And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.2 Philippians 1:6
The Lord works in us unto the very last. After conversion, he continues his grace to help us do his will. All we have is by his gracious gift. What can we be proud of? All of the excellencies that we might have, alas! They are borrowed. Those most enlarged are also the most assisted, for all come from God. We would laugh if the stableman is proud of his master’s horse; shall we then usurp the honour that is due solely to God? ‘What do you have that you did not receive? (1 Cor. 4:7). We receive grace from hand to mouth. That which we have received will not continue to maintain us unless God supplies new influences of grace. If we labored purely in our own strength, we would soon grow proud. We must have renewed evidences of his love day after day. If God gave us all spiritual blessings at once, we would soon fail to acknowledge our heavenly benefactor. He weakens our corruptions by degrees, and by the renewing influences of his grace. God left Hezekiah, ‘to test him and to know all that was in his heart’ (2 Chron. 32:31). God so dispenses grace that he will be going and coming as to his actual influence upon us. He sometimes will leave us to ourselves to reveal the weakness of our own hearts. Though we have grace in our hearts, if God leaves us, how weak and foolish we are! Tough we are renewed, we have not fully recovered from the injury we received by the fall of Adam. If God withdraws his life-giving strength, our secret corruptions will break forth and our interest in holy things will soon disappear. O the glory of God’s grace! From the first to the last we are indebted to it (Gal. 2:20). We can do nothing without him. When we come to heaven, how will our souls admire the riches of his glorious grace.
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.