I suppose the title could be viewed in a pleasant or a rather dreadful light. For preaching the Gospel some would consider us selling Christ. Not that I agree with that term as it would imply that we offer Christ for our own gain. Not so as we offer Christ out of duty, commandment and love for our fellow man but for no personal profit ourselves. The title of this work comes from the autobiography of a great man of God, John Bunyan. Bunyan lived well over 300 years ago and is best remembered as the author of the famous Christian writing “The Pilgrim’s Progress” which he wrote while being imprisoned for preaching the Gospel.
In “Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners”, Bunyan writes of his struggle for conversion and the many temptations he himself was faced with. Born a poor man and considered a “tinker” by trade which would amount to a mender of pots, Bunyan did not receive the higher education that one would think is required to do the mighty and timeless works that he did. This shows how our God can take the small and basest things and perform great wonders with them.
By Bunyan’s own testimony, we find that he considered himself vile, sinful and could swear greater than anyone he came in contact with. He stated that he was second to none when it came to swearing and blaspheming the holy name of God. He describes an episode with a woman of the town that he considered to be an ungodly wretch and yet she said this of him, “he swore and cursed at the most fearful rate that she was made to tremble just to hear him.” She also stated that, “he was the ungodliest fellow for swearing that she ever heard in all her life; and that he, by thus doing was able to spoil all the youth in the whole town, if they came but in his company.”
Upon his marriage he writes that he and his wife did not have so much as a spoon or dish betwixt them. His father-in-law was a pious man and left his daughter two Christian books which they would often read together. The books “The Plain Man’s Pathway to Heaven and The Practice of Piety;” did not awaken him from the sinful state but did kindle some desire in him toward religion. He shows great honesty by admitting that this did cause him to adore the priesthood and desire the chief seats. Some who read this may be in the same condition.
Raised and acquainted with the Puritan Doctrine, young Bunyan attended a sermon on a certain Sabbath in which the text dealt with remembering the Sabbath and to keep it holy. During the sermon the Parson warned of breaking the Sabbath with labor, sports or otherwise. He felt as though the sermon was directed specifically at him as he was a lover of sports. He speaks of how the sermon troubled and burdened him but after he had eaten his Sunday meal, he shook the thoughts of it off and returned to his love of sports and gaming.
The English of that time had a popular game commonly known as “Tip the Cat” in which Bunyan seemed to enjoy. He admits that he was partaking in this game on the same Sabbath as that sermon and had struck the cat, (which typically is a wooden object somewhat shaped as a football), and was about to strike it again. At this point he describes that a voice did suddenly dart from heaven into his soul and said, “Wilt thou leave thy sins and go to heaven, or have thy sins and go to hell? At this point he looked up to heaven as if he saw the Lord Jesus looking down and being greatly displeased with him. While this did prick his conscience and he admits to realizing that he was a grievous sinner, the tempter immediately sowed the thoughts that it was too late for him and that Christ would not forgive him. I’m sure there are some who read this that the tempter has tried the same trick.
There is no doubt that Bunyan considered himself a sinner above many others. The next few years of his life is painted by his own brush as a struggle between good and evil. He begins to read the Bible and puts on an outward appearance of reformation. We see this even in the day that we live in. He admits to having a form of godliness and this chiefly due to him having a desire for the praise of men. I commend Bunyan again for his honesty. He readily admitted to desiring the chief seats, adoring the priesthood and putting on an outward appearance of reformation and godliness. Most of us have been guilty of these transgressions at one point or another but I doubt we would readily admit them as Bunyan.
Bunyan quits his swearing and tries to abstain from two other favorites of his, ringing and dancing. I’m not sure why he considered ringing the bell in the steeple house such a great sin other than he does mention that he considered it vain. He recounts going to the steeple house to watch the ringing although he wouldn’t do it himself. He tells of how he would fear that the bell would fall or even the steeple and how he feared for his safety, (evidence of a guilty conscience). He believed for the most part that he kept the commandments and though void of the saving Grace of Christ, thought he pleased Almighty God as well as any man in England.
He came to Bedford one day to work his trade and came across some poor women sitting in a doorway talking about the things of God. As he thought himself now able to carry on conversations concerning religion, (although he admits that he was nothing more than a painted hypocrite), he quickly realized these women were talking far above him concerning salvation. They described the joy in hearts, the new birth and how their righteousness was nothing but their righteousness was in the Lord. This caused Bunyan to shake and mistrust his condition as he had not experienced the new birth or the comfort of the Word and promise and so his struggle continued.
He labored much over the question of whether or not he was elected or if the day of Grace had come and gone and there was no hope for him. This caused him much trouble and drove him to his wits end. This thought fell upon his heart, “Look at the generations of old, and see; did ever any trust in God, and were confounded?” He immediately began to search the scriptures for it. He searched in vain and even asked others but no one could point him to this passage. Over a year later he found in one of the books of the Apocrypha. This troubled him a little that it wasn’t in the Holy Canon but he took comfort in knowing that God had led him to the passage to comfort him over the question of election and the passing of the day of Grace.
The comfort was short lived as the tempter would place thoughts in his heart that perhaps those folks in Bedford that were already saved were all that God would save in those parts. He longed to hear Christ call him and say, “Follow Me”. He would have gave anything to have been one of those that heard Christ call them as did Peter, James and John. God was opening scriptures to Bunyan all through these times of trials but it was as the seed was being sown, the fowls were gobbling them up.
His journey was filled with hills and valleys. He would hear a sermon on the Song of Solomon and the words, “My love”, would follow him so that he would have comfort for a while and then the tempter would come again and suggest why he thought this Jesus was more than the Mahomet of the Turks. He even had times of thinking himself to be possessed of the devil. Many blasphemous thoughts ran through his mind and some he said that he dared not write about.
