The Holy War (book review)

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Many of the principles taught in the Bible are conveyed to us through graphic stories. Think about some of the imagery the prophets of the Old Testament used or even the parables Jesus used in the New Testament. In fact, even the Hebrew language of the Old Testament and the Greek language of the New Testament are very picturesque languages. John Bunyan takes full advantage of this in his book The Holy War. 

If you have ever read a John Bunyan book or sermon, it is quite obvious that the Bible is his Source Book. In fact, Charles Spurgeon said of him, “Why, this man is a living Bible! Prick him anywhere—his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his very soul is full of the Word of God.” Much like The Pilgrim’s Progress, The Holy War is steeped in biblical imagery that makes the story so engaging. 

The title and subtitle of the book alone tell you the essence of the story: The holy war made by Shaddai upon Diabolus for the regaining of the metropolis of the world, or the losing and taking again of the town of Mansoul. With the assault taking place on Ear-gate and Eye-gate of Mansoul by such combatants as Lord Incredulity or Mr. Forget-Good, and the servants of King Shaddai such as Captain Conviction, Mr. Justice, and Mr. True-Man drawing up battle lines against the town, you can quickly see how picturesque the language truly is. 

Much in the vein of C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, Bunyan also lets us hear the correspondence and war counsels of Lucifer and his minions, as well as the conversation between King Shaddai and His Son Emmanuel. 

As with anything I’ve ever read from John Bunyan, The Holy War is entertaining and insightful. If you have read and enjoyed The Pilgrim’s Progress, I think you will thoroughly enjoy this book as well. 

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The Gift Promised

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Have you ever seen kids tearing into a Christmas present and then being disappointed that what they got wasn’t what they wanted? They may say something like, “This isn’t what I put on my wish list!” 

From the response of the religious leaders in the Gospels, it appears that the gift of Jesus on that original “Christmas morning” was very similar. It’s almost like they were saying, “This isn’t the type of Messiah we wanted!” They wanted someone to give them freedom from the Romans, but their Heavenly Father wanted them to have something far bigger and greater: Eternal freedom from the penalty of sin. 

The first humans had the joy of being innocent in God’s presence, where they had everything they needed. But satan got Adam and Eve to focus on something they wanted, and that sin of disobedience brought an immediate separation. They now feared the nearness of God. 

There were immediate and painful consequences for their sin, but God wanted the heaviest of penalties to fall on Himself. To foreshadow this, God sacrificed an innocent animal to cover their nakedness, showing us what the gift of Jesus would do for us (Genesis 3:1-21). 

In The Holy War, John Bunyan tells the story of the town of Mansoul enslaved to Diabolus. The crafty serpent plays on their fears by reminding them how terrible it would be if they allowed Holy God to come near them while they were in their sinful state: 

“‘Gentlemen,’ quoth he, ‘and my faithful subjects, if it is true that this summoner hath said concerning the greatness of their King, by His terror you will always be kept in bondage, and so be made to sneak. Yea, how can you now, though He is at a distance, endure to think of such a Mighty One? And if not to think of Him while at a distance, how can you endure to be in His presence?’” 

Diabolus even tried to make their slavery to sin look like freedom: “I, your prince, am familiar with you, and you may play with me as you would with a grasshopper. Consider, therefore, what is for your profit, and remember the immunities that I have granted you.’”  

As John Piper reminds us, “Christmas is for freedom.” Indeed, that’s just what we see on the first “Christmas morning” in words like salvation, no fear, and great joy (Matthew 1:21; Luke 2:10-11). 

Turning again to The Holy War, here’s what the Father said to His Son: “Wherefore the King called to Him Emmanuel, His Son, who said, ‘Here am I, My Father.’ Then said the King, ‘Thou knowest, as I do Myself, the condition of the town of Mansoul, and what We have purposed, and what Thou hast done to redeem it. Come now, therefore, My Son, and prepare Thyself.’”  

Immanuel (or the Romanized spelling Emmanuel) is the One who removes the separation caused by our sin, and rejoins us to God. That prefix “im” means with, and the suffix “El” means God. The root word means God’s kinsmen. Immanuel comes to repair what was severed by taking sin’s penalty on Himself, and allowing us to once again enjoy the closeness of kinship with our Heavenly Father (Matthew 1:22-23; Galatians 4:4-7). 

