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  • Writer's pictureDr. Roger D Duke

Do You Need Mercy? Are You a Great or Small Sinner? Asked John Bunyan!

Mercy Offered to All Sinners—Great or Small! [1]

Would Jesus Christ have mercy offered, in the first place, to the biggest sinners? Then here is ground for those that, as to practice, have not been such, to come to him for mercy.

Although there is no sin little of itself, because it is a contradiction of the nature and majesty of God, yet we must admit of divers numbers, and, also, of aggravations. Two sins are not so many as three; nor are three that are done in ignorance so big as one that is done against light, against knowledge and conscience. Also, there is the child in sin, and a man in sin that has his hairs gray and his skin wrinkled for very age. And we must put a difference betwixt these sinners also; for can it be that a child of seven, or ten, or sixteen years old, should be such a sinner—a sinner so vile in the eyes of the law as he is who has walked according to the course of this world, forty, fifty, sixty, or seventy years? Now, the youth, this stripling, though he is a sinner, is but a little sinner, when compared with such. Now, I say, if there be room for the first sort, for those of the biggest size, certainly there is room for the lesser size. If there be a door wide enough for a giant to go in at, there is certainly room for a dwarf. If Christ Jesus has grace enough to save great sinners, he has surely grace enough to save little ones. If he can forgive five hundred pence, for certain he can forgive fifty (Luke 7:41,42). . . .

. . . [A] sinner may be comparatively a little sinner, and sensibly a great one. There are, then, two sorts of greatness in sin—greatness by reason of number; greatness by reason of thoroughness of conviction of the horrible nature of sin. In this last sense, he that has but one sin, if such an one could be found, may, in his own eyes, find himself the biggest sinner in the world. Let this man or this child, therefore, put himself among the great sinners, and plead with God as great sinners do, and expect to be saved with the great sinners, and as soon and as heartily as they. Yea, a little sinner, that, comparatively, is truly so, if he shall graciously give way to conviction, and shall, in God’s light, diligently weigh the horrible nature of his own sin, may yet sooner obtain forgiveness for them at the hands of the heavenly Father, than he that has ten times his sins, and so cause to cry ten times harder to God for mercy.

For the grievousness of the cry is a great thing with God; for if he will hear the widow, if she cries at all, how much more if she cries most grievously? (Exo 22:22,23). It is not the number, but the true sense of the abominable nature of sin, that makes the cry for pardon lamentable.* He, as I said, that has many sins, may not cry so loud in the ears of God as he that has far fewer; he, in our present sense, that is in his own eyes the biggest sinner, is he that soonest findeth mercy. The offer, then, is to the biggest sinner; to the biggest sinner first, and the mercy is first obtained by him that first confesseth himself to be such an one.

There are men that strive at the throne of grace for mercy, by pleading the greatness of their necessity. Now their plea, as to the prevalency of it, lieth not in their counting up of the number, but in the sense of the greatness of their sins, and in the vehemency of their cry for pardon. And it is observable, that though the birthright was Reuben’s, and, for his foolishness, given to the sons of Joseph, yet Judah prevailed above his brethren, and of him came the Messiah (1 Chron 5:1,2). There is a heavenly subtilty to be managed in this matter. ‘Thy brother came with subtilty, and hath taken away thy blessing.’. . . The offer is to the biggest sinner, to the biggest sinner first; but if he forbear to cry, the sinner that is a sinner less by far than he, both as to number and the nature of transgression, may get the blessing first, if he shall have grace to bestir himself well; for the loudest cry is heard furthest, and the most lamentable pierces soonest.

Little sinner! when therefore thou goest to God, though thou knowest in thy conscience that thou, as to acts, art no thief, no murderer, no whore, no liar, no false swearer, or the like, and in reason must needs understand that thus thou art not so profanely vile as others; yet when thou goest to God for mercy, know no man’s sins but thine own, make mention of no man’s sins but thine own. Also labour not to lessen thy own, but magnify and greaten them by all just circumstances, and be as if there was never a sinner in the world but thyself. Also cry out, as if thou wast but the only undone man; and that is the way to obtain God’s mercy.

It is one of the comeliest sights in the world to see a little sinner commenting upon the greatness of his sins, multiplying and multiplying them to himself, till he makes them in his own eyes bigger and higher than he seeth any other man’s sins to be in the world; and as base a thing it is to see a man do otherwise, and as basely will come on it (Luke 18:10-14). As, therefore, I said to the great sinner before, let him take heed lest he presume; I say now to the little sinner, let him take heed that he do not dissemble; for there is as great an aptness in the little sinner to dissemble, as there is in the great one. ‘He that hideth his sins shall not prosper,’* be he a sinner little or great (Proverbs 28:13).


[1]John Bunyan, The Jerusalem Sinner Saved (Carlisle, PA.: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2005), 90-94. This is a reprint of what was “First Published in London, 1691.” 

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