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TEXT: I Corinthians 9:24
SUBJECT: Bunyan on Perseverance #1
Tonight, with the Lord's help, we'll start a new Puritan study called John Bunyan on Running the Race. If you'd like to read along with me-or ahead of me, for that matter, you can buy his little book, The Heavenly Footman. Christian Focus Publications has a modern language version of the book in large and clear print. If you'd rather go blind trying to read it (like me), you can find it in Bunyan's Complete Works. In any event, it's an excellent book, with plenty to challenge your mind and put you earnest about saving your soul.
The book itself is made up of seven parts. But before he gets to them, Bunyan has a word for Christians who are lazy about their salvation. It is not pleasant reading, but it is good for us.
He starts with a verse from the Old Testament, Genesis 19:7. The speaker is an angel; the listeners are Lot and his family. Fire is about to fall on Sodom and the cities around it, and the angel tells them,
"Escape for your life. Do not look behind you,
nor stay anywhere in the plain. Escape to the
mountains lest you be consumed".
You should note a few things about the verse and Bunyan's use of it.
This is the tone John Bunyan takes in his little book. It's extremely sober if not downright threatening. He says that running the Christian race is a matter of life and death. If you don't run-he says later-you will go to hell.
But before he explains what it means to run and so on, he has some sharp words for people who don't take their salvation seriously. The people he has in mind are of two sorts: (1) people who hear the Gospel, go to church, and so on, but who never commit themselves to Christ, and (2) people who make a public profession of faith, think of themselves as saved, but take no pains to "make their calling and election sure". They want to go to heaven, but they don't want to run for it.
With more honesty than tact, he calls them,
"Slothful and careless people".
Their attitude and ways are everywhere condemned in the Bible. Bunyan says,
"Slothfulness is even condemned by the feeblest of
all creatures--`Go to the ant, thou sluggard, con-
sider her ways and be wise'".
The ant doesn't know anything, of course, yet it knows enough to think about the future-and prepare for it now. Yet many church-going people don't. The Lord said, "He who endures to the end, the same shall be saved". But the lazy man either hasn't read it or hasn't thought about it or has done both and means to persevere in Christ, but not now.
What does it mean to be slothful and careless about your soul? Bunyan leaves no doubt,
"If you would know a sluggard in the things of heaven,
compare him with one that is slothful in the things of
This is an obvious one-laziness is laziness wherever it's found. You know what a lazy worker looks like or a lazy student. Well, one who is lazy about heaven is the same kind of person, only he's lazy about something more important than work or school! Bunyan breaks it down for us,
"He who is slothful is reluctant to set about the work he
should follow.He is willing to make delays.He will
make any small matter an excuse for not plying his
work.He does his work by halves."
If you've ever had a job or gone to school, you recognize the person John Bunyan has described. I've seen him many times--in the mirror. He may be very much in favor of work and intend to do some, but for some reason or other, he never quite does it. One person has a hard time getting started; another starts well, but won't stay with it. He can justify himself all day long-and often does.
But, at the end of the day, we all know the truth: he's lazy.
The same thing is true of the person who's lazy for heaven. He knows the importance of reading the Bible, praying, resisting temptation, striving for holiness, and so on. But he doesn't do them. Either he won't start them-or more often-he won't stick with them.
He has a hundred good reasons for falling back time and again, but they all come down to laziness. Living the Christian life is hard and long and discouraging. If it were like skydiving, he'd do it-"Geronimo! And everything's fine". But it's not like skydiving; it's like mountain climbing-hard, slow, scary, tedious, and lonely.
Having described the one lazy for heaven, Bunyan puts a few questions to him. They're no fun to ask and even less fun to answer.
"What shall I say? Time runs; and
will you be slothful?
In other words, some things can be thrown away and gotten back-like money. But time is not one of those things. When it's gone, it's gone for good. You have only so much time to run the Christian race. You had better start now and keep at it.
"Much of your life is past; and will
you be slothful?"
Under the best circumstances, we have more to do than time to do it. But you're not operating under the best circumstances, are you? You didn't start running the Christian race at birth, did you? In fact, most of you were well into adulthood before you commenced it. Weren't the years spent running to damnation enough for you? If a runner has been running away from the Finish Line for a long time, he's got to redouble his effort to win the race.
"Your soul is worth a thousand worlds;
and will you be slothful".
Believers are not running for nothing; we're running for eternal life. Will a man like Bill Gates put in the time and effort he does for his billions and we laze around for something worth more than everything in the world?
"The day of death and judgment is
at the door; and will you be slothful?"
You're not going to live forever and when you die, your race is over-for good or bad. Many of us have already lived more than half our lives. And some of us don't know it! If your race ended tonight, would you be crowned? Or not? Who's to say it won't end tonight?
