John Bunyan was brought into this world by God on November 28, AD 1628, less than a decade after Puritan-Pilgrims landed at Plimouth Rock.
Bunyan also became a Puritan - and though he never went to the New World, he became a Pilgrim of a different kind. John Bunyan became an
English Christian writer and preacher, who is well known for his book The
Pilgrim's Progress.- and went to meet his Maker on August 31, AD 1688.
Though he became a non-conformist and member of an Independent church, and although he has been described both as a Baptist and as a Congregationalist, he himself preferred to be described simply as a Christian.
He is remembered in the Church of England with a Lesser Festival on August 30, and on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (US) on August 29. Some other Churches of the Anglican Communion, such as the Anglican Church of Australia, honour him on the day of his death (August 31) together with St Aidan of Lindisfarne.
John Bunyan, Beginnings:
John Bunyan was born in 1628 to Thomas and Margaret Bunyan in Bunyan's End in the parish of Elstow, Bedfordshire, England. Bunyan's End was located approximately half way between the hamlet of Harrowden (one mile southeast of Bedford) and Elstow's High Street.
The Bunyan family (the name spelt in various ways) had lived on their land for centuries, originally a larger area, much gradually sold over the years. John Brown's biography gives details of his ancestry. The family's name was originally the Old French Buignon, and is first noted in 1199 at nearby Wilsamsted (Wilstead), the first member or members coming to England as Norman feudal retainers.
The name has also been found in Calais. He is recorded in the Elstow parish register as having been baptised John Bunyan, on 30 November 1628.
On 23 May 1627, Thomas married his second wife, Margaret Bentley. Like Thomas, she was from Elstow and she was also born in 1603. In 1628, Margaret's sister, Rose Bentley, married Thomas' half-brother Edward Bunyan.
They were ordinary villagers, with Thomas earning a living as a chapman, but he may also have been a brazier - one who made and/or mended kettles and pots.
John Bunyan wrote with some exaggeration of his modest origins,
In his writings, John refers to his days in school - this may have been schooling at his father's house, possibly with other poor country boys, but it is possible that he meant that he attended a formal school, possibly the one in Houghton Conquest.
Some think that Bunyan may have attended Bedford Grammar School but some records show that only pupils living in the Borough of Bedford were eligible for a place there. Either way, his later writings demonstrate a high degree of English literacy.
Like his father, John chose a job 'on the road', by adopting the trade of tinker. 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.
From 1644 to 1647 John served at Newport Pagnell garrison. The English Civil War was then nearing the end of the first stage.
Hand of God in Bunyan's Life?
John was probably saved from death one day when a fellow soldier volunteered to go into battle in his place and was killed while walking sentry duty. After the civil war was won by the Parliamentarians, Bunyan returned to his former trade.
In his autobiography, "Grace Abounding!", Bunyan wrote that he led an abandoned life in his youth and was morally reprehensible as a result. However, there appears to be no outward evidence that he was any worse than his neighbours.
Examples of sins to which he confessed to are profanity, dancing, and bell-ringing. The increasing awareness of his (in his view) un-Biblical life led him to contemplate acts of impiety and profanity; in particular, he was harassed by a curiosity in regard to the "unpardonable sin", and a prepossession that he had already committed it.
He was known as an adept linguist as far as profanity was concerned; even the most proficient swearers were known to remark that Bunyan was "the ungodliest fellow for swearing they ever heard".
John Bunyan: Claimed God, or an Angel Spoke to him!
He continually heard voices urging him to "sell Christ," and was tortured by fearful visions. While playing a game of Tip-cat on Elstow village green, Bunyan claimed to have heard a voice that asked:
Because Puritans held the Sabbath day sacred and permitted no sport, John believed that this had been the voice of God, chastising his indulgent ways. John's spirituality was born from this experience and he began to struggle with his sense of guilt, self-doubt and his belief in the Bible's promise of damnation and salvation.
In 1649, when he was about 21, he moved from 'Bunyan's End' into a cottage on the western side of the northern end of Elstow's High Street (the cottage shown above).
