Our Only Hope

November 3, 2015

How serious is sin? How serious is your sin?

How would you answer that question? Would you describe the impact of your sin on those you love – your family, your friends, your neighbors? Or would you focus on the impact of sin on yourself – destroying what you love most, changing you into something you hate?

Sin does hurt others. Sin does destroy us.

But so often we fail to consider the greatest impact of our sin: The affront against a holy and loving God.

John Bunyan’s The Holy War highlights this truth in startling terms. In this allegory, the town of Mansoul rebels against its King Shaddai and makes Diabolus its ruler. King Shaddai sends his armies, led by Captain Conviction and Captain Judgment, to battle against the town. They eventually call for more assistance, so the King sends His Son, Emmanuel. Emmanuel offers them mercy, but, spurred on by Diabolus, Mansoul continues to resist. So Emmanuel’s forces break down the gates, conquer the town, throw out Diabolus, and execute a number of his commanders.

At this point, frightened of impending judgment and seeing the foolishness of their past actions, the town sends a petition to Emmanuel asking for mercy. What does Emmanuel do?

Bunyan’s picture of Emmanuel’s response is almost shocking to our contemporary ears. He initially does nothing, sending the messengers back. They send petition after petition. Finally, Emmanuel speaks to the messenger:

The town of Mansoul hath grievously rebelled against my Father, in that they have rejected him from being their King, and did choose to themselves for their captain a liar, a murderer, and a runagate slave. For this Diabolus, your pretended prince, though once so highly accounted of by you, made rebellion against my Father and me, even in our palace and highest court there, thinking to become a prince and king. But being there timely discovered and apprehended, and for his wickedness bound in chains, and separated to the pit with those that were his companions, he offered himself to you, and you have received him.

Now this is, and for a long time hath been, a high affront to my Father; wherefore my Father sent to you a powerful army to reduce you to your obedience. But you know how these men, their captains and their counsels, were esteemed of you, and what they received at your hand. You rebelled against them, you shut your gates upon them, you bid them battle, you fought them, and fought for Diabolus against them. So they sent to my Father for more power, and I, with my men, are come to subdue you. But as you treated the servants, so you treated their Lord. You stood up in hostile manner against me, you shut up your gates against me, you turned the deaf ear to me, and resisted as long as you could; but now I have made a conquest of you. Did you cry me mercy so long as you had hopes that you might prevail against me? But now that I have taken the town, you cry; but why did you not cry before, when the white flag of my mercy, the red flag of justice, and the black flag that threatened execution, were set up to cite you to it? Now I have conquered your Diabolus, you come to me for favour; but why did you not help me against the mighty?

Many of us today picture God as sitting in the heavens, desperately hoping that we might turn to Him. When we make the least step towards regret for past sins, we then think God is overwhelmed with joy.

But God desires much more than regret for past actions. Remember Esau: As Hebrews 12:15-17 tells us, he regretted selling his birthright – he even wept over that – but God rejected him.

Bunyan rightly pictures Emmanuel opening the eyes of the petitioners to the depth of their sinfulness. The fundamental problem was not that Diabolus was a tyrant, though he was; the fundamental problem was not that the town failed to flourish under him, though it did. The fundamental problem was that the town spurned its rightful king and submitted to His enemy.

What can the petitioners say in response? Why did they not cry before? The only answer: They are desperate sinners, and have absolutely no basis on which to approach Emmanuel except his mercy.

Does Emmanuel offer any hope? He concludes His speech with these words:

Yet I will consider your petition, and will answer it so as will be for my glory.

That is the town’s only hope: That Emmanuel might be glorified through His mercy.

Just so with us. God saves us “to the praise of His glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:6).

My friends, regret does not save. Acknowledging the negative consequences of sin does not save. Wanting to live a better life, to be a better person, does not save.

We are rebels. We deserve execution. Our petition to the King we have so grievously offended can be based on nothing else except the mercy that He offers us by the blood of His Son, to the praise of His glorious grace. May He be pleased to grant such true repentance to you. And may He open our eyes to the extent of His majesty and holiness, so that we might comprehend the enormity of His grace.

(A free Kindle version of The Holy War is available at this link.)

 

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