"The devils are earnest, laborious, and
seek by all means every day, by every
sin, to keep you out of heaven, and
hinder your salvation; and will you
Just imagine a runner, running for the finish line, with people sticking their feet out to trip him, jumping on his back, and blocking his way. How hard would he have to run to win?
That's exactly what we have as Christians. The race would be hard without the devil. But it's not run without the devil. He's sticking out his foot, jumping on our backs, blocking our way, laughing at us, telling us to go the other way, and even suggesting to us that everyone who enters the race also wins it!
We can kick back only when the devils do!
"Would you be willing to be damned
for your slothfulness?"
That's a painful question. When we think of the lost, we think of scandalous sinners, people throwing away heaven for their wicked pride or stubbornness or lust. But they're not the only ones who fall short of glory. The lazy man does too. Is laziness so precious to you that you'd lose your soul for it?
If not, run.
Bunyan knows the effect his words are likely to have on us. And so, he anticipates the objections and provides solid answers to them. Here they are:
"But if I should set in and run as you would have
me, then I must run from my friends, as none
of them is running that way".
On this point, Bunyan was speaking from experience. If you've read Pilgrim's Progress, you know Christian fled the City of Destruction all by himself. His wife and kids and friends, pleaded with him to come back, and their cries were so moving, he had to put his fingers into his ears.
If you read his life, you know John was a popular man. But when he began running for Christ, he went alone. Not even his wife went with them for some time. If divorce had been as easy then as it is now, I believe Mrs. Bunyan would have left her husband. Yet he must run.
"If you run away from your friends, you will
run into the bosom of Christ and what harm
will that do you?"
In other words, losing your friends is a small price to pay to gain the Friend who sticks closer than a brother.
"But if I run this way, I must run from all
Is that right? Does running to Christ mean giving up your sins-including the ones your most fond of? Some would say no, that's not required. It's good-they say-but not necessary. But Bunyan knows better. Running to heaven means running away from hell-not just the punishment of sin, but also its power.
"That is true, indeed, but if you
do not, you will run into hell fire".
Life is a matter of trade-offs. If a man chooses to be a doctor, for example, he chooses to not spend much time with his family. Whether that's a good trade-off or not, I'm not sure.
But on this one I am sure: No sin is worth eternal damnation. We'd rather not choose, but we have to. God sets before us life and death and urges us to choose life. In other words, choose running to heaven over the pleasures of sin for a season.
"But surely I may begin a year or two
hence, may I not?"
Many people-especially kids and young adults intend to live the Christian life, but not now. When they grow up, when they get out of college, when they get married, when they have kids, when they reach middle age, when they go on social security-any time but now! Long before he was a saint, St. Augustine prayed his heart out,
"Lord, make me chaste-but not now".
But Bunyan has an answer to that one-
"First, did God ever tell you that you shall
live half a year or two months longer?
No! It may be that you will not live
Even that long!
Will you be so foolish as to risk your
Soul on so uncertain a time?
"Do you know that the day of grace will
last another week or not? For the day
of grace is past with some before their
life is ended.
"If you saw your neighbors neglecting
their farms saying `Time enough
hereafter', would you not call them
The answers speak for themselves. The only time to run the race is now-because now is the only time you have. The past is gone, the future is uncertain, if you don't run now, you'll never run.
Time is uncertain, betting on it is like risking your house on the lottery-dangerous.
Even if you should live another fifty years, where does God say He will allow you to run whenever you feel like it? Indeed, He often hardens men in their sin and takes their zeal away from them. Then what?
The standard you apply to yourself-later, later, manana-you wouldn't let anyone else get away with! If your sixty year old neighbor said, "Well, in another year or two, I think I'll start saving for retirement", you'd think him a fool!
And he is-but not half as foolish as the one who know he must run for heaven, but won't do it now.
Bunyan closes the introduction with a fervent plea to everyone who believes in heaven-and wants to go there-but isn't doing anything about it,
"Arise, man, be slothful no longer; set foot and
heart and all into the way of God, and run-
the crown is at the end of the race. There stands
your loving Forerunner, Jesus Christ, who has
prepared heavenly provision for you, will
welcome your soul, and will receive you with
a more willing heart than you could ever desire
of Him. O, therefore, do not delay the time any
longer, but put into practice the words of the
men of Dan, `Arose, for we have seen the land
and behold, it is very good and are you still?
Be not slothful, go and possess the land"
"I wish our souls may meet with comfort at
the journey's end".
This is the most important thing Bunyan says in the chapter-that there is a heaven waiting for you-and it's more wonderful than you think it is. That Jesus Christ is willing to share it with you-more willing that you come than you are to come. And that, now, it's time to set your mind on the prize-and go for it!
The love of God be with you. For Christ's sake. Amen.
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