Spend the weekend with John Bunyan – Run to Obtain

If you havent gotten familiar with John Bunyan, you have the opportunity to do so here. Please check out the links below this post and they will take you to several pages of online books to read and videos to watch.

John Bunyan 1628-1688

Run to Obtain

John Bunyan

John Bunyan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the 1660s, Charles II, King of England, asked John Owen (1616–83) why he went to hear the preaching of an uneducated tinker. The King was amazed that Owen, a prominent preacher, would stoop to associate with a tinker. After all, there was quite a contrast between the two.

At that time, most ministers in England graduated from Cambridge or Oxford. Owen had entered Queen’s College, Oxford at age 12, took his B.A. in 1632 and M.A. in 1635. On the other hand, the tinker possessed no formal education beyond the second grade. Owen had written voluminously; the tinker did most of his writing while in jail.

The tinker lived in a small cottage in the obscure village of Bedford, but Owen served as chaplain to Cromwell, walked in kings’ palaces, was respected by many of the nobility, and had preached to Parliament and in England’s great cathedrals. The tinker preached to a church that met in an old barn and at its peak may have numbered 300.

Looking the King in the eye, Owen answered, “May it please your Majesty, could I possess the tinker’s ability for preaching, I would willingly relinquish all my learning.”1

The tinker was John Bunyan (1628–88), the Puritan pastor and author of Pilgrim’s Progress.

Bunyan was an old man when Owen first heard him. “The soul-experiences through which he [Bunyan] had passed,” notes one biographer, “had done more to equip him for what God had so definitely called him than any academic training could do.”2

“I preached what I startlingly did feel,”3 Bunyan later noted.

The source of Bunyan’s influence over Owen and others was his passion in the pulpit that flowed from his personal experience of the Bible’s power and his frequent persecution. He was Bible-saturated. As Charles Spurgeon later noted, “Prick him anywhere; his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him.”4

Owen would not have been surprised to learn that Bunyan’s most influential work, Pilgrim’s Progress, would be translated into more languages over the next 400 years than any book except the Bible.

How did the writing of an uneducated tinker become the most widely read piece of 17th-century English literature? Who was John Bunyan, and what can we learn from his life?

Early Life

Little is known about John Bunyan’s youth. He was born in 1628 in Elstow, a little village 50 miles northeast of London. The exact date of his birth is unknown. At age 16 he enlisted in Oliver Cromwell’s army and fought with the Puritans against King Charles I. He was discharged in his early twenties and married. His first wife (her name unknown) bore him four children. The oldest child, a daughter, was born blind.

He was converted in his mid-twenties after a lengthy agony-of-soul similar to Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress. At age 25 he began to preach, and by 30 he was a part-time village preacher. He worked the forge and anvil by day and preached the gospel at night.

Persecution

We often take religious toleration for granted. But tolerance of multiple denominations in one state was a novel idea in the 1650s. Intolerance had been the norm for 1,000 years. Most English Christians were Anglican paedobaptists. But under Cromwell’s new policy of tolerance, the Baptists were beginning to flourish and many Englishmen were nervous.5

Bunyan belonged to a small Baptist church of about 60 people. They were called independents because the Anglican Church — the only church sanctioned by the English government — did not control them.

Cromwell died, and in 1660, King Charles II came to power. He was determined to eradicate Cromwell’s radical religious tolerance and stamp out all denominations except the State-sanctioned church. Parliament cooperated, passing a series of laws designed to persecute the independents out of existence. Bunyan suffered dearly.

In this setting Bunyan received Christ’s call to preach. He knew it would be costly. To complicate matters, his wife died, leaving him with four children. Bunyan knew he would be jailed soon, so he asked a woman in his church named Elizabeth to marry him so his children would be cared for while he was in prison. Zealous for God and His people, she agreed to marry John and serve the church in this way. In later years Elizabeth and John fell deeply in love.

