Category Archives: Bunyan – Grace Abounding

John Bunyan, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners

The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification – Direction 10: Having True Assurance of Salvation

[This is the 10th of a 14 part highlight of Walter Marshall’s book, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification.]

“Direction 10: That we may be prepared by the comforts of the gospel to perform sincerely the duties of the law, we must get some assurance of our salvation, in that every faith whereby Christ himself is received into our hearts: therefore we must endeavor to believe on Christ confidently, persuading and assuring ourselves, in the act of believing, that God freely giveth to us interest in Christ and his salvation, according to his gracious promise.”

This tenth direction is something of an elaboration of the ninth, wherein Marshall contends that one of the comforts of the gospel requisite to performing the duties of the law is an assurance of salvation. Marshall began with four clarifications at the outset, to establish a right understanding of this doctrine.

First, in regard to the nature of assurance intended by this direction: The assurance directed unto here is not a persuasion that we have already received Christ and his salvation, but only that “God is pleased graciously to give Christ and his salvation unto us.” Hereby he distinguished between the direct vs the reflex act of faith, the latter being what we typically think of when we mention assurance (the direct act being the belief that God is ready to receive us for salvation which is inherent to saving faith, and the reflex act being a well-grounded assurance that one is in a state of grace, a thing which many precious saints are without).

Second, the assurance directed to is not what is nowadays commonly referred to as “once-saved-always-saved” wherein a person can live any way they please because they have prayed the prayer, walked the aisle, or what have you. Rather, the assurance Marshall has in mind is a persuasion “in a limited way, through mere free grace in Christ, by partaking of holiness as well as forgiveness, and by walking in the way so holiness to the enjoyment of the glory of God.”

Third, Marshall warns against “thinking so highly of this assurance, as if it were inconsistent with any doubting in the same soul.” As long as saints remain here with indwelling sin, there will inevitably be doubts that linger about one’s state. As Marshall put it: “Can any on earth say, they have received any grace in the highest degree, and that they are wholly free from the contrary corruption? Why then should we think, that assurance cannot be true, except it be perfect, and free the soul from all doubtings?”

Fourth, Marshall notes the priority of faith in obtaining assurance: “In the last place, let it be well observed, that the reason why we are to assure ourselves in our faith, that ‘God freely giveth Christ and salvation to us particularly,’ is not because it is a truth before we believe it, but because it will never be true, except we do, in some measure, persuade and assurance ourselves that it is so.” He went on to say that “our assurance is not impressed on our thoughts by any evidence of the thing; but we must work it out in ourselves by the assistance of the Spirit of God, and thereby we bring our own thoughts into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” Practically this comes down to taking God at his word and trusting on Christ alone for salvation, for there is no under name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved. To seek any other method of salvation is vain idolatry, and to doubt God’s willingness or ability to save impugns His character. Hence we are bound to come to Him as helpless beggars, seeking our all in Him. When we take Him at his word, he proves to be faithful.

Marshall then provides seven arguments to prove that “there is, and must necessarily be such an assurance or persuasion of our salvation in saving faith itself.” I will deal only with the first and the fifth one here.

In the first argument, Marshall contends that this “assurance of salvation is implied in the description before given of that faith whereby we receive Christ and his salvation, into our hearts.” His main point here is that coming to faith in Christ involves a full reliance upon Him alone for salvation, trusting in Him completely and utterly, and that such trust will not be in vain:

“If you will rest in the Lord, you must believe that he dealeth bountifully with you (Ps. 116:7); or else, for ought you know, you may make your bed in hell. And you will show little regard of Christ, and of your soul, if you dare to rest under the wrath of God, without any persuasion of a sure interest in Christ. . . . The soul that liveth in such wavering and doubting concerning salvation, doth not stay itself, nor rest at all; but is like a wave of the sea, driven with the wind, and tossed; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways (James 1:6, 8). – If you continue on the mere suspense and doubtfulness of salvation by Christ, your desire to trust, us but a lazy woulding, without any fixed resolution, and you dare not yet venture to trust on him steadfastly.”

In the fifth argument, Marshall underscores the importance of the assuring one’s self in the enjoyment of Christ:

“The chief office of this faith in its direct saving act, is to receive Christ and his salvation actually into our hearts, as hath been proved; which office cannot be rationally performed, except we do, in some measure, persuade our hearts, and assure ourselves in the enjoyment of him.”

There can be no fence-sitting here where the direct act of faith is concerned, in terms of whether or not Christ is willing and able to save those who come to him. In the direct act of faith, there is no doubt about where salvation is to be found, offered, and freely given:

“If we do not make choice of Christ as our only salvation and happiness, or if we be altogether in a state of suspense, doubting whether God will be pleased to give Christ to us or no, it is evident, that our souls are quite loose from Christ, and have no holdfast or enjoyment of him. They do not so much as pretend to any actual receiving, or laying hold, or choosing of him, neither are they fully satisfied that it is lawful for them so to do: but rather they are yet to seek, whether they have any good ground and right to lay hold on him or no. Let any rational man judge, whether the soul doth, or can put forth any sufficient act for the reception and enjoyment of Christ, as its Saviour, Head, or Husband, while it is yet in doubt, whether it be the will of Christ to be joined with it in such a near relation? Can a woman honestly receive any one as her husband, without being assured the he is fully willing to be her husband? The same may be said concerning the several parts of Christ’s salvation, which are to be received by faith. It is evident, that we do not aright receipt the benefit of remission of sins, for the purging of our consciences from that guilt that lieth upon them, unless we have an assured persuasion of God’s forgiving them. We do not actually receive into our hearts, our reconciliation with God, and adoption of children, and the title to an everlasting inheritance, until we can assure ourselves, that God is graciously pleased to be our God and Father, and take us to be his children and heirs.”

This reminds me of something that John Bunyan mentioned in his autobiography, Grace Abounding. Bunyan described himself as a great sinner before his conversion, and went to some length to describe the struggles he went through at the outset of his conversion. Satan confronted him with his sin, suggesting that his transgressions were such that there could be no grace sufficient enough for his salvation. Bunyan discovered that when he shared his struggles with mature saints who had been in the Lord many years, they were encouraged. Bunyan concluded that this was because Satan uses the same tactics with “lesser sinners” later on in their Christian walk that he does with “great sinners” early on, just with a different focus. Rather than holding up all those sins committed before conversion, with “lesser sinners” Satan accuses them for all their sins since conversion, seeking to call into question the genuineness their salvation, suggesting something to the effect that “there is no more grace for you.” In this way Satan seeks to separate the saint from the object of his direct act of faith (the assurance Marshall has been describing).  But the answer to this attack is the same on the first day on the narrow road of faith as it is on last, as expressed in the words of John Newton’s hymn, Approach, My Soul, the Mercy Seat:

“Be thou my shield and hiding place, that, sheltered near thy side, I may my fierce accuser face, and tell him thou hast died.”

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Week 8 of 8 in Bunyan: A Wonderfully Glorious Conclusion

This final assignment (paragraphs 300-339 & Conclusion) in Grace Abounding takes us within sight of the Celestial City, whereby we discover clearer views of ourselves and greater longings to enjoy unbroken communion with our dear Savior.

The last two paragraphs in the Conclusion afford us such inspiring vistas, in the form of seven abominations magnificently ordered by God’s wisdom for the saint’s good far beyond what anyone would ever imagine possible:

  1. I find to this day seven abominations in my heart: (1) Inclinings to unbelief. (2) Suddenly to forget the love and mercy that Christ manifesteth. (3) A leaning to the works of the law. (4) Wanderings and coldness in prayer. (5) To forget to watch for that I pray for. (6) Apt to murmur because I have no more, and yet ready to abuse what I have. (7) I can do none of those things which God commands me, but my corruptions will thrust in themselves, ‘When I would do good, evil is present with me.’  
  2. These things I continually see and feel, and am afflicted and oppressed with; yet the wisdom of God doth order them for my good. (1) They make me abhor myself. (2) They keep me from trusting my heart. (3) They convince me of the insufficiency of all inherent righteousness. (4) They show me the necessity of fleeing to Jesus. (5) They press me to pray unto God. (6) They show me the need I have to watch and be sober. (7) And provoke me to look to God, through Christ, to help me, and carry me through this world. Amen.

It seems that Bunyan is ending with a seven-fold exposition of the illustration he employed in the preface addressed to his children:

I have sent you here enclosed, a drop of that honey, that I have taken out of the carcase of a lion (Judg. 14:5-9). I have eaten thereof myself also, and am much refreshed thereby.  (Temptations, when we meet them at first, are as the lion that roared upon Samson; but if we overcome them, the next time we see them, we shall find a nest of honey within them.)  The Philistines understand me not.

