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John Bunyan and the Five Step Shuffle

June 30, 2009

For Bunyan on the extent of the atonement, go here.

In this post I want to show how and why it is that Mr Chew’s arguments and conclusions regarding John Bunyan in his debate with Tony Byrne are irrelevant. For this post I want to cover Mr Chew’s initial discussion of Bunyan and then his concluding remarks at the end of the paper.  This post is a bit longer than yesterday’s. I have tried to keep it down to the essentials. And again, my desire has been to represent Mr Chew’s statements as fairly as I can.

Further, to understand what Bunyan meant by the phrase “God is willing to save” or what Tony meant by “common salvific grace,” I defer to Tony’s analysis here. It is not my aim here to cover all that, but to merely show how Mr Chew’s reading Bunyan in the PDF is distorted and incorrect.

Because of some complexity in this, the reader is encouraged to read the relevant sections from Mr Chew’s PDF first.  And conce again, to locate the following quotations here, the reader will have to “control-f” critical words to find the original in Mr Chew’s PDF.

At first glace Mr Chew makes something which is really quite simple, that a child could follow, into something complex and obscure.

Mr Chew’s argument entails about 5 basic steps.

The first step:

The first step by Mr Chew is his point that Bunyan acknowledged a two-fold aspect of “reprobation.” In a sence, all men in unbelief are reprobate or to be considered such. In another sense, those passed over in the eternal decree are absolute reprobate.

First, Generally, As it concerns persons temporarily and visibly reprobate, thus: To be reprobate is to be disapproved, void of judgment, and rejected, &c. To be disapproved, that is, when the word condemns them, either as touching the faith or the holiness of the gospel ; the which they must needs be, that are void of spiritual and heavenly judgment in the mysteries of the kingdom ; a manifest token [that] they are rejected. And hence it is that they are said to be reprobate or void of judgment concerning the faith; reprobate or void of judgment touching every good work; having a reprobate mind, to do those things that are not convenient, either as to faith or manners. And hence it is again, that they are also said to be rejected of God, cast away, and the like. 2 Co. xiii. 8, 7; 2 Ti. iii. 8; Tit. i. 16; Ro. i. 28; Je. vi. 80; 1 Co. ix. 27.

I call this temporary visible reprobation, because these appear, and are detected by the word as such that are found under the above-named errors, and so adjudged without the grace of God. Yet it is possible for some of these, however for the present disapproved, through the blessed acts and dispensations of grace, not only to become visible saints, but also saved for ever. Who doubts but that he who now by examining himself, concerning faith, doth find himself, though under profession, graceless, may after that, he seeing his woeful state, not only cry to God for mercy, but find grace, and obtain mercy to help in time of need? though it is true, that for the most part the contrary is fulfilled on them.

Second, But to pass this, and more particularly to touch the eternal invisible reprobation, which I shall thus hold forth: It is to passed by in, or left out of, God’s election; yet so, as considered upright. In which position you have these four things considerable: 1. The act of God’s election. 2. The negative of that act. 3. The persons reached by that negative. And, 4. Their qualification when thus reached by it.

[Underlining and bold mine; original emphasis removed; some spelling modernized.]

What is important here is that Mr Chew argues that the free offer and willingness on God’s part for the salvation of all men is not extended to the reprobate by eternal decree, but simply to men as men, or sinners qua sinners. And for sure there is some truth in this. However, Mr Chew begins to close out this section with the following statement:

This should conclusively prove to all that Bunyan is thinking of Christ desiring the salvation of sinners qua sinners, to the extent of reprobates qua sinners even, and not the Neo-Amyraldian teaching that Christ desires the salvation of reprobates per se.

[Underlining mine.]

And clearly to that we can all agree, to the extent that we would not say that Bunyan thinks we are to preach and call and offer Christ to those whom we know as reprobates, or to refrain from doing such to those whom we know as reprobate. The question is, we are to offer Christ, as God is willing to save all, to sinners, qua sinners, without exception, without distinction. And this is true, because God is not willing that any man perish.  Of course, however, from God’s side, he knows who are the reprobate by eternal decree, and still says Bunyan, Christ’s desires their salvation, insofar as they are his creatures (see below). Mr Chew’s quip, therefore, really is off point.

