As I walked through the wilderness of this world

John Bunyan begins his book with the following (specifically the well-known line, “As I walked through the wilderness of this world”):

AS I walked through the wilderness of this world, I came upon a certain place where there was a den; and I lay down in that place to sleep; and as I slept I dreamed a dream.

Barry E. Horner comments on these opening lines:

“To the realist concerning this decadent modern age, the opening words are both arresting and intriguing. Having read the whole of the first paragraph, one is immediately made aware of the fact that this allegory is seriously and vitally concerned with the plight and destiny of mankind in its common predicament, not mere moralistic platitudes. The esteemed historian G. M. Trevelyan, declared in 1928:

‘Of all the works of high imagination which have enthralled mankind, none opens with a passage that more instantly places the reader in the heart of all the action that is to follow; not Homer’s, not Milton’s, invocation of the Muse; not one of Dante’s three great openings; not the murmured challenge of the sentinels on the midnight platform at Elsinor – not one of these better performs the author’s initial task. The attention is at once captured, the imagination aroused. In these first sentences, by the magic of words, we are transported into a world of spiritual values, and impressed at the very outset with the sense of great issues at stake nothing less than the fate of a man’s soul’

(G. M. Trevelyan, “Bunyan’s England,” The Review Of The Churches, July, 1928, p. 319).

Bunyan continues:

I dreamed, and, behold, “I saw a man clothed with rags, standing in a certain place, with his face from his own house, a book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back,” (Isa. 64:6; Luke 14:33; Psa. 38:4; Hab. 2:2; Acts 16:31). I looked, and saw him open the book,2 and read therein; and as he read, he wept and trembled; and not being able longer to contain, he brake out with a lamentable cry, saying, “What shall I do?” (Acts 2:37).

Acts 2:37 is Bunyan’s Scripture reference [originally placed in the margins–CD] which records the response of those “pricked in their heart” and crying “men and brethren, what shall we do?” in reply to Peter’s scathing indictment. It is important to note at this point that Bunyan believed that the Holy Spirit of God was working in the unconverted and unregenerate Christian a form of “prevenient grace,” contrary to the Scripture’s testimony that those within whom the Spirit of God works are NEVER left ignorant of the effectual Remedy to their spiritual plight (John 16:13-14; Romans 8:16, 10:1-4; 2 Corinthians 4:6; Galatians 4:6). Bunyan’s abhorrent view of “prevenient grace” is seen (briefly quoted here) in Christian and Hopeful’s somewhat protracted exchange on The Enchanted Ground (I quote a small part of that exchange here):

Christian: But what was the cause of your carrying of it thus to the first workings of God’s blessed Spirit upon you?

Hopeful: The causes were, 1. I was ignorant that this was the work of God upon me. I never thought that by awakening for sin, God at first begins the conversion of a sinner.

When asking “what was the cause of your carrying of it thus?,” Christian responds to Hopeful’s previous statement that to the Word of God he had “shut mine eyes against the light thereof.” There may be a certain sense of “awakening” (as when Jesus Christ in His providence forcefully put Saul of Tarsus in his rightful place upon the Damascus Road), but to describe a self-righteous sense of “awakening” that goes MUCH FURTHER, involving the Holy Spirit’s workings that leave the sinner ignorantly seeking to establish his own righteousness, is a clear affront to the Holy Spirit’s role — which is to glorify Jesus Christ in the hearts of His people (2 Corinthians 4:6). To conclude this post, here is a confirming quote that comes from Bunyan’s The Strait Gate:

“Be thankful, therefore, for convictions; conversion begins at conviction, though all conviction doth not end in conversion. It is a great mercy to be convinced that we are sinners, and that we need a Saviour; count it therefore a mercy, and that thy convictions may end in conversion, do thou take heed of stifling of them. It is the way of poor sinners to look upon convictions as things that are hurtful; and therefore they use to shun the awakening ministry, and to check a convincing conscience. Such poor sinners are much like to the wanton boy that stands at the maid’s elbow, to blow out her candle as fast as she lights it at the fire. Convinced sinner, God lighteth thy candle, and thou puttest it out; God lights it again, and thou puttest it out. Yea, “how oft is the candle of the wicked put out?” (Job 21:17)

At last, God resolveth he will light thy candle no more; and then, like the Egyptians, you dwell all your days in darkness, and never see light more, but by the light of hell-fire; wherefore give glory to God, and if he awakens thy conscience, quench not thy convictions. Do it, saith the prophet, “before he cause darkness, and before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains, and he turn” your convictions “into the shadow of death, and make them gross darkness.” (Jer 13:16)

This is not a surprise. Bunyan and many others held to a pernicious kind of “grace” (so-called; contra Romans 11:6) that could be stifled, put out, and even finally overcome. This “grace” is not to be confused with the Arminian version of “prevenient grace” since in the Calvinist Puritan version this “grace” preceding regeneration and conversion is “followed-up” with a stronger dose of “invincible regenerating grace” in the case of the elect sinner. Calvinists such as W.G.T. Shedd have articulated these “levels of grace” in his Dogmatics (and perhaps in his book, Calvinism: Pure & Mixed). Next Page

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