Recently, my wife and I spent nine days in London and traveled out each day to various cities such as Bristol, Bedford, Cambridge, Oxford, and Edinburgh, Scotland. Over the next couple of weeks, I will be writing a series of articles on specific people from church history that left us with testimonies of genuine faith in the gospel, perseverance under persecution, and remained steadfast to the end. The goal in this series of articles is to lightly explore their lives and focus on their perseverance in the gospel of Jesus Christ. A life that finished well in the gospel is a life worth remembering.
John Bunyan the Depraved Tinker
The first person in this series is a man who really needs no introduction. His name is John Bunyan. He was born in 1628 in Elstow England, approximately 1 mile south of Bedford which sits approximately 50 miles northwest of London. Bunyan describes his life in his spiritual autobiography titled, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners by saying, “I had few equals, especially considering my years, which were tender, for cursing, swearing, lying, and blaspheming the holy name of God.” In short, Bunyan was an overachiever when it came to depravity.
He learned the trade of metal working (aka – tinker) and spent his time working on ploughs and other pieces of equipment. After he married, within approximately 4 or 5 years, John Bunyan was drawn to God and converted. God used some books that his wife had to prick his heart with the gospel. He would be baptized in the River Great Ouse that runs through the town of Bedford in approximately 1650. Following his salvation, he had a desire to preach the gospel. His life would never be the same.
John Bunyan the Powerful Preacher
After being asked to speak at church, the people soon learned that a mighty preacher had been born. The word spread that God had called an unlearned tinker to preach, and crowds grew to hear him proclaim the gospel. Records tell us that if any notice was given, a crowd of 1,200 people would gather to hear John Bunyan preach at 7:00am on a weekday before work. Intellectuals and non-intellectuals were drawn to the preaching of Bunyan. King Charles once asked the great intellect John Owen why he would travel to hear a tinker preach, and he responded by saying, “I would willingly exchange my learning for the tinker’s power of touching men’s hearts.”
John Bunyan the Man of Faith
We remember John Bunyan because of his faith and perseverance. If you travel to Bedford, England you will find a large statue near the city center that commemorates Bunyan. Around the statue are scenes from his most famous book The Pilgrim’s Progress. Bunyan was a husband, father, pastor, and author, but most importantly, he was a man who persevered in the faith.
After he and his first wife had four children together, she died. Bunyan remarried and after his wife was pregnant, in the year 1660, approximately 10 years after his conversion, he was placed in the jail just a few hundred yards from where he was baptized. He was seen as someone who refused to conform to the Church of England and therefore, he was placed in jail as a rogue preacher and silenced, or was he?
While in jail for 12 years, he would receive frequent visits from his family, but despite the passionate requests of his wife to have him released, she was denied. Through death of his first wife, death of children, and state sponsored persecution, Bunyan remained steadfast and immovable in the faith. While in jail, he penned The Pilgrim’s Progress which happens to be one of the most printed books in world history.
John Bunyan was real. Charles Spurgeon once said, “Prick him anywhere; and you will find that his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his soul is full of the Word of God.” Perhaps this is why The Pilgrim’s Progress became Spurgeon’s favorite book other than the Bible.
As we consider his imprisonment, it was time away from his family and church that he loved, but it was not time wasted. Bunyan was not sitting in jail crying out “poor me.” He spent time in prayer, in the Word, and he wrote books to encourage his persecuted congregation. George Whitefield said that Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress “smells of the prison.” The essence of Bunyan’s life is perseverance in the faith.
Today, if you visit Bedford, you will find on the sidewalk a small plaque that marks the spot where the old jail once stood. This was where Bunyan was imprisoned and where he labored in prayer and writing to encourage his fellow Christians. How many more than his small congregation has been encouraged through his books? As I spoke with my children about John Bunyan over the supper table last night, I wanted them to know that he finished well. He sacrificed much and persevered in the faith. I want my children to know who Bunyan was and to follow in the footsteps of men like him for the glory of God. Bunyan’s life is worth remembering because his life was spent for God.
At one point, as Bunyan’s wife Elizabeth stood before the authorities and pleaded for his release, one man accused him of preaching the doctrines of the devil. Elizabeth responded by saying, “My lord, when the righteous Judge shall appear, it will be known that his doctrine is not the doctrine of the devil!” When the righteous Judge shall appear, will you be found persevering in the faith?
In August of 1688, Bunyan traveled 50 miles to London to preach the gospel and apparently to settle a dispute between a father and his son. On August 19th in London at Whitechapel, he gave his final sermon from John 1:13. His last words from the pulpit are recorded as, “Live like the children of God, that you may look your Father in the face with comfort another day.” While traveling back to Bedford on horseback in the rain, he fell sick with a fever and on August 31st 1688 he died. Bunyan was found faithful. Will the historic record of your life point to a life of faithfulness to God?
To many people, the date August 19th, 1688 doesn’t ring a bell. In fact, a quick scan of historical events doesn’t reveal any big issue that occurred on this date in history. It was, however, on this date that John Bunyan, the author of the most famous book in world history (other than the Bible), The Pilgrim’s Progress, preached his final sermon. He preached his final sermon at Mr. Gamman’s meeting-house, near Whitechapel. Bunyan died just twelve days later. Bunyan had been on a trip to intervene in a disagreement between a father and his son. On his way home, a downpour of rain drenched the preacher and he became fatally ill as a result. He was only 60 years of age.
John Bunyan was not a well educated man. He was known as a “tinker” or a metal worker. He became converted by the power of the gospel and literally shook the world with the gospel (read about it in a short book, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners). Bunyan was imprisoned in 1660 for preaching the gospel. He had a new wife of only one year (Elizabeth) and four children (from his previous wife who died after 10 years of marriage). His oldest child, Mary, was blind. Bunyan was put in prison for preaching the gospel and was given the option to leave if he agreed to refrain from preaching. It was Bunyan, with boldness who said, “I will stay in prison till the moss grows on my eye lids rather than disobey God.” For the next 12 years he sat in prison until a change of power took place that resulted in his release. During that time he would have frequent visits from his wife and children, but he was kept a prisoner because he was unwilling to stop preaching the gospel.
Bunyan was not a well educated man, but he became a student of the Bible after his conversion. He learned theology and preached the Bible with a great command of Scripture and the key doctrines of the faith. In his final sermon, Bunyan preached from John 1:13, “Who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (ESV). Today, there is a controversy over the subject of salvation that continues to blaze. The controversy centers on the freedom of the will. Is man responsible for his faith or is that a gift from God? Is man responsible to take the first step toward God in salvation or is that something God does for man? Is man free to choose God or is man shackled to sin? Can a spiritually dead man choose God? What exactly does the Bible teach about man’s will and ability to come to God in salvation? What exactly does being born again mean in John 3? Is being born again a work of man or God?
John 1:13 is a grand text to be able to preach as your final sermon. It contains much truth that should help settle the controversy over the miracle of salvation. John 1:13 is not a lengthy passage that requires a great deal of explanation. It presents its truth with vivid clarity that cannot be denied. Bunyan explains these issues from the text in his final sermon. He doesn’t mince words! At one point he said, “I am not a free-willer, I do abhor it.” I pray that you are blessed as you read these words from the great preacher – John Bunyan!
Pastor Josh Buice
MR. BUNYAN’S LAST SERMON
‘Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.’— John 1:13
The words have a dependance on what goes before, and therefore I must direct you to them for the right understanding of it. You have it thus: ‘He came unto his own, and his own received him not; but as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh — but of God.’
In the words before, you have two things. First, Some of his own rejecting him, when he offered himself to them. Second, Others of his own receiving him, and making him welcome; those that reject him, he also passes by; but those that receive him, he gives them power to become the sons of God.
Now, lest any one should look upon it as good luck or fortune, says he, they ‘were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.’ They that did not receive him, they were only born of flesh and blood; but those that receive him, they have God to their Father; they receive the doctrine of Christ with a vehement desire.
[TO EXPLAIN THE TEXT]
FIRST, I will show you what he means by blood. They that believe are born to it, as an heir is to an inheritance—they are born of God, not of flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God; not of blood, that is, not by generation, not born to the kingdom of heaven by the flesh, not because I am the son of a godly man or woman—that is meant by blood (Acts 17:26); He ‘hath made of one blood all nations.’ But when he says here, ‘not of blood,’ he rejects all carnal privileges they did boast of: they boasted they were Abraham’s seed; no, no says he, it is not of blood; think not to say you have Abraham to your father; you must be born of God, if you go to the kingdom of heaven.
SECOND, ‘Nor of the will of the flesh.’ What must we understand by that?
