Saturday, 29 November 2008

Friday, 28 November 2008

God's Satisfies us by Loving Himself

God loves Himself supremely above all other creatures. He delights in the purity of His character. He observes and analyses every emotion and mental capacity He possesses and declares it good! God is excellent, all together lovely, more beautiful than any landscape or icon. God's reaction to Himself is worship. He worships Himself loving to demonstrate His magnificence to everyone by speaking through creation. He is clearly seen through the testimony of earth.

He is a consuming fire, burning bright with radiance and indescribable light. He is the lion from the tribe of Judah; powerful, strong, the King of all creatures. He's the lamb that was slaughtered; meek and humble. He's the lamb that wanted to be slaughtered. It was His will to redeem a people to give Himself the joy of adoration. He desired worshippers to worship with His Spirit through His truth. He was willing to look guilty in the world's eyes to purchase our innocence. His cross was horrid and bloody. It was brutal and evil to nail the Son of God to splintered wood yet at the same time it works to express the greatness of His glory. He died and suffered to make Himself look wonderful. He did it to make Himself happy. For the joy that was promised to Him He endured the cross.

What do we get from God's efforts to make Himself look wonderful? We get we've always wanted: the happiness that comes from beholding beauty!

'And he [Moses] said, 'Please show me your glory.'' Exodus 33:18

Sunday, 23 November 2008

The Grace-filled Church

Tim Chester gives 7 practical ways to help create communities of grace.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

God's Love

I've just started Owen's book 'Communion with God' -it is amazing! Owen is unpacking what is to know God loves us and how to feel this love. If you're going to buy one Puritan book in the near-future buy this one!!

Here's a taste:

'The greatest sorrow and burden you can lay on the Father, the greatest unkindness you can do to him is not to believe that he loves you.' (Page 13)

'Consider who it is who loves us. It is the love of him who is in himself all-sufficient and who is infinitely satisfied with himself and his own glorious excellences and perfections... His only Son, by himself alone, would be sufficient to satisfy and delight that Father. But in spite of all this, the Father will love his saints also. And the Father's love is such that he does not seek his own happiness and satisfaction only, but ours also.' (Page 28)

'When the soul discovers the excellency and sweetness of Christ in the banqueting house, it is overcome and cries out to be made partaker of his fullness. The soul is 'lovesick' - overcome with the mighty power of God's love.' (Page 43)

Friday, 21 November 2008

The Christian and the World: Staying Holy and Faithful

Here are my notes from a Bible study I gave last night at MPBC...

We have two duties as Christians with respect to the world:

1) Avoiding worldliness
1 John 2:15-17:
15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.

2) Engaging with the world
1 Cor 9:19-23:

19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; 20 and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; 22 to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 23 Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.

We need to learn to find the balance between avoiding and hating sin and also making ourselves relevant out of love for the world.

2 things about the world:

1) We live in a changing world
2) We live in a constant world

If we are to adopt what Paul says in 1 Cor 9 we can say two things:
1) We need to be constant-some things should never change eg truth
2) We need to change- some things have to change if we are stay in touch with the world eg the outward appearance and arrangement of our Christianity

Paul’s Aim: The glory of God in winning souls. Paul gets himself involved in culture but not for his own pleasure in culture. Every act of engagement performed by Paul is done for the sake of winning souls
From the text:
-Paul changes his disposition to win more people for Christ ‘all things to all men’
-Paul (to change His lifestyle) must have been aware/ researched into the surrounding culture
-Paul’s focus on methods does not deny his belief in the Holy Spirit’s work
-Paul became all things to all men to remove unnecessary barriers to the gospel
There are some cultural forms that restrain people understanding the gospel. E.g. the incarnation-Christ came into the culture of the time

Engagement with the world is the concept of sinless identification with the sinful beings, showing them that the gospel is relevant and applicable and needed for their lives. It’s not compromising on truth, neglecting theology or changing the gospel so that it is acceptable in the eyes of the sinner. It is paying attention to culture to become like culture and use many methods to win many people to Christ.

