Over the years, I’ve counseled with a good number of people struggling with the issue of assurance. How can I know that I’m saved? For many people, it comes down to wrong thinking about how their performance relates to their standing with God. For others, it’s doubt about whether they had a genuine conversion. Regardless of the circumstances, it can be a paralyzing question to grapple with.
Even with all the people I’ve talked to about this issue, I’ve never come across anyone as tortured by it as John Bunyan. The Puritan tinker/theologian/preacher/author is best known for writing The Pilgrim’s Progress. What many people don’t know is the agony that he endured for years while wrestling with this issue of assurance. I don’t use the word “torture” lightly. The poor man was tormented. In his autobiography – Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners – he details his road from debauched unbeliever to confessing believer to tortured doubter to elated son of God.
For those who struggle with assurance of salvation, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. First of all, it will put to words what you perhaps have thought you alone have experienced. There is great hope in seeing that others have suffered as we have. “I’m not alone” is a comforting thought indeed. Even greater comfort and hope can be derived from the knowledge that this venerable giant of the faith suffered horribly from doubt and that his doubt was eventually remedied. If John Bunyan doubted and found a resolution, you can, too.
Second, Bunyan explains how this doubt was remedied. Nothing is more discouraging than vague platitudes prescribed for real, felt despair. Bunyan is specific and detailed as he prescribes the truths that freed him from doubt forever. I won’t give it away here by summarizing it; the benefit of reading the whole account is too beneficial. Suffice to say you will not be disappointed.
Third, Bunyan explains why he believes the Lord allowed him to suffer under his doubt for so long. He believed that God was gracious, loving, and kind to put him through such a dark and horrible years-long season because it taught him things that benefited him and others for the rest of his life. Indeed, we could say, those lessons continue to benefit the church through Bunyan’s writings still today. You could benefit from those lessons by reading this book.
Fourth, reading the Puritans is good for the soul. I’ve never doubted my salvation for a single day, but this book has blessed me tremendously. So compelling is Bunyan’s experience that I found it difficult to put the book down. His eventual joy and love for the Savior after finding the truth that freed him from doubt is so infectious it will delight any believer, whether you’ve struggled with doubt or not. I’ve found this to be true of every Puritan I’ve read. Some modern books tend to be somewhat shallow, unclear, and repetitive. Not so with the Puritans. (Some Puritans are difficult to read – I wouldn’t start with John Owen!) John Bunyan certainly is a great place to start.