Greatness of the Soul

Author: John Bunyan

Greatness of the Soul

Bunyan, John, 1628-1688






Our curiosity is naturally excited to discover what a poor, unlettered mechanic, whose book-learning had been limited to the contents of one volume, could by possibility know upon a subject so abstruse, so profound, and so highly metaphysical, as that of the Soul—its greatness—and the inconceivableness of its loss. Heathen philosophers, at the head of whose formidable array stand Plato and Aristotle, had exhausted their wit, and had not made the world a whit the wiser by all their lucubrations. The fathers plunged into the subject, and increased the confusion; we are confounded with their subtle distinctions, definitions, and inquiries; such as that attributed to St. Aquinas, How many disembodied spirits could dance upon the point of a fine needle without jostling each other? Learned divines had puzzled themselves and their hearers with suppositions and abstract principles. What, then, could a travelling brasier, or tinker, have discovered to excite the attention of the Christian world, and to become a teacher to philosophers, fathers, and learned divines? Bunyan found no access to the polluted streams of a vain philosophy; he went at once to the fountain-head; and, in the pure light of Revelation, displays the human soul—infinitely great in value, although in a fallen state. He portrays it as drawn by the unerring hand of its Maker. He sets forth, by the glass of God’s Word, the inconceivableness of its value, while progressing through time; and, aided by the same wondrous glass, he penetrates the eternal world, unveils the joys of heaven and the torments of hell—so far as they are revealed by the Holy Ghost, and are conceivable to human powers. While he thus leads us to some kind of estimate of its worth, he, from the same source—the only source from whence such knowledge can be derived, makes known the causes of the loss of the soul, and leads his trembling readers to the only name under heaven given among men, whereby they can be saved. In attempting to conceive the greatness and value of the soul, the importance of the body is too often overlooked. The body, it is true, is of the earth; the soul is the breath of God. The body is the habitation; the soul is the inhabitant. The body returns to the dust; while the soul enters into the intermediate state, waiting to be re-united to the body after its new creation, when death shall be swallowed up of life. In these views, the soul appears to be vastly superior to the body. But let it never be forgotten, that, as in this life, so it will be in the everlasting state; the body and soul are so intimately connected as to become one being, capable of exquisite happiness, or existing in the pangs of everlasting death. He who felt and wrote as Bunyan does in this solemn treatise, and whose tongue was as the pen of a ready writer, must have been wise and successful in winning souls to Christ. He felt their infinite value, he knew their strong and their weak points, their riches and poverty. He was intimate with every street and lane in the town of Man-soul, and how and where the subtle Diabolians shifted about to hide themselves in the walls, and holes, and corners. He sounds the alarm, and plants his engines against ’the eye as the window, and the ear as the door, for the soul to look out at, and to receive in by.’ He detects the wicked in speaking with his feet, and teaching with his fingers. His illustration of the punishment of a sinner, as set forth by the sufferings of the Saviour, is peculiarly striking. The attempt to describe the torments of those who suffer under the awful curse, ’Go ye wicked,’ is awfully and intensely vivid.

Bunyan most earnestly exhorts the distressed sinner to go direct to the great Shepherd and Bishop of souls, and not to place confidence in those who pretend to be his ministers; but ’who are false shepherds, in so many ugly guises, and under so many false and scandalous dresses;’ ’take heed of that shepherd that careth not for his own soul, that walketh in ways, and doth such things, as have a direct tendency to damn his own soul; come not near him. He that feeds his own soul with ashes, will scarce feed thee with the bread of life.’ Choose Christ to be thy chief Shepherd, sit at his feet, and learn of him and he will direct thee to such as shall feed thy soul with knowledge and understanding.

Reader, let me no longer keep thee upon the threshold but enter upon this important treatise with earnest prayer; and may the blessed Spirit enable us to live under a sense of the greatness of the soul, the unspeakableness of the loss thereof, the causes of losing it, and the only way in which its salvation can he found.


Hackney, April 1850


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Chicago: John Bunyan, "Greatness of the Soul," Greatness of the Soul, ed. George Offor in The Greatness of the Soul, and Unspeakableness of the Loss Thereof: With the Causes of the Losing It, the Works of John Bunyan (London: Blackie and Son, 1856), Original Sources, accessed July 6, 2022,

MLA: Bunyan, John. "Greatness of the Soul." Greatness of the Soul, edited by George Offor, in The Greatness of the Soul, and Unspeakableness of the Loss Thereof: With the Causes of the Losing It, the Works of John Bunyan, London, Blackie and Son, 1856, Original Sources. 6 Jul. 2022.

Harvard: Bunyan, J, 'Greatness of the Soul' in Greatness of the Soul, ed. . cited in 1856, The Greatness of the Soul, and Unspeakableness of the Loss Thereof: With the Causes of the Losing It, the Works of John Bunyan, Blackie and Son, London. Original Sources, retrieved 6 July 2022, from