Helped by the article? Then support the work of TGC Canada!

×

Image: Edwardx, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I have long been an admirer of the Independent (Baptist?) author John Bunyan. His Pilgrim’s Progress, Grace Abounding and Holy War have been frequent companions. However, I only recently had occasion to read Of Antichrist And His Ruin. The following represents my attempt at a brief review intended to assist the casual reader in making sense of Bunyan’s views and aims.

Like every pastor, preacher and author, Bunyan was to a great extent, a man of his times. He could not help but view human history from a particular vantage point. His understanding of the Antichrist and the war waged by him against the church was inevitably influenced by the history of the Protestant Reformation in Europe and particularly in England. However, as Charles Spurgeon famously suggested, Bunyan was a living Bible, “prick him anywhere; his blood is bibline.”[1] Both of these forces exert considerable influence upon Bunyan’s magisterial presentation.

In order to track with Bunyan’s argument and to make proper application of it within the contemporary sphere, it may be helpful to begin by defining our terms.

Who or what does Bunyan Identify as “The Antichrist”?

Bunyan clearly identifies false religion in general and the Roman Catholic Church in particular as the Antichrist. He says:

“Antichrist is the adversary of Christ; an adversary really, a friend pretendedly: so then, Antichrist is one that is against Christ; one that is for Christ, and one that is contrary to him: (and this is the mystery of iniquity 2 Thess 2:7). Against him in deed; for him in word, and contrary to him in practice.”[2]

Bunyan understands the Antichrist as pretending to be a friend of Christ and his followers while actually opposing them. He presents himself as an agent of Christ but is contrary to him in practice. Bunyan understands the Antichrist as emerging from inside the church:

“The devil then, made use of the church of God to midwife this monster into the world.”[3]

That Bunyan identifies the Roman Catholic Church as a particular manifestation of Antichrist would be difficult to deny:

“She hath sinned, by labouring to hide all her wickedness, by lies, dissimulations, and filthy equivocations of her priests, friars, Jesuits, &c.”[4]

He spoke often of her “blasphemous rites and ceremonies”[5] and decried the bloody massacres “committed by her hand, both in France, Ireland, Piedmont, and in several places besides.”[6]

He understood the Antichrist as first and foremost a spirit but then also as a body once that spirit has infiltrated and animated a particular body of believers:

“The body or flesh of Antichrist, is that heap of men, that assembly of the wicked, that synagogue of Satan that is acted and governed by that spirit.”[7]

“Christ then is the head of his church; the devil is the head of Antichrist; the elect are the body of Christ; the reprobate professors are the body of Antichrist; the Holy Ghost is the spirit of life that actuateth Christ’s body; that wicked spirit of iniquity, is that which actuateth the body of Antichrist.”[8]

He also understood that the spirit of Antichrist could infuse an entire state and be thereafter propped up the mechanisms and magistrates of the state:

“So then, here is the spirit of Antichrist diffusing itself into all the things pertaining to the kingdom of the beast; for it dwells in the body of Antichrist; it dwells in the matters and things of worship of Antichrist; it dwells in the titles and names that are antichristian; and it dwells in the laws, legends and miracles of Antichrist. And as it is the spirit of Antichrist, so it must be destroyed; not by sword, nor by bow, but by Christ, as fighting against it with the spirit of his mouth, and as conquering of it by the brightness of his coming.”[9]

He saw that in a particular sense with respect to the many Catholic Princes propping up the worship and ceremonies of Roman Catholicism and advancing their errors by the power of the sword:

“Now, by ordinances of Antichrist, I do not intend things that only respect matters of worship in Antichrist’s kingdom, but those civil laws that impose and enforce them also; yea, that enforce THAT worship with pains and penalties, as in the Spanish Inquisition.”[10]

Thus, it would be fair to say that Bunyan identified false religion as the Antichrist and the deceived state as the Beast.