Engagement requires knowledge of restraints and liberties. We must be flexible and rigid. We need to know what we can lawfully do as Christians- the things that do not break commandments. And we need to know what is prohibited. We have to have a clear view of worldliness. We can’t go against our conscience if our conscience has been soaked in scripture. We must exploit all liberty to seeing more people saved without blaspheming God in the process. Paul is not saying- to the gambler I became a gambler. People abuse the concept this way.

In order to be open to win as many as we can to Christ we must know how far closed we need to be. This is liberalism. Our openness is not theological-we do not and should not compromise the truth of scripture. Liberalism does-they say homosexuality is ok- it’s not it’s a sin. Homosexuals must repent of their sin daily as I repent of my sin daily.

The other end of the spectrum is fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is a holding onto everything- not only the essentials of scripture but also cultural values. A fundamentalist church doesn’t change-ever. It’s not looking for ways to be relevant to the society around it. They don’t spend time investing money into making literature look good or the church look welcoming and comfortable. A fundamentalist only takes notice of the preaching. Preaching is the focus. It’s the only hope for all we do. We are called to preach the word- this is the way Christ is exalted in hearts and minds. The error of the fundamentalism is that he/she doesn’t realise that there are external factors of the situation that reduce the number of people listening to the preached word. Would you go to a church without heating? Or without pews? Some might stay others would leave. We want to make sure that no-one is being pushed away by our weird cultural intricacies and characteristics. We need to paint our churches in neutral colours, have music popular to the current culture (not the same as the culture- it must be regulated by scripture but similar in style and sound), our leaflets and websites must look contemporary.

We must labour to be in the middle of fundamentalism and liberalism. Holding to the fundamentals of truth but allowing the externals or cosmetics of our Christianity to look different as time moves on, showing Brighton that the gospel is relevant.

What are the dangers of adapting to popular culture? The danger is worldliness. We need to know and re-access exactly what this means. Is dancing worldly? Can we find scripture to back up our position in condemning this? If it’s not worldly we should embrace for the sake of the gospel. If dancing is not wrong then dancing should be redeemed and used for the glory of God- not by everyone but just by some!
Is drinking wrong? What about smoking occasionally? I don’t believe these things are sinful. Therefore I would encourage Christian smokers to spread the gospel using their mutual interest.

We need to be aware that our hearts love to make any and everything and idol. Anything can be sinful. We need to be as ready to fast from culture as we to engage with it. Can we live without having a pint? If you can’t your sinning and you need to give it up for the sake of your own personal holiness. We are called to be holy and set apart. We cannot afford to sin in evangelism or get too close to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life but in order to be faithful we need to redeem as much as we can of this fallen world to use it in the worship of Christ by bringing others to know Him.

Did Jesus live out these principles? Did He fit in with the culture around Him? Yes-Christ is the ultimate example of cultural relevance. He became like us. He did everything He could to bring a message relevantly. Christ is the word made flesh. He didn’t come down in a blaze of light or glory. He came as a person to identify with us. He subjected Himself to some of the values of society- He lived a human life. We are called to live the same life because Christ said (John 20:21) ‘As the Father has sent me so I send you’. So we are to incarnate ourselves into culture become all things to all men to win them out of a sinful lifestyle and into the liberating gospel.

Questions to discuss:

In what ways are we to be servants of humanity?

Should the church change from generation to generation? Yes/No in what ways?

How should we think about methods in relation to the Holy Spirit’s work?

What is the difference between worldliness and engaging with the world?

What can we do specifically to ‘win more for Christ’ in these areas:
Social activities

What does the doctrine of the incarnation teach us about Christ’s example of relating to culture?
What are the benefits of relating to culture?

What are the dangers of relating to culture?

How does Paul’s attitude of engagement promote humility within the church?

