John Bunyan 1628-1688: Puritans Who Changed the World
Puritans Who Changed the World: John Bunyan 1628-1688
Overview: Born into a humble family, Bunyan received only 2-3 years of formal education, served in the Parliamentary Army during the civil war when he was but 16, and became one of the most famous, effective preachers of his day. He wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress while in jail serving a 12 year sentence and the book has been acclaimed as the most widely read book in English except for the Bible. Authoring 60 books, this Baptist Puritan was the most popular author of all the Puritans.
Biography: Born on November 28, 1628 to Thomas and Margaret Bunyan of Elstow, Bedfordshire. His father was a brasier, whitesmith or tinker who made and repaired pots and pans; Bunyan followed in his father’s profession.
- Bunyan’s mother and sister died when he was 16 and his father remarried a month later. He then joined Cromwell’s New Model Army and served in the Civil War 1644-47. His military experience is reflected in his book The Holy War.
- Bunyan married in 1649, but we do not know the name of this first wife who died in 1655 leaving him with 4 children. This woman came from a godly home and influenced Bunyan spiritually so that he began going to church and reading godly books. His book Grace Abounding details his 4 year journey to Christ.
- He was discipled by his pastor, John Gifford from 1653-55. In 1655 Gifford died, Bunyan’s wife died, and Bunyan became a deacon and began to preach. By 1657 he was formally set apart by his church to preach the gospel.
- 1656 he publishes his first book, Some Gospel Truths Opened, a polemical work against the Quakers.
- 1659 he marries Elizabeth and they have two children.
- With the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, laws against the non-conformists were enforced once again and Bunyan was arrested and in the Bedford jail until 1672. During these 12 years in prison he supported his family by making shoelaces and writing. Remarkably, during much of his time in prison (for preaching) he was allowed to leave to go preach because of his popularity.
- Upon his release from prison in 1672 he was appointed pastor of the Bedford congregation but was arrested yet again in 1676. His friend John Owen, a minister in London, appealed to the Bishop of London and won Bunyan’s release after only a few months.
- Bunyan dies in 1688, ironically the year of the Glorious Revolution with William of Orange winning the throne of England and granting the non-conformist churches freedom in 1689 with the Act of Toleration. This draws to a close the time period in England that was the Puritan Era. Bunyan is buried close by his friends and fellow Puritans, Thomas Goodwin and John Owen.
Impact: Though others were more educated, Bunyan may well have been the most popular preacher and influential author of the Puritans in his era. A thorough Calvinist and a Baptist, he exemplified the Puritan ideal of combining doctrine and real life in his sermons, books and personal example of suffering. When given an opportunity to leave jail if he would quit preaching, Bunyan refused, saying, “If I am freed today, I will preach tomorrow.” While some of Bunyan’s works have not survived, most are still in print with Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666) and Pilgrim’s Progress (1682) being the most widely read today.
William Barker writes in Puritan Profiles (1996), p.311, “He was imprisoned again in 1676, and it was on this occasion that John Owen sought to aid in gaining his release. It was Owen who recommended the manuscript of Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress to his publisher, Nathaniel Ponder, and who, when asked by Charles II why he listened to an uneducated tinker, said, ‘Could I possess the tinker’s abilities for preaching, please your Majesty, I would gladly relinquish all my learning.’”
Bibliography: Meet the Puritans, Joel R. Beeke & Randall J. Pederson, Reformation Heritage Books: Grand Rapids, 2006, pp.101-112.
Puritan Profiles: 54 Contemporaries of the Westminster Assembly, William Barker, Mentor: Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland, 1996, pp.307-317.
Grace Abounding: The Life, Books, & Influence of John Bunyan, David B. Calhoun, Christian Focus: Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland, 2005 (223 pp).
Bunyan’s Books, a partial listing:
The Works of John Bunyan, Banner of Truth Trust; 3 volumes, 2400 pp. 1999.
The Pilgrim’s Progress, Banner of Truth Trust, 1983.
Christiana’s Journey; Or, The Pilgrim’s Progress, The Second Part, Bunyan Press, 1993, 150pp.
Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, Hendrickson Christian Classics Series, 2007 in hardcover.
Holy War, Christian Focus Publications, 286 pp.
All Love’s Excelling, Puritan Paperbacks, Banner of Truth Trust, 129pp.
Advice To Sufferers, Old Paths Gospel Press, 142pp.
Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ, Banner of Truth Trust, 229pp.
The Fear of God, Soli Deo Gloria, 217pp.