Selected Book Summaries From the REFORMATION & MODERN PERIOD: John Bunyan”Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners”


John_Bunyan_by_Thomas_Sadler_1684

Bunyan: Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners[1]

In Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, during his incarceration, Bunyan writes a spiritual autobiography, where his conversion to Christ is contrasted from his former idolatry.  The son of a traveling blacksmith, Bunyan in 1653 was incarcerated for 11 years because he refused to refrain from preaching.

He starts his autobiography by explaining the former darkness that bound him (Eph. 2: 2, 3) such that a sinful lifestyle became second nature to him.  Yet, thoughts of coming judgment and hell tormented Bunyan around nine or ten years of age.  However, until he married, all manner of vice drowned out the aforesaid fears as he gave himself over to satisfy his every lust.

Experiencing Guilt Yet Not Converted

Bunyan was much vexed with guilt after hearing a sermon on keeping the Sabbath, and in a mystical experience, he heard a voice (supposedly from Christ) challenging him to leave sin for heaven or embrace hell for sin, despair gripped Bunyan, believing that he was beyond Christ’s forgiveness.  After this experience, Bunyan noticed that his speech went from swearing to leaving that pleasantly behind (this happened before he knew Christ).  Yet, while experiencing some outward manifestations of reform, Bunyan was not converted.  He had religion, but without Christ, he was outwardly righteous, but inwardly wicked.  He was pleased with his own righteousness, while ignorant of Christ’s righteousness.  That is, until it was initially revealed to him through women conversing about the new birth and as Bunyan read the Scriptures, his thirst to truly know God grew.

The Gift of Faith

As Bunyan read (1 Cor. 12: 8, 9) regarding the gift of faith, he wondered if he could receive it, moreover, if he actually had it, but simultaneously was puzzled as how to verify whether or not he had faith.  He then wondered how he could know if he was elect which tormented Bunyan, for he understood Romans 9: 16 to say that one’s election is grounded not on one’s desires, nor on one’s willingness, but on God’s mercy.  Hence, unless God elected him, he knew that hell awaited.  The Tempter tormented Bunyan much with this issue, discouraging his soul deeply, but eventually God’s sweet mercy and calling became real to him (Mk. 3:13).  In his soul, Bunyan understood Romans 8:39 and assured him of God’s love for him.

Struggling with Christ’s Exclusivity

He then had to deal with doubts about Jesus being the only Savior, for the Turks also have their scriptures and their savior is Mahomet.  Yet, something within his spirit allowed Bunyan not to doubt Jesus and the Scriptures he had.  But he still had many bouts with doubt, which caused Bunyan much unrest.  Yet scriptures such as (2 Cor. 5:21; John 14:19; Rom. 8:31; Heb. 2: 14-15) comforted him regarding salvation and the rescue from death, all of which are grounded on God’s goodness toward his creatures.

Called to Ministry

Now concerning his call to ministry, Bunyan offers a brief account explaining among other things how his peers recognized God’s hand on him and gladly desired to hear him preach.  After fasting and prayer, he was appointed to a more ordinary and public ministry of preaching.  Bunyan understood that God desired men with gifts to use them for the Masters glory, rather than bury them.   The following Scriptures encouraged him to labor diligently in the ministry of the word (Acts 8: 4; 18:24-25; 1 Pet. 4:10; Rom. 12:6) and also those of church history (Foxes Acts and Mounments).

Moved for the People

When he preached, Bunyan was moved for the people, as they were confronted with the gravity of their sin before a holy God.  In touch with his own wretchedness, Bunyan was amazed and humbled that the people loved him, and that God was using him for preaching the word.

Mode of Preaching

His mode of preaching focused first on the problem of sin in mans’ hearts, and the terror that awaits the ungodly.  Having been under the torment of such a reality himself, Bunyan understood his duty to warn people of God’s coming judgment and Christ’s rescue.  While he received opposition from the doctors and the priests, Bunyan did not shrink back from proclaiming the gospel.  He was not a polemical preacher, but focused primarily on the redemption that is only found in Christ.

Bunyan sensed God’s leading before he embarked going to any particular place.  Moreover, he also understood that where God lead him, the Devil would meet him trying to oppose the work of the gospel.  He desired to go into the darkest places spiritually speaking and preach the gospel among those who had not heard it, interceding much for them.

[1] Bunyan, Graces Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, Dr. Alan Gomes, Spring 2002 Biola University, Reformation & Modern Theology Selected Readings, CD ROM Pp. 1-58).

 

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