In 1650 he married a young woman, an orphan whose father had left her only two books as her inheritance.
The two books were Arthur Dent's Plain Man's Pathway to Heaven and Lewis Bayly's Practice of Piety, and the content of these two books appears to have strongly influenced John towards a religious life.
John's wife's name is not recorded, but the Bunyan's first, blind, daughter (born in 1650), was called Mary, and it is possible that she was named after her mother.
The Bunyans' life was modest, to say the least. Bunyan wrote that they were "as poor as poor might be", not even "a dish or spoon between them".
As John struggled with his new-found Christian faith, he became increasingly despondent and fell into mental turmoil.
During this time of conflict, Bunyan began a four year long discussion and spiritual journey with a few poor women of Bedford who belonged to a nonconformist sect that worshipped in St. John's Church. He also increasingly identified himself with St. Paul, who had characterised himself as "the chief of sinners."
As a result of these experiences, John Bunyan was received into the Independent church and he began to follow the teachings of its pastor, John Gifford.
A second daughter, Elizabeth, was born in 1654, and in 1655 Bunyan moved his family to St Cuthberts Street, Bedford. That same year John Gifford died and John started preaching.
John's son Thomas was born in 1656, his first book “Some Gospel Truths” was published and John Bunyan became a member of the church; in 1657 he became a deacon. His son John was born and his second book “Vindication” was published.
John Bunyan: Imprisonments
As his popularity and notoriety grew, Bunyan increasingly became a target for slander and libel; he was described as
In 1658, aged 30, he was arrested for preaching at Eaton Socon and indicted for preaching without a licence.
That same year his wife died leaving him with 4 children, one of which was blind. He continued preaching, however, and did not suffer imprisonment until November 1660, when he was taken to the County gaol in Silver Street, Bedford.
In that same year, Bunyan married again, Elizabeth, by whom he had two more children, Sarah and Joseph. The Restoration of the monarchy by Charles II of England began Bunyan's persecution as England returned to Anglicanism:
John Bunyan: Arrested for Preaching:
He was arrested on 12 November 1660, whilst preaching privately in Lower Samsell In Westoning Westoning, Bedfordshire, 10 miles south of Bedford.
John was brought before the magistrate John Wingate at Harlington House and refused to desist from preaching. Wingate sent him to Bedford County Gaol, to consider his situation. After a month, Bunyan reports (in his own account of his imprisonment) that Wingate's clerk visited him, seeking to get him to change his mind.
The clerk said that all the authorities wanted was for Bunyan to undertake not to preach at private gatherings, as it was suspected that these non-conformist meetings were in fact being used by people plotting against the king.
In answer to the clerk, John argued that God's law obliged him to preach at any and every opportunity, and refused to consider the suggested compromise.
In January 1661, Bunyan was brought before the quarter sessions in the Chapel of Herne, Bedford. His prosecutor, Mr. Justice Wingate, despite Bunyan's clear breaches of the Religion Act of 1592, was not inclined to incarcerate Bunyan.
This attitude left the magistrates - Sir John Kelynge of Southill, Sir Henry Chester of Lidlington, Sir George Blundell of Cardington, Sir Wllm Beecher of Howbury and Thomas Snagg of Milbrook - with no choice but to imprison him.
So Bunyan was incarcerated for 3 months for the crimes of:
Strenuous efforts were made by Bunyan's wife to get his case re-heard at the spring assizes but Bunyan's continued assertions that he would, if freed, preach to his awaiting congregation meant that the magistrates would not consider any new hearing.
Similar efforts were made in the following year but, again, to no avail. In early 1664, an Act of Parliament the Conventicles Act made it illegal to hold religious meetings of five or more people outside of the auspices of the Church of England.
It was during his time in Bedford County Gaol that John Bunyan conceived his allegorical novel: "The Pilgrim's Progress".Many scholars however believe that he commenced this work during the second and shorter imprisonment of 1675, referred to below.
Bunyan's incarceration was punctuated with periods of relative freedom - lax gaolers allowing him out to attend church meetings and to minister to his congregation.
