John Bunyan on the disgrace of the promise clippers


In yesterday’s excerpt, Thomas Watson highlighted something of the promises of God. I need to be like him as minister of the word of God. If not, I am what John Bunyan called a promise clipper. Bunyan described promise clippers as enemies of the kingdom of Christ and worthy of public disgrace!

John Phillips explains where Bunyan’s analogy came from in his commentary on Genesis:

Toward the end of the thirteenth century, Edward I of England commissioned a colony of artists from Italy to coin currency for the English mint. The Florentine artists took sheet gold and silver, divided it up with shears, and hammered the pieces into the proper shapes. But, for all their skill, the workmen could not give each piece an absolutely equal weight. For one thing, the hammered coins had no carved rims around their edges. So it was not long before thieves discovered it was easier for them to clip a sliver or two off the rim of a shilling than it was for them to do an honest day’s work. Coin clipping became a profitable enterprise of crime.

To avert the crisis of confidence, coin clippers, who sadly included the Reverend Robinson of Huddersfield, were publicly executed. Public confidence was only really restored once “armies of statesmen and financiers and king’s counselors and Parliamentarians” had done all they could to ensure coins represented a true and constant value. Phillips again:

…The coin of the kingdom of God is the promises of God. John Bunyan saw that. In his famous allegory The Holy War he tells how Mansoul, having long been under the power of Diabolus, was at last emancipated by Prince Emmanuel. One of the first acts of the king was to arrest Clip-Promise, the traitor. He was a notorious villain, says Bunyan, “for by his doings much of the king’s coin was abused, therefore he was mode a public example.” Alexander Whyte, in commenting on that phase of the story, said:

“The grace of God is like a bullion mass of purest gold. Moses and David and Isaiah and Hosea and Paul and Peter and John are the inspired artists who have commissioned to take that bullion and out of it to cut and beat and smelt and shape and stamp and superscribe the promises and then to issue the promises as currency in the market of salvation. It is these royal coins, imaged and superscribed in the Royal likeness, that Clip-Promise so mutilated, debased and abused.” [Alexander Whyte, Bunyan’s Characters, Third Series (London: Oliphant, Anderson, and Ferrier, 1895), pp. 95-105]

It is one of the hallmarks of contemporary evangelicalism, certainly in my experience and my own life and preaching, that many evangelicals clip the promises of God. We speak casually or use catchphrases or slip into jargon mode and so devalue the coin by clipping its edge. Armies of bishops, vicars, pastors, writers, intercessors, Christians must speak expansively and passionately on God’s promises before public confidence will be restored in their value.

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