When Bunyan refused to obey Parliament’s new mandates forbidding him to preach as an independent, the English government imprisoned him. He languished in jail without a proper trial for 12 of the best years of his life: age 32 to 44.

During these years the government persecutors ravaged what was left of Bunyan’s flock, fining immense sums on people who were already poor by 17th-century standards. Often government officials would arrive at their homes with a cart and take everything they owned — furniture, clothing, and cooking utensils — leaving these poor saints utterly destitute.6

The experience of a poor widow named Mary Tilney characterized the treatment of Bunyan’s flock: “They carried away all the Goods in her House they thought worth their labour, as Tables, Cupboards, Chairs, Irons, Feather-beds, Blankets, the very Hangings of the Room, and Sheets off her bed, insomuch that the Widow was forced that night to borrow Sheets of her Neighbors to lie on. … Yet the poor Mrs. Tilney was more troubled at the crying and sighing of her poor Neighbours about her …, than for the loss of her Goods, which she took very cheerfully.”7

Such was the spirit and attitude of these poor, oppressed saints.

Jail Life

Meanwhile Bunyan languished in jail. Seventeenth-century English jails were not pleasant. Unlike today, he had no color TV and no weight room. Food was meager. He slept on a flea-infested straw mattress in a small room crowded with other prisoners. He had no heat in winter. He lived with lice, fleas, poor sanitation, and little privacy. Many fellow prisoners died of disease.

Despite these hardships, the fate of his wife, Elizabeth, and his four children was his greatest concern. There was no welfare to provide for them, so he cast his family upon the mercy of his small congregation, already impoverished by persecution. His children grew up poor and fatherless.

“The parting with my Wife and poor children hath often been to me in this place as the pulling of the Flesh from my Bones,” he later wrote. “And that … because I should have often brought to my mind the many hardships, miseries and wants that my poor Family was like to meet with should I be taken from them, especially my poor blind Child, who lay nearer my heart than all I had besides; O the thoughts of the hardship I thought my Blind one might go under, would break my poor heart to pieces. … Yet recalling myself, thought I, I must venture you all with God, though it goeth to the quick to leave you. O, I saw in this condition I was as a man who was pulling down his house upon the head of his Wife and Children. Yet, thought I, I must do it, I must do it.”8

He was finally released from prison, and for the next 3 years he returned to preaching. Deepened by suffering, Bunyan’s preaching had a new measure of power and authority.

He was jailed a final time for 6 months. During this incarceration, he received the dream that inspired Pilgrim’s Progress. He finished the manuscript in prison.

From his middle forties to his death at age 60, he was the pastor of a small, growing Bedford congregation. He was also in growing demand to supply pulpits in neighboring villages. His reputation preceded him, and increasingly the great congregations of London called him to preach. It was at this time that John Owen heard Bunyan and began attending his lectures whenever he was in London.

Lessons From Bunyan

First, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). God lifted Bunyan high because he went so low. Looking back on his imprisonment he quietly noted: “I was made to see that if ever I would suffer rightly I must first pass a sentence of death upon everything which can properly be called a thing of this life, even to reckon myself, my Wife, my Children, my Health, my Enjoyments, and all as dead to me and myself as dead to them. And second to live upon God that is invisible. I see the best way to go through suffering is to trust in God through Christ as touching the world to come; and as touching this world to count the grave my House, and to make my Bed in darkness.”9

Second, Bunyan persevered in his calling. He was unaware of the vast harvest that would come through his writing after his death. During his prison years, he faithfully devoted hour after hour to Bible study, never knowing how or when God would use him, or if he would be released. He determined to be faithful trusting the harvest to God.

Bunyan didn’t measure success by large numbers or by fine facilities. He measured it by faithfulness. To what has God called us? Are we devoting our lives to it? Are we discouraged by meager results? Take courage. Bunyan measured success by faithfulness, trusting God for results as He saw fit to produce them.

From an earthly perspective, Bunyan saw few results during his life. He is enjoying his reward now in eternity. If we persevere in our calling, we will have the same reward. Emulate John Bunyan. He was a faithful man.

