John Bunyan, a popular Puritan preacher, Baptist, and author was born at Harrowden in the parish of Elstow, England in 1628 and died in London in 1688. Bunyan is best known today as the author of The Pilgrim's Progress, the most successful allegory ever written.
John Bunyan had very little schooling, followed his father in the tinker's trade, was in the parliamentary army, 1644-47; married in 1649; lived in Elstow till 1655, when his wife died and he moved to Bedford. He married again 1659. He was received into the Baptist church in Bedford by immersion in the Ouse, 1653. In 1655 he became a deacon and began preaching with marked success from the start. In 1658 he was indicted for preaching without a license; kept on, however, and did not suffer imprisonment till Nov., 1660, when he was taken to the county jail in Silver Street, Bedford, and there confined, with the exception of a few weeks in 1666, till Jan., 1672. In that month he became pastor of the Bedford church. In March 1675, he was again imprisoned for preaching and this time in the Bedford town jail on the stone bridge over the Ouse. In six months he was free and was not again molested. In August 1688, on his way to London he caught a severe cold from being wet, and died at the house of a friend on Snow Hill.
Bunyan was a popular preacher as well as a very voluminous author, though most of his works consist of expanded sermons. In theology he was a Puritan, but not a partizan; nor was there anything gloomy about him. The portrait which his friend Robert White drew, which has been often reproduced, is a most attractive one and this was 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 that he knew thoroughly. Another book which greatly influenced him was Martin Luther's Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, in the translation of 1575.
All the world knows that Bunyan wrote The Pilgrim's Progress, in two parts, of which the first appeared at London in 1678, and was at all events, begun during his imprisonment in 1676; the second in 1684. The earliest edition in which the two parts were combined in one volume was in 1728. A third part falsely attributed to Bunyan appeared in 1693, and was reprinted as late as 1852. The Pilgrim's Progress is the most successful allegory ever written, and like the Bible is adapted to man in every clime. It is indeed the most commonly translated by Protestant missionaries after the Bible. It is thus read in all literary languages and is a world-classic. Two other works of Bunyan's would have given him fame, but not as wide as that he now enjoys; viz., The Life and Death of Mr. Badman (1680), an imaginary biography, and the allegory The Holy War (1682). The book which lays bare Bunyan's inner life and reveals his preparation for his appointed work is Grace Abounding to the chief of sinners (1666). It is very prolix, and being all about himself, in a man less holy would be intolerably egotistic, but his motive in writing being plainly to exalt the grace of God and to comfort those passing through experiences somewhat like his own, his egotism makes no disagreeable impression.
The works just named have appeared in numerous editions, and are accessible to all. 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.
- This article includes content from the Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, 1914. (public domain)