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Excerpts from 'Devotional Classics' edited by Richard Foster and James Bryan Smith John Bunyan (1628-1688) Introduction to the Author John Bunyan was born in the parish of Elston England. His father, like himself, was a poor tinker but he anages to send John to school for a short time. later, John served for two years in the Parliamentarian army during the civil war against Charles I. In 1660 Bunyan was put in the Bedford jail for 12 years for preaching without a lcense. While in prison he supported his family by making shoelaces. It was in prison that he wrote 'Grace Abounding tot he Chief of Sinners' first published in 1666, an autobiographical sketch of his conversion, call to ministry and subsequent imprisonment. After his release in 1672 Bunyan was appointed pastor of the Baptist church in Bedford but was again sent to prison on the tsame charge for six moinths. It was then that he wrote his second and most famous work 'Pilgrim's Progress' which was published in 1678. This book is a monumental classic second only to the Bible in the number of copies sold since it's first printing. The following is taken from Bunyans own account of his call to ministry. His writing reveal the anguish he endured as one who was called by God to preach the Gospel. Excerpts from 'Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners' 1. Called to the work of the ministry I have been awake to the Lord for five or six years, having seen the great worth of Jesus Christ our Lord, and my need for Him, and having been enabled to trust my soul to Him. Some of the saints who had good judgment and holiness of life seemed to feel that God had counted me worthy to understand the blessed Word and that He had given me some measure of ability to express helpfully to others what I saw in it. So they asked me to speak a word of exhortation to them in one of the meetings. At first this seemed to be an impossible thing for me to do, but they kept at it. Finally I consented and spoke twice to small meetings of Christians only, but with much weakness and infirmity. So I tested my gift among them as it seemed as I spoke that they were being given a blessing. Afterward many told me, in the sight of the great God, that they were helped and comforted. They gave thanks to the Father of mercies for this gift He had given to me. The church continued to feel that I should preach, and so after solemn prayer to the Lord, with fasting, I was ordained to regular public preaching of the Word among those who believed and also to those who had not yet received the faith. 2. Exercising the gift About this time I began to feel a great desire to preach top the unsaved, not for the desire of glorifying myself, for that that time I was particularly being afflicted with the fiery darts of the Devil concerning my eternal state. I could not rest unless I was exercising this gift of preaching and I was pressed forward into it. I began to see that the Holy Spirit never intended that people who had gifts and abilities should bury them in the earth, but rather, He commanded and stirred up such people to the exercise of their gift and sent out to work those who were able and ready. And so, though I was the most unworthy of all the saints, I set upon this work. Through trembling, I used my gift to preach the blessed Gospel. 3. God's instrument At first I could hardly believe that God would speak through me to the heart of anyone, and I still counted myself unworthy. Yet, those who were quickened through my preaching loved me and had a respect for me. They blessed God for me, unworthy wretch though I was, and counted me as God's instrument who showed them the way of salvation. When I saw that they were beginning to live differently and that their hearts were eagerly pressing after the knowledge of Christ and rejoicing that God had sent me to them, then I began to conclude that God had blessed His work though me. And So I rejoiced, Yes, the tears of those whom God had awakened by my preaching were my solace and my encouragement. 4. Ministering in chains In my preaching of the Word I noticed that the Lord had led me to begin where His Word begins, with sinners; that is, to condemn all flesh and to state clearly that the curse of God is upon all people as they come into the world because of sin. And this part of my work I fulfilled easily for the terrors o the Law and the guilt of my transgressions lay heavy upon my conscience. I preached what I felt, even that under which my own poor soul groaned and trembled. I went to them in chains and had in my own conscience that fire which I pleaded with them to beware of. I can honestly say that many a time as I have gone to preach I have been full of guilt and terror right up to the pulpit door and there it has been taken off and I have been at liberty until my work was done. then immediately before I could get down the pulpit stairs, it was upon me as bad as before. Yet, God carried me on, but surely with a strong hand. 5. My heart full of concern In all my preaching, thank God, my heart has earnestly cried out to God to make the Word effectual to the salvation of souls, for I have been fearful that the enemy would take the Word away from the conscience and so it would be unfruitful. After I have preached, my heart has been full of concern to think that the Word might now fall as rain on stony places and I have cried out from my heart, 'Oh, that those who have heard me speak today will see as I do what sin, death, hell and the curse of God really are and that they might understand the grace and love and mercy of God that it is through Christ to them no matter in what condition they are, even if they are His enemies.' During those times, especially when I have spoken of the life that is in Christ without works, it has seemed as if an angel of God were standing behind me to encourage me. 6. Travailing to bring forth children to God Sometimes when I had felt that I had done the least, then it developed that the most had been accomplished; and at other times when I though I had really gotten hold of them, I found that I had fished for nothing. In my preaching I have actually been in real pain, travailing to bring forth children to God and I have never been satisfied unless there has been some fruit. It never pleased me to see people merely drinking in opinions if they were ignorant of Christ and the value of His salvation. When I saw sound conviction for sin, especially the sin of unbelief, and hearts set on fire to be saved by Christ, those were the souls I counted blessed. 7. Temptations abounding But in this work, as in any other, I had my different temptations. Sometimes I would suffer from discouragement, fearing that I would not be of any help to anyone and that I would not even be able to speak sense to the people. At other times I have been assaulted with thoughts of blasphemy before the congregation. Again there have been times when I have been about to preach on some searching portion of the Word and I have found the tempter suggesting 'What! Will you preach this? This condemns you. Your own soul is guilty of this; you must not preach on this. If you do, you must leave the door open for you to escape from the guilt of what you will say. If you preach like this, you will lay guilt upon your own soul and you will never be able to get out from under it.' I've been kept from consenting to these horrid suggestions and instead have preached against sin and transgressions wherever I found it; even though it did bring oneself under condemnation by plain preaching to others, than to save yourself by imprisoning the truth in unrighteousness. Blessed be God for His help also in this. 8. A sledge hammer upon the head of pride I have also had the Word come to me with some sharp, piercing sentence concerning the gifts God has given to me, For instance, 'Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels and have not charity, I am become as a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal' 9I Cor. 13:1 kjv) Though a tinkling cymbal is a musical instrument that can make hear-inflaming melody, they cymbal does not contain life; though it can make wonderful music, it can be crushed and thrown away. So are all those who have gifts but do not have saving grace. Christ can use gifted people to affect the souls of the people in His Church yet when He has finished using them, He can hang them up without life. Such considerations were a sledge hammer upon the head of pride and the desire of vain glory. What! I thought. shall I be proud because I am a sounding brass? Does not the person who has the least of life of God have more than these instruments? 9. Grace the forerunner of glory I perceived that although gifts are good to accomplish the task they are designed for, the edification of others, yet they are empty and without power to save the soul unless God is using them. And having gifts is no sign of a person's relationship with God. This also made me see that gifts are dangerous things, not in themselves but because of those evils of pride and vain glory that attend to them. Blown up with the applause of ill-advised Christians, the poor creatures who posses these gifts can easily fall into the condemnation of the Devil. Gifts are desirable, but great grace and small gifts are better than great gifts and no grace. The Bible does not say that the Lord gives gifts and glory but that He gives grace and glory. Blessed is everyone to whom the Lord gives true grace, for that is a certain forerunner of glory. Read: 1 Timothy 4:9-16 Reflection 1. In section 2, Bunyan uses the biblical metaphor of burying one's talents/ Although Jesus was referring to money in this parable, the talents are often used as symbols of spiritual gifts. What are some of the gifts God has given to you? Are they buried or are they being put to good use? 2. Bunyan tested his gift by exercising it. Why is testing our gifts important? What did the church do to confirm Bunyans gift of preaching? What evidence was later shown to confirm that God was using this gift? 3. The Devil, writes Bunyan, discouraged him from exercising his gift by accusing him of being unworthy. In what ways have you been discouraged or felt unworthy to use your gifts? 4. In sections 8 & 9, the author discusses the dangers associated with spiritual gifts. What, according to Bunyan, is the greatest danger connected with these spiritual gifts? Has this been true in your experience? 5. In 1 Tim. 4:14 Paul urges Timothy not to neglect his gift. How does the insight we get from Bunyan help us to see why Timothy might have been tempted to neglect his gift? How might Timothy have felt when he read this letter of encouragement from his mentor Paul? 6. During the next week, examine your spiritual giftedness. Ask others how you have been helpful to them. This is a good starting point. their answers might surprise you. Many gifts go unnoticed by those who have them. 7. If you sense you have a certain gift but are not sure, test the gift, as Bunyan did. Exercise it, and see if others receive spiritual benefit from your abilities. Like Bunyan, seek the help of the church in this matter; ask others to pray with you. You may also want to accompany your prayers over this matter with a time of fasting. 8. For those who have been exercising spiritual gifts for some time, be sure to keep a healthy check on the way you are using them. Be careful to note how easily pride can enter in, especially if you gift is a public one. Try not to listen to 'the applause of ill-advised Christians' as Bunyan would put it. 9. Some of you may be life Timothy who was feeling discouraged and was in danger of neglecting his gifts. read through 1 and 2 timothy, putting yourself in Timothy's place. Imagine that Paul is writing those letters to you.

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