By the time I came to this week’s reading assignment in Grace Abounding (paragraphs 128-168), I found myself wanting to speak a word of encouragement in Bunyan’s ear, exhorting him to look to Christ, dear brother!
Perhaps this response on my part stemmed from the insights gleaned from an earlier reading selection of ours: Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, by Thomas Brooks which was first published in 1652, fourteen years before Bunyan wrote Grace Abounding. Before reading Brooks I thought Satan never bothered with me very much, because I had my hands full contending with my own fallen nature, the flesh. Brooks changed my mind on that entirely. So if you haven’t read that wonderful book, I urge you to take up and read it as soon as possible!
In the fallout of Bunyan’s fleeting, momentary thought in which he yielded to the temptation to “sell Christ,” he seems to have encountered a common device Satan uses to keep Christians in the pitiful condition he so movingly described. Thomas Brooks identified eight devices Satan uses to keep Christians in such sad, doubting, questioning, and uncomfortable conditions, and the first one he mentioned is the one John Bunyan encountered:
Device #1: By causing them to be still poring and musing upon sin, to mind their sins more than their Savior; yea, so to mind their sins as to forget, yea, to neglect their Savior.
Remedy (1) To consider, That though Jesus Christ hath not freed [believers] from the presence of sin, yet he hath freed them from the damnatory power of win.
Remedy (2) To consider, That though Jesus Christ hath not freed you from the molesting and vexing power of sin, yet he hath freed you from the reign and dominion of sin.
Remedy (3) Constantly to keep one eye upon the promises of remission of sin, as well as the other eye upon the inward operations of sin.
Remedy (4) To look upon all your sins as charged upon the account of Christ, as debts which the Lord Jesus hath fully satisfied; and indeed, were there but one farthing of that debt unpaid that Christ was engaged to satisfy, it would not have come into heaven and sit down at his own right hand.
Remedy (5) Solemnly to consider, Of the reasons why the Lord is pleased to have his people exercised, troubled, and vexed with the operations of sinful corruptions; and they are these: partly to keep them humble and low in their own eyes; and partly to put them upon the use of all divine helps, whereby sin may be subdued and mortified; and partly, that they may live upon Christ for the perfecting the work of sanctification; and partly, to wean them from things below, and to make them heartsick of their absence from Christ, and to maintain in them bowels of compassion towards others that are subject to the same infirmities with them; and that they may distinguish between a state of grace and a state of glory, and that heaven may be more sweet to them in the close.
Remedy (6) To consider, That believers must repent for their being discouraged by their sins. Their being discouraged by their sins will cost them many a prayer, many a tear, and many a groan; and that because their discouragements under sin flow from ignorance and unbelief.
Writing long after Bunyan’s day in 1847, Octavius Winslow had this to say about doubting the sufficiency of God’s grace, in Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul:
The moment a believer looks at his unworthiness more than at the righteousness of Christ, – supposes that there is not a sufficiency of merit in Jesus to supply the absence of all merit in himself before God, what is it but a setting up his sinfulness and unworthiness above the infinite worth, fullness, and sufficiency of Christ’s atonement and righteousness. There is much spurious humility among many of the dear saints of God. It is thought by some, that to be always doubting one’s pardon and acceptance, is the evidence of a lowly spirit. It is, allow us to say, the mark of the very opposite of a lowly and humble mind. That is true humility that credits the testimony of God, – that believes because he has spoken it, – that rests in the blood, and righteousness, and all-sufficiency of Jesus, because he has declared that ‘whoever believes in him shall be saved.’ This is genuine lowliness, – the blessed product of the Eternal Spirit. To go to Jesus just as I am, a poor, lost, helpless sinner, – to go without previous preparation, – to go glorying in my weakness, infirmity, and poverty, that the free grace and sovereign pleasure, and infinite merit of Christ, may be seen in my full pardon, justification, and eternal glory. There is more of unmortified pride, of self-righteousness, of that principle that would make God a debtor to the creature, in the refusal of a soul fully to accept of Jesus, than is suspected.
The urgent appeal of Isaiah 45:22 is as powerful as ever until the end of this age:
Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. (KJV)