I would read of his comforts and think now is his conversion but no sooner would I read the next paragraph and the tempter would be upon him again inserting doubt and muddying up all the things God was showing him. I believe that the devil knew the potential of this poor man and launched a grievous campaign against his soul. Bunyan sat under the preaching of Reverend Gifford at Bedford and begin to think in his heart that he loved Christ above all things. It was at this time that Satan chose to launch a great assault against him. For a full year this temptation lay upon his heart and followed him, “To sell and part with this most blessed Christ, to exchange Him for the things of this life, for any thing.” Continually running through Bunyan’s mind, “Sell Christ for this, or sell Christ for that; sell Him, sell Him;” every day and as he describes it, almost every hour. Sometimes it would run through his mind a hundred times, “Sell Him, sell Him, sell Him.” Bunyan would respond in his mind; “I will not, I will not, I will not, I will not; no, not for thousands, thousands, thousands of worlds:” The tempter would then place the thought in him that he valued Christ to little for the thousands of worlds were not enough. This continued until one morning he described having the said argument between he and the tempter while lying in his bed until he became so weary that he was out of breath. At that instant a thought rushed through his heart, “Let Him go, if He will;” and Bunyan believed his heart consented to this.
The scripture concerning Esau selling his birthright now began to trouble Bunyan. He perceived himself a profane person as was Esau who for one morsel of bread sold his birthright. He dwelt on the scriptures dealing with the unpardonable sin. He compared his sins to other in scripture such as David, Hezekiah, Solomon and Peter looking for any hope in the sad state that he was now in. He did notice how they sinned and were chastised but never put off forever from God’s mercy. He found it hard to pray as the despair of his condition would swallow him up. He feared he was under the same mark that the Lord had set on Cain. He would consider all of these examples in the scripture where men of God had sinned. He would begin to get relief when the tempter would insert that those sins was against the law and Jesus had came to rescue them from the law but Bunyan’s were against Christ Himself.
Bunyan tells of pacing back and forth in his despair while being in a shop. All of a sudden a pleasant voiced rushed in as it was on the wind and said, “Did’st thou ever refuse to be justified by the blood of Christ?” He said he will leave the origin or meaning of it to the judgment but admitted that he received a great calm concerning his condition. But as with his other episodes, the tempter comes again discouraging him from praying by supposing that he had rejected Christ and thus wouldn’t be heard. Struggling with whether or not he would receive grace or be as Esau, this scripture finally came to him; “Mercy rejoiceth against judgment.”
John Bunyan experienced continual revelations from God even to hearing and seeing spiritual revelations and messages. Yet with all of this the tempter would cast the doubt in his heart. Continual struggles accompanied him that if one will take the time to read, I’m sure they can relate their own struggles to his. Continually the thought would sneak into his heart, “Sell Christ for this, sell Christ for that”.
Finally he came to embrace the promises of God. The passage that seemed to have given him the most comfort was in John; “And him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out.” Isn’t that a wonderful promise? Oh think about it, him that comes to Jesus will in no wise be cast out! You would think his struggles to be over but after this he joined to the church body in Bedford and partook of the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. He felt the Lord come down and plunge him into His virtue but not long after, thoughts of blasphemies raced through his mind. For a period he struggled with this continually praying God to keep him from these thoughts. Wearied and tired, he awoke from a troublesome sleep and was as if he heard this sentence; “Sinner, thou thinkest, that because thy sins and infirmities, I cannot save thy soul; but behold My Son is by me, and upon Him I look, and not on thee, and shall deal with thee according as I am pleased with Him.”
One would think that with all the revelations and communications Bunyan received of God that the tempter would not be able to trouble him. Not so, Bunyan as we are was made a free moral agent and subject to like passions. I’ve experienced comparable events to his and yet the tempter uses every opportunity and occasion to tempt and trouble us. We should read of his trials and temptations, his brutal honesty, his failures and triumphs and then take strength from his testimony.
I will conclude with a final event in which Bunyan had admittedly been in a cloud of darkness for days when a thought came to him, “I must go to Jesus”. His doubts and former atheism and yes he uses this term, fled away. He even asked his wife if there was a scripture that stated “I must go to Jesus” and she could not provide one. Shortly thereafter it came bolting upon him, “And to an innumerable company of angels;” For the scripture in Hebrews was revealed unto him, “Ye are come to mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven; and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.”
He then told his wife with joy, “O! now I know, I know!” How wonderful it is when God owns us. I am reminded of a writer a hundred or so years after Bunyan by the name of John Newton. You will probably best know him as the author of Amazing Grace. John wrote another hymn in which a line goes, “Satan accuses me in vain and I am owned a child.” Now you know you are owned a child and the tempters accusations are in vain. Oh what joy!
Sell Christ for this? Bunyan did not but rather he would simply cling to the old rugged cross. Bunyan was imprisoned several times for preaching the Gospel and not for selling Christ. They conjured up erroneous rumors about him but he still refused to part with his blessed Lord. They even offered him his freedom if he would just refrain from preaching the Gospel. He did not sell Christ for his freedom but rather he told them, if you release me tonight, I will preach tomorrow. Sell Christ for that? Though the tempter always accused him of selling Christ, he was not guilty. Through it all every temptation and every trial wound up making Bunyan stronger and more established in his beliefs.
Let us use Bunyan’s examples and wise words to fight the good fight of faith and withstand the wiles of the devil. Sell Christ for this? Sell Christ for that? I think not! We will just take the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord!