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Friday, December 5, 2014

Formation Fridays: John Bunyan

For today’s Formation Friday, I highlight John Bunyan. I have read only one of his works, his most famous, The Pilgrim’s Progress, though I hope to read his other works soon. My information and wording of this post is heavily relied upon by the research and writing of Tim Challies, a brother and warrior for the faith. He blogs regularly at challies.com I encourage you to check out his book reviews and articles.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about John Bunyan was his unusual ability to preach and teach. It is recorded that King Charles II once asked John Owen (another important Puritan that we could learn so much from) why he listened to Bunyan, an uneducated tinker, to which Owen replied, “Could I possess the tinker’s abilities for preaching, please your Majesty, I would gladly relinquish all my learning.”

John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress and undoubtedly the most famous Puritans save for maybe Johnathan Edwards, was born on November 28, 1628 in Bedfordshire, England. His father,
Thomas earned his living as a chapman and as a brass worker. As was custom in their day, John was expected to take over the family business. In 1644, Bunyan turned 16, but it was not a sweet 16. It was a very sad and eventful year for the Bunyan family: in June, Bunyan lost his mother and, in July, his sister Margaret died. Following this, within two months, his father married (for the third time) to Anne Pinney and a half-brother, Charles, was born. John Bunyan soon left to join the Parliamentary Army.

After two and a half years in the army, Bunyan returned home to take up the work of a tinker (an itinerant metalworker). Before long he was married, and his new wife brought into the relationship two books God used to convict him of his sin: The Plain Man’s Pathway to Heaven by Arthur Dent and The Practice of Piety by Lewis Bayly. According to his autobiography, these books convicted Bunyan to cease his swearing, which must have been a particular vice of his, and took up regular attendance at a church.

Through the influence of some godly women in the church, the preaching of pastor John Gifford, and the writing of Martin Luther (especially his commentary on Galatians), Bunyan came to a real and saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and was baptized in 1653.

Before long Bunyan began preaching in small circles and discovered his gift for teaching. Soon he was formally appointed as a lay preacher and began preaching more regularly. Around the same time he published his first work, Some Gospel Truths Opened, written in opposition to the teaching of the Quakers, and thus began what would become his most fruitful and enduring ministry: writing books.
His first wife passed away in 1655 leaving him four children, the oldest of whom, Mary, was blind from birth. Bunyan married again in 1659 to Elizabeth who would bear him two more children.
Bunyan was arrested in 1660 for preaching without a license. As the story goes, when told that he would be freed if he stopped preaching, he responded, “If I am freed today, I will preach tomorrow.” Bunyan would spend the next twelve and a half years behind bars for this conviction, supporting his family by making countless shoelaces for them to sell.

After his release from jail in 1672, Bunyan became pastor of the nonconformist congregation of Bedford from which he staged a wider ministry throughout England. During this time he earned the playful title “Bishop Bunyan.” During another brief stint in jail in 1675 Bunyan wrote his most remembered title, The Pilgrim’s Progress, which he then published in 1678.

The Pilgrim's Progress

Perhaps, for us today we should look upon Bunyan’s life with questions for our own lives. Would we be willing, as Bunyan was so willing, to live out our conviction of Christ’s love, grace, and authority that we would go to jail rather than be silent?

Bunyan threw it all away so that he “could know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead.” Being willing to “suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another experience the resurrection from the dead!” (Philippians 3:10-11)

When I think of John Bunyan I think of the Apostles Peter and John, of Paul and Silas, of those in prisons across the globe that are suffering incarceration for the sake of the Gospel.

To be frank, unless we have that same heart and mind, that same willingness, a good question that we should ask is whether we have truly given Christ everything?

In 1688, while in London on a preaching trip, Bunyan was overtaken with fever and died on August 31. He was 59.

Famous Quotes to think about:

“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.”

“In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”

“I will stay in prison till the moss grows on my eye lids rather than disobey God.”

“Dark clouds bring waters, when the bright bring none.”

“Pray often, for prayer is a shield to the soul, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge for Satan.”

Most Important Works:

Obviously his most important work, and the one every Christian should at least try to read, is The Pilgrim’s Progress. In Meet the Puritans Beeke and Pederson say it is The best of Bunyan and a perfect pictorial index to the Puritan understanding of the Christian life.”
Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners - “An indispensable source for Bunyan’s early life and conversion, this autobiographical classic chronicles his life from infancy to his imprisonment in 1660.”
The Holy War - Another allegory by Bunyan, considered second only in quality to The Pilgrim’s Progress. It “is more difficult to read but is also more profound in places … because it involves several levels of allegory.”

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