The Whole Curse Spent on Him (Bunyan)

Justification by an Imputed Righteousness One of the wonderful and comforting truths of the Christian faith is the fact that a sinner is justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  This truth is full of hope, peace, joy, happiness, and assurance.  One aspect of justification is what Scripture teaches about Christ suffering the curse of law-breaking in the place of his people (Gal. 3:13).  John Bunyan gave an excellent explanation of how Christ suffered the curse in our stead and completely freed us from it by doing so:

As we are said to suffer with him, so we are said to die, to be dead with him; with him, that is, by the dying of his body. ‘Now, if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him’ (Rom 6:8). Wherefore he saith in other places, ‘Brethren, ye are become dead to the law by the body of Christ’; for indeed we died then to it by him. To the law that is, the law now has nothing to do with us; for that it has already executed its curse to the full upon us by its slaying of the body of Christ; for the body of Christ was our flesh: upon it also was laid our sin.

The law, too, spent that curse that was due to us upon him, when it condemned, killed, and cast him into the grave. Wherefore, it having thus spent its whole curse upon him as standing in our stead, we are exempted from its curse for ever; we are become dead to it by that body (Rom 7:4). It has done with us as to justifying righteousness. Nor need we fear its damning threats any more; for by the death of this body we are freed from it, and are for ever now coupled to a living Christ.

 John Bunyan, Justification by an Imputed Righteousness, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2006), 304.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

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Predestination and the Promise (Bunyan)

  Not much in our lives is certain.  We could lose our job and have to move in a month.  We could get into a car accident that makes the rest of our life quite difficult.  Or we could face a diagnosis that immediately brings tears to our eyes and ache to our heart.  Much of our life is filled with uncertainty.

However, the promises of God are certain. We as Christians know that the promises of God are sure, solid, and steadfast.  They will not change and he will keep them perfectly.  This is a major source of comfort in the Christian life.  He loves me and will continue to love me (Rom 8:39).  The Lord will never leave me or forsake me (Heb. 13:5).  In his sovereign providence, nothing will happen to me apart from his will and everything that does happen to me is ultimately for my Christian good (Rom. 8:28).  These are unshakable promises that will come to pass.

There are many promises in Scripture that are of great comfort to the Christian.  One that we might not think of too often is the fact that when a person comes to saving faith in Christ, it is another promise kept: Everyone that the Father gives me will come to me (John 6:37 CSB).  Jesus says: I promise that those whom the Father has given me will come to me.  John Bunyan explained this truth in a way that magnified the sovereign grace of God:

…Coming to Jesus Christ aright is an effect of their being, by God, given to Christ before. Mark, ‘They’ shall come. Who? ‘Those’ that are given. They ‘come,’ then, because they were ‘given,’ “thine they were, and thou gavest them me.”

Now, this is indeed a singular comfort to them that are coming in truth to Christ, to think that the reason why they come is, because they were given of the Father before to him. Thus, then, may the coming soul reason with himself as he comes: ‘Am I coming, indeed, to Jesus Christ? This coming of mine is not to be attributed to me or my goodness, but to the grace and gift of God to Christ. God gave first my person to him, and, therefore, hath now given me a heart to come.’

…These words, shall come, make thy coming to be also the effect of an absolute promise; coming sinner, thou art concluded in a promise; thy coming is the fruit of the faithfulness of an absolute promise. It was this promise, by the virtue of which thou at first receivedst strength to come; and this is the promise, by the virtue of which thou shalt be effectually brought to him.

Bunyan, J. (2006). Come and Welcome, to Jesus Christ (Vol. 1, p. 254). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Will the Lord Leave Him? (Bunyan)

Saved by Grace Most readers of this blog are familiar with these phrases: “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.”  As a Christian, if you truly know your own heart, you know the reality of these words.  You know that things in this world have a strong pull and sometimes they draw you away from Jesus and you don’t act or look much like a Christian during those times.  We have to remember that this happens to other Christians too.  Other true followers of Jesus are prone to wander.  I’m not saying this to point fingers.  I’m saying this so we don’t harshly judge other Christians and quickly look down on them when they wander.  I’m saying this so we can show love, patience, and care for brothers and sisters who are currently wandering.

Thankfully Jesus’ grip on us is stronger than our grip on him.  Though we are prone to leave the God we love, he is not prone to leave the people he loves.  Here’s how John Bunyan talked about wandering (or backsliding):

…Perhaps the soul grows cold again, it also forgets this grace received, and waxeth carnal, begins again to itch after the world, loseth the life and savor of heavenly things, grieves the Spirit of God, woefully backslides, casteth off private duties quite, or else retains only the formality of them, is a reproach to religion, grieves the hearts of them that are awake, and tender of God’s name, etc.

But what will God do now? Will he take this advantage to destroy the sinner?
No.
Will he let him alone in his apostasy?
No. Will he leave him to recover himself by the strength of his now languishing graces?
No.
What then?
Why, he will seek this man out till he finds him, and bring him home to himself again: “For thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among the sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered.—I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick” (Eze 34:11, 16).

