John Bunyan was born in 1628 in Elstow England, approximately one mile south of Bedford (approximately fifty miles northwest of London).  In no uncertain terms, Bunyan was a depraved wretch.  His life was filled with all manner of evil and he describes his life in his autobiography Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners.  After his conversion, Bunyan was baptized in the River Great Ouse that runs through the town of Bedford in approximately 1650.  Soon thereafter, he would have an unescapable call to preach the gospel.  Although we remember Bunyan most for his writings, especially The Pilgrim’s Progress, we remember him also for his preaching.

John Bunyan Preached to the Soul

Like many Puritans, Bunyan was direct in his approach to preaching.  He didn’t believe in the indirect or veiled approach to gospel proclamation.  In the same way that George Whitefield would announce that he had come to talk to the people about their soul, Bunyan would address the heart of people with the power of the gospel.  Unlike the seeker approach that has become so prevalent in our time, Bunyan expected participation from the congregation.  He wanted more than attention, he demanded participation.

Gordon Wakefield describes Bunyan’s preaching as, “folksy and colloquial as he confronted his hearers with the issues of life and death, heaven, and hell.” [1]  With a bright imagination and skilled use of illustration, Bunyan was never a boring preacher.  As people gathered to hear the unlearned tinker preach, he demanded a response.  To grow in godliness and sanctification is to obey Christ.  As believers heard Bunyan preach, they would be moved to greater sanctification.  As unbelievers heard Bunyan preach, they would often be moved to tearful repentance.  In either case, there was more than attention given to the sermon, there was involvement.  We would do well to expect the same thing in our weekly sermons as well.

John Bunyan’s Plea for Souls

In a recent interview, Andy Stanley read a letter from an atheist who had visited his church with a friend.  In the letter, the atheist made the following observation.

I have to say the sermon you delivered was so incredibly on-point.  I felt completely understood as an atheist, not at all judged, and I felt my way of thinking challenged, but not aggressively.  There was no “gotcha” moment that I was expecting, no sales pitch for God, and no bids for my soul.

In the interview, Andy Stanley seemed thrilled that an atheist would have such a response to his sermon.  His approach to preaching is the complete opposite approach of John Bunyan who spoke directly to the souls of people – including unbelievers.  Perhaps that’s why Bunyan has not been overlooked in the pages of history over 350 years later.  In one sermon, Bunyan compared a false convert to a barren fig tree, and he illustrates the scene of judgment by saying:

And now he begins to bethink himself, and to cry to God for mercy; Lord, spare me!  Lord, spare me!  Nay, saith God, you have been a provocation to me these three years.  How many times have you disappointed me?  How many seasons have you spent in vain?  how many sermons and other mercies did I , of my patience, afford you?  but to no purpose at all.  Take him, death! [2]

As Bunyan relentlessly preached the gospel, often people would gather in the early hours of the morning before work to hear the tinker expound the Word of God.  It was obvious that the Lord’s unction was upon him for the work of preaching.  When King Charles discovered that the great intellect John Owen would often travel great distances to hear this unlearned tinker preach, he wanted to know the reason.  Owen responded by saying, “I would willingly exchange my learning for the tinker’s power of touching men’s hearts.” [3]

As Bunyan preached Christ, he pressed people to see that Christ was more thrilling and of more value than anything else the world has to offer.  In one sermon, he said the following:

O sinner!  what sayest thou?  How dost thou like being saved?  Doth not thy mouth water?  Doth not thy heart twitter at being saved?  Why, come then: “The Spirit and the bride say, come.  And let him that heareth say, Come.  And let him that is athirst come.  And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17). [4]

Apparently John Bunyan tweeted before Twitter, in a different way of course.  He was pressing upon the souls of people to see the value of Christ Jesus!  Unfortunately many preachers believe preaching directly to the souls of people is counter productive to growth.  What would happen today if men preached like this uneducated tinker from history who has not faded away?


  1. Gordon Wakefield, Bunyan the Christian (London:  Harper Colllins, 1992), 32.
  2. John Bunyan, The Barren Fig Tree, in The Works of John Bunyan, ed. George Offor (1854; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1991), 3:579-90.
  3. John Brown, John Bunyan his Life, Times and Work, (London: The Hulbert Publishing Co., 1928), 366.  This is a paraphrase of an indirect quote.
  4. John Bunyan, Saved by Grace, in The Works of John Bunyan, ed. George Offor (1854; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1991), 1:342.