John Bunyan

John Bunyan was an English writer and Puritan preacher. He 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’.

Bunyan married at age 21. Those books his wife brought to the marriage began a process of conversion. Gradually, he gave up recreations like dancing, bell ringing, and sports; he began attending church and fought off temptations. Later, 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. 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 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.

In January 1672, Charles II issued the Declaration of Religious Indulgence with to make Roman Catholicism legal. As a result, many religious prisoners were pardoned and released, including John Bunyan. That same month, he became pastor of the Bedford church. In March 1675, he was imprisoned for preaching again because Charles II withdrew the Declaration of Religious Indulgence. This time he was imprisoned in the Bedford town jail on the stone bridge over the Ouse.

Bunyan became a prolific author as well as a popular preacher, though most of his works consisted of expanded sermons. He wrote, The Pilgrim’s Progress, in two parts, the first of which was published in London in 1678, and the second in 1684. He had begun the work in his first period of imprisonment and probably finished it during the second. The earliest edition with the two parts combined in one volume was published in 1728. A third part, falsely attributed to Bunyan, appeared in 1693 and was reprinted as late as 1852. The Pilgrim’s Progress is arguably one of the most widely known allegories ever written. It has been extensively translated into other languages.

Two other successful works of Bunyan’s are less well-known: The Life and Death of Mr. Badman (1680), an imaginary biography, and The Holy War (1682), an allegory. A third book that reveals Bunyan’s inner life and his preparation for his appointed work are, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666). It is all about Bunyan’s spiritual path. Bunyan died in 1688 after catching a cold while riding through a rainstorm on a journey to reconcile a quarreling family. He was buried at the Nonconformist cemetery of Bunhill Fields in London.