Later Bunyan talks about a child of God who wanders more than a few times:

“My people,” says God, “are bent to backsliding from me.” How many times did David backslide; yea, Jehoshaphat and Peter! (2 Sam 11, 24; 2 Chron 19:1–3; 20:1–5; Matt 26:69–71; Gal 2:11–13). As also in Jeremiah it is said, “But thou hast played the harlot with many lovers, yet return unto me, saith the Lord.” Here is grace! So many time as the soul backslides, so many times God brings him again—I mean, the soul that must be saved by grace-he renews his pardons, and multiplies them. “Behold, God does all these oftentimes with men, to bring back his soul from the pit, that he may be enlightened with the light of life” (Job 33:29-30 [NASB]).

I am prone to wander.  I know my sinful heart.  You also are prone to wander.  We should be patient and loving towards one another and other brothers and sisters in Christ.  And, as Bunyan pointed out from Scripture, the truth of the matter is that God will not leave us when we wander; he will bring us back again and again and again.  Since God never gives up on his people, neither should we.

 Bunyan, J. (2006). Saved by Grace (Vol. 1, p. 353). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Father’s Grace (Bunyan)

Saved by Grace The phrase “saved by grace” is one that is rich with meaning and comfort.  John Bunyan noted well that saying “saved by the grace of God” means “saved by the grace of the triune God.”  He then took some time to explain the grace of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in salvation.  Here’s what he said about the grace of God the Father in salvation:

1. The Father by his grace hath bound up them that shall go to heaven in an eternal decree of election; and here, indeed, as was showed at first, is the beginning of our salvation (2 Tim 1:9). And election is reckoned not the Son’s act, but the Father’s—“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ, according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:3, 4). Now this election is counted an act of grace—“So then, at this present time also, there is a remnant according to the election of grace” (Rom 11:5).

2. The Father’s grace ordaineth and giveth the Son to undertake for us our redemption. The Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world—“In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; that in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace, in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (Eph 1:7; 2:7; 1 John 4:14; John 3:16; 6:32, 33; 12:49).

3. The Father’s grace giveth us to Christ to be justified by his righteousness, washed in his blood, and saved by his life. This Christ mentioneth, and tells us it is his Father’s will that they should be safe-coming at the last day, and that he had kept them all the days of his life, and they shall never perish (John 6:37–39; 17:2, 12).

4. The Father’s grace giveth the kingdom of heaven to those that he hath given to Jesus Christ—“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).

5. The Father’s grace provideth and layeth up in Christ, for those that he hath chosen, a sufficiency of all spiritual blessings, to be communicated to them at their need, for their preservation in the faith, and faithful perseverance through this life; “not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2 Tim 1:9; Eph 1:3, 4).

6. The Father’s grace saveth us by the blessed and effectual call that he giveth us to the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ (1 Cor 1:9; Gal 1:15).

7. The Father’s grace saveth us by multiplying pardons to us, for Christ’s sake, day by day—“In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph 1:7).

8. The Father’s grace saves us by exercising patience and forbearance towards us all the time of our unregeneracy (Rom 3:24).

9. The Father’s grace saveth us by holding of us fast in his hand, and by keeping of us from all the power of the enemy—“My Father,” said Christ, “that gave them me, is greater than all, and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:29).

John Bunyan, Saved by Grace, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2006), 343–344.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

When Sin Turns into an Affliction (Bunyan)

Israel’s complaining and grumbling began early on in the wilderness years. In fact, if my count is correct, they complained around 5 times in the first year or so after God rescued them from Egypt.  In one instance of their grumbling, God gave Israel what they whined for: meat to eat.  In fact, God said to Israel, “You will eat it [meat] for a whole month until you gag and are sick of it” (Num. 11:20 NLT).

In their hearts, the people of Israel craved, coveted, and longed for the things of Egypt.  This was such a deep heart issue that they wouldn’t listen to God’s word nor would they remember his promise and his provision.  John Bunyan commented on this deep-rooted sinful craving:

But now, how shall this man be reclaimed from this sin? How shall he be brought, wrought, and made, to be out of love with it? Doubtless it can be by no other means, by what we can see in the Word, but by the wounding, breaking, and disabling of the heart that loves sin, and by that means making sin a plague and gall unto the heart.

Sin may be made an affliction, and as gall and wormwood to them that love it; but the making of sin so bitter a thing to such a man, will not be done but by great and sore means.

Bunyan also told a story of a little girl in his town who used to chew on dirty cigar butts she found on the ground.  Her parents tried everything to get her to stop eating the butts – from kind promises to discipline – but nothing worked.  Finally, since nothing else was working, they listened to their doctor.  They took a bunch of dirty cigar butts, mixed them with warm milk, and made the girl drink it.  She took a sip and it made her so sick that she vomited.  After that, she never touched a cigar butt again!  The point is that God sometimes does that to his children when they are infatuated with sin.

Bunyan then wrote,

You love your sin, and neither rod nor good words will as yet reclaim you. Well, take heed; if you will not be reclaimed, God will make you a potion of your sin, which shall be so bitter to your soul, so irksome to your taste, so loathsome to your mind, and so afflicting to your heart, that it shall break your heart with sickness and grief, till sin be loathsome to you. I say, thus he will do if he loves you; if not, he will allow you to go on in your sinful course, and will let you go on eating your tobacco-pipe heads!

