The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise” (1 Cor. 1:26-27). The truth of this Scripture shines with uncommon salience in the life and ministry of John Bunyan (1628-1688). Born in Elstow, England into the trade of a “tinker,” he had no university education.[1] Yet he is remembered as one of history’s most influential authors due to the extraordinary success of The Pilgrim’s Progress.[2] His exceptional acquaintance with the English Bible, knowledge of the human heart, and mastery of colloquial English made him one of church history’s most effective communicators. This Baptist Puritan[3] excelled at communicating Christian doctrine to the everyday man—so much so, that even the learned John Owen admired his gifts.[4]

 Most notably, he excelled at expounding the “chief article” of the gospel according to Protestantism, the doctrine of justification by faith.[5] Bunyan’s writings present a thorough, well-articulated theology of justification.[6] It is one of the doctrines that receive most emphasis in his writings.

Bunyan’s theology of justification is Protestant and orthodox. In terms of its nature, justification is a legal pronouncement by God as just Judge. Its source is free grace according to the Father’s electing love, its meritorious basis is the obedience and blood of Christ, and its means of appropriation is through the instrumentality of faith alone. That is to say that its ordaining is in eternity past, its establishment is in the historic work of Christ, and its conscientious application in the sinner’s personal experience is upon conversion.[7] This is all standard Reformed doctrine.[8] Even so, the extent to which Bunyan’s writings give attention to this doctrine is beyond that of many other Reformed writers. It is a doctrine in which he took peculiar interest.

One of the extraordinary characteristics of his exposition of justification is in its embrace of the realm of experiential application. He presents it in a way that is intended to touch human experience. He insists that this doctrine is not just a matter of understanding but of believing, receiving, and treasuring with the whole heart. It is meant to address the profound struggles of the soul. It affects the whole of one’s relationship to God and the world. Its experiential implications touch the very citadel of one’s being and formatively influence the totality of the Christian life. Its practical consequences are profound and far-reaching, grounding all true piety and undergirding Christian ethics. As Bunyan expounds on the doctrine, he always seems to do so with the experiential application and appropriation of it in view.

All this signifies that studying his handling of this doctrine opens up a unique distinctive of Puritan and Reformed theology. This distinctive is summarized in the oft-quoted definition of theology provided by Ames as “the doctrine of living to God.”[9] To know theology is not only to apprehend it by cognitive conception, but it is to know it experientially, personally, vitally.[10] While many writers in the Puritan and Reformed tradition expound on justification experientially, the experiential exposition of justification found in Bunyan’s writings reveals a hallmark of his thought.

This is in keeping with the biblical emphasis on knowledge, which includes experiential acquaintance (John 17:3; Rom. 8:29; Phil. 3:10; Gen. 4:1, 17, 25). Doctrine should be understood by the mind and embraced with the heart.[11]Those called to preach in the church should preach the word of God out the stock of their intellectual knowledge and their personal, experiential acquaintance with the power of the truth (2 Tim. 3:5; Titus 1:1; 2 Pet. 1:3). How does Bunyan contribute to this? Bunyan serves as a superb example of how the theology of justification should be handled because he expounds the doctrine in an experiential manner that addresses the greatest needs of mankind before God.[12]

As we proceed, we will set out by pointing out some of the formative influences on Bunyan’s thought. Then we will analyze a few aspects of his thought in his doctrine of justification, followed by a summary of the experiential applicability of these aspects of his doctrine. Finally, we will conclude with some suggestions for further lines of investigation along with some practical lessons that the contemporary church can learn from Bunyan’s handling of this doctrine.

Formative Influences on Bunyan’s Thought

As is the case with every great thinker, Bunyan did not formulate his theology in a vacuum. “Bunyan’s own spiritual experience helped shaped his views of justification.”[13] His struggles with sin and guilt were abnormally intense. Like his pilgrim, Bunyan lamented under a sense of the burden of sin so acute that it caused him to anguish in despair. No doubt, the journey of his pilgrim is descriptive of his own journey—autobiographical insights are draped in the prose of extended allegory. The burden on the back, the terrors of scaling Mount Sinai in vain, and foundering in the slough of despond all speak of Bunyan’s struggle to find peace of conscience. But the encounter with the cross, the lifting of sin’s burden, and the bestowal of the scroll of assurance also speak of his experience.[14]

His writings reveal deep struggles of the soul. The depths and heights of his soul-experiences are remarkable for their intensity and for the vividness with which Bunyan expresses them. It is out of these depths and heights that he understood and sought to communicate Scripture’s doctrines of sin and justification. As he saw himself as “the chief of sinners,” he consequently saw justification by grace as the great glory of the gospel, because it meant peace with God for the bold blasphemer’s sin-stained soul. Bunyan had sometimes thought that his sin had placed him beyond the reach of God’s grace in the gospel.[15] Justification by the alien righteousness of another meant that his own sin became non-consequential to his saving reception into the arms of God. It was good news indeed—such good news that it turned the tinker into a preacher who could not cease to proclaim it (even at the cost of persecution, poverty, imprisonment and potential death!).

During Bunyan’s early years of struggle under conviction of sin, especially helpful to him was Martin Luther’s commentary on Galatians. Reminiscing on his temptations, he wrote,

“Well, after many such longings in my mind, the God in whose hands are all our days and ways, did cast into my hand, one day, a book of Martin Luther; it was his comment on the Galatians—it also was so old that it was ready to fall piece from piece if I did but turn it over. Now I was pleased much that such an old book had fallen into my hands; the which, when I had but a little way perused, I found my condition, in his experience, so largely and profoundly handled, as if his book had been written out of my heart.”[16]

Bunyan went on to say, “I do prefer this book of Martin Luther upon the Galatians, excepting the Holy Bible, before all the books that ever I have seen, as most fit for a wounded conscience.”[17] The German Reformer’s doctrine of justification sola fide is asserted with extraordinary vigor in this commentary. Bunyan’s preference for it above all other non-inspired writings reveals his affinity to and preference for the doctrine of justification in much the same spirit as Luther.

Scholars have often pointed out Luther’s influence on Bunyan.[18] As we consider Bunyan’s experiential understanding of the doctrine of justification, it would be helpful to identify some common threads in the thought of these two servants of Christ. Though they had radically different backgrounds, their thought and emphases in teaching seem to overlap in some significant ways.[19] This is especially true in the prominence they give to the doctrinal and experiential exposition of the doctrine of justification.[20]

Bunyan’s theology took its shape through much meditation on Scripture, turmoil of conscience and prayer for deliverance—much like Luther’s famed method for doing theology. Luther famously wrote that the “correct way of studying theology” is by “Oratio, Meditatio, Tentatio”[21] (prayer, meditation, and temptation). First of all, he says to the man who desires to study the Scriptures: “pray to God with real humility and earnestness, that he through his dear Son may give you his Holy Spirit, who will enlighten you, lead you, and give you understanding.”[22] Second, one is to meditate profoundly on the truth in question to develop his understanding, like fruit that is brought to ripen to maturity. “Thirdly,” Luther writes, “there is tentatio, Anfechtung. This is the touchstone which teaches you not only to know and understand, but also to experience how right, how true, how sweet, how lovely, how mighty, how comforting God’s Word is, wisdom beyond all wisdom.”[23] Luther abhorred the mere theoretical handling of truth. He was an experiential theologian. The goal of theological study is to experience the reality of truth.

Luther’s advice seems to spring from his own spiritual journey. As the apostle of justification by faith to the Western church,[24] he had come to discover this doctrine through intense struggles as he engaged with the soul-scourging afflictions of a tormented conscience. It was in the Scriptures that he found peace as he prayed and meditated over them with great earnestness. The temptations and trials from within and without caused him to lay hold of the word of God with tenacious zeal, to which he turned as a sole source of solace and refuge. These intense experiences brought Luther to savor the sweetness of justification like none other, because in it he found the peace and comfort for which his soul longed.[25] It was by the Spirit’s grace that prayer, meditation, and temptation had impressed upon his soul the experiential relish of what he read in Scripture concerning justification by faith alone. He did not merely learn of it by instruction from others, but had its mighty reality burned into his heart as it were, causing it to flame out into his affections and consume him with zeal to proclaim it to the world.