The second step:

In the next section of interest, Mr Chew, after scolding Tony Byrne for not applying Mr Chew’s strictures regarding Tony’s use of Preston, returns to the Bunyan comment in his work, “The Jerusalem Sinner Saved.”

Mr Chew:

In the last Bunyan quote from The Jerusalem Sinner Saved, or, God News for the Vilest of Men, as quoted by Byrne, Byrne once again resorts to eisegesis of the highest order. Yes, Bunyan says that “Christ is their Savior”. But what does Bunyan means by that statement? Does he mean that “Christ is their Savior head for head”, or “Christ is their Savior federally”? In his work Reprobation Asserted, we have previously seen one of Bunyan’s strange definition of the reprobate as the “temporarily and visible reprobate”, and also of his grasp of the biblical idea of Christ dying federally or collectively for sinners qua sinners. Being written by the same author, Bunyan probably has this in mind and thus he believes in the latter option. Ditto for the other 4 points Byrne lists there. Who is actually indicated by the word “thy”, “thyself”, “you”? Certainly, Bunyan doesn’t use the correct precise terminology he should have used, but when interpreted within his own context allowing him to defines his own terms, he is most definitely teaching the idea of Christ dying federally for sinners, not individually for them.

[Underlining and bold mine; original emphasis removed.]

That last paragraph from Mr Chew is really cool.

Let us number the points as we did yesterday.

1) Mr Chew admits that Bunyan believed that Christ is the savior of the vilest sinner.

2) However, Mr Chew claims that Bunyan “probably” believed that Christ was their savior, and died for them, federally, but not head for head.

3) Mr Chew makes a distinction between the “collective” and “individuals.”

4) Mr Chew thinks all this this is “probably” what Bunyan had in mind.

The third step, the back-step:

Let me tackle #3 first. Mr Chew has used this idea before with reference to Flavel et al on Roms 2:4. Essentially, God can speak to a collective group and yet do so in a way that he does not speak to all individuals in that group. Mr Chew covers this in a previous section of this paper.  For example, he says:

The fact of the matter is that what is said of the Church corporately cannot necessarily be said of the individual Christian individually, for that is the logical fallacy of division. To put it  philosophically, what is true of the collective and legitimately applied to them may not necessarily be true to and applied to the individual. Or in the context of the Visible and Invisible Church, since the concepts are different also, what is true of one collective is not necessarily true of the other collective. Failure to realize this is to fall for the logical fallacies of division (and of the converse fallacy of composition), and thus embrace irrationality.

[Underlining mine.]

Of course there is some truth to this,  for example, as some statements to a group can imply a condition, or the condition can be explicit, which means that of any who fail to meet the condition may not be the direct objects of the original predicating statement.

That aside, however, our response to Mr Chew is:

I) Where now did Mr Chew follow his own strictures in coming to this conclusion? He didn’t. He has totally discarded them.

II) All this, by his own admission, a probable conclusion.

III) What evidence is there from Bunyan’s text that Bunyan operated by this idea? There is nothing. Mr Chew adduces not a single shred of evidence that this is so from Bunyan directly.

Mr Chew might retort that he gets it from Bunyan’s idea of “sinners qua sinners.”  However, a look at Bunyan will show that is not his meaning.