In other words,

God can tell how to make that loathsome to you on which you most set your evil heart. And he will do so, if he loves you; else, as I said, he will not make you sick by smiting you nor punish you for or when you commit whoredom, but will let you alone till the judgment-day, and call you to a reckoning for all your sins then.

When our hearts are so in love with the things of this world, so enraptured by sin, sometimes God makes us drink that sin like a nasty elixir which makes us sick to the heart.  When that happens, we must learn from Israel’s mistake and repent!  And we must thank God for making us taste the bitterness of sin now so we can escape its bitterness in eternity.  Finally, we should ask God for forgiveness, for the cleansing power of Christ’s blood, for his Spirit to help us fight sin, and for contentment with the lot God has given us.

The above edited quotes are found in John Bunyan, The Acceptable Sacrifice, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2006), 707.

Shane Lems

Faith and Hope Compared (Bunyan)

 As many of you know, the name of one character in Pilgrim’s Progress was Hope.  Hope very much helped Christian on the way to the Celestial City.  Speaking of Hope – and John Bunyan’s writing – here’s an excellent biblical comparison Bunyan made of faith and hope.  I’ve edited it a bit to make it easier to read:

1. Faith comes by hearing (Rom 10:17), hope by experience (Rom 5:3, 4).
2. Faith comes by hearing the Word of God, hope comes by the credit that faith hath given to it (Rom 4:18).
3. Faith believes the truth of the Word, hope waits for the fulfilling of it.
4. Faith lays hold of that end of the promise that is next to us, that is, in the Bible; hope lays hold of that end of the promise that is fastened to the mercy-seat.  The promise is like a mighty cable that is fastened by one end to a ship, and by the other to the anchor.  The soul is the ship where faith is, and to which the other end of this cable is fastened; but hope is the anchor that is at the other end of this cable, and which enters into that within the veil. Thus faith and hope lay hold of both ends of the promise and they carry it safely all away.
5. Faith looks to Christ, as dead, buried, risen, and ascended; and hope to his return (1 Cor 15:1–4). Faith looks to him for justification, hope looks to him for glory (Rom 4:1–8).
6. Faith fights for doctrine, hope for a reward (Acts 26:6, 7). Faith fights for what is in the Bible, hope fights for what is in heaven (Col 1:3–5).
7. Faith purifies the heart from bad principles (1 John 5:4, 5). Hope purifies the heart from bad conduct (2 Peter 3:11, 14; Eph 5:8; 1 John 3:3).
8. Faith sets hope to work, hope sets patience to work (Acts 28:20; 9:9). Faith says to hope, “Look for what is promised;” hope says to faith, “I do look, and will wait for it too.”
9. Faith looks through the Word to God in Christ; hope looks through faith beyond the world to glory (Gal 5:5).

John Bunyan, Israel’s Hope Encouraged, from volume 1 of Works.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Little Pilgrim’s Progress

Little Pilgrim's Progress Since the original language of Pilgrim’s Progress is too archaic for many of today’s readers, and since I wanted my children to read and understand it, I looked around for an easier to read version or abridgment.  I know there are a few out there, but one that we really like is Little Pilgrim’s Progress by Helen Taylor which was first published over 60 years ago.  Though the story isn’t abridged, the chapters are relatively brief (perfect for reading aloud), there are some illustrations, and most of the language is understandable for most readers (I’d say an average 10-12 year old would understand most of this book).  Here’s an example of the language, in case you were wondering.

‘It is such a tiresome journey,’ continued Unbelief, ‘and if you ever get to the end of it, you will only be disappointed.’

‘Why?’

‘Then Unbelief pretended to look sad.  ‘There is no King,’ he said, ‘and no Celestial City.’

‘Oh, but there is,’ exclaimed Christian.  ‘We have heard about it from the King’s own servants!’

‘Unbelief put his hand upon the boy’s shoulder and tried to turn him around.  ‘My dear child, you are quite young, and I am growing old.  Listen to what I have to say.  Long, long ago I heard the very same story that was told to you.  I left my home and came to look for the King’s City. …I have spent twenty years as a pilgrim and I can find no city at all.’  … ‘Come back with me,’ he said, ‘and I will take you safely to your own homes again.’

But Christian answered him bravely, ‘You are trying to deceive us, but we do not believe what you say.  We are quite sure that the King’s word is true and that there is a Celestial City.  We saw its gates when we were with the Shepherds. …And we are going to the King,’ replied Christian.

So they went on again, and Unbelief laughed at them as he turned away.

Taylor does take some liberties in the story, but she doesn’t shorten it up or skip the “scary” parts (the book is 300 pages or so, including Christiana’s story).  If you want a decent adaptation of Pilgrim’s Progress written in an understandable way, I’d recommend looking at this one: Little Pilgrim’s Progress by Helen Taylor (Chicago: Moody, 2006).  Perhaps it will even encourage readers to one day read the classic itself!

shane lems