TAUGHT OF THE LORD
The following are a few choice extracts from the writings of John Bunyan in the book, “Grace abounding to the chief of sinners”, which illustrate the Holy Spirit’s teaching of doctrinal truths which, by reason of the ignorance and darkness of the human mind and the temptation of the devil, have been an occasion of stumbling to the exercised members of the “Household of faith.”
WAS I ELECTED?
Now also I should pray wherever I was, whether at home or abroad, in house or field, and should also often, with lifting up of heart, sing that of the 51st psalm, O Lord, consider my distress;
for as yet I knew not where I was.
Neither as yet could I attain to any comfortable persuasion that I had faith in Christ; but instead of having satisfaction, here I began to find my soul to be assaulted with fresh doubts about my future happiness; especially with such as these. Whether I was elected? But how, if the day of grace should now be past and gone?
By these two temptations I was very much afflicted and disquieted; sometimes by one, and sometimes by the other of them. And first, to speak of that about my questioning my Election, I found at this time that though I was in a flame to find the way to heaven and glory, and though nothing could beat me off from this, yet this question did so offend and discourage me, that I was, especially at some times, as if the very strength of my body also had been taken away by the force and power thereof. This Scripture also did seem to me to trample upon all my desires. It is neither in him that willeth, nor in him that runneth, but in God that sheweth mercy.
With this Scripture I could not tell what to do; for I evidently saw that unless the great God, of His infinite grace and bounty, had voluntarily chosen me to be a vessel of mercy, though I should desire and long and labour until my heart did break, no good could come of it. Therefore, this would still stick with me. How can you tell you are elected? And what if you should not? How
O Lord, thought I, what if I should not, indeed? It may be you are not, said the tempter. It may be so, indeed, thought I. Why, then, said Satan, you had as good leave off and strive no further;
for if, indeed, you should not be elected and chosen of God, there is no talk of your being saved; For it is neither in him that willeth, nor in him that runneth, but in God that sheweth mercy.
By these things I was driven to my wits’ end, not knowing what to say, or how to answer these temptations. (Indeed, I little thought that Satan had thus assaulted me, but that rather it was my own prudence, thus to start the question), for that the elect only attained eternal life, that I, without scruple, did heartily close withal; but that myself was one of them, there lay the question.
Thus, therefore, for several days, I was greatly assaulted and perplexed, and was often, when I have been walking, ready to sink where I went, with faintness in my mind. But one day, after I had been so many weeks oppressed and cast down therewith, as I was now quite giving up the ghost of all my hopes of ever attaining life, that sentence fell with weight upon my spirit. Look at the generations of old and see; did ever any trust in God, and were confounded?
At which I was greatly lightened and encouraged in my soul;
for thus, at that very instant, it was expounded to me. Begin at the beginning of Genesis, and read to the end of the Revelation, and see if you can find that there was any that ever trusted in the Lord, and was confounded. So, coming home I presently went to my Bible to see if I could find that saying, not doubting but to find it presently; for it was so fresh, and with such strength and comfort on my spirit, that I was as if it talked with me.
Well, I looked, but I found it not; only it abode upon me. Then I did ask first this good man, and then another, if they knew where it was, but they knew no such place. At this I wondered that such a sentence should so suddenly, and with such comfort and strength, seize and abide upon my heart, and yet that none could find it. For I doubted not but it was in holy Scripture.
Thus I continued above a year, and could not find the place;
but at last, casting my eye into the Apocrypha books, I found it in Ecclesiasticus. This, at the first, did somewhat daunt me; but because, by this time, I had got more experience of the love and kindness of God, it troubled me the less; especially when I considered that, though it was not in those texts that we call holy and canonical, yet forasmuch as this sentence was the sum and substance of many of the promises, it was my duty to take the comfort of it. And I bless God for that word, for it was of God to me. That word doth still, at times, shine before my face.
After this, that other doubt did come with strength upon me, But how if the day of grace should be past and gone? How if you have overstood the time of mercy? Now, I remember that one day, as I was walking into the country, I was much in the thoughts of this. But how if the day of grace be past? And to aggravate my trouble, the tempter presented to my mind those good people of Bedford, and suggested thus unto me: That these being converted already, they were all that God would save in those parts; and that
I came too late, for these had got the blessing before I came.
