Today is the commemoration of John Bunyan (1628-1688), pastor, writer and prisoner for the Lord. To mark this, here is an excerpt from Bunyan’s spiritual autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (online version here).
Grace Abounding is a fascinating, if rather strange, book. If nothing else, reading it will make you profoundly grateful that you do not share the Puritan view of “assurance”, whose emphasis on looking within for evidence of salvation, rather than looking outwards to Christ, tortured Bunyan for years – as did his tendency to assess words of Scripture by their subjective impact upon him rather than their meaning within the context of Scripture (the book is full of language such as, “these words broke in upon my mind”, “that sentence fell in upon me”, “now would that saying work upon my spirit to afflict me”).
But the final section, “The Conclusion”, is a cracker, and reflects the true assurance Bunyan later found as a mature believer in Christ (emphasis added; I can particularly identify with number 4):
- Of all the temptations that ever I met with in my life, to question the being of God, and the truth of His gospel, is the worst, and the worst to be borne; when this temptation comes, it takes away my girdle from me, and removeth the foundations from under me. Oh, I have often thought of that word, ‘Have your loins girt about with truth’; and of that, ‘When the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?’
- Sometimes, when, after sin committed, I have looked for sore chastisement from the hand of God, the very next that I have had from Him hath been the discovery of His grace. Sometimes, when I have been comforted, I have called myself a fool for my so sinking under trouble. And then, again, when I have been cast down, I thought I was not wise to give such way to comfort. With such strength and weight have both these been upon me.
- I have wondered much at this one thing, that though God doth visit my soul with never so blessed a discovery of Himself, yet I have found again, that such hours have attended me afterwards, that I have been in my spirit so filled with darkness, that I could not so much as once conceive what that God and that comfort was with which I have been refreshed.
- I have sometimes seen more in a line of the Bible than I could well tell how to stand under, and yet at another time the whole Bible hath been to me as dry as a stick; or rather, my heart hath been so dead and dry unto it, that I could not conceive the least drachm of refreshment, though I have looked it all over.
- Of all tears, they are the best that are made by the blood of Christ; and of all joy, that is the sweetest that is mixed with mourning over Christ. Oh! it is a goodly thing to be on our knees, with Christ in our arms, before God. I hope I know something of these things.
- I find to this day seven abominations in my heart: (1) Inclinings to unbelief. (2) Suddenly to forget the love and mercy that Christ manifesteth. (3) A leaning to the works of the law. (4) Wanderings and coldness in prayer. (5) To forget to watch for that I pray for. (6) Apt to murmur because I have no more, and yet ready to abuse what I have. (7) I can do none of those things which God commands me, but my corruptions will thrust in themselves, ‘When I would do good, evil is present with me.’
- These things I continually see and feel, and am afflicted and oppressed with; yet the wisdom of God doth order them for my good. (1) They make me abhor myself. (2) They keep me from trusting my heart. (3) They convince me of the insufficiency of all inherent righteousness. (4) They show me the necessity of flying to Jesus. (5) They press me to pray unto God. (6) They show me the need I have to watch and be sober. (7) And provoke me to look to God, through Christ, to help me, and carry me through this world.