Book Review: Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners
John Bunyan is best known around the globe for his classic work, Pilgrim’s Progress ($0.99 on Amazon Kindle) which is deservingly the most popular and influential book in Christendom (aside from the Bible). However, a sad consequence of this, is the fact that Bunyan’s other works have been greatly eclipsed by the popularity that Pilgrim’s Progress has enjoyed over the centuries. Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (Bunyan’s spiritual autobiography) is one such work. In my view this book (just like Pilgrim’s Progress) is a must-read for all Christians.
Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (FREE on Amazon Kindle) gives the reader some insight into the life abandoned to the saving and sanctifying grace of God. One is impressed by the graciousness of the grace of God and how He relentlessly pursues His children. In this autobiography, Bunyan does what should be natural for every child of God. He sincerely diminishes himself and gratefully magnifies the grace of God reminiscent of John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” One cannot help but see 1 Timothy 1:15 written all over his life.
Bunyan is not ashamed to talk of his former life of sin and rebellion against God, but he does not celebrate it. On the contrary, he mourns and grieves over that and reaches for grace of God for his soul’s salvation, sanctification and solace. He clings to the LORD even as He clings to him. I personally find Bunyan’s view of sin very convicting. I am ashamed that I do not loathe my sin as I should. Bunyan saw sin for what it really is, “any want of conformity unto, or transgression of the Law of God” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q & A 14). Sin is a direct offense against the holy God! I wonder if this is your view of sin. May the Lord be merciful to us!
Another thing that stands out in Bunyan’s life after he became a Christian is the account of his spiritual struggles. He struggled so much with getting assurance of his salvation. While some have dismissed this as merely a result of too much introspection, I think it is an indictment on all of us in the Church of Jesus Christ today. While we may have a high view of God and of the efficacy and sufficiency of His grace, we have a low view of sin. As a result, our thoughts and lives are often in danger of gravitating towards and bordering on antinominianism.
However, the Lord graciously minister’s to Bunyan’s need for assurance through His holy Word as He always does. In Bunyan’s life, this came through the instrumentation of Martin Luther’s commentary on Galatians. Regarding this, Bunyan writes:
The God in whose hands are all our days and ways one day brought into my possession a book by Martin Luther. It was his commentary on Galatians. It was so old that, if so much as turned it over, it was ready to fall to pieces. I was so pleased that such an old book had fallen into my hands that when just a few pages into it, I found my condition so comprehensively described by Luther’s experience, it was as if his book had been written from my own heart (p. 72-73).
He further writes, “apart from the Holy Bible, I consider this commentary on Galatians by Martin Luther to be the best of all the books that I have ever seen for a wounded conscience” (p. 73).
Reading Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners will truly open your eyes to the depth of your sin and the immeasurable greatness and abundance of the saving, sanctifying and comforting grace of God through Jesus Christ. You will better understand what Paul understood when he wrote, “It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15). I am yet to come across another autobiography of the soul-searching, soul-nourishing candor and stature as Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. I hope that you will get your own copy soon (if you don’t already have one) and that you will read and re-read this wonderful story of the abounding grace of God in the life of John Bunyan.
For those who may be interested to delve into Bunyan’s other writings, I recommend The Complete Works of John Bunyan, published by the Banner of Truth Trust. Soli deo Gloria!
By Rev. Fletcher Matandika
WSC Alumnus and President and Founder of Joy to the World Ministries