What Prison and Bunyan Reveal About Our Faith?

bunyan-in-prisonThe great theologian and Pastor John Bunyan once told his church that, “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, are 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 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.”

But what makes this words remarkable is the “place and state” from which they came. They came from prison. Bunyan looked around his prison and concluded that God had never been so good, true or real to him. WOW!

How do you wind up at such a conclusion? You understand that God has called of us to suffer. One of Bunyan’s favorite verses was John 16:33:

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

Bunyan new that his imprisonment was a manifestation of Jesus’ prophetic words. He knew that all who followed Christ were called to suffer. And he also knew that his suffering was not a pointless act caused by irrational men. He knew that the great king of heaven who had conquered death on the cross ruled the universe.  He knew that rage and malice of men “can do no more, nor go any further, than God permits them; but when they have done their worst, We know that all things shall work together for good to them that love God.” .

And so as the prison doors shut behind him, Bunyan entrusted his soul, life, and cares to God. Admittedly prison was not easy for Bunyan. He confessed that he was continually “afflicted and oppressed” by his own worries and struggles. Yet, he clung to the cross as the years slipped away. As he stood steadfast, Christ comforted Bunyan, enlarged his faith, and inspired him to write Pilgrim’s Progress. Because of God’s faithfulness, Bunyan could boast of the glories of prison!

How about us? What happens when we encounter trials? Do we praise God? Do find that we have a better understand of the Bible and of God’s love in the midst of suffering? Or do we become distressed, upset, and burned out with religion?

How we answer the question reveals much about our heart and character. In Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus talks about two men who build spiritual houses. One builds his house upon the sand of human experience, ideas, and emotions. The other builds his house on the Word of God. And when the storms of life come, the house built on the sand collapses while the house built on the Scriptures remains firm.

What Christ was pointing to and what Bunyan live out was this simple truth: Those who love God will withstand trials. When they get hit by the storms of death, disappointment, and sorrow, they will remain firm. They will grow by God’s grace.

But those who have not trusted in Christ, will be blown away. Their lives will collapse because they never knew Jesus.

So how are you doing when trials come your way? Can you boast about the prisons in your life?

Pilgrim’s Progress: The Original Religious Journey

piglrims-progess-journey“We are on a journey” is a phrase tossed about frequently in today’s religiously minded world. We are on a search for meaning and significance. Many think their journey is an uncertain trip whose destinations rapidly changes according to the times and events of the universe.

I too enjoy employing the journey language when talking about spiritual things. Despite our best efforts this journey is not one of our making. As John Bunyan shows in his beautiful allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress, God ordained that all of humanity would set forth from the City of Destruction, Vanity Fair, or some other worldly place. And God decreed that we all will arrive at one of two places: Hell or the Celestial City. As Good Will once told Christian, “Yes, there are many ways Butt down upon this: and they are Crooked and Wide; But thus thou may’st distinguish the right from wrong, That only being the straight and narrow.”

Admittedly, we can arrive at both Hell and Heaven through a variety of circumstances. As Bunyan wrote,

I saw that there was to Hell, even from the Gates of Heaven, as well as from the City of Destruction.

Many choose the broad way and are crushed into Hell as they search for silver in Demas’ cave. Others are ushered into Beelzebub’s kingdom as they chase after the worldly glory sold at Vanity Fair. And still others venture barely outside of the City of Destruction, like Pliable, and are consumed when the Lord returns in judgement.

But some stay on the narrow path. They get to Heaven by being burned at the stake like Faithful. Others struggle poorly through life as Little Faith did. And others walk faithfully through the waters of death like Christian and Hopeful.

Regardless of their religion, philosophy, or hopes, no man, woman, or child found another ending to their journey. Mr. Legality, Mr. Atheist, and Mr. Talkative cannot will another destination into existence. All arrived at either Hell or Heaven. All must decide if they will love this world or the one true God.

And now we must face the questions that Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress seeks to answer. How do we get to the Celestial city? How do we escape the wrath to come?

The Story Begins

First, we must recognize that we are sinners. We must recognize like Christian, the Hero of the story, did that he stands in judgment. We must understand that because our sin, we deserve death and God’s wrath.  As Romans 6:23 makes clear: “The wages of sin is death.”

dangerous-jouney-6We must ask with Christian, “What shall I do to be saved?”

And we must realize that we do have a large burden of sin on our back that weighs us down composed of all our lies, hateful words, evil thoughts and actions. And we must recognize that we can do nothing to remove it. We cannot say enough good things to get rid of our sin. We cannot go to church enough to make God overlook our sin. Mr. Legality and World Wiseman cannot save us. We must appeal to God for salvation.   And then we must flee our place of origin, our sinful nature, and put our fingers in our ears and run, crying “Life, Life, Eternal Life.”