I think it was Thomas Brooks in Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices who cited someone by the name of Hooper as saying:  “Lord, I am hell, but you are heaven.”  The believer who, by grace, comes to perceive the plague of his heart will heartily agree with Hooper’s assessment as well as Bunyan’s, and those lessons well-learned will send the soul regularly to Jesus, emptied of all self-righteousness and resolutions to do better; for apart from Him, we can do nothing.  So it isn’t surprising that the person who knows himself and his desperate, daily need of the Savior becomes keenly aware of the need for prayer.

I remember how John Piper (sorry for the citation of a current author on this dead theologians blog!) compared prayer to air support.  Ground troops on the battlefield call in air support via walkie-talkies.  The “shock and awe” that the air support brings is stunning.  So it is when the humble soul calls upon the Lord for aid against enemies too strong for him.  The strongest believer is no match for either the flesh, the world, or Satan, much less all three combined, wherein is the saint’s constant conflict.  And the “shock and awe” that ensues in response to prayers for aid all flow from Mount Zion, which Bunyan also referred to in paragraph 5 of the Conclusion:

  1. Of all tears, they are the best that are made by the blood of Christ; and of all joy, that is the sweetest that is mixed with mourning over Christ. Oh! it is a goodly thing to be on our knees, with Christ in our arms, before God. I hope I know something of these things.

I hope I know something of these things as well, although far more infrequently than I would like.  It is truly a taste of heaven to be simultaneously so convicted of sin and so assured of the forgiveness and acceptance of God that tears of joy flow profusely down the face and all you can say is GLORY as His presence seems to saturate the heart.  At times like that, one can enthusiastically join John Newton’s retort in the face of every accusing dart hurled by the evil one:

Bowed down beneath a load of sin,
By Satan sorely pressed,
By war without and fears within,
I come to Thee for rest.

Be Thou my Shield and hiding Place,
That, sheltered by Thy side,
I may my fierce accuser face,
And tell him Thou hast died!

Glory be to Him, through whom grace is ever abounding!

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Week 7 of 8 in Bunyan: Fears Within and Without

This week’s assignment (paragraphs 254-299) in Grace Abounding affords many jumping off points, so much so that I will have to restrain myself considerably.

Having had the privilege of preaching on several occasions in the past, I was greatly encouraged by paragraph 277 because this is another instance where I thought I was the only one ever to have experienced anything like what Bunyan described (bold emphasis added):

277. Indeed I have been as one sent to them from the dead; I went myself in chains to preach to them in chains; and carried that fire in my own conscience that I persuaded them to beware of. I can truly say, and that without dissembling, that when I have been to preach, I have gone full of guilt and terror even to the pulpit door, and there it hath been taken off, and I have been at liberty in my mind until I have done my work, and then immediately, even before I could get down the pulpit stairs, I have been as bad as I was before; yet God carried me on, but surely with a strong hand, for neither guilt nor hell could take me off my work.

I can relate to this experience particularly when I was in seminary and asked to fill the pulpit one Sunday morning at our home church.  I went into the pulpit that day feeling not as prepared as I wanted to be.  My wife and I had to make a six hour drive into town the Friday before, and this also hindered preparation time which had to be squeezed in between part time work and a full time class load. I felt completely unworthy to address the congregation that day, as inexperienced as I was in addition to the transition the church was going through after the departure its minister.  And yet, there came such a freedom and unction to speak the word boldly and yet with love and compassion for the congregation, such that many shared with me afterwards how they were blessed. On the return trip home as I reflected on the whole experience, I marveled at how the Lord used such a broken, unworthy vessel.  Perhaps it sounds a little trite, but being used that way is a very humbling thing because it becomes very clear that it is the Lord at work, and He alone can draw straight lines with crooked sticks.

Another paragraph I found very encouraging was 296 (bold emphasis added):

296. I have also, while found in this blessed work of Christ, been often tempted to pride and liftings up of heart; and though I dare not say I have not been infected with this, yet truly the Lord, of His precious mercy, hath so carried it towards me, that, for the most part, I have had but small joy to give way to such a thing; for it hath been my every day’s portion to be let into the evil of my own heart, and still made to see such a multitude of corruptions and infirmities therein, that it hath caused hanging down of the head under all my gifts and attainments; I have felt this thorn in the flesh, the very mercy of God to me (II Cor. 12:7-9).

We talk about besetting sins, the ones to which we are so inclined that they trip us up so easily.  Before I came to the task of the mortification of that sin in my particular case, I used to think that once I had victory in that area, everything would be fine.  Besetting sins like that, however, are like big rocks under which all kinds of little creepy crawly things are hiding.  Once you get that big rock broken up so that you can see under and all around it, you realize that there are, as Bunyan puts it, a “multitude of corruptions and infirmities therein.”