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

The Atonement Debate

“The emphasis on Yahweh’s apparent appetite for continuous appeasement through blood sacrifice, present within some Pentateuchal texts, is to be understood in the light of later prophetic writings as a reflection of the worship practices of the pagan cults of the nations that surrounded the people of Israel. However, the story of Israel's salvation is the story of her journey away from these primal practices towards a new and more enlightened understanding by way of Yahweh's self-revelation.” (Steve Chalke, page 38, The Atonement Debate)

Quotes (like the above) make me grieve. Quotes (like the one below) make me happy in God for all that He has done. He chose to become cursed.The execution of the Son was planned by the Father according to His perfect power to do whatever He pleases. It pleased the Lord to bruise Him to redeem me from judgement! He became sin for me so that I could become righteous in Him! The fair anger of God poured out on Christ for every sin I've ever committed because He loves me!! God, showing this clearly through the animal sacrifices of the Old Covenant. Then the grand unveiling of the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world to break the bonds of my sin and release me to worship for eternity!

Hebrews 9:23-28
23 Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; 25 not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another— 26 He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. 27 And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, 28 so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.


At MPBC we've just started using this resource to hold each other accountable. It's a very thorough two page pdf form that a few of us complete and then send to each other every week.

Accountability gives us the opportunity to be honest and real about the sin we struggle with. It cultivates humility as we confess our faults to each other. It helps us to pray specifically for each other encouraging us to be the church that God has called us to be.

Other benefits of accountability from Andy Naselli:

Motivation: It is an added incentive to glorify God with our whole beings in very specific areas, including our minds, bodies, families, and time-which all belong to God (cf. 1 Cor 6:18-20).

Safety: It is a safety net. If one of us starts slipping or falls hard, two other concerned Christians are right there to catch him or pick him up with biblically informed advice and love.

Consistency: It facilitates (but does not automatically result in) consistent spiritual growth.

Specificity: It requires specific answers to specific questions. If someone asks “How are you doing?” it is very easy to cover up areas of our lives by blowing smoke about something else that may not be as significant.

Thoroughness: It holistically challenges us in multiple areas, rather than focusing on just a few.

Community: It establishes intimate, healthy relationships with fellow believers, rejecting a lone-ranger mentality.

Intensity: It encourages us to maintain a higher level of intensity. Although we may hold different convictions regarding the application of the gospel to lifestyle issues, we can identify with John Piper in his answer to Justin Taylor’s question, “What about your approaches to pop culture? Pastor Mark [Driscoll], you go to movies. You watch TV. You listen to modern music and go to comedy shows. Pastor John-you don’t! So John, how do you stay relevant by mainly avoiding pop culture? And Mark, as you take part in pop culture, how do you stay faithful and transformed rather than being conformed?” Piper replied, “My short answer is that I think I’m weak and therefore would probably become a carnal person if I plunged more deeply into movies than I do. That’s the first answer: Piper’s weak; he has to steer clear of certain kinds of things in order to maintain his level of intensity” (The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World, ed. John Piper and Justin Taylor [Wheaton: Crossway, 2007], pp. 152-54).

Reminder: It is a constant reminder of what is eternally important, and it cultivates a mindset that we live in between Jesus’ two victories, which parallel D-Day and V-E Day in World War II: a decisive battle (i.e., Jesus’ victory at the cross and empty tomb) has determined the war’s outcome, but one final battle remains to end the war (i.e., at Jesus’ return). We confidently expect that God will restore and consummate all things for His glory and our good, and until then, we struggle and yearn for that consummation while living for another time and another place (cf. Rom 8:17-25; 2 Cor 5:1-10; Col 3:1-5).

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

How not to treat your Pastor

If his sermon is longer than usual, “He sends us to sleep.”
If it’s short, “He hasn’t bothered.”
If he raises his voice, “He’s shouting.”
If he speaks normally, “I can’t hear a thing.”
If he’s out visiting, “He’s never at home.”
If he’s at home, “He never visits.”
If he talks finance, “He’s too fond of money.”
If he doesn’t, “Nobody knows what he’s up to.”
If he encourages mission, “He wears everybody out.”
If he doesn’t, “The church is dead.”
If he takes time with people, “He goes on and on.”
If he is brief, “He never listens.”
If he decorates the church, “He’s spending too much money.”
If he doesn’t, “He’s letting everything go.”
If he is young, “He lacks experience.”
If he is old, “He ought to retire.”
And, if he dies?
Well, of course, nobody could ever take his place.

