John Bunyan (1628 – 1688) is renowned for his many classic Christian works, including The Pilgrim’s Progress. But these great writings were brought about during a season of great suffering.
The following brief biographical sketch is from This Day in Baptist History by E. Wayne Thompson and David L. Cummins and provides a look at the faithful suffering of John Bunyan.
The restoration of Charles II introduced a reign of terror and of suffering upon the Dissenters1 in England. If they met for worship, they were liable to be stripped of their property, consigned to a jail, and even put to death.
During this time, John Bunyan was afflicted by the decease of his beloved wife and mother of his four children. God in His mercy gave him a second wife who proved to be a most devoted and heroic woman in the hour of his greatest need.
While preaching to a small congregation at Samsel, Bunyan was arrested on November 12, 1660, and hurried to the Bedford jail, located in one of the central piers of the ridge over the river Ouse.
One can hardly realize the miseries experienced when pious men and women were taken to such “dens” and thrust in, as Bunyan was, with the most depraved kind of felons.
After about seven weeks of imprisonment, he was tried before Justice Keeling, who pronounced him guilty of not submitting to the state church.
He heard the judge declare, “You must be had back to prison, and there lie for three months; and then if you do not submit to go to church to hear divine service, and leave your preaching, you must be banished from the realm; and after that, if you be found in this realm without special license from the king, you must stretch by the neck for it, I tell you plainly.”
Bunyan responded by saying, “If I were out of prison today, I would preach the Gospel again tomorrow, by the help of God.”
Bunyan described the parting from his wife and children as “the pulling the flesh from the bones. I saw I was a man who was pulling down his house upon the head of his wife and children.”
He had particular compassion upon his little blind Mary, of whom he said, “Oh, the thoughts of the hardships I thought my poor blind one might go under, would break my heart in pieces.”
At the end of the three months, Bunyan became anxious to know what the enemies of the cross intended to do with him. In prison he was treated with the utmost trust and respect. It was thought that the imprisonment, as it stretched out to over twelve years, saved his life during a time when many were put to death for their faith.
His heroic wife presented his petition for release and addressed the judge, “My lord, I have four small children that cannot help themselves, of which one is blind, and have nothing to live upon but the charity of good people.”
However, they continued his incarceration because he would not deny the lordship and ultimate authority of Jesus Christ over his life by ceasing to preach and accepting licensure from the state.
The Bible and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs were his library. God granted him the tools of quill and ink and thus fulfilled His purposes in the writing of useful treatises, including The Holy City, Christian Behavior, The Resurrection of the Dead, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, and the immortal Pilgrim’s Progress.
This last volume graces libraries all over the world and has been translated into several languages, including Chinese, Greek, and Malay.2
Prison walls may constitute God’s open door to the world.
Recommended Reading: All About Pilgrim’s Progress (Plus Resources for Reading It)
1 Dissenters, or Separatists, were Protestant Christians who separated from the Church of England
2 At this time, Pilgrim’s Progress has been translated into over 200 languages!