2006-10-11 - John Bunyan (1628-88)
Matthew 6:30, "But if God so arrays the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more do for you, O men of little faith?"
We actually know little about him. He was born in the village of Elstow, near Bedford in England. He was the son of poor parents. His father was a brazier (worked with brass), and an all around handyman, and the son followed in his fathers footsteps. He has been known as a "tinker". Like many of this time, with no formal education except for a little grade school, he probably learned to read by reading the Bible. He was an uneducated peasant, to put it simply. Speaking of where he grew up, he speaks of his father's house "being of that rank that is meanest and most despised of all the families in the land."
He took part in the Civil War (1644-66) and was on the Parliamentary side (the good guys). In 1645 he was to go to the siege of Leicester, but when he was about to set off someone asked to go in his place, went, (it wouldn't be a good story without this), and was killed while he stood sentinel duty. Some time around 1649, he was married to a woman of piety who introduced him to Arthur Dent's "Plain Man's Pathway to Heaven," and Bayly's "Practice of Piety." Besides these and the Bible, he was probably also exposed to Foxe's "Book of Martyrs." He and his wife were so poor "as not to have so much household stuff as a dish or a spoon between them."
He went through many struggles, both personal and spiritual. He was known as a famous curser, and could probably curse with the best of those of his time. But after some serious struggles, he came to faith. But I would like to point out that his low beginnings and very sinful life before he came to Christ in no way hindered his acceptance into the grace of Christ, nor his usefulness after coming to faith in Christ. For any of us who struggle with the ghosts of past sins, or feeling we might not be smart enough, or have a sufficient education to serve Christ, Bunyan should be a great encouragement, because God greatly used him in spite of the fact that he got a slow start on the road to usefulness to Christ.
He became a member of an independent congregation in 1653 at Bedford, and was recognized as pastor in 1657. After the restoration of Charles II to the English throne in 1660, Bunywan was greatly persecuted. He spent most of 1660-1672 in the Bedford gaol (jail). He could have gotten out at any time; all he had to do was say he would no longer preach Christ. He chose to stay in jail, and it was in fact his choice. All he had to do was say he would no longer preach, and he was free to be reunited with his family. While in prison, he wrote several works - including "Pilgrim's Progress." Evident from his writings, "Holy War "and others is that he viewed this world as a place of great spiritual warfare, and that nothing mattered except the salvation of the soul.
I have given very scant details of his life (we know so little about him that even some of those I have given are disputed), but the point I want to emphasize is how the Lord used this lowly man, who the world would have passed over as not worth the second glance, to write Pilgrims Progress, the most published book in the history of the world after the Bible. In the 18th century alone, this book, having been translated into Chinese was, what has been called, the first Red Book of China - so great was its influence. Bunyan's life and legacy shows us, without question, that the Lord can use anyone in His kingdom. It is not about education, learning, gifts - but rather holiness, discipleship, and faithfulness. And I suppose what I am driving at, in this brief historical glance, is that if the Lord can use Bunyan, be encouraged; he can use you also.