The Epistle of Barnabas

Theology Network has recently uploaded the Epistle of Barnabas. Barnabas was one of the early Church Fathers who spent time travelling around with Paul. He was martyred in AD 61 and was thought of by some to have written the epistle to the Hebrews.

Learning to Love the Gospel

I had a great time this morning giving a devotion at Olivet English Language School. I even managed to keep it within the time limit!

Here are my notes:

We need to work on learning more and feeling more. Today I want to help us all to cultivate a greater love for the gospel. We should want more of God. We need to love and enjoy more of Him!
Philippians 3:1. Paul says: ‘For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe.’
Reminding ourselves of basic truth is not a waste of time. Learning more about Scripture is great but we also need to be treasuring what we already know.
So I want to look at 1 Corinthians 15 to remind ourselves of the gospel-so that we will fall in love with it again in a fresh way!

Read: 1 Corinthians 15:1-5

1 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand,
2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third
day according to the Scriptures,

This is the essence of the gospel
What should we expect the gospel to do for us?
1) The gospel is a picture of God’s beauty. It’s God’s love demonstrated therefore when we think about the gospel we should desire more of God.
2) If we desire more of God this will lead to holy living- a life where we hate sin and love God.

1 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you,
We only declare what is serious. Declaring is strong.
We need to show the world that the gospel is not a theoretically addition to philosophy. It’s not another way of life compatible with a post-modern society.
We need to be showing Brighton that the gospel deserves to be proclaimed because gospel living is the only way of living!

Colossians 1:28 says:
‘Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom’

Paul declares the gospel to the Corinthians because he loves them.
He declares the gospel because some of the Corinthians denied the resurrection from so Paul wants to correct them. He wants to get rid of their bad theology.
He does it because he really cares about the church. He is working for their good and joy.

which also you received

The Corinthians have received the gospel. Why does Paul write it again? Paul explains this gospel again because the Christian life is a gospel-centred life.
Paul is telling the church that the gospel is not the basics of the Christian life that are left behind after you get saved. The gospel is the primary focus of everything; the gospel is the whole message of scripture. Every theological fact orbits around the gospel.

We will be remembering the gospel in Heaven as we sing:
‘Worthy is the lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honour and blessing.’ (Rev 5:12).

The gospel should be enjoyed. We love to eat our favourite food because it gives experience: Satisfaction. We know what the food tastes like because we’ve eaten it before. But we just need to taste it again because it’s so good. It’s the same with the gospel. We should be wanting to hear it again because it’s beautiful.

and in which you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

We stand in the gospel. We are secure if we really believe that Christ died for our sins. The true Christian cannot lose their salvation.

Look at the if …if you hold fast that word which I preached to you.
When are only saved if we hold on to Christ.
Remember Lot’s wife. She turned around when fleeing from Sod and Gom and was destroyed.

What is believing in vain?
This is believing Christ for something other than himself.
Some people want Jesus just to help them out or just to make them feel God. Some people don’t want Jesus to rule over their lives.
Some only want the gifts that Jesus’ gives. True Christians want Jesus Himself. They love everything about Him!

3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
Paul gives the Corinthians the first message He received.
‘Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures’ is the centre of the gospel. The gospel tells us that we are more wicked and evil then we ever imagined yet more loved in Christ than we ever hoped for!
Because we are wicked Christ took our sins. Because we are loved Jesus wanted to die for us.

Galatians 3:13: ‘Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written: cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’. God condemned sin in the flesh. He was angry at Christ for our sin. We deserved to experience all of His anger in our body. He loves us that’s why He died. He loves us so much.
Our sin was punished in Jesus’ flesh.

Numbers 6:24-26 is the blessing that the Priest would say to the people:
The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
When Christ was on the cross He heard the exact opposite because of our sin.

‘The Lord curse you and abandon you, the Lord withhold His face from you and show wrath to you, the Lord take away the light of His countenance from you and give you no rest.’ This is what He went through for His children.

