We all have the one God-breathed Bible with its sixty-six books in our hands, in our homes, and on our pulpits, but how much do we possess of that Word? How much of it have we got in our understanding, in our conscience, and hidden in our hearts by the discernment that the Spirit has given us? A question of five words, “How big is your Bible?” John Bunyan could say: “I never had in all my life so great an inlet into the Word of God as now. The Scriptures that I saw nothing in before these days are made in this place and state to actually shine upon me.” He often saw, as it were, a whole world in one text: “I have sometimes seen more in a line of the Bible than I could well tell how to stand under.” How big is your Bible?
Big Bibles make big preachers. John Bunyan might be the greatest of the Puritan preachers. Thousands would gather when they heard that the author of The Pilgrim’s Progress was coming to preach in London. Three thousand heard him on one Lord’s Day preaching in the metropolis at short notice, and many had been turned away. Bunyan himself had to be lifted over the heads of the congregation to get into the pulpit. Early on one winter weekday, 1,200 gathered to hear him preach. Bunyan spoke with joy in his voice and would haul his hearers along with him as they growingly felt his assurance like a hand on their backs, until they could see the truth as he could, until the Word was shining in the air. They could feel the thing—the “connect”—happening in the meeting.
In 1685, a man called Charles Doe made his way at dawn to the home of a Christian named Stephen Moore. There he heard Bunyan preach on Proverbs 10:24: “The desire of the righteous will be granted.” Doe broke down in tears as he heard Bunyan; in fact, this was his frequent response when he listened to one of the former tinker’s sermons. That particular message was full of the love of God. When King Charles II heard of the influence of John Bunyan in London, he asked John Owen why thousands of the citizens were going to hear Bunyan preach. Owen told the king of his ability to touch the hearts of men, and that he would gladly relinquish all his learning if he had that gift.
One reason for Bunyan’s vivid preaching was the way he responded to and used the metaphors and similes of the Scriptures. For example, in the Bible saving faith is described as a flight (fleeing to Christ), a feast (feeding on Him), a rest (resting in Christ), or an entering (opening the door to Him). Then why don’t preachers develop such images in their preaching? I remember once hearing a friend preach on John 3 and the new birth. He told the congregation that the new birth was like a phone. A phone? How? He lost me. I could not see it. It was confusing. Regeneration is like a birth. Use the picture that our Lord has given us. How different it had been on one occasion on a Sunday attending Westminster Chapel hearing how Lloyd-Jones opened up a phrase in Acts—“times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord”—by showing how sin’s influence could be compared to an oppressively hot, sultry, and uncomfortable day with electric fans ultimately failing as the air moved around and got warmer (Acts 3:20). Then redemption is like Jesus Christ coming near, delivering and refreshing us with His presence. Get cool, sinner, through Christ.
Even a single word in the Scriptures is marvelously big enough and relevant in its images for the twenty-first century. Think of Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ sermon on the two words “But God . . .” One of Bunyan’s biographers said of his preaching that he had a unique ability of bringing “deep things into a familiar phrase.” His words were his own as was his manner. Preachers, it is necessary to discover your voice and have the confidence to use it.
Ben Ramsbottom speaks of the “big” Bible, and then he follows that up by saying, it “fits in with the wisest of men who once said that, ‘A little that a righteous man has is better than the riches of many wicked.’ Oh to have a little that is real! A little that God has given us, a little of the Holy Ghost’s work in our hearts, a little desire, a little prayer, a little of the tender fear of God, a little humility, a little hope, a little repentance, a little love! Someone said, ‘This big “little.” ’ ”
To have something, however little, that is real and that clings like a limpet to our souls—how life transforming. What grief and calamity to have acquired an abundance and then to find at last that it’s all a mere pile of muck. The one thing that really matters is this: to have a religion that will bring us safe at last to the new heavens and the new earth. To have that “little that a righteous man has,” to have faith that is lodged in Jesus Christ even if our trust seems as fine as a spider’s thread. To believe in your heart and to say with your mouth, “I know my Redeemer lives.” Five words. At the great day when God will sift us then to find this finally remaining: “Jesus Christ, my only hope.” Five words. That will be glory—glory for me and glory for you.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on August 11, 2021.