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Doctrinal Writings
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JOHN BUNYAN

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By
Pastor Mark Montgomery
Ambassador Baptist Church
1926 Babcock Blvd
Pittsburgh, PA 15209
(412)822-7255
One of the greatest of all the English Baptists was John Bunyan. He was a great preacher of the gospel, a stalwart defender of the faith, and one of history greatest authors. His life and testimony is worth study because it should prove to be an inspiration to Baptists everywhere.

John Bunyan was born near Bedford, where he would have his future ministry, in the little town of Elstow in the year 1628. He was raised in the area and spent his entire life here. He was the son of a poor tinker, which caused him considerable trouble as he was growing up because the Gypsies of England have been tinkers for many centuries, and many people felt that Bunyan must be of this alien blood.(1) However, it has since been determined that Bunyan was actually of a Norman ancestery.

Bunyan received little in the way of formal education. He left school at a very early age with only the barest knowledge of reading and writing which he forgot soon after leaving. His love for fun was the main reason that he left school. This fun loving attitude was to get him in much trouble as the years went on. Early in his life, Bunyan had had a reverent fear for God. But as he grew older, his funloving spirit pulled him into sin. He was thrilled by rough sports and ball playing, which led him to break the Sabbath.(3) His love for roughness, and his rough way of life eventually led to his becoming the leader of a gang. Once he become the leader of the gang, he gave time to "such reckless practises as the leadership of a crowd of reckless youths involves".(4) He was particularly noted for his swearing, blaspheming and lying. However, although he was a reckless youth, he at no time drunk or was unchaste.

At the age of sixteen, Bunyan joined the Army. He spent two years there. Upon his return he was no better than when he had left. However, at the age of nineteen, he met an individual who would change his entire life- his wife. His bride was a poor, but godly woman who as a dowry had only two books. However, these two books, Plain Man's Pathway to Heaven, and Practise of Piety, were both considered great favorites of the religious people of this time.(5) Bunyan, in order to please his wife, allowed her to read to him so that he might learn to read. Finally, the message of these books began to sink in, and his deportment began to change. He dressed up and went to church on Sunday morning and Sunday evening. However, he was still a profane man. One Sunday, the pastor preached against Sabbath breaking, which left an impression on Bunyan and gave him much to ponder. That very afternoon, as he was playing ball, he heard the voice of Jesus say to him, "Will thou leave thy sins and go to Heaven, or have thy sins and go to hell?" This episode began a long, drawn out period of time when Bunyan battled against trusting in Christ as Savior. Finally, one afternoon in 1653, as he was walking through the woods, Bunyan suddenly realized the grace of God and his sinful condition. Kneeling there, he accepted Christ as his personal Savior. His life wss instantly transformed, as the vulgarity and the futility of his life vanished. He was baptized shortly thereafter in the River Ouse, and united with the Baptist church in Bedford, which was pastored by Reverend John Gifford. Shortly after this, in 1655, he entered into the ministry of the Gospel.

He was a tremendous preacher. He had a rare gift for leadership, which compelled his people to allow him to lead them. He had good common sense, which enabled him to be a good minister to the needs of the people. Probably his greatest asset was that he was an avid student of the Word of God. He spent many hours of his busy days in study, then would walk perhaps twelve or fifteen miles to preach. He had a good manner about him in the pulpit as well. He knew how to use humor and satire to achieve his purposes. So great was his success that the largest public buildings were too small to hold the throngs which gathered to hear him preach.(7)

But all was not to be well for Bunyan. In 1660, the people of England placed Charles II on the throne. Charles made promises of religious freedom, and the people of England made no attempt to exact a guarantee of this freedom. Shortly after he ascended the throne Charles II gave in to his lust for power. He determined to rid the country of those people whom he felt might be in oppostion to him. In order to find these people, he looked towards those sects that were not of the Church of England. Bunyan was one of these.

In November of 1660, while Bunyan was preaching, constables came into the church and arrested him. He felt that this arrest was a call from God, and he was prepared to obey it.(9) He could have escaped, but chose rather to do what he felt God wanted him to do. The next day, Bunyan was summoned to appear in court. The charges read:

That John Bunyan of the town or Bedford, laborer, being a person of such and such condition, hash, since such a time, devilishly and perniciously abstained from coming to church to hear the Divine service, and is a common upholder of several unlawful meetings and conventicles, to the greet disturbance and destruction of the good subjects of this kingdom contrary to the laws of our Sovereign Lord the King.(16)
To this, Bunyan replied:
We have had many meetings together, both to pray to God and to exhort one Another; and that we have had the sweet, comforting presence of the Lord amongst us for our encouragement (blessed be His name therefore!), I confess myself guilty, not otherwise.(11)
At this time, Bunyan was sentenced to three months in jail. He was informed that if he would promise not to preach any more, he would then be released. If he refused to cooperate, he would be banished from England.