History is His story.

[vimeo https://vimeo.com/48052700 w=500&h=375]

Matthew Mead – The Almost Christian Discovered; Or, The False Professor Tried

English: Engraving of Matthew Mead (Meade), no...

English: Engraving of Matthew Mead (Meade), nonconformist minister. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is an online book recommendation, and a thoroughly excellent one from Gabi Bogdan, for the book The Almost Christian Discovered. In it Mead shows 20 ways you can come close to being a christian, yet find that you are not truly saved. Here’s an excerpt from Mead’s introduction that gives us an insight as to why and for whom he wrote the book. Also, not Mead’s pastoral care for those weak in faith that they do not get discouraged in reading his book:

Reader, You have here one of the saddest considerations imaginable presented to you, and that is, „How far it is possible a man may go in a profession of religion—and yet, after all, fall short of salvation; how far he may run—and yet not so run as to obtain.” This, I say, is sad—but not so sad as true; for our Lord Christ does plainly attest it, „Strive to enter in at the strait gate; for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in—and shall not be able!” My design herein is, that the formal, sleepy professor may be awakened, and the hidden hypocrite discovered; but my fear is, that weak believers may be hereby discouraged; for, as it is hard to show how low a child of God may fall into sin—and yet have true grace—but that the unconverted sinner will be apt thereupon to presume; so it is as hard to show how high a hypocrite may rise in a profession—and yet have no grace—but that the true believer will be apt thereupon to despond. The prevention whereof, I have carefully endeavored, by showing, that though a man may go thus far, and yet be but almost a Christian—yet a man may fall short of this, and be a true Christian notwithstanding.

Judge not, therefore, your state by any one character you find laid down of a false professor; but read the whole, and then make a judgment; for I have cared, as not to „give children’s bread to dogs,” so not to use the dog’s whip to scare the children! Yet I could wish that this book might fall into the hands of such only whom it chiefly concerns, who „have a name to live—and yet are dead;” being busy with the „form of godliness,” but strangers to the „power of it.” These are the proper subjects of this treatise. May the Lord follow it with his blessing wherever it comes, that it may be an awakening word to all such, and especially to that generation of profligate professors with which this age abounds; who, if they keep to their church, bow the knee, talk over a few prayers—think they do enough for heaven, and hereupon judge their condition safe, and their salvation sure—though there be a hell of sin in their hearts, „and the poison of asps is under theirlips;” their minds being as yet carnal and unconverted, and their conversations filthy and unsanctified.

Matthew Mead, a Puritan who lived form 1629-1699. Monergism.com gives a short history of the life of Matthew Mead here:

English: John Owen (1616-1683)

During the time of Oliver Cromwell’s rule, Mead identified with the Independents. In 1658, Cromwell appointed Mead curate of Mew Chapel, Shadwell, near Stepney; however, Mead lost that position after the Restoration.” Joel Beeke, Meet the Puritans, p. 444.

„In 1669, he formally became William Greenhill’s assistant pastor at Stepney. Shortly after Greenhill’s death in 1671, Mead was asked to succeed Greenhill as pastor. He was installed by John Owen on December 14.” Ibid., p. 445.

„Mead succeeded Owen in 1683 as a Tuesday morning lecturer at Pinner’s Hall, a position he held until his death. He wholeheartedly supported John Howe’s attempt in 1690 to unite Presbyterians and Congregationalists. Mead was asked to preach for the service inaugurating „the Happy Union of Independents and Presbyterians” in Stepney on April 6, 1691.” Ibid., p. 445.

„Mead died at the age of seventy on October 16, 1699. John Howe, who preached at Mead’s funeral, called his friend a „very reverend and most laborious servant of Christ.” Ibid., p. 446

The Almost Christian Discovered;
Or, The False Professor Tried

By Matthew Mead, 1661

Matthew Mead AUDIO gems

„You almost persuade me to be a Christian!”
Acts 26:28

Click here for PART 1

Dedication – To the Reader – Introduction

Click here for PART 2

Question I. How far a man may go in the way to heaven—and yet be but almost a Christian? This shown in twenty several steps.

