John Bunyan's Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners,

A Summary

by Thomas R. Thompson
February 13, 1997

The book starts out with Bunyan wonder if he can be save. In some ways I found this account rather humorous. The thoughts going through Bunyan's mind were quite different then what goes through those searching today. My guess is that the preaching was much different. Bunyan writes at length wondering first if he was one of the elect.

    18. ..another thought came into my mind; and that was, whether we
    were of the Israelites, or no?  For finding in the Scriptures that
    they were once the peculiar people of God, thought I, if I were
    one of this race, my soul must needs be happy.  .. At last I asked
    my father of it; who told me--No, we were not. Wherefore then I fell
    in my spirit as to the hopes of that, and so remained.

    59. ..Therefore, this would stick with me, How can you tell that you
    are elected? And what if you should not? How then?

    60. O Lord, thought I, what if I should not, indeed? It may be
    you are not, said the tempter; it may be so, indeed, thought I.
    Why, then, said Satan, you had as good leave off, and strive no
    further; for if, indeed, you should not be elected and choosen of
    God, there is no talk of you being saved; "For it is neither of
    him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that
    showeth mercy"

    71. .. I found, by reading the Word, that those that must be
    glorified with Christ in another world must be called by him here;
    called to the partaking of a share in his Word and righteousnes..

    72. Here, again, I was at a very great stand, not knowing what to
    do, fearing I was not called;

Bunyan then had an idea come to him. Search the Bible as see if ever one was in his state that trusted in the Lord, for if he could find such a one, there was then hope for him. Bunyan searched for over a year, and could not find such a one.

    66. After this, that other doubt did come with strength upon me,
    But how if the day of grace should be past gone?

    67. Now was I in great distress, thinking in very deed that this
    might well be so; wherefore I went up and down bemoaning my sad
    condition, counting myself far worse than a thousand fools, for
    standing off thus long, and spending so many years in sin as I
    had done; still crying out, Oh, that I had turned sooner;
  

Bunyan then studied the Doctrines of the Gospel with Mr. Gifford. Bunyan then prays to God.

    118. ..Wherefore I found my soul, through grace, very apt to drink
    in this doctrine, and to incline to pray to God that, in nothing
    that pertained to God's glory and my own eternal happiness, he
    would suffer me to be without the confirmation thereof from heaven;

    119. But, Oh! now, how my soul led from truth to truth by God!
 

I believe the above to be Bunyan's Conversion. This seems to be the turning point in Bunyan's life. But the vexing of Bunyan's soul is far from over. His soul would be tormented over and over.

    132. ..the tempter came upon me again, and that with a more
    grievous and dreadful temptation than before.

    133.And that was, To sell and part with this most blessed Christ,
    to exchange him for the things of this life, for anything.  The
    temptation lay upon me for the space of a year, and did follow me
    so continually that I was not rid of it one day in a month, no,
    not sometimes one hour in many days together, unless when I was
    asleep.
  

Then a fearful day came, and Bunyan Sold Christ. His soul was then tormented for two years afterwards.

    139. But to be brief, one morning, as I did lie in my bed, I was,
    as at other times, most fiercely assaulted with this temptation, to
    sell and part with Christ; the wicked suggestion still running in
    my mind, Sell him, sell him, sell him, sell him, 'sell him' as fast
    as a man could speak... I felt this thought pass through my heart,
    Let him go it he will! and I thought also, that my heart 'freely'
    consent thereo. 'Oh, the diligence of Satan! Oh, the desperateness
    of man's heart!'

    142.Now was I as one bound, I felt myself shut up unto the
    judgement to come; nothing now for two years together would abide
    with me, but damnation, and the expectation of damnation;
  

During this tormenting time for Bunyan, he struggled to determine if this great sin could be forgive. For he had Sold his Savior. Bunyan thought that he had committed the Unpardonable Sin. He thus searched the scriptures to see if anyone had committed a sin similar to his, and was then forgiven.

