The Common Delusions of John Bunyan, David Brainerd and John Wesley

It’s possible that you came to read this out of curiosity about what delusions that I would be writing about here that was common to John Bunyan, David Brainerd and John Wesley. It’s not about their faith in Jesus Christ alone as a Savior that they came to in their lives, or their conviction that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, or in the eternal destinies of heaven and hell. Those were all convictions that they came to as a part of their conversions to Christ, and I would not only not consider those delusions but I would concur with these declarations of their faith as I would concur with everything that is a part of our common faith in Christ as based in the Bible.

Rather, the delusions that I speak of are the common delusions that the unconverted John Bunyan, David Brainerd and John Wesley had, and about which they wrote about in their own journals and testimonies. And I think that understanding these delusions that they openly admitted were a part of their lives before they came to Christ will give us a greater insight in how to preach the gospel from the pulpit and how to deal with people when we’re sharing the gospel one on one. The common delusion that they all had was this: that they could do something in their unregenerate state to recommend themselves to God apart from trust in Jesus Christ alone. They became hard religious workers, but had no assurance of salvation in Christ and were not even sure that they had saving faith. In fact, you can find within their testimonies evidence that their hard religious work before their conversion was an attempt to try to find salvation apart from putting their trust in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation – and that they were deeply convicted by the example of ordinary believers who had the assurance of salvation, knew that they had been born again of the Spirit of God and who were living out their faith in Christ.

All three testify to the following process to their coming to a scriptural faith in Christ, a scriptural conversion and a full assurance of regeneration and salvation:

  • Insensitivity to their true state of being unregenerate (see Isaiah 6:10 and Romans 3:10-18).
  • Awakening to the reality of Christ (John 15:26-27, Acts 1:8, 5:32).
  • Conviction of sin and of their utter inadequacy of earning salvation (John 16:8-11).
  • Full trust in Christ alone for salvation (Acts 16:31).

I think that our current lack of understanding of these stages may mean that we are persuading people that they are saved before they have really been awakened to Christ and convicted of sin. None of these stages have to happen over a protracted period of time – a person can pass from death to life through faith in Christ in a very short time from a state of insensitivity, such as Lydia through the personal evangelism of Paul and Silas (Acts 16:13-5) or the 300o who were converted on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:36-41). But I do think that this helps to explain why people may pray a prayer with perfectly orthodox words about repentance and faith and remain substantially unchanged afterwards. They never came to a full sense of their need for Christ alone because we never explained the gospel clearly and fully and we never realized the need for so many to go through these stages to receive salvation through faith in Christ alone. We rushed them to pray a prayer instead of explaining their full need for Christ and how in the gospel Christ satisfies their need fully and eternally.

The Joy of a Forgiving Heart

David Brainerd had a victory of forgiveness in his own life that preceded his life of prayer and his powerful ministry among the Indians. He had been expelled from Harvard for a fairly mild criticism of a professor that was needlessly repeated by others. One of the tremendous victories of his prayer life was the conquest of his own disappointment and bitterness at the experience. Here are his own words at the consequence: “O it is an emblem of heaven itself to love all the world with a love of kindness, forgiveness and benevolence; to fee our souls sedate, mild and meek; to be void of all evil surmisings and suspicions, and scarce able to think evil of any man upon any occasion; to find our hearts open, simple and fee, to those that look upon us with a different eye!”

The path of forgiveness is a path to the joy of Christ.

Forgotten Christian Classics: The Life and Diary of David Brainerd and Praying Hyde

Here are two books that were quite influential for quite a while. They speak, from the lives of two missionaries, of the extraordinary spiritual fruitfulness that God gives in response to prayer (John 15:7). Yet I would say that the names of Praying Hyde and David Brainerd are practically unknown to most modern evangelical congregations.

Here are the links to the Google books releases of these books. The book Praying Hyde is also available as a .PDF, which can easily be downloaded and read.

Praying Hyde by Francis McGaw

The Life and Diary of David Brainerd by Jonathan Edwards

CBN also had a short feature on Praying Hyde: Profiles In Prayer: Praying John Hyde By Richard Klein. Wikipedia also has short articles on both: John Nelson Hyde and David Brainerd. These would be more for background information in preparation for reading the longer works.