Revd Alex Klages is at a Lutheran Church – Canada event rejoicing in one of the most incomprehensible hashtags I’ve ever seen on Twitter: #mnolcccentconf. He just posted the following message responding to a point made by one of the speakers:
The importance of squeezing a text to get all the juice out of it; interesting way of looking at exegetical task.
Yes, it is an interesting way of looking at the exegetical task. What’s interesting is how it compares with the language used by John Bunyan in his spiritual autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (phew! great title!), where he uses phrases such as the following to describe his encounters with the Scriptures:
- “This scripture did also seem to me to trample upon all my desires, ‘It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy’ (Rom. 9.16).” (para 58)
- …these words broke in upon my mind, ‘Compel them to come in, that my house may be filled’; ‘and yet there is room’ (Luke 14.22, 23).” (para 68)
- “…that Word came in upon me: ‘I will cleanse their blood that I have not cleansed: for the Lord dwelleth in Zion’ (Joel 3.21).” (para 76)
- “…for that scripture lay much upon me, ‘without shedding of blood is no remission’ (Heb. 9.22).” (para 86)
- “At which, that sentence fell in upon me, he ‘wist not that it was true which was done by the angel’.” (para 91)
- “Now about a week or fortnight after this, I was much followed by this scripture, ‘Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you’ (Luke 22.31).” (para 93)
- “I had, also, once a sweet glance from that in II Cor. 5.21: ‘For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.'” (para 113)
- “At another time, as I sat by the fire in my house, and musing on my wretchedness, the Lord made that also a precious word unto me…” (para 116)
- “And withal, that scripture did seize upon my soul…” (para 141)
- “Suddenly this sentence bolted in upon me, The blood of Christ remits all guilt. At this I made a stand in my spirit; with that, this word took hold upon me, ‘The blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanseth us from all sin’ (1 John 1.7).” (para 143)
You get the idea. For Bunyan, the Bible is not a passive object waiting for us to “squeeze the juice out of it”. It is truly a living Word, which acts upon us as and how the Holy Spirit pleases (see para 47).
What I found especially challenging glancing through Grace Abounding looking up these references is the variety of ways in which Bunyan experiences the Word of God working upon him. Sometimes it acts almost violently, as it “breaks in on his mind”, “bolts in upon him”, “tramples on his desires”, and so on. Sometimes it has a steadier, more lingering influence: “that scripture lay much upon me”, “I was much followed by this scripture”.
At other times it almost teases him with the prospect of happiness and assurance (“a sweet glance”). And at yet other times the Word of God comes to him as a comfort: “the Lord made that also a precious word unto me…” There is a richness of experience here which is far beyond anything in my own spiritual life.
Now, the spiritual torment that Bunyan describes in Grace Abounding is not something to hold up as the model for “the ideal Christian life” (see also this post from 2006). But reading Bunyan makes me realise how easy it is for us to lose sight of the Word of God as living and active, as something which acts upon us rather than waiting passively for us to interpret it.