Pastor's Blog

An Application of Bunyan: Nothing New Under the Sun

July 16, 2019 | by James M. Harrison

As Christian and Faithful continue along the way, Faithful recounts yet another of his encounters, this time with the one named Shame. He bore this name because of his intent, which was to shame and ridicule any who considered religion to be of any importance. Likewise, the very thought that one might be concerned with what he might say or do was ludicrous to this man named Shame. Indeed, though Faithful questions whether this name was appropriate to the man, it seems most appropriate, indeed.  For while seeking to shame others, he possessed no shame of his own. Pilgrim’s, he objected were poor, and base fools, ignorant of understanding in all “Natural Science”. Furthermore, he said, “…it was a shame to sit whining and mourning under a sermon, and a shame to come sighing and groaning home…it was a shame to ask my neighbor forgiveness for petty faults, or to make restitution where I have taken from any.”  He said also, that “religion made a man grow strange to the great, because of a few vices…”  Is not this, he said, a shame? As I read this, I was struck by how contemporary it sounded.  Though Bunyan wrote this in the 17th century, it certainly could have been written in the 21st.   In virtually every external appearance, we find that almost everything has changed in these last 400 years, or so.  And yet, the human heart has not changed.  The depravity of man has not changed.  Man’s futility of mind has not changed.  The arguments may become more sophisticated.  The science may become more exact. But man continues to suppress the truth in unrighteousness.  Man continues to throw off the shackles of God’s Law, not understanding that what he thinks is freedom is actually bondage leading to death. Faithful responded quite wisely, when he said, “…this Shame tells me what men are; but tells me nothing what God and the word of God is…Therefore, thought I, what God says is best, though all the men in the world are against it.” May that be our stand, as well.  “What God says is best, though all the men in the world are against...

An Application of Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress”: The Brutality of Moses

July 16, 2019 | by James M. Harrison

As Christian and Faithful continue to their journey together, Faithful continues to relate the events which had recently befallen him. After declining the offer of Adam the First, thereby earning his wrath, Faithful was overtaken by one whom he describes as “swift as the wind”.  This one proved to be a brutal companion.  When he catches up with Faithful, he speaks but a single word, which is not revealed, and then strikes Faithful with such a blow that he was knocked down to the ground. The blow was so hard that Faithful thought it might very well be the end of him.  Faithful tried to rise but was beaten back down again.  When he cried out for mercy, the man replied, “I know not how to show mercy,” and then proceeded to knock Faithful to the ground a third time. Faithful was sure that this brutal man would make an end of him, but then, just in the nick of time, another came by, and commanded the assault to cease.  Faithful did not know, at first, who this second man was, but as he went by, faithful observed the holes in his hands and in his side, and so concluded that he was the Lord. If you have not yet discerned Bunyan’s meaning, Christian speaks for him.  “That Man that overtook you was Moses. He spareth none, neither knoweth he how to shew mercy to those who transgress his Law.” We might think Moses, the Law, brutal and harsh.  Indeed, he is.  That is precisely his purpose.  To see one’s sin with clarity, to understand one’s wickedness, to grasp, if only through a veil, the depth of depravity which lies within, and the greatness of our offense toward the Holy God, is brutal indeed.  But this is precisely the role of the Law.  It is intended to show us our sin.  It is intended to bring us face to face with our faults and failures, with our depravity and rebellion. And so, by the gracious work of the Spirit, we find in the Law a mirror. And when we see our true reflection we are, by the Spirit’s work, crushed, and driven to the ground under it’s blows. And we find ourselves helpless before the onslaught, for there is no mercy in the Law.  No matter how we might try to escape, no matter how we might try to deceive ourselves, the Law is always there, shining its light upon us with bright and perfect clarity, and we are driven to the ground once more. And though there is no mercy in the Law, our cries for mercy are heard by another.  The One with holes in his hands and side hears our cries.  And He comes. And we find that He is our only recourse.  He is our only deliverer.  It is not from the Law that we must seek mercy, but from this One. For the Law rightfully declares to us that all of the sin which he has shown us deserves judgement and condemnation.  But this One with the wounds…He has undergone that judgment and condemnation.  And He has done it not for sin of His own, for He had none.  He did it for our sin, for which the Law condemns us. Now, this Wounded...