In 1666, John was briefly released for a few weeks before being re-arrested for preaching and sent back to Bedford's County gaol, where he remained for a further six years.
During that time, he wove shoelaces to support his family and preached to his fellow prisoners - a congregation of about sixty.
In his possession were:
John Bunyan was released in January 1672, when Charles II issued the Declaration of Religious Indulgence.
John Bunyan: 1672 to 1688;
In the same month as his release, John Bunyan became pastor of the Independent church. On May 9, 1672, John Bunyan was the recipient of one of the first licences to preach under the new law. He was licenced as an Independent.
A barn in Mill Street, Bedford was purchased by the church and set up as a Meeting House for the church on the site that is the present-day location of the Bunyan Meeting House that is affiliated with both the Congregational and Baptist Churches.
By his preaching, Bunyan became popular in Bedfordshire and several surrounding counties, including Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire and Northamptonshire.
His own congregation at the independent church in Bedford grew strongly at this time, and many village chapels for miles around Bedford owed their roots to John Bunyan’s influence.
He would even speak to large crowds and congregations as far away as London and, as his fame and popularity as a preacher increased, he became affectionately known as 'Bishop Bunyan'.
John Bunyan: New Laws, Re-Arrested:
In March 1675, following Charles II's withdrawal of the Declaration of Religious Indulgence, John Bunyan was again imprisoned for preaching.
This was not, as formerly thought, in the Bedford town jail on the stone river bridge, but once again in the county gaol. (The original warrant, discovered in 1887, is published in facsimile by Rush and Warwick, London).
It was the Quakers who most probably helped secure Bunyan's release.
When the King asked for a list of names to pardon, the Society gave Bunyan's name along with those of their own members. Within six months, John was free and, as a result of his popularity, was never arrested again.
When, in 1687, the King James II of England asked Bunyan to oversee the royal interest in Bedford, John declined this influential post because James refused to lift the tests and laws which served to persecute nonconformists.
In 1688, John served as chaplain to the Lord Mayor of London, Sir John Shorter.
As John Bunyan was riding from Reading, Berkshire to London, to resolve a disagreement between a father and son, he 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, on 31 August 1688.
John Bunyan's grave lies in the cemetery at Bunhill Fields in London.
In 1862 a recumbent statue was created to adorn his grave. He lies among other historic nonconformists, George Fox, William Blake and Daniel Defoe.
In 1874, a bronze statue of John Bunyan, sculpted by Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm, was erected in Bedford. This stands at the south-western corner of St Peter's Green, facing down Bedford's High Street. The site was chosen by Boehm for its significance as a crossroads.
Bunyan is depicted expounding the Bible, to an invisible congregation, with a broken fetter representing his imprisonment by his left foot.
There are three scenes from "The Pilgrim's Progress" on the stone plinth: Christian at the wicket gate; his fight with Apollyon; and losing his burden at the foot of the cross of Jesus. The statue was unveiled by Lady Augusta Stanley, wife of the Dean of Westminster, on Wednesday 10 June 1874.
There is another statue of him in Kingsway in London, and there are memorial windows in various churches including Elstow Abbey and Bunyan Meeting in Bedford.
John Bunyan: The Pilgrim's Progress;
Bunyan in prison
Bunyan wrote The Pilgrim's Progress in two parts, the first of which was published in London in 1678 and the second in 1684. He began the work in his first period of imprisonment, and probably finished it during the second.
The earliest edition in which the two parts combined in one volume came in 1728. A third part falsely attributed to Bunyan appeared in 1693, and was reprinted as late as 1852. Its full title is The Pilgrim's Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come.
The Pilgrim's Progress is arguably the most widely known allegories ever written, and has been extensively translated. Protestant missionaries commonly translated it as the first thing after the Bible.
The above works have appeared in numerous editions. There are several noteworthy collections of editions of The Pilgrim's Progress, e.g., in the British Museum and in the New York Public Library, collected by the late James Lenox.
Bunyan became a popular preacher as well as a prolific author, though most of his works consist of expanded sermons.
Though a Baptist preacher, in theology he was a Puritan.
