T H E
THE THIRD EDITION,
In which is added,
A N S W E R
to those grand objections
that lie in the way of the them that would believe:
for the comfort of them that
fear they have sinned against
T H E - H O L Y - G H O S T.
By J O H N.B U N Y A N, of Bedford.
L O N D O N,
Printed for Elizabeth Smith,
at the Hand and Bible, on London Bridge, 1691.
Reprinted three years after John Bunyan's death.
rom these words, therefore, thus explained, we gain this observation: That Jesus Christ . would have mercy offered, in the first place, to the biggest sinners
That these Jerusalem sinners were the biggest sinners that ever were in the world, I think none will deny, that believes that Christ was the best man that ever was in the world, and also was their Lord God. And that they were to have the first offer of his grace, the text is as clear as the sun; for it saith, 'Beginning at Jerusalem.' 'Preach,' saith he, 'repentance and remission of sins' to the Jerusalem sinners: to the Jerusalem sinners in the first place. One would a-thought, since the Jerusalem sinners were the worst and greatest sinners, Christ's greatest enemies, and those that not only despised his person, doctrine, and miracles, but that, a little before, had had their hands up to the elbows in his heart's blood, that he should rather have said, Go into all the world, and preach repentance and remission of sins among all nations; and, after that, offer the same to Jerusalem; yea, it had been infinite grace if he had said so. But what grace is this, or what name shall we give it, when he commands that this repentance and remission of sins, which is designed to be preached in all nations, should first be offered to Jerusalem; in the first place to the worst of sinners!
Nor was this the first time that the grace, which was in the heart of Christ, thus showed itself to the world. For while he was yet alive, even while he was yet in Jerusalem, and perceived, even among these Jerusalem sinners, which was the most vile among them, he still, in his preaching, did signify that he had a desire that the worst of these worst should, in the first place, come unto him. The which he showeth, where he saith to the better sort of them, 'The publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you' (Matt 21:31). Also when he compared Jerusalem with the sinners of the nations, then he commands that the Jerusalem sinners should have the gospel at present confined to them. 'Go not,' saith he, 'into the way of the Gentiles, and into any of the cities of the Samaritans enter ye not; but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel' (Matt 10:5,6; 23:37). But go rather to them, for they were in the most fearful plight. These, therefore, must have the cream of the gospel, namely, the first offer thereof, in his lifetime; yea, when he departed out of the world, he left this as part of his last will with his preachers, that they also should offer it first to Jerusalem. He had a mind, a careful mind, as it seems, to privilege the worst of sinners with the fist offer of mercy, and to take from among them a people, to be the first fruits unto God and to the Lamb.
The 15th of Luke also is famous for this, where the Lord Jesus takes more care, as appears there by three parables, for the lost sheep, lost groat, and the prodigal son, than for the other sheep, the other pence, or for the son that said he had never transgressed; yea, he shows that there is joy in heaven, among the angels of God, at the repentance of one sinner, more than over ninety and nine just persons which need no repentance. After this manner, therefore, the mind of Christ was set on the salvation of the biggest sinners in his lifetime. But join to this, this clause, which he carefully put into the apostles' commission to preach, when he departed hence to the Father, and then you shall see that his heart was vehemently set upon it; for these were part of his last words with them, Preach my gospel to all nations, but that you begin at Jerusalem.
Nor did the apostles overlook this clause when their Lord was gone into heaven; they went first to them of Jerusalem, and preached Christ's gospel to them; they abode also there for a season and time, and preached it to nobody else, for they had regard to the commandment of their Lord. And it is to be observed, namely, that the first sermon which they preached after the ascension of Christ, it was preached to the very worst of these Jerusalem sinners, even to those that were the murderers of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:23), for these are part of the sermon: 'Ye took him, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain him.' Yea, the next sermon, and the next, and also the next to that, was preached to the self-same murderers, to the end they might be saved (Acts 3:14-16; 4:10,11; 5:30; 7:52).
But we will return to the first sermon that was preached to these Jerusalem sinners, by which will be manifest more than great grace, if it be duly considered. For after that Peter, and the rest of the apostles, had, in their exhortation, persuaded these wretches to believe that they had killed the Prince of life; and after they had duly fallen under the guilt of their murder, saying, 'Men and brethren, what shall we do?' he replies, by an universal tender to them all in general, considering them as Christ's killers, that if they were sorry for what they had done, and would be baptized for the remission of their sins in his name, they should receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:37,38).
This he said to them all, though he knew that they were such sinners. Yea, he said it without the least stick or stop, or pause of spirit, as to whether he had best to say so or no. Nay, so far off was Peter from making an objection against one of them, that, by a particular clause in his exhortation, he endeavours, that not one of them may escape the salvation offered. 'Repent,' saith he, 'and be baptized every one of you.' I shut out never an one of you; for I am commanded by my Lord to deal with you, as it were, one by one, by the word of his salvation. But why speaks he so particularly? Oh! there were reasons for it. The people with whom the apostles were now to deal, as they were murderers of our Lord, and to be charged in the general with his blood, so they had their various and particular acts of villany in the guilt thereof, now lying upon their consciences. And the guilt of these, their various and particular acts of wickedness, could not, perhaps, be reached to a removal thereof but by this particular application. Repent, every one of you; be baptized, every one of you, in his name, for the remission of sins, and you shall, every one of you, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Objector . 'But I was one of them that plotted to take away his life. May I be saved by him?'
Peter . Every one of you.
Objector. 'But I was one of them that bare false witness against him. Is there grace for me?'
Peter . For every one of you.
Objector . 'But I was one of them that cried out, Crucify him, crucify him; and desired that Barabbas, the murderer, might live, rather than him. What will become of me, think you?'
Peter . I am to preach repentance and remission of sins to every one of you, says Peter.
Objector . 'But I was one of them that did spit in his face when he stood before his accusers. I also was one that mocked him, when in anguish he hanged bleeding on the tree. Is there room for me?'
Peter . For every one of you, says Peter.
Objector . 'But I was one of them that, in his extremity, said, Give him gall and vinegar to drink. Why may not I expect the same when anguish and guilt is upon me?'
Peter . Repent of these your wickednesses, and here is remission of sins for every one of you.
Objector . 'But I railed on him, I reviled him, I hated him, I rejoiced to see him mocked at by others. Can there be hope for me?'
Peter . There is, for every one of you. 'Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.' Oh! what a blessed 'Every one of you,' is here! How willing was Peter, and the Lord Jesus, by his ministry, to catch these murderers with the word of the gospel, that they might be made monuments of the grace of God! How unwilling, I say, was he, that any of these should escape the hand of mercy! Yea, what an amazing wonder is it to think, that above all the world, and above everybody in it, these should have the first offer of mercy! 'Beginning at Jerusalem.'
But was there not something of moment in this clause of the commission? Did not Peter, think you, see a great deal in it, that he should thus begin with these men, and thus offer, so particularly, this grace to each particular man of them?
But, as I told you, this is not all; these Jerusalem sinners must have this offer again and again; every one of them must be offered it over and over. Christ would not take their first rejection for a denial, nor their second repulse for a denial; but he will have grace offered once, and twice, and thrice, to these Jerusalem sinners. Is not this amazing grace? Christ will not be put off. These are the sinners that are sinners indeed. They are sinners of the biggest sort; consequently, such as Christ can, if they convert and be saved, best serve his ends and designs upon. Of which more anon.
But what a pitch of grace is this! Christ is minded to amaze the world, and to show that he acteth not like the children of men. This is that which he said of old, 'I will not execute the fierceness of my wrath, I will not return to destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not man' (Hosea 11:9). This is not the manner of men; men are shorter winded; men are soon moved to take vengeance, and to right themselves in a way of wrath and indignation. But God is full of grace, full of patience, ready to forgive, and one that delights in mercy. All this is seen in our text. The biggest sinners must first be offered mercy; they must, I say, have the cream of the gospel offered unto them.
