I’m holding in my hands a beautiful book. It’s bound in a Victorian manner. It’s leather. It has gold-gilded pages, and the cover has a beautiful monument on it in gold. Stamped on the very cover are these words: Elizabeth Getz, a present from her affectionate mother. And as you open this beautiful leather-bound book, you come to the title page and you find that it is The Pilgrim’s Progress, The Holy War, and Other Selected Works of John Bunyan. Usually, when we think of John Bunyan, we immediately think of Pilgrim’s Progress, but he wrote many other books besides Pilgrim’s Progress. Some think that The Holy War is actually a better book than the famous Pilgrim’s Progress.
Today we are going to talk about John Bunyan’s life. Bunyan was a poor tinker from Bedford. A tinker was an itinerant mender of pots. In those days, people had very few possessions. If your pot handle broke off, or your spoon broke, you wouldn’t throw it out, you’d wait for the tinker to come by and he would fix that pot or that spoon for you. That’s what John Bunyan’s father was by trade, and that’s what he also became.
Bunyan was born November 1628. In the 1640s, Britain was engaged in a civil war, and Bunyan was a soldier in Oliver Cromwell’s parliamentary army. It doesn’t appear that he saw much action, however. Very soon after his time in the war, he was married and had four children. We don’t know much about his first wife. We don’t even know her name. We think it was Mary because that was the name of the first child that was born to that couple, but what was important about Bunyan’s wife was her dowry.
Because the young couple was very poor, Mrs. Bunyan’s dowry was simply a Bible and two books. The Plain Man’s Pathway to Heaven and The Practice of Piety. It seems that Bunyan had always struggled with anxiety, doubt, and even depression over the state of his soul and his eternal destiny. As he read these two books and as he came under the counsel of a Baptist pastor by the name of John Gifford, eventually Bunyan found the resolution to his anxiety, doubt, and struggles, and he was converted. Bunyan renounced the Church of England, was re-baptized, and joined the Baptists. He was only twenty-five at the time. By the time he was thirty, he was both a part-time tinker and a part-time pastor. He had even written a few pamphlets in those early years.
An important year in Bunyan’s life was the year 1660. This was the year that Bunyan was arrested. His arrest warrant said this: “He was devilishly and perniciously abstaining from coming to church to hear divine services”—that, of course, is in reference to services of the Church of England—and “for being a common upholder of several unlawful meetings and conventicles.” Now, conventicles is not a word you hear every day. It means “a religious meeting,” and, in this context, an illegal religious meeting because it was not an official state church function.
For doing all this “to the great disturbance and destruction of the good subjects of his kingdom,” Bunyan would spend twelve years in jail. He was released in 1672. He would go back to jail in 1675 for another six months, and then, after that, Bunyan died on August 31, 1688.