Posts Tagged ‘conscience’
David Anderson has an excellent post about the current expenses scandal among British Members of Parliament, in which he asks where all the critics of the MPs get the notion that they have done wrong, even though they are operating within the rules they have set for themselves.
Fearless Pilgrim: The Life and Times of John Bunyan by Faith Cook
Evangelical Press, 2008 (528pp, hbk)
John Bunyan has had a good number of biographers, but Faith Cook’s new work sits in a niche of its own. It is at once carefully-researched and popular; it considers the man himself yet puts him in his historical, social, political and cultural context; it recognises his literary brilliance yet sees him primarily as a man of God; it appreciates his own mental and emotional constitution but also takes account of spiritual realities.
In structure, the book essentially traces the turbulent life of John Bunyan through the turbulent times in which he lived. But there is more to it than that. Mrs Cook carefully situates her man in his times, showing evidence of careful research and thought. This journey is illuminated by judicious quotes from Bunyan’s writings. Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners obviously has a prominent place, especially in the earlier years of Bunyan’s spiritual journey, but various other works come to the fore in their turn. This literary element is particularly enjoyable: we keep track of Bunyan’s work alongside his passing years, and the circumstances out of which his books were written provide insight into his life, and vice versa. At points along the way there is a little necessary reading into the white spaces of Bunyan’s life. Mrs Cook usually keeps closer to reasonable surmise than to narrative licence to fill the gaps that exist.
The author is certainly and understandably sympathetic to her subject, but she does not cut him unreasonable slack. She spells out the trials of his sensitive conscience, but also has wise words of warning with regard to hypersensitivity of conscience. She recognises his constitutional frailties, but also appreciates his spiritual struggles, interacting with others who have sought to assess (and, in some cases, diagnose) Bunyan’s spiritual and mental condition. She does not shy away from the conflicts that Bunyan had with those outside the church, nor the debates with those within her arising from his distinctive views (for example, on the relationship between baptism and church membership). In these matters, however, she is generally careful to report rather than to judge. These elements, together with consideration of a variety of other issues – often drawing on other movers and shakers from the period (both in the religious and other spheres) – enrich the tapestry of Bunyan’s life.
It will be interesting to see how this volume fares in the academic realm. It is soundly researched and well-written, and yet the author’s own commitment to the same truths which fired Bunyan’s heart is likely to compromise the worth of the book in the eyes of many specialists in the fields of literature and history. This would be a great shame. However, while academia might struggle to understand and acknowledge the heart of Bunyan, Christian scholars will be glad to have a competent, substantial yet sympathetic work to assist in understanding this early Baptist in his context and to validate their approach to him as a Christian man and minister. Christians outside of this context should be able simply to enjoy this well-paced and insightful treatment.
The book is also well-illustrated with various prints, photographs and sketches. However, a proliferation of fonts does not necessarily improve the reading experience. With regard to substance, this deserves to be a standard work among Christians interested properly to grasp the life, work and times of this eminent servant of God. It is heartily recommended.
There are many things that will demonstrate either the presence or the absence of an awareness of God, a sense of being in the presence of the Holy One of Israel, a consciousness of being creatures, sinners, and servants. At least some of them are:
Giving thanks for our food. Of course, many of us will do so when we sit down for a family meal; it’s fairly easy to remember in a more formal setting; certainly if we are with those with whom a reputation for holiness would be desirable. But what about eating on the hoof? What about fast food? What about the snatched piece of toast in the morning? Am I conscious then of my dependence on God, of the fact that without him I have nothing, expressive of my thankfulness for his daily mercies?
Diligence in the workplace. If I am to do everything heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, conscious that I serve the Lord Christ and the he will give the reward (Col 3.23-24), then that will change the way in which I work, my awareness of time, my determination to finish a job well and quickly by working diligently at it.
The voice of conscience when tempted to sin. If I know that I am God’s creature and his child, then I will recognise that my heavenly Father’s eye is upon me when I am subject to temptation, and that will prove a powerful preventative. Like Joseph, I will ask, “How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen 39.9). An awareness that the Christ who loved me and gave himself for me is looking on will not only make conscience buck, but should actually prevent me from sinning!
A calm and believing response to a crisis. If I know that the Lord is my Shepherd, then I will not incline to panic or terror in a crisis or challenge. I may need to remind myself of God’s presence, but if I know that the God of my salvation is always near at hand, I need not fear even if I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
Thankful recognition of God’s control in things both good and bad. How often we talk about ‘the providence of God’ as if it were something that brought us good but was powerless in the face of bad. We obtain a blessing, and we thank God for his providential care, and so we should. We receive a blow, and we ask, “Lord, why did you let that happen to me?” God did not let it happen. God caused it to come to pass, ordering it for his glory and our good. Even the evil that men intend God means for good (Gen 50.20). Do I ever thank God that things are not worse? Do I ever praise him for my afflictions, because by them I learned his statues (Ps 119.71)? Am I persuaded that God is as close – if not closer – in the times of woe as in times of weal? If I am aware of God’s presence, I will gratefully acknowledge it at all times and under all circumstances.
Abiding peace and joy. Not as the world knows peace and joy – the peace of imagining that I am in control, the joy of thinking that I am dealing well with life – but the peace of knowing that my heavenly Father governs all things and is smiling upon me, his redeemed child; the joy of sins forgiven, of knowing that Jesus does all things well, and that God is working all things together for good. This is peace and joy that is entirely consistent with grief and distress. The world imagines that these things are mutually exclusive: the God-aware saint knows how often they travel hand in hand.