Here I think is a great wonder and a bit of irony in the way the gospel works itself out in the life of the believer.  The closer you get to the light, the more you see your spots.  The closer a person draws near to the Holy One, the more he sees his sins. And wonder of wonder, Christ becomes dearer as a twofold discovery is made: 1) the believer finds himself to be far more sinful that he ever imagined; and 2) he discovers Christ to be far more gracious than he ever dared to dream.  Now please don’t misinterpret me to be saying that sanctification is merely getting used to one’s justification, and that the saint is to wallow in his sinfulness because it manifests the grace of God.  On the contrary, greater is he that dwells in the saint than he that is in the world.  Consequently, there will be victory over sin, and a trajectory of increasing obedience and holiness over the life of a believer.  But it is always a work in process, and it is a process in which the saint is able to step back and perceive the beauty and wonder of what God is up to in his life, and that of others.  In The Nature and Causes of Apostasy, John Owen identified causes and occasions of the decay of holiness in believers, one of which was being mistaken in this regard about the beauty and glory of Christian religion:

But about the true notion and apprehension of that glory and honour which is proper unto religion and suited unto its nature, men have fallen into many woful mistakes; for whereas it principally consists in the glorious internal operations of the Holy Spirit, renewing our nature, transforming us into the image and likeness of God, with the fruits of his grace in righteousness and, true holiness, in a meek, humble, gracious conversation, and the performance of all duties according to the rule, few are able to discern beauty or glory or honour in these things. But yet where there is not an eye to discern them, the gospel must of necessity be despised and abandoned, and somewhat else substituted in the room thereof. (available online at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/owen/apostasy.i.xiv.html)

If we aren’t aware of the multitude of corruptions within, we are very likely to miss the “glorious internal operations of the Holy Spirit, renewing our nature”, making us more like Christ, and we will hinder his work, because we aren’t looking into the mirror of the word, beholding his face so to be changed thereby.  So I close again by saying: Take up and read!  Take up and read!

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Week 6 of 8 in Bunyan: Rightly Appraising Union With Christ

I was delighted again to discover Bunyan’s esteem for the doctrine of the believer’s union with Christ in this week’s assignment (paragraphs 215-253 of Grace Abounding), in paragraph 233:

Further, the Lord did also lead me into the mystery of union with the Son of God, that I was joined to Him, that I was flesh of His flesh, and bone of His bone, and now was that a sweet word to me in Eph. 5.30. By this also was my faith in Him, as my righteousness, the more confirmed to me; for if He and I were one, then His righteousness was mine, His merits mine, His victory also mine. Now could I see myself in heaven and earth at once; in heaven by my Christ, by my head, by my righteousness and life, though on earth by my body or person.

Bunyan, like every believer, found no peace of conscience until he was assured that he was indeed a recipient of the grace of Christ. He started gaining his footing with John 6:37 (paragraph 215) after his protracted, twelve month season of despair during which he thought himself guilty of the unpardonable sin. But, surprisingly enough, the passage that afforded him the most assurance was Joshua 20 in regard to the terms of entry into the city of refuge (paragraphs 219-222). Bunyan’s pilgrimage is an illustration of Martin Luther’s observation that “The heart of religion lies in its personal pronouns.” That is, in the reality of being able to say truly that the Lord is my God.  Or, as Calvin put it (Institutes, 3.1.1, online at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.v.ii.html, emphasis added):

We must now see in what way we become possessed of the blessings which God has bestowed on his only-begotten Son, not for private use, but to enrich the poor and needy. And the first thing to be attended to is, that so long as we are without Christ and separated from him, nothing which he suffered and did for the salvation of the human race is of the least benefit to us. To communicate to us the blessings which he received from the Father, he must become ours and dwell in us. Accordingly, he is called our Head, and the first-born among many brethren, while, on the other hand, we are said to be ingrafted into him and clothed with him, all which he possesses being, as I have said, nothing to us until we become one with him. And although it is true that we obtain this by faith, yet since we see that all do not indiscriminately embrace the offer of Christ which is made by the gospel, the very nature of the case teaches us to ascend higher, and inquire into the secret efficacy of the Spirit, to which it is owing that we enjoy Christ and all his blessings.