Christ enduring the curse for our sin isn’t the end of salvation. The aim of the cross is not the forgiveness of our sins. The forgiveness of our sins is a means to an end. God curses Christ to free us from the bondage of sin so that we can love Him. Worship and awe are the goals of the cross.
We come to the cross to be freed from sin to worship God. We get given power to break our love for sin and start adoring God.

The proper reaction is John’s reaction:
‘Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us that we should be called children of God.’ 1 John 3:1

Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.
Paul got all his theology from the OT He loved the OT.
The OT shows us Christ’s death. The Bible is full of the gospel from start to finish.

4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,
God died and was buried to ascend and make a spectacle of death. Death is defeated and has been conquered. Christ made death look weak!
We have all that Christ is as Christians therefore we are more than conquers. Death serves us. It helps us.
Paul wants the Corinthians to know that their faith is empty if Christ has not risen.
We can praise God tonight that He did rise because we are not in our sins. He has taken them. People saw Him as weak-they weren’t expecting God to die!But we know that He is our conqueror defeating all our enemies to bring us into everlasting happiness which is His own presence!!

How can you believe in a God who is so narrow minded?

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Help in Suffering Properly from the Life of John Bunyan

Below are my notes from a Bible Study on the Life of John Bunyan. These notes are roughly based on John Piper's biography of Bunyan given at the 1999 Pastors Conference. I have edited Piper's message and added my own thoughts from my own reading of Bunyan.

Romans 8:18 ‘For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us’…then Paul continues in verse 36: As it is written:
“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’’
Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.’

We all will suffer. I haven’t suffered considerably at all yet. But I know I will. God promises it to me! Suffering will work to wean me away from my hunger of the world and bring me to want more of God. I know it will happen and maybe soon. So I’ve decided to research into one man’s suffering so that we all can be taught how to suffer properly.
So that we can suffer rightly; delighting in God, clinging onto Him, not despising the day of the Lord’s chastening- for whoever the Lord loves He chastens. We’re illegitimate sons and not co-heirs with Christ if we do not know suffering (Hebrews 12:7).

Let’s have a look at what John Bunyan can teach us on How to suffer well.

On quoting 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."

Bunyan comments,

‘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.’

In Bunyan’s preparation to suffer he saw that he wouldn’t be able to glorify God in suffering if idols were present in his life. He was intent on crucifying sin ‘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 first lesson of suffering is counting it all loss for Christ. We can only have joy in Christ during suffering if we have a Christ to have joy in. If television or food or money or power or intellect is god in our day to day wealthy lives then why should God be God only in our suffering times. ‘To live upon God that is invisible’ is the starting point of counting ourselves dead to the world. If we are captivated with Him before suffering we shall be during suffering -only with a greater measure.

John Bunyan was born in Elstow, near Bedford,on November 30, 1628. His Dad was a godly man and a metal worker. Bunyan is said to have received two to four years of formal education. In 1644 his mother and sister died within one month of each other. One month after this Bunyan’s Father remarried.

At age 16 Bunyan was drafted into the Parliamentary Army were he witnessed one man dieing in front of him after being shot in the head with a bullet intended for Bunyan.
He is thought to have married at the age of 20 or 21 to a woman unnamed in his writings. They had 4 children the oldest of which was born blind.

Spiritually Bunyan described himself as having few equals: "... especially considering my years, which were tender, for cursing, swearing, lying, and blaspheming the holy name of God . . . Until I came to the state of marriage, I was the very ringleader of all the youth that kept me company, in all manner of vice and ungodliness."

During the first five years of his marriage Bunyan converted to Christ by the grace of God. He joined a non-conformist church pastored by John Gifford. His Spiritual Auto-biography Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners recalls his painful journey to the place of assurance. Bunyan wrestled on several occasions with the doctrine of election; thinking that he was a reprobate, had committed the unforgivable sin and will be condemned to Hell.

He writes: "I feared that this wicked sin of mine might be that sin unpardonable." "Oh, no one knows the terrors of those days but myself." "I found it a hard work now to pray to God because despair was swallowing me up."

