Puritan Puffery (1)

John Bunyan’s autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners is made up of about 346 paragraphs. In many stretches of these autobiographical paragraphs one observes how Bunyan’s tedious roller coaster of morbid, self-righteous, navel-gazing takes him on “high-highs” and even “lower-lows.” Bunyan superficially “appears” to go from being unsubmitted to the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel to being “submitted,” to being unsubmitted, etc., etc. Bunyan’s extreme back-and-forth is in Biblical reality a constant submission to, and establishment of his own righteousness. Sometimes his own righteousness gives him a false peace with God and sometimes it does not. Hopefully, the following paragraphs from Bunyan will bear this out:

84. But my original and inward pollution, that, that was my plague and my affliction; that, I say, at a dreadful rate, always putting forth itself within me; that I had the guilt of, to amazement; by reason of that, I was more loathsome in my own eyes than was a toad; and I thought I was so in God’s eyes too; sin and corruption, I said, would as naturally bubble out of my heart, as water would bubble out of a fountain. I thought now that everyone had a better heart than I had; I could have changed heart with anybody; I thought none but the devil himself could equalize me for inward wickedness and pollution of mind. I fell, therefore, at the sight of my own vileness, deeply into despair; for I concluded that this condition that I was in could not stand with a state of grace. Sure, thought I, I am forsaken of God; sure I am given up to the devil, and to a reprobate mind; and thus I continued a long while, even for some years together.

85. While I was thus afflicted with the fears of my own damnation, there were two things would make me wonder; the one was, when I saw old people hunting after the things of this life, as if they should live here always; the other was, when I found professors much distressed and cast down, when they met with outward losses, as of husband, wife, child, etc. Lord, thought I, what ado is here about such little things as these! What seeking after carnal things by some, and what grief in others for the loss of them! If they so much labour after, and spend so many tears for the things of this present life, how am I to be bemoaned, pitied, and prayed for! My soul is dying, my soul is damning. Were my soul but in a good condition, and were I but sure of it, oh! how rich I should esteem myself, though blessed but with bread and water; I should count those but small afflictions, and should bear them as little burdens. A wounded spirit who can bear?’

115. I remember that one day, as I was travelling into the country and musing on the wickedness and blasphemy of my heart, and considering of the enmity that was in me to God, that scripture came in my mind, He hath made peace through the blood of his cross’ (Col. 1.20). By which I was made to see, both again, and again, and again, that day, that God and my soul were friends by this blood; yea, I saw that the justice of God and my sinful soul could embrace and kiss each other through this blood. This was a good day to me; I hope I shall not forget it.

After all this Puritan puffery and going on about his wickedness, Bunyan CLAIMS that “God and [his] soul were friends by this blood.” Bunyan even refers to Psalm 85:10. BUT get out the stopwatch and see how long this lasts:

140. Now was the battle won, and down I fell, as a bird that is shot from the top of a tree, into great guilt, and fearful despair. Thus getting out of my bed, I went moping into the field; but God knows, with as heavy a heart as mortal man, I think, could bear; where, for the space of two hours, I was like a man bereft of life, and as now past all recovery, and bound over to eternal punishment.

141. And withal, that scripture did seize upon my soul, Or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat, sold his birthright; for ye know, how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected; for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears’ (Heb. 12.16,17).

142. Now was I as one bound, I felt myself shut up unto the judgment to come; nothing now for two years together would abide with me, but damnation, and an expectation of damnation; I say, nothing now would abide with me but this, save some few moments for relief, as in the sequel you will see.

The “few moments for relief” was provided by his knowledge and interpretation of 1 John 1:7. But like Bunyan said, this provided only a few moments of relief and then it was back to his usual self-righteous morbidity. I think that all of this ran the space of about 4 years before Bunyan CLAIMED to have a steady peace of acceptance before God by the blood of Christ (knowing Bunyan’s belief in a universal atonement puts the lie to that CLAIM). I surmise that this 4 years of real time is put forth in Pilgrim’s Progress as the time from the strait gate (or wicket gate) to the cross (or the “place of deliverance” where Christian’s burden falls off his back).

It should be pointed out that Bunyan did not believe his “conversion experience” was a model (much less a good one) for all Christians. From his preface to Grace Abounding (or other sections) I gather that Bunyan basically says he needlessly languished and while this is certainly not the Christian ideal, they nevertheless can learn from and be edified from the way God “graciously” dealt with him. To those with eyes to see and ears to hear, Bunyan’s assertions are self-righteous, blasphemous nonsense.

“I could have enlarged much in this my discourse, of my temptations and troubles for sin; as also of the merciful kindness and working of God with my soul. I could also have stepped into a style much higher than this in which I have here discoursed, and could have adorned all things more than here I have seemed to do, but I dare not. God did not play in convincing of me, the devil did not play in tempting of me, neither did I play when I sunk as into a bottomless pit, when the pangs of hell caught hold upon me; wherefore I may not play in my relating of them, but be plain and simple, and lay down the thing as it was. He that liketh it, let him receive it; and he that does not, let him produce a better. Farewell” (John Bunyan).