Calvin went on to define saving faith to include a “sure knowledge” of God’s benevolence towards us (3.2.7, available online at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.v.iii.html, emphasis added):

We shall now have a full definition of faith if we say that it is a firm and sure knowledge of the divine favor toward us, founded on the truth of a free promise in Christ, and revealed to our minds, and sealed on our hearts, by the Holy Spirit.

I encourage you again, as I did in this past week’s Midweek Rambling (previous post), to listen to the talk Dr. Derek Thomas gave on union with Christ as you have opportunity (http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=9111491210).

Reformed confessions and catechisms include several references to the doctrine of the believer’s union with Christ (see WSC Q30; WLC Q66; HC Q1 & Q54), and hymnody abounds with them. I leave you with the first stanza from the hymn Loved with Everlasting Love as a prime example:

Loved with everlasting love,

Led by grace that love to know;

Spirit, breathing from above,

Thou hast taught me it is so.

Oh, this full and perfect peace!

Oh, this transport all divine!

In a love which cannot cease,

I am His, and He is mine.

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Week 5 of 8 in Bunyan: Wielding the Sword of the Spirit

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!

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Week 4 of 8 in Bunyan: Unveiling One of Satan’s Devices

By the time I came to this week’s reading assignment in Grace Abounding (paragraphs 128-168), I found myself wanting to speak a word of encouragement in Bunyan’s ear, exhorting him to look to Christ, dear brother!

Perhaps this response on my part stemmed from the insights gleaned from an earlier reading selection of ours: Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, by Thomas Brooks which was first published in 1652, fourteen years before Bunyan wrote Grace Abounding.  Before reading Brooks I thought Satan never bothered with me very much, because I had my hands full contending with my own fallen nature, the flesh.  Brooks changed my mind on that entirely.  So if you haven’t read that wonderful book, I urge you to take up and read it as soon as possible!

In the fallout of Bunyan’s fleeting, momentary thought in which he yielded to the temptation to “sell Christ,” he seems to have encountered a common device Satan uses to keep Christians in the pitiful condition he so movingly described.  Thomas Brooks identified eight devices Satan uses to keep Christians in such sad, doubting, questioning, and uncomfortable conditions, and the first one he mentioned is the one John Bunyan encountered: 

Device #1: By causing them to be still poring and musing upon sin, to mind their sins more than their Savior; yea, so to mind their sins as to forget, yea, to neglect their Savior.

Remedy (1) To consider, That though Jesus Christ hath not freed [believers] from the presence of sin, yet he hath freed them from the damnatory power of win.

Remedy (2) To consider, That though Jesus Christ hath not freed you from the molesting and vexing power of sin, yet he hath freed you from the reign and dominion of sin.

Remedy (3) Constantly to keep one eye upon the promises of remission of sin, as well as the other eye upon the inward operations of sin.

Remedy (4) To look upon all your sins as charged upon the account of Christ, as debts which the Lord Jesus hath fully satisfied; and indeed, were there but one farthing of that debt unpaid that Christ was engaged to satisfy, it would not have come into heaven and sit down at his own right hand.

Remedy (5) Solemnly to consider, Of the reasons why the Lord is pleased to have his people exercised, troubled, and vexed with the operations of sinful corruptions; and they are these: partly to keep them humble and low in their own eyes; and partly to put them upon the use of all divine helps, whereby sin may be subdued and mortified; and partly, that they may live upon Christ for the perfecting the work of sanctification; and partly, to wean them from things below, and to make them heartsick of their absence from Christ, and to maintain in them bowels of compassion towards others that are subject to the same infirmities with them; and that they may distinguish between a state of grace and a state of glory, and that heaven may be more sweet to them in the close.

Remedy (6) To consider, That believers must repent for their being discouraged by their sins.  Their being discouraged by their sins will cost them many a prayer, many a tear, and many a groan; and that because their discouragements under sin flow from ignorance and unbelief.

 

Writing long after Bunyan’s day in 1847, Octavius Winslow had this to say about doubting the sufficiency of God’s grace, in Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul

The moment a believer looks at his unworthiness more than at the righteousness of Christ, – supposes that there is not a sufficiency of merit in Jesus to supply the absence of all merit in himself before God, what is it but a setting up his sinfulness and unworthiness above the infinite worth, fullness, and sufficiency of Christ’s atonement and righteousness.  There is much spurious humility among many of the dear saints of God.  It is thought by some, that to be always doubting one’s pardon and acceptance, is the evidence of a lowly spirit.  It is, allow us to say, the mark of the very opposite of a lowly and humble mind. That is true humility that credits the testimony of God, – that believes because he has spoken it, – that rests in the blood, and righteousness, and all-sufficiency of Jesus, because he has declared that ‘whoever believes in him shall be saved.’  This is genuine lowliness, – the blessed product of the Eternal Spirit.  To go to Jesus just as I am, a poor, lost, helpless sinner, – to go without previous preparation, – to go glorying in my weakness, infirmity, and poverty, that the free grace and sovereign pleasure, and infinite merit of Christ, may be seen in my full pardon, justification, and eternal glory.  There is more of unmortified pride, of self-righteousness, of that principle that would make God a debtor to the creature, in the refusal of a soul fully to accept of Jesus, than is suspected.

