by John Bunyan
Bunyan unfolds the sweetness of "the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge." He skillfully applies its importance for both the calloused unbeliever and the doubting but sincere Christian.
his treatise is one of those ten distinct works that the author had prepared for the press when he was so suddenly summoned to the Celestial City. Well did his friends in the ministry, Ebenezer Chandler and John Wilson, call it “an excellent manuscript, calculated to assist the Christian that would grow in grace, and to win others over to Jesus Christ.”
It was first published with a selection of Bunyan’s works in a folio volume in 1692, about four years after the author’s decease. Although it is a treatise exhibiting very deep research and calculated for extensive usefulness, it does not appear ever to have been published as a separate volume. Like all other of his works, it is original; no one before him treated this subject with such profound depth of thought, nor with such clear Christian philosophy.
The revered John Bunyan proves in this, as in all other of his works, that he was a real and not a pretended descendant from the apostles. He breathes their spirit; he knew his Master’s work and faithfully discharged His solemn requirements. His object was as pure as it was apparent: to preach not himself, but Christ Jesus his Lord. One desire appears to have influenced him in writing all his works: that of shrinking back and hiding himself behind his Master, while exhibiting the unsearchable, divine, eternal riches of His grace.
This treatise is admirably adapted to warn the thoughtless, break the stony heart, convince the wavering, cherish the young inquirer, strengthen the saint in his pilgrimage and arm him for the good fight of faith, and comfort the dejected, doubting, despairing Christian. It abounds with ardent sympathy for the broken-hearted, a cordial suited to every wounded conscience, while at the same time it thunders in awful judgment upon the impenitent and the hypocritical professor. Wonders of grace to God belong, for all these blessings form but a small part of the “unsearchable riches.”
The reader should keep in his recollection that this treatise was originally conceived for the pulpit, and afterwards, probably with great additions, written for the press. This will account for the divisions and sub-divisions, intended to assist a hearer’s memory or to enable a ready writer, by taking notes of each part, to digest prayerfully in private what he had heard in the public ministry of the Word—a practice productive of great good to individuals, and by which families may be much profited while conversing upon the truths publicly taught in the church—instead of what Bunyan would have justly called, “frothy conversation” about the dress or appearances of their fellow-worshippers.
This discourse has been published in every edition of the works of our great author, but, most strangely, the references to Scripture were omitted in all the editions since that of 1737. Bunyan’s anxiety at every step of this momentous inquiry is to shew a “thus saith the Lord” in proof of every assertion. In this treatise only, there are nearly four hundred and forty distinct references to the holy oracles. These are all carefully restored and have been collated with the standard text, for wantof which some imperfections had crept in, even to the old editions. Where the author preferred the Genevan or Puritan version, it is shewn by a note at the foot of the page.
To point out beauties in such a discourse is to point to the whole treatise—it is all admirable. A solemn earnestness is found in every sentence, even where Bunyan modestly differs with many excellent divines when treating upon the sufferings of the Saviour, between the period of His crucifixion and of His resurrection. This [portion] is worthy of our prayerful consideration, ever keeping in remembrance those deeply impressive, those awfully triumphant, words of our Lord: “It is finished” (Joh 19:30).
The catholic spirit,which so pervaded the mind of Bunyan, appears conspicuously in this discourse; and whatever bitter controversy this spirit occasioned him, it ought to be impressed upon the heart of every Christian professor. It is a liberality that shines more brightly, as reflected by one whose religious education was drawn solely from the pure fountain of truth: the holy oracles. However unlettered he was as to polite literature or the learned languages, his Christian liberality can no more be enlightened by the niggard spirit of learned sectarians, than the sun could be illuminated by a rush-light. The inquiry was then, as, alas, it is too frequent now, “Are there many that be saved?”—forgetful of the Saviour’s answer and just rebuke, “What is that to thee? follow thou me” (Joh 21:22), seek thine own salvation. The inquiry is pursued a step farther, “Can those who differ with me be saved?” Hear the reply of one so honest and so fully imbued with the Scriptures, into the truths of which his spirit had been baptized,
“A man, through unbelief, may think that Christ has no love to him; and yet Christ may love him with a love that passeth knowledge. But when men, in the common course of their profession, will be always terminating here, that they know how, and how far, Christ can love; and will thence be bold to conclude of their own safety, and of the loss and ruin of all that are not in the same notions, opinions, formalities, or judgment as they—this is the worst [pride] and greatest of all [delusions]. The text, therefore, to rectify those false and erroneous conclusions, says [that] the love of Christ is a love that “passeth knowledge” (Eph 3:19).
Throughout the whole, there is a continued effort to comfort the sincere, but doubting, Christian.
“Does Satan suggest that God will not hear your stammering and chattering prayers? Does Satan suggest that thy trials, and troubles, and afflictions, are so many that you shall never get beyond them?—relief is at hand, for Christ loves thee with a love that passeth knowledge. This is a weapon that will baffle the devil, when all other weapons fail.”
The practical application of these soul-encouraging truths is, “To walk in love, filled with all the fullness of God.” Bunyan has, in enforcing this duty, a very remarkable expression:
“These are the men that sweeten the churches, and bring glory to God and to religion. Why should anything have my heart but God, but Christ? He loves me; He loves me with love that passeth knowledge; and I will love Him. His love stripped Him of all for my sake. Lord, let my love strip me of all for Thy sake. I am a son of love, an object of love, a monument of love; of free love, of distinguishing love, of peculiar love, and of love that passeth knowledge. And why should not I walk in love—in love to God, in love to man, in holy love, in love unfeigned?”
And will our ministering elders bear with me in respectfully and affectionately commending to them John Bunyan as an example of devotedness to his Master’s service, of humble walking with God, of tender faithfulness to the souls of men, of holy fervour? Under such a course of sermons as this treatise would make, how attentively would our children listen with reverence to the voice of truth, and with a divine blessing our earthen vessels would be replenished with heavenly treasure. It is delightful to read the testimony of Bunyan’s ministerial friends of various denominations when recording his extensive usefulness. His works do follow him. And upon reading of them, we cannot wonder when we hear that on a week-day morning, in the depth of winter, long before daylight, the inclemency of frost and snow was braved by crowded assemblies of hungry and thirsty souls, who eagerly listened to hear him proclaim “The Saints’ Knowledge of Christ’s Love,” or the unsearchable riches of Christ, which passeth knowledge.
May the effectual blessing of the Holy Spirit attend the reading, as it did the preaching, of these soul-saving truths.
—George Offor; Hackney, England; October, 1848
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Table of Contents
I. The Breadth, Length, Depth, and Height
II. The Prayer of the Apostle
III. The Love of Christ
IV. The Exceeding Greatness of the Love of Christ
V. The Knowledge of Christ's Love