An Application of Bunyan: Promises Worse than Empty

July 12, 2019 | by James M. Harrison

As Christian continued on his way, he saw ahead of him the man named “Faithful”, and sought to overtake him, desiring fellowship along the way.  Faithful was also from the City of Destruction, having set out on his journey sometime after Christian had begun his own. As they walked together, they told their stories, and Faithfful related to Christian the conversation which took place concerning him among the residents of their city after Christian had departed on his journey, which those who remained behind referred to as his “desperate journey”. As Faithful spoke of the events of his own journey, he told of his encounter with a very aged man, whom he met at the foot of the Hill called Difficulty.  When Faithful had inquired as to the man’s identity, and the city from whence he came, the man told him that his name was Adam the First, and that he dwelled in the town of Deceit. But this aged man had more to offer than simply his name and that of his town.  He also offered Faithful a home and a job.  “Thou lookest like an honest fellow,” he said.  “Wilt thou be content to dwell with me, for the wages that I shall give thee?”  When Faithful then inquired as to the nature of this work, and the wages to be paid, he was told that the work would be delightful, and the wages were that Faithful should become this old man’s heir.  In addition, said Adam the First, “I have three daughters, The Lust of the Flesh, the Lust of the Eyes, and the Pride of Life.”  And he offered all of them to be Faithful’s wives, if he so desired. As Faithful related these things to Christian he did confess that he was tempted to go with the man.  The promises sounded sweet, at first.  But then, Faithful recalled, as he and Adam spoke, he noticed something written upon the man’s forehead.  There, Faithful read the words, “Put off the old man with his deads.”  It was then that Faithful realized how close he had come to catastrophe. He said, then, to Christian, “Then it came burning hot into my mind, whatever he said, and however he flattered, when he got me home to his house, he would sell me for a slave.” Indeed, that is all the old man as to offer.  To be the heir of the first Adam is to be a slave.  Indeed, Adam the first told Faithful that “his servants were those of his own begetting.”  We are all begotten of the first Adam.  We are born slaves, and we live in bondage.  Of course, there would be no point of speaking of Adam the first, if there were not also Adam the second.  It is this second Adam who is able to release slaves from bondage, and he will do so for whoever desires to leave the house of the first Adam, and enter into the house and the service of the second Adam.  For the second Adam is none other than the Master of the Celestial City. This is what Paul speaks of in Romans 5.  One may be of the first Adam, in whom death reigns, or one may leave the first Adam and align oneself with...