Seeing then that the grace of God in the gospel, is by that to be proffered to sinners, as sinners; as well to the reprobate as the elect; Is it possible for those who indeed are not elect, to receive it, and be saved? To this question I shall answer several things: but first I shall shew you what that grace is, that is tendered in the gospel; and secondly, what it is to receive it and be saved. First then, The grace that is offered to sinners as sinners, without respect to this or that person, it is a sufficiency of righteousness, pardoning grace, and life, laid up in the person of Christ, held forth in the exhortation a nd word of the gospel, and promised to be theirs that receive it; yea, I say, in so universal a tender, that not one is by it excluded or checked in the least, but rather encouraged, if he hath the least desire to life; yea, it is held forth to beget both desires and longings after the life thus laid up in Christ, and held forth by the gospel (John 1:16; Col 1:19,23; 1 John 5:11,12; Acts 13:38,39; Rom 10:12-14, 16:25,26). Secondly, To receive this grace thus tendered by the gospel, it is, 1. To believe it is true. 2. To receive it heartily and unfeignedly through faith. And, 3. To let it have its natural sway, course and authority in the soul, and that in that measure, as to bring forth the fruits of good living in heart, word, and life, both before God and man.

Now then to the question. Is it possible that this tender, thus offered to the reprobate, should by him be thus received and embraced, and he live thereby? To which I answer in the negative. Nor yet for the elect themselves, I mean as considered dead in trespasses and sins, which is the state of all men, elect as well as reprobate. So then, though there be a sufficiency of life and righteousness laid up in Christ for all men, and this tendered by the gospel to them without exception; yet sin coming in between the soul and the tender of this grace, it hath in truth disabled all men, and so, notwithstanding this tender, they continue to be dead. For the gospel, I say, coming in word only, saves no man, because of man’s impediment; wherefore those that indeed are saved by this gospel, the word comes not to them in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost; is mixed with faith even with the faith of the operation of God, by whose exceeding great and mighty power they are raised from this death of sin, and enabled to embrace the gospel. Doubtless, all men being dead in trespasses and sins, and so captivated under the power of the devil, the curse of the law, and shut up in unbelief; it must be the power of God, yea the exceeding greatness of that power that raises the soul from this condition, to receive the holy gospel (Eph 2:1-3; 1 Thess 1:5,6; Col 2:12; Heb 4:1,2; Eph 1:18,19, &c.). For man by nature, (consider him at best), can see no more, nor do no more than what the principles of nature understands and helps to do; which nature being below the discerning of things truly, spiritually, and savingly good, it must needs fall short of receiving, loving and delighting in them. ‘The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned’ (1 Cor 2:14). Now I say, if the natural man at best (for the elect before conversion are no more, if quite so much) cannot do this, how shall they attain thereto, being now not only corrupted and infected, but depraved, bewitched and dead; swallowed up of unbelief, ignorance, confusion, hardness of heart, hatred of God, and the like? When a thorn by nature bears grapes, and a thistle bears figs, then may this thing be (Matt 7:16-18). To lay hold of and receive the gospel by a true and saving faith, it is an act of the soul as made a new creature, which is the workmanship of God: ‘Now he that hath wrought us for the self-same thing is God’ (2 Cor 5:5). ‘For a corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit’ (Luke 6:43-45). ‘Can the Ethiopian change his skin?’ (Jer 13:23). Bunyan, “Reprobation Asserted,” in The Works of John Bunyan, (Banner of Truth), 2:249-350.

I will say this as forcefully as I can, only a dishonest man would deny or still try to claim that by the phrase “sinners as sinners” Bunyan means to exclude the reprobate (as normally defined), or, that he meant only to speak of a collective but not to all the individuals within that collective.

The phrase meant to cover all sinners. His point is easy to comprehend: as any man stands in the capacity of being a sinner, he is to be offered and tendered the gospel.  Even those who turn out to be finally reprobate, are tendered the gospel. As any man stands in the capacity of being a sinner, God is willing to save him.

Further, this section from Bunyan is followed almost immediately by the disputed section (see below), showing that it is “in context.”

The fourth step, the side step:

Now let us return to points 1 and 2.

