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Sunday, 18 August 2013

John Bunyan

John Bunyan was born around November 28, 1628 at Harrowden, one mile east of Elstow near Bedford His father was a tinker (A person who makes and mends pots and kettles). Bunyan followed his father into the tinkering business. Actually the exact date of Bunyan’s birth is not known, but he was baptized on November 30, 1628 in Elstow.

Bunyan went to his village school where he only learnt to read and write. He knew thoroughly only one book-the King James Bible.

In 1644 Bunyan was conscripted into the Parliamentary army during the Civil War. The Cromwellian soldier was garrisoned in Newport Pagnell and didn't engage in battle. He was exposed to the views of many radical Christians in the roundhead ranks.  He returned home in 1646 but stored in his imagination military scenes and adventures which he would later use to such telling effect in his books.

Bunyan married his first wife in 1649 (her name is unknown). Her sole dowry was two books on Christianity which awakened his interest in religion. "We came together as poor as poor might be," Bunyan wrote, "not having so much household-stuff as a dish or spoon betwixt us both."  She died in 1656.

In appearance, Bunyan was tall, ruddy face, sparkling eyes and a mustache.

An artist's rendition of John Bunyan

Originally a High Anglican, who led a footloose and fancy free life, Bunyan’s heart was first touched whilst playing tipcat, when he heard a voice saying “Wilt thou leave thy sins and go to Heaven or have thy sins and go to Hell?” Later he noticed four old women sitting at a door in the sun talking about new birth, the work of God on their hearts and of their own righteousness as too defiled to do them good. They spoke with “such pleasantness of Scripture language” Bunyan’s heart began to shake.

Bunyan's Christian wife introduced him to two religious works, Bayley’s Practice of Piety and Dent’s Plain Man’s Pathway to Heaven, which he duly read. He describes his conversion thus: “One day as I was travelling into the country, musing on the wickedness of my heart and considering the enmity that was in me to God, the Scripture came to mind, “He hath made peace, through the blood of the Cross”. I saw that the justice of God and my sinful soul could embrace and kiss each other. I was ready to swoon, not with grief and trouble, but with joy and peace.”

Bunyan gained a popular reputation in the villages around Bedford as an eloquent and powerful speaker, but following the 1660 restoration of the monarchy, he was a number of Non-conformist preachers who were arrested. Bunyan was seized by the authorities for preaching outside a Parish Church whilst being unlicensed to preach. He spent the next 13 years in prison.

Bunyan married his second wife, Elizabeth in 1659 just before his arrest. His second wife cared for his four small children including a blind daughter, Mary, whom he especially loved.

Bunyan was appointed pastor by his congregation in 1671 despite still being in jail. He was released for a time, enabling him to take up his position as pastor but after a clamp down by the king on Non-conformism Bunyan was sent back to prison. He refused all offers of freedom as he was unable to agree to the prerequisite that he won’t preach again.

During his lengthy imprisonment Bunyan helped to support his family from prison by making long-tagged shoelaces, which he sold to hawkers.

Bunyan in prison

The county gaol where Bunyon was imprisoned between 1660 -72 was later the home of John Howard, the great prison reformer.

Bunyan wrote over 60 published works, including books, tracts and even children's poetry. Most of them were written in his last years.  Had he not spent 13 years in Bedford Prison it is unlikely Bunyan would ever have been anything but an effective and successful preacher. Prison gave him time to think, to read and to write. He read and re-read the Bible, the Prayer Book, Foxes Book of Martyrs and George Herbert's Devotional Poems.

The Pilgrim's Progress, an allegory based on Bunyan's own spiritual life was published in two parts in 1678 and 1684. The first part of it was written during Bunyan's second spell in jail.for preaching without a licence in 1675.

First edition cover

In his last years under the nickname "Bishop Bedford" Bunyan organised the Non Conformist churches between Bedford and London.

Bunyan won increasing fame in his last years as a preacher and writer and was preaching sometimes to over 1,000 people even on cold winter mornings.

Bunyan is best identified as a Particular Baptist of an open sort—one who is Calvinistic in theology, congregational in polity, and adhering to believer's baptism though not requiring immersion for church membership.

Bunyan died on August 31, 1688 in London while on a journey from Reading to settle an argument between a father and son. He was caught in a drenching rain storm and a violent fever seized him. He was buried at Bunhill, (Finsbury), London. .

Pilgrim's Progress has been translated in over 200 languages and for the next 150 years after its publication Bunyan's books, like the Bible, were found in every English home. 

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