His conversion experience is probably best attributed to the moment when he describes himself walking through a field:

One day as I was passing into the field . . . this sentence fell upon my soul. Thy righteousness is in heaven. And methought, withal, 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 wants [=lacks] my righteousness, for that 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." Heb. 13:8. Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed. I was loosed from my afflictions and irons; my temptations also fled away; so that from that time those dreadful scriptures of God [about the unforgivable sin] left off to trouble me; now went I also home rejoicing for the grace and love of God."

In 1655, Bunyan’s gift of preaching was discovered. As he preached people responded.
‘But I at first could not believe that God should speak by me to the heart of any other man, still counting myself unworthy; yet those who thus were touched would love me and have a particular respect for me’ and though I did put it from me, that they should be awakened by me, still they would confess it, and affirm it before the saints of God; they would also bless God for me, unworthy wretch that I am! and count me God’s instrument that showed to them they way of salvation.’

John Owen said about Bunyan: "I would willingly exchange my learning for the tinker's power of touching men's hearts.".

His wife died in 1658 leaving Buyan with four children, one of which was blind. Bunyan then re-married a woman named Elizabeth. One year after the marriage Bunyan was arrested and put in prison due to the act of Uniformity. The Act required Pastors to accept and use the common book of prayer, and become ordained by the Episcopal Church. In the August, 2000 Puritan pastors were forced form their churches.

Bunyan was not tortured in prison although he could have been executed for his offence.
Elizabeth looked after the children as a step-mum for twelve years and gave birth to two more during Bunyan’s imprisonment.

Bunyan comments:
‘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; and that not only because I am somewhat too fond of these great Mercies, but also 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 heart to pieces.’

In 1672 Bunyan was released form prison under the Declaration of Religious Indulgence. He was licensed to pastor his church of 120 in Bedford again.

Bunyan was imprisoned for the second time in 1675 until 1676. During this time it is said the he wrote Pilgrims Progress.

Bunyan died in the August of 1688 from a fever caught when riding from reading to London. He died without the comfort of his family in the house of Strudwick the Grocer.

What was the effect of this suffering? How did it produce or make way for a greater amount of God-centeredness in his life? These five observations are taken from a biographical lecture on Bunyan by John Piper.

So what did Bunyan’s suffering do for him?

1. Bunyan's suffering confirmed his calling to write for the afflicted church.
The most well known Bunyan book is evidently Pilgrims Progress. Published in over 200 languages, it’s said to be the second best selling book of all time under the Bible. According to Whitefield "It smells of the prison. It was written when the author was confined in Bedford jail. And ministers never write or preach so well as when under the cross: the Spirit of Christ and of Glory then rests upon them."

In the year of it’s publication (1678) the book went through three editions. I first read Pilgrims Progress two years ago last Christmas and loved it! As I presume you know the book tries to capture the Christian life by following a man named Christian on his pilgrimage to the Celestial City. From the joys of the delectable mountains pictured as the church to Christian’s verbal battles with Mr Worldly Wiseman and other characters the book remains balanced in representing the true gospel in a Puritan style.

Bunyan is said to be the author of 58 books from various genres. He wrote children’s literature, doctrinal expositions such as his book on prayer, allegory (the pilgrims progress, holy war, the Life and Death of Mr Badman). He wrote controversy (books on Quakers and baptism), poems as well as his own Spiritual Auto-biography named ‘Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners’.
All of this came from a man who had no formal education and didn’t read Hebrew or Greek. Yet he was used of God and fulfilled the example of Acts 4:13 ‘Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marvelled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.’

Apart from The Pilgrims Progress I’ve only read two other books by Bunyan, Grace and Abounding and a short book named ‘the Heavenly Footman.’ This writing seeks to give a description of the man that gets to Heaven. How does the elect person live in the world so that they will not get caught up with earthly riches but treasure Christ who is invisible? How can we press on to win the prize? It is an exhortation to push on, persevere to the end and not look back in case we are consumed like Lot’s wife. The book reminds us to not be passive in pursuing the goal of heaven as some do. We can’t rest on the doctrine of eternal security until we have made our calling and election sure.

