He was imprisoned over three hundred years ago for preaching God’s Word.
He knew what it was like to want to escape the snares of sin, wrong thinking, trials, and tribulations. At the age of 16, he lost his mother and sister. As a young man, he confessed to being, “the very ringleader of all the youth that kept me company, in all manner of vice and ungodliness.” He and his first wife had four children. This first wife passed away leaving him with four small children, one of them blind. He was remarried to Elizabeth who endured the season of his imprisonment due to preaching in ways that did not conform to the law. Elizabeth, who made strenuous attempts to obtain his release, had been pregnant when her husband was arrested and she subsequently gave birth prematurely to a still-born child. He refused to agree to give up preaching and his period of imprisonment eventually extended to 12 years and brought great hardship to his family. They got by with the help of friends and the small amount of money he made making shoelaces.
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.”
This man is John Bunyan, one of my favorite writers and preachers from church history. While his book, Pilgrim’s Progress is one of the most significant books in Christian history and would be delightful to delve into and discuss, I’m just as pleased to say I’ll be exploring another book he wrote, All Loves Excelling. My focus will be on the first section of the book that focuses on describing the breadth, length, depth, and height of God’s love.
Because this is what Bunyan grasped in order to endure all of these life circumstances.
In Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, John Bunyan looked back over the hardships of the previous twelve years and described how he was enabled by God to survive and even flourish in the Bedford jail (where it is believed that he wrote Pilgrim’s Progress). He quotes 2 Corinthians 1:9, “We had this sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God that raises the dead.” Bunyan wrote, “By this Scripture, I was made to see that if ever I would suffer rightly, I must do two things. 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 is 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.” Bunyan drew his life, not from things and people or even himself but from the God that is invisible.
I want to learn more about what this man, Bunyan, grasped about living upon the God that is invisible! I have a hunch you might want to know too.
This post is an introduction to Bunyan’s book, All Loves Excelling, a book rich in helping the finite mind grasp God’s infinite love. Bunyan believed that those who know the truths about God’s love would be those who ‘sweeten the churches and bring glory to God and to religion.’
All Loves Excelling focuses us in on grasping the width, length, height, and depth of Christ’s love as mentioned in Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians in chapter three of his letter to them. I’ve always marveled at the thought of grasping this love that surpasses knowledge and being filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:18-19)
It’s no wonder why Bunyan was drawn to write an entire book based on this passage of scripture. I don’t doubt that he had his own pain and trials in view as he wrote about Paul’s prayer:
“The greatness of God, of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is that if rightly considered, which will support the spirits of those of his people that are frightened with the greatness of their adversaries. For here is a greatness against a greatness.”
“They are made use of to show the Ephesians [and us!], that God with what he is in himself, and with what he hath in his power, is all for the use and profit of the believers.”
“Consider therefore the greatness that is for you, that taketh part with you, and that will always come in for your help against them that will contend with you. It is my support, it is my relief; it is my comfort in all my tribulations, and I would have it yours, and so it will when we live in the lively faith thereof.”
“The words are boundless; we have here a breadth, a length, a depth, and height made mention of; but what breadth, what length, what depth, what height is not so much as hinted. It is, therefore, infiniteness suggested to us, and that has engaged for us.”
“And I will say, there is nothing that is more helpful, succouring, or comfortable to a Christian while in a state of trial and temptation, than to know that there is a breadth to answer a breadth, a length to answer a length, a depth to answer a depth, and a height to answer a height.”
Maybe you are in or have been in a trial or temptation that you just don’t think God’s love can reach. Maybe you feel unlovable either by a person or even by God. I hope this post will remind you that this just isn’t the case. Jesus’ love outspans it. His love outspans anything you may face or have faced.
Will you join me over the next four weeks as we explore and grasp more fully God’s love? My goal is to be prepared to face the trials and temptations of this life well. Perhaps we might even flourish under them as John Bunyan did.
Next week I’ll start off with the breadth of God’s love.
Would you like your own copy of All Loves Excelling?
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The best way to understand God’s infinite love, is through the study of His Word. My friend, Arabah Joy, has a great study on HOW to do that.Do you want to be more passionate about studying God’s Word or making time to study it? Click here!
Linking up this week with these encouraging blogs: