By Missionary Buddy Smith
JOHN BUNYAN’S NAME is familiar to most Christians. Some months ago I came across one of his short books, ‘The Acceptable Sacrifice’.
It was originally a sermon based on Psalm 51:17, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise”. It was his last book.
My heart was deeply moved by this book. Not only is the content impressive, weighty and convincing, but Bunyan’s grasp and use of Scripture is amazing. The book is absolutely compelling, simply because of his knowledge of the Word of God. This sermon was no contemporary homily consisting of a joke, three points and a poem. This is a cobalt bomb in hardcover and the reader stands at ground zero.
Now I often have these strange conversations with myself. I asked, “How did he write such a sermon? Where did he get such substance, such wisdom, such power? What did he use for study aids, to be able to compile such a sermonic masterpiece?” In the midst of this boisterous conversation, I suddenly realised that Bunyan had almost none of the resources we take for granted. Strong’s Concordance was 200 years in the future, Cruden’s a hundred. Thayer’s, Gesenius, and Robertson were all unknown to the tinker. Bunyan’s biographers mention Luther’s commentary on Galatians, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, and an anonymous concordance. Three books, that’s all! We suppose that Bunyan, such a prolific writer, would be a voracious reader.
But there is that one resource book, his chief study aid he mentions again and again in his writings. Hear him: “As I was sitting by the fire…suddenly…this word sounded in my heart, ‘I must go to Jesus’. I said, ‘Wife, is there ever such a Scripture, I must go to Jesus?’ Thus unexpectedly questioned, she cannot tell”. “Therefore,” says Bunyan, “I sat musing to see if I could remember such a place. I had not sat above two or three minutes but it came bolting in upon me, ‘You are come to Mt Zion…and to Jesus the Mediator of the New Testament” – Heb. 12:22-24″.
Ah, now I see it. This was Bunyan’s chief resource, his chief study aid, the Holy Scriptures themselves, taught him by the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. Of course, how could I have missed it before?
He thoroughly knew the Scriptures. He read and memorised long passages. He meditated much upon the Word. He looked and longed and lingered until the Holy Spirit brought to mind the needed truth for each crisis. He knew by daily experience the truth of John 14:26, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost…He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance…”
Bunyan used this resource when discouraged. He used it when he prepared sermons. He used it when he stood before magistrates, accused of preaching without a license. He used it when in jail where he wrote Pilgrim’s Progress. He used it when he preached from his cell window. He used it when he pointed the lost to Christ. This is Bunyan’s secret: the Spirit and the Word – the Sufficiency of Scripture and the Comforter, who is our Tutor, these were Bunyan’s best study aids. His utter dependence upon the Word of God and its Author is what gave his life and literature their impact. As Charles Spurgeon later noted, “Prick him anywhere; his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him.”
What a contrast he makes with the modern minister! Somewhere between the TV sports show, the trip to the airport, the power luncheon with the deacons, and the golf game, he must prepare his message. No problem! Just light up the new IBM (Inspired Business Machines?), and open the Super SermonMaker Program. There are thousands of websites with free sermons available to the computer savvy pastor. Memorisation, meditation and midnights are displaced by gigabytes, nanoseconds and mousy sermons. (Thirty minutes on the net, and he has a cute little sermonette ready to entertain the bored saints. Guaranteed to put them to sleep before the second point of the sermon!) No blood, no sweat, no tears, no Bible, no prayer, no blessing, no people, too bad, so sad! (“No sermon tonight, folks. The computer is down.”)
This contrast between Bunyan and the modern minister brings a question to the fore, “Should we then avoid all study aids? Must we become the Luddites of the 21st century, and throw away our computers?” Not at all. They have their uses. But we must use them sparingly, in moderation, remembering that no man’s thoughts, whether they are recorded in books, in computer programs, floppies, or CD ROMS can ever replace the unadulterated Word of God and the Spirit of God.
Bunyan had a “computer” with resources we won’t find online. The computer he used is still available, but it’s expensive. It costs the user time, large quantities of time. Time in reading the Word. Time in meditation on the Word. Time waiting on God for truth. Time to be taught by the Spirit of God. Time humbling our hearts before Him. Time on our knees in prayer. Time alone with God. Time spent seeking the face of God for the sermons we must preach. Time discarding the lies the Devil tells us. Time to grow godly character. Time listening for the still small voice that shakes the world.
Bunyan’s computer has always been the most expensive model on the market. It’s the original model and has never been improved.
Is the price too high?
Not if your sermons can still be a blessing after 300 years.
I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.