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Sunday, August 20, 2017
Date Posted:

John Bunyan

The Triumph of the Word of God in the Life and Literature of John Bunyan - Part Two


Secondly, let us consider the declaration of the word in his life and literature. It was as a preacher that Bunyan excelled and it was as a preacher he was imprisoned. Indeed all his literature was homilitical in character. His literary works were preaching books. In 1653 Bunyan joined himself to the Non conformist church meeting in St John’s Church, Bedford, of which the holy Mr Gifford was Rector. Gifford was the man who became known as the Evangelist in Pilgrim’s Progress. That grave person with the best of books in his hand.

Bunyan was chosen as a Deacon in the church but in 1655 commenced preaching. Two years later his calling as a preacher was formally recognized and he was set apart to that office after solemn prayer and fasting. The minutes of the meeting record that ‘another member has been appointed Deacon, Brother Bunyan being taken off preaching the Gospel.’

It should be noted in Bunyan’s description of the minister that he is called the evangelist, and that not only the best of books in his hand but the word of truth was written upon his lips. To Bunyan the minister was the evangelist, the proclaimer of the evangel. A pleader both with and for souls He himself became that in a very real sense indeed.

His popularity became great when it was known that the once blaspheming tinker had turned preacher. The crowds flocked to hear him but opposition and persecution became intense. He himself records that ‘when I first went to preach the word abroad, the doctors and priests of the country did open wide against me. They were exceedingly wrath because the tinker strove to mend souls as well as kettles and pans.’ All sorts of slanders were hurled upon him He was called a witch and Jesuit, a highwayman, charged with having two wives at once, and many other equally absurd and groundless accusations. There was no doubt about it, however, that this man called John was a God sent preacher.

Later on in his life he frequently visited London where he always preached to exceeding large congregations. Spurgeon, accompanied by Lord Shaftesbury, who preached at the restoration of Bunyan’s tomb in Bun Hill Fields on May 31, 1862 told how Bunyan could draw an early morning congregation of 1,200 on a days notice, and if properly announced a congregation of 3,000.

When Charles II expressed astonishment that men of learning would go and listen to the illiterate tinker he is recorded to have replied that he would gladly give up all his learning for the tinker’s power of reaching the heart. In fact in the year of his death Bunyan was unofficially chaplain to Sir John Shorter, then Lord Mayor of London.

The notice in the Dictionary of National Biography reads, ‘though Bunyan may have Bedford the centre of his work, he extended his ministration through the whole county and even beyond its limits. One of his first acts after his liberation was to apply to the Government for licences for preachers and preaching places in the country around. Among these he made circuits, being playfully known as ‘Bishop Bunyan’, his diocese being a large one and in spite of the strenuous efforts at repression by the ecclesiastical authorities steadily increased in magnitude and importance.’

Keeping in mind that Bunyan was a proclaimer of the living Word of God, it comes as no surprise that his book is overflowing with bibline the essence of the word. In George Offer’s three volume collection of John Bunyan’s works the biblical references which form the foundation of each paragraph in the Pilgrim’s Progress are carefully recorded. These scriptural references number over 400. Moreover the volume is filled with direct quotations from the Bible. The parchment scroll which Evangelist gives to Christian has emblazoned on it this scripture text ‘Flee from the wrath to come’. Here we have the Word of God declared to the awakened sinner with no uncertain sound. Evangelist finds Christian the second time, when he had been led astray from the path to the wicket gate through the deceptions of Mr Wordly Wiseman, and was seeking the town of Morality and its principle citizen Mr Legality, to rid him of his burden. ‘Stand still awhile’ Evangelist exhorts our pilgrim, ‘and I will show thee the Word of God.’ In his short discourse which follows there are no less than twelve direct quotations from the holy scriptures. When Christian espies two men come tumbling over the wall named Formalist and Hypocrisy, he challenged them with the words ‘He that cometh not in by the door but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber’. Sleeping in the arbour on Mount Difficulty he is rudely awaken by the text ‘Go to the ant you sluggard, consider her ways and be wise.’ In his fierce conflict with Apollyon our champion quotes the Bible crying out ‘The wages of sin is death’. When the Devil thought to finish him he nimbly reached out for a sword and caught it saying ‘Rejoice not against me O my enemy, when I fall I shall arise.’ And with that he gave him a deadly thrust which made him give back as one that had received his mortal wound. Christian perceiving that made at him again saying ‘May of all things that we are born as conquerers through him that loved us, and with that rite Bunyan Apollyon spread forth his dragons wings and sped him away that Christian saw him no more. In the Valley of the Shadow of Death our pilgrim comforted himself with the words ‘I will walk in the strength of the Lord God’, and was greatly cheered when he thought he heard the voice of a man going before him saying ‘though I walk in the shadow of death I will fear none ill for thou art with me’. Indeed, the whole volume from beginning to end is a declaration of the word. Like Bunyan himself, the whole doth preach the book.

