Friday, July 22, 2011

Faith Cook on John Bunyan and Christian Warfare


Once a year our Ministers' Fraternal at Bradford on Avon is open to pastors' wives. On Wednesday we had the privilege of hearing Faith Cook speak on John Bunyan and Christian Warfare. Having enjoyed her excellent biography of the Puritan preacher (reviewed here), I was very much looking forward to hearing what she had to say. Here are some brief notes. 

Faith Cook began by expressing her appreciation of Bunyan and his writings. Her biography was "debt of gratitude" to the Bedfordshire pastor. A brief outline was given of Bunyan's life and times before addressing what we might learn from him concerning the fight of faith. 

In the devil we have an enemy who is out to destroy our faith. We see something of the intensity of Bunyan's battle with the evil one in his spiritual autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. After his conversion Bunyan came under sustained attack from the devil. Some suggest that he was mentally ill during this period, but this is to misunderstand his experiences.

The devil had several lines of attack: 

1. Confused doctrine

Satan suggested that Bunyan had no faith. To prove otherwise he proposed to work a miracle. He considered trying to command that water gathered in puddles in the road dry up, and where the road was dry that it become wet. Before working his "miracle" he thought that he had better pray. Then he though better of his scheme.

The devil had Bunyan question whether he was one of the elect. He was too late for grace.

He began to have doubts concerning the truth of Christianity.  How did he know that the Bible rather than the Koran was God's Word? Perhaps all ways lead to God? Horrible blasphemies entered his mind. He wondered whether he was possessed by the devil.  

2. Confused understanding of grace

Bunyan thought he was too far gone in sin to be saved. 

3. Confused understanding of the law

He became legalistic, abandoning bell ringing and playing the violin. violin. He dared not pick up a pin without fear of sinning. The usually talkative Bunyan grew silent and withdrawn. He was cured by reading Luther's commentary on Galatians, a work "most fit for a wounded conscience". Luther's emphasis on justification by faith in Christ apart from the works of the law was just what he needed. 

4. The unforgivable sin

Bunyan was repeatedly told to "sell Christ". Wearied and miserable under the weight of with this constant attack he agreed to sell his Lord. Then the devil told him that he has lost salvation. Like Esau there was no way back for him.

Bunyan received counselling from his pastor John Gifford, which helped him. But lasting relief came from Jesus himself. Bunyan saw that Christ was his righteousness. He had no need to fear condemnation. 

Soon after he began to preach. His ministry was informed by his own experiences of temptation and deliverance. He said, "I preached what I smartingly did feel". 

Why did the Lord allow Bunyan to suffer the onslaughts  of Satan?

1. Assurance

He understood that great sins are met with great grace.

2. Help for others who were tempted

While in prison for his faith Bunyan began to write. His first book was on the subject Grace and Law Unfolded penned in the light of his own experiences. In Pilgrim's Progress he also helps those who are troubled by legalism. Mr. Legality misleads Christian, sending him to Mt. Sinai. He is put on the right track by Evangelists who pointed him to the wicked gate and the Cross. There burden of Christian's sin was removed. 

3. He details our weapons

a) Claim the promises, e.g. Isaiah 44:22. Apollyon was defeated by Christian quoting the promises. Christian and Hopeful escaped from Doubting Castle using the key called promise.

b) Use devil's weapons against him. If he says that your prayers are cold and worthless, agree and pray until you are on fire for the Lord. If he says you are too bad a sinner to hope for mercy, agree saying, "I am  Manasseh, Saul of Tarsus, the chief of sinners, yet 1 Timothy 1:15". 

c) Stand in the power of Holy Spirit

d) Avail yourself of the blood of Christ that cleanses from all sin. 

The fight is relentless. In The Heavenly Footman, Bunyan bids us to run for heaven. When we are weary and worn out with the battle, Jesus will carry us. In the Palace Beautiful, Christian was asked what he would should he fail. He pointed to the Cross where he first  found forgiveness, his coat symbolising the righteousness of Christ, and his scroll, that reminded him of where he was going.

In his Holy War, Bunyan takes up the theme of how Emmanuel conquered Mansoul. But that was not the end of the struggle. The fight against sin and Satan continues to the end. Mrs. Cook quoted from Rudyard Kipling's poem, The Holy War

Even on their deathbeds believers face temptations. Heaven will be the sweeter for those assailed by doubts and fears in the face of death. As with Christian and Hopeful, the struggle against the foe will have been worth it, 
Now I saw in my dream, that these two men went in at the gate; and lo, as they entered, they were transfigured; and they had raiment put on that shone like gold. There were also that met them with harps and crowns, and gave them to them; the harps to praise withal, and the crowns in token of honor. Then I heard in my dream, that all the bells in the city rang again for joy, and that it was said unto them,
“enter ye into the joy of your lord.”
I also heard the men themselves, that they sang with a loud voice, saying, 
“blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the lamb, for ever and ever.” 
Now, just as the gates were opened to let in the men, I looked in after them, and behold the city shone like the sun; the streets also were paved with gold; and in them walked many men, with crowns on their heads, palms in their hands, and golden harps, to sing praises withal. 
There were also of them that had wings, and they answered one another without intermission, saying, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord. And after that they shut up the gates; which, when I had seen, I wished myself among them.

1 comment:

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Thank God for John Bunyan, but thank Him also for Martin Luther, the most wholesome remedy for Calvinism!
Thanks for this report Guy. Your blog never fails to be interesting.