John Bunyan was born in Bedfordshire, England on November 28th, 1628 to his parents Thomas Bunyan and Margaret Bently. He came from a working class family, and he understood poverty, firsthand.
Bunyan believed he was a Christian, yet, his early life included quite a bit of moral deprivation. Those that cursed and swore regularly were known to comment that Bunyan was “the ungodliest fellow for swearing they ever heard”; Bunyan became concerned that he had already committed the unpardonable sin, blaspheming the Holy Ghost.
After a stint in the army and having married, Bunyan still found himself in a wayward condition.
How John Found Christ
The story goes that one Sunday morning, John Bunyan heard a sermon, which spoke against the evils of sports on Sundays. Later that afternoon, while playing a game of “Cats” (some authorities believe it to be a forerunner to Cricket) Bunyan heard a voice deep within his heart, which said, “Wilt thou leave thy sins and go to Heaven, or have thy sins and go to hell?”
Over the next few months he could not shake those words, and he began to turn from the form of religion to Christ, in reality.
While walking down a street he joined what was to become an ongoing conversation about religion with a group of poor women. He believed that he was reasonably knowledgeable about religious matters, and so he attempted to reason along with these ladies.
What Bunyan found, was that he had no idea what these women were talking about. Later, he wrote:
Their talk … was about a new birth, the work of God on their hearts, also how they were convinced of their miserable state by nature. They talked how God had visited their souls with His love in the Lord Jesus, and with what words and promises they had been refreshed, comforted, and supported against the temptations of the devil.
Later those very same dear women introduced Bunyan to John Gifford, their pastor who helmed St. John’s. The church was comprised of both Baptist and Congregational believers. It was under Gifford’s teaching and preaching that Mr. Bunyan came to Christ.
In John’s spiritual biography, “Grace Abounding” he tells how the verse, “He hath made peace by the blood of His cross” (Col 1:20), reached his heart and finally, he was truly saved.
In 1656 John Bunyan began to preach at St. John’s Church. He above all, was a preacher who would proclaim God’s Word, at any opportunity. It was said of Bunyan, that he
went out to preach the Word in the open air on village greens, in barns, in private houses, and sometimes even in parish churches.
The atmosphere during that era was not “one” of acceptance, so Bunyan’s preaching got him into trouble. On November 12th, 1660 he was arrested for preaching in a field near a farm. He was given the chance to be released if he would apologize and stop preaching.
His response was that it was impossible to make that promise; he began what would be a twelve year stretch in prison.
During those 12 years of imprisonment, Bunyan wrote Grace Abounding, Confessions of Faith, and A Defense of the Doctrine of Justification by Faith. Some believe that it was near the end of his time in prison that Bunyan began to formulate the ideas for his best and most well-known work, Pilgrim’s Progress.
Throughout this time in the Bedford Jail, he wove shoelaces and preached to a congregation of fellow convicts (about sixty parishioners strong) to support his family. He had in his possession two books, John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and the Bible; he also had a violin, which he made out of tin, a flute he made from a chair leg, and he was allowed an unlimited supply of pen and paper.
Bunyan was released in January of 1672, when King Charles II issued the Declaration of Religious Indulgence. No sooner home, then John was made pastor of St. Paul’s Church. And on May 9, 1672, Bunyan was to become one of the first recipients of a license to preach under the new religious declaration.
A new meeting-house was built and John established over thirty new congregations, and he gained the loving title of “Bishop Bunyan” by his parishioners. His congregation in Bedfordshire, grew to as many as four thousand.
In February of 1675, King Charles II changed his mind and along with others Bunyan was arrested again. Providentially more legally minded Christian friends managed the release of Bunyan after a short time. Upon leaving prison on this second occasion, John Bunyan released part one of The Pilgrim’s Progress in 1678.
On the 31st of August 1688, John Bunyan died (from complications of a cold which resulted in a fever) at the house of his close friend, John Strudwick, a Grocer and Chandler on Snow Hill, in Holborn Bridge.
By the time of his death, The Pilgrim’s Progress had already seen eleven editions, with more than 100,000 copies in print.