.
Moving from the pleasure of God in the atonement, Piper describes in heart-warming detail the immense pleasure of a happy God in doing good for His children of Grace. Such experiences of God’s goodness are not always apparent to believers in His providential acts on the surface. However, the sacrifice of Jesus for sinners stands as an unchangeable testimony of God’s goodness toward His redeemed children, causing faith in Him to trust in God’s goodness in all other acts of providence. God rejoices over His children with singing all the time (Zeph. 3:17), therefore we must never doubt His pleasure in doing good to us. This is a great daily comfort. He even loves and delights in those whom He disciplines!
Chapters 8 and 9 explain that this God of Grace who delights in sinners also delights in their prayers and attempts at personal obedience. These chapters could do much to remedy the sanctification errors which abound today. The impossibility of perfectionism coupled with the unchanging responsibility of faithful obedience does not have to end in despair, legalism, antinomianism, second work “higher life,” or unbridled mysticism. Rather, a God of Grace who delights in His imperfect children’s imperfect obedience puts meaning in the power of grace to motivate toward increased faithfulness: “sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Rom 6:14). Pastors who are unclear, untaught, or erroneous in their understanding of the Reformation doctrines of the Law and the Gospel would do well to study these chapters.
A final Appendix describes Piper’s response to a friend over the Lordship Salvation controversy today. It is a helpful discussion in favor of Lordship Salvation.
The strength of this book is in opening Biblical vistas of God’s delight in Himself, His works, and His children. Not a self-centered boastfulness but a well-deserved delight in the beauty of His own perfections and works. The description of the Father’s pleasure in His Son is worth the whole book. When one reads such Biblical expositions by Piper, one finds the heart filled with delight in God Himself and His dear Son. That, says Piper over and over, is what brings the most pleasure to God from us: “He is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him” (p.216). How could one not be satisfied in the God described by Piper?! Piper’s description of a joyful God attracts the soul to Him in admiration, trust, and submission. The outcome can only be a greater, more joyful satisfaction with God Himself, revealed to us in Jesus Christ.
To find significant weaknesses in Piper’s excellent work would require pettiness. However, this reviewer would humbly appeal to Piper to carry a more definitive discussion of the Law and Gospel issues mentioned in Chapter 9 for the next printing. Perhaps another Appendix could be added on this subject, appealing to Luther, Bunyan, Bridges, and Murray (Principles of Conduct) for support. Such an addition would clarify His explanation of sanctification by the daily dynamic of faith (not attained by faith but pursued by the daily “obedience of faith ” in Christ). It would also reveal and correct the theological errors which have created deficient views of sanctification such as antinomianism, legalism, mysticism, second work “higher life” teachings, etc.
In conclusion, The Pleasures of God by John Piper should be on every pastor’s shelf, first for his own soul’s edification and then for his people’s benefit. It is a classic worthy of an annual reading. How can a pastor be ungracious to his people when faced with such a gracious God? How many pastors need to be reminded of God’s gracious pleasure in them when their harried lives and undone tasks plague their consciences?! How many pastors need to be reminded of the good will of God in their lives when they face gloomy faces and frowning providences?! How many people of God need to be made aware of the height and breadth and length and depth of the love of God which is in Christ Jesus? I know at least one. Perhaps you know another. Piper’s book will help.