A Mighty Impact
Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God. (Genesis 6:9)
John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress1, The Holy War, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, and many others books,2 was born into a poor family in England in 1628. He was a tinker, a blue collar worker in metals, who married as a young man. Shortly after his marriage the godless, profligate Bunyan, who was given to horrible and extended blasphemies against God, was rebuked by a loose woman who said, ‘You sir, are a godless, blasphemous man and you are corrupting the youth of our town by your speech.’ He felt ashamed and determined to clean up his speech. He saw some manner of improvement but then a deep, abiding conviction of sin, judgment, and the deserved wrath of God hung like a heavy cloud over his heart and soul. He began attending church and reading the Bible regularly. He felt no relief from his guilt. He often would listen to four poor, uneducated women speak of the deep things of God and he could not comprehend their conversations, not knowing what they meant by the need to be ‘born again.’ Bunyan continued his pursuit of God for ten years, and during this time his wife died, leaving him a widower with four young children, the oldest of whom was blind. His sense of guilt and condemnation grew so strong that it was almost unbearable. Finally he read the Apostle Paul’s words, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee,’ and realized that indeed God could save him, even him, by his grace. Immediately Bunyan began preaching and people from all the surrounding towns came to see the profound work of grace in the former blasphemer. They were stunned at the transformation and many came to faith through his effective ministry. The church authorities in England, however, hated Bunyan’s ‘Non-conformist’ ministry and imprisoned him a total of twelve years. However Bunyan’s life, ministry, and writing made a profound societal impact which continues to this day through his marvellous allegories.3
Why is it that we see so little societal impact of Christian faith in our day? When there is a plethora of churches, books, DVDs, and seminars, why do we continue to lose ground in the West? Could it be that we are not following Paul’s admonition to the Philippians – to prove ourselves blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach, living in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom we appear as lights in the world? (Phil. 2:15). If we say that we love Jesus but fail to be people of integrity in the work place; if we do shoddy work; if we lie, cheat, steal, and womanize, then what use is our Christian profession?
In Genesis 6:9-12, Moses is laying down a stark contrast between the irrepressible holiness of Noah and the unmitigable corruption of the world. This is prior to God’s judgment due to their murderous and sensuous living which provoked him to wrath. The ground of Noah’s righteousness and blamelessness was the favour he found from God, what we call his justifying grace (Gen. 6:8, Rom. 3:24). Some view Noah’s righteousness and blamelessness as justification – that God simply looks at him as righteous, though there may be little evidence of actual obedience. This would be a mistake. The thrust of the Hebrew text is that Noah was an obedient and faithful man. He did what God said. He walked with God. Others must have acknowledged that he walked obediently with God because Peter calls him a preacher of righteousness (2 Pet. 2:5). Did he do so perfectly? No. In Genesis 9:21 we find that the old man got drunk and naked in his tent. And while it is true that Noah had a positive societal impact on his wife, sons, and their wives, it was limited to them. The rest scoffed.
How, then, are we to prove ourselves blameless and innocent, above reproach while living in the midst of a crooked and perverse world? First, the ground of righteous living is our regeneration, justification, and sanctification (Ezek. 36:25-27). By the Holy Spirit, God has given the true Christian a new heart to love him and hate sin. He takes away the heart of stone and gives a heart of flesh – regeneration. He sprinkles clean water on us and we are made clean (justification). And he gives us his Spirit so that we may walk in his statutes (sanctification). Our eternal salvation, from beginning to end, is all by God’s grace.
But you still battle sin daily, don’t you? Your sin is like a room filled with dust that has settled to the floor. When one sweeps the room the dust is immediately aroused, floating through the air, entering your eyes, nose, and lungs, causing severe discomfort, hindering your ease of living. Think of this dust as both original sin and the corruption of your flesh and indwelling sin. You will never rid yourself of these in this life. They are there at all times, so easily stirred up by your will, mind, and heart that pursue lesser things. But understand this glorious thought, true believer – the Holy Spirit applies the living water of Jesus, sprinkling it upon the room in which you find yourself, causing the dust to settle harmlessly to the floor again. This is akin to the grounds crew before baseball games when they sprinkle a light watery mist on the infield dirt, keeping the dust from swirling about in high winds. When the dust of original sin and your inward corruption stirs up spiritual blindness and lethargy, you must by faith ask the Holy Spirit to sprinkle the sanctifying waters of Christ over your soul, causing the dust of sin to be outweighed by the water of the Spirit.
And then you also fight the machinations of the devil, one whom Scripture calls the ‘accuser of the brethren,’ one who loves to provoke within God’s blood-bought people a sense of hopelessness. When you received a new heart through Jesus, the Spirit put within you his holy fire that loves God and hates sin. This fire is to burn brightly at all times, giving off the warmth and glow of God’s presence. But the devil is constantly working to extinguish your kingdom zeal by throwing the water of discouragement, doubt, and despair on God’s fire that burns within you. But dear one – as you acknowledge your need for deliverance from the arrows of the evil one, as you by faith call upon the Lord Jesus, he promises continually to pour the oil of the Spirit on your fire, causing it to burn ever more brightly!
There is so much more to say, but know this – you begin to see victory over your sin, you begin to see the fire of the Spirit burn brightly, as you purpose to walk with God, as you set your mind and heart to meet daily with him. There is no substitute. All the great men and women of church antiquity were earnest in personal devotional time. As you develop a delight in God’s presence, you will then find the fire of the Spirit burning brightly. You will then find the constant flow of the clean water of the Spirit rushing through your soul, driving out the debris of a careless, sensuous life.
- See The Works of John Bunyan. Several of Bunyan’s books are also available in the Puritan Paperbacks series.
- Bunyan’s story is one of those told in the Trust’s recent new title by Sir Marcus Loane, Makers of Puritan History.
Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.
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