In Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan describes a scene in which Christian enters the house of one called “Interpreter” (who represents the Holy Spirit). In this house he is shown many “profitable” things. The first such is a picture of a true minister of the gospel. The second thing shown to Christian was a dusty room:
Then he took him by the hand, and led him into a very large parlor that was full of dust, because never swept; the which after he had reviewed it a little while, the Interpreter called for a man to sweep. Now, when he began to sweep, the dust began so abundantly to fly about, that Christian had almost therewith been choked. Then said the Interpreter to a damsel that stood by, “Bring hither water, and sprinkle the room;” the which when she had done, it was swept and cleansed with pleasure.
Christian: Then said Christian, What means this?
Interpreter: The Interpreter answered, This parlor is the heart of a man that was never sanctified by the sweet grace of the Gospel. The dust is his original sin, and inward corruptions, that have defiled the whole man. He that began to sweep at first, is the law; but she that brought water, and did sprinkle it, is the Gospel. Now whereas thou sawest, that so soon as the first began to sweep, the dust did so fly about that the room by him could not be cleansed, but that thou wast almost choked therewith; this is to show thee, that the law, instead of cleansing the heart (by its working) from sin, doth revive, Rom. 7:9, put strength into, 1 Cor. 15:56, and increase it in the soul, Rom. 5:20, even as it doth discover and forbid it; for it doth not give power to subdue. Again, as thou sawest the damsel sprinkle the room with water, upon which it was cleansed with pleasure, this is to show thee, that when the Gospel comes in the sweet and precious influences thereof to the heart, then, I say, even as thou sawest the damsel lay the dust by sprinkling the floor with water, so is sin vanquished and subdued, and the soul made clean, through the faith of it, and consequently fit for the King of glory to inhabit. John 15:3; Eph. 5:26; Acts 15:9; Rom. 16:25,26.
Near the end of his life, Andrew Fuller (1754–1815) ruminated on spiritual preaching in a letter dated February 21, 1813, to his Scottish friend Christopher Anderson.
I have been thinking of late  of the force of the petition, “Take not thy Holy Spirit from me.” As spiritual things are spiritually discerned, if the Lord leave us to ourselves, we shall lose sight of the gospel, and somehow get beside it. I have heard many ingenious sermons, and perhaps preached some, in which the gospel was overlooked; and if a sinner heard it, and never heard the way of salvation before, he might have died, and gone to the bar of God, for any thing he could have heard then, without having been told his danger, or the way of salvation. Take not thy Holy Spirit from us! It is for want of spirituality of mind, surely, that there is so much orthodox, and at the same so little evangelical preaching.
Joseph Belcher, ed., The Last Remains of the Rev. Andrew Fuller (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, ), 361. For the full text of the letter, see Hugh Anderson, The Life and Letters of Christopher Anderson (Edinburgh: William P. Kennedy, 1854), 214-215.
Earlier this year I had the privilege of preaching one night at Thornhill Baptist Church in Frankfort, KY during a special week of meetings leading up to Easter Sunday. I preached a message titled “The Serpent Symbol of a Suffering Symbol” from Numbers 21:4-9.
On August 17, 1752, the famed Great Awakening preacher George Whitefield penned a letter from London to his Colonial American friend, Benjamin Franklin. Franklin and Whitefield had become close friends during a previous preaching tour of Whitefield in the colonies. They had collaborated on publishing projects and Franklin was fascinated by Whitefield’s preaching, though he remained unconverted. As the following letter reveals, Whitefield had an obvious concern for his friend’s soul. I believe this letter is a model of ways to engage unconverted friends and family. I love the line: “As you have made a pretty considerable progress in the mysteries of electricity, I would now humbly recommend to your diligent unprejudiced pursuit and study the mystery of the new-birth.” Understated on so many levels!
Below see a transcription of the letter and below that an image of the letter as it appears in the 3 volume A Select Collection of Letters of the Late Reverend George Whitefield (London: Edward and Charles Dilly, 1772), 2:440. This letter is accessible on Google Books here.
