What is it about the gospel of grace that can make me endure better? Is anyone else out there challenged in their endurance levels? Physically I can go…push myself to get it done. But I’m talking about how I respond to challenging emotional situations. These days that mostly plays out in how I respond to disappointment throughout the day. A temper tantrum on top of trying to keep up with homeschool on top of one crying for attention on top of all kinds of other needs and duties. Just the simple but overwhelming challenges of the day. But there are bigger things out there to come and ones that have come. It seems I handle the big things better than the little sometimes. Perhaps its because the little things happen so fast. Reading about a great hero of the faith tends to sober me up in my responses to the little things.
In my last post I reflected a bit on John Bunyan…a great hero of the Christian faith. While I long most of all to be like Jesus, I also sometimes step back and look at Christians who really got it. Who really grasped the gospel and applied it to their lives. Usually the greats were those who endured horrific challenges and endured them well. What was it about the gospel of grace that empowered John Bunyan during times of suffering and transformed him into one of the greatest writers in the history of the church?
As his father before him, Bunyan was a tinker by trade who traveled from place to place reapairing metal pots and pans. Until Bunyan married, he was a ring leader among the unruly men of the village-known for his love of sport, free use of language and rudeness. Through his exposure to the Bible, his conscience asked the question “Will you leave your sin and go to heaven, or will you have your sins and go to hell?” His first wife (whom he lost to an early death) gave him two Puritan works, The Plain Man’s Pathway to Heaven and The Practice of Piety, through which he was led to Christ. “One day as I was passing into the field…this sentence fell upon my soul, ‘Thy righteousness is in heaven.’ And I thought I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God’s right hand; there I say, was my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was doing, God could not say of me, he lacks my righteousness, for that (righteousness) was just before Him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness was Jesus Christ Himself, the same yesterday, today, and forever. Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed.”
Being enlightened to Christ’s righteousness credited to him, John wrote a poem:
“Run, John, run, the law commands
But gives us neither feet nor hands,
Far better news the gospel brings:
It bids us fly and gives us wings.”
Bunyan understood that the truths of the gospel – the truths about who God is and who we are in Christ – empower the believer to carry out what God desires of them.
John was a powerful preacher. The great Puritan theologian and friend of Bunyan, John Owen, when asked by King Charles why he, a great scholar, went to hear an uneducated tinker preach, said, “I would willingly exchange my learning for the tinker’s power of touching men’s hearts.”
His ministry coincided with the Restoration of the English monarch in 1660 so that unauthorized preaching became illegal. Before his arrest, when a friend exhorted him to disband the asssembled meeting and escape before the authorities arrived, he refused, believing that running away would set a negative example. He spent 12 years in the Bedford County jail for violating the Act of Uniformity, which meant separation from his wife and children. He once said of this situation: “The parting with my wife and poor children has often been to me in this place as the pulling of the flesh from my bones…I 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. Oh the thoughts of the hardship I thought my blind one might undergo, would break my heart to pieces.”
He was known to have said of his time in jail, “Were it lawful I could pray for greater trouble for the greater comfort’s sake.” He was so comforted by the Lord during his time in jail that he longed for more trouble so that he could experience more comfort.
When in prison, Bunyan’s wife and Bunyan’s friend, John Owen, worked much for his release, with no result. His wife lost a pregnancy while he was in jail.
When Bunyan was finally released in 1676 he brought with him Pilgrim’s Progress. Now regarded as one of the most significant works of religious English literature, it has been translated into more than 200 languages and has never been out of print. Despite the intention to suppress the “Tinker of Bedford”, prison gave Bunyan new opportunities to minister through his writings, especially The Pilgrim’s Progress.
So how was Bunyan able to endure 12 years of suffering?
“I was made to see that if ever I would suffer rightly, I must first pass a sentence of death upon everything 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.
Bunyan drew his life, not from things and people or even himself but from the God that is invisible.
This is one of my prayers each day. To see Him as greater than any challenge or any situation. To draw on Him in order to respond with love in all things. In the big things and the small things.
The above commentary on John Bunyan’s life were taken from class notes given by Dr. Phil Douglass of Covenant Seminary. Picture taken off of Google, artist unknown.