Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
John Bunyan is born in the small English village of Elstow. His father is a tinker, or metal worker, who owns his own cottage, pays taxes, and conforms to the Church of England. John goes to school only briefly, and by the age of ten he considers himself a captive of the Devil and is given to cursing, swearing, lying, and blaspheming God. He experiences terrible dreams of Hell, fire, and judgment and eternal darkness, but ignores them and becomes a ringleader of young men who pursue their sins with enthusiasm. All the while he is learning the trade of tinker from his father.
As a teenager, John escapes death from near drowning, from a poisonous snake, and from musket fire (a companion who took his place as sentinel was shot in the head and died). He recognizes his survival as the grace of God in spite of his many sins. He gets married and starts going to church as much as twice a day. He describes himself as bewitched by the priests, vestments, and services of the Church of England. For about a year he works at controlling his vile tongue and tries to give his neighbors the impression he is a godly man.
Aware of his hypocrisy but not knowing what to do about it, one day his work takes him to Bedford, where he overhears women sitting in the sun and talking about God and the new life they enjoy as a consequence of their relationships with Jesus Christ. He is impressed by their happy and blessed condition and makes it his business to pay many visits and learn from these Puritans. He starts reading the Bible with new eyes and finds the Epistles of the Apostle Paul sweet and pleasant. Still, he fears there is a limit to the number of people who can go to Heaven and fears it is too late...
(The entire section is 698 words.)
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Bibliography (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Bunyan, John. Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. Edited by Roger Sharrock. New York: Oxford University Press, 1962. The original text, including marginal notes. Reproduced with a helpful introduction and a commentary explaining the cultural and literary contexts of the work.
Camden, Vera J. “Blasphemy and the Problem of the Self in Grace Abounding.” Bunyan Studies 1 (1989): 5-21. A psychological analysis of Bunyan, his spiritual crisis, and his crisis of identity.
Greaves, Richard L. Glimpses of Glory: John Bunyan and English Dissent. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2002. A historical study of Bunyan and his writings in the political and religious contexts of seventeenth century England.
Hill, Christopher. A Tinker and a Poor Man: John Bunyan and His Church, 1628-1688. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989. Hill explores Bunyan’s rise to respectability as a religious leader within the Bedford congregation and examines the broader dissenting movement of Bunyan’s time.
Laurence, Anne, W. R. Owens, and Stuart Sim, eds. John Bunyan and His England, 1628-88. London: Hambledon, 1990. This anthology explores many dimensions of Bunyan’s life and work. Includes two valuable studies on Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners by Roger Sharrock and Roger Pooley.
Mullett, Michael A. John Bunyan in Context. Pittsburgh, Pa.: Duquesne University Press, 1996. This authoritative summary of the historical changes in England—the civil war, the Interregnum, and the Restoration of the monarchy—also reveals the cultural forces that helped to shape Bunyan’s thoughts and ideas.
Pooley, Roger. “Plain and Simple: Bunyan and Style.” In John Bunyan: Conventicle and Parnassus, edited by N. H. Keeble. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. Pooley explains the religious and cultural reasons for Bunyan’s deliberate use of simple and direct language.
Runyon, Daniel V. John Bunyan’s Master Story: The Holy War as Battle Allegory in Religious and Biblical Context. Lampeter, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2007. Chapters one through four present a study of the forces that shaped Bunyan’s Puritan theology and allegorical literary style.
Stachniewski, John, and Anita Pacheco. Grace Abounding with Other Spiritual Autobiographies. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. This collection features Bunyan’s autobiography in the context of other seventeenth century spiritual autobiographies. Includes comparative analyses.