When the people saw this Gift on Christmas morning, they said, “This isn’t what we wanted! We wanted a rich, powerful, conquering King. One who would send the Romans running in fear!” As a result, very few unwrapped this Heavenly Gift. But God reminded them, “That may be what you wanted, but I have given what you need. I want you to have not just temporary freedom from the Romans, but eternal freedom from your sin so that you can be forever in My presence!” 

This is what Jesus rejoiced to do for us with the Gift of His life, death, and resurrection. One more passage from The Holy War tells us, “Then said the King’s Son, ‘Thy law is within My heart: I delight to do Thy will. This is the day that I have longed for, and the work that I have waited for all this while. … I will go and will deliver from Diabolus, and from his power, Thy perishing town of Mansoul. My heart has been often pained within Me for the miserable town of Mansoul; but now it is rejoiced, but now it is glad.’” (The timing for the Incarnation of Jesus and even these words of Immanuel Himself are found in Hebrews 2:14-15; 10:5-7). 

God’s love is too great to be limited to just meeting our wants because in our immaturity and sinfulness we don’t know what we really need—but He does. So His love sent Immanuel to us. 

The Gift was given to us at Christmas, but in our immaturity and shortsightedness, we didn’t realize the full impact of this Gift until Jesus rose victoriously from the grave! Now by placing our faith in His completed work, we can be rejoined to God and live in unshakable hope of an eternity with Him! 

If you would like to follow along with all of the messages in this series called Christmas Unwrapped At Easter, please check out the links I’ve shared here.

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11 Quotes From “Out Of The Depths”

John Newton’s autobiography Out Of The Depths contains a very interesting closing chapter. They are not the words written by John Newton, but the words spoken by him to his friends and parishioners. Here are a few that especially caught my attention. You can check out my full book review of Out Of The Depths by clicking here.  

“If two angels were sent from heaven to execute a divine command, one to conduct an empire and the other to sweep a street in it, they would feel no inclination to change employments.”

“A Christian should never plead spirituality for being a sloven. If he be but a shoe cleaner, he should be the best in the parish.” 

The remaining nine quotes are exclusive content for my Patreon supporters. In addition to book quotes, there are videos and behind-the-scenes views that only these supporters have access to. I would love it if you would prayerfully consider supporting my ministry for just $5 per month.

Book Reviews From 2021

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I love reading, and I love sharing my love of good books with others! Here is a list of the books I read and reviewed in 2021. Click on a title to be taken to that review.

24

AC/DC

Churchill’s Ministry Of Ungentlemanly Warfare

Faithlife Illustrated Study Bible

George Whitefield

Hal Moore On Leadership

His Last Bow

Holy Sexuality And The Gospel

How Christianity Changed The World

How I Got This Way

How To Bring Men To Christ

Jesus On Trial

John Adams

Miracles Out Of Somewhere

My Lucky Life

Out Of The Silent Planet

Perelandra

Pilgrim’s Progress

Prayer

Prophet With A Pen

QB

Reading The Bible With The Founding Fathers

Secrets Of Dynamic Communication

Seeing Beauty And Saying Beautifully

Shepherd Leadership

Star Struck

Talking To GOATs

That Hideous Strength

The Art Of Writing And The Gift Of Writers

The Hidden Smile Of God

The Hiding Place

Thompson Chain-Reference Bible

To The Work!

Voice Of A Prophet

Washington’s Immortals

Word-For-Word Bible Comic: Jonah

Here are my book reviews for 2011.

Here are my book reviews for 2012.

Here are my book reviews for 2013.

Here are my book reviews for 2014.

Here are my book reviews for 2015.

Here are my book reviews for 2016.

Here are my book reviews for 2017.

Here are my book reviews for 2018.

       Here are my book reviews for 2019.

Here are my book reviews for 2020.

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The Hidden Smile Of God (book review)

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It’s one thing for someone to dispense sound advice, but it’s an entirely different thing for that advice to come from hard-won life experiences. The Hidden Smile Of God is the second book in John Piper’s excellent series of biographies called “The Swans are Not Silent.” 

Each book in this series features biographies and life lessons of three notable saints. Pastor John weaves these character studies together around a common theme. In this book, the lives of John Bunyan, William Cowper, and David Brainerd are examined to see the fruitful ministry that can emerge from a life plagued by affliction. 

