Jesse Gistand message on
This is one of (if not) the most important treaties which John Bunyan left for us. It is Bunyan’s hardest writing which I’ve come across. Despite a very busy schedule, I managed to squeeze it in between my breaks. This must be read with dire urgency and in the state of hunger and thirst for heavenly knowledge. Like searching for the holy grail fountain of life itself – the journey will be arduous and painful, but the fruits will more than make up for the hard labor.
1. Mercy is that by which we are pardoned, even all the falls, faults, failings, and weaknesses, that attend us, and that we are incident to, in this our day of temptation; and for this mercy we should pray, and say, ‘Our Father, forgive us our trespasses’ (Matt 6:9-12). For though mercy is free in the exercise of it to usward, yet God will have us ask, that we may have; as he also saith in the text, ‘Let us come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy.’ Here then we have one help, and that is, the mercy of God is to be extended to us from his throne through Jesus Christ, for our pardon and forgiveness in all those weaknesses that we are attended with in the needy or evil times; and we should come to God for this very thing.
Nor can any thing help where this is wanting; for our parts, our knowledge, our attainments, nor our graces, cannot so carry us through this world, but that we shall be guilty of that that will sink us down to hell, without God’s pardoning mercy. It is not the grace that we have received can do it, nor the grace that is to be received that can do it; nothing can do it but the pardoning mercy of God: for because all our graces are here imperfect, they cannot produce a spotless obedience. But where there is not a spotless obedience, there must of necessity follow a continuation of pardon and forgiveness by mercy, or I know what will become of the soul. Here, therefore, the apostle lays an obligation upon thee to the throne of grace, to wit, that thou mayest obtain mercy, a continuation of mercy, mercy as long as thou art like to live this vain life on the earth; mercy that will reach through all thy days. For there is not a day, nor a duty; not a day that thou livest, nor a duty that thou dost, but will need that mercy should come after to take away thy iniquity.
This is illustrated by the account of Hopeful’s experience in the Pilgrim’s Progress; he says, ‘If I look narrowly into the best of what I do now, I still see sin, new sin, mixing itself with the best of that I do; so that now I am forced to conclude, that, notwithstanding my former fond conceits of myself and duties, I have committed sin enough IN ONE DUTY to send me to hell, though my former life had been faultless.’—Ed.
Nay, thou canst not receive mercy so clearly, as not to stand in need of another act of mercy to pardon weakness in thy no better receiving the last. We receive not our mercies so humbly, so readily, so gladly, and with that thankfulness as we should: and therefore, for the want of these, have the need of another, and another act of God’s sin-pardoning mercy, and need shall have thereof, as long as evil time shall last with us.
But is not this great grace, that we should thus be called upon to come to God for mercy? Yea, is not God unspeakably good, in providing such a throne of grace, such a sacrifice, such a high priest, and so much mercy for us, and then to invite us to come with boldness to him for it? Nay, doth not his kindness yet further appear, by giving of us items and intimations of needy times, and evil days, on purpose to provoke us to come to him for mercy? This then shows us, as also we have hinted before, that the throne of grace, and Christ Jesus our High Priest, are both provided upon the account of our imperfections, namely, that we who are called might not be, by remaining weaknesses, hindered of, but obtain eternal inheritance. Weaknesses, such weaknesses remain in the justified, and such slips and failings are found in and upon them, that call for a course of mercy and forgiveness to attend them. Farther, this also intimates, that God’s people should not be dejected at the apprehensions of their imperfections; I say, not so dejected, as therefore to cast off faith, and hope, and prayer; for a throne of grace is provided for them, to the which they may, they must, they ought continually to resort for mercy, sin-pardoning mercy.
2. As we are here to obtain mercy, so we are here to find grace. They that obtain mercy, shall find grace, therefore they are put together. That they may obtain mercy and find grace; only they must find mercy first; for as forgiveness at first goes before sanctification in the general, so forgiveness afterwards goes before particular acts of grace for further sanctification. God giveth not the spirit of grace to those that he has not first forgiven by mercy, for the sake of Christ.37 Also so long as he as a Father forbears to forgive us as his adopted, so long we go without those further additions of grace that are here suggested in the text. But when we have obtained mercy to forgive, then we also find grace to our renewing. Therefore he saith, First obtain mercy, and then find grace.
