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TEXT: I Corinthians 9:24
SUBJECT: Bunyan on Perseverance #2
Tonight, with the Lord's help, we'll move on to part 2 in our study of John Bunyan's great little book, The Heavenly Footman. The subject is perseverance or running the Christian race. Bunyan's goal is to get us to do it, to run for heaven as though our lives depended on it. Because they do.
The Puritan very firmly believed in justification by faith alone. When a sinner believes in Christ, he receives the forgiveness of sin and a sure hope of heaven. This is what the Bible teaches. But it's not all the Bible teaches about salvation. It also teaches that the justified, forgiven sinner must live the Christian life. Not only to keep a good conscience or to earn rewards, but to make it to heaven. In short, if you do not run the race, you will not win the crown.
So, in the words of our text,
"Run, that you may obtain".
THE TEXT OPENED
John Bunyan opens the book by explaining what it means to run. This is not a literal running, of course; an old crippled believer can run the race as well as a young, athletic one.
Running stands for three things, Bunyan says. They are, first of all,
"Fleeing. Observe this running is not an ordinary
sort of running, but is to be understood as the
swiftest sort of running.A man was to flee
to the city of refuge, when the avenger of blood
was hard at his heels; therefore, it is a running
for one's life, a running with all might and
violent effort as we use to say".
When I first read this, I thought of fleeing in terms of direction. When you flee something, you run away from it. That's true and Bunyan would agree with it, I'm sure. But it's not what he's getting at here. Here, the word, flee stands for speed. No one jogs out of a burning building or trots off from a rabid dog or shuffles away from a man trying to kill him!
No, fires, rabid dogs, and killers make you run with everything you've got! The fattest, slowest, most out of shape man can run if he has to. That's what Bunyan is saying here: You cannot shuffle around in the Christian race, but you've got to run it with all the speed you can muster.
This fleeing includes getting away from temptation as fast as you can. The sixth and tenth chapters of I Corinthians use the word in this way,
"Flee fornication. Flee idolatry".
The Bible never says to put yourself in harm's way. The Apostles know that we are weak and prone to give in to temptation. Thus, whenever possible, we need to stay away from it.
Joseph is a good example. He was the chief servant in Potiphar's house; the man's wife made a pass at him, and the young man ran off, literally ran out of his jacket to get away from the sin she was proposing. He didn't think about it, pray about it, or talk to her about it. He ran from it. He busted it out the house. And rightly so.
The fleeing also includes speed in God's service. David says,
"I will run the way of Your commandments".
When given the chance to sit back for a time, Jesus Christ said,
"I must work the work of Him who sent Me while it is
called day; the night is coming when no man can work".
Running also means,
"Pressing, which signifies that they who would have
have heaven must not stick with any difficulties they
meet with, but press, crowd, and thrust through
all that may stand between them and heaven".
If you've ever been to a ballgame, a concert, or some other packed event, you know what Bunyan is getting at. If you mean to get to your seat on time, you've got to be aggressive, push through the crowd and go around people who are just standing there.
Running for heaven is like running a marathon, with other people getting in your way, slowing down in front of you, or even running backward. If you're not serious, you're not going to make the finish line.
The running also means,
"Continuing. Not to run a little now and then
by fits and starts, or half way, or almost
there; but to run for your life, to run through
all difficulties, and to continue therein to the
end of the race, which is the end of your life".
This is a solemn warning. Persevering well for a long while isn't good enough. You've got to press on to the end. In the Indianapolis 500, being in the lead for 499 miles won't do. If you break down there, you lose-no matter how fast you've gone before that time or how many laps you're ahead of the field.
Thus, living the Christian life means persevering to the end. Not till you're eighty, ninety, or a hundred, but to the end of your life. One of the best-known preachers in the world used to be solidly Evangelical, but now, in his eighties, he says Pope John Paul II is the greatest Christian of the Twentieth Century and that he has no problem with Mormonism! It's heartbreaking to consider how much good he's done in his life, only to throw it away in old age.
Running the race, therefore, demands strong effort, consistency, and finishing.
If this is what running is, I have to ask you: Are you doing it? Not do you approve of it or plan to do it someday, but are you doing it? No one is sinless, but are you putting forth a real effort to please the Lord? Are you devoting yourself to Him every day-whether at church, at work, at school, or at play? Are you planning to finish well? Or, like so many I've known, are you hoping to retire from God's service one of these days?
Just remember, when Jesus Christ called you to Himself, He didn't call you to ease, but to effort; not to stand by, but to run.
THE DIRECTIONS GIVEN
Having explained what it means to run and why you must do it, John Bunyan goes on to tell you how to do it. Everyone knows how to run physically, but how do you run spiritually? If you've played football, you know how to run to the fifty yard line, but how do you run to heaven?
The Puritan has a lot to say here. Let me give you the main heads, without going into much detail.
"If you would run to obtain heaven, be sure that you
get on the way that leads there, for it is vain to think
you will ever win a prize-no matter how fast you
run-if you do not run on the assigned track. Here
is one who runs to quaking, another to ranting, a
third to baptism: here's one for free-will and another
In the 17th Century-like today-there were many denominations. Bunyan mentions the Quakers, the Ranters, the Arminians, the Baptists, and the Presbyterians. He himself was a Baptist and had a lot in common with the Presbyterians, but he knew salvation was not in church, a set of doctrines, or even a way of life!