John Bunyan had a similar spiritual journey.[26] Pieter de Vries notes that “there is a profound agreement between Bunyan’s own spiritual struggle and Luther’s.”[27] Bunyan’s spiritual autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, details a prolonged battle with doubts, unbelief, blasphemous thoughts, temptations and conflicting feelings that reveals a period of intense struggle analogous to Luther’s. As Bunyan wrestled for peace in the face of intense consciousness of temptation, he gave himself to meditation on Scripture and prayer. His internal conflict was calmed by bringing his conscience into subjection to the promise of mercy in the word of God. This explains why he could quote the Bible so prolifically.[28] He knew it well because he poured over its contents like a desperate man.

Christopher Hill points out how the words of the Bible roared inside Bunyan’s head during this season of struggle. Biblical texts would torment his conscience with suggestions of God’s judgment, and Bunyan would seek to calm them by other texts that spoke of God’s mercy. Bunyan spoke of “tumultuous thoughts that before did use, like masterless hell-hounds, to roar and bellow, and make a hideous noise within me.”[29] Hill comments on this: “One of the astonishing features of Grace Abounding is the audibility of the exchanges between Bunyan and the tempter. Texts are hurled backwards and forwards like mountains in Milton’s War in Heaven…. So, in the course of his years of agony, Bunyan came to know the Bible better than most even in that Biblical age.”[30] This process was the furnace of temptation that forged the tinker into a practical theologian, one that was inundated with the text of Scripture.

All this helps to explain why Bunyan’s doctrine of justification as exhibited in his writings is so experientially-oriented. As his soul was long in agony over sin, justification by free grace gave him comfort; as his conscience was often turbulent with guilt, it gave him peace; as his heart was often stricken with fear of facing almighty wrath, it assured him of God’s acceptance and approbation. For Bunyan, justification by grace was water to a thirsty and dying soul; it was bread from heaven to an emaciated beggar dying of starvation; it was treasure of incomprehensible worth freely bestowed upon a destitute derelict who would otherwise perish from his poverty. This explains why Bunyan saw justification as “the heart of the Christian religion.”[31]

Bunyan’s lifelong sensitivity to his indwelling sin caused him to continually dwell on the truth of justification as a source of refuge. It seems he relished the truth of justifying grace as his soul feasted on the consolation it had to offer day after day. Being so deeply impressed upon his heart, it was only natural that out of the abundance of his heart his mouth would speak.

John Brown said, “He found his way to other men’s hearts because he spoke so truly out of his own.”[32] Whether he was speaking of the weight of sin, the terrors of God’s wrath, the justifying righteousness of Christ, or the sweet peace of forgiveness and assurance, Bunyan sought to speak as a man who felt what he spoke. He was especially conscious of speaking out of deep heart conviction when expounding on the “doctrine of life by Christ,” which in Bunyan’s mind entails nothing less than the doctrine of justification.[33]

These are some of the reasons Bunyan taught justification in such an experiential, plain, and urgent manner.[34]For him, the doctrine is extremely personal, to be personally apprehended. It means life from the dead, a real heaven in the place of a real hell. It is prominent and paradigmatic for his thought because it meets with utmost relevance the greatest needs of his soul before God.

Before we proceed to consider some of the particular experiential emphases of his teaching on this, it would be helpful to first outline a few facets of his theology of justification. For the sake of simplification, we will do so according to three of the most foundational aspects of it: its nature, its Christocentricity, and its law-gospel framework. This by no means seeks to exhaust his thought but is intended to give us a simplified summary that will serve as a functional outline for the next section of this paper. Our subsequent summary of his experiential exposition of justification will be based on these three aspects of his doctrine.

Bunyan’s Theology of Justification

The Definition and Nature of Justification

In A Confession of My Faith and A Reason of My Practice, Bunyan outlines some of his core theological convictions that were, according to his own testimony, central to his preaching ministry, essential for Christian fellowship, and for which he had been imprisoned for about twelve years at the time of its writing.[35] After an initial sketch of the faith that summarizes his beliefs in general terms, he writes of eight doctrines in greater detail, each under its individual heading. The first of these headings is titled, “Of Justification.” Its presence and prioritized location in this personal “confession” is a testimony to the prime importance Bunyan attached to this doctrine. Its pertinence to our study lies in the fact that it evinces a conscientious attempt by Bunyan to summarize the substance of his theology of justification in the form of concise doctrinal formulation.

The first paragraph begins with Bunyan defining what he views as the essence of justification: “I believe, we being sinful creatures in ourselves, that no good thing done by us, can procure of God the imputation of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. But that the imputation thereof is an act of grace, a free gift without our deserving.”[36] What is significant here is his use of the phrase “the imputation of the righteousness of Jesus Christ” as the basis of justification. For Bunyan, justification consists in an act of imputation by which one is credited with righteousness that is extrinsic to one’s self. This is the sina qua non of his view of justification—without this imputation, justification does not and cannot exist. His confession begins with this because this is essentially bound up with what gospel justification is.[37]

Particularly stressed is the forensic and declarative nature of justification. The second paragraph of his Confessionjuxtaposes justification with “sin being the transgression of the law.”[38] The placing of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness in the context of the sinner’s violation of the divine law highlights the legal, forensic, judicial nature of it. It is not righteousness imparted but righteousness imputed; not achieved by the sinner’s active attempts at obedience but judicially reckoned to his account through the passive reception of faith.[39] As Bunyan states elsewhere, justification before God transpires “when a man stands clear, quit, free, or, in a saved condition before him, in the approbation of his holy law.”[40] In essence, justification is a legal act of God’s judicial reckoning.

Excluded here is any notion of the infusion of inherent righteousness or of any acceptation by God on the basis of a sinner’s own law-keeping. Bunyan’s other writings bear this out in great detail. He explains that God justifies the believing sinner not by “taking away by his grace the imperfections of their righteousness, and so making of that perfect by additions of his own; but he makes them righteous by his obedience; not in them, but for them.”[41] In other words, God does not eradicate the sinfulness of the sinner in order to perfect them and then accept them on the basis of their inherently righteous disposition. On the contrary, “justified men are yet sinners in themselves, are yet full of imperfections; yea, sinful imperfections.” This does not negate the truth of God because Scripture teaches, “While we are yet sinners, we are justified…Hence, again, it is said, ‘he justifieth the ungodly.’ (Rom 4:5, 5:8, 9) Justification, then, only covereth our sin from the sight of God; it maketh us not perfect with inherent perfection.”[42]

Romans 4:5 was a favorite text among Protestant proponents of justification sola fide and Bunyan stands in this tradition as he expounds on this truth in a number of his writings.[43] The legal and imputative nature of justification is highlighted by the fact that God “justifieth the ungodly” apart from works. Bunyan’s forensic and imputative view stands in contrast with other views contemporary to him in Roman Catholic, Latitudinarian Anglican, Arminian, Quaker and Neonomian positions,[44] and is clearly identifiable as being in keeping with Protestant orthodoxy among the Reformed of England.

The Christocentricity of Justification

The fact that Bunyan understands justification to be imputative and forensic does not mean he is inadvertently embracing a “legal fiction” (as non-imputative views of justification have commonly asserted).[45] For Bunyan, justification is no untruth because it is based on real righteousness that has been objectively established by God. Speaking of believers, he writes that “the righteousness that they stand justified before God in is not their own actual righteousness by the law, but by imputation, and is really the righteousness of Another—namely, of God in Christ.”[46] The merit of Christ is the content of imputation, and God forbid we should call Christ’s merit fictional.

