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Missions 101

Salty Speech

Dec. 17, 2012By: Evan Burns

John Bunyan, the Baptist Puritan who authored the famous The Pilgrim’s Progress, was deep in all kinds of ungodliness and vices.  He would often be so afraid of the torments of hell and he saw no hope of deliverance, so he endeavored to sin to the best of his ability.  But then he despaired of it and tried to reform his life by living according to moralistic applications of the Old Testament.  He cleaned up his behavior and speech, but on the inside he was still wretched.  He actively went to church as if it were good luck, and he would converse with the clergy about religious subjects being superstitious that such conversation would make him acceptably pious.  Bunyan was trusting in his good works. 

But one day he was walking through town and overheard a few women speaking of their affections for God.  Next to his conversion experience, this providence was particularly catalytic in influencing his evangelical spirituality.  Bunyan records the following about the conversation of these women:[1]

But upon a day, the good providence of God did cast me to Bedford, to work on my calling [a tinker]; and in one of the streets of that town, I came where there was three or four poor women sitting at a door in the sun, and talking about the things of God; and being now willing to hear them discourse, I drew near to hear what they said; for I was now a brisk talker also myself in the matters of religion: but now I may say, I heard, but I understood not; for they were far above out of my reach, for their talk was about a new birth, the work of God on their hearts, also how they were convinced of their miserable state by nature: they talked how God had visited their souls with his love in the Lord Jesus, and with what words and promises they had been refreshed, comforted, and supported against the temptations of the devil; moreover, they reasoned of the suggestions and temptations of Satan in particular, and told to each other by which they had been afflicted, and how they were borne up under his assaults: they also discoursed of their own wretchedness of heart, of their unbelief, and did contemn, slight, and abhor their own righteousness, as filthy, and insufficient to do them any good. 

And methought they spake as if joy did make them speak: they spake with such pleasantness of Scripture language, and with such appearance of grace in all they said, that they were to me as if they had found a new world, as if they were people that dwelt alone, and were not to be reckoned amongst their neighbours (Num. 23:9). 

At this I felt my own heart began to shake, as mistrusting my condition to be naught; for I saw that in all my thoughts about religion and salvation, the new birth did never enter into my mind, neither knew I the comfort of the Word and promise, nor the deceitfulness and treachery of my own wicked heart.  As for secret thoughts, I took no notice of them; neither did I understand what Satan’s temptations were, nor how they were to be withstood and resisted, etc. 

Thus therefore when I had heard and considered what they said, I left them, and went about my employment again: but their talk and discourse went with me, also my heart would tarry with them, for I was greatly affected with their words, both because by them I was convinced that I wanted the true tokens of a truly godly man, and also because by them I was convinced of the happy and blessed condition of him that was such a one.

These women affected Bunyan more than any other in his view of the evidences of genuine conversion.  But, they likely never knew of their influence until they met him in heaven.  We never know when God has providentially placed a John Bunyan within earshot of our conversations on the plane, in the mall, while Christmas shopping, at the coffee shop, or on a date.  Let us speak of the glories of the gospel of God in such a way that the most immoral or moralistic person will despair of his wickedness or works-righteousness and find his joy and hope in the new birth and imputed righteousness of Christ. 

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.  Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Colossians 4:5-6)

[1] John Bunyan, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (New York: Penguin Books, 1987), 14-15.

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