We must embrace Christ as our Lord and Savior. To do so, we must believe as did Hopeful, one of Christian’s friends on the journey, that:

Christ Jesus came into the World to save sinners. He is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone that believers. He died for our sins, and rose again for our justification: He loved us, and washed us from our sin in his own blood: He is the Mediator between God and us.

Paul wrote in 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”).

We must realize that we are under the law, and then we must trust Christ to redeem us from the law through his death. We must believe that Jesus saves. And, we must kneel before the cross like Christian did.

And when we do, we will experience great relief. Our burden like Christian’s will fall away. Our worldly ragged clothes stained by sin will be replaced with heavenly garments.

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him – 2 Corinthians 5:21

The moment we believe, we are fully redeemed, saved, and children of God. Nothing and no one can separate us from God’s love.

The Story Continues

Although we are citizens of the heavenly city, our journey does not end at salvation.

When Christian was at Interpreter’s house, he watched many dramas unfold. One such drama takes place outside of a castle guarded by strong soldiers. Many people wanted to go into the castle. But no one dared challenge the guards standing by the door. Finally, “a man of a very stout countenance” came up and told the man at the gate write down his name in the book of life (p.33). And then the stout man began to fight his way through the guards who attacked him, “with deadly force” (p.33). But the man was not discouraged by the wounds he received. And he fought on into the palace and was clothed with eternal glory.

In short, Bunyan understood that the Christian life was a battle. The pilgrim’s journey was difficult one that would require divine resolve. As Bunyan wrote, all those who follow Christ will can expect to experience,

Wearisomness, Painfulness, Hunger, Perils, Nakedness, Sword, Lions, Dragons, Darkness; and in a word death

And the concerns that Mr. World-Wiseman’s mentioned to Christian become very real. As the story unfolded, Christian ran into many of these things. But what lay ahead of him was more than worthy of all of these sufferings.  And Christian knew that all those who persevered would enter the Celestial City.

As Christian traveled through this life he encountered many hardships. First, he met with Apollyon, the Prince of darkness. The Devil assailed Christian with accusations of his unworthiness for the Celestial City. Apollyon brought up many of Christian’s failings and encouraged him to once again submit. But by the power of God’s grace, the pilgrim refused to bow to the Devil, knowing he had already received the  “Pardon of my Prince.” And resting in God’s forgiveness, Christian fought with Apollyon for an whole afternoon.  Just as the Devil was about to kill Christian, Christian regained his sword and stabbed Apollyon in the liver, mortally wounding the devil.

The pilgrim then walked into the value of the shadow of death. Bunyan said it was a land for dry souls filled with “Hobgoblins, Satyrs, and Dragons of the pit…a continual howling and yelling, as of People under unutterable misery…. and Clouds of confusion.” It was a narrow, dangerous and dark way with pits and swamps on both sides that would swallow travelers. But as Christian cried out in prayer, he found hope and was able to survive this powerful trial and stay on the path.

Then Christian and his newly met friend, Faithful, walked into Vanity Fair, which the devil had placed in the way of the narrow path. And when the pilgrims refused to exchange Jesus for the love of the world, the people of the Fair put Christian and Faithful in prison. They pilgrims were tried as criminals. Faithful was condemned to death and was burned on the stake on the testimony of many false witness. But some towns people reported seeing a chariot take him to the Celestial city. A little while later, Christian escaped by God’s mercy and continued on the joinery.

Shortly thereafter, Christian met a new friend, Hopeful. Once, they wandered off the narrow path and dangerous-journey-doubting-castlewere captured by Giant Despair. The massive man of darkness threw the pilgrims into prison, starved them, and beat them repeatedly. Christian began to lose all hope and thought about committing suicide. But Hopeful reminded Christian of all that they had done by God’s grace. And then, Christian remembered that he had a key called promise. As they tried the key on the castle doors, the castle doors swung open. They escaped the depression and despair of this world by clinging to the hope that all Christians have in Christ and returned to the narrow way.

The two pilgrims encountered many other trials, blessing, and wayward souls. And Christian and Faithful fought through them all like the “stout man” in Interpreters House clinging to Lord of Heaven. They received many wounds along the way from both friends and foes. But at the end of the day, Hopeful and Christian were welcomed into the Celestial City after they crossed through the river death.