It is a righteousness that is comprehended exclusively in the person of the Mediator. Bunyan insists that “justifying righteousness is in the Son.”[47] What does he mean by it being “in” the Son? Elsewhere he says,

“the righteousness by which we stand just from the curse, before God, is only inherent in Jesus Christ. For if he hath undertaken to bring in a justifying righteousness, and that by works and merits of his own, then that righteousness must of necessity be inherent in him alone, and ours only by imputation; and hence it is called, in that fifth to the Romans, the gift, the ‘gift of righteousness.’”[48]

This means that justification is radically Christocentric: it is centered on Christ because it is achieved by Christ, is comprehended in Christ, and is received by the sinner only in Christ.

Realizing this truth caused great peace for Bunyan as far as this truth of justification registered in the court of his conscience. In Grace Abounding, he rejoices over what he understood when he pondered 1 Corinthians 1:30:

“For by this scripture, I saw that the man Christ Jesus, as he is distinct from us, as touching his bodily presence, so he is our righteousness and sanctification before God. Here, therefore, I lived for some time, very sweetly at peace with God through Christ; Oh methought, Christ! Christ! there was nothing but Christ that was before my eyes, I was not now only for looking upon this and the other benefits of Christ apart, as of his blood, burial, or resurrection, but considered him as a whole Christ! As he in whom all these, and all other his virtues, relations, offices, and operations met together, and that ‘as he sat’ on the right hand of God in heaven.”[49]

Every facet of justification is grounded in the person and work of Christ. The Son of God became incarnate, “that he might be capable to work out the redemption of men.”[50] It was necessary for him to be fully God and fully man, for “the divine nature was joined to the human, and by that means he was every way made a Saviour complete”.[51] By his humanity, Christ “in his own body on the tree did bear our sins (1 Peter 2:24).”[52] By his deity, he “did in the power and strength of his godhead (John 19:30; 10:18) yield up himself to the wrath of his Father, which was due to poor sinners.”[53] By his obedient and sinless life, Christ “prepares himself a priestly robe, which was his own obediential righteousness; for without these holy garments he might not adventure to come into the presence of God to offer his gift (Rom 5:19; Exo 28:40; 40:13).”[54] By his death, he gives “due and full satisfaction to the justice of God for what provocations we are at any time guilty of.”[55] By being “raised again for our justification (Rom 4:25)…it is evident that the work for us, was by him effectually done.”[56] Similar statements could be found regarding his views of Christ’s ascension and intercession.[57]

It is no wonder that Bunyan would declare that saving faith embraces Christ:

“‘But that no man is justified by the works of the law, in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith’ (Gal 3:11). Which living by faith, is to apply the Lord Jesus Christ his benefits, as birth, righteousness, death, blood, resurrection, ascension, and intercession, with the glorious benefits of his second coming to me, as mine, being given to me, and for me.”[58]

Every aspect of Christ’s person and work, of his living and dying, is related to justification.[59] Faith receives and rests upon Christ, resulting in being united to Christ so that what he obtained for sinners becomes one’s own. Speaking of “that principle of righteousness” by which we are justified, Bunyan says, “A man must then be united to Christ first, and so being united, he partaketh of this benefit.”[60] Faith has no merit of its own, to make any contribution to justification, nor is it the basis of justification. The saving application of righteousness unto justification is apprehended through the instrumentality of faith as faith lays hold of Christ, whose atoning work is the basis. Justification is received in union with Christ.

This does not negate a robust Trinitarian framework of justification. In Christ a Complete Saviour, a book devoted to extolling Christ’s intercession in salvation, Bunyan explains that all three persons of the Godhead are involved in justification. After demonstrating this, he proceeds to denounce an imbalanced Christo-centrism in one’s view of justification that practically denies the saving activity of the Father and the Spirit by abstractly isolating the benefits that reside in the Son.[61] To come to Christ is to “come to the Father by him” (Heb. 7:25) by a Spirit-wrought faith. One cannot have justification without having Christ; and by having Christ, one is ushered into the fellowship of the Trinity.

Law-Gospel Antithesis and Harmony of Justification

The instrumentality of faith is in accord with grace and stands in contradistinction to the works of the law (Rom. 4:16). Yet the law is not abrogated (Rom. 3:31). It factors prominently into Bunyan’s understanding of justification. The law is foundational to the gospel. For, “he that is dark as touching the scope, intent, and nature of the law, is also dark as to the scope, nature, and glory of the Gospel; and also he that hath but a notion of the one, will barely have any more than a notion of the other.”[62] Unless a person understands how the law condemns them, it is impossible to understand or appreciate how the gospel saves. The overwhelming burden of the law presses sinners to seek after the knowledge of gospel.

In their most radical principles, when it comes to the sinner’s acceptation by God, law and gospel stand antithetical to one another. God’s wrath which is by the law stands in antithesis to his grace which is by the gospel. Bunyan reflects great similarity to the law-gospel antithesis of Luther’s theological thought regarding justification. The law kills, but grace makes alive; the law wounds, but grace heals; the law condemns, but grace justifies; the law is of works, but faith accords with grace.[63] “To live by doing works is the doctrine of the law and Moses; but to live by faith and grace, is the doctrine of Christ, and the gospel.”[64]

The relationship between law and gospel is not merely antithetical, however. There is also harmony. The gospel honors the law and answers to its demands. The law is not retracted or dishonored in the justification of the ungodly because its righteousness has been perfectly fulfilled by Christ. Justification is “By law as well as grace; that is, in a way of justice as well as in a way of mercy.”[65] Bunyan paraphrases God’s dealings with sinners who struggle with the concept of free grace in light of their sinfulness by picturing God as saying, “Behold, I act according to law and justice. For of grace I save them through a redemption, and therefore am faithful and just to my law, as well as free and liberal of my mercy.”[66] There is therefore no inconsistency or contradiction due to the harmonious intersection of the law with the gospel in the saving work of the Lord Jesus. It is now just for God to forgive the sins of those who trust in Jesus (1 John 1:9).

Bunyan teaches that all men are in covenant relationship with God in The Doctrine of the Law and Grace Unfolded. His thought on law and grace is governed by a construct of covenant theology that is largely in keeping with the Particular Baptist Puritans of his time.[67] One is either under the covenant of works and is condemned by their failure to render perfect conformity to the whole law or is under the covenant of grace and is justified due to Christ’s perfect conformity to the law. Bunyan’s covenant theology undergirds his law-gospel construct, and this forms the structure for his doctrine of justification.

The covenant of works is represented by Adam as its head and it and stands in continuity with the old covenant of Sinai. This is the moral law, inscribed upon the heart of man in his creation in the image of God, comprehensively summarized in the Ten Commandments.[68] The covenant of grace, equated with the new covenant, is headed by Christ who completely fulfilled its conditions on behalf of those united to him.[69] Justification entails a definitive transfer from the covenant of works to the covenant of grace.[70]

Due to his emphasis on freedom from the law as a covenant of works, it would be easy to misinterpret Bunyan as being antinomian. His language on being “dead to the law,”[71] “set free from the law,”[72] etc. is often quite strong—possibly overstated at times. However, Bunyan never teaches that the Christian is not under moral obligation to obey the law of God, much less that it can be spurned with impunity. He writes, “The law is cast behind the back of many, when it should be carried in the hand and heart, that we might do it, to the end [that] the gospel which we profess might be glorified in the world. Let then the law be with thee to love it, and do it in the spirit of the gospel, that thou be not unfruitful in thy life.”[73] In context, he is referring to the moral law, which he identifies consistently as the Ten Commandments. This is the position of the Reformed orthodox, summarized in the Westminster standards and its sister confessions.[74]

Immediately after this, Bunyan goes on to say, “Let the law, I say, be with thee, not as it comes from Moses, but from Christ; for though thou art set free from the law as a covenant of life, yet thou still art under the law to Christ; and it is to be received by thee as out of his hand, to be a rule for thy conversation in the world (1 Cor. 9:18).”[75] Those who are familiar with the language of the Puritan divines will immediately recognize this language of receiving the law not from Moses’ hand but from the hand of Christ. As Sinclair Ferguson explains, it means that the Christian does not relate to the law directly, but as one who is in Christ, and represented by the vicariously-established, imputed righteousness of Christ.[76] But this does not mean freedom from the authority of the law as the expression of God’s will, which the Christian is to observe as he works out his sanctification (Phil. 2:12).