It is taken for those vehement inclinations that are in man, to all manner of looseness, fulfilling the desires of the flesh: that must not be understood here; men are not made the children of God by fulfilling their lustful desires. It must be understood here in the best sense: there is not only in carnal men a will to be vile, but there is in them a will to be saved also; a will to go to heaven also. But this it will not do; it will not privilege a man in the things of the kingdom of God: natural desires after the things of another world, they are not an argument to prove a man shall go to heaven whenever he dies. I am not a free-willer, I do abhor it; yet there is not the wickedest man but he desires, some time or other, to be saved; he will read some time or other, or, it may be, pray, but this will not do: ‘It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.’ There is willing and running, and yet to no purpose (Rom 9:16). Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, have not obtained it (v 30). Here, I do not understand, as if the apostle had denied a virtuous course of life to be the way to heaven; but that a man without grace, though he have natural gifts, yet he shall not obtain privilege to go to heaven, and be the son of God. Though a man without grace may have a will to be saved, yet he cannot have that will God’s way. Nature, it cannot know any thing but the things of nature—the things of God knows no man but by the Spirit of God; unless the Spirit of God be in you, it will leave you on this side the gates of heaven. ‘Not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.’ It may be, some may have a will, a desire that Ishmael may be saved; know this, it will not save thy child. If it was our will, I would have you all go to heaven. How many are there in the world that pray for their children, and cry for them, and are ready to die [for them]? and this will not do. God’s will is the rule of all; it is only through Jesus Christ: ‘which were born, not of flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.’
Now I come to the doctrine.
Men that believe in Jesus Christ, to the effectual receiving of Jesus Christ, they are born to it. He does not say they shall be born to it, but they are born to it—born of God unto God and the things of God, before he receives God to eternal salvation. ‘Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Now, unless he be born of God, he cannot see it: suppose the kingdom of God be what it will, he cannot see it before he be begotten of God. Suppose it be the gospel, he cannot see it before he be brought into a state of regeneration. Believing is the consequence of the new birth; ‘not of blood, nor of the will of man, but of God.’
First, I will give you a clear description of it under one similitude or two. A child, before it be born into the world, is in the dark dungeon of its mother’s womb: so a child of God, before he be born again, is in the dark dungeon of sin, sees nothing of the kingdom of God; therefore it is called a new birth: the same soul has love one way in its carnal condition, another way when it is born again.
Second, As it is compared to a birth, resembling a child in his mother’s womb, so it is compared to a man being raised out of the grave; and to be born again, is to be raised out of the grave of sin; ‘Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.’ To be raised from the grave of sin is to be begotten and born (Rev 1:5); there is a famous instance of Christ; He is ‘the first begotten of the dead’; he is the first-born from the dead, unto which our regeneration alludeth; that is, if you be born again by seeking those things that are above, then there is a similitude betwixt Christ’s resurrection and the new birth; which was born, which was restored out of this dark world, and translated out of the kingdom of this dark world, into the kingdom of his dear Son, and made us live a new life—this is to be born again: and he that is delivered from the mother’s womb, it is the help of the mother; so he that is born of God, it is by the Spirit of God. I must give you a few consequences of a new birth.
(1.) First of all, A child, you know, is incident to cry as soon as it comes into the world; for if there be no noise, they say it is dead. You that are born of God, and Christians, if you be not criers, there is no spiritual life in you—if you be born of God, you are crying ones; as soon as he has raised you out of the dark dungeon of sin, you cannot but cry to God, What must I do to be saved? As soon as ever God had touched the jailer, he cries out, ‘Men and brethren, what must I do to be saved?’ Oh! how many prayerless professors is there in London that never pray! Coffee-houses will not let you pray, trades will not let you pray, looking-glasses will not let you pray; but if you was born of God, you would.
(2.) It is not only natural for a child to cry, but it must crave the breast; it cannot live without the breast—therefore Peter makes it the true trial of a new-born babe: the new-born babe desires the sincere milk of the Word, that he may grow thereby: if you be born of God, make it manifest by desiring the breast of God. Do you long for the milk of the promises? A man lives one way when he is in the world, another way when he is brought unto Jesus Christ (Isa 66). They shall suck and be satisfied; if you be born again, there is no satisfaction till you get the milk of God’s Word into your souls (Isa 66:11). To ‘suck and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolation.’ Oh! what is a promise to a carnal man? A whore-house, it may be, is more sweet to him; but if you be born again, you cannot live without the milk of God’s Word. What is a woman’s breast to a horse? But what is it to a child? there is its comfort night and day, there is its succour night and day. O how loath are they it should be taken from them: minding heavenly things, says a carnal man, is but vanity; but to a child of God, there is his comfort.