John Bunyan, well-known author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, spent over a decade in prison, as well as the balance of his life under severely pressing circumstances. David Brainerd was a missionary to several American Indian tribes, while struggling with failing health and crushing loneliness. And William Cowper was suicidally depressed through nearly all of his life, and yet wrote some of the most intimate and moving poems. 

In fact, it is a line in one of Cowper’s poems from which the title of this John Piper book emerges—

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, 
But trust Him for His grace; 
Behind a frowning providence 
He hides a smiling face.

Pastor John does more than merely share memorable biographies of these three men, but he extracts insights about suffering and affliction that will enable others to have a new biblical paradigm about their own suffering. Such amazing lessons for any of us struggling through dark times.

Even if you don’t personally struggle with affliction or anxiety or depression, chances are very good that someone around you does. Perhaps you could read this book and share some of these helpful insights with your friends or family members who are struggling. 

If you would like to check out my review of another book in this series—Seeing Beauty and Saying Beautifullyplease click here. 

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10 Quotes From “Reading The Bible With The Founding Fathers”

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

For any students of American history or of the role the Bible has played in affecting world affairs, Reading The Bible With The Founding Fathers is an eye-opening book. You can check out my full book review by clicking here. Unless otherwise noted, quotes are from author Daniel Dreisbach. 

“Following an extensive survey of American political literature from 1760 to 1805, political scientist Donald S. Lutz reported that the Bible was referenced more frequently than any European writer or even any European school of thought, such as the Enlightenment or Whig intellectual traditions. Indeed, the Bible accounted for about one-third of all citations in his sample. According to Lutz, ‘Deuteronomy is the most frequently cited book, followed by Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws.’ … Saint Paul is cited about as frequently as Montesquieu and [William] Blackstone, the two most-cited secular authors, and Deuteronomy is cited almost twice as often as all of [John] Locke’s writings put together.”

“The founders often quoted the Bible without the use of quotation marks or citations, which were not necessary for a biblically literate society but the absence of which fail to alert a biblically illiterate modern audience to the Bible’s invocation.” 

“Increasing unfamiliarity with the Bible makes it harder and harder for Americans to understand their origins and their mores, or to put words to their experiences. … Lacking knowledge of the Bible, Americans are likely to be literally inarticulate, unable to relate themselves to American life and culture as a whole.” —Wilson Carey McWilliams

“Knowledge of the Bible and its place in the American experience, in short, helps Americans better understand themselves and their history.” 

“In regard to this Great Book [the Bible], I have but to say, it is the best gift God has given to man. All the good the Saviour gave to the world was communicated through this book. But for it we could not know right from wrong. All things most desirable for man’s welfare, here and hereafter, are to be found portrayed in it.” —Abraham Lincoln 

“[T]he Bible has had a literary influence not because it has been considered as literature, but because it has been considered as the report of the Word of God.” —T.S. Eliot 

“[William] Tyndale, who was the first to translate the Bible into English from the original Hebrew and Greek, can be rightly called the father of the King James Bible. Approximately ‘eighty percent of his Old Testament and ninety percent of his New Testament’ were adopted by the King James translators. …  

“There is much truth in the remark that ‘without Tyndale, no Shakespeare.’ It is also true that ‘without Tyndale, no King James Bible.’ ‘Without the King James Bible,’ Alister McGrath observed, ‘there would have been no Paradise Lost, no Pilgrim’s Progress, no Handel’s Messiah, no Negro spirituals, and no Gettysburg Address. … Without this Bible, the culture of the English-speaking world would have been immeasurably impoverished.’” 

“The size of the vocabulary found in the King James Bible is not extensive. [William] Shakespeare, it is estimated, used between fifteen and twenty thousand different words. Milton’s verse draws on a lexicon of about thirteen thousand words. The Old Testament, in the Hebrew and Aramaic, has approximately fifty-six hundred words. The New Testament, in the Greek, has around forty-eight hundred words. In the entire King James Bible, by contrast, there are only about six thousand different words, according to one accounting.” 