Yet this is no mere legal obedience, but the obedience of faith. Gospel obedience is by grace because it accords with faith, and this faith is the gift of grace. To be sure, there is command and condition in the gospel, but grace ensures that the Christian fulfill it. Mere human effort can never fulfill the condition. Holiness of life is impossible by mere human effort. The Spirit of God who is God gracing the justified with his indwelling presence works practical holiness of heart and life.[77] Furthermore, justification is by faith alone, but good works do flow from faith”.[78] The livelier the faith, the more abundant and vigorous the goods works will be that flow from it.

Justification has two aspects: before God and before men. While justification before God is by grace alone, justification before men includes (grace-enabled) works, and the two must ever be joined, lest one evince a false profession of faith. Bunyan distinguishes these two aspects of justification without separating them.[79] He also prioritizes the former. There is a priority of justification before obedience in the Christian life that ensures that even sanctification is all of grace. Justification is distinct from sanctification but is inseparable from it.

Commenting on Matthew 7:19, Bunyan teaches that to be a good tree is necessary to be able to produce good fruit. One is considered a good tree before God by “righteousness imputed” and produces good fruit by “having a principle of righteousness in his soul.”[80] The Christian’s obedience is accepted because the imputed righteousness of Christ covers the moral blemishes of the believer’s best obedience to God’s commandments. The justified fulfill the law as a way of life, but not perfectly; furthermore, what obedience they do have is empowered by grace.

In summary, the law drives the sinner to Christ for justification, and Christ covers the sinner with his righteousness so that one’s obedience is acceptable to God. This obedience must spring forth from faith, is empowered by the Spirit, and honors the law of God. But considered properly in itself, the law still rebukes the Christian, making it necessary to flee to Christ every moment of every day to rest in his blood and righteousness alone.

We have focused here on Bunyan’s teaching of justification largely with respect to his uniformity with the Protestant Reformed of England, emphasizing similarities and common ground more than any (apparent or actual) differences. Though Bunyan sometimes uses theologically imprecise language in his writings, and though his doctrine of justification bears some nuances not shared by all of his Calvinist contemporaries, and though his overall emphases seem to be more in keeping with those of Luther than with the Calvinist tradition, his doctrine of justification is fundamentally the same as that represented by the Reformed confessional standards of this period. In that sense, he is not unique.

Where he shines the brightest, though, is in his unique, picturesque, experimental exposition of justification. His gifting to vividly elucidate old gospel truths won him the reputation of one of history’s greatest authors, and the illustrative clarity and experiential applicability of The Pilgrim’s Progress are traits that can be discerned in the rest of his large body of writings. We will now proceed to consider Bunyan’s experiential exposition of justification both evangelistically and pastorally as we consider insights that pertain to what he taught about the nature, the Christocentricity, and the law-gospel relationship of this doctrine.

Experiential Exposition of Justification

It was a distinctive mark of Puritan experiential preaching that they did not consider their duty to be done when they had merely explained the doctrinal truths of Scripture; they believed that biblically-faithful preaching must drive the truth home to men’s lives and hearts in language that is plain, direct, full of earnestness, honesty, candor and compassion. They would not only instruct but “reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:); not only explaining the truth but imploring and beseeching and pleading by it (2 Cor. 5:20). They ever sought to move from general doctrinal truth to the particular, personal, searching application of it.

Bunyan’s writings on justification stand in this tradition and are reflective of his preaching style.[81] His writings exemplify the Puritan practice of handling theological truth in an experiential manner and demonstrate how a doctrine such as this can be handled with both precision and with personal application.

Experiential Exposition of the Nature of Justification

Above it was explained that Bunyan understood the nature of justification to be forensic and imputative, not inherent, internal, or personally-attained. It is therefore the free gift of grace. He often applies this by exhorting sinners to despair of trusting in their own righteousness, rebuking those who do, and pleading with them to embrace a righteousness outside of themselves.

A good example of this can be found in Justification by an Imputed Righteousness. Toward the end of this treatise, Bunyan arrives at a several “uses” of his doctrine. The first of these begins thus: “Is justifying righteousness to be found in the person of Christ only? Then this should admonish us to take heed of seeking it in ourselves; that is, of working righteousness, thereby to appease the justice of God, lest by so doing we affront and blaspheme the righteousness of Christ.”[82] The necessity of extrinsic, forensic justification should utterly divest one from confiding in their own resources, encouraging the outward look of faith by discouraging the inward look of carnal confidence. To do otherwise, seeking one’s own righteousness, is to insult the perfect righteousness of Christ by presuming it to be insufficient to justify—despicable blasphemy, he says!

Bunyan’s language is strong because he means to confront his reader and leave no middle ground. One cannot trust in their own righteousness and in the righteousness of Christ. To embrace the former in any measure or degree is to repudiate the latter, if not in word, then at least in heart-motive and deed. The need for righteousness outside of one’s self is meant to stir up a faith that looks away from one’s self.

In his exposition of the state of the Pharisee from the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican in Luke 18:8-10, Bunyan says this about the self-righteous:

“This therefore is the dangerous estate of those that go about to establish their own righteousness, that neither have, nor can, while they are so doing, submit themselves to the righteousness of God. (Rom 10:3) It is far more easy to persuade a poor wretch, whose life is debauched, and whose sins are written in his forehead, to submit to the righteousness of God, that is, to the righteousness that is of God’s providing and giving; than it is to persuade a self-righteous man to do it. For the profane are sooner convinced, as of the necessity of righteousness to save him: so that he has none of his own to do him that pleasure, and therefore most gladly he accepteth of, and submitteth himself to the help and health and salvation that is in the righteousness and obedience of another man.”[83]

His exposition is intended to confront, to wound, to destroy all trust in one’s own righteousness. It is meant to be offensive to man’s innate, carnal pride and to cast down the self-righteous “Pharisee” that men are by nature into the dust alongside the Publican (i.e. the overt sinner)—to the place where true confession can be made. Bunyan highlights the difficulty of this in order to spark a ray of discerning light that may awaken the self-righteous sinner to the difficulty of making full confession of his sinfulness, with the intention of awakening him to his condition before God. His words are a vivid way of explaining that men are prone to trust in a perceived righteousness inherent rather than in an imputed righteousness that is forensic.

In the same context, the Pharisee (i.e. self-righteous reader of Bunyan’s works) is exhorted directly: “Pharisee, I will assure thee, thou art besides the saddle; thy state is not good, thy righteousness is so far off from doing of thee any good, that it maketh thee to be a greater sinner than if thou hadst none at all, because it fighteth more immediately against the mercy, the love, the grace, and goodness of God, than the sins of other sinners, as to degree, does.”[84] Again, his direct, plain admonition has a practical intention: to divest the “Pharisee” of his fictitious righteousness so that he despairs of all trust in self for salvation.

How does one take the proper measures to avoid seeking a self-concocted righteousness? Returning again to Justification by an Imputed Righteousness, we find some practical instructions. There are two major dangers that present themselves. The first is to not fess up to sin fully or to come to grips with it but superficially, resulting in stifling a deep work of conviction; the second is to attempt to find relief in a false peace that is concocted by vain trust in one’s own efforts. Bunyan explains, “Men are subject to two extremes, either to confess sins notionally and by the halves; or else, together with the confession of them, to labour to do some holy work, thereby to ease their burdened consciences, and beget faith in the mercy of God (Hosea 5:15). Now both these are dangerous, and very ungodly-dangerous.”[85]

To remedy this, one must labor to come to a conscientious, felt sense of one’s inherent sinfulness: “That this truth may be the more heartily inquired into by thee…I say, study how polluted thou art, even from the heart throughout.”[86]One must also confess their sin and sinfulness with no excuses or whitewashing. “If we would come to Christ aright, we must only acknowledge our sins; we must ONLY acknowledge them, and there stop; stop, I say, from attempting to do aught to present us good before God, but only to receive the mercy offered.”[87]

Bunyan was well aware of how prone the human heart is to confide in one’s condition or achievements. Innate pride in the sinful heart causes us all to prefer to diminish our faults and exaggerate our supposed goodness. To be saved, one must turn away from all this, abominating all inbred sinfulness or confidence in inherent righteousness. Therefore, the nature of justification as a forensic declaration outside of one’s self means that to accept it aright one must come to the breaking point of realizing that there is no hope for salvation inside of ourselves. His exposition of justification is meant to pierce through the façade of self-flattery and human hypocrisy by exposing the motives of the heart. Self-trust must be shattered; the sinner must be exposed and naked before God. Bunyan expounds the doctrine of justification in such a way so as to provoke this act of surrender. He drives the sinner to faint in despair of self-effort to earn merit with God.

Experiential Exposition of the Christocentricity of Justification

Bunyan does not only seek to destroy the sinner’s self-trust but to facilitate the means by which the Spirit may draw the sinner outside of himself and insert him into Christ. His handling of the doctrine of justification is therefore full of exposition concerning the doctrine of Christ. He does not seek to present Christ frigidly as if the Lord were a datum of cold analysis, but he proclaims a living Christ who is a complete Savior, Lord of all, Judge of all, all in all. Affectionate overtones season his references to Christ as he pleads with both sinners and saints alike. He magnifies the majesty of Christ that he may draw all hearts after the Savior.

This is one of the hallmarks of Reformed experiential preaching. Beeke writes of this preaching that “It must be centered in Jesus Christ…. Experience does not save the sinner, but Christ saves in an experiential way (Phil. 1:6). Christ is the divine fulcrum upon which genuine experience pivots.”[88] This preaching is full of Christ because its goal is that men may know Christ (John 17:3); this knowledge is experiential and transformational. William Perkins wrote in his famous homiletical manual The Art of Prophesying: “The heart of the matter is this: Preach one Christ, by Christ, to the praise of Christ.”[89] Whereas medieval homiletical exposition tended to be moralistc, philosophical, and sacramental in nature, Reformed preaching eschewed man-centeredness and made much of Jesus Christ. Bunyan stands firmly in this Protestant, Puritan, and Reformed tradition.

For Bunyan, Christ is the focal point of all the Scriptures. As the Scriptures are expounded, Christ presents himself through them. After citing 1 Corinthians 1:23, “We preach Christ crucified,” Bunyan says that for the apostles “Christ in all his benefits is the very marrow, life, and sum of all their teaching.”[90] He says that the apostles did not merely preach about Christ, but preached Christ himself. The living Christ becomes spiritually present through the preaching of the word of God: “Wherever the doctrine of the twelve is preached, there is therewith the presence of Christ: the presence of his Spirit to teach and enlighten the ignorant and blind hearts of the unconverted; the presence also of his power to overcome them, and to make them fall under the glory and truth of his heavenly word.”[91] Preaching the gospel ushers in the presence of Christ; this presence confronts the sinner; the sinner is overwhelmed with the grace and majesty of this presence and surrenders himself to the Savior by faith.

The aim of Bunyan’s exposition of the word of God, even of the doctrine of justification, is not to merely inform the intellect but to usher his hearers/readers into an encounter with Jesus Christ. They must not only know about Christ, they must know Christ. The goal is ever to bring them to an experiential, personal acquaintance with Christ in his capacity to save. “Christ set forth by the Word as crucified, is for all coming sinners to wash in unto justification.”[92] As the gospel is opened, Christ is offered, and sinners are invited to partake of him to receive God’s justifying mercy. Speaking directly to his reader, Bunyan writes, “Thou shalt find him in the Word; for there he is to this day set forth in all the circumstances of his death, as crucified before our eyes (Gal 3:1, 2). There thou shalt find that he died, when he died, what death he died, why he died, and the Word open to thee to come and wash in his blood.”[93] The setting forth of the gospel is combined with the general call that invites sinners to immerse themselves into Christ.

Saints also need the blood of Christ, and that continually. When the law thunders forth condemnation, when the memory cannot shake its shame for past sins, and when Satan’s “fiery darts” penetrate the conscience with pangs of guilt, tempting one to despair, Christ’s blood answers to these charges. When no amount of praying, weeping, or repenting can avail to provide a sense of peace, Christ’s blood is more than able. Bunyan writes of the blood,

“O! methinks it hath come with such life, such power, with such irresistible and marvelous glory, that it wipes off all the slurs, silences all the outcries, and quenches all the fiery darts, and all the flames of Hell-fire, that are begotten by the charges of the Law, Satan, and doubtful remembrances of my sinful life.”[94]

Of course, by “blood,” he means Christ’s atoning work.

The Christocentric nature of justification is applicable to the saint as well as to the sinner. Forgiveness of sins in Christ’s blood is just as needful for both. For this reason, Bunyan often intersperses applications to Christians and non-Christians alike when he expounds truths related to justification. It is most relevant to the needs of all. He also demonstrates that while trusting in Christ’s blood is a definitive act characterizing the moment of conversion, it is also ongoing in that the Christian must lean continually on Christ. Justification is not to be viewed only as a momentary act. It includes a definitive imputation and declaration of God but it goes beyond this. It is ongoing in that it is bound up with the continual activity of Christ in his representative role in heaven. Redemption has been fully and finally accomplished, but Christ’s role in heaven is to ensure a continual application of the saving mercies secured by his blood.

An entire treatise was devoted to the ongoing nature of justification. The full title is, Christ a Complete Saviour, or, The Intercession of Christ, and who are Privileged in it. This treatise is an exposition of Hebrews 7:25, “Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.” In it, Bunyan explains that justification is not only secured by the death of Christ but is ongoingly applied by his intercession as the Mediator of all who trust in him. The living Christ ever pleads on behalf of his elect. The saints’ need for justification is continual, and Christ fully meets this need.

This ensures the eternal salvation of all the elect. Due to Christ’s intercession, justification is infallibly applied to all of them. His pleading for them insures (1) that they will be savingly converted and brought to faith, (2) that the sins they commit after conversion will be perpetually forgiven, (3) that the graces they came to partake of at the moment of conversion will be “continually maintained and supplied,”[95] and that (4) they will be preserved unto everlasting glory in heaven.[96] These truths are of great consolation to the Christian. They produce assurance of faith. And they should be meditated upon deeply and appropriated personally by every child of God to bring them from the realm of notion to the realm of experience, to give sweet comfort to the conscience. Toward the end of this treatise, Bunyan reminds us, “To know truth for knowledge sake is short of a gracious disposition of soul…but to improve what I know for the good of myself and others is true Christianity indeed.”[97]

Christ is the center of true Christianity. Justification is so coheres with Christ as Mediator that the one is bound up in the other. To have the benefit, one must embrace the benefactor in his person and in all his offices. This explains why it is that to read the works of Bunyan is to be confronted with Christ. Perhaps the Christocentric exposition of justification in Bunyan could lead to the more nuanced and somewhat speculative conclusion that Bunyan did not think of himself as a preacher of justification by faith, per se, but as a preacher of Christ, in whom justification is found, and by whom the sinner’s greatest need (to be made right with God) is fully met.