His writings from jail and suffering indicated the joy and peace that comes from a God who Bunyan had not yet seen but yet believed.

2. Bunyan's suffering deepened his love for his flock
An excerpt from his book Christian Behaviour proves this point:

Thus have I, in a few words, written to you before I die, a word to provoke you to faith and holiness, because I desire that you may have the life that is laid up for all them that believe in the Lord Jesus, and love one another, when I am deceased. Though then I shall rest from my labours, and be in paradise, as through grace I comfortably believe, yet it is not there, but here, I must do you good. Wherefore, I not knowing the shortness of my life, nor the hindrance that hereafter I may have of serving my God and you, I have taken this opportunity to present these few lines unto you for your edification.

Bunyan loved the gospel ministry counting imprisonment as a small price to pay for being a preacher of the gospel. He said:

"My heart hath been so wrapped up in the glory of this excellent work, that I counted my self more blessed and honoured of God by this, than if I had made me the emperor of the Christian world, or the lord of all the glory of the earth without it! O these words, ‘’He that converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death (James v.20). ‘’The fruit of righteousness is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise’’ (Prov. xi.30). ‘’They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars forever and ever’’ (Dan. xii. 3). ‘’For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For ye are our glory and joy" (1 Thes. ii. 19,20). These, I say, with many other of a like nature, have been great refreshments to me.’’

He loved the duty of preaching and the duty of rejoicing in his congregation of 120 people.

3. Bunyan's suffering opened his understanding to the truth that the Christian life is hard and that following Christ means opposing the system of this world.
In his book The Greatness of the Soul Bunyan pleads for his readers to persevere (as he did with the book The Heavenly Footman) and not waste our lives.

The book is based on Mark 8:36-37:"What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" His purpose? "awaken you, rouse you off of your beds of ease, security, and pleasure, and fetch you down upon your knees before him, to beg of him grace to be concerned about the salvation of your souls."

Bunyan bears the mark of a Puritan by clearly illustrating the cost, commitment and sacrifice of the Christian life. As Christ put it ‘For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost.’ (Luke 14:28). Commenting on John 15:2 2 ("Every branch that bears fruit, He prunes"), he writes:

"It is the will of God, that they that go to heaven should go thither hardly or with difficulty. The righteous shall scarcely be saved. That is, they shall, but yet with great difficulty, that it may be the sweeter."

In his book The Excellency of a Broken Heart he says,
"Conversion is not the smooth, easy-going process some men seem to think . . . . It is wounding work, of course, this breaking of the hearts, but without wounding there is no saving. . . . Where there is grafting there is a cutting, the scion must be let in with a wound; to stick it on to the outside or to tie it on with a string would be of no use. Heart must be set to heart and back to back, or there will be no sap from root to branch, and this I say, must be done by a wound."

This concept has been lost in some churches. Salvation has become easy: an on the spot quick decision into the church community rather than decision that will radically transform a whole worldview and lifestyle. Salvation has often become reduced to completing a simple prayer instead of living a life characterised by hating sin and enjoying God. Raising a hand, praying a prayer, or completing a course, does not evidence salvation. Those methods can and are used by God. They can profit but I believe that they deceive more people than they bless.

It’s hard to enter the Kingdom. Luke 13:24 ‘Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able.’

Salvation is identified by the endurance of sufferings with joy. This is what Bunyan found. His sufferings allowed him to experience Christ’s words when He said: "The way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Matt. 7:14).

4. Bunyan's suffering strengthened his assurance that God is sovereign over all the afflictions of his people and will bring them safely home.
Denying the Sovereignty of God leads to discomfort. If we do not embrace the fact that God has appointed who will suffer (Rev 6:11), and at what times they will suffer (Acts 18:9-10), and the type of sufferings they shall endure (Acts 9:16) then we have a problem. Denying that God is sovereign over suffering (meaning he not only permits but plans the suffering) will paralyse a whole theological system and leave you with a God whose plans have been ultimately distorted and upset. This Arminian God provides no comfort for the Christian because the Arminian can’t say to the suffering saint ‘I did that for your good’ instead He will say ‘I’m sorry about this suffering or that suffering but I’m trying to make it better.’