“The beast: the power that carrieth and beareth up Antichrist, the mother of harlots: the beast upon which the woman sitteth, and by the heads and horns of which she is protected and defended.”[11]

Outline and Observations:

The book begins with a description of what Bunyan appears to present as the ideal situation for the church. He writes at some length about the letter that Artaxerxes wrote to Ezra the priest authorizing the work on the temple and permitting the Jewish people to live under their own laws as a community of believers. Bunyan commends the king for threatening those who would hinder or abuse the church and uses this as a pattern for godly magistrates in his day to imitate. Having said that, however, he appears to be concerned that Christians will put too much stock in the influence of the state upon the church for good or ill. He says:

“Take heed, I say therefore, of laying of the trouble of the church of God at the doors of governors …But rather labour to see the true cause of trouble, which is sin; and to attain to a fitness to be delivered out thence, and that is by repentance, and amendment of life.”[12]

He reminds the reader that God ordained the exile of the Jews and he also ordained their liberation. Therefore, it is with God, ultimately, that his people must reckon and wrestle.

From there, Bunyan proceeds to provide a definition of Antichrist, much of which has been summarized above. The essence of Antichrist is a desire to go beyond the word of God in religious life and worship:

“Christ is content to rule by his word: Antichrist saith, The word is not sufficient.”[13]

Bunyan clearly has the ceremonies and rituals of the Roman Catholic Church here in mind. He speaks of the Antichrist in terms of its spirit and its flesh. The spirit is the false teaching and anti-gospel doctrine. The flesh is those assemblies and religious body that provide this spirit a home.

“The body of flesh of Antichrist, is that heap of men, that assembly of the wicked, that synagogue of Satan that is acted and governed by that spirit.”[14]

From matters of definition and description Bunyan proceeds to describe the means and manner of Antichrist’s eventual ruin. He speaks first of how the soul or spirit of Antichrist will be destroyed:

“And therefore, as to his soul, or that spirit of error that governs him in all his works of mischief; this must be consumed by the spirit of Christ’s mouth, and be destroyed by the brightness of his coming.”[15]

As to what is meant by these terms, Bunyan says:

“Now, by the spirit of his mouth, I understand his holy word, which is called ‘The word and breath of his lips’ (Isa 11:4). And also, ‘The sword of his mouth’ (Rev 2:16). By ‘the brightness of his coming,’ I also understand, not only his presence, but an increase of light by his presence; not only to help Christians to begin to bear witness against some parts and pieces of the errors of Antichrist, but until the whole is rooted out of the world. By this, I say, must the soul, spirit, or life of Antichrist be taken away.”[16]

Thus, the spirit of Christ’s mouth is the Word of God preached in the churches. The brightness of his coming is the spreading reformation against the errors and idolatries of Catholicism. As the reformation spreads, the operating space for Antichrist is “pinched”. Bunyan says:

“For the church shall single him out from all the beasts, and so follow him with cries, and pinch him with their voices, that he alone shall perish by their means. Thus shall Christ consume and wear him out by the spirit of his mouth, and destroy him with the brightness of his coming.”

Bunyan is at great pains to stress the primacy of this aspect of the battle. The soul of the Antichrist must only be attacked by the sword of God’s word:

“For (as was said before) as to the recovery of the light of the gospel from under antichristian mists, and fogs of darkness; Christ will do that, not by might nor power, but by the spirit of his mouth, and the brightness of his coming: wherefore the soul of Antichrist, or that spirit of wickedness by which this gospel-light hath been diminished, must be consumed and destroyed by that spirit also. Nor can any other way of conquest over that be thorough, and lasting; because that spirit can by no other means be slain. The body of Antichrist may be destroyed by other instruments, but spirits cannot be killed but by other spirits. The temporal sword then may kill the body, but after that it hath no more that it can do, wherefore, the other must be dealt with by another kind of weapon: and here is one sufficient, the spirit against the spirit; the spirit and face of Christ, against the spirit, that wicked, of Antichrist. And by this spirit of Christ’s mouth, all the spirit that is in all the trinkets and wash of Antichrist shall also be destroyed; so that those trinkets, those rites, ceremonies, and ordinances of this man of sin, shall be left as carrion upon the face of the earth, and shall stink in the noses of men, as doth the corrupted blood of dead men.”[17]