The portrait his friend Robert White drew, which has often been reproduced, shows the attractiveness of his true character. He was tall, had reddish hair, prominent nose, a rather large mouth, and sparkling eyes.
He was no scholar, except of the English Bible, but he knew scripture thoroughly.
He was also influenced by Martin Luther's Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, in the translation of 1575.
Some time before his final release from prison Bunyan became involved in a controversy with Kiffin, Danvers, Deune, Paul, and others. In 1673 he published his "Differences in Judgement about Water-Baptism no Bar to Communion."
Kiffin and Paul published a response in Serious Reflections (London, 1673), in which they argued in favour of the restriction of the Lord's Supper to baptised believers, and received the approval of Henry Danvers in his Treatise of Baptism (London, 1673 or 1674).
The controversy resulted in the Particular (Calvinistic) Baptists leaving the question of communion with the unbaptised open. Bunyan's church admitted paedobaptists (those who baptized infants) to fellowship and finally became paedobaptist (Congregationalist).
John Bunyan: Wide Acceptance of "Pilgrim's Progress";
At one time, The Pilgrim's Progress was considered the most widely read and translated book in the English language apart from the Bible.
However, in the post-modern post AD-2000 era, it seems to raely be read, though some traditionalist ministers mention it now and then.
The charm of the work, which gives it wide appeal among old and young, learned and ignorant, readers of all possible schools of thought and theology, lies in the interest of a story:
The images Bunyan uses in Pilgrim's Progress are but reflections of images from his own world;
Bunyan wrote about 60 books and tracts, of which The Holy War ranks next to The Pilgrim's Progress in popularity. A passage from Part Two of The Pilgrim's Progress beginning "Who would true Valour see" has been used in the hymn "To be a Pilgrim".
The Scottish philosopher David Hume used Bunyan to illustrate the idea of a "standard of taste" in aesthetic matters:
John Bunyan, Joseph Smith and Modern Mormons:
Some modern scholars are convinced there is a connection between John Bunyan and Joseph Smith - the Founder of the Mormon Movement in 1830 - about 140 years after the death of John Bunyan.
Joseph Smith claimed to have "been visited by an Angel, who told him where to dig up Gold Plates, with new Scripture and revelation from God as to the Christian Life!
Joseph Smith was a man of many words, and some modern researchers are convinced many of them were at first, John Bnyan's.
John Bunyan: Some Works
A Few Sighs from Hell, or the Groans of a Damned Soul, 1658
A Discourse Upon the Pharisee and the Publican, 1685
A Holy Life
Christ a Complete Saviour (The Intercession of Christ And Who Are Privileged in It), 1692
Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ, 1678
Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, 1666
Light for Them that Sit in Darkness
Praying with the Spirit and with Understanding too, 1663
Of Antichrist and His Ruin, 1692
Reprobation Asserted, 1674
Saved by Grace, 1675
Seasonal Counsel or Suffering Saints in the Furnace – Advice to Persecuted Christians in Their Trials & Tribulations, 1684
Solomon's Temple Spiritualized
Some Gospel Truths Opened, 1656
The Acceptable Sacrifice
The Desire of the Righteous Granted
The Doctrine of the Law and Grace Unfolded, 1659
The Doom and Downfall of the Fruitless Professor (Or The Barren Fig Tree), 1682
The End of the World, The Resurrection of the Dead and Eternal Judgment, 1665
The Fear of God – What it is, and what is it is not, 1679
The Greatness of the Soul and Unspeakableness of its Loss Thereof, 1683
The Heavenly Footman, 1698
The Holy City or the New Jerusalem, 1665
The Holy War – The Losing and Taking Again of the Town of Man-soul (The Holy War Made by Shaddai upon Diabolus, for the Regaining of the World), 1682
The Life and Death of Mr Badman, 1680
The Pilgrim's Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come, 1678
The Strait Gate, Great Difficulty of Going to Heaven, 1676
The Saint's Knowledge of Christ's Love, or The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, 1692
The Water of Life or The Richness and Glory of the Gospel, 1688
The Work of Jesus Christ as an Advocate, 1688
Films and other media based on Bunyan's works
The novel was made into a film, Pilgrim's Progress, in 1912. Another film version was made in 1977 by Ken Anderson films, in which Liam Neeson played the role of Evangelist and other smaller roles like the crucified Christ. Maurice O'Callaghan played Mr. Worldly Wiseman and other "bad" characters that met Christian in his journey. A sequel Christiana followed in 1979. A version by Danny Carrales was produced in 2008.