(3.) A child that is newly born, if it have not other comforts to keep it warm than it had in its mother’s womb, it dies; it must have something got for its succour: so Christ had swaddling clothes prepared for him; so those that are born again, they must have some promise of Christ to keep them alive; those that are in a carnal state, they warm themselves with other things; but those that are born again, they cannot live without some promise of Christ to keep them alive; as he did to the poor infant in Ezekiel 16:8: I covered thee with embroidered gold: and when women are with child, what fine things will they prepare for their child! Oh, but what fine things has Christ prepared to wrap all in that are born again! Oh what wrappings of gold has Christ prepared for all that are born again! Women will dress their children, that every one may see them how fine they are; so he in Ezekiel 16:11: ‘I decked thee also with ornaments, and I put bracelets upon thine hands, and a chain on thy neck; and I put a jewel on thy forehead, and ear-rings in thine ears, and a beautiful crown upon thine head.’ And, says he in verse 13, ‘Thou didst prosper into a kingdom.’ This is to set out nothing in the world but the righteousness of Christ and the graces of the Spirit, without which a new-born babe cannot live, unless they have the golden righteousness of Christ.
(4.) A child, when it is in its mother’s lap, the mother takes great delight to have that which will be for its comfort; so it is with God’s children, they shall be kept on his knee (Isa 66:11): ‘They shall suck and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolations’; verse 13: ‘As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you.’ There is a similitude in these things that nobody knows of, but those that are born again.
(5.) There is usually some similitude betwixt the father and the child. It may be the child looks like its father; so those that are born again, they have a new similitude—they have the image of Jesus Christ (Gal 4). Every one that is born of God has something of the features of heaven upon him. Men love those children that are likest them most usually; so does God his children, therefore they are called the children of God; but others do not look like him, therefore they are called Sodomites. Christ describes children of the devil by their features—the children of the devil, his works they will do; all works of unrighteousness, they are the devil’s works: if you are earthly, you have borne the image of the earthly; if heavenly, you have borne the image of the heavenly.
(6.) When a man has a child, he trains him up to his own liking—they have learned the custom of their father’s house; so are those that are born of God—they have learned the custom of the true church of God; there they learn to cry ‘My Father’ and ‘My God’; they are brought up in God’s house, they learn the method and form of God’s house, for regulating their lives in this world.
(7.) Children, it is natural for them to depend upon their father for what they want; if they want a pair of shoes, they go and tell him; if they want bread, they go and tell him; so should the children of God do. Do you want spiritual bread? go tell God of it. Do you want strength of grace? ask it of God. Do you want strength against Satan’s temptations? go and tell God of it. When the devil tempts you, run home and tell your heavenly Father—go, pour out your complaints to God; this is natural to children; if any wrong them, they go and tell their father; so do those that are born of God, when they meet with temptations, go and tell God of them.
The first use is this, To make a strict inquiry whether you be born of God or not; examine by those things I laid down before, of a child of nature and a child of grace. Are you brought out of the dark dungeon of this world into Christ? Have you learned to cry, ‘My Father?’ (Jer 3:4). ‘And I said, Thou shalt call me, My Father.’ All God’s children are criers—cannot you be quiet without you have a bellyful of the milk of God’s Word? cannot you be satisfied without you have peace with God? Pray you, consider it, and be serious with yourselves; if you have not these marks, you will fall short of the kingdom of God—you shall never have an interest there; ‘there’ is no intruding. They will say, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us; and he will say, I know you not.’ No child of God, no heavenly inheritance. We sometimes give something to those that are not our children, but [we do] not [give them] our lands. O do not flatter yourselves with a portion among the sons, unless you live like sons. When we see a king’s son play with a beggar, this is unbecoming; so if you be the king’s children, live like the king’s children; if you be risen with Christ, set your affections on things above, and not on things below; when you come together, talk of what your Father promised you; you should all love your Father’s will, and be content and pleased with the exercises you meet with in the world. If you are the children of God, live together lovingly; if the world quarrel with you, it is no matter; but it is sad if you quarrel together; if this be amongst you, it is a sign of ill-breeding; it is not according to the rules you have in the Word of God. Dost thou see a soul that has the image of God in him? Love him, love him; say, This man and I must go to heaven one day; serve one another, do good for one another; and if any wrong you, pray to God to right you, and love the brotherhood.