Mr Chew wants to say that when Bunyan, in his “Jerusalem Sinner Saved,” spoke of Christ being the savior of the vilest sinner, he meant that, “probably” as savior not head for head, but federally.  Again the same problems hold good. Where did Mr Chew apply his own strictures? Again he has discarded them. Secondly, where did the idea of Federal Savior come from? Where in Bunyan did he invoke this idea with reference to the quotations under dispute? He doesn’t. Mr Chew quite anachronistically pulls this idea out of the brain of Herman Hoeksema, who, though borrowing it from Bavinck, distorted it. It is a post-Bunyan concept.

Then the question comes to this, how can Christ be said to be the federal head of the man who finally perishes in hell? The mind boggles.


Thy stubbornness affects, afflicts the heart of thy Saviour. Cares thou not for this? Of old, ‘he beheld the city, and wept over it.’ Canst thou hear this, and not be concerned? (Luk. 19:41, 42). Shall Christ weep to see thy soul going on to destruction, and will though sport thyself in that way? Yea, shall Christ, that can be eternally happy without thee, be more afflicted at the thoughts of the loss of thy soul, than thyself, who art certainly eternally miserable if thou neglects to come to him. Those things that keep thee and thy Saviour, on thy part, asunder, are but bubbles; the least prick of an affliction will let out, as to thee, what now thou thinks is worth the venture of heaven to enjoy.

Hast thou not reason? Canst thou not so much as once soberly think of thy dying hour, or of whither thy sinful life will drive thee then? Hast thou no conscience? or having one, is it rocked so fast asleep by sin, or made so weary with an unsuccessful calling upon thee, that it is laid down, and cares for thee no more? Poor man! thy state is to be lamented. Hast no judgment? Art not able to conclude, that to be saved is better than to burn in hell? and that eternal life with God’s favor, is better than a temporal life in God’s displeasure? Hast no affection but what is brutish? what, none at all? No affection for the God that made thee? What! none for his loving Son that has showed his love, and died for thee? Is not heaven worth thy affection? O poor man! which is strongest, thinkest thou, God or thee? If thou art not able to overcome him, thou art a fool for standing out against him (Mat. 5:25, 26). ‘It is a fearful thing to fall into the hand of the living God’ (Heb. 10:29-31). He will gripe hard; his fist is stronger than a lion’s paw; take heed of him, he will be angry if you despise his Son; and will you stand guilty in your trespasses, when he offers you his grace and favor? (Exo. 34: 6, 7).” Bunyan, “Jerusalem Sinner Saved,” in The Works of John Bunyan, (Banner of Truth), 1:90.

[Underlining mine, some spelling modernized.]

This certainly reads as if Bunyan is rehearsing a scenario of a man over whom Christ weeps but ends his days in hell. Surely Mr Chew would offer another possible interpretation rather than the fanciful Hoeksemian doctrine?

The final step, the last back-step:

Mr Chew also adds another dimension to all this, namely, Bunyan is simply speaking about how things appear to us.

I will allow Mr Chew to state his own mind:

Bunyan thus uses the term ‘reprobation’ in two different senses: the theological sense (which he terms eternal invisible reprobation), and the visible appearance of reprobate-like behavior in the wicked (which he terms temporary visible reprobation). The practical slant in evangelism therefore works itself out in Bunyan focusing on the “temporary visible reprobation” angle, and it is in this context that Bunyan’s statements as misquoted by Byrne are to be interpreted.

When interpreted in this light, Bunyan’s statements make perfect sense and do not lend themselves to the acontextual spin put on them by Tony Byrne. Bunyan throughout this chapter mentions the act of reaching out to all men even though they seem to be  reprobate (“temporary visible reprobation”), and thus it is in this light that we are to interpret his view of God “desiring to save the reprobateas actually teaching, in proper theological parlance, of God offering to all mankind even the wicked the way of salvation and calling on them to come; that the atoning death of Christ is sufficient to save the worst of sinners. In other words, even though it may seem that you are the worst of sinners, yet you are called to come, as Christ’s death is sufficient to save even one so
wicked such as yourself.

[Underlining and bold mine.]

Here again we have subtle points. The upshot is, Bunyan is only speaking of  our view of Gods desire to save those who seem to us to be reprobate. My, my, how far we left behind the “sinners qua sinners” step.