Thirdly, let us come to the defence of the word as it is seen in the life and literature of Bunyan. Bunyan has absolutely no doubts about the infallibility of God’s word. This was the great fundamental of his faith and upon it he built his life and literature. Throughout his writings he speaks of the Bible thus, ‘The truth as it comes from God’s minting house. Take me to the Bible’ he says ‘and let me find in thy heart find no favour if thou find me to swerve from its standard. The Word of God is to be obeyed at all hazards, and standeth more sure than heaven and earth.’ In conviction the Bible is as the roaring of a lion, the piercing of a sword, the burning of a fire. It is the only safe guide, Bunyan asserts. Throughout his ministry Bunyan wielded it with great skill and zeal, what he called ‘this true Jerusalem blade.’ One has only to glance at the Pilgrim’s Progress and his attitude to the Holy Bible shines through with clear brilliance. When Pliable challenges the veracity of the book with the question, ‘Do you think that the words of your book are certainly true?’ Christian dogmatically asserts ‘Yes, verily. For it was made by him that cannot lie.’ It was of course the sword which caused our pilgrim to triumph over Apollyon in the darkest of hours. Only that weapon could have driven off the Devil. Perhaps the most touching words about the sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God, are found in the farewell of Mr Valiant For the Truth when he was called to cross the river without a bridge. I am going to my fathers and though with great difficulty I got hither, yet I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get it. My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought his battles who now will be my rewarder.

Fourthly, we would consider the doctrines of the word in the life and literature of Bunyan. Bunyan was strong doctrinal preacher. There was nothing shallow about his message. It was all substance, and good strong scriptural substance at that. He gave 16 ounces to the pound of strong doctrine in each of his sermons and books. In the House of the Interpreter and the Palace Beautiful in simple form he sets forth the great and glorious doctrines of free and sovereign grace. In the dusty room he sets before us the total inadequacy of law to cleanse, and the power of the gospel alone to purge away our sins. In the fire which continued to burn in spite of the Devil’s attempt to stifle it, because of the continual supply of oil from the Lord’s hands we have set forth the great doctrine of inextinguishable grace. In the battle for the entrance of the palace, we have recorded the great truth, that there is no discharge from this war once we are enlisted in the Lord’s army. The man in the cape sets forth graphically the doctrine of reprobation he who rejects God, God will finally reject. The hen and its calls to its brood, is a beautiful and careful exposition of the general and effectual calls of the gospel. In the study of Palace Beautiful the showing of the pedigree of the Lord of the Hill sets forth the eternal Sonship and the virgin birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Also in the discourse through the book the great doctrines of grace are carefully, though simply, recorded.

Perhaps nowhere is there such a profound yet plain statement of the doctrine of impunate righteousness that in Great Heart’s discussion with Christiana, Mercy and her son. Great Heart says “Pardon, by the deed done is pardon obtained by someone for another that have need thereof. Not by the person pardoned but in the way, saith another, in which I have obtained it. So then to speak to the question more at large, the pardon that you and Mercy and these boys have attained was obtained by another, to whit by him that let you in at the gate, and he hath obtained it in this double way. He has performed his righteousness to cover you and spilt his blood to wash you, Christiana. But if he parts with his righteousness to us, what will he have for himself, Great Heart? He has more righteousness than you have need of, or than he needeth himself. Pray, make that appeal with all my heart, but first I must premise that he of whom we are now about to speak is one that is not his fellow. He has two natures in one person, plain to be distinguished, impossible to be divided. Unto each of these nature a righteousness belongeth and each righteousness is essential to that nature, so that one may as easily cause the nature to be extinct as to separate its justice or righteousness from it.

Of these righteousnesses, therefore, we are not made partakers, so as that they or any of them should be put upon us that we might be made just and live thereby. Besides these there is a righteousness which this person has as these two natures are joined as one, and this is not the righteousness of the godhead as distinguished from the manhood, nor the righteousness of the manhood as distinguished from the godhead, but a righteousness which standeth in the union of both natures and may properly be called the righteousness that is essential to his being prepared of God to the capacity of the medatorial office which he was to be entrusted with. If he parts with his first righteousness he parts with his godhead. If he parts with his second righteousness he parts with the purity of his manhood. If he parts with his third he parts with that perfection which capacitates him for the office of mediation. He has therefore another righteousness which standeth in performance or obedience to a revealed will, and that is it that he puts upon sinners, and that by which their sins are covered. Wherefore, he said, as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one were many made righteous.”

