Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Bunyan on Law & Gospel

"He that is dark as touching the scope, intent and nature of the law, is also dark as touching the scope, nature and glory of the gospel.... I say, therefore, if thou wouldst know the authority and power of the gospel, labour first to know the power and authority of the law. For I am verily persuaded that the want of this one thing, namely, the knowledge of the law, is the one cause why so many are ignorant of the other.... Again, that man that doth not know the nature of the law, that man doth not know the nature of sin; and that man that knoweth not the nature of sin, will not regard to know the nature of a Saviour."

John Bunyan (1628-1688), The Doctrine of Law and Grace Unfolded (1659).

Comment: Bunyan's story is a fascinating one. He was raised in extremely poor conditions, receiving only two years of schooling from his tinker father. Upon marriage he came into possession of his wife's dowry, which consisted of two books of Puritan spiritual writings by which he was converted. Bunyan himself wrote c. 60 books or pamphlets, at least two of which, The Holy War & Pilgrim's Progress are still in print in numerous editions, and he was regarded by Rudyard Kipling as the founder of the English novel. Bunyan was apparently strongly influenced by Luther's Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, which may account for his presentation of law and gospel. Like Luther he also had a love of music, constructing a violin out of tin and a flute out of scrap wood during his imprisonment for failing to attend Anglican church services. Bunyan founded 30 congregations of 'Bedford Baptists' in England during the period of liberalisation of laws pertaining to the practice of religion enacted under Charles II.

By anyone's measure, Bunyan was a 'religious genius' whose highly experiential faith found expression in popular works of high imagination that nonetheless became classics of English prose that also helped shape the piety of generations of ordinary people. All of this from such humble beginnings!

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