Experiential Exposition of the Law-Gospel Framework of Justification

Beginning with his initial awakenings, Bunyan evinced a tender and sensitive conscience. This sensitivity appears to have characterized him to some degree or another throughout his life. As he contemplated the condition of the unconverted, it alarmed him that the majority do not experience such stirrings of conscience. If they do not understand how their sin damns them, they will never seek to appropriate the remedy that is found only in Christ.

Moved as one who was well acquainted with the reality of sin, he elaborated on sin and the law with great vehemence. The only way to safety was for the righteousness of Christ to cover the unrighteousness of the sinner. He perceived his preaching of justification as no exercise in theoretical speculation but as an evangelistic rescue mission to “save with fear, pulling them out of the fire” (Jude 1:23). His evangelistic heart made it unthinkable to deal with the doctrine in a merely speculative manner—it was an urgent matter of life or death for everyone who would come under the influence of his words. This evangelistic urgency made his doctrine utterly practical. It is life or death, heaven or hell. Sinners must be made to tremble before the wrath of God before they will come to long for the grace of justification.

Since men by nature are filled with their own righteousness and are unwilling to come to the Savior, they can use help to come to their senses. Bunyan knew that the Spirit ordinarily uses means and a process of conviction of sin to bring sinners to faith.[98] To aid this, God has given the law as the revelation of his own righteousness. The law summarizes the standard that all men are obliged to live up to but which no one—except Christ—ever has. It demands perfect obedience and punishes every deviation or lack of conformity to it. It summarizes the perfect righteousness of God. Since all are violators of it, it exposes human sin. Exposing the sinner’s need, it conduces them to look to Christ. The law is the instrument that drives sinners to the Savior. With this Christocentric interest in mind (to relate this to our previous point), Bunyan makes much of the law of God.

The fullest treatment of this is in The Doctrine of the Law and Grace Unfolded. In it, Bunyan explains his law-gospel theology (as summarized above). Beyond this, the treatise takes on the flavor of an evangelistic tract. Like many of his other writings, it is filled with personal address to the reader.[99] Bunyan takes pains to apply his doctrine to his reader experientially.

Addressing the reader, he writes, “But you will say—’But who are those that are thus under the law?’”[100] The reader is thus not permitted to rest in a general exposition of the subject matter. There must be personal application. Bunyan’s answer is reminiscent of Perkins’ advice to direct preaching to different classes of people in his Art of Prophesying.[101] Bunyan writes, “Answ. Those that are under the law may be branched out into three ranks of men; either, first, such as are grossly profane, or such as are more refined; which may be two ways, some in a lower sort, and some in a more eminent way.”[102] Different words of counsel need to be applied to each case according to the truths they most need to hear.

He warns the “grossly profane” who delight in sin that God’s wrath awaits them. “These are one sort of people that are under the law, and so under the curse of the same, whose due is to drink up the brimful cup of God’s eternal vengeance, and therefore I beseech you not to deceive yourselves…”[103] Whereas modern preachers often mince words to soften Scripture’s teaching on eternal punishment, Bunyan sought to use the law to proclaim these terrifying truths all the more persuasively.

Next, he confronts those who seek to fulfill the covenant of works by their own law-keeping. “They are under the law also who do not only so break and disobey the law, but follow after the law as hard as ever they can, seeking justification thereby”.[104] He pleads with such:

“Friend, you must not understand that none but profane persons are under the law; no, but you must understand that a man may be turned from a vain, loose, open, profane conversation and sinning against the law, to a holy, righteous, religious life, and yet be in the same state, under the same law, and as sure to be damned as the other that are more profane and loose.”[105]

Such law-observance cannot bring one out of the covenant of works and insert them into the covenant of grace. Respectable, moral, civil, and religious members of society are just as guilty of sin as the openly profane. It only takes one sin to condemn forever. “Then, the law is thus strict and severe, that if a man do sin but once against it, he, I say, is gone for ever by the law, living and dying under that covenant.”[106]

The saving solution is to come to Jesus Christ. In him, one is made a member of the covenant of grace. This is the gospel and is equated with the new covenant. The believer who is under the covenant of grace is no longer under the covenant of works. Righteousness is fulfilled, and they can rest in Christ’s perfect satisfaction on their behalf. “Believers having their sins forgiven them, it is because they are under another, even a new covenant.”[107]

One must keep a clear distinction between these two covenants. Law and gospel work together but they must never be confused. In A Few Sighs from Hell, Bunyan counsels his readers to never confuse law with gospel. “Have a care that thou put not wrong names on the things contained in the Scriptures, as to call the law, Christ, and Christ, the law,”[108] because by confusing these things some perish through their ignorance. “Learn to distinguish between the law and the gospel, and to keep them clear asunder, as to the salvation of thy soul.”[109] That is helpful evangelistic advice and it is also helpful pastoral advice.

Pastorally, Bunyan recognized the believers, like the Galatians, tend to revert back to a works-based mentality that undermines the grace of gospel justification. Maintaining a clear view of the law with its unattainable demands helps to keep the Christian confiding in grace alone. Not even the godliest saint in all their strivings after perfection can fulfill the law, but Christ has fulfilled it, therefore not even the holiest Christian should ever fall back on relying on his own righteousness. And when such a one is tempted to despair under a sense of their own sinfulness, they should lift up their heads in hope, fixing their gaze upon the one who is the embodiment of the law’s perfect righteousness.

Bunyan knew that the best of Christians still struggles with sin. The law flashes its thunder and lightning in the conscience and tempts the Christian to feel condemned. This can provoke discouragement, despair, and even despondency. It can give rise to struggles with assurance. It can rob the Christian’s peace and joy in believing. One cannot be “zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14) or even pray aright[110] without a thoroughly-appropriated trust in Christ’s righteousness. Moses buffets the believer without mercy, but Christ bids him to forbear.[111] Satan accuses Joshua the high priest (the elect), but the Angel of the Lord (Christ) rebukes him.[112] Since justification grounds the whole Christian life, it is vital that the Christian understand it thoroughly. Justification answers the deepest struggles of faith; it bids peace to the turbulent heart.

The Christian regularly faces doubts and temptations. He may be often tempted by the desires of the flesh to pursue sinful pleasure. But though the law portrays itself to be a restraint to sin, it is incapable of removing it. For that, only the gospel will suffice. The law may stir up corruption in the heart of the Christian. But the gospel justifies and grants the gift of the Spirit who renovates the heart and infuses a love for holiness. Bunyan often exhorts his readers to flee from sin and to pursue not only the grace of gospel justification, but also the grace of gospel sanctification. The law is truly honored only when the gospel is truly believed, and justification received. His doctrine of justification aims to bring everyone who is out of harmony with the law and the gospel into a reconciled state of being in harmony with the law and the gospel.


We have considered a few strands of Bunyan’s doctrine of justification. Complementary strands of his doctrine can readily be identified by the attentive reader. These few were chosen because they receive peculiar emphasis in Bunyan’s writings according to this author’s initial survey and seem foundational to Bunyan’s theology of justification. Other aspects of his doctrine receive significant emphasis as well, but to consider such would require a larger research project than what our present limitations permit.

We conclude that Bunyan demonstrates how the doctrine of justification can be handled in a clear, convicting, edifying manner. He shows us how a single doctrine of the Word of God can be expounded according to the multi-faceted and manifold diversity of Reformed experiential exposition. He expounds it biblically, Christocentrically, doctrinally, plainly, discriminatorily, practically and urgently in order to confront, rebuke, exhort and console by it. His masterful handling of the doctrine is a helpful example of how to handle a doctrine from Scripture in accordance with 2 Timothy 4:2, which charges ministers, saying, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.”

