"Words easy to be understood do often hit the mark; when high and learned ones do only pierce the air." -- John Bunyan
John Bunyan (28 November 1628 — 31 August 1688) was an English Christian writer and preacher, famous for writing Pilgrim's Progress. Though he was a Reformed Baptist, in the Church of England he is remembered with a Lesser Festival on 30 August, and on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church on August 29.
"He who bestows his goods upon the poor shall have as much again, and ten times more.""If we have not quiet in our minds, outward comfort will do no more for us than a golden slipper on a gouty foot.""In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words with out a heart.""My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get it.""One leak will sink a ship: and one sin will destroy a sinner.""Our heart oft times wakes when we sleep, and God can speak to that, either by words, by proverbs, by signs and similitudes, as well as if one was awake.""There was a castle called Doubting Castle, the owner whereof was Giant Despair.""When you pray, rather let your heart be without words than your words without heart."
In 1628 John Bunyan was born to Thomas Bunyan and Margaret Bentley in Harrowden (one mile southeast of Bedford), in the Parish of Elstow, England. He was baptised John Bunyan, on 30 November 1628 as recorded in the Elstow parish register.
In 1623 Thomas had married his first wife in 1623 and, like his father before him, would marry two more times within months of being widowed,and in 1627 Thomas married Margaret Bentley on 23 May. Like her husband, Margaret was from Elstow; and like him, she was born in 1603.In 1628 Margaret's sister, Rose Bentley, married Thomas' half-brother Edward Bunyan. They were working-class people, with Thomas earning a living as a chapman but he may also have been a brazier - one who makes and/or mends kettles and pots. Bunyan wrote of his modest origins, "My descent was of a low and inconsiderable generation, my father's house being of that rank that is meanest and most despised of all the families of the land".
John was probably educated at his father's house, possibly with other poor country boys, but in his writings he refers to his days in school. So it is possible that he also spent some time at the school in Houghton Conquest. Either way, his later writings demonstrate a high degree of literacy. Like his father, he chose a job 'on the road', by adopting the trade of Tinker. This was a fairly skilled but lowly occupation - the tinker's trade was a respected one - few people could afford to purchase new pots when old ones became holed, so pots would need to be oft-mended - but the semi-nomadic nature of their life lead to Tinkers being regarded (by some) in the same poor light as gypsies.
In June 1644 Bunyan lost his mother and then in July his sister Margaret. His father married (for the third time) to Anne Pinney (or Purney)and a stepbrother, Charles was born.It may have been the arrival of his stepmother which, in following his 16th birthday lead to John leaving the family home and enlisting in the parliamentary army.1644—1647 John served at Newport Pagnell garrison as the civil war was nearing the end of the first stage. He was saved from death by a fellow soldier who volunteered to go into battle in his place and was killed while walking sentry duty.
After the civil war was won by The Parliamentarians, Bunyan returned to his former trade.In his autobiographical book, Grace Abounding, Bunyan writes that he led an abandoned life in his youth, and was morally reprehensible as a result. However, there appears to be no outward evidence that he was worse than his neighbours. Examples of sins to which he confesses in Grace Abounding are profanity, dancing and bell-ringing. The increasing awareness of his (in his view) un-Biblical life led him to contemplate acts of impiety and profanity; in particular, he was harassed by a curiosity in regard to the "unpardonable sin", and a prepossession that he had already committed it. He was known as an adept linguist as far as profanity was concerned, even the most proficient swearers were known to remark that Bunyan was "the ungodliest fellow for swearing they ever heard". While playing a game, Tip-cat, on the village square, Bunyan claimed to have heard a voice which asked: "Wilt thou leave thy sins and go to heaven or have thy sins and go to hell?" He believed it was the voice of God chastising his indulgent ways, as Puritans held sacred the Sabbath day and permitted no sport. His spirituality was born from this experience and he struggled both with his sense of guilt and self-doubt and his belief in the Bible's promise of Christian damnation and salvation.