“The opinion that human reason, left without the constant control of divine laws and commands, will preserve a just administration, secure freedom and other rights, restrain men from violations of laws and constitutions, and give duration to a popular government, is as chimerical as the most extravagant ideas that enter the head of a maniac. … Where will you find any code of laws, among civilized men, in which the commands and prohibitions are not founded on Christian principles? I need not specify the prohibition of murder, robbery, theft, [and] trespass. … Every wise code of laws must embrace the main principles of the religion of Christ.” —John Adams 

“Moral principles and precepts contained in the Scriptures ought to form the basis of all our civil constitutions and laws. These principles and precepts have truth, immutable truth, for their foundation; and they are adapted to the wants of men in every condition of life. They are the best principles and precepts, because they are exactly adapted to secure the practice of universal justice and kindness among men; and of course to prevent crimes, war and disorders in society. No human laws dictated by different principles from those in the gospel, can ever secure these objects. All the miseries and evils which men suffer from vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery and war, proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible. … For instruction then in social, religious and civil duties resort to the scriptures for the best precepts and most excellent examples of imitation.” —Noah Webster

Prayer (book review)

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John Bunyan was in prison for refusing to bow to the dictates of the ecclesiastical rulers of England, but prison could not silence his pen. Before writing The Pilgrim’s Progress, which Bunyan said came to him in a dream, he wrote two manuscripts on prayer which can only have come from a visit to a much more substantial heavenly realm. 

Prayer is actually two books written in the mid-seventeenth century. The first book is A Discourse Touching Prayer in which Bunyan dives deep on the apostle Paul’s desire, “I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding” (1 Corinthians 14:15). The second book is The Saints’ Privilege And Profit, which is a deep dive into the idea of “the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:15). 

When I say “deep dive” I mean that John Bunyan gives us a masters’ level course on prayer! This is not reading for a new Christian nor for someone who merely utters a superficial prayer here and there. These books are for the mature Christian who is dissatisfied with their current level of prayer and longs for a deeper level of intimacy in communion with our Heavenly Father. 

Let me reiterate that Bunyan wrote these books from jail. Not exactly the idyllic setting for contemplation, nor an environment for pious platitudes that are reserved for the serene time of prayer in a place of comfort. Just imagine: Bunyan uses just one verse from the Bible for each of these works, and then keeps drilling down and down into the immeasurable riches that are found in our relationship with God. 

If you’re ready to take your prayer to an entirely new and more intimate place, spend some time with your Bible and these two short books from John Bunyan. 

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Poetry Saturday—Selections From “The Pilgrim’s Progress”

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The hill, though high, I covet to ascend,
The difficulty will not me offend;
For I perceive the way to life lies here.
Come, pluck up heart, let’s neither faint nor fear;
Better, though difficult, the right way to go,
Than wrong, though easy, where the end is woe. —John Bunyan’s Christian, in The Pilgrim’s Progress

He that is down needs fear no fall;
   He that is low, no pride:
He that is humble ever shall
   Have God to be his Guide.
I am content with what I have,
   Little be it or much:
And, Lord, contentment still I crave,
   Because Thou savest such.
Fullness to such a burden is
   That go on pilgrimage:
Here little, and hereafter bliss,
   Is best from age to age. —John Bunyan’s Mr. Great-heart, in The Pilgrim’s Progress

The Pilgrim’s Progress (book review)

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.

Charles Spurgeon said of John Bunyan, “Prick him anywhere—his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his very soul is full of the Word of God.” Although this can be said of all Bunyan’s books and sermons, it is abundantly clear in The Pilgrim’s Progress. 

In my mind it’s easy to classify this book as “a classic” because of its enduring message. The journey through life for pilgrims like Christian, Hopeful, Faithful, Christiana, and you and me resonate with readers all over the world. In over the nearly 350 years since this book was first published, the pilgrimage has connected with Christians and seekers alike because it is the pilgrimage we are all on. 

In The Pilgrim’s Progress it’s not hard to identify the biblical messages because Bunyan literally names them for what they are, using names like Talkative, Mr. Worldly Wiseman, the Giant Despair, Mr. Great-heart, the Interpreter, and many more. Some biblical stories are portrayed in this book just as they are in the Bible, while others are fairly easily seen for all modern-day pilgrims to learn their lessons. 

As I’ve said before about this book, it’s an excellent one for parents to read aloud to their children. Then as their kiddos get a bit older, there is an easy-to-read version called Little Pilgrim’s Progress for them to read on their own. But I still highly recommend the original version of Bunyan’s classic in its 17th-century English. To me, the Old English in a story like this makes it feel like an epic adventure story, which, in fact, it is because it is every Christian’s story still to this day. 

I can’t urge you enough to make The Pilgrim’s Progress a friend that you visit often.

Book Reviews From 2016

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