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Though I consider these two questions to be different, I'm OK with this question being merged with Does Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress" state a position on predestination?

This particular question is concerned with John Bunyan's stance, rather than the stance of Pilgrim's Progress.

I learned of Pilgrim's Progress through reading works of reformed theologists (many of who highly recommended Pilgrim's Progress), and thus I assumed that Pilgrim's Progress also believed in predestination.

However, after Does Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress" state a position on predestination? , I'm no longer sure about that.

Now, I'm not even sure if John Bunyan himself believed in predestination. (Neither does this seem to be stated no wikipedia.)

Thus, the question: did John Bunyan take a stance on predestination?


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1 Answer 1

According to many sources, the answer would be no. John Bunyan's theological beliefs were Puritan, which differed from pure Calvinism.


The concept of a covenant or contract between God and his elect pervaded Puritan theology and social relationships. In religious terms, several types of covenants were central to Puritan thought.

The Covenant of Works held that God promised Adam and his progeny eternal life if they obeyed moral law. After Adam broke this covenant, God made a new Covenant of Grace with Abraham (Genesis 18-19).

Covenant of Grace. This covenant requires an active faith, and, as such, it softens the doctrine of predestination (Emphasis mine as this addresses the question directly). Although God still chooses the elect, the relationship becomes one of contract in which punishment for sins is a judicially proper response to disobedience. During the Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards later repudiated Covenant Theology to get back to orthodox Calvinism. Those bound by the covenant considered themselves to be charged with a mission from God.

Covenant of Redemption. The Covenant of Redemption was assumed to be preexistent to the Covenant of Grace. It held that Christ, who freely chose to sacrifice himself for fallen man, bound God to accept him as man's representative. Having accepted this pact, God is then committed to carrying out the Covenant of Grace. According to Perry Miller, as one contemporary source put it, "God covenanted with Christ that if he would pay the full price for the redemption of beleievers, they should be discharged. Christ hath paid the price, God must be unjust, or else hee must set thee free from all iniquities" (New England Mind 406).

All of this is evident in the Pilgrim's Progress. While I agree the two questions are different, the theology in Pilgrim's Progress is inseparable from the author, meaning he wrote as he believed. Puritan theology does not teach irresistible grade, in the purest sense. In Puritan thought, we clearly have a choice to respond to God's call. He calls us first, but we can choose to respond or not. This is more inline with the Armnian view.

I also managed to find a quote fro him grappling with the subject of predestination here: Since it's not copyright, I'll copy the quote in it's entirety. Something I would not normally do, but since this is a link to a blog, and the likelihood of a future broken link is higher with blogs...

In his book "Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners", John Bunyan grappled with predestination:


By these two temptations I was very much afflicted and disquieted; sometimes by one, and sometimes by the other of them. And first, to speak of that about my questioning my election, I found at this time, that though I was in a flame to find the way to heaven and glory, and though nothing could beat me off from this, yet this question did so offend and discourage me, that I was, especially sometimes, as if the very strength of my body also had been taken away by the force and power thereof. This scripture did also seem to me to trample upon all my desires; It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth; but of God that showeth mercy (Romans 9:16).

With this scripture I could not tell what to do: for I evidently saw, unless that the great God, of His infinite grace and bounty, had voluntarily chosen me to be a vessel of mercy, though I should desire, and long, and labour until my heart did break, no good could come of it. Therefore this would stick with me, How can you tell that you are elected? And what if you should not? How then?

O Lord, thought I, what if I should not indeed? It may be you are not, said the Tempter; it may be so indeed, thought I. Why then, said Satan, you had as good leave off, and strive no farther; for if indeed, you should not be elected and chosen of God, there is no talk of your being saved; For it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth; but of God that showeth mercy.

By these things I was driven to my wits' end, not knowing what to say, or how to answer these temptations: (indeed, I little thought that Satan had thus assaulted me, but that rather it was my own prudence thus to start the question): for that the elect only attained eternal life; that, I without scruple did heartily close withal; but that myself was one of them, there lay the question.

Thus therefore, for several days, I was greatly assaulted and perplexed, and was often, when I have been walking, ready to sink where I went, with faintness in my mind; but one day, after I had been so many weeks oppressed and cast down therewith as I was now quite giving up the ghost of all my hopes of ever attaining life, that sentence fell with weight upon my spirit, Look at the generations of old, and see; did ever any trust in God, and were confounded?

