One feature that I will include in The Armoury will be a series of weekly posts called “Post 1920,” that is, posts which offer advice and instruction (Proverbs 19:20), from several godly men of the past. These will run in a sort of buttet style – sometimes in the form of a long series, dedicated to just one theologian at a time; while at other times I will hop around a bit, drawing from several men according to the theological need of the moment. In other words, I will be exercising a great deal of freedom in these “Post 1920” entries.
I will begin with Mr. John Bunyan – we’ll be harvesting from him for a long time. In particular, his timeless classic “The Pilgrim’s Progress” will dominate our examination of his teaching. Most of you reading this have probably worked through Pilgrim’s Progress many, many times; however, if you are new to it then I would encourage you to invest some time reading it for yourself, or even using it for the sake of family devotions with your children. It is no wonder to me that Spurgeon loved it so much that he made it a point to read through it every year – much of his preaching is heavily seasoned with illustrations from this timeless classic of Bunyan’s.
Pilgrim’s Progress is heavily laden with rich doctrinal themes – it is, in some sense, a mini theology presented in allegorical form. One theme that is consistently presented in his work is the necessity of forgetting none of the Lord’s benefits (Psalm 103:2). For myself, I call this cultivating a godly memory – that is, being diligent to reflect on God’s shepherding care in our own lives as well as in the lives of all of His saints throughout history. This very theme is richly rehearsed in Pilgrim’s Progress. On many occasions, Christian (the main character of the allegory) is forced to reflect on God’s faithfulness and goodness to his people – an exercise which always bears the fruit of greater courage, joy and hope within the heart of Christian himself. I love these moments in Pilgrim’s Progress, for they challenge us all according to our weakness and need – we all have a great weakness and tendency to forget the Lord’s nature as evidenced in His righteous deeds, and this is spiritually dangerous. When Hopeful and Christian reached the very end of their journey, they came to the river Jordan which symbolizes the passage of death. Hopeful and Christian were told that there was no other way to the Celestial City than to go through this deep river; Elijah and Enoch excepted. Upon entering the river, Christian struggled greatly, but Hopeful (as he was in the wonderful habit of doing) encouraged his dear friend in the following manner:
Hopeful therefore here had much ado to keep his brother’s head above water; yea, sometimes he would be quite gone down, and then, ere a while, he would rise up again half dead. Hopeful did also endeavor to comfort him, saying, Brother, I see the gate, and men standing by to receive us; but Christian would answer, It is you, it is you they wait for; for you have been hopeful ever since I knew you. And so have you, said he to Christian. Ah, brother, (said he,) surely if I was right he would now arise to help me; but for my sins he hath brought me into the snare, and hath left me. Then said Hopeful, My brother, you have quite forgot the text where it is said of the wicked, “There are no bands in their death, but their strength is firm; they are not troubled as other men, neither are they plagued like other men.” Psa. 73:4,5. These troubles and distresses that you go through in these waters, are no sign that God hath forsaken you; but are sent to try you, whether you will call to mind that which heretofore you have received of his goodness, and live upon him in your distresses.
This is the final moment in Christian’s journey where he seeks to remember the Lord’s faithful works in His life. By God’s grace, Hopeful was there to exhort him to forsake his fears and look to the One who had carried Christian throughout his life’s journey, and will continue to do so until the very end. Christian did stop to reflect on the goodness of the Lord, and his soul was refreshed by it:
…Christian was in a muse a while. To whom also Hopeful added these words, Be of good cheer, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole. And with that Christian brake out with a loud voice, Oh, I see him again; and he tells me, “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee.” Isa. 43:2. Then they both took courage, and the enemy was after that as still as a stone, until they were gone over. Christian, therefore, presently found ground to stand upon, and so it followed that the rest of the river was but shallow. Thus they got over.
When believers forget the Lord’s great works and blessings, then doubt, fear, misery, grumbling and complaining will arise in their hearts. But when we look to Christ; His power; His victory, rather than our weakness, then we too will have the boldness of the Spirit that God calls us to have – as in the case of Joshua when the Lord spoke to Him:
Joshua 1:5, 9: 5 “…just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you…9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
When the Lord said to Joshua, “…just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you,” that statement must have stirred Joshua to a wonderful reflection on the past, since all of the wonderful provisions and protections that the Lord provided for His servant Moses would be there for Joshua as well: those words just as offered a great deal of hope to the new leader of the nation. Those tender mercies that were there for Moses would be there for Joshua as well, for the Lord God would be with Joshua wherever he would go – therefore, Joshua was to be strong and courageous rather than tremble in fear or be dismayed.
Whenever our lives decay into fear, misery, grumbling or complaining, it is a plain indication that we have failed to cultivate a godly memory; that is, a memory which calls to mind the kindness, goodness and faithfulness of the Lord in our lives. We are commanded in Scripture not to forget any of His blessings – for they are our instructors which continually teach us about the very nature of the God whom we serve:
Psalm 103:1-5: 1 Bless the Lord, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name! 2 Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits: 3 Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, 4 Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, 5 Who satisfies your mouth with good things, So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
As we spend time looking forward to the new year, considering how we might order our lives, let us not forsake this important duty of looking back at the faithful works of our God, in our own lives as well as in the lives of many saints in history. You see, just as the Lord’s tender mercies were with Moses and Joshua, so too will the Good Shepherd guard, protect, and sustain all of His sheep – now and forevermore:
“…and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
Let us therefore be strong and courageous in the Lord – in the strength of His might (Ephesians 6:10).