A small group study I lead just began reading John Piper’s book, The Hidden Smile of God: The Fruit of Affliction in the Lives of John Bunyan, William Cowper, and David Brainerd. It is the second volume in a series titled “The Swans are not Silent.” Piper notes how Bunyan was imprisoned for 12 years because of his refusal to renounce his doctrinal stance regarding the gospel of Jesus Christ. Bunyan was concerned for the lives of his wife, children (including a blind daughter), and fellow parishioners of his church. Piper states,
What, then, would he say to his people to prepare them for the probability of their suffering for Christ? Would he say, with the old-fashioned liberal, “I believe that pain and suffering are never the will of God for his children”? Would he say with the modern-day open theist, “Christians frequently speak about ‘the purpose of God’ in the midst of a tragedy caused by someone else…. But this I regard to simply be a piously confused way of thinking”? No, this would have been biblically and pastorally unthinkable for John Bunyan, whose blood was “bibline” (29).
Piper then cites Bunyan’s exposition of 1 Peter 4:19, where Peter exhorts his readers, “Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their soul to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator. Bunyan notes,
It is not what enemies will, nor what they are resolved upon, but what God will, and what God appoints, that shall be done….And as no enemy can bring suffering upon a man when the will of God is otherwise, so no man can save himself out of their hands when God will deliver him up for his glory….We shall or shall not suffer, even as it pleaseth him….God has appointed who shall suffer. Suffering comes not by chance or by the will of man, but by the will and appointment of God (30).
It is easy for someone who has never been imprisoned or tortured for their faith to dismiss Bunyan’s confession that suffering is appointed by God, but Bunyan suffered greatly. However it was not his suffering that convinced him of this truth, but the word of God. Sometimes when people inflict great hurt upon us, we can become angry and bitter. But as many saints from Joseph to Bunyan have found out, it is the sovereign God of the universe that governs our lives.