Grace here I take to be that grace which God has appointed for us, to dwell in us; and that by and through the continual supply of which we are to be enabled to do and suffer, and to manage ourselves in doing and suffering according to the will of God. ‘Let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear’ (Heb 12:28). So again, ‘he giveth more grace; wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble’ (James 4:6; Prov 3:34; 1 Peter 5:5). The grace, therefore, that this text intends, is grace given or to be given; grace received or to be received; grace a root, a principle of grace, with its continual supplies for the perfecting of that salvation that God has designed for us. This was that which comforted Paul, when the messenger of Satan was sent to buffet him, it was said unto him by Christ, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee’ (2 Cor 12:9). As who should say, Paul, be not utterly cast down, I have wherewith all to make thee stand, and overcome, and that is my grace, by which thou shalt be supported, strengthened, comforted, and made to live a triumphant life, notwithstanding all that oppress thee. But this came to him upon his praying; for this I prayed to God thrice, saith he. So again, ‘God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye always have all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work’ (2 Cor 9:8). Thus you see, that by grace in these places is meant that spirit, and those principles of grace, by the increase and continual supply of which we are inwardly strengthened, and made to abound to every good work.
This then is the conclusion, That as there is mercy to be obtained by us at the throne of grace, for the pardon of all our weaknesses; so there is also grace there to be found that will yet strengthen us more, to all good walking and living before him. He giveth more grace, and they receive one time or another abundance of grace that shall reign in life by one Jesus Christ. This then teaches us several things, some of which I will mention. As, [What this should teach us.]
1. That nature, as nature, is not capable of serving of God: no, not nature where grace dwells, as considered abstract from that grace that dwells in it. Nothing can be done aright without grace, I mean no part nor piece of gospel-duty. ‘Let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably.’ Nature, managed by grace, seasoned with grace, and held up with grace, can serve God acceptably. Let us have grace, seek for and find grace to do so; for we cannot do so but by grace: ‘By the grace of God I am what I am; and his grace which was bestowed upon me, was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all; yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me’ (1 Cor 15:10). What can be more plain than this beautiful text? For the apostle doth here quite shut out nature, sanctified nature, for he indeed was a sanctified man, and concludes that even he, as of himself, did nothing of all the great works that he did; but they were done, he did them by the grace of God that was in him. Wherefore nature, sanctified nature, as nature, can of itself do nothing to the pleasing of God the Father.
Is not this the experience of all the godly? Can they do that at all times which they can do at some times? Can they pray, believe, love, fear, repent, and bow before God always alike? No. Why so? they are the same men, the same human nature, the same saints. Aye, but the same grace, in the same degree, operation, and life of grace, doth not so now work on that man, that nature, that saint; therefore, notwithstanding he is what he is, he cannot do at all times alike. Thus therefore it is manifest, that nature, simply as such, is a great way off of doing that which is acceptable with God. Refined, purified, sanctified nature, cannot do but by the immediate supplies, lifts, and helps of that spirit and principle of grace by the which it is so sanctified.
2. As nature, even where grace is, cannot, without the assistance of that grace, do anything acceptably before God; so grace received, if it be not also supplied with more grace, cannot cause that we continue to do acceptable service to God. This also is clear by the text, For he speaketh there to them that had received grace; yea, puts himself into the number, saying, ‘Let us come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may find grace to help in time of need.’ If grace received would do, what need for more? What need we pray for more? What need we go to the throne of grace for more? This very exhortation saith it will not: present supplies of grace are proportioned to our present need, and to help us to do a present work or duty.38 But is our present need all the need that we are like to have, and the present work all the work that we have to do in the world? Even so the grace that we have received at present, though it can help us to do a present work, it cannot, without a further supply, help us to do what is to be done hereafter. Wherefore, the apostle saith, that his continuing to do was through his obtaining help, continual help of God: ‘Having, therefore,’ saith he, ‘obtained help of God, I continue unto this day witnessing both to small and great,’ &c. (Acts 26:22). There must be a daily imploring of God for daily supplies from him, if we will do our daily business as we should.