At the end of three months, Bunyan remained as strong as before his incarceration. He refused to conform to the standards of the King of England. He refused to remain silent and stop preaching the Gospel. He believed that his freedom to worship God and his freedom of speech were far more important than his own physical wellbeing. Thus, he was not released. However, for some unknown reason, he was not banished from England either. Instead, he was thrown back into jail for six long years. These were years of utmost pain and agony for Bunyan. He writes:

I found myself a man encompassed with infirmities: the parting with my wife and poor children hath often been to me in this place as the pulling of the flesh from my bones...I should have often brought to mind the many hardships, miseries, and wants that my poor family was likely to meet with, should I be taken from them, especially my poor blind child...the thoughts of the hardships my poor blind one might undergo would break my heart to pieces...But yet, recalling myself, thought I, I must venture yon all with God, though it goeth to the quick to leave you.(12)
Bunyan realized that the cause of Christ was worth more than he could ever have to endure.

After six years, Bunyan was released for a short time, and then thrown back in jail for another six years. Still, Bunyan refused to give in to the wishes of the King. Ultimately, for over twelve years, he was in jail. He did not complain, nor was he idle. He had four occupations. First, he made laces so that his family might have money to live on. Second, he studied the Word of God. He probably learned most of the Bible by heart during this period. Third, he ministered to the needs of the other prisoners. He spoke with them on a personal basis about their need to trust Christ. In some instances, Bunyan was granted permission to preach to the entire jail. Each opportunity was a gold mine for Bunyan, who labored constantly to bring his fellow prisoners to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. His fourth occupation was writing books. While in Jail he wrote at least twelve books, the best known of these being Pilgrim's Progress, which was written near the end of his jail term. (13)

Following Bunyan's final release from jail, he became the pastor of the church at Bedford. Finally, he could preach openly, and he became one of the greatest preachers in English history. He was a man of courage and conviction who thundered from the pulpit the need for all men and women to be saved. His last days were his best, for he was greatly loved by his people. Even until the end, he was trying to minister to others. Upon hearing of a dispute between a father and son, he rode many miles to intercede. On his way home, he was caught in a terrible storm. By the time he reached his destination, he had caught fever. Rather than rest, however, he preached the next day, finished writing a book, and delivered it to the publishers. A few days later, on August 31, 1688, John Bunyan went home to be with the Lord he had so faithfully served.

There is some question today as to whether or not Bunyan was truely a Baptist. He personally described himself as a Congregationalist.(14) Bunyan's church did not believe that it was necessary to be baptized in order to partake of the Lord's Supper or to Join the church. This should explain why Bunyan is claimed by both Congregationalists and Baptists, and why his church became Pedo-baptist.

Still, most still hold that Bunyan was at heart a Baptist. He believed in baptism by immersion. He believed in baptism only on profession of faith. And he practiced separation from the ecclesiastical system. He was also saved through the ministry of a Baptist church which no doubt had a profound effect on him. Based on this, it is the belief of most investigators that Bunyan was a Baptist.(15)

The life of John Bunyan should be one of inspiration to all Christians. He was a mighty preacher, filled with the Holy Spirit. He was a kindly man, always wishing to minister to the needs of others. Ultimately he was a spirirtual man. He read his Bible constantly for a deep knowledge of the mind of God. And this spiritual nature gave him the courage to take a separated stand and not bow the flag of the Gospel to the will of the king. He suffered much, but it was indeed worth it all. He was willing to give all for others. Truely, "John Bunyan had the Christlike heart."(16)


Footnotes

(1) Thomas Armitage, A History of the Baptists (New York: Bryan, Taylor and Co., 1887) p. 474.
(2) Austin Kennedy de Blois, Fighters For Freedom (Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1929) P. 120
(3) Armitage, loc. cit.
(4) de Blois, loc. cit.
(5) Ibid. p. 12.
(6) Ibid., p. 122.
(7) John C. Carlile, The Story of The English Baptists (London: J. Heaton and Son, 1864) p. 268.
(8) Armitage, p. 476.
(9) B. Evans, The Early English Baptists (London: James Clark and Co., 1905) p. 140.
(10) Ibid.
(11) Ibid.
(12) D.C. Haynes, The Baptist Denomination (New York: Sheldon and Co., 1875) p. 295.
(13) do Blois, p. 128-129.
(14) A.C. Underwood, A History of the English Baptists (London: Kingsgate Press, 1947) p. 102.
(15) Armitage, p. 511. at Bedford ulti~atley(16) de Blois, p. 136.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Armitage, Thomas,
A History of the Baptists. New York: Bryan, Taylor, and Co., 1887.
Carlile, John C.,
The Story of the English Baptist London: J. Heaton and Son, 1864.
de Blois, Austin Kennedy,
Fighters For Freedom. Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1929.
Evans, B.,
The Early English Baptists. London: James Clark and Co., 1905.
Haynes, D.C.,
The Baptist Denomination. New York: Sheldon and Co., 1875
Underwood, A,C.,
A History of the English Baptists. London: Kingsgate Press, 1947.



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