All Loves Excelling: The Saints' Knowledge of Christ's Love (Puritan Paperbacks)
All Love’s Excelling is Bunyan’s sermon on Ephesians 3:17-18, ‘That ye … may be able to comprehend with all saints, what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.’ It was first titled ‘The Saints’ Knowledge of Christ’s Love’ and is worthy of being ranked alongside Sibbes and deals with a much neglected subject area.
FROM THE FOREWORD: This is a new edition of John Bunyan’s treatise on Ephesians 3:17b-19 which he himself prepared for the press. It is taken from the second volume of Bunyan’s works (George Offor edition) which was re-published by Banner of Truth in 1991. The text remains largely unaltered but slight adjustments have been made in order to accommodate the arrangement of the material into chapters. Even these divisions, however, correspond to Bunyan’s own layout of his material. A detailed breakdown of the structure of Bunyan’s meditation on the greatness of the love of Christ is found at the end of this book by way of an appendix.
The subject matter of this work which was first preached, is greatly needed today. On the one hand, experiences of the Spirit are being claimed from which the glory of the redeemer and the wonder of his love are quite absent, while on the other, an almost total attention to the understanding and practising of scripture truth is having the effect of marginalising the experiential element in true, spiritual knowledge.
Bunyan’s description of Christ’s love to believers and how they ought to know it, cuts in both the above-mentioned directions. From some 440 Bible references he shows how knowing Christ’s love is the message of Scripture and also the essence of heaven, partly possessed and expressed on earth. Those who know it are rich beyond measure and they are the people who ‘sweeten the churches and bring glory to God and to religion’.
About the Author
John Bunyan was born in Elstow, near Bedford, in 1628, the son of Thomas Bunyan and Margaret Bentley. He followed his father into the tinker’s trade but rebelled against God and ‘had but few equals, both for cursing, swearing, lying, and blaspheming the holy name of God’. As a teenager, he joined Cromwell’s New Model Army, but continued his rebellious ways. His life was saved on one occasion when a fellow-soldier took his place at the siege of Leicester, and ‘as he stood sentinel he was shot in the head with a musket bullet and died’.
Discharged from the army after three years, Bunyan married a God-fearing woman (whose name is unknown) in 1648, who brought two books to the marriage: The Plain Man’s Pathway to Heaven (Arthur Dent) and The Practice of Piety (Lewis Bayly). These convicted Bunyan of his sin and he made attempts to reform his life. But he realised that he was lost and without Christ when he came into contact with a group of women whose ‘joyous conversation about the new birth and Christ deeply impressed him’. In 1651 the women introduced him to their pastor in Bedford, John Gifford, who was instrumental in leading Bunyan to repentance and faith.
That same year he moved to Bedford with his wife and four children, including Mary, his firstborn, who had been blind from birth. He was baptised by immersion in the River Ouse in 1653. Appointed a deacon of Gifford’s church, Bunyan’s testimony was used to lead several people to conversion. By 1655 Bunyan was himself preaching to various congregations in Bedford, and hundreds came to hear him. John Owen said of him that he would gladly exchange all his learning for Bunyan’s power of touching men’s hearts.
In the following years, Bunyan began publishing books and became established as a reputable Puritan writer, but around this time, his first wife died. He remarried in 1659, a godly young woman named Elizabeth, who was to be a staunch advocate for her husband during his imprisonments – for in 1660 Bunyan was arrested for preaching without official permission from King Charles II; he was to spend the next 12½ years in Bedford County Gaol.
Although a time of much suffering, Bunyan’s years in prison were productive, for he wrote extensively, with only the Bible and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs beside him, publishing such titles as Christian Behaviour, The Holy City and A Defence of the Doctrine of Justification. Of particular significance for his life-story was Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, which chronicled his life up to the time of his imprisonment.
He was eventually released in 1672, and took up his pastorate in Bedford, having been appointed by the congregation the preceding January. After some fruitful years of ministry, in March of 1675 Bunyan was again imprisoned for preaching publicly without a license. It was during this imprisonment that he began the first part of his most famous book, The Pilgrim’s Progress, which was to sell more than 100,000 copies in its first ten years in print.
Released in 1677, Bunyan spent the last ten years of his life ministering to his congregation and writing, including – Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ (1678), The Life and Death of Mr. Badman (1680), The Holy War (1682), and the second part of The Pilgrim’s Progress (1685). He published ten more books in the last three years of his life, amongst them The Jerusalem Sinner Saved and The Acceptable Sacrifice.
In August 1688, after successfully mediating in a disagreement between a father and son, as he was riding from Reading in Berkshire to London, Bunyan caught a cold and developed a fever. He died at the house of his friend John Strudwick, a grocer and chandler on Snow Hill in Holborn.
[See also George Offor’s 'Memoir' in Volume 1 of The Works of John Bunyan; John Bunyan by Frank Mott Harrison; and the biographical study of Bunyan in Marcus L. Loane's Makers of Puritan History - all published by the Trust.]