To Live upon God That Is Invisible: Suffering and Service in the Life of John Bunyan -- By: John Piper

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 04:2 (Summer 2000)
Article: To Live upon God That Is Invisible: Suffering and Service in the Life of John Bunyan
Author: John Piper

To Live upon God That Is Invisible:
Suffering and Service in the Life of John Bunyan1

John Piper

John Piper has been the senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota since 1980. He has the Dr. Theol. in New Testament from the University of Munich and taught for six years at Bethel College in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is the author of a number of books and articles, including God’s Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards (Crossway).


In 1672, about 50 miles northwest of London in Bedford, John Bunyan was released from twelve years of imprisonment. He was 44 years old. Just before his release (it seems),2 he updated his spiritual autobiography called Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. He looked back over the hardships of the last 12 years and wrote about how he was enabled by God to survive and even flourish in the Bedford jail. One of his comments gives me the title for this essay about Bunyan’s life.

He quotes 2 Corinthians 1:9 where Paul says, “We had this sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God that raiseth the dead.” Then he says,

By this scripture I was made to see that if ever I would suffer rightly, I must first pass a sentence of death upon every thing that can be properly called a thing of this life, even to reckon myself, my wife, my children, my health, my enjoyment, and all, as dead to me, and myself as dead to them. The second was, to live upon God that is invisible, as Paul said in another place; the way not to faint, is to “look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”3

The phrase that I have fastened on for the title and focus of this study of Bunyan is the phrase, “to live upon God that is invisible.” He discovered that if we are to suffer rightly we must die not only to sin, but to the innocent and precious things of this world including family and freedom. We must “live upon God that is invisible.” Everything else in the world we must count as dead to us and we to it. That was Bunyan’s passion from the time of his conversion as a young married man to the day of his death when he was 60 years old.

In my reading of Bunyan, what has gripped me most is his suffering and how he responded to it—what it made of him, and what it might make of us. All of us come to our tasks with a history...

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