A present dispensation of grace is like a good meal, a seasonable shower, or a penny in one’s pocket, all which will serve for the present necessity. But will that good meal that I ate last week, enable me, without supply, to do a good day’s work in this? or will that seasonable shower which fell last year, be, without supplies, a seasonable help to the grain and grass that is growing now? or will that penny that supplied my want the other day, I say, will the same penny also, without a supply, supply my wants today? The same may, I say, be said of grace received; it is like the oil in the lamp, it must be fed, it must be added to. And there, there shall be a supply, ‘wherefore he giveth more grace.’ Grace is the sap, which from the root maintaineth the branches: stop the sap, and the branch will wither. Not that the sap shall be stopped where there is union, not stopped for altogether; for as from the root the branch is supplied, so from Christ is every member furnished with a continual supply of grace, if it doth as it should; ‘of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace’ (John 1:16).
The day of grace is the day of expense: this is our spending time. Hence we are called pilgrims and strangers in the earth, that is, travellers from place to place, from state to state, from trial to trial (Heb 11:13). Now, as the traveller at a fresh inn is made to spend fresh money; so Christians, at a fresh temptation, at a new temptation, are made to spend afresh, and a new supply of grace. Great men, when and while their sons are travellers, appoint that their bags of money be lodged ready, or conveniently paid in at such and such a place, for the suitable relief of them; and so they meet with supplies. Why, so are the sons of the Great One, and he has allotted that we should travel beyond sea, or at a great distance from our Father’s house: wherefore he has appointed that grace shall be provided for us, to supply at such a place, such a state or temptation, as need requires: but withal, as my lord expecteth his son should acquaint him with the present emptiness of his purse, and with the difficulty he hath now to grapple with; so God our Father expects that we should plead by Christ our need at the throne of grace, in order to a supply of grace:39 ‘Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.’
Now then, this shows the reason why many Christians that are indeed possessed with the grace of God, do yet walk so oddly, act so poorly, and live such ordinary lives in the world. They are like to those gentlemen’s sons that are of the more extravagant sort, that walk in their lousy hue, when they might be maintained better. Such young men care not, perhaps scorn to acquaint their fathers with their wants, and therefore walk in their threadbare jackets, with hose and shoes out at heels! a right emblem of the uncircumspect child of God. This also shows the reason of all those dreadful falls and miscarriages that many of the saints sustain, they made it not their business to watch to see what is coming, and to pray for a supply of grace to uphold them; they, with David, are too careless, or, with Peter, too confident, or, with the disciples, too sleepy, and so the temptation comes upon them; and their want like an armed man. This also shows the reason why some that, to one’s thinking, would fall every day; for that their want of parts, their small experience, their little knowledge of God’s matters, do seem to bespeak it; yet stand, walk better, and keep their garments more white than those that have, when compared with them, twice as much as they. They are praying saints, they are often at the throne of grace, they are sensible of their weakness, keep a sight of their danger before their faces, and will not be contented without more grace.
Third. And this leads me, in the third place, to show you, that were we wise, and did we ply it at the throne of grace for grace, as we should, O what spotless lives might we live! We should then have always help in time of need; for so the text insinuates, ‘That we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.’ This is that which Peter means, when he says, ‘And besides this,’ that is, besides your faith in Christ, and besides your happy state of justification, ‘giving all diligence, add to your faith, virtue; and to virtue, knowledge; and to knowledge, temperance; and to temperance, patience; and to patience, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, charity. For if these things be in you and abound,’ and be continually supplied with a supply from the throne of grace, ‘they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if you do these things, ye shall never fall: for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’ (2 Peter 1:5-11).