An Application of Bunyan – Pope, Pagan, and a Mistaken Author

July 11, 2019 | by James M. Harrison

Though morning has broken over the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Christian has only come through the first part of the valley.  There is more to come, and, indeed, the second part of the valley will be more dangerous than the first, being “full of snares, traps, gins, and nets here, and so full of pits, pitfalls, deep holes, and shelvings down there, that had it now been dark, as it was when he came the first part of the way, had he had a thousand souls, t5hey had in reason been cast away.” As Christian finally approached the end of this dangerous valley, he came upon a cave in which he saw two giants, named Pope and Pagan. It is here that Bunyan makes his understandable error, for he writes, “But by this place Christian went without much danger, whereat I somewhat wondered: But I have learnt since, that Pagan has been dead many a day.” Surely, from Bunyan’s perspective this must have seemed self-evident.  Paganism surely must have appeared over and done, entombed in the mists of ancient history.  He could not have foreseen its resurgence in our “modern” world.  Bunyan could never have imagined that there would come a time when we would be speaking of “Post-Christian” England, or Europe, or, anachronistically, America. It has been argued that much of what we understand as “secularism”, is actually a return to a pagan religious conception.  But one does not need to look to such abstract concepts.  Paganism in its overt form is making a resurgence.  New Age practices, Wiccans, the occult…all are example of this pagan resurgence.  Each solstice one will hear of hundreds, and thousands, gathering at Stonehenge and similar sites thought to have some kind of spiritual significance and power. No one in Bunyan’s day could have anticipated this.  Christianity was on the march.  The church was growing, and thanks to the Reformation, was becoming more and more pure and true to the New Testament vision of what the Church should be.  Bunyan could not account for the ebb and flow of history.  He did not consider that God has His own plan for building His church, and that plan, it seems, looks very different than what he, or we, have imagined. Is the Post-Christian West a cause for alarm?  Certainly it is, in the sense that we desire to see men and women come out of the darkness of their deception and into the light of the gospel.  But in the larger sense of the advance of God’s kingdom, the answer is no.  God is building His church and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. Christ’s sheep will hear His voice and follow Him.  But those promises are for the Church as the Bride of Christ.  They are not promises which are applicable to any particular local church, or the church in any particular nation, or culture.  As the church declines in the west, God is growing His church in Asia, in South America, and in Africa. What then?  As Augustine helped to reorient the church to a new reality after the fall of Rome through his City of God, we in the west must reorient ourselves to a new Post-Christian reality.  This is no cause for despair. Rather, it is...

An Application of Bunyan – The Whispering of the Wicked Ones

July 11, 2019 | by James M. Harrison

The battle is ended.  It was a close-run thing, with Christian falling under Apollyon’s assault, losing grasp of his sword.  But at the last moment, as Apollyon was about to strike the fatal blow, Christian reached for his sword, took it up again, and thrust it into the enemy.  Apollyon, realizing the that tide had changed, “spread forth his Dragon wings, and sped him away”, and Christian saw him no more. After giving thanks, Christian continued on to the end of the Valley of Humiliation, only to find himself in another valley, called the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  There is no other route to the Celestial City, but through this valley.  This valley, however, is not only the way to the Celestial City.  There, too, is the mouth of Hell.  And as Christian passed through, he encountered both flame and smoke, and “doleful voices”. Though tempted to return from whence he came, he persevered, even as fiends came nearer and nearer.  Christian cried out, “I will walk in the strength of the Lord God!”.  Hearing this, the fiends kept their distance, and came no further. It is here that Mr. Bunyan, as the narrator, describes Christian’s further interaction with the fiends. “I took notice that now poor Christian was so confounded, that he did not know his own voice: And thus I perceived it: Just when he was come over-against the mouth of the burning Pit, one of the Wicked Ones got behind him, and stept up softly to him, and whisperingly suggested many grievous Blasphemies to him, which he verily thought had proceeded from his own mind.  This put Christian more to it than any thing that he met with before, even to think that he should now Blaspheme him that he loved so much before; yet, if he could have helped it, he would not have done it: But he had not the discretion either to stop his ears, or to know from whence those Blasphemies came.” Have you heard this wicked whispering?  I cannot know the heart, nor the experience of every man or woman who might read this.  Therefore, I cannot say for sure that everyone has experienced this.  I dare say, however, that I have experienced these wicked whisperings, and I cannot imagine that I am unique in that regard.  Indeed, Bunyan describes this phenomenon in such a way as to make me bold to say that he, himself, knew this experience all too well. Yes, I have heard these wicked whisperings, and believed them to be the thoughts of my own mind. But how can that be?  I love my Master.  He is the One I long for.  He is my life, my love, my all.  I long to honor Him, and I despair when, on my account, He is dishonored. I love to commune with Him, and long for the day when I will see Him face to face. From whence, then, do these wicked whisperings come?  Bunyan tells us.  They come from the minions of the evil one.  As Bunyan describes it, they stand behind us, not in front, where we could see them.  They whisper.  They do not shout so as to draw attention to themselves.  Yet, even as they whisper, they drown out the sound of our...