The role of the Magistrate is also important, though not in the same sense. Bunyan speaks positively of the role of Protestant princes in general, and the English Protestant Kings and Queens in particular. He says:

“As the noble king, king Henry VIII did cast down the antichristian worship; so he cast down the laws that held it up: so also did good king Edward his son. The brave queen, queen Elizabeth also, the sister to king Edward, hath left of things of this nature, to her lasting fame behind her. And if one such law of Antichrist hath escaped the hand of one, another hath taken it, and done that execution on it that their zeal and piety prompted them to.”[18]

The role of the Magistrates is to destroy the body of Antichrist once the soul of Antichrist has been extinguished. Bunyan was at pains to remind the church to be respectful of the responsibilities assigned by God to the state:

“Let this, I pray, be considered, that Antichrist shall not down, but by the hand of kings. The preacher then kills her soul, and the king kills her body.”[19]

“The church therefore, as a church, must use such weapons as are proper to her as such; and the magistrate, as a magistrate, must use such weapons as are proper to him as such. When the church of Israel were prisoners in Babylon, they did not fight their way through their foes, and the countries to Jerusalem, but waited in their captivated state with patience, until the kings of the Medes and Persians came to deliver them.”[20]

The church ought to pray earnestly for the conversion of the king:

“Well, blessed be God for what kings there are, and the Lord turn the hearts of many more to hate her.”[21]

As to the manner of Antichrist’s ruin, Bunyan makes an extended argument for it being gradual:

“Antichrist shall be brought to ruin gradually; that is by degrees: a part after a part; here a fenced city, and there a high tower, even until she is made to lie even with the ground.”[22]

Bunyan foresaw a season of victory for the Antichrist that would leave the true church of Christ greatly diminished. His anticipations are shaped by his particular exegesis of Revelation 11 which he understands to tell the story, in figurative terms, of the witness of the true church amidst the opposition of Antichrist. Based on the contours of that apocalyptic image, he foresees a season of initial success for the true church (the Protestant Reformation) followed by a vicious counter attack by the Antichrist that will result in the apparent death of the true church. This will be followed by the final recovery, assault and triumph of the true church over the false. He says:

“But they (the witnesses) sought to kill their enemies by their testimony, as to their antichristian spirit, and church-state; and their enemies will kill them, as to their Christian heat and fervency of mind; and also as to their Christian church-state. So that (at least so I think,) there will be such ruins brought both upon the spirit of Christianity, and the true Christian church-state, before this Antichrist is destroyed, that there will for a time scarce be found a Christian spirit, or a true visible living church of Christ in the world.”[23]

Thus, Bunyan foresees a great setback, followed by a “resurrection like” resurgence leading to the total annihilation of Antichrist. Indeed, Bunyan foresees a day when people will be born wondering how such a thing as Antichrist could ever have existed.

“For the day will come that the church of God shall have no more of Antichrist, Babylon, or the mother of harlots, than only the remembrance of her; to wit, that there was such an enemy of God in the world; that there was such a superstitious, idolatrous, bloody people in the world.”[24]

“But without all doubt, the men that shall be born at this time, will consider that these glories, and liberties, and privileges of theirs, cost the people that walked in the king of Babylon’s fiery furnace, or that suffered the trials, troubles and tyranny of the antichristian generation, more groans and hearty wishes, than did them that shall enjoy them.”[25]

Bunyan then speaks of the signs that would indicate the approach of Antichrist’s ruin. He speaks first of a time when true believers are driven into isolated hiding places. Surely we must imagine Bunyan’s own experiences of having to preach in isolated barns and root cellars. While Bunyan was thankful for the progress made in England he saw the Church of England as a church between and undecided and he longed for it to complete the process of Reformation so well started. He was in that sense, every inch a Puritan. Bunyan speaks of the second sign as being a time when the nations will look upon her in revulsion. He foresees a time in the future when nations and kings will turn upon the institutions of false religion to destroy them. He cites Revelation 17:16 by way of proof, saying:

“Let this, I pray, be considered, that Antichrist shall not down, but by the hand of kings.”[26]

The third sign will be the abandonment of the institutions of false religion by all but the most vile of people. The spirit having been slain by the preaching of the Gospel, the forms having been thrown down by the kings and magistrates, only a haunted ruin remains.

