But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:33
Until we get our hearts out of the world, how easily our hearts are carried away with thoughts of earthly concerns. Until we can separate and purge our spirits, how we mingle our prayers with many ridiculous thoughts. It is too usual for us to deal with God as an unskilled person that will gather a posy for his friend, and put in as many or more stinking weeds than he does choice flowers. The flesh introduces, and our carnal hearts insert and interlace our prayers with vain thoughts and earthly distractions. Then, when we come to offer incense to God with our censer, we mingle sulphur with our incense. Therefore, we should always labour to get our hearts above the world into the presence of God, as if we were with him in heaven, and wholly swallowed up with his glory. Though our bodies are on earth, our spirits should be in heaven. Until we get above the mists of the world, we can see nothing of clearness and comfort; but when we can get God and our hearts together, then we can see there is much in the fountain, though nothing in the stream; and though little on earth, yet we have a God in heaven. This is our great aim, to be with God in heaven. His residence is there, and we seek that our hearts might be there. We have liberty to ask supplies for the outward life, but chiefly we should ask spiritual and heavenly things: ‘First, seek the kingdom of God’ etc. If God is our heavenly Father, our first and main care should be to ask things suitable to his being, and his excellencies. When we ask supplies of the outward life, food, and rainment, God may give them to us, but it is far more pleasing to him when we ask for grace. In every prayer we should seek to be made more heavenly minded by conversing with our heavenly Father.
Are our civil and religious freedoms under threat? According to some social commentators we are living in very uncertain times in which the freedoms we have long enjoyed are coming under increasing pressure. The liberty we take so much for granted may not be as secure as we think.
When this book was first published there was little or no sign of such danger on the horizon. In 1960 the church may have taken her religious freedom for granted and perhaps had forgotten the price paid by those who had “fought for freedom of truth and conscience, freedom for life and worship, freedom both as citizens and Christians.” Today in the West the prospect facing the church may well be one of suffering for the sake of the gospel and of sharing the common experience of our fellow Christians in many other parts of the world.
This prospect makes the story of the four men told in this book all the more fascinating and relevant. In the seventeenth-century two Scottish Covenanters, Alexander Henderson and Samuel Rutherford, and two English Puritans, John Bunyan and Richard Baxter, were at the forefront in the struggle for liberty of conscience and freedom of worship. The story of their suffering and triumph, vividly told by a skilled biographer, enables the reader to visualize clearly both the problems which faced the church during that turbulent period of her history and the principles upon which our spiritual forefathers courageously took their stand. Of course, it would not be hard to point out their limitations and imperfections, their mistakes and failures; but they were fired by an inner nobility of motive and ideal which lifts them above petty criticism and gives them a lasting title to be known as men who were like Bunyan’s pilgrim, Valiant-for-Truth.