vrijdag 3 januari 2014

John Bunyan and his Relevance for Today 1

        John Bunyan is one of the most important persons out of the history of the church. His work The Pilgrim's Progress is read all over the world. It is read in all circles, Reformed, Baptist, Pres-byterian, Lutheran and so on.Who was John Bunyan? In Dutch, we have a proverb: "He curses as a tin­ker". That proverb goes back to John Bunyan who became, after he had left school, a tinker just as a father. As a young man, Bunyan was known for his cursing and swearing. That is the one side. At the other side John Bunyan is the author of the most widely read Christian book after the Bible: The Pilgrim's Progress.
        How is this possible? I can give the answer with the title of his autobiography: Grace Aboun­ding to the Chief of Sinners. John Bunyan was a sinner saved by grace. In his life, he has severely struggled with the heart-burning question: How can I get peace with God? By God grace, he found the answer. He became for others a guide to Christ. He speaks still to us after he has died through his many writings, especially through The Pilgrim's Prog­ress.
       John Bunyan was in more than one respect a child of his time. He was a seven­teenth-century Englishman. But we must also say that in what he has written he crosses the bounds of the century in which he lived. He brought a message that is still relevant for today. The most important question which we can ever ask is: How can I find peace with God? There is only one answer.
       The answer Bunyan found by the grace of God. The answer God which thought him and that answer is: That we are right in the sight of God by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.God imputes the righte­ousness of Jesus Christs to the sinner who puts his trust in Christ as his Saviour. Also in our time the law must be preached that sinners began to realize that God is angry with them every day. The gospel must be proclaimed in all its freeness and its fullness that woun­ded consciences might be healed.
       The Spirit God teaches sinners the same lessons in every age. Buny­an experi­enced that in a very remarkable way. It was in the period that he was in a state of deep concern about his soul. While he was going through such a dark valley, spiri­tually, he laid hands on an old volume of Luther's commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians. It ama­zed him that a man who had lived about a century before him could ful­ly enter his condition and had a similar experience. He came to appreciate Luther greatly. As it says in Grace Abounding:

       I do prefer this book of Martin Luther upon the Galatians, excepting the Holy Bible, before all the books that ever I have seen, as most fit for a wounded conscience.

       He was amazed that Luther who had lived a century earlier knew exactly of his trials and his burden. I quote again Grace Abounding:

       I found my condition in his experience so largely and profoundly handled as if his book had been written of my heart. This made me marvel; for thus thought I, this man could not know anything of the state of Christians now, but must needs write and speak the experience of former days.

       What Bunyan said of the commentary of Luther on the Galatians can be said of his own works, too: They speak of the state of Christians of all places and all ages. In his writings the question is answered how a sinner can find peace with God. God's way of salvation that never changes, is proclaimed in them. Bunyan is known all over the world by his work The Pilgrim's Progress. That work is also when we view it from the viewpoint of literature of a very high quality. It is characterised as an allegory. An allegory is a story in which each detail has a meaning. We are right when we say that The Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegory, but in fact it is more than that. We must say that it is a parable like the parable of the prodigal son.
      From the viewpoint of literature, the strength of such a parable is that the reader can identify himself with the main-person out of the parable. These must be also be the case on a much deeper level. Will it be well for eternity we must recognise ourselves in the prodigal son. When that is not the case, we are just like his elder brother. When that never changes, we are lost forever. Reading The Pilgrim’s Progress, the reader can identify himself with Chris­tian and his struggles, sorrows and joys. The Lord knows that with regard to many people during the centuries that was also true on the spiritual level. May that be with you too, dear friends.
     Besides The Pilgrim's Pro­gress Bunyan wrote quite a lot of other books. I name especially the second part of The Pilgrim’s Progress. You can say that the first part of The Pilgrim’s Progress reflect the experiences of Bunyan as a man and a Christian and that in the second part we see his as a pastor. Mr. Great-Heart is portrayed as a model for the pastor. In the second part of The Pilgrim’s Progress Bunyan pays great attention to the great diversity that there is in the life of faith. We see him here as a pastor of souls. He wanted to be a mr. Great-Heart for his own flock. He had a special love for Christians who are weak in faith and assurance. I quoted already Grace Abounding. I can also mention Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ, The Jerusalem Sinner Saved, The Doctrine of Law and Gospel Unfolded.