The problem is, this is all nonsense. Bunyan is clear. He does not speak to what appears to us, but to what God expresses about himself directly. Further, the issue is not that God is willing those whom appear to us to be visibly reprobate, but that God is willing to save the actual reprobate. Mr Chew is imposing the worst kind of gloss on Bunyan possible.


SECOND REASON.–God also shows by this, that the reprobate do not perish for want of the offers of salvation, though he hath offended God, and that upon most righteous terms; according to what is written, ‘As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way, and live’ (Eze 33:11, 18:31,32). ‘Turn ye unto me, saith the Lord of Hosts, and I will turn unto you, saith the Lord of Hosts’ (Zech 1:3). So then, here lies the point between God and the reprobate, I mean the reprobate since he hath sinned, God is willing to save him upon reasonable terms, but not upon terms above reason; but not reasonable terms will [go] down with the reprobate, therefore he must perish for his unreasonableness.

That God is willing to save even those that perish for ever, is apparent, both from the consideration of the goodness of his nature (Psa 145:9), of man’s being his creature, and indeed in a miserable state (Job 14:15, 3:16). But I say, as I have also said already, there is a great difference between his being willing to save them, through their complying with these his reasonable terms, and his being resolved to save them, whether they, as men, will close therewith, or no; so only he saves the elect themselves, even ‘according to the riches of his grace’ (Eph 1:7). Even ‘according to his riches in glory, by Christ Jesus’ (Phil 4:19). Working effectually in them, what the gospel, as a condition, calls for from them. And hence it is that he is said to give faith (Phil 1:29), yea the most holy faith, for that is the faith of God’s elect, to give repentance (Acts 5:31), to give a new heart, to give his fear, even that fear that may keep them for ever from everlasting ruin (Eph 1:4); still engaging his mercy and goodness to follow them all the days of their lives (Jer 32:40; Eze 36:26,27), that they may dwell in the house of the Lord for ever (Psa 23:6), and as another scripture saith, ‘Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing, is God’ (2 Cor 5:5; Rom 8:26, &c.).

But I say, his denying to do thus for every man in the world, cannot properly be said to be because he is not heartily willing they should close with the tenders of the grace held forth in the gospel, and live. Wherefore you must consider that there is a distinction to be put between God’s denying grace on reasonable terms, and denying it absolutely; and also that there is a difference between his withholding further grace, and of hindering men from closing with the grace at present offered; also that God may withhold much, when he taketh away nothing; yea, take away much, when once abused, and yet be just and righteous still. Further, God may deny to do this or that absolutely, when yet he hath promised to do, not only that, but more, conditionally. Which things considered, you may with ease conclude, that he may be willing to save those not elect, upon reasonable terms, though not without them. Bunyan, “Reprobation Asserted,” in The Works of John Bunyan, (Banner of Truth), 2:353.

[Underlining mine; bold mine.]

We encourage Mr Chew to look very carefully, and read again. Bunyan is not referring to an amorphous collective, or to men who appear to us to be reprobate, but to men who finally perish, to the reprobate who finally perish, to all who finally perish, even to man qua man (as the creature of God). Indeed, the ‘perishing man’ is set off over and against the elect.  The reprobate who finally perish is not the ‘temporarily appearing reprobate,’ which is not Bunyan’s meaning here at all, but the reprobate as normally defined.

To conclude:

Let us now deal with Mr Chew’s overall conclusions that 1) Bunyan spoke God willing to save, and of Christ dying for, the collective but not every individual in the collective; 2) Bunyan only spoke of God’s seeming willingness to save reprobate sinners as they “appear” to us; and, 3) Bunyan meant only that Christ is the federal savior of the one who perishes in hell (which makes no sense at all).

In response, one can see, Bunyan is not operating by Hoeksema’s ‘not head for head’ hermeneutic at all. This Hoeksemian idea has no place or relevance in any understanding of Bunyan on this point.