Where is it found? Bunyan says,
"I tell you, it is Jesus Christ, the Son of Mary,
the Son of God. If you would have salvation,
see that Christ is yours, whether He has covered
you with His righteousness and washed away
your sins. If you miss this way, you will miss
the prize; if you miss Christ, you will lose
The Christian life does not begin with joining the church or accepting Calvinism or getting into the habit of Bible reading. It starts with Christ. Until you believe in Christ and trust Him for your salvation, you're not on the track to heaven, but on the millions of bypaths leading to destruction.
"If you get on the way by coming to Christ, so you
stay there by thinking much about Him. You know
if a man would be expert in any thing, he must spend
much time studying it. This, therefore, you should do:
Study Christ, what He is and what He has done".
The one who rarely thinks of Christ will soon be off course. How can he not be? After all, Christ is the starting point of salvation, the way of salvation, and the end of salvation! How can we possibly take our eyes off Him and think we'll be with Him in the end?
"You must strip yourself of those things that may
hinder you, such as covetousness, pride, lust
or whatever else your heart may be inclining to,
which will slow you down on your race to heaven."
What would you think of the runner who ran with pockets full of lead? Or who decided to run the 100 yard dash with a fifty pound pack on his back? You'd think he wasn't serious about winning the race.
And neither are we if we run for heaven while at the same time loving money or feeling proud of ourselves or squirrelling away some secret desire. These things are weights which you cannot carry if you hope to run well.
Let me add a personal note here. I find in my own life, and in the lives of many I know, that it's not just sin that hinders us, but other things too, things good in their own way, but too distracting. I know a pastor who won't take the newspaper. He doesn't care if others do, but when he sees the paper, he's so curious that he spends all day reading it. Sports are a big temptation to me; maybe TV is your thing or hobbies or keeping the house clean. These things are not wrong, but if they're loved too much, they hinder you on your way to heaven. The Lord warns us of
"The cares of the world, the deceitfulness
of riches, and the pleasures of this life".
It's hard enough to run a marathon without adding unnecessary weight. Strip off the sinful and distracting things of life and you'll run faster and more surely for heaven.
"Beware of by-paths, take heed lest you turn
into those lanes that lead out of the way".
Detours take you off the road and off in the wrong direction. I've known many Christians who started well; at first they were preoccupied with Christ and holiness. But then, they found other things to interest them. Before long, they were more Baptist than Christian; more Calvinist than Christian; more homeschooler than Christian. These things are not wrong, of course, but if they become your identity and your goal, they lead you away from Christ and keep you from going to heaven.
"Do not look to high on your journey to heaven. You
know men running do not lift their eyes too high,
lest through too much gazing heavenward, they
stumble and fall.Beware of prying too much into
God's secret decrees or let your heart entertain
Learning the doctrines of the Bible is good for you. It's good for your mind and for your heart. But speculating on doctrines-and going beyond what the Bible says-is a great danger. I know a man who won't believe in Christ-he says-because he hasn't found out if he's elect or not. Now, it's true, of course, that only the Elect will be saved. But where does the Bible say to find out if you're elect? It speaks to sinners as sinners and tells every sinner to repent, believe and be saved.
Do you want to lose your grip on the Gospel? If you do, start speculating about the Second Coming of Christ. But if you want to hold fast to Christ, stay with the basics and follow the questions that promote godliness and unity.
"Take heed that you do not have an ear open to
everyone who calls you on your journey".
Every year, there's a race in San Francisco called Bay to Breakers. It's something like five or seven miles, I think. Tens of thousands of people line the streets to see the runners go by. What if a runner started listening to every piece of advice he got from the crowd? Someone says, faster; another says, pace yourself; another give up; take a drink, run barefoot. Do you think that runner would win the race? I don't think so.
Neither will you if you listen to every heretic, every nut job, or everyone trying to sell you something.
Find out what godliness is and stick with it. If someone finds "the key" to Christian living, ignore him. If someone says "Buy my book" and you're as good as glorified, don't fool with him.
"Be not daunted though you meet with many
discouragements along the way".
There are a lot of hard things in the Christian life. But, as people with nowhere else to go, we have to go through them. If we must, we might as well make the best of them. Face obstacles with courage and a mind to get through them.
"Take heed of being offended by the cross you must
go by on your way to heven".
Why believers think life in Christ is easy is beyond me (other than we wish it were). The Bible nowhere promises that. The saints all had it the other way. Even the Lord Jesus Christ entered His glory via the cross.
If you don't expect an easy life, you won't be so disappointed by the hardships we all must endure.
"Beg God to enlighten your mind and inflame your will".
The key word here, I think, is beg. We must pray for grace to carry on and finish the race God has set before us. But prayer-as words mumbled at the dinner table or bedside-won't do. We need to pray fervently, pray day and night for the grace to endure to the end.
Maybe you have not because you ask not. Or, you ask, but not from the heart.
Pray the Lord would make you believe in the heaven you say be believe in. And pray He would give you the will to run as though it were really there waiting for you.
That's John Bunyan on running the race. Before we close, lest me ask you: Are your running the race? I know you want to go to heaven-everyone does! But are you running that way? Are you running away from sin? Are you running after holiness and God's fellowship?
Have you started the race by trusting Christ? Are you meditating on Him? Are you willing to drop the things than hinder you on your way to heaven? Are you staying on track? Are you keeping the clear and major things in mind? Are you being careful what you listen to? Are you fighting discouragments? Are you being realistic about the Christian life? And, finally, are you praying long and hard for persevering grace?
If you are, thank the Lord, you're well on your way to heaven!
But if you're not, ask yourself is eternal joy worth the effort required to have it? If it is, run for it.
God bless you everyone. Amen.
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