 The urgent appeal of Isaiah 45:22 is as powerful as ever until the end of this age:

 Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. (KJV)

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Week 3 of 8 in Bunyan: Looking Through a Mirror Dimly

There are many nuggets in this week’s assignment (paragraphs 86-127) in Grace Abounding, but paragraphs 117-120, and 125 have captured my attention the most.

After having endured a long onslaught of temptations which Bunyan described as a storm, he found much wisdom in Mr. Gifford’s counsel when it came to appropriating the truths of Scripture to one’s soul (emphasis added):

117. At this time, also, I sat under the ministry of holy Mr. Gifford, whose doctrine, by God’s grace, was much for my stability. This man made it much his business to deliver the people of God from all those faults and unsound rests that, by nature, we are prone to take and make to our souls. He pressed up to take special heed that we took not up any truth upon trust—as from this, or that, or any other man or men—but to cry mightily to God that He would convince us of the reality thereof, and set us down therein, by His own Spirit, in the holy Word; for, said he, if you do otherwise when temptations come, if strongly, you, not having received them with evidence from heaven, will find you want that help and strength now to resist as once you thought you had.

An important point to note here is that true, evangelical faith is grounded in the Word of God.  It cannot grow or hold firm in any other soil.  When I used to teach the WSC to fourth graders, I always brought Scripture to bear on every element of doctrine contained therein, because, as true as the catechism may be, the believer mustn’t believe the catechism because it is the catechism, but only insofar as the catechism aligns with the truths of Scripture.  In other words, our faith isn’t in the catechism, but in God, and we know Him as he has revealed himself to us through his inspired word.  The last sentence in paragraph 125 is especially poignant in this regard: “O friends! Cry to God to reveal Jesus Christ unto you; there is none teacheth like Him.”

Not having been raised in a confessional denomination, I can relate to the process Bunyan described in becoming convinced of the reality of a doctrine.  I came to believe the doctrines of grace by a sort of slow “ground war.”  I only came, for instance, to believe in particular atonement after praying for the Lord to reveal the truth of the matter to me, followed by roughly a year of diligent study of the Scriptures.  I conceded at the outset that God could have done whatever he chose to do in the matter, but I had to be grounded in what Scripture taught.  And I found the Lord to be an excellent teacher.  As Bunyan put it, there is, indeed, none that teaches like Him.

And yet, the teaching is never done in this life, because we look through a mirror dimly.  I used to think that Paul, there in 1 Cor. 13:12, was referring to a man seeing his own condition as he looked into the word.  I am indebted to Calvin for his insight on the passage, for he pointed out that it is through the Scriptures, chiefly, that we behold not our face, but God’s (Calvin’s Commentaries, available online, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom39.xx.iii.html):

In the first place, there can be no doubt that it is the ministry of the word, and the means that are required for the exercise of it, that he compares to a looking-glass For God, who is otherwise invisible, has appointed these means for discovering himself to us. At the same time, this may also be viewed as extending to the entire structure of the world, in which the glory of God shines forth to our view, in accordance with what is stated in Romans 1:16; and 2 Corinthians 3:18. In Romans 1:20 the Apostle speaks of the creatures as mirrors, in which God’s invisible majesty is to be seen; but as he treats here particularly of spiritual gifts, which are subservient to the ministry of the Church, and are its accompaniments, we shall not wander away from our present subject.

The ministry of the word, I say, is like a looking-glass For the angels have no need of preaching, or other inferior helps, nor of sacraments, for they enjoy a vision of God of another kind; and God does not give them a view of his face merely in a mirror, but openly manifests himself as present with them. We, who have not as yet reached that great height, behold the image of God as it is presented before us in the word, in the sacraments, and, in fine, in the whole of the service of the Church. This vision Paul here speaks of as partaking of obscurity — not as though it were doubtful or delusive, but because it is not so distinct as that which will be at last afforded on the final day. He teaches the same thing in other words, in the second Epistle — (2 Corinthians 5:7) — that, so long as we dwell in the body we are absent from the Lord; for we walk by faith, not by sight.

