IT CAME TODAY!
The UPS guy showed up about an hour ago and delivered my treasure into my fat, weakly-recovering-from-a-nasty-cold hands.
I nearly gnawed through the tape to open the oversized brown box. I love the taste of corrugated cardboard. A bit like over-ripe, poorly cooked squash. Which I also like.
There it was. Wrapped tightly in its bubble-wrap protector. I sliced the tape and gingerly pried back the cover.
CAREFUL! Its BRITTLE!
White. Nothing on the cover but a set of parallel black lines – about 1/2 inch apart providing a modest outlining decoration. Where they meet in each corner they form a tic-tac-toe kind of grid. Within the box the black lines form is another box. This time the lines are gold. Three wide, and more narrowly spaced, with an intricate design protruding frm each corner in a filigreed pattern.
Ahah! There it is on the spine. The first words. “The Church Book Of Bunyan Meeting 1650-1821” also in gold. The proper title is inside. It reads: “The Church Book of Bunyan Meeting, 1650-1821. Being a Reproduction in Facsimile of the Original Folio in the Possession of the Trustees of Bunyan Meeting at Bedford, Entitled A Booke Containing a Record of the Acts of a Congregation of Christ in and about Bedford, and a Brief Account of Their First Gathering.”
One of only 674 ever printed (mine happens to be #64 to be precise) – It is an oversized folio reproduction of the Church book from John Bunyan’s pastorate in Bedford in the 17th century. All of the entries handwritten. Carefully photocopied and reproduced in 1928. Quite a work indeed. It covers the years from 1650-1821. And is original from 1671 on.
O man! I am so excited I can barely type the words.
In their original hand, all the names of those who joined and were baptized, married and buried there. A diary of a living assembly of the saints through incredibly troublesome times, as well as blessed times.
There, on page 15, the trusty record keeper notes: “John Bunyan began to preach sometime in 1657.”
Notes in the margins. Those who had to be disciplined. Those whose lives were risked for the sake of the Gospel. The Church’s formation in 1650 under dear Mr. Gifford – her first under-shepherd. The footprints of those who walked before us, down blood stained paths that you and I might have this precious Gospel in our hands today.
Ordinary people. Townspeople and country folk. Simple but profound ancestors in the faith. Believers. Brave and failing. Faltering and persevering. Persecuted and prevailing. Lovers of Christ and His Church. Not a single name but Bunyan’s still known today. Probably none known beyond their short, difficult tenure in England’s religious upheavings.
Each one a testimony of God’s work with men throughout the years. Each one an encouragement to you and me. A signal to keep to the narrow path. That the times are always changing, but our God changes not. That Christ is true to His promises, and while we suffer little dis-ease to name His name in our day, once, good men like Bunyan could be jailed for a space of 12 years for preaching without a license in a “Christian” nation.
These are our faceless brothers and sisters who form a part of that great cloud of witnesses who surround us. They cheer us on. They tell us no matter what – it is worth it. They leave behind the gentle whisper of their faded vapor to scent the air with the blossoms of Heaven’s blessings.
I have to go buy a magnifying glass to read it all. But I must. Because Christ breathes in every mundane detail of His people’s lives. So we must remember those who went before us. We must honor their memory. We must be careful not to move their boundary markers. We must be clear that the Church must get a new sense of herself in every generation. That we are not alone. That there is nothing new under the sun. That God lived and moved and blessed before there were running water, electricity, indoor plumbing, a glut of Bibles and Christian literature, Christian concerts, retreats, youth groups, singles socials, microphones, video evangelism and even cars to get to Church. And He will be working when we fly to the office, wrestle with the monsters of bio-engineering, face the next “postmodernism”, witness the downfall of Western culture and find our way in the centuries to come, should Christ tarry.
He is the same yesterday, today and forever, no matter how different yesterday and today look from the tomorrow we might, or cannot even – imagine.
Read more here: Orionsgate