06 December 2006
n Tuesday, Darlene and I went with Tom and Kathy McConnell and sons to Bedford to visit the Bunyan Meeting Free Church, whose name (of course) comes from their best-known pastor, John Bunyan (1628-1688).
In keeping with this week's theme, Bunyan was another uneducated preacher who had a few things in common with the Lollards. Like them, Bunyan was a severe irritant to the pompous hierarchy of the established church. Also like them, he was especially annoying to high-sacramentalist types who loved ceremonies and vestments more than powerful preaching, and who valued erudition more than plain speaking.
Between you and me, I think Bunyan also would have greatly appreciated this week's Dose-o'-Spurgeon.
So we're on a bit of a roll here, and I want to say another word or two about John Bunyan's career.
But first . . .
It appears I need to clarify something regarding Monday's dispatch about Wycliffe and the Lollards.
It has been brought to my attention that Kevin Johnson has managed to unearth from somewhere in the white spaces of that post several outlandish but unstated assertions that even I didn't know I had made. Kevin evidently feels I have somehow indicated that the Lollards were Reformed Baptists, or something like that. He is (to put it as mildly as possible) rather cross with me.
Now, Kevin rarely misses any opportunity to demonstrate how much he hates Baptists (and all evangelicals, for that matter). So we're not really surprised that reading PyroManiacs occasionally tends to elevate his sense of ecclesiastical outrage. This time, though, Kevin was left so thoroughly gobsmackedso profoundly smitten with "stunned amazement" (his words)that pretty much all he could do was sputter and fulminate.
Sadly, poor Kevin wasn't even able to recover his rational senses in time to point out or refute any of my actual statements that he disagreed with. But at least it was clear that he disagreed.
Moreover, he was by no means alone in his staggered sense of bewilderment. Most of the commenters over at "Reformed Catholicism" were nearly as stupefied as Kevin was.
Did I really suggest that the Lollards believed exactly as I do about all the distinctive points of my doctrinal stance? I would of course immediately retract and correct such a statement if I could find it in Monday's post. But since I didn't actually say that (or anything like it), and since I don't even hold a view that remotely approximates any form of "Baptist successionism" or any of the other grotesquely naïve caricatures Kevin loves so much to lampoon, I don't really have anything I can honestly retract.
And if my post contained any subliminal messages visible only to those wearing their cardboard episcopalian secret-decoder glasses, I was totally unaware of it.
I'll leave the post completely unedited and let more objective readers compare it with the comments made by Kevin Johnson and company. You can judge for yourself whether truth and accuracy really appear to be the driving concerns in Kevin's post. Compare his professed concern for honesty and objectivity in the handling of historical figures with the rhetorical way he distorts the views and statements of his own contemporary theological opponents. Then draw your own conclusions.
Anyway, I think it odd that men who profess to have so much esteem for "generosity" and "catholicity" instantly swarm so angrily whenever they think they see an opportunity to vituperate against evangelicals or Baptists.
That's OK. Kevin and friends were not one-tenth as outraged to see a picture of me in an Anglican pulpit as I am by the way Anglicans themselves have abused their own pulpitsand allowed them to be regularly misemployed by men (and women!) who possess all the right academic credentials and lots of initials after their names, but who have none of the spiritual qualifications for church leadership.
But that's a story for another post.
Back to Bunyan
John Bunyan was both poor and uneducated. He was born into a traveling tinker's family November 28, 1628 and lived a typically shallow and worldly life as a youth, caught up in the entertainments of the time. He followed his father's trade, becoming an itinerate tinker at an age when most youth of today are still in high school.
Tortured by fears and nightmares, and fearful that he might have already committed the unpardonable sin, he finally found peace and assurance in Christ through the gospel. He was baptized by immersion in 1653 and received into a Baptist church.
Within a few years he began preaching, and the response to his preaching was dramatic almost immediately. His sermons were imbued with pathos and delivered with amazing power.
Bunyan was concerned about the rising influence of early Quakerism, and that prompted him to take part in written debates with Quakers. This both prompted him to undertake an earnest study of doctrine and demonstrated his natural flair for writing.
Bunyan was put in jail in 1660 for preaching without a license. He could have been released at almost any time if he had merely promised to stop his unlicensed preaching. He refused, and was kept in prison for the better part of twelve years. He redeemed the time and worked to support his family by writing while in prison. Released in 1672, he became the pastor of the Bedford church.
In 1675, he was arrested and jailed for unlicensed preaching again, but the public outcry against his imprisonment was so fierce that this time he obtained release after just six months.
It's ironic that this uneducated workman became one of the best-known preachers of the Puritan age (an era rich with well-schooled pastors, theologians, and doctors of divinity). Perhaps it is even more ironic that such a man made so important a contribution to English literaturewriting one of the greatest allegories of all time, Pilgrim's Progress.
That work was most likely begun during Bunyan's first imprisonment and completed during his final stint in jail. The work is in two parts, the first of which was originally released in 1678, three years after Bunyan's final release from the Bedford Jail. It may be the most popular book ever written in English. It was a favorite of Charles Spurgeon's, who read it at least once a year and said before he died that he had probably read it more than a hundred times.
Spurgeon wasn't the only important admirer of Bunyan. John Owen, probably the most prominent and respected academic leader of Bunyan's own era, once went to hear Bunyan preach. Charles II, hearing of it, asked the learned doctor of divinity why someone as thoroughly educated as he would want hear a mere tinker preach. Owen replied: "May it please your Majesty, if I could possess the tinker's abilities to grip men's hearts, I would gladly give in exchange all my learning."
Owen, of course, never joined any movement that was drifting in a Romish direction.
Today we're taking the train to London, where we'll be for the rest of the week. I'll be attending a board meeting of the Martyn Lloyd-Jones Recordings Trust this morning; calling in at the Metropolitan Tabernacle Book Shop and seeing Dr. Masters on Thursday; visiting the V&A (our first time there) on Friday; teaching a men's group, and then spending the day with Doug McMasters and family (who have recently relocated from California to pastor a church in the London area) on Saturday; and preaching in Doug's pulpit at Trinity Road Chapel in Upper Tooting on the Lord's Day morning.
I'll be back in California Monday evening, Lord willing. See you then.