1. A man may have much knowledge—and yet be but almost a Christian
2. A man may have great and eminent spiritual gifts—and yet be but almost a Christian
3. A man may have a high profession of religion, be much in external duties of godliness—and yet be but almost a Christian
4. A man may go far in opposing his sin—and yet be but almost a Christian
5. A man may hate sin—and yet be but almost a Christian
6. A man may make great vows and promises, strong purposes and resolutions against sin—and vet be but an almost Christian
7. A man may maintain a strife and combat against sin—and yet be but almost a Christian
8. A man may be a member of a Christian church—and yet be but almost a Christian
9. A man may have great hopes of heaven—and yet be but almost a Christian
10. A man may be under visible changes—and yet be but almost a Christian
11. A man may be very zealous in matters of religion—and yet be but almost a Christian
12. A man may be much in prayer—and yet be but almost a Christian
13. A man may suffer for Christ—and yet be but almost a Christian
14. A man may be called by God and embrace his call—and yet be but an almost Christian
15. A man may have the Spirit of God—and yet be but almost a Christian
16. A man may have faith—and yet be but almost a Christian
17. A man ma ay have a love to the people of God—and yet be but almost a Christian
18. A man may obey the commands of God—and yet be but almost a Christian
19. A man may be sanctified—and yet be but almost a Christian
20. A man may do all the external duties and worship which a true Christian can—and yet be but almost a Christian

Click here for PART 3

Question II. Why is it that many go so far and yet no farther?

Question III. Why is it that many are but almost Christians, when they have gone thus far?

Question IV. What is the reason that many go no farther in the profession of religion, than to be almost Christians?

Application

Use of Examination – Use of Caution – Use of Exhortation

To Live Upon God that Is Invisible- Suffering and Service in the Life of John Bunyan (Desiring God)

John Piper at the 1999 Desiring God Conference for Pastors (Christian Biography)

you can listen to the sermon audio here. (Sermon length – one hour 23 minutes)

In 1672, about 50 miles northwest of London in Bedford, John Bunyan was released from twelve years of imprisonment. He was 44 years old. Just before his release (it seems) he updated his spiritual autobiography called Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. He looked back over the hardships of the last 12 years and wrote about how he was enabled by God to survive and even flourish in the Bedford jail. One of his comments gives me the title for this message about Bunyan’s life.

He quotes 2 Corinthians 1:9 where Paul says, „We had this sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God that raiseth the dead.” Then he says,

By this scripture I was made to see that if ever I would suffer rightly, I must first pass a sentence of death upon every thing that can be properly called a thing of this life, even to reckon myself, my wife, my children, my health, my enjoyment, and all, as dead to me, and myself as dead to them. The second was, to live upon God that is invisible, as Paul said in another place; the way not to faint, is to „look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

The phrase that I have fastened on for the title and focus of this study of Bunyan is the phrase, „to live upon God that is invisible.” He discovered that if we are to suffer rightly we must die not only to sin, but to the innocent and precious things of this world including family and freedom. We must „live upon God that is invisible.” Everything else in the world we must count as dead to us and we to it. That was Bunyan’s passion from the time of his conversion as a young married man to the day of his death when he was 60 years old.

Click book to read

In all my reading of Bunyan, what has gripped me most is his suffering and how he responded to it. What it made of him. And what it might make of us. All of us come to our tasks with a history and many predispositions. I come to John Bunyan with a growing sense that suffering is a normal and useful and essential and God-ordained element in Christian life and ministry. Not only for the sake of weaning us off the world and teaching us to live on God, as 2 Corinthians 1:9 says, but also to make pastors more able to love the church (2 Tim. 2:10; Col. 1:24) and make missionaries more able to reach the nations (Matt. 10:16-28), so that so that they can learn to live on God and not the bread that perishes (John 6:27).

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