As Christian’s journey comes to an end, we cannot help and begin to think of our journey and where our destination lies. Are we traveling towards the pit of Hell or the heavenly hill? As we ponder the condition of our souls, I think we should all take time to consider Bunyan’s winsome words. We should as Bunyan said,

Put by the Curtains, look within my Vail:

Turn up my Metaphors and do not fail:

There is thou sleekest them, such things to find,

As will be helpful to an honest

What helpful things can Bunyan’s book yet teach us?

PS:

If you are interested I encourage you to read Pilgrim’s Progress. And if you live in the Eastman, GA area, I want to invite you to come experience the book first hand at our Reformation Festival on October 16, from 6:30-8PM. We will have a skit featuring John Bunyan and games that will help bring Apollyon, the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Vanity Fair, and Doubting Castle to life! I hope to see you there in your best Pilgrim’s Progress clothes!

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John Bunyan’s Message For Today’s Parents

bunyan-blogJohn Bunyan’s arrest, trial, and 12 year imprisonment never had to happen. He could have declined his last invitation to preach. He could have followed his friends’ advice and fled the meeting house before the constable arrived. And, he could have promised to never preach again and been quickly released. He could have walked away from the whole commotion quite easily.

But Bunyan could not deny his God and Savior. He could not abandon God and “blaspheme the gospel.” As he told one of his accusers, “If I were out of prison to-day, I would preach the Gospel again to-morrow, by the help of God.”

Bunyan’s Story

Bunyan’s convictions would cost him dearly. When he was imprisoned in 1660, John Bunyan left behind a pregnant wife and four children, the oldest of whom was blind. When his wife Elizabeth heard of Bunyan’s arrest, she went into premature labor and gave birth to a still-born child. And for the entirety of his twelve-year prison term, Bunyan provided a meager income for his family by making and selling shoelaces.

As a loving husband and father, Bunyan’s heart was tormented by his family’s sufferings. At times, he felt that he “was pulling down his house upon the head of his wife and children.” As Elizabeth, would later tell a judge, John Bunyan truly “desired to live peaceably, to follow his calling that his family might be maintained.”

Although Bunyan longed to care for his family, he knew his ultimate allegiance was to Christ. No matter how much he loved his family, Bunyan could not abandon his Lord and Savior. And he was able to trust Jesus through this time because he knew that God could and would care for his family. Bunyan truly believed Jeremiah 49:11 which says,  “Leave your fatherless children, I will preserve them alive: And let your widows trust in Me.”

Furthermore, Bunyan was convinced that denying Christ to save his family would ultimately lead to his and his family’s destruction. He wrote:

If I…venture all for God, I engaged God to take care of my concernments: but if I forsook Him and His ways…I…should count also that my concernments were not so sure.

Whether in or out of jail, Bunyan knew that God was the one that preserved his family. John abandoned his self-sufficiency and entrusted his life and his family to the God of the universe. And as a result of his faith, Bunyan was able to boast that, “Jesus was never more real and apparent than now; here I have seen and felt him indeed.” His family was preserved by the grace of God. And Bunyan got a new family becoming the spiritual father of thousands through his writings.

Lessons For Today

The world has changed much since Bunyan was imprisoned. We no longer travel by horseback. And we no longer hide our retirement account in a chest above the fireplace. But, we can still learn much from John Bunyan, the parent. And my biggest take away is this: Christ is everything.   

As parents, we long, like Bunyan did, to give our kids the very best things. We take them to church. We sign them up for softball. We select great piano teachers. We do anything and everything to help them excel at life. But at the end of the day, our kids really need only one thing, Jesus. The rest is all fluff.

Bunyan understood this truth. He understood it to the point of separating himself from his kids’ so that they could achieve the thrown of grace. He would rather suffer for his faith and see his family confined to poverty than provide comforts for his children and see them miss heaven. Bunyan lived out Matthew 16:26, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”

Friends, we must take time to listen to Bunyan’s message. We should not sacrifice the church and the gospel for our kids’ worldly advancement. Rather, we should do the opposite.

We must see that sports, musical skill, and even our own careers are secondary to the gospel. If sacrificing these things enables us to reach our kids with the gospel, then we must sacrifice them. We must be willing to sell all that we have and follow Jesus.. No half measures will do. Christ must be primary. We must build our family and our family’s schedule around the gospel. We should listen’s to Bunyan’s message and make Christ everything.

Do you hear it?

PS:

Come learn more about Bunyan on Wednesday night, October 26, 2016. FBCE will be hosting our third annual Reformation Day Festival featuring the life and works of John Bunyan. We will have a live historical skit, games, candy, and yes even a prison based on his famous work, Pilgrim’s Progress! I hope to see you there!

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