Recently, my wife and I spent nine days in London and traveled out each day to various cities such as Bristol, Bedford, Cambridge, Oxford, and Edinburgh, Scotland. Over the next couple of weeks, I will be writing a series of articles on specific people from church history that left us with testimonies of genuine faith in the gospel, perseverance under persecution, and remained steadfast to the end. The goal in this series of articles is to lightly explore their lives and focus on their perseverance in the gospel of Jesus Christ. A life that finished well in the gospel is a life worth remembering.
John Bunyan the Depraved Tinker
The first person in this series is a man who really needs no introduction. His name is John Bunyan. He was born in 1628 in Elstow England, approximately 1 mile south of Bedford which sits approximately 50 miles northwest of London. Bunyan describes his life in his spiritual autobiography titled, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners by saying, “I had few equals, especially considering my years, which were tender, for cursing, swearing, lying, and blaspheming the holy name of God.” In short, Bunyan was an overachiever when it came to depravity.
He learned the trade of metal working (aka – tinker) and spent his time working on ploughs and other pieces of equipment. After he married, within approximately 4 or 5 years, John Bunyan was drawn to God and converted. God used some books that his wife had to prick his heart with the gospel. He would be baptized in the River Great Ouse that runs through the town of Bedford in approximately 1650. Following his salvation, he had a desire to preach the gospel. His life would never be the same.
John Bunyan the Powerful Preacher
After being asked to speak at church, the people soon learned that a mighty preacher had been born. The word spread that God had called an unlearned tinker to preach, and crowds grew to hear him proclaim the gospel. Records tell us that if any notice was given, a crowd of 1,200 people would gather to hear John Bunyan preach at 7:00am on a weekday before work. Intellectuals and non-intellectuals were drawn to the preaching of Bunyan. King Charles once asked the great intellect John Owen why he would travel to hear a tinker preach, and he responded by saying, “I would willingly exchange my learning for the tinker’s power of touching men’s hearts.”
John Bunyan the Man of Faith
We remember John Bunyan because of his faith and perseverance. If you travel to Bedford, England you will find a large statue near the city center that commemorates Bunyan. Around the statue are scenes from his most famous book The Pilgrim’s Progress. Bunyan was a husband, father, pastor, and author, but most importantly, he was a man who persevered in the faith.
After he and his first wife had four children together, she died. Bunyan remarried and after his wife was pregnant, in the year 1660, approximately 10 years after his conversion, he was placed in the jail just a few hundred yards from where he was baptized. He was seen as someone who refused to conform to the Church of England and therefore, he was placed in jail as a rogue preacher and silenced, or was he?
While in jail for 12 years, he would receive frequent visits from his family, but despite the passionate requests of his wife to have him released, she was denied. Through death of his first wife, death of children, and state sponsored persecution, Bunyan remained steadfast and immovable in the faith. While in jail, he penned The Pilgrim’s Progress which happens to be one of the most printed books in world history.
John Bunyan was real. Charles Spurgeon once said, “Prick him anywhere; and you will find that his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his soul is full of the Word of God.” Perhaps this is why The Pilgrim’s Progress became Spurgeon’s favorite book other than the Bible.
As we consider his imprisonment, it was time away from his family and church that he loved, but it was not time wasted. Bunyan was not sitting in jail crying out “poor me.” He spent time in prayer, in the Word, and he wrote books to encourage his persecuted congregation. George Whitefield said that Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress “smells of the prison.” The essence of Bunyan’s life is perseverance in the faith.
Today, if you visit Bedford, you will find on the sidewalk a small plaque that marks the spot where the old jail once stood. This was where Bunyan was imprisoned and where he labored in prayer and writing to encourage his fellow Christians. How many more than his small congregation has been encouraged through his books? As I spoke with my children about John Bunyan over the supper table last night, I wanted them to know that he finished well. He sacrificed much and persevered in the faith. I want my children to know who Bunyan was and to follow in the footsteps of men like him for the glory of God. Bunyan’s life is worth remembering because his life was spent for God.
At one point, as Bunyan’s wife Elizabeth stood before the authorities and pleaded for his release, one man accused him of preaching the doctrines of the devil. Elizabeth responded by saying, “My lord, when the righteous Judge shall appear, it will be known that his doctrine is not the doctrine of the devil!” When the righteous Judge shall appear, will you be found persevering in the faith?
In August of 1688, Bunyan traveled 50 miles to London to preach the gospel and apparently to settle a dispute between a father and his son. On August 19th in London at Whitechapel, he gave his final sermon from John 1:13. His last words from the pulpit are recorded as, “Live like the children of God, that you may look your Father in the face with comfort another day.” While traveling back to Bedford on horseback in the rain, he fell sick with a fever and on August 31st 1688 he died. Bunyan was found faithful. Will the historic record of your life point to a life of faithfulness to God?