It was the secret to writing his powerful talks... over 300 years ago
By Buddy Smith, Pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Malanda, Queensland.
JOHN BUNYAN'S name is still familiar to most Christians. Some time ago I stumbled 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".
My heart was deeply moved by this book. The content is impressive, weighty and convincing. Bunyan's use of Scripture is amazing. The sermon is absolutely compelling. This is no ten minute sermonette 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 compile such a sermonic masterpiece?" In the midst of this boisterous conversation, it suddenly dawned upon me that Bunyan had almost none of the resources we pastors take for granted. Strong's Concordance was 200 years in the future, Cruden's a hundred. Thayer's and Gesenius' lexicons, and Keil and Delitzsch's commentaries were all unknown to the tinker. Bunyan's biographers refer to Luther's commentary on Galatians, Foxe's Book of Martyrs, and a primitive concordance. Three books, that's all we know of! A prolific author like Bunyan would also be a voracious reader, but there is this problem. The literary giant had a lilliputian library.
As I pondered this I realised there IS one 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".
And there we have it.
This was Bunyan's chief resource, his greatest 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, and he had the Holy Spirit. 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 every daily crisis. He experienced 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 he was discouraged. He used it when he prepared his sermons. He used it when he stood before magistrate, charged with preaching without a license. He used it in Bedford jail as he wrote Pilgrim's Progress. He used it when he preached to the passersby 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 Sufficiency of the Comforter. These were Bunyan's study aids. His utter dependence upon the Word of God and the Spirit of God is what gave his lips, his life and his 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 there is between John Bunyan and the modern minister! Somewhere between the golf game, the caffe latte, and time spent browsing the stock market, he must prepare his Sunday sermon. What will he use for study aids? No problem! Just log on to the Super Dooper SermonMaker site. If this one doesn't strike his fancy, there are thousands of other websites with free sermons available to the computer savvy pastor. He can even subscribe to one of the megachurch sites that provide outlines and Hollywood video clips to wake up his bored pew warmers.
Memorisation, meditation and midnights are displaced by gigabytes, nanoseconds, and mousey sermons. Thirty minutes on the net, and he has stitched up a cute little sermonette, all permed and perfumed to suit his parishioners. No blood, no sweat, no tears, no Bible, no prayer, no blessing, no conviction, no conversions, (and soon, no people!!!) too bad, so sad! ("No sermon today, folks. The computer is down.")
This contrast between Bunyan and the modern minister raises a vital question, "Shall we then avoid all modern study aids? Must we become the Luddites of the twenty first century, and throw away our computers?" Not necessarily. They have their uses. But, the wise minister must learn to use them sparingly, in moderation, remembering that no mere man's thoughts, whether they are written in a book or on an webpage can ever replace the unadulterated Word of God of the Spirit of God.
Bunyan's computer had a depth we cannot find in a PC. His computer had all the resources of the Spirit of God. After all it is He who "searches all things, yea, the deep things of God" (I Cor. 2:10)
Most of us are not aware that Bunyan's computer is still on the market, BUT it is the most expensive resource we will ever purchase. It costs us our time. Time reading the Scriptures, time meditating on what we read, time waiting on God for enlightenment, time for the Holy Spirit to build a fire in my heart, to humble me to the point of worship, time praying for light, for boldness and utterance, time alone with God, time crying to God for wisdom to impart to my people, time discerning the truth of God and the lies of the Devil and discarding the latter, time growing godly character. Time listening to the still small voice that shakes the hearts of men. That is why Bunyan's computer costs so much. It costs me exactly what it cost him. It is the most expensive study aid anyone ever bought.
Is the price too high?
If my sermons could still be a blessing after 300 years, it would be cheap at any price.
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