For Bunyan the centre of his Christian understanding was found in the Sovereignty of God. Therefore the backbone of Bunyan’s joy during pain was God’s sovereignty as found in Genesis 50:20 ‘what you meant for evil God meant for good’.

The Sovereignty of God during trials brings comfort and joy! We can say ‘It’s working for my good. My Father has planned this for my exceeding weight of glory. My King leads me to suffering so that I can submit more of myself to him.’

In his book Seasonable Counsels: Advice to Sufferers this is what he says
"It is not what enemies will, nor what they are resolved upon, but what God will, and what God appoints; that shall be done. . . . No enemy can bring suffering upon a man when the will of God is otherwise, so no man can save himself out of their hands when God will deliver him up for his glory. . . We shall or shall not suffer, even as it pleaseth him."

Shall we except from God good and not evil?

"Let me beg of thee, that thou wilt not be offended either with God, or men, if the cross is laid heavy upon thee. Not with God, for he doth nothing without a cause, nor with men, for . . . they are the servants of God to thee for good. (Psalm 17:14 KJV; Jer. 24:5). Take therefore what comes to thee from God by them, thankfully."

5. Bunyan's suffering deepened in him a confidence in the Bible as the Word of God and a passion for Bible memory and Biblical exposition as the key to perseverance.
During Bunyan’s time in Prison he said this:

‘’I never had in all my life so great an inlet into the Word of God as now. Those scriptures that I saw nothing in before were made in this place and state to shine upon me. Jesus Christ also was never more real and apparent than now. Here I have seen him and felt him indeed. . . I have had sweet sights of the forgiveness of my sins in this place, and of my being with Jesus in another world. . . I have seen that here that I am persuaded I shall never, while in this world, be able to express.’’

One scene from The Pilgrims Progress captures well what it is to have faith in the promises of God. Christian has been locked away in Doubting Castle until he makes a discovery: a key in his chest pocket called ‘promise’….

What a fool I have been, to lie like this in a stinking dungeon, when I could have just as well walked free. In my chest pocket I have a key called Promise that will, I am thoroughly persuaded, open any lock in Doubting-Castle." "Then," said Hopeful, "that is good news. My good brother, do immediately take it out of your chest pocket and try it." Then Christian took the key from his chest and began to try the lock of the dungeon door; and as he turned the key, the bolt unlocked and the door flew open with ease, so that Christian and hopeful immediately came out.

The point is that Bunyan wouldn’t have had access to this key if he didn’t memorise the Bible. He had the scriptures stored is his heart, he studied scripture intently. Spurgeon puts it like this:
"He had studied our Authorized Version . . . till his whole being was saturated with Scripture; and though his writings . . . continually make us feel and say, 'Why, this man is a living Bible!' Prick him anywhere; and you will find that his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak with out quoting a text, for his soul is full of the Word of God."
I pray that God would help us to suffer well to the glory of God!

Help us Lord to suffer well!

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Jesus, Bunyan, and Me

I'm being blessed by the life of John Bunyan at the moment. Christ is teaching me what it is to suffer well as Bunyan did.

I'm preparing a Bible study on his life for MPBC tomorrow night (at 730).
Here's a little quote that I intend to use. Bunyan is referring to the privilege of ministry.

"My heart hath been so wrapped up in the glory of this excellent work, that I counted my self more blessed and honoured of God by this, than if I had made me the emperor of the Christian world, or the lord of all the glory of the earth without it! O these words, ‘He that converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death' (James v.20). ‘The fruit of righteousness is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise’’ (Prov. xi.30). ‘They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars forever and ever’ (Dan. xii. 3). ‘For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For ye are our glory and joy" (1 Thes. ii. 19,20). These, I say, with many other of a like nature, have been great refreshments to me.’’