Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
The Story of Bunyans Conversion
By John Bunyan (16281688)
From Grace Abounding
FURTHER, in these days I should find my heart to shut itself up against the Lord, and against His Holy Word. I have found my unbelief to set, as it were, the shoulder to the door to keep Him out, and that, too, even then, when I have with many a bitter sigh cried Good Lord, break it open; Lord, break these gates of brass, and cut these bars of iron asunder. Yet that word would sometimes create in my heart a peaceable pause, I girded thee, though thou hast not known me.
But all this while as to the act of sinning, I never was more tender than now. I durst not take a pin or a stick, though but so big as a straw, for my conscience now was sore, and would smart at every touch; I could not now tell how to speak my words, for fear I should misplace them. Oh how gingerly did I then go in all I did or said! I found myself as on a miry bog that shook if I did but stir; and was as there left both of God and Christ, and the Spirit and all good things.
In this condition I went a great while; but when comforting time was come, I heard one preach a sermon upon those words in the song, Behold thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair. But I got nothing by what he said at present, only when he came to the application of the fourth particular, this was the word he said: If it be so, that the saved soul is Christs love when under temptation, and desertion; then poor, tempted soul, when thou art assaulted and afflicted with temptation, and the hidings of Gods face, yet think on these two words, my love, still.
So as I was a going home, these words came again into my thoughts; and I well remember, as they came in, I said thus in my heart, What shall I get by thinking on these two words? This thought had no sooner passed through my heart, but the words began thus to kindle in my spirit, Thou art my love, thou art my love, twenty times together; and still as they ran thus in my mind, they waxed stronger and warmer, and began to make me look up. But being as yet between hope and fear, I still replied in my heart, But is it true, but is it true? At which, that sentence fell in upon me, He wist not that it was true which was done by the angel.
Then I began to give place to the Word, which, with power, did over and over make this joyful sound within my soul, Thou art my love, thou art my love; and nothing shall separate thee from my love; and with that Romans eight, thirty-nine, came into my mind. Now was my heart filled full of comfort and hope, and now I could believe that my sins should be forgiven me; yea, I was now so taken with the love and mercy of God, that I remember I could not tell how to contain till I got home. I thought I could have spoken of His love and of His mercy to me, even to the very crows that sat upon the ploughed lands before me, had they been capable to have understood me; wherefore I said in my soul, with much gladness, Well, I would I had a pen and ink here, I would write this down before I go any farther, for surely I will not forget this forty years hence. But alas! within less than forty days, I began to question all again; which made me begin to question all still.
Yet still at times I was helped to believe that it was a true manifestation of grace unto my soul, though I had lost much of the life and savour of it. Now about a week or fortnight after this I was much followed by this Scripture, Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you. And sometimes it would sound so loud within me, yea, and as it were call so strongly after me, that once above all the rest, I turned my head over my shoulder, thinking verily that some man had, behind, called to me; being at a great distance, methought he called so loud. It came, as I have thought since, to have stirred me up to prayer, and to watchfulness; it came to acquaint me that a cloud and a storm was coming down upon me, but I understood it not.
And now I found, as I thought, that I loved Christ dearly. Oh! methought my soul cleaved unto Him, my affections cleaved unto Him. I felt love to Him as hot as fire; and now, as Job said, I thought I should die in my nest; but I did quickly find that my great love was but little, and that I, who had, as I thought, such burning love to Jesus Christ, could let Him go again for a very trifle. But God can tell how to abase us, and can hide pride from man. Quickly after this my love was tried to purpose.
And that was, to sell and part with this most blessed Christ, to exchange Him for the things of this life, for anything. The temptation lay upon me for the space of a year, and did follow me so continually that I was not rid of it one day in a month, no, not sometimes one hour in many days together, unless when I was asleep.
And though, in my judgment, I was persuaded that those who were once effectually in Christ, as I hoped, through His grace, I had seen myself, could never lose him for ever,for the land shall not be sold for ever, the land is mine, saith God,yet it was a continual vexation to me to think that I should have as much as one such thought within me against a Christ, a Jesus, that had done for me as He had done; and yet then I had almost none others, but such blasphemous ones.
But it was neither my dislike of the thought, nor yet any desire and endeavour to resist it that in the least did shake or abate the continuation, or force and strength thereof; for it did always, in almost whatever I thought, intermix itself therewith in such sort that I could neither eat my food, stoop for a pin, chop a stick, or cast mine eye to look on this or that, but still the temptation would come, Sell Christ for this, or sell Christ for that; sell Him, sell Him.
Sometimes it would run in my thoughts, not so little as a hundred times together, Sell Him, sell Him, sell Him; against which I may say, for whole hours together, I have been forced to stand as continually leaning and forcing my spirit against it, lest haply, before I was aware some wicked thought might arise in my heart that might consent thereto; and sometimes also the tempter would make me believe I had consented to it, then should I be as tortured upon the rack for whole days together.
This temptation did put me to such scares, lest I should at sometimes, I say, consent thereto, and be overcome therewith, that by the very force of my mind, in labouring to gainsay and resist this wickedness, my very body also would be put into action or motion by way of pushing or thrusting with my hands or elbows, still answering as fast as the destroyer said, Sell Him; I will not, I will not, I will not, I will not; no, not for thousands, thousands, thousands of worlds. Thus reckoning lest I should, in the midst of these assaults, set too low a value of Him, even until I scarce well knew where I was, or how to be composed again.
At these seasons he would not let me eat my food at quiet; but, forsooth, when I was set at the table at my meat, I must go hence to pray; I must leave my food now, and fast now, so counterfeit holy also would this devil be. When I was thus tempted I should say in myself Now I am at my meat, let me make an end. No, said he, you must do it now, or you will displease God, and despise Christ. Wherefore I was much afflicted with these things; and because of the sinfulness of my nature (imagining that these things were impulses from God), I should deny to do it as if I denied God; and then should I be as guilty, because I did not obey a temptation of the devil, as if I had broken the law of God indeed.
But to be brief, one morning, as I did lie in my bed, I was, as at other times, most fiercely assaulted with this temptation, to sell and part with Christ; the wicked suggestion still running in my mind, Sell Him, sell Him, sell Him, sell Him, as fast as a man could speak. Against which also, in my mind, as at other times, I answered, No, no, not for thousands, thousands, thousands, at least twenty times together. But at last, after much striving, even until I was almost out of breath, I felt this thought pass through my heart, Let Him go, if He will! And I thought also, that I felt my heart desperately consent thereto. Oh, the diligence of Satan! Oh, the desperateness of mans heart!
Now was the battle won, and down fell I, 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.
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 afterwards, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected; for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.
Now was I as one bound; I felt myself shut up into 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.
Then began I with sad and careful heart to consider of the nature and largeness of my sin, and to search in the Word of God, if I could in any place espy a word of promise or any encouraging sentence by which I might take relief. Wherefore I began to consider that third of Mark, All manner of sins and blasphemies shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, wherewith soever they shall blaspheme. Which place, methought, at a blush, did contain a large and glorious promise, for the pardon of high offences; but considering the place more fully, I thought it was rather to be understood as relating more chiefly to those who had, while in a natural estate, committed such things as there are mentioned; but not to me, who had not only received light and mercy, but that had, both after, and also contrary to that, so slighted Christ as I had done.
Then again, being loth and unwilling to perish, I began to compare my sin with others, to see if I could find that any of those that were saved had done as I had done. So I considered Davids adultery and murder, and found them most heinous crimes; and those too committed after light and grace received. But yet by considering, I perceived that his transgressions were only such as were against the law of Moses; from which the Lord Christ could, with the consent of His Word, deliver him. But mine was against the Gospel; yea, against the Mediator thereof; I had sold my Saviour.
Again, after I had thus considered the sins of the Saints in particular, and found mine went beyond them, then I began to think thus with myself:Set the case I should put all theirs together, and mine alone against them, might I not then find some encouragement? For if mine, though bigger than anyone, should but be equal to all, then there is hope; for that blood that hath virtue enough in it to wash away all theirs, hath also virtue enough in it to do away mine, though this one be full as big, if not bigger, than all theirs. Here, again, I should consider the sin of David, of Solomon, of Manasseh, of Peter, and the rest of the great offenders; and should also labour, what I might with fairness, to aggravate and heighten their sins by several circumstances: but alas! it was all in vain.
Then I thought on Solomon, and how he sinned in loving strange women, in falling away to their idols, in building them temples, in doing this after light, in his old age, after great mercy received; but the same conclusion that cut me off in the former consideration, cut me off as to this; namely, that all those were but sins against the law, for which God had provided a remedy; but I had sold my Saviour, and there now remained no more sacrifice for sin.
This one consideration would always kill my heart; my sin was point blank against my Saviour; and that too, at that height, that I had in my heart said of Him, Let Him go if He will. Oh! methought, this sin was bigger than the sins of a country, of a kingdom, or of the whole world, no one pardonable, nor all of them together, was able to equal mine; mine outwent every one.
About this time I took an opportunity to break my mind to an ancient Christian, and told him all my case. I told him, also, that I was afraid I had sinned the sin against the Holy Ghost; and he told meHe thought so too. Here, therefore, I had but cold comfort; but, talking a little more with him I found him, though a good man, a stranger to much combat with the devil. Wherefore, I went to God again, as well as I could, for mercy still.
But one morning, when I was again at prayer, and trembling under the fear of this, that no word of God could help me; that piece of a sentence darted in upon me, My grace is sufficient. At this methought I felt some stay, as if there might be hopes. But oh how good a thing it is for God to send His word! For about a fortnight before I was looking on this very place, and then I thought it could not come near my soul with comfort, therefore I threw down my book in a pet. Then I thought it was not large enough for me; no, not large enough. But now, it was as if it had arms of grace so wide that it could not only enclose me, but many more besides.
By these words I was sustained; yet not without exceeding conflicts, for the space of seven or eight weeks; for my peace would be in and out, sometimes twenty times a day; comfort now, and trouble presently; peace now, and before I could go a furlong as full of fear and guilt as ever heart could hold; and this was not only now and then, but my whole seven weeks experience; for this about the sufficiency of Grace, and that of Esaus parting with his birthright, would be like a pair of scales within my mind, sometimes one end would be uppermost, and sometimes again the other; according to which would be my peace or trouble.
And I remember one day, as I was in divers frames of spirits and considering that these frames were still according to the nature of the several Scriptures that came in upon my mind; if this of grace, then was I quiet; but if that of Esau, then tormented; Lord, thought I, if both these Scriptures would meet in my heart at once, I wonder which of them would get the better of me. So methought I had a longing mind that they might both come together upon me; yea, I desired of God they might.
Well, about two or three days after, so they did indeed; they bolted both upon me at a time, and did work and struggle strangely in me for a while; at last, that about Esaus birthright began to wax weak, and withdraw, and vanish; and this about the sufficiency of Grace prevailed with peace and joy. And as I was in a muse about this thing, that Scripture came home upon me:Mercy rejoiceth against judgment.
This was a wonderment to me; yet truly I am apt to think it was of God. For the word of the law and wrath must give place to the word of life and grace; because, though the word of condemnation be glorious, yet the word of life and salvation doth far exceed in glory. Also that Moses and Elias must both vanish, and leave Christ and His Saints alone.