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I recently started logging my reading on Goodreads. You can follow me there to see what I’m currently reading and to catch new reviews that I write.
This is the second review I’ve written. I had my oldest son read John Bunyan’s autobiography this year for school, alongside Pilgrim’s Progress. I enjoyed (well, mostly enjoyed) listening to the book so that I could be ready to discuss it with my son. Here’s my review, originally posted on Goodreads:
Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners by John Bunyan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I’m giving John Bunyan’s autobiography 4 stars simply because it is a bit difficult to enjoy at times–partly due to the older language but mostly due to the fact that as you hear Bunyan detail his struggles against temptation, doubt, and despair, you keep longing for him to come to a final resolution. But for Bunyan, this resolution takes a long time in coming, with many, many ups and downs. Over half the book seems to stay in this back-and-forth state–Will he ultimately be condemned? Or is the Lord’s saving of him sure? Has he committed the unpardonable sin? Is the love of God in Christ still his?
I’ve heard that CS Lewis called Bunyan’s autobiography something like a trip to an asylum. And for half the book, I can feel why.
Bunyan took his own sin and temptation very seriously. One might like to say he at times took it too seriously, but Bunyan seems to conclude that he took the accusations of the enemy of his soul too seriously and did not readily enough approach the throne of grace for help in time of need. This is quite instructive to modern readers: take sin seriously, but take grace seriously, too.
It is the grace of God and the righteousness of Christ that at last secures Bunyan’s hope. But, in God’s providence, his struggles for assurance up to that point of clarity seem to have given him a humility that prepared him for ministry and a depth of understanding of both theology and the human condition that enabled him to pen the classic Pilgrim’s Progress. What a gift to the church!
In contrast to the shiny, suave image that a lot of celebrity pastors put forth today, Bunyan the tinker invites us to know the deep struggles of his soul for assurance before God, which he could only ultimately find in the righteousness of Christ and in the faithful love of God. Reading his autobiography is an encouragement that God can and does use those tender hearts (perhaps sometimes too tender?) who mourn their sin and love their Savior.
If you want an interesting pairing, try reading this book alongside John Owen’s Indwelling Sin in Believers. Owen was a contemporary of Bunyan and reportedly admired him. The Lord used Bunyan outside of the Church of England (and even while imprisoned by it), and He used Owen within it. Both had a great understanding of the fight against sin (Owen more so theologically and Bunyan more so experientially). Both men’s writings are a gift to believers for which we can thank God.
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Have you read Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners? What did you think?