The greatest part of professors now-a-days take up their time in contracting of guilt, and asking for pardon, and yet are not much the better. Whereas, if they had but the grace to add to their faith, virtue, &c., they might have more peace, live better lives, and not have their heads so often in a bag as they have. ‘To him that ordereth his conversation aright, will I show the salvation of God’ (Psa 50:23). To him that disposeth his way aright; now this cannot be done without a constant supplicating at the throne of grace for more grace. This then is the reason why every new temptation that comes upon thee, so foils, so overcomes thee, that thou wilt need a new conversion to be recovered from under the power and guilt that cleaves to thee by its overshadowing of thee. A new temptation, a sudden temptation, an unexpected temptation, usually foils those that are not upon their watch; and that have not been before with God to be inlaid with grace proportionable to what may come upon them.
‘That ye may find grace to help in time of need’! There is grace to be found at the throne of grace that will help us under the greatest straits. ‘Seek and ye shall find’; it is there, and it is to be found there; it is to be found there of the seeking soul, of the soul that seeketh him. Wherefore I will conclude as I did begin; ‘Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.’
SERIOUS MEDITATIONS UPON THE FOUR LAST THINGS— DEATH, JUDGMENT, HEAVEN, AND HELL
These poems are upon subjects the most solemn and affecting to all mankind, and, like all Bunyan’s other works, were evidently written, not for display, but to impress upon the heart those searching realities upon which depend our everlasting destiny. Die we must; yes, reader, you and I must follow our fathers to the unseen world. Heaven forbid that we should be such mad fools, as to make no provision for the journey; no inquiries about our prospects in that eternity into which we must so soon enter. True it is, that unless Heaven stops us in our mad career, we shall plunge into irretrievable ruin.
In the first of these poems, many of the minute circumstances attendant on death are pressed upon the memory. Very soon, as Bunyan awfully expresses the though, we must look death in the face, and ‘drink with him.’ Soon some kind friend or relative will close our eyelids, and shut up our glassy eyes for ever; tie up the fallen jaw, and prepare the corrupting body for its long, but not final resting-place. Our hour-glass is fast ebbing out; time stands ready with his scythe to cut us down; the grave yawns to receive us. ‘Man dieth and wasteth away; yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he’ (Job 14:10). The answer is ready, sure, certain—he goes to the judgment of the great day. There every thought that has passed over his mind, while on earth, will be manifested and scrutinized; every action, every sin, and every supposed good work, however private, will then be published. It is an awful thought. Thousands of works which are thought good will be weighed in the unerring balances of truth, will be found wanting, and proved to be bad, not arising from evangelical motives; while all our thoughts, words, and actions will appear in their real colours tainted by sin. Those only who are clothed in the Redeemer’s righteousness, and cleansed by his purifying, sanctifying sufferings, can stand accepted, and will receive the invitation, Come, ye blessed, inherit the kingdom of your father, and your God, by adoption into his family; while an innumerable multitude will be hurried away by the voice of the judge, Go, ye cursed, into everlasting torment. Solemn consideration. Reader, have you fled for refuge to the hope set before you in the gospel? Have you felt the alarm in your soul under a sense of sin and judgment? Were you dead, and are you made alive? O, then, while you bless the Saviour for such unspeakable mercies, seek with all diligence, as life is prolonged, to extend the blessing to others. There is no work nor device in the grave, whither we are all hastening, that can benefit mortals. The great gulf will be fixed, and our state be finally decided for eternity. O, then, if you have not yet attained that good hope of heavenly felicity, sure and steadfast— hasten—yes,
‘Hasten, O sinner, to be blest
And stay not for the morrow’s sun;
For fear the curse should thee arrest Before the morrow be begun.’
As I read this discourse, one thing impressed my mind that the concepts of Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell never originated from us. We may be subjected to experience them (at different levels like the shadow of things to come) here on this side of glory, but never for a moment can we even dare to think that we invented them. They came from the Holy Scriptures. Take them or leave them as they are. Don’t twist them to fit our own fancy ideas. Because doing so we are committing two heinous (and certainly unforgivable) crimes: deceiving ourselves, and deceiving others.
‘The desire of the righteous is only good.’— Proverbs 11:23
‘The fear of the wicked, it shall come upon him; but the desire of the righteous shall be granted.’—Proverbs 10:24
This discourse contains the best explanation of the following (that I know of):
2Pet.3:14 Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.
15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him,
16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.
17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.
18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.