Early last summer I was able to visit my daughter who moved to Maui for work. I know—tough life. During my stay on this beautiful tropical island paradise, I was able to do more reading than usual. I spent some time under the huge Banyan tree [pictured here] that was planted in 1873 to mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Protestant Mission in Lahaina. The book I toted on this day trip was a work by John Bunyan, of Pilgrim’s Progress fame, titled The Greatness of the Soul. Bunyan’s collection of thoughts on Mark 8:37 focused on the soul and its inestimable worth.
Though his thoughts on the soul were enlightening, I was struck by his observations on Hell.
Amazed at the lack of consideration for the incomparable soul, Bunyan seeks to rouse his readers off our “beds of ease, security, and pleasure, and fetch you down upon your knees before him, to beg him of grace to be concerned about the salvation of your souls.” He argues for the great worth of the soul, greater than “house and land, trades and honours, places and preferments,” for what benefit are these to salvation of the soul? Greater attention to present ease and enjoyments derail that which should be more highly esteemed.
The soul is often called the heart of man. The heart understands, wills, affects, reasons, and judges. These are faculties of the soul. Called the spirit of man, the soul gives man his being and life to all things and actions in and done by him. The soul is the chief and most noble part of man. Other names for the soul include the life of man, the whole of man, the good man’s darling (Psalm 35:17), and a chief treasure,
The soul has powers, as in understanding, the conscience, judgment, imagination, the mind, memory, affections (which Bunyan describes as the hands and arms of the soul that take hold, receive, and embrace what is liked by the soul), and the will (which Bunyan calls the feet of the soul that by it the whole man is carried hither and thither or held back and kept from moving). Bunyan calls these the “Golden things of the soul,” which can be used in the service of sin and Satan unless “the great God, who is over all, and can save souls, shall himself take upon him to sanctify the soul, and to recover it, and persuade it to fall in love with another master.”
The soul also has spiritual senses. Just as humans come equipped with physical senses of sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste, so too, the soul. The soul can see God and the things of God. The soul can hear the language of things invisible. The soul can taste and relish that which is suited to the temper and palate of the soul, tasting and relishing the word of God, finding it sweeter than honey, nourishing as milk, and strengthening like to strong meat. The soul can smell the sweet scent of Christ and can feel the love and mercy or anger and wrath of God.
The greatness of the soul can be shown by first, it being housed in the body. The body is called the house of the soul, the clothing, a vessel, and a tabernacle for the soul. Secondly, the soul’s greatness is shown by its descriptors: God’s breath of life, made after God’s own image, that God desires communion with it, that God counts it worthy to be the vessels to hold his grace, and perhaps its greatness is most clearly manifested by the price paid for it by Christ in order to make it an heir of glory. It is also immortal and is curious about invisible things such as angels, and the highest and supreme Being, the holy God of heaven. God sought the soul to have it for his companion, and the soul is capable of communion with him. The soul is capable of enjoying God in glory and by God’s ordinance has a time appointed it to forsake and leave the body.
Bunyan establishes the soul as noble, powerful, lively, and sensible, and to neglect it through heedlessness, carelessness, or slavish fear, is no small loss that even if one had the world to give, it could not be restored. Therefore, the loss of the soul cannot be paralleled. He that loses his soul, loses himself. But this loss is a double loss: to man because it is of himself and to God because it is his creature. The lost soul in hell does not lose its aptness to think, its quickness to pierce, to pry, and to understand. “The depths of sin to which the man has loved, the good nature of God whom the man has hated, the blessings of eternity which the soul has despised, shall now be understood by him more than ever, but yet only as to increase grief and sorrow.” It is sin that sends souls to hell, where souls do not say it was God’s providence that sent them there. Into Hell—into utter darkness, into the fire prepared for the devil and his angels. Here, “They shall justify God, and lay fault upon themselves, concluding that it was sin with which their souls did voluntarily work, which their soul did suck in as sweet milk, that is the cause of this their torment.” That the soul would be unable to “be at quiet under the sense of his loss” is tormenting.
The soul that is lost is never to be found again, never to be recovered again, never to be redeemed again. Its banishment from God is everlasting. Everlasting, the first of Bunyan’s piercing sub-thoughts on hell. Second, that it will be impossible for the soul in hell to say, “Now we are got halfway through our sorrows.” That which has no end, has no middle. And third, every moment endured is eternal punishment. Sobering truths that impact the soul.
But Bunyan reminds us that God is the lover of the soul. And this is how he showed love: He provided the Bringer of the gospel, Jesus Christ. It is he who “wrestled with justice, that thou mightst have rest; he wept and mourned, that thou mightst laugh and rejoice; he was betrayed, that thou mightst go free; was apprehended, that thou mightst escape; he was condemned, that thou mightst be justified; and was killed, that thou mightst live; he wore a crown of thorns, that thou mightst wear a crown of glory; and was nailed to a cross, with his arms wide open, to show with what freeness all his merits shall be bestowed on the coming soul,…”
Bunyan’s work is rich with thought-provoking morsels on which to meditate. It was perhaps these that prompted a text and a prayer. It was a text to my husband Norm that someone needed to present the gospel to my father-in-love, who had been on dialysis for over a year and whose condition was complicated by pneumonia. And it was a spontaneous prayer with a few of my colleagues 30 minutes before Norm’s dad would hear the message of salvation. One Tuesday night last August, all heaven rejoiced that one more soul was saved for God and from the torments of hell. Three days later, my father-in-love stepped into eternity and into the presence of a loving God.
Desperate, humbled, needy souls resonate with the grace of the gospel.
Nani, nani Iehova! Ke akua mana loa!
(Glory, Glory, Lord! A very mighty God!)