Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners is divided into a preface and four sections. The preface is a pastoral address to John Bunyan’s spiritual children—the real people who know him and to whom he preached prior to his imprisonment. The first section contains the major portion of the work describing the terrible spiritual struggles that plague the author from his early childhood until he achieves a resolution to his anxiety at about the age of twenty-eight. Section two is a short summary of Bunyan’s call to ministry, and section three is a brief account of the author’s imprisonment. The conclusion is a concise listing of Bunyan’s reasons why questioning the being of God and the truth of the Gospel is the worst temptation he ever encountered. He reveals seven abominations that continue to plague his heart and discerns the wisdom of God that turns trouble into ultimate good because he relies on Christ to live successfully to the end of his days.
One characteristic of the early modern period is the importance attached to the individual. Self-examination was at the heart of the Reformation, and in England the collapse of censorship during the civil war years produced a great questioning and reevaluation of everything. Bunyan’s spiritual autobiography reflects these times. He embraces the traditionally tough Puritan stance on the authority of the Bible and also undergoes the modern individual struggle about how to interpret and obey what is written there. He is a kindred spirit with the Apostle Paul, as both of them are writing from prison, both feel an impending sense of their own martyrdom, and both have a passion to teach their congregations the truths they have learned.
Things expected in a typical autobiography are left out of Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners: No mention is made by Bunyan that his mother and younger sister both die when he is sixteen years old, that his father immediately remarries, and that Bunyan joins the parliamentary army. Even his marriage is mentioned only incidentally because his wife (whose name remains anonymous) brings him two religious books that influence his spiritual development. Comparing this work with...
(The entire section is 897 words.)