To have had so little formal education, Bunyan could certainly turn a memorable phrase using texts of scripture with great insight. Addressing his children in the preface to Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, Bunyan employed marvelously instructive imagery (bold emphases mine):
I have sent you here enclosed, a drop of that honey, that I have taken out of the carcase of a lion (Judg. 14.5-9). I have eaten thereof myself also, and am much refreshed thereby. (Temptations, when we meet them at first, are as the lion that roared upon Samson; but if we overcome them, the next time we see them, we shall find a nest of honey within them.) The Philistines understand me not.
In this discourse of mine you may see much; much, I say, of the grace of God towards me. I thank God I can count it much, for it was above my sins and Satan’s temptations too. I can remember my fears, and doubts, and sad months with comfort; they are as the head of Goliath in my hand. There was nothing to David like Goliath’s sword, even that sword that should have been sheathed in his bowels; for the very sight and remembrance of that did preach forth God’s deliverance to him. Oh, the remembrance of my great sins, of my great temptations, and of my great fears of perishing for ever! They bring afresh into my mind the remembrance of my great help, my great support from heaven, and the great grace that God extended to such a wretch as I.
If you are like me upon your first reading of Grace Abounding, you may grow anxious for Bunyan finally to obtain a settled hope. I lost track, on my first pass, of the number of times he would note how long he continued in a certain state of doubt or anxiety: sometimes weeks, months, even a year or more! In our instant-everything society today, how many of us have the stamina required to go toe-to-toe with such doubts for so long? I know I didn’t endure such an ordeal when I came to Christ.
However, I can still identify with much of what Bunyan describes, but the timing is different. I am immensely grateful for the insight Bunyan shared in this regard in yet another of his books, The Jerusalem Sinner Saved (bold emphasis mine):
“The biggest sinners have usually great contests with the devil at their partings; and this is an help to saints; for ordinary saints find afterwards what the vile ones find at first, but when, at the opening of hearts, the one finds himself to be as the other – the one is a comfort to the other. The lesser sort of sinners find but little of this till after they have been some time in profession; but the vile man meets with this at the beginning.”
So think about this as you read through Grace Abounding. If you haven’t been as great a sinner as Bunyan described himself to be, I wonder if, like me, you find you have struggled with many of the same issues since coming to faith in Christ. I have heard some of the same things from Satan after conversion that Bunyan dealt with up front: you’ve committed the unpardonable sin, there’s no more grace for you, your situation is unique, etc. But Satan is a liar, and the father of lies. By grace through faith I have appropriated to my soul the truth of the words of the hymn by John Newton, Approach, My Soul, the Mercy Seat:
Bowed down beneath a load of sin, by Satan sorely pressed, by war without and fears within, I come to Thee for rest.
Be Thou my Shield and hiding Place, that, sheltered by Thy side, I may my fierce accuser face, and tell him Thou hast died!
O wondrous love! to bleed and die, to bear the cross and shame, that guilty sinners, such as I, might plead thy gracious name.
Poor tempest-tossed soul, be still; my promised grace receive; ’tis Jesus speaks — I must, I will, I can, I do believe.
Praise be to Him for his unspeakable gift!