I owe a great deal of debt to John Bunyan. When I was going through a crisis in my life, it was his book, the Pilgrim’s Progress, which brought me immense comfort and encouragement. The same book also introduced me to Calvinistic theology, a set of doctrinal truths which have become the anchor of my soul. So as I went through another difficult season in my life I did not hesitate to turn to another of Bunyan’s writings to find solace and encouragement. This time it was his autobiography Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners.
This book is short account of the most important phases of Bunyan’s life. Bunyan recounts his pre-conversion years (1-117), his evangelical experience (118-132), his fight with temptations and his victory over them (133-264), his pastoral ministry, his imprisonment and his trials. One of his friends adds a brief account of his death and his character.
My greatest comfort came when I read Bunyan’s account of his fierce temptations. He goes into great depths of one such temptation that he faced a little while after his conversion (133-229). He was tormented with a flurry of blasphemous thoughts which prompted him to “sell and part with the most blessed Christ” (133). This thought would come to his mind so repeatedly that it looked like as if he faced it a “hundred times together”(136). Every time he would reply “I will not, I will not; no not for a thousands, thousands, thousands of worlds”(137) to satisfy his condemning conscience only to find the same wicked thought repeating itself. Sometimes the temptation grew so fierce and repetitious that he was unable to have his food in peace! Then one day out of sheer exhaustion he thought he had freely consented to this blasphemous thought and had sinned the unpardonable sin. This further tormented him with thoughts of damnation for no less than 2 years. “Oh! no one knows the terrors of those days but myself” (149), Bunyan remarks. Nevertheless, he goes on to record his recovery process when God finally reveals to him that “thy righteousness is in heaven” (229) and leads him to explore the doctrine of union with Christ.
Bunyan obviously had an oversensitive conscience which over-reacted to blasphemous thoughts. An oversensitive conscience tends to fall prey to unwanted repetitious thoughts as I have experienced myself. That’s why I found great comfort from his narration of these temptations. And like Bunyan, God has sustained me also through all these difficulties. Any Christian who suffers from the false guilt of having committed the unpardonable sin must read Bunyan. It’s an old ploy of the Devil with which he has inflicted many of the Lord’s saints. There is hope for such souls! How true it is when Paul says that every temptation we face is common to man (1 Co 10:13). Indeed there is nothing new under the sun (Ecc 1:9).
But not only did Bunyan experience internal turmoil but external persecutions as well. He had to suffer at the hands of the political and ecclesiastical authorities of his day because of his refusal to surrender to their man-made rules regarding church assembly and prayer. He would rather go through voluntary imprisonment at great personal cost rather than injure his conscience which was captive to the word of God. The autobiography records some of his trials before the authorities. The maturity and the gentleness in Bunyan’s answers shine forth. It is once again a testimony of the Lord’s faithfulness to his promise in Luke 21:5, which Bunyan himself acknowledges (p208).
Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners comes from the pen of a man who experienced great deal of trouble through out his life. Yet it is also a testimony to the fact that Lord brought him out from each one of them – a promise that he has given to me as well (Psalm 34:19).