Classical Writers · Pondering

Classic Works Woven – John Bunyan

“I will add one word more, notwithstanding there is such a revelation of Him in his word, in the book of creatures, and in the book of providences; yet the scripture says, “Lo, these are parts of his ways: but how little a portion is heard of him?” (Job 26:14) So great is God above all that we have read, heard, or seen of Him, either in the bible, in heaven, or earth, the sea, or what else is to be understood. But now, That a poor mortal, a lump of sinful flesh, or, as the scripture-phrase is, poor dust and ashes, should be in the favour, in the heart, and wrapped up in the compassions of SUCH a God! O amazing! O astonishing consideration! And yet “This God is our God for ever and ever; and He will be our guide even unto death” (Psa 48:14).” **

John Bunyan (1628-88) was one of the most influential writers in human history. We most often know this man as the author of The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World, to That Which Is to Come is a 1678 Christian allegory.

John Bunyan was born in Elstow, near Bedford, England in 1628, the son of Thomas Bunyan and Margaret Bentley. After learning to read at a grammar school he became a brazier or tinker like his father. (This was a semi-skilled occupation. Few people could afford to purchase new pots when old ones became holed, so they were mended time and time again. The arrival of a tinker was therefore often a welcome sight, although the semi-nomadic nature of their life led to tinkers being regarded by some in the same poor light as gypsies.)

1644 was an eventful year for the Bunyan family: in June, John lost his mother and, in July, his sister Margaret died. Following this, his father married (for the third time) to Anne Pinney (or Purney) and a half-brother, Charles, was born. It may have been the arrival of his stepmother that, following his 16th birthday, led John to leave the family home and enlist in the Parliamentary army, 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’. After the civil war was won by the Parliamentarians, Bunyan returned to his former trade.

After being discharged from the army, 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. Due to this new friend and pastor, Bunyan moved to Bedford with his wife and four children. He was baptized 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.

Gifford was a remarkable pastor who greatly assisted Bunyan’s progress toward spiritual stability and encouraged him to speak to the congregation. After Gifford’s death in 1655 Bunyan began to preach in public, and his ministrations were so energetic that he gained the nickname “Bishop Bunyan.” 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.

Bunyan’s wife died in 1658, leaving four children, including a daughter who had been born blind and whose welfare remained a constant worry. He remarried the following year; it is known that his second wife was named Elizabeth, that she bore two children, and that she spoke eloquently on his behalf when he was in prison.

Once the Stuart monarchy had been reestablished in 1660, it was illegal for anyone to preach who was not an ordained clergyman in the Church of England, and Bunyan spent most of the next twelve years in Bedford Gaol because he would not give up preaching, although the confinement was not onerous and he was out on parole on several occasions.

During imprisonment, Bunyan was not idle. He made shoelaces to raise support for his family and preached to the inmates. Bunyan read and reread Foxe’s Book of Martyrs while in prison.

Bunyan’s first book, Some Gospel Truths Opened According to the Scriptures, had attacked Quaker beliefs. Ironically it was Quakers who freed him. Told by the king to prepare a list of names for pardon, they included Bunyan’s with their own members.

His spiritual autobiography, “Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners,” was written at that time, it becoming one of Bunyan’s several classics. However his magnum opus, The Pilgrim’s Progress, an allegory, was also written while a prisoner, and then, following his release in 1672, was published in 1678.

After 1672 the political situation changed, and except for a six-month return to prison in 1677, Bunyan was relatively free to travel and preach, which he did with immense energy and goodwill.

John Bunyan wrote many books and papers still available today.

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.

Father, may I continually be willing to lay down my life before You that I may diligently learn and grow to be more Christlike. I love You, Lord, and find this period of my life to be walking an odd road. I certainly do not wish to return to what I was before Christ, but I am feeling so very lost right now. Hold me dear, Lord. Thank You, for showing me Mr. Bunyan and his walk with You once he came to You. He walked rough paths and yet, once he was Your’s he did not waver. Praise be to You, Father God. You have given me Your Holy Spirit to guide my every step. Peter and others taught us in Your Word about the value of gaining knowledge of You. May I continue to grow and dwell in You. Thanks for holding me close. In the Holy Name of Jesus, I pray. Amen.

Picture of John Bunyan and quote @ freecdtracts

** from “The Saint’s Knowledge of Christ’s Love or The Unsearchable Riches of Christ” by John Bunyan @ BunyanMinistries.org

“Fruitless” quote @ quote fancy

“Be Not Afraid…” quote @ Banner of Truth

“I will Stay…” quote @ quote fancy

“In prayer…” quote @ quote fancy

3 thoughts on “Classic Works Woven – John Bunyan

    1. I did not either, Theresa. Since I started doing these Friday Classic Works Woven, I have more often placed quotes on this page. But some of these people have such an interesting (and often unknown) biography that I had to do this today rather than just quotes. Thanks for stopping by!

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