Bethel Baptist Church

"For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen." Romans 11:36

Pastor Cosand: October 2018

lessons from the suffering of John Bunyan

Beginning in November the next book the men of our church will study (and anyone else who wants a book) will be The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. The Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegory describing the journey of a man ("Christian") from this world to heaven, including his conversion and the obstacles and trials he encounters on his way to the "Celestial City." This book, written almost 350 years ago, has been described as "the widest circulating single piece of literature in the history of the human race outside the Bible" and has been translated into over 200 languages. Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892), the great London pastor, is said to have read Pilgrim’s Progress through at least once every year. The book was written during Bunyan's twelve-year stay in a jail in England.

John Bunyan (1628-1688) was a Baptist Puritan pastor in Bedford, England during a time when the English government was intolerant of worship practices outside the established Church of England. The Act of Uniformity in 1662 required strict adherence to Church of England doctrines and the Common Book of Prayer and, as a result of dissent, 2,000 Puritan pastors and teachers were forced out of their positions. During this period, from 1660 to 1672, Bunyan was imprisoned for his unwillingness to conform to corrupt church practices and doctrines. He was 32 when he entered prison, with a pregnant wife and four children under the age of 10 at home. His first wife had died one year earlier. His oldest child, daughter Mary, had been born blind. His second wife, Margaret, miscarried during Bunyan’s first year in prison. He would spend 11 more years away from his family.

Many lessons can be learned from Bunyan’s life, but perhaps the obvious lessons come to us from his suffering. He was in prison somewhat voluntarily. He was a lay preacher at the time and not yet officially licensed. But he was a very gifted preacher and so popular that large crowds would gather to hear him, even on short notice. It was said that one day’s notice would get a crowd of 1,200 to hear him preach at 7:00 in the morning on a weekday. To be released from jail all Bunyan had to do was to agree to stop preaching. He had another trade to support his family. But Bunyan would not agree.

His suffering was intensified by the visits of his wife and children, especially his blind daughter. He wrote, "The parting with my Wife and poor children hath often been to me in this place [prison] 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" (Bunyan, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, 123).

One lesson for our faith is this. The Lord God is sovereign, meaning not just that He allows suffering, but that He appoints it for our good and His everlasting glory. Bunyan said, "God has appointed who shall suffer [Revelation 6:11 – the full number of martyrs]. . . God has appointed . . . when they shall suffer [Acts 18:9-10 Paul’s time of suffering was not yet come; so with Jesus in John 7:30]. . . God has appointed where this, that or the other good man shall suffer . . . God has appointed . . . what kind of sufferings this or that saint shall undergo [Acts 9:16 "how great things he must suffer"; John 21:19 "by what death he would glorify God"]. . . Our sufferings, as to the nature of them, are all writ down in God’s book: and though the writing seem as unknown characters to us, yet God understands them very well [Mark 9:13; Acts 13:29]. . . . It is appointed who of them should die of hunger, who with the sword, who should go into captivity, and who should be eaten up of beasts [Jeremiah 15:2,3]" (Bunyan, Seasonable Counsels, 723).

A second lesson from Bunyan’s life is this. Bunyan’s suffering brought him a fresh and deeper insight into the great truths of the Bible. He wrote, "I never had in all my life so great an inlet into the Word of God as now [in prison]. 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 my being with Jesus in another world. . . I have seen [such things] here that I am persuaded I shall never, while in this world, be able to express" (Bunyan, Grace Abounding, 121). Our suffering sensitizes us to see things in the Scriptures that we might never otherwise see.

The root of John Bunyan’s endurance was the grace of God brought to Him in the Scriptures. All of the writings of John Bunyan are filled with Bible references and Biblical truth. Spurgeon said, "He had studied our Authorized Version . . . till his whole being was saturated with Scripture; and though his writings are charmingly full of poetry, yet he cannot give us his Pilgrim’s Progress – that sweetest of all poems – without continually making 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 without quoting a text, for his soul is full of the Word of God" (Spurgeon, Autobiography, 2:159). May God give us Bunyan’s passion for the Word of God that we might have Bunyan’s courage and strength to endure our sufferings.

Longing to be 'Bibline',
Pastor Cosand