Our faith, therefore, at present beholds God as absent. How so? Because it sees not his face, but rests satisfied with the image in the mirror; but when we shall have left the world, and gone to him, it will behold him as near and before its eyes.

Hence we must understand it in this manner — that the knowledge of God, which we now have from his word, is indeed certain and true, and has nothing in it that is confused, or perplexed, or dark, but is spoken of as comparatively obscure, because it comes far short of that clear manifestation to which we look forward; for then we shall see face to face.  Thus this passage is not at all at variance with other passages, which speak of the clearness, at one time, of the law, at another time, of the entire Scripture, but more especially of the gospel. For we have in the word (in so far as is expedient for us) a naked and open revelation of God, and it has nothing intricate in it, to hold us in suspense, as wicked persons imagine; but how small a proportion does this bear to that vision, which we have in our eye!  Hence it is only in a comparative sense, that it is termed obscure.

The adverb then denotes the last day, rather than the time that is immediately subsequent to death. At the same time, although full vision will be deferred until the day of Christ, a nearer view of God will begin to be enjoyed immediately after death, when our souls, set free from the body, will have no more need of the outward ministry, or other inferior helps.

 Corinth was well known for its mirrors, which makes Paul’s reference in 1 Cor. 13:12 all the more pertinent to his initial audience.  Those mirrors of polished metal didn’t give as true a reflection as modern ones do.  Similarly, as Calvin noted, the sight which saints behold in heaven is far more glorious than what we enjoy now through his word.  And yet what a joy it is to seek and find his face as he commands (Psa. 27:8)!  As we do so, we prepare ourselves for the putting off of this body so that we can finally see him face to face, and be satisfied:

“As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.”  (Psa. 17:15, ESV)

 

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Week 2 of 8 in Bunyan: A Similitude of Clean & Unclean

The similitude in Grace Abounding that Bunyan observed between clean and unclean beasts and professing Christians is both striking and insightful:

71. I was almost made, about this time, to see something concerning the beasts that Moses counted clean and unclean. I thought those beasts were types of men; the clean, types of them that were the people of God; but the unclean, types of such as were the children of the wicked one. Now, I read that the clean beasts chewed the cud; that is, thought I, they show us we must feed upon the Word of God. They also parted the hoof; I thought that signified we must part, if we would be saved, with the ways of ungodly men. And also, in further reading about them I found that though we did chew the cud as the hare, yet if we walked with claws like a dog, or if we did part the hoof like the swine, yet if we did not chew the cud as the sheep, we were still, for all that, but unclean; for I thought the hare to be a type of those that talk of the Word, yet walk in the ways of sin; and that the swine was like him that parted with his outward pollutions, but still wanteth the Word of faith, without which there could be no way of salvation, let a man be never so devout (Deut. 14). After this I found, by reading the Word, that those that must be glorified with Christ in another world must be called by Him here; called to the partaking of a share in His Word and righteousness, and to the comforts and first fruits of His Spirit, and to a peculiar interest in all those heavenly things which do indeed fore fit the soul for that rest and house of glory which is in heaven above.

In some Reformed circles today it is fashionable to refer to sanctification as nothing more than getting used to one’s justification.  To be an authentic Christian, you need to be in realistic about your sinfulness, and where sin abounds, it is said that grace does much more abound. This type of lifestyle, void of personal holiness but reveling in doctrinal precision, falls into Bunyan’s unclean category of those who chew the cud (feed upon the Word of God) but do not part the hoof (walk in the ways of sin).

The other situation may be found where the doctrines of grace are not so prominent.  Someone may be very faithful in church attendance and outwardly righteous (parting the hoof) but yet have no delight or faith in the Lord and in the end wind up seeking to be justified by personal merit (not chewing the cud).