Contemporary ministers of the gospel can glean from Bunyan’s manner of expounding justification and prayerfully apply this experiential method to other teachings and doctrines of the Word of God. As they seek to expound on the many doctrines of Scripture, they can be helped to unfold these doctrines with greater clarity and insight by approaching them in a manner that is informed by Bunyan’s approach. While each person is unique, and while there is only one John Bunyan in history, his legacy leaves us with some rich principles that, carefully extrapolated and applied, can greatly enrich the contemporary pulpit.

Though this study has summarized an approach to the doctrine of justification, the fact remains that Scripture contains many other truths that are rich in experiential applicability. Other soteriological doctrines such as calling, regeneration, sanctification, and assurance are just as rich in potential. Also, doctrines such as God’s sovereignty, the Trinity, and Christ’s person and offices are treasure troves of applicable truths. May Bunyan’s experiential exposition of this doctrine stimulate our interest and stir up our hearts to approach not only the doctrine of justification but the whole counsel of God in accordance with the reality that “all Scripture…is profitable” for life and godliness (2 Tim. 3:16). And may it facilitate a fuller understanding of the nature of theology according to its biblical description. Theology, after all, is not limited to mere brute facts to be mentally comprehended but is “the doctrine of living to God.”



[1] Christopher Hill, A Tinker and a Poor Man: John Bunyan and his Church, 1628-1688, 1st American ed. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1989), 4144.

[2] Hill, A Tinker and a Poor Man, 4144; Richard L. Greaves, Glimpses of Glory: John Bunyan and English Dissent (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002), 216264.

[3] Though a Baptist pastor, Bunyan’s ecumenical convictions about baptism and church membership were questioned by his contemporaries of both the Particular and General Baptist persuasions. See Greaves, Glimpses of Glory, 291301.

[4] Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson, Meet the Puritans: With a Guide to Modern Reprints (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2006), 101.

[5] James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith: A Comprehensive & Readable Theology, Rev. ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 416.

[6] “Though Bunyan is not unique in his defense of the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone, he shows greater clarity and pastoral concern in expounding this doctrine than most of his contemporaries.” Joel R. Beeke, John Bunyan on Justification, Puritan Reformed Journal 5, no. 2 (2013): 107130.

[7] See Richard L. Greaves, John Bunyan, Courtenay Studies in Reformation Theology: 2 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969), 7787; Pieter de Vries, John Bunyan on the Order of Salvation, trans by. C. van Haaften, American University Studies. Series VII, Theology and Religion; v. 176 (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 1994), 153.

[8] Bunyan’s doctrine of justification stands in continuity with the Reformed tradition and is overall harmonious with the consensus of other Puritan writers of his era. For an overview of Puritan teaching on justification, see J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1990), 149-61; Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), 341-413.

[9] Quoted in Beeke and Jones, A Puritan Theology, 46.

[10] Beeke and Jones, A Puritan Theology, 45-47.

[11] Joel R Beeke, Reformed Preaching: Proclaiming Gods Word from the Heart of the Preacher to the Heart of his People (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 4347.

[12] This thesis presupposes the reader is acquainted with the concept of Reformed experiential preaching. For some definitions and explanations of Reformed experiential preaching, see Beeke, Reformed Preaching; Joel R. Beeke, Living for God’s Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism (Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2008), 255–72; Beeke and Jones, A Puritan Theology, 681-710; Packer, A Quest for Godliness, 163-75; Joseph A. Pipa Jr., “Puritan Preaching,” in The Practical Calvinist: An Introduction to the Presbyterian and Reformed Heritage, ed. Peter A. Lillback (Fearn, Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2002), 163-79; Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry with an Inquiry into the Causes of its Inefficiency (Edinburgh, UK: Banner of Truth, 1967), 239-83.

[13] Joel R. Beeke, “John Bunyan on Justification,” Puritan Reformed Journal 5, no. 2 (2013): 108. See discussion on pp.108-10.

[14] The Works of John Bunyan, ed. George Offor, 3 vols. (Edinburgh, UK: Banner of Truth, 1991), 3:1–167 (henceforth cited by the title of the particular writing referenced as well as Works followed by volume and page number).

[15] John Bunyan, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, in Works, 1:23.

[16] Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, in Works, 1:22.

[17] Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, in Works, 1:22; see Vries, John Bunyan on the Order of Salvation, 34.

[18] See Greaves, John Bunyan, 28-30; Hill, A Tinker and a Poor Man, 157-60.

[19] They were both experientially-oriented, both emphasized justification more than almost any other doctrine, and both emphasized a sharp law-gospel antithesis in the way of justification (law condemns without mercy, gospel saves). See Greaves, Glimpses of Glory, 108; Greaves, John Bunyan, 29.

[20] It is noteworthy that the doctrine of justification by faith is a major theme in the writings of both, being interspersed throughout the entire corpus of their writings. It more prominently undergirds and appears in Bunyan’s writings than it does, for instance, in the writings of John Calvin (not to mention many other Puritans). Greaves says Bunyan “adhered essentially to those positions advocated by the strict Calvinists…however, he was definitely indebted to the writings of Martin Luther for various emphases in his thought.” Greaves, John Bunyan, 25. This is interesting because Bunyan stood in the Calvinistic tradition and not in the Lutheran tradition, a fact that makes his similarity to Luther regarding justification more conspicuous.

[21] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 34: Career of the Reformer IV, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 285.

[22] Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 34: Career of the Reformer IV, 285–286.

[23] Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 34: Career of the Reformer IV, 286–287.

[24] I am using the term “apostle” broadly here in its general sense as ‘special messenger,’ not to be confused with the apostolic office that ceased around the end of the first century.

[25] See Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1977), 33-49.

[26] Greaves, John Bunyan, 18.

[27] Vries, John Bunyan on the Order of Salvation, 76.

[28] Spurgeon speaks of this: “I would quote John Bunyan as an instance of what I mean. Read anything of his, and you will see that it is almost like reading the Bible itself…he had read it till his very soul was saturated with Scripture…‘Why, this man is a living Bible!’ Prick him anywhere; his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him.” C. H. Spurgeon, “The Last Words of Christ on the Cross,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 45 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1899), 495.

[29] Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, in Works, 1:27.

[30] A Tinker and a Poor Man, 67-68.

[31] Vries, John Bunyan on the Order of Salvation, 147.

[32] John Brown, Puritan Preaching in England: A Study of Past and Present, Lyman Beecher lectures; 1899 (New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1900), 146.

[33] Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, in Works, 1:42. See the surrounding context for a fascinating window into Bunyan’s philosophy of preaching in his own words.

[34] Beeke and Jones, “John Bunyan’s Preaching to the Heart” in A Puritan Theology, 720.

[35] Greaves provisionally dates this work to 1672; see Glimpses of Glory, 272.

[36] A Confession of My Faith, in Works, 2:597.

[37] Vries asserts that Bunyan did not equate justification with mere forgiveness, but with the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. See Vries, John Bunyan on the Order of Salvation, 148; Beeke, John Bunyan on Justification, 11920. These authors assert that he did so in agreement with other Reformed divines and to distance himself from the Socinian interpretation.

[38] A Confession of My Faith, in Works, 2:597.

[39] “Now to be made righteous, implies a passiveness in him that is so made, and the activity of the work to lie in some body else.” John Bunyan, A Discourse Upon the Pharisee and Publican in Works, 2:249.

[40] Justification by an Imputed Righteousness, in Works, 1:301; quoted in Beeke, John Bunyan on Justification, 1078.

[41] A Discourse Upon the Pharisee and Publican, in Works, 2:246.

[42] Christ—A Complete Saviour, in Works, 1:212.

[43] E.g. A Discourse Upon the Pharisee and Publican, in Works, 2:246; Doctrine of the Law and Grace Unfolded, in Works, 518; Justification by an Imputed Righteousness, in Works, 309-10; etc.