Finally, a word about the delight of the word in the life and literature of Bunyan. As we have already seen, Bunyan lived in the Book. It was daily his delight. Of him more than any other preacher it could be said, he was a man of one book and that book the Bible. His vast knowledge of the word can partly be measured by the numeral scriptural references which literally teem from each page of his writing. These numerous references alone are not the greatest proof of Bunyan’s delight in the word, however, they are like the salt crystals that appear on the seashore when the tide goes out. These crystals may be the most apparent proof that the sea is salt, but the best proof is the fact is that salt is present in every bucket of sea water. So in every sentence of Bunyan, if we test it, it will be found to be bibline, the essence of the Book is therein. No wonder Bunyan makes out pilgrim seek ever the comfort of his Lord. Let me quote this wonderful passage ‘He felt in his bosom for his roll that he might read therein and be comforted, but he felt and found it not. Then was Christian in great distress and knew not what to do, for he wanted that which used to relieve him, and that which should have been his pass into the Celestial City. Therefore he began to be much perplexed and knew not what to do.

At last he bethought himself that he had slept in the arbour that is on the side of the hill and falling down upon his knees he asked God’s forgiveness for that his foolish act and then went back to look for his roll. But all the way he went back, who can sufficiently set forth the sorrow of Christian’s heart. Sometimes he sighed, sometimes he wept, and oftentimes he chide himself for being so foolish to fall asleep at that place which was erected only for a little refreshment for his weariness.

Thus therefore he went back carefully looking on this side and on that, all the way as he went. If happily he might find his roll that had been his comfort so many times in his journey. He went thus till he came again in sight of the arbour where he sat and slept. But that sight renewed his sorrow the more by bringing again even afresh his evil of sleeping into his mind. Thus therefore he now went on bewailing his sinful sleep, saying NO wretched man that I am, that I should sleep in the daytime, that I should sleep in the midst of difficulty, that I should so indulge the flesh to use that rest for ease to my flesh, which the Lord of the Hill have erected only for the relief of the spirit of pilgrims.

How many steps have I taken in vain? Thus it happened to Israel, for their sin they were sent back again by the way of the Red Sea, and I am made to tread those steps with sorrow, which I might of trod with delight had it not been for this sinful sleep. How far might I have been on my way by this time? I am made to tried those steps twice over which I needeth not to have trod but once. Yea, now also I am like to be benighted for the day is almost spent O that I had not slept.

Now by this time he was come to the arbour again, where for a while he sat and wept. When at last as providence would have it, looking sorrowfully down under the settle, there he espies his Roll, the which with trembling and haste catched up and put into his bosom. But who can tell how joyful this man was when he had gotten his Roll again, for this Roll was the assurance of his life, an acceptance at the desired haven. Therefore he laid it up in his bosom, gave thanks to God for directing his eye to the place where it lay, and with joy and tears betook himself again to his journey. But O how nimbly now did he go up the rest of the hill.

I think we have proved conclusively that the Word of God triumphed in first the life and then in the literature of John Bunyan. This has been demonstrated in the dominance, declaration, defence, doctrine and delight of that holy word in his life and writings. The Book made Bunyan. He is essentially a Bible man and his writings Bible productions.

The famous historian of the English people J.R. Green said, ‘Nowhere do we see more clearly than in the Pilgrim’s Progress the new imaginative force which had been given to the common life of English men by their study of the Bible. Bunyan’s English is the simplest and homliest English that has ever been used by any great English writer but it is the English of the Bible. His images are the images of prophets and evangelists. So completely had the Bible become Bunyan’s life that one feels it phrases as a natural expression of his thoughts. He had lived in the Bible till its words became his own.

Hallam, the great constituional historian stated ‘There is scarcely a circumstance or metaphor in the Old Testament which does not find a place bodily and literally in the Pilgrim’s Progress and this has made his imagination appear more creative than it really is.’ While Dr Arnold of Rugby recorded ‘Pilgrims Progress seems to be a complete reflection of scripture.’ May the word which triumphs so powerfully in Bunyan’s life triumph in grace in all our lives. Remember faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God.

What more appropriate way could I close this lecture than with Bunyan’s final exhortation in The Heavenly Footman, a description of the man that gets to heaven, together with the way he runs in, the marks he goes by, also some directions how to run so as to obtain. Well then sinner, what sayest thou? Where is thy heart? Wilt thou run? Art thou resolved to strip or are thou not? Think quickly man? It is no dallying in this matter. Confer not with flesh and blood. Look up to heaven and see how thy likest it. Also to hell and accordingly devote thyself. If thou doest not know the way enquire at the Word of God. If thou wantest company cry for God’s spirit. If thou wantest encouragement entertain the promises but be sure thou begin betimes. Get into the way, run apace, and hold out to the end, and the Lord give thee a prosperous journey. Farewell.’

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