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John Bunyan (1628-1688) is usually attributed with the following:

Run, John, run, the law commands
But gives us neither feet nor hands,

Far better news the gospel brings:
It bids us fly and gives us wings

I’m not sure, however, Bunyan ever wrote this profound and pithy summary. (I welcome any primary source documentation readers might have.)

It probably originated with the 18th century Scottish preacher Ralph Erksine (1685-1752):

A rigid matter was the law,
demanding brick, denying straw,

But when with gospel tongue it sings,
it bids me fly and gives me wings

--The Sermons and Practical Works of Ralph Erksine, vol. 10 (Glasgow: W. Smith and J. Bryce, 1778), 283.

Charles Spurgeon--who certainly knew his Bunyan--credits the more familiar version to English revivalist and hymnist John Berridge (1716-1793):

Run, John, and work, the law commands,
yet finds me neither feet nor hands,

But sweeter news the gospel brings,
it bids me fly and lends me wings!

--Cited in Charles H. Spurgeon, The Salt-Cellars: Being a Collection of Proverbs, Together with Homely Notes Thereon (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1889), 200.

These references are owing to Jason Meyer’s historical digging cited in his book The End of the Law: Mosaic Covenant in Pauline Theology (B&H, 2010), p. 2 n. 3.

Don’t let the historical spadework distract you from this gospel jewel!

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8 thoughts on “Run, John, Run!”

  1. JMH says:

    Fascinating. I love this kind of thing.

    I like Erskine’s version the best because “But when with gospel tongue it [the Law] sings” highlights that the Law is actually good– it’s only when divorced from gospel that it’s bad, because it was always intended to point us to the gospel. When we look at the Law through the lens of the gospel, good things happen.

  2. MarieP says:

    JMH stole my comment ;-) Yes, I noticed the same thing!

  3. Dan Phillips says:

    Nice to know I’m not the only obsessive documentation-stickler in the Western Hemisphere.

  4. Fred Zaspel says:

    Justin, the Gadsby Hymnal attributes it to Berridge also, but renders it “Run, Run, and work the law commands….”

  5. Jeff says:

    I’ve also seen it attributed to Berridge (Bio here)

  6. Daniel says:

    However, there is grace in the Law and there is law in grace.

    The prologue to the Ten Commandments reads, “I am the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of a house of bondage.”

    God rescued Israel from Egypt and then He gave her the Law.

  7. James says:

    I first heard Piper quote this in a sermon and attributed it to Bunyan. However, I have never been able to find it in his writings (Logos). Thanks!

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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