Rather, Bunyan speaks to God desiring and willing the salvation of all men, all men as they are sinners, even the reprobate man who finally perishes.  Bunyan is not speaking about how things appear to us, or about abstracted collectives, but of concrete universal particulars.

The original points by Tony still stand and still hold good. Mr Chew, in castigating us, falls by the same sword he would have us fall on. Mr Chew is being arbitrary and selective in his reading of Bunyan, where he himself retrojects post-Bunyan categories into Bunyan, all the while scorning us for our alleged “anachronistic” readings of Bunyan.

Lastly, I suspect my rebuttal too long and nuanced that Mr Chew will either understand or concede the point. I know all that I have written will not change his mind. Therefore should be my last interaction with Mr Chew, as now it is clearly a case of the tar baby stuck in the leaky boat.


5 Comments leave one →
  1. July 1, 2009 4:58 am

    I liked the following statements the best :-)

    Bunyan is not referring to an amorphous collective, or to men who appear to us to be reprobate, but to men who finally perish, to the reprobate who finally perish, to all who finally perish, even to man qua man (as the creature of God). Indeed, the ‘perishing man’ is set off over and against the elect. The reprobate who finally perish is not the ‘temporarily appearing reprobate,’ which is not Bunyan’s meaning here at all, but the reprobate as normally defined.

    That is just soo obvious.

    Mr Chew, in castigating us, falls by the same sword he would have us fall on. Mr Chew is being arbitrary and selective in his reading of Bunyan, where he himself retrojects post-Bunyan categories into Bunyan, all the while scorning us for our alleged “anachronistic” readings of Bunyan.

    Busted! lol

  2. Jenson permalink
    July 3, 2009 2:58 am


    May I say that this whole discussion is getting quite fruitless? Studies in Bunyan is complex, and not for the faint hearted. Amyraldianism is an even bigger subject. I am surprised at the liberal use of Bunyan in these exchanges. (Like Scripture) It is easy to quote Bunyan and say what one wants him to say.

    Is this how one “defend the faith”? Are souls going to be won and saints built up with this type of rhetoric? I did not leave a similiar comment at Daniel’s blog for good reasons, but perhaps leave the chap alone, don’t respond to his posts and get on with Kingdom work.

    Yours in Christ,

  3. Flynn permalink*
    July 3, 2009 1:19 pm

    Hey Jenson,

    I know you are are right. I should have left off my little comment from last night. Later on I realised it was not appropriate. I had already decided to delete it.

    I am thinking about leaving off on any more theological comments/posts, but what bothers me is his continual caricature and misrepresentation. I do want to draw attention to one last thing he has said and then its time to be done.


  4. July 4, 2009 4:56 am


    The study of Bunyan is not so complex that we cannot tell if he believed God willed the salvation of those who finally perish according to his revealed will. It is plain as day in Bunyan, just as it is in Edwards, among others. Moreover, we’re not trying to argue that Bunyan was an Amyraldian. Not all those who believed God wills the salvation of all men by will revealed are Amyraldians. Not all those who even believed that Christ suffered for the sins of all men are Amyraldian. Chew is projecting on to us that we’re trying to prove that Bunyan was an “Amyraldian,” but that’s another one of his false statements. Bunyan was only brought up on Dr. Gonzales’ blog as one who also believed that there is a sense in which God wills the salvation of the reprobate. We’re not at all twisting Bunyan according to our theological desires, and any accusations that we are doing that is just more slander.

    I might also add that if we’re going to engage in the Kingdom work of evangelism, it should be because we love our neighbors as commanded by God, and therefore we sincerely desire their highest good, i.e. their salvation. This desire conforms to God’s own nature. So if we’re going to engage in Kingdom work, it is of vital importance that we do so sincerely, with honest and indiscriminate offers of life to all men through Christ’s gospel.


  5. July 6, 2009 12:48 am

    My last point above concerning our motives in doing Kingdom work was also a point made by Jonathan Edwards HERE.

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