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WHEREIN SEVERAL GREAT AND WEIGHTY THINGS ARE HANDLED:
AS, THE NATURE OF PRAYER, AND OF OBEDIENCE TO THE LAW, WITH HOW FAR IT OBLIGES CHRISTIANS, AND WHEREIN IT CONSISTS. Wherein is Also Shewed, the Equally Deplorable Condition of the Pharisee, or Hypocritical and Self-Righteous Man; and of the Publican, or Sinner That Lives in Sin, and in Open Violation of the Divine Laws. Together With the Way and Method of God’s Free Grace in Pardoning Penitent Sinners; Proverbsing That He Justifies Them by Imputing Christ’s Righteousness to Them.
BY JOHN BUNYAN, AUTHOR OF THE PILGRIM’S PROGRESS.
ADVERTISEMENT BY THE EDITOR.
This important treatise unvails, in few but telling words, the nature of prayer, about which mankind has made most awful mistakes. Multitudes conceive that the heart-searching God can be influenced and propitiated by eloquent words and forms of prayer; whilst the few, who are taught by the Holy Spirit, feel and know that the ardent desire, the aspirations, the fervent wishes of the mind, can alone be accepted by the Eternal; and even then only through the merits of the Redeemer.
The first edition appeared in 1635, and it soon became a very popular book. The use and application announced at the end do not appear to have been published, unless the author meant one of his later productions to answer that purpose. The twelfth edition has no date on the title page; to it is added Bunyan’s last Sermon, and his dying sayings,—“Licensed, Sept. 10th, 1688”; but this announcement had been probably continued from some earlier edition. The number of cheap reprints of this little volume may account, in some measure, for the amazing errors which crept in and deformed the book; for with the exception of “Grace Abounding,” “The Pilgrim,” and “The Holy War,” few books have been so carelessly and disgracefully printed. For more than a century Bunyan has been represented as saying, “How did God deal with sinners before his righteousness was actually in being.” In fact, no reader can conceive the mutilated state in which this valuable treatise has been published, unless by actual comparison with those printed before the author’s decease.
Some considerable omissions, doubtless, arose from political causes.
Bunyan died very shortly before the glorious revolution in 1688,—and in drawing a faithful portrait of a publican or tax gatherer, he supposed the country to be conquered by a foreign power. “Would it not be an insufferable thing? yea, did not that man deserve hanging ten times over, that should, being a Dutchman, fall in with a French invader, and farm at his hands, those cruel and grievous taxations, which he, in barbarous wise, should at his conquest lay upon them; and exact and force them to be paid with an over, and above of what is appointed.” He goes on to argue, that if this would be a severe trial at the hand of a foreigner, how much more oppressive would it appear if exercised by a fellow countryman. “If these things are intolerable, what shall we think of such men as shall join to all this compliance with a foreign prince, to rob the church of God? yea, that shall become a man in power under them, to wring out of the hand of a brother, his estate; yea, his bread and livelihood.” These paragraphs, and much more, were omitted, probably, from a fear of giving offense to the new government, and, until the present edition, they had not been restored. In Bunyan’s time, severe and awful persecutions fell upon the church of God in England, and he must have felt the utmost compassion, mingled with deep abhorrence, for those emissaries of Satan, the Informers, who plundered mercilessly all who refused obedience to the order of common prayer. These men, aided by fanatic justices and clergymen, reduced many pious families to the severest sufferings, while thousands fled to the wilds of America for that refuge among men called savages, which was denied them by their much more savage countrymen.
It is distressing to read the narrative, published in 1670, of those proceedings in Bedford, while Bunyan was an inmate in its jail. The porters, charged to assist in carrying off the people’s goods, ran away, saying, that “they would be hanged, drawn, and quartered, before they would assist in that work”; two of them were sent to gaol for thus refusing to aid in this severe enforcement of impious laws. This populous town “was so thin of people that it looked more like a country village than a corporation; and the shops being generally shut down, it seemed like a place visited with the pest, where usually is written upon the door—Lord, have mercy upon us.” When in the presence of the justice the officers took all his goods from Thomas Arthur, he appealed to the humane feelings of the magistrate on behalf of his children,—“Sir, shall my children starve,” to which he replied, “yes, your children shall starve.” All these bitter sufferings were inflicted for worshipping God according to the directions of his holy word. Can we wonder then that Bunyan uses hard words. He felt that state hierarchies were anti-christian; their fruit declared that those who supported them by such cruelties were aliens and enemies to the church of Christ.
When our author is proving the impossibility of a sinner’s recommending himself to the divine favor by any imperfect good works of his own, he draws a vivid picture. A lord invites his friends to a sumptuous banquet, the provision is bountiful and in rich abundance, when some of the guests take a few moldy crusts out of their pockets and lay them on their plates, lest the prince had not provided a sufficient repast for his friends; “would it not be a high affront to, a great contempt of, and a distrust in, the goodness of the Lord.” We are bound to produce good works as a fruit of faith—a proof of love to him that hath redeemed us, but not to recommend us to his favor. The picture of such a feast drawn by John Bunyan must make upon every reader a deep, a lasting, an indelible impression. How bitter and how true is the irony, when the Pharisee is represented as saying, “I came to thy feast out of civility, but for thy dainties I need them not, I have enough of my own; I thank thee for thy kindness, but I am not as those that stand in need of thy provisions, nor yet as this Publican.” And how excellent is the reasoning and the Christian philosophy of that paragraph which was suppressed after Bunyan’s death. The language is bold and striking, but it exhibits the unvarnished truth; an inward change of nature is the only cause of good and acceptable works—good or evil actions are but the evidences of our state by grace or by nature—they do not work that change or produce that state. It is a soul-humbling view of our state of death by sin, or of life by the righteousness and obedience of Christ. Bunyan’s train of reasoning on Romans 5 is worthy of our profound consideration,—“When we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son.” What is a sinful man in himself, or in his approach to God, but as stubble fully dry in the presence of a consuming fire, unless he is washed and cleansed by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus.