A Pilgrim’s Battle for Belief

Some might expect the author of the classic The Pilgrim’s Progress to be deeply grounded in faith, but the story of John Bunyan’s conversion reads differently.

In the preface of his spiritual autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, Bunyan, who was born in 1628 in Bedfordshire, England, said, “It is profitable for Christians to often call to mind the very beginnings of grace in their souls.” It is the Giver of that grace whom Bunyan seeks to magnify as he recounts his journey of salvation.

In that journey, we find Bunyan no stranger to unbelief but rather one who wrestled extensively with heavy doubts, guilt, and condemnation, often arguing that God could not save him.

He writes,

Sin and corruption 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 hearts with anybody. I thought none but the devil himself could equalize me for inward wickedness and pollution of mind. I fell at the sight of my own vileness into deep despair, for I concluded that this condition that I was in could not stand with a state of grace. Sure, I thought, 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 several years.

Several years, indeed.

In full disclosure I admit that as I read Bunyan’s story, I found myself getting so impatient (and sometimes frustrated) with the length of his conviction period that I would catch myself subconsciously praying that God would save him and relieve him from the weight of his doubts and paralyzing unbelief. Then I saw myself in his place. Praise for a God who is patient and forbearing with the frailty of our flesh. What a Savior.

During his years of battling for belief, the already vulnerable Bunyan was constantly plagued with the Accuser’s taunting, torments, and distortion of the truth. As you read the following excerpts, perhaps you will see, as I did, that the enemy of our souls has no new material but continues only to repackage the same lies he’s used for centuries. “Same cake, different party,” as my dad says.

It was after this that Bunyan’s fears of death and judgment were dissolved and replaced with comfort and a desire to both lead and fellowship with God’s people.

However, because he still remained in the flesh the battle with unbelief never ended but victory was gained.

I leave you with two final quotes from the book. These were penned while Bunyan was in prison for not conforming to the Church of England. All glory to our Conquering King.

I have never in all my life had so great an inlet into the Word of God as now. The Scriptures that I saw nothing in before are made to shine on me in this place and state.

I never knew what it was like to have God stand by me at every turn and every offer of Satan to afflict me as I have found Him since I came here. For as fears have presented themselves, so have support and encouragement.

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