In 1950 an hour-long animated version was made by Baptista Films. This version was edited down to 35 minutes and re-released with new music in 1978. As of 2007 the original version is difficult to find, but the 1978 has been released on both VHS and DVD.
In 1985 Yorkshire Television produced a 129-minute 9-part serial presentation of The Pilgrim's Progress with animated stills by Alan Parry and narrated by Paul Copley entitled Dangerous Journey.
In 1989, Orion's Gate, a producer of Biblical/Spiritual radio dramas produced "The Pilgrim's Progress" as a 6 hour dramatization. Samples and more information may be found athttp://www.orionsgate.org/audio.html. This production was followed several years later by "Christiana: Pilgrim's Progress Part II," an 8 hour dramatization.
In 1992 David MacAdam of New Life Fine Arts, presented Celestial City a musical adaptation of Pilgrim's Progress and John Bunyan's life. It was performed in Massachusetts throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. It's music was released on Audio Cassette and CD in the early 2000s.
In 1993, the popular Christian radio drama, Adventures in Odyssey (produced by Focus on the Family), featured a two-part story, titled "Pilgrim's Progress: Revisited."
A 2006 computer animation version was made, directed and narrated by Scott Cawthon
At the 2009 San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival, the adaptation Pilgrim's Progress: Journey to Heaven received one nomination for best feature length independent film and one nomination for best music score.
Director Todd Fietkau is making a version of Pilgrim's Progress, scheduled to be released in 2009.
A children's animation series titled The Pilgrim's Progress is set to be produced by Cliff McDowell, scheduled to be released in 2010.[dated info]
John Bunyan Museum – Museum dedicated to Bunyan on the same site as his former church.
Elstow Moot Hall - A medieval market house in Bunyan's birthplace, now contains a small museum dedicated to his life and works.
To Be a Pilgrim - The only hymn John Bunyan is known to have written.
John Edwards (1700?-1776) - Translator of Pilgrim's Progress.
John Bunyan: Journey of a Pilgrim (2007) – documentary.
Torchlighters: The John Bunyan Story (2007) – animated DVD for children ages 8–12.
1. ^ Grace Abounding
2. ^ Buescher, John. "Baptist Origins." Teachinghistory.org, accessed 23 September 2011.
3. ^ John Bunyan at Find a Grave
4. ^ An example of this is Franklin, Benjamin, Autobiography: "I have since found that [The Pilgrim's Progress] has been translated into most of the Languages of Europe, and suppose it has been more generally read than any other Book except perhaps the Bible."
"Bunyan Family Tree" - Clive Arnold, Moot Hall Museum
John Bunyan - "His Life, Times and Work" - Dr John Brown 1885
Anne Dunan-Page, Grace Overwhelming: John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress and the Extremes of the Baptist Mind (Frankfurt am Main, Peter Lang AG, 2006).
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Cousin, John William (1910). A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London, J. M. Dent & Sons; New York, E. P. Dutton.
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Biography of Bunyan
Bunyan Meeting Free Church Bedford
John Bunyan Museum Bedford
Moot Hall Elstow – Museum specialising in 17th C life and John Bunyan
International John Bunyan Society
Bunyan Ministries.org Large Bunyan Resource site
Works by John Bunyan at Project Gutenberg
Writings of Bunyan at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.
Complete works online
John Bunyan Online Online Bunyan Archive.
Acacia John Bunyan Online Library
Anthology of English Literature
International Literary Quarterly
Glimpses of Christian History
Books by Bunyan Sword of the Lord Publishers
Works of Arnold Wathen Robinson Stained glass in Bristol with reference to Bunyan