Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Bunyan on the Lord's Day in "The Life and Death of Mr. Badman"
I’ve been reading John Bunyan’s The Life and Death of Mr. Badman of late. This is one of Bunyan’s lesser known spiritual allegories. The story is set as a dialogue between Mr. Wiseman and Mr. Attentive, reflecting on the death of their unconverted neighbor, Mr. Badman.
In this dialogue Mr. Wiseman and Mr. Attentive review the life of Mr. Badman and his various sinful shortcomings. These include his unwillingness to honor the fourth commandment. Even as a child, says Mr. Wiseman, “he could not endure the Lord’s Day because of the Holiness that did attend it….”
Later, the two men discuss the importance of the Lord’s Day in the Christian’s life:
Mr. Attentive: Doth not God by the instituting of a day unto holy Duties, make great proof how the hearts and inclinations of poor people do stand to Holiness of heart, and a Conversation in holy duties?
Mr. Wiseman: Yes, doubtless; and a man shall shew his Heart and his Life what they are, more by one Lord’s-day, than by all the days of the week besides: And the reason is, because on the Lord’s-day there is a special restraint laid upon men as to Thought and Life, more than upon other days of the week besides. Also, men are enjoined on that day to a stricter performance of holy Duties, and restraint of worldly business, than upon other days they are; wherefore, if their hearts incline not naturally to good, now they will shew it, now they will appear what they are. The Lord’s day is a kind of an Emblem of the heavenly Sabbath above, and it makes manifest how the heart stands to the perpetuity of Holiness, more than to be found in transient Duty, does.
On other days a man may be in and out of holy Duties, and all in a quarter of an hour; but now, the Lord’s Day is, as it were, a day that enjoins to one perpetual Duty of Holiness: Remember that thou keep the holy Sabbath day (which by Christ is not abrogated, but changed, into the First of the week,) not as it was given in particular to the Jews, but as it was sanctified by him from the Beginning of the world; and therefore is a greater proof of the frame and temper of a man’s heart, and does more make manifest to what he is inclined, than doth his other performances of Duties: Therefore God puts great difference between them that truly call (and walk in) this day as holy, and count it Honourable, upon the account that now they have an opportunity to shew how they delight to honour him; in that they have, not only an Hour, but a whole Day to shew it in: I say, he puts great differences between these, and that other sort that say, When will the Sabbath be gone, that we may be at our worldly business. The first he called a Blessed man, that brandeth the other for an unsanctified worldling. And, indeed, a delight to ourselves in God’s service upon his Holy days, gives a better proof of a sanctified Nature, than to grudge at the coming, and to be weary of the holy duties of such days, as Mr. Badman did.
Bunyan’s obvious high view of the continuing relevance of the fourth commandment in the moral law, evident in the diaologue, is striking, especially given the fact that “New Covenant” theologians sometimes appeal to Bunyan as an advocate for their views.