Now was I in great distress, thinking in very deed that this might well be so. Wherefore I went up and down bemoaning my sad condition, counting myself far worse than a thousand fools for standing off thus long, and spending so many years in sin as I have done; still crying out. Oh, that I had turned sooner; Oh, that I had turned seven years ago! It made me also angry with myself, to think that I should have no more wit, but to trifle away my time till my soul and heaven were lost.
But when I had been long vexed with this fear, and was scarce able to take one step more, just about the same place where I received my other encouragment, these words broke in upon my mind. Compel them to come in that my house may be filled; and yet there is room. These words, but especially them. And yet there is room, were sweet words to me; for truly, I thought that by them I saw there was place enough in heaven for me; and, moreover, that when the Lord Jesus did speak these words. He then did think of me; and that He, knowing that the time would come that I should be afflicted with fear that there was no place left for me in His bosom, did before speak this word, and leave it upon record, that I might find help thereby against this vile temptation. This, I then verily believed.
In the light and encouragement of this word, I went a pretty while; and the comfort was the more, when I thought that the Lord Jesus should think on me so long ago, and that He should speak these words on purpose for my sake. For I did think verily that He did on purpose speak them to encourage me withal.
But one day, as I was passing in the field, and that too with some dashes on my conscience, fearing lest yet all was not right, suddenly 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 a-doing. God could not say of me. He wants 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 for ever.
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 left off to trouble me; now went I also home rejoicing, for the grace and love of God. So when I came home, I looked to see if I could find that sentence. Thy righteousness is in heaven, but could not find such a saying; wherefore my heart began to sink again; only that was brought to my remembrance. He is made unto us of God wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption; by this word I saw the other sentence true.
For by this Scripture, I saw that the Man, Christ Jesus, as He is distinct from us, as touching His bodily presence, so He is our righteousness and sanctification before God. Here, therefore, I lived for some time, very sweetly at peace with God through Christ. Oh methought, Christ! Christ! there was nothing but Christ that was before my eyes; I was not now only for looking upon this and the other benefits of Christ apart, as of His blood, burial, or resurrection, but considered Him as a whole Christ; as He in whom all these, and all other His virtues, relations, offices, and operations met together, and that, as He sat on the right hand of God in heaven.
‘Twas glorious to me to see His exaltation, and the worth and prevalency of all His benefits, and that because now I could look from myself to Him, and should reckon that all those graces of God that now were green on me, were yet but like those crack-groats and fourpence-halfpennies that rich men carry in their purses, when their gold is in their trunks at home! Oh, I saw my gold was in my trunk at home! In Christ, my Lord and Saviour! Now Christ was all; all my wisdom, all my righteousness, all my sanctification, and all my redemption.
Further, the Lord did also lead me into the mystery of union with the Son of God; that I was joined to Him, that I was flesh of His flesh, and bone of His bone, and now was that a sweet word to me in Ephesians 5. 30. By this also was my faith in Him as my righteousness the more confirmed to me; for if He and I were one, then His righteousness was mine, His merits mine, His victory also mine. Now could I see myself in heaven and earth at once; in heaven by my Christ, by my Head, by my Righteousness and Life, though on earth by my body or person.
Now I saw Christ Jesus was looked on of God, and should also be looked upon by us, as that common or public person, in whom all the whole body of His elect are always to be considered and reckoned; that we fulfilled the law by Him, died by Him, rose from the dead by Him, got the victory over sin, death, the devil, and hell by Him; when He died, we died; and so of His Resurrection. Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise, saith He. And again. After two days he will revive us:
and the third day we shall live in his sight; which is now fulfilled by the sitting down of the Son of man on the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens, according to that to the Ephesians, he hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
Ah, these blessed considerations and Scriptures, with many other of like nature, were in those days made to spangle in mine eyes, so that I have cause to say. Praise ye the Lord God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power. Praise him for his mighty acts; praise him according to his excellent great-ness
THE NATURE AND USE OF THE PROMISES
By this temptation I was made to see more into the nature of the promises than ever I was before; for I lying now trembling under the mighty hand of God, continually torn and rent by the thunderings of His justice; this made me, with careful heart and watchful eye, with great seriousness, to turn over every leaf, and with much diligence, mixed with trembling, to consider every sentence, together with its natural force and latitude.