[44] For a helpful overview of major trends in justification in 17th and 18th century England, see Philip H. Eveson, The Great Exchange: Justification by Faith Alone—in the Light of Recent Thought (Leominster, UK: Day One Publications, 1996), 165–177. Beeke explains Bunyan’s polemic with Quaker and Latitudinarian views of justification in Beeke, John Bunyan on Justification, 11013.

[45] See discussion in R. C. Sproul, The Gospel of God: An Exposition of Romans (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1994), 82–83.

[46] Doctrine of the Law and Grace Unfolded, in Works, 1:521.

[47] Christ—A Complete Saviour, in Works, 1:217.

[48] Justification by an Imputed Righteousness, in Works, 1:324.

[49] Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, in Works, 1:36.

[50] Light for Them That Sit in Darkness, in Works, 1:403.

[51] John Bunyan, “Prefatory,” in The Saint’s Knowledge of Christ’s Love, in Works, 2:10.

[52] Some Gospel Truths Opened, in Works, 2:156.

[53] John Bunyan, Some Gospel Truths Opened, in Works, 2:156. This is not to be interpreted as Patripassianism, nor as a mixing of the divine and human natures of Christ. Bunyan is in accord with Chalcedonian Christology and with the orthodoxy of England’s Reformed divines. He is not teaching that Christ’s deity suffered, but that his deity sustained his humanity in the hypostatic union that he may endure God’s infinite wrath; cf. Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. 38: “It was requisite that the Mediator should be God, that he might sustain and keep the human nature from sinking under the infinite wrath of God…”

[54] Israel’s Hope Encouraged, in Works, 1:604.

[55] The Acceptable Sacrifice, in Works, 1:686.

[56] A Defence of the Doctrine of Justification by Faith in Jesus Christ, in Works, 2:306.

[57] See, for instance, The Work of Jesus Christ as an Advocate and Christ—A Complete Saviour. These works expound on Christ’s risen life and its relationship to justification in great detail.

[58] Some Gospel Truths Opened, in Works, 2:147.

[59] Some Gospel Truths Opened delves into this topic in greater detail. 

[60] A Discourse Upon the Pharisee and Publican, in Works, 250.

[61] Christ—A Complete Saviour, in Works, 1:217.

[62] Doctrine of the Law and Grace Unfolded, in Works, 1:493.

[63] “When God brings sinners into the Covenant of Grace, He doth first kill them with the Covenant of Works, which is the moral law, or Ten Commandments.” John Bunyan, Doctrine of the Law and Grace Unfolded, in Works, 1:541.

[64] Bunyan, A Defence of the Doctrine of Justification by Faith in Jesus Christ, in Works, 2:304.

[65] Bunyan, Israel’s Hope Encouraged, in Works, 1:30.

[66] Israel’s Hope Encouraged, in Works, 1:608.

[67] For a diachronical study of Particular Baptist views, see Samuel D. Renihan, From Shadow to Substance: The Federal Theology of the English Particular Baptists (1642-1704) (Oxford: Centre for Baptist History and Heritage, Regents Park College, 2018).

[68] Bunyan, Doctrine of the Law and Grace Unfolded, in Works, 1:498.

[69] Doctrine of the Law and Grace Unfolded, in Works, 1:534-38.

[70] Doctrine of the Law and Grace Unfolded, in Works, 1:540.

[71] A Defence of the Doctrine of Justification by Faith in Jesus Christ, in Works, 2:290.

[72] Light for Them That Sit in Darkness, in Works, 407.

[73] A Holy Life, or: The Beauty of Christianity, in Works, 2:539.

[74] For a more thorough treatment of Bunyan and antinomianism, see Anjov Ahenakaa, “Justification and the Christian Life in John Bunyan: A Vindication of Bunyan from the Charge of Antinomianism” (PhD diss., Westminster Theological Seminary, 1997). For more on antinomianism in its 17th Century context, see Whitney Gamble, Christ and the Law: Antinomianism at the Westminster Assembly, Studies on the Westminster Assembly (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2018); Mark Jones, Antinomianism: Reformed Theologys Unwelcome Guest?(Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Pub, 2013); Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance: Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016).

[75] A Holy Life, or: The Beauty of Christianity, in Works, 2:539.

[76] Ferguson, The Whole Christ, 145, 160.

[77] “Though there be a condition commanded in the Gospel, yet He that commands the condition doth not leave His children to their own natural abilities, that in their own strength they should fulfill them, as the law doth; but the same God that doth command that the condition be fulfilled, even He doth help His children by His Holy Spirit to fulfill the same condition; ‘For it is God which worketh in you,’—mark ‘in you,’ believers, ‘both to will and to do of His own good pleasure’ (Phil 2:13).” Bunyan, Doctrine of the Law and Grace Unfolded, in Works, 1:519.

[78] Christian Behaviour, in Works, 2:550.

[79] “When I write of justification before God from the dreadful curse of the law; then I must speak of nothing but grace, Christ, the promise, and faith. But when I speak of our justification before men then I must join to these good works.” Bunyan, A Holy Life, or: The Beauty of Christianity, in Works, 2:507.

[80] The Barren Fig-Tree, in Works, 3:567.

[81] His published works contain much homiletic material; see Hill, A Tinker and a Poor Man, 104–5; Beeke and Jones, A Puritan Theology, 715.

[82] Justification by an Imputed Righteousness, in Works, 1:326.

[83] A Discourse Upon the Pharisee and Publican, in Works, 2:240.

[84] A Discourse Upon the Pharisee and Publican, in Works, 2:240.

[85] Justification by an Imputed Righteousness, in Works, 1:327.

[86] Justification by an Imputed Righteousness, in Works, 1:327.

[87] Justification by an Imputed Righteousness, in Works, 1:327.

[88] Joel R. Beeke, Puritan Reformed Spirituality (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2006), 434.

[89] Perkins, The Art of Prophesying, 75.

[90] The Holy City, or: The New Jerusalem, in Works, 3:433.

[91] The Holy City, or: The New Jerusalem, in Works, 3:434.

[92] “Advertisement,” in The Saint’s Privilege and Profit, in Works, 1:658.

[93] “Advertisement” in The Saint’s Privilege and Profit, in Works, 1:657–8.

[94] Doctrine of the Law and Grace Unfolded, in Works, 1:550.

[95] Christ—A Complete Saviour, in Works, 1:204.

[96] Christ—A Complete Saviour, in Works, 1:203-5.

[97] Christ—A Complete Saviour, in Works, 1:239.

[98] Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley, Prepared by Grace, for Grace: The Puritans on Gods Ordinary Way of Leading Sinners to Christ(Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2013), 191200.

[99] Beeke and Jones, A Puritan Theology, 719-20.

[100] Doctrine of the Law and Grace Unfolded, in Works, 1:508.

[101] William Perkins, The Art of Prophesying and the Calling of the Ministry (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1996), 52-60.

[102] John Bunyan, Doctrine of the Law and Grace Unfolded, in Works, 1:508.

[103] John Bunyan, Doctrine of the Law and Grace Unfolded, in Works, 1:509.

[104] John Bunyan, Doctrine of the Law and Grace Unfolded, in Works, 1:509.

[105] Doctrine of the Law and Grace Unfolded, in Works, 1:509.

[106] Doctrine of the Law and Grace Unfolded, in Works, 1:510.

[107] Doctrine of the Law and Grace Unfolded, in Works, 1:521.

[108] Some Sighs from Hell, in Works, 3:723.

[109] Some Sighs from Hell, in Works, 3:723.

[110] See Bunyan’s “Use Second” in his On Praying in the Spirit. It is a pastoral encouragement to prayer based on the fact that the believer approaches the “throne of grace” and not the “throne of judgment”; Works, 1:638-9.

[111] The Pilgrim’s Progress, in Works, 3:118–9.

[112] Come and Welcome, to Jesus Christ, in Works, 1:269–70.