But we will a little proceed. In the third chapter we find, that they who escaped converting by the first sermon, are called upon again to accept of grace and forgiveness, for their murder committed upon the Son of God. You have killed, yea, 'ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; and killed the Prince of life.' Mark, he falls again upon the very men that actually were, as you have it in the chapters following, his very betrayers and murderers (Acts 3:14,15), as being loath that they should escape the mercy of forgiveness: and exhorts them again to repent, that their sins might 'be blotted out' (verse 19,20).
Again, in the fourth chapter, he charges them afresh with this murder (verse 10), but withal tells them salvation is in no other. Then, like a heavenly decoy, he puts himself also among them, to draw them the better under the net of the gospel; saying, 'There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved' (verse 12).
In the fifth chapter, you find them railing at him, because he continued preaching among them salvation in the name of Jesus. But he tells them, that that very Jesus whom they had slain and hanged on a tree, him God had raised up, and exalted 'to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins' (verse 29-31). Still insinuating, that though they had killed him, and to this day rejected him, yet his business was to bestow upon them repentance and forgiveness of sins.
'Tis true, after they began to kill again, and when nothing but killing would serve their turn, then they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word. Yet even some of them so hankered after the conversion of the Jews, that they preached the gospel only to them. Also the apostles still made their abode at Jerusalem, in hopes that they might let down their net for another draught of these Jerusalem sinners. Neither did Paul and Barnabas, who were the ministers of God to the Gentiles, but offer the gospel, in the first place, to those of them that, for their wickedness, were scattered, like vagabonds, among the nations; yea, and when they rendered rebellion and blasphemy for their service and love, they replied it was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to them (Acts 1:8; 13:46,47).
Nor was this their preaching unsuccessful among these people: but the Lord Jesus so wrought with the word thus spoken, that thousands of them came flocking to him for mercy. Three thousand of them closed with him at the first; and, afterwards, two thousand more; for now they were in number about five thousand; whereas, before sermons were preached to these murderers, the number of the disciples was not above 'a hundred and twenty' (Acts 1:15; 2:41; 4:4).
Also among these people that thus flocked to him for mercy, there was a 'great company of the priests' (Acts 6:7). Now, the priests were they that were the greatest of these biggest sinners; they were the ringleaders, they were the inventors and ringleaders in the mischief. It was they that set the people against the Lord Jesus, and that were the cause why the uproar increased, until Pilate had given sentence upon him. 'The chief priests and elders,' says the text, 'persuaded (the people) the multitude, that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus' (Matt 27:20). And yet, behold the priests, yea, a great company of the priests, became obedient to the faith.
Oh, the greatness of the grace of Christ, that he should be thus in love with the souls of Jerusalem sinners! that he should be thus delighted with the salvation of the Jerusalem sinners! that he should not only will that his gospel should be offered them, but that it should be offered unto them first, and before other sinners were admitted to a hearing of it. 'Begin at Jerusalem.'
Was this doctrine well believed, where would there be a place for a doubt, or a fear of the damnation of the soul, if the sinner be penitent, how bad a life soever he has lived, how many soever in number are his sins? But this grace is hid from the eyes of men; the devil hides it from them; for he knows it is alluring, he knows it has an attracting virtue in it; for this is it that, above all arguments, can draw the soul to God. I cannot help it, but must let drop another word. The first church, the Jerusalem church, from whence the gospel was to be sent into all the world, was a church made up of Jerusalem sinners. These great sinners were here the most shining monuments of the exceeding grace of God.
Thus, you see, I have proved the doctrine; and that not only by showing you that this was the practice of the Lord Jesus Christ in his lifetime, but his last will when he went up to God; saying, Begin to preach at Jerusalem. Yea, it is yet further manifested, in that when his ministers first began to preach there, he joined his power to the word, to the converting of thousands of his betrayers and murderers, and also many of the ringleading priests, to the faith.
I shall now proceed, and shall show you, FIRST, The reasons of the point. SECOND, And then make some application of the whole.