For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? Mark 8:36
The body is called the house of the soul. Now the house is much inferior to him that dwells in it. And yet, alas, with grief, how common it is for men to spend all their time, care, strength, and attention for the honour and preferment of the body, as if the soul were a pitiful, and sorry thing, not worthy of thinking about, or caring for! Yet, it is the body that our foolish fancies are taken with, and not that great noble part – the soul. The greatness of the soul is manifest by the greatness of the price paid for it to make it an heir of glory: his precious blood (1 Pet. 1:18-19). We esteem things according to the price paid for them. The soul has been purchased by a price that the Son and wisdom of God thought appropriate to pay for its redemption. What a thing, then, must be the soul! You must confess that it is of great value. Suppose a prince should descend from his throne, to pick up and put in his bosom, something that he had seen lying trampled under the feet of men. Do you think that he would do this for an old horseshoe, or a trivial thing as a pin or broken shoelace? Would you not conclude that the thing for which that prince should make such an effort must be a thing of very great worth? Why, this is the case with Christ and the soul! Christ is the Prince, and, as he sat there on the throne of heaven, he looked at the souls of men trampled under the foot of the law and under penalty of death. What did he do? He came down from his throne , stooped down to earth, and there he laid down his life and blood for them (2 Cor. 8:9). Would he have done this for inconsiderable things? No, nor would he for the souls of sinners either, if he had not valued them higher than he valued heaven and earth besides.
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.