(From the Writings of John Bunyan. Author of The Pilgrim’s Progress. Bunyan’s writings are in the Public Domain.)
Encouragement to the Unbeliever Not to Despair
Would Jesus Christ have mercy offered, in the first place, to the biggest sinners? Then, this shows how unreasonable a thing it is for men to despair of mercy; for those that presume, I shall say something to them afterward.
I now speak to them that despair. There are four sorts of despair. There is the despair of devils; there is the despair of souls in hell; there is the despair that is grounded upon men’s deficiency; and there is the despair that they are perplexed with that are willing to be saved but are too strongly borne down with the burden of their sins.
The despair of devils, the damned’s despair, and that despair that a man has of attaining of life because of his own deficiency, are all reasonable. Why should not devils and damned souls’ despair? yea, why should not man despair of getting to heaven by his own abilities? I, therefore, am concerned only with the fourth sort of despair, to wit, with the despair of those that would be saved, but are too strongly borne down with the burden of their sins. I say, therefore, to thee that art thus, And why despair? . . .
But, for the first, thou art yet in the land of the living; and, for the second, thou hast ground to believe the quite contrary; Christ is able to save to the uttermost them that come to God by him; and if he were not willing, he would not have commanded that mercy, in the first place, should be offered to the biggest sinners. Besides, he hath said, ‘And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely’; that is, with all my heart. What ground now is here for despair? If thou sayest, The number and burden of my sins; I answer, Nay; that is rather a ground for faith; because such an one, above all others, is invited by Christ to come unto him, yea, promised rest and forgiveness if they come (Matt 11:28). What ground then to despair? . . .
[T]hy desires to be saved by Christ, has put thee under [a] . . . promise, so there is [that] . . . to hold thee up in hope, though thy present burden be never so heavy (Matt 5:3,6). As for what thou sayest as to God’s silence to thee, perhaps he has spoken to thee once or twice already, but thou hast not perceived it (Job 33:14,15). . . . What if God will be silent to thee, is that ground of despair? Not at all, so long as there is a promise in the Bible, that God will in no wise cast away the coming sinner, and so long as he invites the Jerusalem sinner to come unto him (John 6:37).
Build not . . . despair upon these things; they are no sufficient foundation for it, such plenty of promises being in the Bible, and such a discovery of his mercy to great sinners of old; especially since we have withal a clause in the commission given to ministers to preach, that they should begin with the Jerusalem sinners in their offering of mercy to the world. . ..
Despair! . . . For shame, forbear; let them despair that dwell where there is no God, and that are confined to those chambers of death which can be reached by no redemption. A living man despair when he is chided for murmuring and complaining! (Lam 3:39). Oh! so long as we are where promises swarm, where mercy is proclaimed, where grace reigns, and where Jerusalem sinners are privileged with the first offer of mercy, it is a base thing to despair. Despair undervalues the promise, undervalues the invitation, undervalues the proffer of grace. Despair undervalues the ability of God the Father, and the redeeming blood of Christ his Son. Oh unreasonable despair! . . .
Besides, I am persuaded also, that despair is the cause that there are so many that would fain be Atheists in the world. For, because, they have entertained a conceit that God will never be merciful to them, therefore they labor to persuade themselves that there is no God at all, as if their misbelief would kill God, or cause him to cease to be. A poor shift for an immortal soul, for a soul who liketh not to retain God in its knowledge! If this be the best that despair can do, let it go, man, and betake thyself to faith, to prayer, to wait for God, and to hope, in despite of ten thousand doubts. And for thy encouragement, take yet, as an addition to what has already been said, the following Scripture: ‘The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy’ (Psa 147:11). . . .
‘O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!’ (Luke 24:25). Mark you, here, slowness to believe is a piece of folly. Ay! but sayest thou, I do believe some, and I believe what can make against me. Ay, but sinner, Christ Jesus here calls thee fool for not believing all. Believe all, and despair if thou canst! He that believes all, believes that text that saith, Christ would have mercy preached first to the Jerusalem sinners. He that believeth all, believeth all the promises and consolations of the Word; and the promises and consolations of the Word weigh heavier than do all the curses and threatening of the law; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment. Wherefore believe all, and mercy will, to thy conscience, weigh judgment down, and so minister comfort to thy soul. The Lord take the yoke from off thy jaws, since he has set meat before thee (Hosea 11:4). And help thee to remember that he is pleased, in the first place, to offer mercy to the biggest sinners.
John Bunyan, The Jerusalem Sinner Saved (Carlisle, PA.: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2005), 79-85. This is a reprint of what was “First Published in London, 1691.”