Tuesday, June 8, 2010

God’s Surpassing Grace to Sinners

John Bunyan's spiritual struggle up through the younger years of his life is a considerably interesting subject.  His autobiography, Grace Abounding, is just the story of that struggle.

John Bunyan was born to a considerable poor family in England of neither fortune nor noble blood.  Although lacking in means, his parents were able to send him to school.  However, Bunyan himself said that he "lost" all that he had learned, showing that in his boyhood he cared naught for his education. 

Sadly, during those years of boyhood, Bunyan tells of his exceedingly wicked young heart.  A reckless and heedless youth, he had an impulse to swear, curse, lie, and blaspheme the name of God.  He said his heart had been "filled with all unrighteousness."  Bunyan said, “...so settled and rooted was I in these things, that they became as a second nature to me...”

During those dreadful young years, Bunyan tells of his "greatly afflicted and troubled" mind, tormented with dreams and thoughts of hellfire and damnation forever.

However, as time flew by, the dreams passed.  Bunyan erased such terrible memories from his mind, and lived "as if they had never been."  He admitted his transgressions in his book by saying that he became the ringleader "in all manner of vice and ungodliness."  Thoughts of religion were "very grievous" to him, and he put aside all manner of Christianity.  He wanted nothing to do with Jesus Christ.

But God wanted everything to do with him.  Twice Bunyan was saved from the dreadful fate of drowning, all by the merciful providential hand.  Nevertheless, through God's many acts of mercy, Bunyan continued in rebelliousness.

Soon after living a soldier's life for a time, Bunyan married a poor woman of godly ancestors.    He became influenced by some good books which had been her father's.  Slowly, the "religion of that time" crept into his life.  He went to church twice a day, yet held onto his wicked life.  Thereafter he was influenced by a poor, religious man to read the Bible.  He also began to follow the Ten Commandments—believing that his good works would earn his way to heaven.  He actually believed that he "pleased God as well as any man in England."  Yet he had "not Christ, nor grace, nor faith, nor hope."

The one day, a year later down the road, Bunyan listened to a conversation about the "new birth."  His curiosity was aroused, and his trust in his good works began to weaken.  He was greatly affected.  He began to believe he truly wasn’t a good man.  Something was missing in his life.  He had no ambition, no fulfillment, nor peace and rest.  Bunyan began to read and study.  He prayed diligently for the Lord to open his eyes to the truth, so that he might find the way.  Very soon his eyes were opened, and he began to read the Scriptures with new eyes.  He daily cried to God for guidance.  Faith, a new word to him, troubled his spirit.  Did he have faith?  His mind became confused with so many details.  Was he one of the elect of God?  Would he be called?  Could he ever attain peace and assurance?  Doubts littered his mind.

As time drew on, his mind became weary with his doubts and fears.  What if he wasn't one of the elect of which he read?  What would happen is he should not be called?  Deep despair entered his soul.  Dark, blasphemous thoughts continually betook his mind.  He felt utterly wretched and hopeless.

Yet, throughout it all, hope still remained.  Slowly Bunyan's mind began to understand more and more that salvation comes through Christ alone (John 14:6), not of good works (Ephesians 2:4-9), but of faith and repentance.  However, though Truth quietly spoke, his mind was still overcome with temptations, doubts, and sorrow.  He felt that peace would never come to quench his fiery spirit because of his heinous sins.  He believed himself to be the most miserable sinner.

Years passed.  Bunyan believed only damnation abode with him.  He was constantly "full of sorrow and guilt."  He believed he could no longer be pardoned, as he said, "I had sold my Saviour."

Bunyan struggled bitterly with his doubts.  His sins were too dreadful for Christ's forgiveness, so he thought. Through it all he searched, but wandered on hopelessly, believing all was lost.

As time, passed, Bunyan became like unto a scale, as he said, "sometimes up, and sometimes down."  Peace and trouble fought desperately.  He would believe the words "My grace is sufficient for thee," but then doubts would arise, and his heart would sink back into despair.  Again and again this would happen: quiet, then torment; torment, then peace.

Finally, however, even through anguish and terror, hope and peace finally broke through.  Bunyan began to realize that God's grace is all sufficient, and can cleanse all ungodliness.  As he daily searched the Scriptures and prayed, he found complete assurance in God's love.  Then was his heart filled with unspeakable joy.  Doubt was no longer an enemy, for Christ had washed away every conflict that had ever raged within his mind!  The wonder and the glory!

The time came when Bunyan was called to the ministry, six years after he had been fully "awakened."  At first he was skeptical, believing he wasn't worthy of so high an honor.  He didn’t think he had the eloquence or ability.  He wondered who would listen to him. But soon he came to the realization that he might have that gift after all.  Humbly he began to preach.

A few years went by.  Bunyan continued preaching to all who would listen.  At times, hundreds came to hear him preach the Word of God.  As he preached, he spoke boldly and truthfully.

His boldness and honesty brought about consequences.  After five years in the ministry, Bunyan was apprehended and sent to prison.  His accusers wanted to stop his preaching.  Therefore accusations of the like were made: Bunyan, "an upholder and maintainer of unlawful assemblies and conventions," would not conform "to the national worship of the church of England."  Because he would not "conform," Bunyan was sentenced to a "perpetual punishment."

Twelve years he spent in prison.  But as those weak and feeble minded might do, he did not lose all hope, or become bitterly discouraged.  He tried to remain content, though he "met with many turnings."  Sweet Scripture passages ministered unto him, and comforted his soul.  Then he would "laugh at destruction."

In 1688, Bunyan contacted a violent fever.  For ten days he struggled on, but his end on earth had come.  Sixty years had he lived upon the earth, and, even in his wicked youth, God had a pan for him.  He died on August 12, 1688.  He will be a man, and a Baptist preacher, reverently remembered forevermore.

His life's story had been one of triumph through trial.

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