Both situations share a common assessment: they are an abomination to the Lord (Deut. 14:3), because they are not of faith.  Saving faith is active, efficacious, and unfailingly evident, as expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 14:

1. The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, (Heb. 10:39) is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, (2 Cor. 4:13, Eph. 1:17–19, Eph. 2:8) and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word, (Rom. 10:14,17) by which also, and by the administration of the sacraments, and prayer, it is increased and strengthened. (1 Pet. 2:2, Acts 20:32, Rom. 4:11, Luke 17:5, Rom. 1:16–17)

2. By this faith, a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God Himself speaking therein; (John 4:42, 1 Thess. 2:13, 1 John 5:10, Acts 24:14) and acteth differently upon that which each particular passage thereof containeth; yielding obedience to the commands, (Rom. 16:26) trembling at the threatenings, (Isa. 66:2) and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come. (Heb. 11:13, 1 Tim. 4:8) But the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace. (John 1:12, Acts 16:31, Gal. 2:20, Acts 15:11)

3. This faith is different in degrees, weak or strong; (Heb. 5:13–14, Rom. 4:19–20, Matt. 6:30, Matt. 8:10) may be often and many ways assailed, and weakened, but gets the victory: (Luke 22:31–32, Eph. 6:16, 1 John 5:4–5) growing up in many to the attainment of a full assurance, through Christ, (Heb. 6:11–12, Heb. 10:22) who is both the author and finisher of our faith. (Heb. 12:2)

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Week 1 of 8 in Bunyan’s Grace Abounding: Honey from the Carcass of a Lion

To have had so little formal education, Bunyan could certainly turn a memorable phrase using texts of scripture with great insight.  Addressing his children in the preface to Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, Bunyan employed marvelously instructive imagery (bold emphases mine):

I have sent you here enclosed, a drop of that honey, that I have taken out of the carcase of a lion (Judg. 14.5-9). I have eaten thereof myself also, and am much refreshed thereby. (Temptations, when we meet them at first, are as the lion that roared upon Samson; but if we overcome them, the next time we see them, we shall find a nest of honey within them.) The Philistines understand me not.

In this discourse of mine you may see much; much, I say, of the grace of God towards me. I thank God I can count it much, for it was above my sins and Satan’s temptations too. I can remember my fears, and doubts, and sad months with comfort; they are as the head of Goliath in my hand. There was nothing to David like Goliath’s sword, even that sword that should have been sheathed in his bowels; for the very sight and remembrance of that did preach forth God’s deliverance to him. Oh, the remembrance of my great sins, of my great temptations, and of my great fears of perishing for ever! They bring afresh into my mind the remembrance of my great help, my great support from heaven, and the great grace that God extended to such a wretch as I.

If you are like me upon your first reading of Grace Abounding, you may grow anxious for Bunyan finally to obtain a settled hope.  I lost track, on my first pass, of the number of times he would note how long he continued in a certain state of doubt or anxiety: sometimes weeks, months, even a year or more!  In our instant-everything society today, how many of us have the stamina required to go toe-to-toe with such doubts for so long?  I know I didn’t endure such an ordeal when I came to Christ.

However, I can still identify with much of what Bunyan describes, but the timing is different.  I am immensely grateful for the insight Bunyan shared in this regard in yet another of his books, The Jerusalem Sinner Saved (bold emphasis mine):

The biggest sinners have usually great contests with the devil at their partings; and this is an help to saints; for ordinary saints find afterwards what the vile ones find at first, but when, at the opening of hearts, the one finds himself to be as the other – the one is a comfort to the other. The lesser sort of sinners find but little of this till after they have been some time in profession; but the vile man meets with this at the beginning.”

So think about this as you read through Grace Abounding.  If you haven’t been as great a sinner as Bunyan described himself to be, I wonder if, like me, you find you have struggled with many of the same issues since coming to faith in Christ.  I have heard some of the same things from Satan after conversion that Bunyan dealt with up front: you’ve committed the unpardonable sin, there’s no more grace for you, your situation is unique, etc.  But Satan is a liar, and the father of lies.  By grace through faith I have appropriated to my soul the truth of the words of the hymn by John Newton, Approach, My Soul, the Mercy Seat:

Bowed down beneath a load of sin, by Satan sorely pressed, by war without and fears within, I come to Thee for rest.

Be Thou my Shield and hiding Place, that, sheltered by Thy side, I may my fierce accuser face, and tell him Thou hast died!

O wondrous love! to bleed and die, to bear the cross and shame, that guilty sinners, such as I, might plead thy gracious name.

Poor tempest-tossed soul, be still; my promised grace receive; ’tis Jesus speaks — I must, I will, I can, I do believe.

 Praise be to Him for his unspeakable gift!

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Reading Schedule for John Bunyan’s Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners

Grace Abounding Reading Schedule

We are days away from starting our next selection: Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners by John Bunyan.  I think the group will find this a much easier read than Fisher’s Marrow of Modern Divinity, and it will take us only about a fourth as long to finish it (should complete by October 9th).  The links have been updated to take those interested in using an online version.

 

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