    158. Then, again, I began to compare my sin with the sin of
    Judas, that, if possible, I might find that mine differed from
    that which, in truth, is unpardonable.  And, oh! thought I, if
    it should differ from it, though but a breadth of an hair, what a
    happy condition is my soul in!

    168.  Again, after I had thus considered the sins of the saints in
    particular, and found mine went beyond them, then I began to think
    thus with myself: Set the case I should put all theirs together,
    and mine alone against them, might I not then find some
    encouragement? For if mine, though bigger than any one, yet should
    be equal to all, then there is hopes; for the blood that hath
    virtue enough in it to wash away all theirs, hath also virtue
    enough in it to do away mine, though this one be as big, if no
    bigger than all theirs.
   

Bunyan was emotionally up and down for several years. He would find a promise in God's word that would bring him peace, then the tempter would bring distress on him. Here are a few examples.

    173. .. "Didst ever refuse to be justifed by the blood of Christ?"

    174. ..This made a strange seizure upon my spirit; it brought light
    with it, and commanded a silence in my heart of all those
    tumultuous thoughts that before did use, like masterless 
    hell-hounds, to roar and bellow, and make a hideous noise within me.
    ..This lasted, in the savour of it for about three or four days, and
    then I began to mistrust and to dispair again.

    193.  And as I was thus in musing and in my studies, considering
    how to love the Lord and to express my love to him, that saying
    came in upon my, "If thou, Lord shouldest mark iniquites, O Lord,
    who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou
    mayest be feared." These were good words to me, especially the
    latter part thereof;

    195. But before many weeks were over I began to despond again,
    fearing lest, notwithstanding all that I had enjoyed, that yet I
    might be deceived and destroyed at the last;

    215. This scripture did also most sweetly vist my soul, "And him
    that commeth to me I will in no wise cast out" Jn 6:37 Oh, the
    comfort that I have had from this word, "in no wise!" as who
    should say, by no means, for no thing, whatever he hath done.  But
    Satan would greatly labour to pull this promise from me, telling
    of me that Christ did not mean me, and such as I, but sinners of a
    lower rank, that had not done as I had done.  But I should answer
    him again, Satan, here is in this word no such exception; but "him
    that comes," HIM, any him; "him that commeth to me I will in no
    wise cast out."
   

Bunyan finally puts the issue of his sin away.

    229.  But one day, as I was passing in the field, and that too
    with some dashes on my conscience, fearing lest yet all was not
    right, suddenly this sentence fell upon my soul, Thy righteousness
    is in heaven; and methought withal, I saw, with the eyes of my
    soul, Jesus Christ at God's right hand; there, I say, as my
    righteousness;  .. I also saw, moreover, that it 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 for ever.
   

In the remainder of this writting, Bunyan tells of what he learned from his struggles, his call to the ministry, and his time in prison. Bunyan was in prison one time for 12 years. I will present a few interesting quotes from these sections.

    276. In my preaching of the Word, I took special notice of this one
    thing, namely that the Lord did lead me to begin where his Word
    begins with sinners; that is, to condemn all flesh, and to open
    and allege that the curse of God, by the law, doth belong to, and
    lay hold on all men as they come into the world, because of sin.

    278.  Thus I went for the space of two years, crying out against
    men's sins, and their fearful state because of them.

    287. I have observed, that where I have had a work to do for God,
    I have had first, as it were, the going of God upon my spirit to
    desire I might preach there.

    335. ..I was also at this time so really possessed with the thought
    of death, that oft I was as if I was on the ladder with a
    rope about my neck; only this was some encouragement to me, I
    thought I might now have an opportunity to speak my last words
    to a multitude, which I thought would come to see me die; and
    thought I, if it must be so, if God will but convert one soul by
    my very last words, I shall not count my life thrown away, nor
    lost.
   

I really enjoyed reading this testimony, I found it very hard to stop reading. Bunyan seems to have a unique way of presenting spiritual truth. My soul was blessed in the reading of this work.

    All quotes are from "Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners".  My
    reference book was The Works of John Bunyan, Volume 1, The Banner of
    Truth Trust.