By this temptation, also, I was greatly beaten off my former foolish practice, of putting by the word of promise when it came into my mind; for now, though I could not suck that comfort and sweetness from the promise as I had done at other times, yet, like to a man a-sinking, I should catch at all I saw. Formerly I thought I might not meddle with the promise unless I felt its comfort, but now it was no time thus to do, the avenger of blood too hardly did pursue me.
Now therefore I was glad to catch at that word, which yet I feared I had no ground or right to own; and even to leap into the bosom of that promise, that yet I feared did shut its heart against me. Now also I should labour to take the word as God hath laid it down, without restraining the natural force of one syllable thereof. O what did I now see in that blessed sixth of John, And him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out. Now I began to consider with myself, that God hath a bigger mouth to speak with than I had a heart to conceive with. I thought also with myself that He spake not His words in haste, or in unadvised heat, but with infinite wisdom and judgment, and in very truth and faithfulness.
I should in these days, often in my greatest agonies, even flounce towards the promise (as the horses do towards sound ground that yet stick in the mire), concluding (though as one almost bereft of his wits through fear), on this I will rest and stay, and leave the fulfilling of it to the God of heaven that made it. Oh! many a pull hath my heart had with Satan for that blessed sixth of John. I did not now, as at other times, look principally for comfort (though, O how welcome would it have been unto me!), but now a word, a word to lean a weary soul upon, that I might not sink for ever, it was that I hunted for.
Yea, often when I have been making to the promise, I have seen as if the Lord would refuse my soul for ever. I was often as if I had run upon the pikes, and as if the Lord had thrust at me to keep me from Him as with a flaming sword. Then I should think of Esther, who went to petition the king contrary to the law. I thought also of Benhadad’s servants, who went with ropes upon their heads to their enemies for mercy. The woman of Canaan also, that would not be daunted, though called dog by Christ; and the man that went to borrow bread at midnight, were great encouragements unto me.
A GRACIOUS CONCLUSION
Of all the temptations that ever I met with in my life, to question the being of God and truth of His gospel is the worst, and worst to be borne. When this temptation comes it takes away my girdle from me and removeth the foundation from under me. O, I have often thought of that word. Have your loins girt about with truth; and of that. If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?
Sometimes, when after sin committed I have looked for sore chastisement from the hand of God, the very next that I have had from Him hath been the discovery of his grace. Sometimes, when I have been comforted, I have called myself a fool for my so sinking under trouble. And then again when I have been cast down, I thought I was not wise to give such way to comfort. With such strength and weight have both these been upon me.
I have wondered much at this one thing, that though God doth visit my soul with never so blessed a discovery of Himself, yet I have found again, that such hours have attended me afterwards, that I have been in my spirit so filled with darkness, that I could not so much as once conceive what that God and that comfort was with which I have been refreshed.
I have sometimes seen more in a line of the Bible than I could well tell how to stand under; and yet at another time the whole Bible hath been to me as dry as a stick; or rather, my heart hath been so dead and dry unto it that I could not conceive the least dram of refreshment, though I have looked it all over.
Of all tears, they are the best that are made by the blood of Christ; and of all joy, that is the sweetest that is mixed with mourning over Christ. Oh! ’tis a godly thing to be on our knees, with Christ in our arms, before God. I hope I know something of these things.
I find to this day seven abominations in my heart: (1) Inclinings to unbelief. (2) Suddenly to forget the love and mercy that Christ manifesteth. (3) A leaning to the works of the law. (4) Wanderings and coldness in prayer. (5) To forget to watch for that I pray for. (6) Apt to murmur because I have no more, and yet ready to abuse what I have. (7) I can do none of those things which God commands me, but my corruptions will thrust in themselves. When I would do good, evil is present with me.
These things I continually see and feel, and am afflicted and oppressed with; yet the wisdom of God doth order them for my good. (1) They make me abhor myself. (2) They keep me from trusting my heart. (3) They convince me of the insufficiency of all inherent righteousness. (4) They show me the necessity of fleeing to Jesus. (5) They press me to pray unto God. (6) They show me the need I have to watch and be sober. (7) And provoke me to look to God, through Christ, to help me, and carry me through this world.