The fourth sign will be the slaying of the witnesses. Having failed in argument and having been abandoned by all decent people, the false church turns to violence.

The fifth sign is the great rejoicing that the false church has in its violence. It despoils the true church and makes herself rich on ill gotten gain. Again, we see the influence of Revelation 11 upon this sequence of anticipations. Revelation 11:9-10 says:

“For three and a half days some from the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb, 10 and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth.” (Revelation 11:9–10 ESV)

This sets the stage for the resurrection of the witnesses, which Bunyan understands as a great spiritual awakening, followed by the utter ruin and despoliation of Antichrist.

Bunyan then enters upon an extended treatment of the many causes of the ruination of Antichrist. This again is largely a polemic against the Roman Catholic Church; he accuses the Antichrist as having “been so bold as to prescribe and impose a worship besides, and without reverence of that which God has prescribed and imposed: for to do this, is, to make one’s self a God.”[27] In a clear reference to the Pope Bunyan decries the antichrist as having “called himself the head of the universal church of God.”[28] He has also “intruded upon the prophetical office of Jesus Christ. What else means his pretences to infallibility?”[29]

Bunyan closes the book by arguing that Antichrist must and will be destroyed.

“The church of God will not flourish as it should, until Babylon is destroyed: the world will never be in its right wits, until Babylon is destroyed: the kingdom of Christ will never be set up, in and by his church, as it ought, and shall, until Antichrist is destroyed: there will never be peace upon earth till Antichrist is destroyed.”[30]

Lord, make it so in our day!

Reflections and Counsel:

Bunyan’s book reflects the common polemic of his time and era. The Puritans generally identified the Pope specifically or the Roman Catholic Church generally as the Antichrist. The 1689 London Baptist Confession, for example states:

“The Lord Jesus Christ is the Head of the church, in whom, by the appointment of the Father, all power for the calling, institution, order or government of the church, is invested in a supreme and sovereign manner; neither can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof, but is that antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the church against Christ, and all that is called God; whom the Lord shall destroy with the brightness of his coming.”[31]

Nevertheless, his perspective is not without benefit to the contemporary reader. Bunyan is most certainly correct in his suggestion that the Antichrist will emerge from within the church and will pretend to belong to her. Jesus and the Apostles said much the same. He is further correct in his suggestion that the Antichrist will pretend to represent Christ, but will act in ways that are contrary to him. Thus, we might more broadly identify Antichrist as being any religious person or movement claiming to speak for Christ while acting in ways that blatantly contradict his word, his character and his example. The Roman Catholic Church has been at times the easiest referent for such an identification, but there have been, and remain, many others.

Bunyan is also helpful in anticipating and confronting a potential misuse of his work. In describing the challenges faced by the church of Jesus Christ, he is aware that a lazy and reactive person may rashly misidentify the state as the cause of our trouble and as the enemy to be assaulted in God’s name. He attempts to refute such a notion at the outset of his work:

“Take heed, I say therefore, of laying of the trouble of the church of God at the doors of governors …But rather labour to see the true cause of trouble, which is sin; and to attain to a fitness to be delivered out thence, and that is by repentance, and amendment of life.”[32]

Bunyan goes to great lengths—perhaps going further than we would want or expect him to—to shelter the state from a proportionate share of the blame for the ills and injuries suffered by the Bride of Christ in the world. He says, speaking of princes and magistrates who prop up the work of Antichrist:

“For those that are yet in the bed of love with her, the Holy Ghost doth, in the text last mentioned, and in Revelation 18:24 much excuse them for the blood they have shed, and for the injuries that they have done to his people; because they have not done it of their mere inclinations, nor in the prosecution of their office, but through the whoredoms and witchcrafts of this well-favoured harlot, who hath with false doctrines, false promises, and causeless curses, prevailed upon them to do it.”[33]

He goes on to say:

“Therefore, I say, the main guilt shall be laid at her door.”[34]

It would be difficult to see how Bunyan’s work could be honestly recruited to support vitriol or violent action against the state. Bunyan himself counsels prayer:

“Pray for kings to the God of heaven, who has the hearts of kings in his hand: and do it ‘without wrath and doubting;’ without wrath, because thy self is not perfect; and without doubting, because God governeth them, and has promised to bring down Antichrist by them.”[35]

Bunyan’s advice to the concerned churchman is worth repeating. He is first of all concerned lest the Christian develop an attraction to weapons which God has not ordained for him or her to wield:

“The church therefore, as a church, must use such weapons as are proper to her as such; and the magistrate, as a magistrate, must use such weapons as are proper to him as such. When the church of Israel were prisoners in Babylon, they did not fight their way through their foes, and the countries to Jerusalem, but waited in their captivated state with patience, until the kings of the Medes and Persians came to deliver them.”[36]

Bunyan would have the church focus on preaching, prayer and godly living, and I would recommend the same. No lasting change will ever come about merely by violent or political means; if there is not a change in the mind and in the heart, then the waters of state and government will always return to their level. Only the church can wield the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. When we grasp at the sword in the magistrate’s scabbard we reveal a loss of faith in the weapons with which we were equipped by the Spirit. Focus on preaching. Focus on personal and corporate reformation and pray for the conversion of the king. Transposed into a modern democratic key, we might add, “Run for office and pray for those who hold positions of authority within the government.” This aligns very well with what we see in Holy Scripture:

“Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:17 ESV)

And it was the standard that Bunyan held himself accountable to as well.

“I do confess myself one of the old-fashioned professors, that covet to ‘fear God and to honour the king’. I also am for blessing of them that curse me, for doing good to them that hate me, and for praying for them that despitefully use me, and persecute me. And have had more peace in the practice of these things, than all the world are aware of.”[37]

May the same peace and the same wisdom descend on the church again in our day.

Come Lord Jesus!

 

Pastor Paul Carter


To listen to the most recent episodes of Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here. To access the entire library of available episodes see here. You can also download the Into The Word app on iTunes or Google Play.

 


[1] C.H. Spurgeon in Autobiography Volume 2 as cited by John Piper here: https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/his-wounded-heart-bled-bible

[2] John Bunyan, Of Antichrist And His Ruin (Bolton: First Rate Publishers, 2022), viii.

[3] Ibid., 3.

[4] Ibid., 55.

[5] Ibid., 56.

[6] Ibid., 56.

[7] Ibid., 2.

[8] Ibid., 2.

[9] Ibid., 11.

[10] Ibid., 8.

[11] Ibid., 34.

[12] Ibid., viii.

[13] Ibid., 2.

[14] Ibid., 2.

[15] Ibid., 4-5.

[16] Ibid., 5.

[17] Ibid., 6.

[18] Ibid., 9-10.

[19] Ibid., 28.

[20] Ibid., 47.

[21] Ibid., 29.

[22] Ibid., 17.

[23] Ibid., 37.

[24] Ibid., 13.

[25] Ibid., 14.

[26] Ibid., 28.

[27] Ibid., 52.

[28] Ibid., 53.

[29] Ibid., 54.

[30] Ibid., 62.

[31] London Baptist Confession 1689, Chapter 26, paragraph iv.

[32] John Bunyan, Of Antichrist And His Ruin (Bolton: First Rate Publishers, 2022), viii.

[33] Ibid., 57.

[34] Ibid., 51.

[35] Ibid., 50.

[36] Ibid., 47.

[37] Ibid., 51.

LOAD MORE
Loading