Dispatches: England

england Beads of rain race along my window as our express train speeds through the mist back to London.  My mind and pen are racing too—so much I have seen and heard in London and Bunyan’s Bedford.

Arrived yesterday from Kiev and was met at Heathrow by Roger. We have corresponded over the years but had never met.  Roger was one of the early ones to minister behind the Iron Curtain when the Cold War was in deep freeze—smuggling Bibles, typewriters, and training materials; teaching; encouraging; and helping.  He is an old warrior who is still very much in the arena.  Roger is a kindred spirit—only one with the manner and accent of an English gentleman!  He came to Christ as a college student over 50 years ago under the powerful preaching of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  It was Roger’s first visit to Westminster Chapel, and the text was Luke 9:56, “The Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.”  Last night Roger recounted for me the convicting, convincing power of the Word.  And though over half a century has passed since that day, his eyes glistened with tears of joy to tell it—as one who had touched the hem of His garment.

We took a train this morning to Bedford to walk where John Bunyan walked—for him a path of suffering that included 12 years in prison for Christ’s sake.  Yet from that lonely cell came one of the greatest books—The Pilgrim’s Progress.  In Bedford little remains from Bunyan’s life and long imprisonment.  The church meeting place in his day was a barn where Dissenters worshiped.  It has long since been replaced by a beautifully-appointed chapel with a museum next door.  In the garden between them, the remains of those who heard him preach rest beneath moss and marble.  The home Bunyan shared with his wife and children—which stood for over three centuries—could not stand up to a bulldozer when “progress” came rolling through a few years ago.

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A minute’s walk from Bunyan’s church, the site of his jail is marked by a sidewalk tablet.  The pavement is pocked with gum and crowded with shoppers hurrying past.  I expect most of them are ignorant of the one who from that very spot wrote, “The parting with my Wife and poor Children hath often been to me in this place as the pulling of the Flesh from my Bones.” At any moment Bunyan could have walked out a free man—all he had to do was promise not to preach.  But this he could not do.  So the years passed, and Pilgrim kept walking—up the Hill of Difficulty, past the lions, the wounds of Apollyon, and the familiar chains of Giant Despair—and finally through dark water to the Celestial City.  It was a path that Bunyan knew well—a way already worn by nail-scarred feet.  As it says in Hebrews, “because He suffered” He was crowned with glory and honor and so there in Bedford Jail he took comfort in His company.