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The Life of John Bunyan

John Bunyan, the unlikely pilgrim of Bedford, England lived a dream. He lived his beloved and classic dream, The Pilgrim’s Progress. From burdened to preacher, and from prisoner to victor, Bunyan’s journey mirrored Christian’s.

John Bunyan was born in November 1628. He lived a godless life until as an adult he married a woman who became his Evangelist by sharing two books regarding salvation and by taking him to church. The books awakened his heart but the Biblical preaching of his Interpreter pastor, John Gifford, showed him the “great burden upon his back.”[1] After two long, arduous years of doubt he finally received the gift of faith. “One day this sentence fell upon my soul. ‘Thy righteousness is in heaven’…Jesus Christ at God’s right hand was my righteousness.”[2] He embraced Christ’s righteousness and gratefully lost his burden.

It was in 1656 that Bunyan first became aware that that he had a gift for words. “Some did perceive that God had counted me worthy to understand something of his Will in his holy and blessed Word, and had given me utterance in some measure to express, what I saw, to others for edification.”[3] Bunyan indeed became a powerful Puritan preacher. However, in 1660 the Church of England and the Parliament turned against nonconformists like Bunyan and by law restricted Puritan preachers. Soon after Bunyan was imprisoned for preaching without state approval, and he would remain in prison for 12 years. This proved to be a Dark Valley for Bunyan as he grieved over leaving his wife and four children alone and endured the ignominy and loneliness of imprisonment. Bunyan learned powerful lessons in this Dark Valley and concluded “The righteous shall scarcely be saved. That is, they shall, but yet with great difficulty, that it may be sweeter.”[4]

While suffering taught Bunyan the sweet mercies of Christ, he also knew despair. The Giant Despair and the Doubting Castle speak so vividly of his depression. Yet, the key of Promise, God’s Word, that had been hidden in the chest of his memory freed him from despair. In light of this, it is notable that Bunyan became so Biblically saturated that Charles Spurgeon called him a living Bible. “Prick him anywhere and you will find the very essence of the Bible flows from him.”[5] His Biblical knowledge was most evident in his writings. “Bunyan was a prolific writer…the vast majority (of his books) were practical expositions of Scripture built from sermons for the sake of helping Christians make their way successfully to heaven.”[6] Bunyan was released from prison in 1672. But three years later he endured another imprisonment, this time for two years during which he wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress. George Whitfield said of that work “It smells of the prison…ministers never write so well as when under the cross: the Spirit of Christ and of Glory then rests upon them.”[7] Bunyan’s suffering prepared him well for his multi-faceted ministry.

Just as Christian’s journey ended victoriously at the Celestial City, Bunyan became a victor at age 60. “It was said unto them, ‘Enter ye into the joy of your Lord’…And after that, they shut up the gates; which when I had seen, I wished myself among them.”[8] We can only imagine John Bunyan’s joy as he ended his earthly journey “among them” in August 1688.


[1] Bunyan, John. The Pilgrim’s Progress (The Heritage Press, New York, Special edition, 1942) p.11

[2] Quoted in John Piper, The Hidden Smile of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001), p.52

[3] Arnott, Anne. Valiant for Truth, The Story of John Bunyan (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing), p.65

[4] Quoted in John Piper, The Hidden Smile of God (Wheaten, IL: Crossway Books, 2001), p.64

[5] Piper, p. 77

[6] Piper, p.60

[7] Piper, p.61

[8] Bunyan, p. 187