Lastly, If you be the children of God, learn that lesson—Gird up the loins of your mind, as obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to your former conversation; but be ye holy in all manner of conversation. Consider that the holy God is your Father, and let this oblige you to live like the children of God, that you may look your Father in the face, with comfort, another day.1
 Bunyan, J. (2006). Vol. 2: Bunyan’s Last Sermon. (755–758). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
As 2010 begins, I look back on my life and become thankful for the many great men that God has used to shape me personally. Men like my Dad, Grandfather, and Father-in-law lived uncompromisingly before me, and I thank God for them. I am also extremely thankful for men that I never had the opportunity to meet. Life is full of opportunities to stand on the shoulders of great men. Through my life I have had the distinct privilege of standing on the shoulders of great men and gaining knowledge, wisdom, and education from them. In fact, this is the pattern of life for all of us as we walk through the Christian life. We are constantly standing upon the shoulders of great men.One such man that many of us have climbed upon in our lives is John Bunyan. His life was a short vapor of merely 59 years (November 28, 1628-August 31, 1688). He was a Puritan author and preacher, best known for his classic work, The Pilgrim’s Progress. The famous book that many of us read in school was translated into more languages and printed into more copies than any other literary book except the Bible. Why is John Bunyan worth reading? Why is John Bunyan a man that has shoulders worth standing upon? The answer is found in his dedication to Christ.After leading a life of wickedness, he experienced a line of tragic events. Bunyan experienced the death of his mother, his sister, and the remarriage of his father within a relatively short period of time. Bunyan was then drafted into the army at 16 and had a near death experience where one of his fellow soldiers took his place and died in battle. It was a period of unrest and trial for Bunyan.Bunyan learned the trade of a “tinker” and provided services doing metal work as a means of income. He was uneducated and was a blue collar worker all of his life. At the age of 20 he married and God began to work on his soul immediately. His wife had some books that Bunyan started to examine and read. It was through these books that God started to awaken him to the truth of the Gospel. After a season of conviction and awakening, Bunyan was saved by the Grace of God.Over the next seven years, John Bunyan walked through mountain top and deep valley experiences. He was called to preach the glorious Gospel of Christ. He became a mighty preacher of the Word. Hundreds of people would often gather to listen to him preach even though he was just an uneducated metal worker. The King once asked John Owen why he would go and listen to a “tinker” or metal worker preach and he responded by saying, “I would willingly exchange my learning for the tinker’s power of touching men’s hearts.”At the age of 30, his wife died. He was left with four children under ten years old and his oldest was blind. Bunyan would remarry and within two years of their marriage, he would be thrown into prison for preaching the Word of God. During the first few months, his wife Elisabeth suffered a miscarriage under the immense stress. The prison was not a dungeon and he was allowed visitors. But, he was not allowed to leave the prison unless he would agree to stop preaching. Bunyan would remain in the prison for twelve years. By the time he exited the prison in Bedford England, his oldest children were adults.Following a change of command, Bunyan was finally released from prison in 1672. After his lengthy imprisonment a barn was purchased where he began preaching to about 120 people. He labored in the Word, loved people, loved Christ, and uncompromisingly proclaimed the truth of God’s Word. The life of this bold man ended as he traveled to settle a dispute between a father and son. As he traveled through the rain, he became soaked. He came down with a fever that left him dead at the young age of 59.As I consider the life of John Bunyan, I see a man who was God’s servant. Below is a list of reasons why John Bunyan remains a man worth reading and a man with shoulders worth standing upon.1. John Bunyan understood his calling to preach. He did not have the greatest education, but he had an unwavering calling that prompted him to proclaim the Word of God.2. John Bunyan was a man who remained faithful to God in the midst of immense suffering. It is easy to be a Christian on the bright and sunny days, but often difficult in the midst of the storm. Not so with Bunyan. Even in the middle of difficult trials, he was faithful to the Christ who died for him.3. John Bunyan was a man who had sound doctrine. He was not well educated, but he gathered his doctrine from Holy Scripture. He was a preacher of the Book and one who provided his people with the gems of true doctrine from Holy Scripture.4. John Bunyan was a writer who engaged the people’s mind without compromising the truth of God’s Word. Even while writing an allegorical tale (The Pilgrim’s Progress) he laced each page with uncorrupted doctrine drawn from the well of Holy Scripture.5. John Bunyan cared for people and had a pastor’s heart. He was not out trying to get numbers elevated so that he would be invited to preach at the next pastor’s conference. He loved people, ministered to people, and died on a buggy ride home in the rain at 59 trying to mend the fence between a disgruntled father and son.May God be pleased to raise up more men in our present day who have shoulders worth standing on. I pray other men like Bunyan will be raised up and used by God for my daughter and son to climb upon and gaze toward the radiant splendor of God’s glory! God – give us another Bunyan!By His Grace and For His Glory!Pastor Josh Buice