As If They Had Found a New World

From Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666)

Upon a day, the good providence of God called me to Bedford, to work on my calling; and in one of the streets of that town, I came where there were three or four poor women sitting at a door, in the sun, talking about the things of God; and being now willing to hear them discourse, I drew near to hear what they said, for I was now a brisk talker also myself, in the matters of religion. But I may say, I heard but understood not; for they were far above, out of my reach.

Their talk was about a new birth, the work of God on their hearts, also how they were convinced of their miserable state by nature; they talked how God had visited their souls with his love in the Lord Jesus, and with what words and promises they had been refreshed, comforted, and supported, against the temptations of the devil: moreover, they reasoned of the suggestions and temptations of Satan in particular; and told to each other, by which they had been afflicted and how they were borne up under his assaults…

And, it seemed to me, they spoke as if joy did make them speak; they spoke with such pleasantness of scripture language, and with such appearance of grace in all they said, that they were to me, as if they had found a new world…

At this I felt my own heart began to shake, and mistrust my condition to be naught; for I saw that in all my thoughts about religion and salvation, the new-birth did never enter into my mind; neither knew I the comfort of the word and promise, nor the deceitfulness and treachery of my own wicked heart…Therefore I often made it my business to be going again and again into the company of these poor people; for I could not stay away; and the more I went amongst them, the more I did question my condition…

I did greatly long to see some ancient godly man’s experience, who had writ some hundreds of years before I was born; for those who had writ in our days, I thought (but I desire them now to pardon me) that they had writ only that which others felt; or else had, through the strength of their wits and parts, studied to answer such objections as they perceived others were perplexed with, without going down themselves into the deep.

Well, after many such longings in my mind, the God, in whose hands are all our days and ways, did cast into my hand a book by Martin Luther. It was his Commentary on Galatians… I found my condition in Luther’s experience so largely and profoundly handled, as if his book had been written out of my heart. This made me marvel: for thus thought I, “This man could not know anything of the state of Christians now, but must needs write and speak the experience of former days.” Besides, he does most gravely also in that book, debate of the rise of these temptations, namely, blasphemy, desperation, and the like; showing that the law of Moses, as well as the devil, death, and hell, hath a very great hand therein: the which, at first, was very strange to me; but considering and watching, I found it so indeed…

I do prefer this book of Martin Luther upon the Galatians (excepting the Holy Bible) before all the books that ever I had seen, as most fit for a wounded conscience… And now I found, as I thought, that I loved Christ dearly: Oh! I thought my soul cleaved unto Christ; my affections cleaved unto him; I felt love to him as hot as fire.

John Bunyan (1628-1688) was an English Baptist preacher and writer, remembered for several devotional works that became widely influential, especially the allegorical narrative, The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678). He wrote most of his works while imprisoned for his refusal to give up unlicensed preaching. Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners was his own spiritual autobiography, one of his earliest works to gain wide popularity. He is commemorated on the liturgical calendars of several Anglican churches on dates near his day of death, August 30.

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