Following our house-move to Bedfordshire I noticed how many streets, parks and other things are named after John Bunyan. Apparently, this is also benefiting the tourist trade. Alongside numerous blue plaques and there’s a statue of Bunyan in the town centre and a small (but brilliant) Bunyan museum. There’s even a Bunyan country walk!
I’d known a bit about this man – that he was a Puritan preacher best remembered as the author of the Christian allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress. But when I dug a bit deeper, what I found both astonished and inspired me.
Born in 1628, Bunyan started life without God. Indeed, he was a reprobate. A tinker by trade, during his youth he was constantly in trouble. After joining Cromwell’s puritan army this loud, abusive gambler encountered some Christians who clearly troubled him with questions about his life and purpose. God was on his case, and after overhearing three women talking with great joy about grace and faith in Jesus, Bunyan committed his life to God. Troubled by how compromised Christianity was compromising the truth, he began to preach the gospel and soon encountered both spiritual and earthly opposition. In 1660 he was imprisoned for preaching without a licence (a law that many secularists would no doubt love to see again) and spent twelve years in Bedford prison. A place without heat, light or sanitation.
During this time, this uneducated believer began to write short tracts, sermons and other publications. Over sixty in total. And he began to develop ideas for a great allegory. He was fed each day with broth brought to him by his blind daughter or his wife, who campaigned for his release but died during his sentence. In 1672 Bunyan was released and immediately began preaching the gospel wherever he could. He also re-married, but when he was re-arrested in 1675 his wife lost their baby due to the stress it caused. It was in his second sentence that he wrote his famous The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World, to That Which Is to Come, one of the greatest works of English literature and one of the most read and influential books in human history.
After a life of being marginalised, persecuted and abused – yet spending every minute and all his effort on proclaiming salvation in Jesus Christ – Bunyan died praising God (literally) in 1688.
His life shows me how to live as a follower of Jesus, and what the cost is to stand for truth and to share the gospel. Importantly, Bunyan’s story shows how us Christians in the West need to toughen up. We really do need to deal with fear, comfort and status. The abundant life God calls us to is far more about being counter-cultural.
Today, the Lord is writing the stories of other ‘John Bunyan’s’ across the world. Men and women inspired by Jesus to proclaim his salvation no matter what. Are we up for that kind of commitment? Am I?
In light of Bunyan’s faith, character and perseverance, I’m asking myself ‘what can I do to serve the mission of the gospel in my lifetime?’ John Bunyan doesn’t just inspire me by setting an example, he challenges me to step up and speak out regardless of opposition and circumstances. That’s why he is my evangelistic hero.