Sunday, January 24, 2010

John Bunyan's Vindication of Gospel Truths

In this post I would like for us to consider none other than John Bunyan (1628-1688), the beloved Bedford tinker and late pastor of St. John's Church, and how he was in his generation an ardent defender of the glorious gospel of salvation. Let me begin by drawing attention to an excerpt from his allegory The Pilgrim's Progress, and how a man named Christian came to be delivered from his burden of sin. In the following narrative notice how Bunyan highlights the twin symbols of Christianity - the cross and the empty tomb - in the content of saving faith. In contemplating these tremendous truths, let us be careful not to stop at these symbols, but instead may we move on to embrace the gospel truths they represent. In this regard Bunyan writes:

"Now I saw in my dream, that the highway up which Christian was to go, was fenced on either side with a wall, and that wall was called Salvation. Isa. 26:1. Up this way, therefore, did burdened Christian run, but not without great difficulty, because of the load on his back. He ran thus till he came at a place somewhat ascending, and upon that place stood a cross, and a little below, in the bottom, a sepulchre [or, tomb]. So I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble, and so continued to do, till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more. (When God releases us of our guilt and burden we are as those that leap for joy) Then was Christian glad and lightsome, and said, with a merry heart, 'He hath given me rest by his sorrow, and life by his death.' Then he stood still awhile to look and wonder; for it was very surprising to him, that the sight of the cross should thus ease him of his burden. He looked therefore, and looked again, even till the springs that were in his head sent the waters down his cheeks. Zech. 12:10  Now, as he stood looking and weeping, behold three Shining Ones came to him and saluted him with 'Peace be unto thee'. So the first said to him, 'Thy sins be forgiven thee' Mark 2:5; the second stripped him of his rags, and clothed him with change of raiment Zech. 3:4; the third also set a mark on his forehead, and gave him a roll with a seal upon it, which he bade him look on as he ran, and that he should give it in at the Celestial Gate. Eph. 1:13 So they went their way....Then Christian gave three leaps for joy, and went on singing--'Thus far I did come laden with my sin; Nor could aught ease the grief that I was in Till I came hither: What a place is this! Must here be the beginning of my bliss? Must here the burden fall from off my back? Must here the strings that bound it to me crack? Blest cross! blest sepulchre! blest rather be The Man that there was put to shame for me!'"

Bunyan also penned a polemical piece titled A Vindication of Gospel Truths Opened which depicts his understanding of Paul's glorious gospel and evidences that he was no groundless gospel advocate as some are today. Similar to the allegory of Christian's conversion in The Pilgrim's Progress, Bunyan again includes Christ's burial in the content of saving faith when he declares:

"That at that very time when Jesus Christ did hang on the cross on Mount Calvary, was buried, rose again from the dead, and ascended above the clouds from his disciples, at that very time was all the law fulfilled for righteousness. He is the end of the law, mark; he is the end of the law for righteousness [Rom. 10:4]. But if there were anything yet to be done for justification, which was not then done; there could not be an end put to the law for righteousness, for every one that believeth. But in that there is an end put to the law for righteousness by Jesus for all the elect of God, Christ having once fulfilled it for them: It is manifest, that there was not anything then left undone by Christ at that time, which was afterward to be done by his own Spirit in his children for justification, only believe what the man Christ, at that time did do, and be saved (Acts 13:29-39); and whereas thou asketh, whether Christ did justify that which the law condemneth?" 

"[Paul] saith, 'The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart.' Ro. 10.8. That is, The word of faith which we preach. Now, Friend, faith is that which layeth hold of, or believeth the gospel. And that this is the meaning read the next verse: That (saith he) 'If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.' So that it is clear that the word of faith, is to believe assuredly from the very heart, that God hath raised up Jesus from the dead, out of the grave into which he was laid by Joseph; and that he was raised again for [literally, because of] my justification, Ro. 4.25. as it is written, 1 Co. 15.4 Moreover brethren (saith he,) I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you at the first, 'which also you have received, and wherein ye stand, by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory, (or assuredly believe,) what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.' But what was that gospel you preached? why, saith he, ver. 3. 'I delivered unto you first of all, that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: and that he was seen of -- the brethren after his resurrection,' etc."

May the fervor of John Bunyan for the truth of the gospel grip us today.