Monday, July 6, 2009

Further thoughts on Grace Abounding...

In 1660, John Bunyan was indicted for preaching the gospel without a license, and sent to Bedford Gaol. There he remained until 1672, when Charles II issued the Declaration of Religious Indulgence. During that time he supported his wife and four children, one of whom was blind, by weaving shoelaces. For twelve years his family lived in wretched poverty. He spoke of his poor blind child, Mary, reduced to begging and exposed to physical abuse.

He tells the story in an appendix to his autobiography, Grace Abounding.

Three times Bunyan petitioned the court for leniency. The last time he sent his wife, Elizabeth, in the hope that her pitiable condition would soften the hearts of the magistrates. Instead, they drove her away.

Bunyan describes her reaction in her own words: "Though I was somewhat timorous at my first entrance into the chamber, yet before I went out, I could not but break forth into tears, not so much because they were so hard-hearted against me, and my husband, but to think what a sad account such poor creatures will have to give at the coming of the Lord, when they shall answer for all things whatsoever they have done in the body, whether it be good or whether it be bad."

I was touched by Elizabeth's tears for those who treated her so cruelly, and her concern for their spiritual well being...and thought of Jeremiah’s sorrow over the imminent destruction of Moab, Judah‘s bitter enemy: “I will weep for Moab, / And I will cry out for all Moab; / I will mourn for the men of Kir Heres (the capital city).”[1]

There is no glee here. Only sorrow. Here again is the face that grace turns toward its adversaries.


[1] Jeremiah 48:31

Friday, July 3, 2009

Bel Bows Down

Bel bows down, Nebo stoops;[1]
Their idols were on the beasts and on the cattle.
Your carriages were heavily loaded,
A burden to the weary beast.

They stoop, they bow down together;
They could not deliver the burden,
But have themselves gone into captivity.

"Listen to Me, O house of Jacob,
And all the remnant of the house of Israel,
Who have been upheld by Me from birth,
Who have been carried from the womb:

Even to your old age, I am He,
And even to gray hairs I will carry you!
I have made, and I will bear;
Even I will carry, and will deliver you.

-Isaiah 46.1-4

Isaiah foresees the siege of Babylon and the hasty evacuation of her idols. The carts and carriages on which the idols are loaded creak and groan, the weary animals labor under the burden of their load--a reminder that all our human artifacts-the "stuff" we give our devotion to and spend a lifetime acquiring--become a heavy burden at last.

In contrast, God bears (carries) his children from the cradle to the grave. “I made you,” he reminds us, and I will bear you-even to old age...even to gray hairs I will carry you!” [2]

"I made you." Nothing could be more comforting, for He makes nothing that is not good. God brought us into being through the parents he allowed. He permitted the infirmities and liabilities that have attended our years. He allows the cruel calamities that bring us to our knees. All this is that we may cast ourselves on him. His grace is sufficient, for our weakness calls forth his tender, loving care.

"I will bear." Our Lord has borne our sins in his body on the cross. He has borne our grief and sorrows. He has borne our waywardness; put up with our weaknesses; carried us when we could not walk, or stand. Will he then forsake us when we are old and gray? No! "His love in time past forbids (us) to think that he'll leave (us) at last ..."[3]

So we may cast our burdens upon him because he has cared and will continue to care for us. "Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision, / Our God ever yearns His resources to share; / Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing; / Thy Father both thee and thy load will upbear."[4]


[1] Bel (Baal) was the patron deity of Babylon; Nebo, in their mythology, was his son.
[2] The contrast is precise and vivid in the Hebrew text: The carts and carriages are "loaded" with weight (vs. 1). We are "loaded" upon God (vs. 3). Idols are a "burden" (i.e., a thing carried) (vs. 1); God has "carried" us from the womb (vs. 3). Idolaters cannot "escape" the burden (vs. 2). God carries our burdens and allows us to "escape" the load (vs. 4).
[3] From John Newton, "Begone, Unbelief, My Savior is Near."
[4] Annie Flint, “He Giveth More Grace”

Putting Us Right “An’ noo, for a’ oor wrang-duins (wrong-doings) an’ ill-min’ins (misjudgments), for a’ oor sins and tre...