Meet John Bunyan

John Bunyan was born in 1628 in the parish of Elston, two miles from Bedford, England. His father was a poor tinker but he managed to send John to the village school, before he became a tinker as well. Later, John served for two years in the Parliamentary Army during the Civil War against Charles II.

In 1649 he married his first wife, Mary, a pious woman who gave him as her only dowry copies of Pastor Arthur Dentís Plain Manís Pathway to Heaven and Bishop Lewis Baylyís Practice of Piety. His reading and education came from these, together with the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, and Foxeís Book of Martyrs. Mary died in 1656, leaving him with four children, the oldest a blind daughter, also named Mary. He married his second wife, Elizabeth, in 1656.

In 1660 the rule of Oliver Cromwell ended and the English monarchy was restored. Attempting to create national unity, the government forced religious conformity and stopped the growth of independent churches. The non-conforming Bunyan was arrested for convening religious meetings and preaching without a license from the state church. He refused to cease and spent most of the next twelve years in jail. It was in prison that he wrote Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, his spiritual autobiography which chronicles his many battles with Satan, the merciful working of God leading to his salvation, and the acceptance of his divine call to preach.

After his release in 1672, Bunyan was appointed pastor of the Baptist church in Bedford but was again sent to prisonóon the same charge! It was then that he wrote his most famous work, The Pilgrimís Progress, published in 1678. A monumental classic, this book is second only to the Bible in the number of copies sold since its first printing.

Though Bunyan saw himself as a preacher and evangelist, it is for his writing that he is best remembered, and in particular for the allegorical accounts of the solitary hero Christian and his family, and their journeys to the Celestial City. Both the events and the abstractly named characters in these stories dramatically present Bunyanís central religious conviction: that man is saved by Godís grace, and not by good deeds and obedience to law. "There is no character, from Mr. Worldly Wiseman to the Interpreter, who does not also suggest some aspect of the eternal drama of sin, repentance, grace, and sometimes backsliding and eternal damnation." (Salem Press) Modern readers may often find the book less fascinating than it once was because they have lost the habit of allegorical thinking, a habit Bunyan applied to all of Scripture.

Oddly enough, after the publication of Pilgrimís Progress, Bunyanís life ran more smoothly. His book and his sufferings made him a hero to the Baptists, and he preached to large crowds throughout England. In the last year of his life, he was even chaplain to the Lord Mayor of London. John Bunyan died in London in 1688.

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