Friday, September 6, 2013

John Bunyan (1628-1688)

John Bunyan was born on November 28, 1628, into a working-class family in a small village about 56 miles (90 km) north of London. As a child, he attended school in a nearby village. As a teenager, he wandered between villages repairing pots. At 16 he joined Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army for three years but saw no combat.

Back in his home village in 1648, John heard the voice of God. God wanted to know if John was going to become a Christian and go to Heaven or remain an Olympian and go to Hell. John decided to become more intentional about being a Christian. In 1650 he came across two books, Plain Man's Pathway to Heaven by Arthur Dent and Practice of Piety by Lewis Bayly, which, in addition to the Bible, helped him a lot.

John started participating in a Nonconformist church in nearby Bedford. At that time, Nonconformists were people who failed to conform with the beliefs and practices of the Church of England. In 1655 the pastor of that church died and John started preaching. As his popularity grew, so too did the verbal attacks against him.

John had some serious disagreements with the theology of George Fox's newly organized Religious Society of Friends. He expressed his understanding of Jesus and his work, and questioned that of the Quakers, in his first published pamphlet entitled Some Gospel Truths Opened (1656). He responded to some of their criticisms in A Vindication of Gospel Truths Opened (1657).

John was arrested for preaching without the permission of the Church of England in November 1660. He remained jailed for his nonconformity until January 1672.

While imprisoned John wrote his spiritual autobiography entitled Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, or The Brief Relation of the Exceeding Mercy of God in Christ to His Poor Servant John Bunyan. He published it in 1666.

Following his release, he became pastor of the church in Bedford he had previously served as preacher. It grew to include thousands of members and inspired the start of dozens of other churches in surrounding villages.

The change in law which allowed John to leave jail in 1672 was repealed in 1675 so John was returned to jail. Through the good graces of Quakers, John was released six months later.

John wrote more than 60 books and pamphlets. He published his masterpiece, The Pilgrim's Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come, in two parts (1678, 1684). It tells the story, in allegorical form, of what Jesus did for sinners and what sinners may do in response to Jesus.

The more famous first part starts with a man named Christian who lives in the City of Destruction (“this world”). He abandons his home and journeys to the Celestial City (“that which is to come”). In between, he is helped by people such as Evangelist, Goodwill, Faithful, and Hopeful and hurt by Obstinate, Pliable, Mr. Worldly Wiseman, Mr. Legality, Apollyon, Giant Despair, and others. He falls into the Slough of Despond, climbs the Hill of Difficulty, stays a night at the Palace Beautiful, survives the Valley of the Shadow of Death, is arrested at Vanity Fair, is imprisoned again in Doubting Castle, travels through the Delectable Mountains, passes through the Enchanted Ground, crosses the River of Death, and finally arrives at the Celestial City.

Literary allusions to John's book abound. Charles Dickens subtitled Oliver Twist as The Parish Boy's Progress (1838), Charlotte Brontë refers to it in Jane Eyre (1847),William Thackeray named his book Vanity Fair (1848), Mark Twain subtitled The Innocents Abroad as The New Pilgrims' Progress (1869), and C. S. Lewis wrote The Pilgrim's Regress.

Pilgrim's Progress has been translated into more than 200 languages—second only to the Bible.

John died from a fever in London on August 31, 1688. He was buried in Bunhill Fields, the cemetery for Nonconformists in London, where George Fox, Daniel Defoe, and William Blake lie near him.

Copyright © 2013 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved.