As I read this week’s assignment (paragraphs 169-214) in Grace Abounding I underlined in green (symbolizing life) the Bible verses Bunyan found to be some means of comfort to his tender conscience in his parleys with Satan. I counted eight (paragraph number followed by citation or reference): 173: Isa. 44:22; 190: Jer. 31:3; 193: Psa. 130:3-4; 194: Ezek. 16:63; 202: Psa. 77:7-9; 203: Heb. 7:25; 206: 2 Cor. 12:9; 213: Jas. 2:13. There were many more passages he cited which were means of doubt and consternation, but these were the ones which shined as lights on his dark path.
John Bunyan learned how to wield the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17) in his protracted struggle to gain peace of conscience and assurance of salvation. There is a lesson for us here today, as well as a challenge. The lesson is that one cannot wield a sword, unless it is kept at hand on the hip. Scripture memorization is a must in order to engage in spiritual warfare successfully, and therein is the challenge. The Holy Spirit can’t do a whole lot to mortify the flesh or engage the enemy if the only passage in one’s memory is John 3:16!
Fortunately for him, Bunyan memorized many more passages besides John 3:16. When we consider all of the references from Genesis to Revelation that Bunyan cited we may begin to agree with Charles Spurgeon’s observation that Bunyan “bled Bibline”:
Oh, that you and I might get into the very heart of the Word of God, and get that Word into ourselves! As I have seen the silkworm eat into the leaf, and consume it, so ought we to do with the Word of the Lord—not crawl over its surface, but eat right into it till we have taken it into our inmost parts. It is idle merely to let the eye glance over the words, or to recollect the poetical expressions, or the historic facts; but it is blessed to eat into the very soul of the Bible until, at last, you come to talk in Scriptural language, and your very style is fashioned upon Scripture models, and, what is better still, your spirit is flavored with the words of the Lord.
I would quote John Bunyan as an instance of what I mean. Read anything of his, and you will see that it is almost like the reading the Bible itself. He had read it till his very soul was saturated with Scripture; and, though his writings are charmingly full of poetry, yet he cannot give us his Pilgrim’s Progress—that sweetest of all prose poems — without continually making us feel and say, “Why, this man is a living Bible!” Prick him anywhere—his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his very soul is full of the Word of God. I commend his example to you, beloved. (http://theoldguys.org/2013/05/03/charles-spurgeon-may-we-bleed-bibline/)
Spurgeon, by the way, made it a point to read Pilgrim’s Progress twice a year because of the insights it contained to Scripture.
William Gurnall, author of the classic work, The Christian in Complete Armour, showed great insight and awareness of how God alone must apply the salve of the word to tender consciences, as he does for every believer:
The distress of an afflicted conscience ariseth from the dismal sense of divine wrath for sin. Now none can remove this but he that can infallibly assure the soul of God’s pardoning mercy; and this lies so deep in God’s heart, that God alone ‘who only knoweth his own thoughts’ can be the messenger to bring the news; and therefore the word which doth this can come from none but him. And, that is able not only to do this, but also to fill the soul with ‘joy unspeakable and full of glory,’ is a truth so undoubted, that we need not ascend up to heaven for further confirmation. That Spirit which first indited the word, hath sealed it to the hearts of innumerable believers.
Indeed all the saints acknowledge their comfort and peace to be drawn out of these wells of salvation. ‘In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul,’ Ps. 94:19. Nay, he doth not only tell us his own experience, whence he had his joy, but also to have had theirs from the same tap. ‘Fools, because of their transgressions, are afflicted’ Ps 107:17. And what then can ease them? Will all the rarities that can be got by sea or land make a diversion to their thoughts, and ease them of their pain? No; for ‘their soul abhorreth all manner of meat; and they draw near unto the gates of death,’ ver. 18. What cordial then have they left to use, or way to take for their relief? Truly none, but to betake themselves to prayers and tears, ‘Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he saveth them out of their distresses,’ ver. 19. And with what key doth God open their prison door? It follows, ‘He sent his word, and healed them,’ ver. 20. If you shall say all this is meant of outward trouble; yet surely you must grant in holds more strong concerning that which is inward. What but a word from God’s mouth can heal a distressed spirit, when the body pineth and languisheth till God speaketh a healing word unto it? (available online at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/gurnall/armour/files/gurnal04b.htm).
Like Bunyan, John Owen found much solace in Psalm 130, so much so that he wrote a 322 page exposition on it! I have found Hebrews 7:25 to be great comfort against the Accuser as well:
“Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (ESV)
Next week we get to the passage that served to anchor Bunyan’s soul more securely, over which Satan contended fiercely with him, John 6:37, so stay tuned. But in the meantime: Take up and read! Take up and read!