Dear Mr. F——, London, Aug. 17, 1752
Inclosed you have a letter for Mr. R—–. I hope that promotion will do him no hurt. May God help him to make a stand against vice and prophaneness, and to exert his utmost efforts in promoting true religion and virtue! This is the whole of man. I find that you grow more and more famous in the learned world. As you have made a pretty considerable progress in the mysteries of electricity, I would now humbly recommend to your diligent unprejudiced pursuit and study the mystery of the new-birth. It is a most important, interesting study, and when mastered, will richly answer and repay you for all your pains. One at whose bar we are shortly to appear, hath solemnly declared, that without it, “we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” You will excuse this freedom. I must have aliquid Christi in all my letters. I am yet a willing pilgrim for his great name sake, and I trust a blessing attends my poor feeble labours. To the giver of every good gift be all the glory. My respects await your whole self, and all enquiring friends, and hoping to see you yet once more in this land of the dying, I subscribe myself, dear Sir,
Your very affectionate friend, and obliged servant,
Make plans to join us in Louisville, Kentucky on October 21-22 for a concentrated two days focused on George Whitefield and his legacy.
J.I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God should be required reading for all who desire to understand and discuss the relationship between divine sovereignty and human relationship with its implications for evangelism. It is at once a plea to take Scripture’s teaching regarding both divine sovereignty and human responsibility seriously and a call to declare the gospel indiscriminately to all. In the paragraph below, first published in 1961, Packer presciently responds to the current debate between Calvinists and Traditionalists in the Southern Baptist Convention. His words are a stern warning against the tendency of both sides “to grow self-righteous and bitter and conceited as they criticize each other.”
This is a question that troubles many evangelical Christians today. There are some who have come to believe in the sovereignty of God in the unqualified and uncompromising way in which (as we judge) the Bible presents it. These are now wondering whether there is not some way in which they could and should witness to this faith by modifying the evangelistic practice which they have inherited from a generation with different convictions. These methods, they say, were devised by people who did not believe what we believe about God’s absolute sovereignty in salvation; is that not of itself reason enough for refusing to use them? Others, who do not construe the doctrine of divine sovereignty in quite this way, nor take it quite so seriously, fear that this new concern to believe it thoroughly will mean the death of evangelism; for they think it is bound to undercut all sense of urgency in evangelistic action. Satan, of course, will do anything to hold up evangelism and divide Christians; so he tempts the first group to become inhibited and cynical about all current evangelistic endeavors, and the second group to lose its head and become panicky and alarmist, and both to grow self-righteous and bitter and conceited as they criticize each other. Both groups, it seems, have urgent need to watch against the wiles of the devil.
J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (InterVarsity Press, 1961, rev. ed. 2008), 94.
By Garry and Steve Weaver (also posted on my dad’s blog; Training Real Missionaries)
It was over 20 years ago that we first read Peace Child. In this book, Don Richardson tells the story of his encounter with an unreached people group in the early 1960s. In 1962, Richardson, his wife Carol and their 7 month old son arrived in what was then known as Dutch New Guinea, to begin work among a violent, cannibalistic, head hunting tribe called the Sawi.
The task before them was great because the Sawi language did not exist in any written form. They would have to learn the language by living with the people and slowly accumulate a vocabulary while at the same time giving the language a written form. This was difficult, discouraging and time consuming work but necessary before they could even begin to translate Scripture into the Sawi language for evangelism.
Their task was complicated by the constant tribal wars that kept the young missionary family in a continual state of danger. Not only was their task complicated by danger, but even after Don had reached a level of proficiency in the tribal language, so that he was able to present the story of the betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus, he was confronted with a seemingly insurmountable problem involving their perverted system of moral values. A world view that made Judas Iscariot the hero of the crucifixion story.
Frustrated by their lack of progress in seeing conversions take place among the Sawi and frightened by the continual warfare that threatened the safety of his young family, Don issued an ultimatum: Either the fighting would stop or Don would take his family and leave. Because they valued the medical care provided by the Richardsons so highly, the Sawi took the dramatic step of ending the fighting. Unbeknownst to the missionary, the Sawi had a tradition that if warring tribes were going to enter into a peace treaty, then one of the tribes would have to give an infant from their tribe to their mortal enemies. After observing the ceremony that included the giving of the infant, known as the “peace child” to their enemies, Don knew he had at last had an open door to communicate the gospel. As soon as he could he gathered the tribe together and told them of how though they were enemies of God because of their sin, God had given his only Son as a “peace child” to make peace with his enemies.
Today, on this Good Friday we are remembering how God gave His only begotten Son to be our “peace child.” We are the natural enemies of God because of our sin, but God in His grace chose to provide a sacrifice for us to be reconciled to Him. This reconciliation came as a result of God’s Son making peace through the blood of His cross (Colossians 1:20). Don’t ever forget what it cost to establish peace between sinful humans and a holy God. I believe that John Piper has said it best when he said, “The wisdom of God devised a way for the love of God to deliver sinners from the wrath of God while not compromising the righteousness of God.” That way was through the sacrifice of God’s “peace child.”