In 1649, when he was about 21, he moved into a cottage on Elstow High Street and in 1650 married a young woman, whose name is unknown. (As their first, blind, daughter, born in 1650 was called Mary, it is possible that this was also John's wife's name.) Her only dowry appears to have been two books, Arthur Dent's Plain Man's Pathway to Heaven and Lewis Bayly's Practice of Piety, by which John was influenced towards a religious life. She was an orphan, her father leaving only those two books as her inheritance and their life was modest to say the least. Bunyan writes that they were "as poor as poor might be", not even "a dish or spoon between them".
As he struggled with his newfound Christian faith, Bunyan became increasingly despondent and fell into mental turmoil. During this time of conflict, Bunyan began a four year long discussion and spiritual journey with a few poor women of Bedford, who belonged to a nonconformist sect which worshipped in St. John's Church. He increasingly identified himself with St. Paul, who had characterised himself as "the chief of sinners", and believed he was one of the spiritual elite, chosen by God.As a result of these experiences, he was baptised and received into St John's church and he began to follow the teachings of its pastor, John Gifford. A second daughter, Elizabeth was born and then in 1654 his son John.In 1655 Bunyan moved his family to St Cuthberts Street Bedford. That same year John Gifford died and John started preaching.
In 1656, his son Thomas was born. Bunyan's first book “Some Gospel Truths” was published and John Burton appointed minister at St Johns.
In 1657, he became a deacon of St. John's Church, Bedford and his second book “Vindication” was published.
As his popularity and notoriety grew, Bunyan increasingly became a target for slander and libel; he was decried as "a witch, a Jesuit, a highwayman" and was said to have mistresses and multiple wives. In 1658, aged 30, he was arrested for preaching at Eaton Socon and in 1658, Bunyan was indicted for preaching without a licence. He continued, however, and did not suffer imprisonment till November 1660, when he was taken to the county gaol in Silver Street, Bedford. Bunyan married his second wife, Elizabeth, by whom he had two more children, Sarah and Joseph. In that same year, The Restoration of the monarchy by Charles II of England began Bunyan's persecution as the country returned to Anglicanism. Meeting-houses were quickly closed and all citizens were required to attend their Anglican parish church. It became punishable by law to "conduct divine service except in accordance with the ritual of the church, or for one not in Episcopal orders to address a congregation." He no longer had the freedom to preach that he had enjoyed under the Puritan Commonwealth and he was arrested on 12 November 1660 while preaching privately in Lower Samsell by Harlington, Bedfordshire, south of Bedford.
There he was confined at first for three months, but on his refusing to conform or to desist from preaching, his confinement was extended for a period of nearly 12 years (with the exception of a few weeks in 1666). His prosecutor, Mr. Justice Wingate, was not inclined to incarcerate Bunyan, but his stark refusal of "If you release me today, I will preach tomorrow" left Wingate with no choice. In January of 1661 he was incarcerated for the crimes of "pertinaciously abstaining" from attending mandatory Anglican church services and preaching at "unlawful meetings". It was during this time that he conceived his allegorical novel: The Pilgrim's Progress. (Many scholars however believe that he commenced this work during the second and shorter imprisonment of 1675 referred to below.) Bunyan's wife, Elizabeth, tried in vain to secure her husband's release, but his steadfast opposition to the laws and his determination to preach to his awaiting congregation prevented his liberation. His incarceration was punctuated with periods of relative freedom by which lax gaolers allowed Bunyan to attend church meetings and minister to his congregation.
In 1666, he was briefly released for a few weeks before he was arrested again for preaching and he was sent back to the Bedford gaol for another six years. During this time he wove shoelaces and preached to an imprisoned congregation of about sixty parishioners to support his family. In his possession were two books, John Foxe's Book of Martyrs and the Bible, a violin he made out of tin, a flute he made from a chair leg and an unlimited supply of pen and paper. Both music and writing were integral to his Puritan faith. He was released in January 1672, when Charles II issued the Declaration of Religious Indulgence. In that month he became pastor of St Paul's Church. On 9 May 1672, Bunyan was the recipient of one of the first licences to preach under the new law. He built a new meeting-house and formed a nonconformist sect from his surviving parishioners and increased his congregation to as many as four thousand Christians in Bedfordshire. He established over thirty new congregations and was given the affectionate title of "Bishop Bunyan" by his parishioners.
In March 1675, he was again imprisoned for preaching (as Charles II withdrew the Declaration of Religious Indulgence), not, as formerly thought,in the Bedford town jail on the stone bridge but once more in the county jail. (The original warrant, discovered in 1887, is published in facsimile by Rush and Warwick, London.) It was the Quakers, ironically, that helped secure Bunyan's release. When the King asked for a list of names to pardon, they gave Bunyan's name as well as those of their members. In six months he was free and, as a result of his popularity, he was not again arrested. During this time, Bunyan was said to have dressed like a waggoner, whip in hand, when he visited his various parishes to avoid provoking another incarceration. When King James II of England asked Bunyan to oversee the royal interest in Bedford in 1687, he declined the influential post because James refused to lift the tests and laws that served to persecute the nonconformists. In 1688, he served as chaplain to the lord mayor of London, Sir John Shorter but Bunyan died before James II's abdication and the beginning of the Glorious Revolution.
As he was riding to London from Reading to resolve a disagreement between a father and a son, he caught a cold and developed a fever. He died at the house of his friend, John Strudwick, a grocer and chandler on Snow Hill in Holborn Bridge on 31 August 1688. His grave lies in the cemetery at Bunhill Fields in London. Many Puritans, to whom worship of tombs or relics was considered most sinful, made it their dying wish that their coffins be placed as close to Bunyan's as possible. In 1862 a recumbent statue was created to adorn his grave. He lies among other historic nonconformists, George Fox, William Blake and Daniel Defoe.
Bunyan wrote The Pilgrim's Progress in two parts, the first of which was published in London in 1678 and the second in 1684. He began the work in his first period of imprisonment, and probably finished it during the second. The earliest edition in which the two parts combined in one volume came in 1728. A third part falsely attributed to Bunyan appeared in 1693, and was reprinted as late as 1852. Its full title is The Pilgrim's Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come.
The Pilgrim's Progress is arguably one of the most widely known allegories ever written, and has been extensively translated. Protestant missionaries commonly translated it as the first thing after the Bible.
Two other successful works of Bunyan's are less well-known: The Life and Death of Mr. Badman (1680), an imaginary biography, and The Holy War (1682), an allegory. A third book which reveals Bunyan's inner life and his preparation for his appointed work is Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666). It is a classic example of a spiritual autobiography, and thus is focused on his own spiritual journey; his motive in writing it was plainly to exalt the Christian concept of grace and to comfort those passing through experiences like his own.
The above works have appeared in numerous editions. There are several noteworthy collections of editions of The Pilgrim's Progress, e.g., in the British Museum and in the New York Public Library, collected by the late James Lenox.
Bunyan became a popular preacher as well as a prolific author, though most of his works consist of expanded sermons. Though a Baptist preacher, in theology he was a Puritan. The portrait his friend Robert White drew, which has often been reproduced, shows the attractiveness of his true character. He was tall, had reddish hair, prominent nose, a rather large mouth, and sparkling eyes.
He was no scholar, except of the English Bible, but he knew scripture thoroughly. He was also influenced by Martin Luther's Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, in the translation of 1575.
Some time before his final release from prison Bunyan became involved in a controversy with Kiffin, Danvers, Deune, Paul, and others. In 1673 he published his Differences in Judgement about Water-Baptism no Bar to Communion, in which he took the ground that "the Church of Christ hath not warrant to keep out of the communion the Christian that is discovered to be a visible saint of the word, the Christian that walketh according to his own light with God." While he owned "water baptism to be God's ordinance," he refused to make "an idol of it," as he thought those did who made the lack of it a ground for disfellowshipping those recognised as genuine Christians.