At which I was greatly lightened, and encouraged in my soul; for thus, at that very instant, it was expounded to me: Begin at the beginning of Genesis, and read to the end of the Revelations, and see if you can find, that there were ever any that trusted in the Lord, and were confounded. So coming home, I presently went to my Bible, to see if I could find that saying, not doubting but to find it presently; for it was so fresh, and with such strength and comfort on my spirit, that it was as if it talked with me.

Well, I looked, but I found it not; only it abode upon me: Then did I ask first this good man, and then another, if they knew where it was, but they knew no such place. At this I wondered, that such a sentence should so suddenly, and with such comfort and strength, seize, and abide upon my heart; and yet that none could find it (for I doubted not but that it was in holy scripture).

Thus I continued above a year, and could not find the place; but at last, casting my eye upon the Apocrypha books, I found it in Ecclesiasticus 2:10. This, at the first, did somewhat daunt me; but because by this time I had got more experience of the love and kindness of God, it troubled me the less, especially when I considered that though it was not in those texts that we call holy and canonical; yet forasmuch as this sentence was the sum and substance of many of the promises, it was my duty to take the comfort of it; and I bless God for that word, for it was of God to me: that word doth still at times shine before my face.

After this, that other doubt did come with strength upon me, But how if the day of grace should be past and gone? How if you have overstood the time of mercy? Now I remember that one day, as I was walking in the country, I was much in the thoughts of this, But how if the day of grace is past? And to aggravate my trouble, the Tempter presented to my mind those good people of Bedford, and suggested thus unto me, that these being converted already, they were all that God would save in those parts; and that I came too late, for these had got the blessing before I came.

Now I was in great distress, thinking in very deed that this might well be so; wherefore I went up and down, bemoaning my sad condition; counting myself far worse than a thousand fools for standing off thus long, and spending so many years in sin as I had done; still crying out, Oh! that I had turned sooner! Oh! that I had turned seven years ago! It made me also angry with myself, to think that I should have no more wit, but to trifle away my time, till my soul and heaven were lost. UNQUOTE

Note: For those who might be interested, this is Ecclesiasticus 2:10 in KJV: Look at the generations of old, and see; did ever any trust in the Lord, and was confounded? or did any abide in his fear, and was forsaken? or whom did he ever despise, that called upon him?

However, this is not without dispute. A differing opinion can be found here: The author here makes an argument for the case that Bunyan was, indeed, a five-point Calvinist.

John Bunyan believed that the Scriptures teach that God's intention in the atonement was the redemption of the elect and them alone, and that this was fully and effectually accomplished on the cross. This conviction regarding the intention and accomplishment of the atonement is evident throughout his writings, but it becomes most clearly and maturely articulated in his later works,[3] particularly as he reflects upon the active obedience of Christ, the high priesthood of Christ, and covenant theology.

Justification by faith alone is the heart of the gospel and the Christian life for John Bunyan. He defended it on numerous occasions from Ranter and Quaker errors, and this doctrine finds expression, in some form or fashion, in almost every tract or treatise he published. For Bunyan, Christ's vicarious obedience not only applied to His death, but His life as well. Christ not only bore the sins of the elect; He fulfilled the whole law in their stead as well.[4] Thus in his later works one can find Bunyan's commitment to limited atonement clearly articulated in various descriptions of Christ's vicarious obedience or active obedience on behalf of the elect.

Thus, the answer is "we're not sure" and it depends highly on which sources you choose to believe. IMO, the evidence points to, as defined in the Puritan Beliefs section that he didn't completely reject the doctrine of predestination, but rather had a "softened view" on it, meaning that he likely believed in the more Armenian understanding of resistible grace.

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Covenant theology wasn't fully developed when the five points of Calvinism (in the Synod of Dort) were expounded, but it comes straight from the Westminster Confession, which Bunyan was an adherent of. You'll be hard pressed to find a reformed minister who believes that the three forms of unity (Synod of Dort, Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism) are incompatible with the Westminster Confession. In other words, covenant theology as described in your post is in no way incompatible with irresistible grace. – Mr. Bultitude Feb 4 '14 at 16:27
Also, "common grace" is the reformed term for the general call of the Gospel which goes out to all men who are free to reject the call. God regenerates some in order to make the call effectual. – Mr. Bultitude Feb 4 '14 at 16:29

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