Saturday, February 7, 2015

Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, by John Bunyan

Title:  Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners

Author:  John Bunyan

Date Published:  1666

Challenges:  Literary Movement 2015, Renaissance; Reading England 2015, Bedfordshire; The Classics Club; and The Well-Educated Mind Reading Challenge, Biographies

Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, John Bunyan's spiritual autobiography, covered numerous reading challenges for me, especially for my Literary Movement Renaissance period, which tend to be religious in nature.  It was only 77 pages, but what a formidable, little book! 

In this short personal history, Bunyan recounts "the merciful working of God upon [his] soul." When God begins to prick the conscience of Bunyan, showing him his disobedience and wickedness, the author describes how he rebelled against and tried to hide from God.  Gratefully, there were people in his life who introduced him to the Scriptures, and he immediately enjoyed reading God's word; however, it also opened his eyes to God's standards, and conviction weighed heavy on his heart.  

This burden led to an extremely long and agonizing trek to salvation and conversion for Bunyan.  If you have ever read The Pilgrim's Progress, then you will begin to see Christian's journey unfold before your eyes. John Bunyan suffered through temptation, doubt, lack of or little faith, and ignorance of truth. When he thought he found comfort in God's word, he become fooled and discouraged all over again, blaming Satan for misleading him in his faithlessness.

Statue of John Bunyan
located at Southampton Row London
His most worrisome concern was a misunderstanding that he would never achieve salvation due to his blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, while tempting God.  Imagine convincing yourself that you could never be saved, and yet fully understanding the ramifications of God's wrath!  You could do nothing but wait for your coming judgment.  Bunyan lived with this dread and trepidation day after day.  And when the reader thought he finally found God's truth, love, and peace, Bunyan immediately turned to his anxiety, temptation, guilt, and doubt all over again.  I think I wrote the word "finally" about six different times, thinking he was complete, until finally!!! He embraced God's free gift of grace, with no strings attached.

My favorite was this irrefutable moment when he said: was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse: for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, 'the same yesterday, and today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).'
And immediately following, he continued:
Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed, I was loosed from my affliction and irons, my temptations also fled away: so that from that time those dreadful scriptures of God left off to trouble me; now went I also home rejoicing, for the grace and love of God...
Bunyan's conversion was a long and slow process, but eventually he rose to be a great witness for Christ's glory.  He spent twelve difficult years in prison, apart from his wife and children, because he would not conform to the Church of England.  Of this suffering, he learned,
...I see the best way to go through sufferings, is to trust in God through Christ, as touching the world to come; and as touching this world, to 'count the grave my house, to make my bed in darkness, and to say to corruption, thou art my father, and to the worm, thou art my mother and sister...(Job17:13-14)'

John Bunyan in Prison, by Andrew Geddes
located at Bedfordshire, England


Marian said...

I read A Pilgrim's Progress and a biography of John Bunyan, but I feel now like I've missed out on something by not having read this. It sounds like he had a difficult journey, like John Newton, and there is so much that can be learned from such Christians. Thanks for the review!

Cleo said...

Finally Blogger has allowed me to get in and comment!

It was certainly an arduous journey for him. The part where he felt that he would never be separated from God and was so overjoyed that he felt he would not forget the feeling for 40 years and then 40 days later he was in despair again, was very telling of his journey.

BTW, I really like your new year's addition of the the title, author, date published, etc. at the top of your posts. It looks very neat and organized! :-)

Ruth said...

You're welcome. I am sure if you read PP and a biography, that you covered quite a bit of Bunyan already. After reading this little book about his struggle toward salvation, you can see his spiritual journey right there in PP.

Ruth said...

What's going on? Is Blogger giving you issues again? Ugh!

His back and forth was agonizing. What he did was second guess Jesus' sacrifice, while trying to earn his salvation. That is really what it came down to.


Anonymous said...

Would you describe this as a religious memoir of sorts? In the last part you mentioned he was jailed for not conforming to the Church of England, was he still rebelling against scripture or was he a different Christian denomination at that point?

I still need to read Pilgrim's Progress one of these days.

Ruth said...

It is definitely a spiritual memoir b/c it begins w/ his fighting conversion and ends with his imprisonment. He says he would not conform to the Church, but only states he would not stop preaching. Upon further review, according to the restoration of the Monarchy, he was not to preach outside of the church, and he was. And I think he was supposed to be approved by the Church to preach, and he wasn't. He also had a problem with the Book of Common Prayer, which Cleo talks more about.

Cleo said...

I think the reason these books have been so popular (Bunyan, Teresa of Avile, Augustine, etc.) is because they have had intense religious conversions that perhaps few people have had. While I can relate to some of their experiences, a great deal of it I feel like I'm an outsider looking in. So I really have to try to put myself in their shoes. And when I do that, I can understand that a powerful conversion can give you a powerful understanding of the goodness and mercy of Christ, BUT in comparison, it can also make you intensely realize just what a degraded and horrible life you'd been living. So I think the agonizing is a process that focuses on that previous life and brings up regrets. Going through that process though, seems to slowly minimize their sins and magnify the greatness of God, and finally they can rest. Do you know what I mean? In any case, these thoughts have made it easier for me to deal with the agonizing, because for awhile it was bothering me and my reaction to it was detracting from the story.

Sharon Wilfong said...

I did not know about this book. I can't wait to read it. Thanks for the review. I am now on my way to Amazon.

Jason C said...

I have some vague notion of reading Pilgrim's Progress years ago in university but don't remember anything other than it employed religious allegory. Even though I don't claim to be religious, I am always interested in reading about people who struggling with their faith, trying to make sense of an incomprehensible universe. Surprisingly, the quotes you posted speak to me on some kind of spiritual level. Thank you for this.

Ruth said...

You're welcome. Good luck with it.