Kiffin and Paul published a response in Serious Reflections (London, 1673), in which they argued in favour of the restriction of the Lord's Supper to baptised believers, and received the approval of Henry Danvers in his Treatise of Baptism (London, 1673 or 1674). The controversy resulted in the Particular (Calvinistic) Baptists leaving the question of communion with the unbaptised open. Bunyan's church admitted pedobaptists to fellowship and finally became pedobaptist (Congregationalist).
At one time, The Pilgrim's Progress was considered the most widely read and translated book in the English language apart from the Bible. The charm of the work, which gives it wide appeal, lies in the interest of a story in which the intense imagination of the writer makes characters, incidents, and scenes alike live in the imagination of his readers as things actually known and remembered by themselves, in its touches of tenderness and quaint humour, its bursts of heart-moving eloquence, and its pure, idiomatic English. Macaulay has said, "Every reader knows the straight and narrow path as well as he knows a road on which he has been backwards and forwards a hundred times," and he adds that "In England during the latter half of the seventeenth century there were only two minds which possessed the imaginative faculty in a very eminent degree. One of these minds produced the Paradise Lost, the other The Pilgrim's Progress."
The images Bunyan uses in Pilgrim's Progress are but reflections of images from his own world; the strait gate is a version of the wicket gate at Elstow church, the Slough of Despond is a reflection of Squitch Fen, a wet and mossy area near his cottage in Harrowden, the Delectable Mountains are an image of the Chiltern Hills surrounding Bedfordshire. Even his characters, like the Evangelist as influenced by John Gifford, are reflections of real people. This pilgrimage was not only real for Bunyan as he lived it, but his portrait evoked this reality for his readers. Rudyard Kipling once referred to Bunyan as “the father of the novel, salvation's first Defoe.”
Bunyan wrote about 60 books and tracts, of which The Holy War ranks next to The Pilgrim's Progress in popularity. A passage from Part Two of The Pilgrim's Progress beginning "Who would true Valour see" has been used in the hymn "To be a Pilgrim".
The novel was made into a film, Pilgrim's Progress, in 1912. Another film version was made in 1977 by Ken Anderson films, in which Liam Neeson played the role of Evangelist and other smaller roles like the crucified Christ. Maurice O'Callaghan played Mr. Worldly Wiseman and other "bad" characters that met Christian in his journey. A sequel Christiana followed in 1979. More recently, a version by Danny Carrales was produced in 2008.
In 1950 an hour-long animated version was made by Baptista Films. This version was edited down to 35 minutes and re-released with new music in 1978. As of 2007 the original version is difficult to find, but the 1978 has been released on both VHS and DVD.
In 1985 Yorkshire Television produced a 129-minute 9-part serial presentation of The Pilgrim's Progress with animated stills by Alan Parry and narrated by Paul Copley entitled Dangerous Journey.
In 1989, Orion's Gate, a producer of Biblical/Spiritual radio dramas produced "The Pilgrim's Progress" as a 6 hour dramatization. Samples and more information may be found at http://www.orionsgate.org/audio.html. This production was followed several years later by "Christiana: Pilgrim's Progress Part II," an 8 hour dramatization.
In 1992 David MacAdam of New Life Fine Arts, presented Celestial City a musical adaptation of Pilgrim's Progress and John Bunyan's life. It was performed in Massachusetts through out the 1990s and early 2000s. It's music was released on Audio Cassette and CD in the early 2000s.
In 1993, the popular Christian radio drama, Adventures in Odyssey (produced by Focus on the Family), featured a two-part story, titled "Pilgrim's Progress: Revisited."
A 2006 computer animation version was made, directed and narrated by Scott Cawthon
At the 2009 San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival, the adaptation Journey to Heaven received one nomination for best feature length independent film and one nomination for best music score.
Director Todd Fietkau is making a version of Pilgrim's Progress, scheduled to be released in 2009.
A children's animation series titled The Pilgrim's Progress is set to be produced by Cliff McDowell, scheduled to be released in 2010.