This is the written version of a presentation I gave at a youth meeting. Enjoy =)
John Bunyan was born in Elstow, Bedfordshire, England, in November of 1628. His father was a maker and mender of pots and kettles. John followed in the same trade. Even though he us usually called a tinker, Bunyan had a permanent home and shop. He had little formal education and he describes his early surroundings as poor and very basic. When he was nearly sixteen his mother died, and in two months his father remarried. In November of 1644 John enlisted as a soldier in the civil war though it is not known whether he joined the Parliamentary or Royalist side.
The armies disbanded in 1646 and in about two years Bunyan married a wife whose virtue helped him to overcome his rough habits. He became very interested in religion but only found peace after a three or four year long struggle. He opens up about these struggles in “Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners.” In the year 1655 two things happened; he lost his wife, and he began to speak publicly to and encourage people. Two years later he became a regular Non-conformist preacher while continuing to practice his trade. His success as a preacher caused opposition from the regular clergy and in 1658 he was tried in court. His writing began with a disagreement with the Quakers, and form the beginning shows simple but energetic style, which he was very good at.
Because of the reenactment of the laws against non-conformity, Bunyan met with more severe persecution and was confined to prison from 1660 till 1672 with a short intermission. He had many chances to be released from prison—if he would promise to stop preaching. He wouldn’t and so remained in prison. Sometimes lax jailors allowed him to preach at church meetings; he often ministered to his fellow prisoners; and he supported his family now looked after by a second wife, by making laces. Apparently he had a lot of free time, because he wrote a lot of books in prison. The first major one was the earlier mentioned “Grace Abounding.” (1666) His most famous work, “the Pilgrim’s Progress” was also written in jail, though probably during a later confinement of six months in 1675.
In 1672 Charles II suspended the laws against Non-conformists and Roman Catholics, and Bunyan was released. He was called to be the minister of a Non-conformist church in Bedford and spoke in the barn where they met. He wasn’t confined to Bedford; he made great preaching tours over a wide area, even preached in London attracting large crowds of listeners every time. He also continued to write, publishing the first edition of “Pilgrim’s Progress” in 1678. It was followed by others with additions and in 1684 by the lesser known second part. “The life and Death of Mr. Badman” appeared in 1680, followed by “The Holy war made by Shaddai upon Diabolus” in 1682. And if you count all the manuscripts he left behind when he died in 1688, his books would total nearly 60. He also left behind a widow and six children and a personal estate of less than 100 pounds. He did, however, leave an incredible legacy in the Pilgrim’s Progress. Now Pilgrim’s Progress was an immediate success but as with most things that become successful it did not start out with that promise. In fact, when he started out he says in his introduction that he did not have a grand master plan to write a book like that. He says: “I started to write another book and when that was almost done, before I knew it I had this begun.” And he goes on to say how he began writing about the way and the race of saints and fell suddenly into an allegory about their journey and the way to glory. And so he’d written down like 20 things and he had 20 more in his head! So say says, “Okay, fine! I’m going to set you aside, so that you don’t ruin the book I’ve already started!” He didn’t intend to show the world his Allegorical style. He didn’t do it to gain the world, he didn’t do it to please his neighbor; he did it for himself. He says, “I only spent my spare time on this my scribble. And I only did it to keep my mind form other thoughts; worse thoughts that make me do wrong things. Thus I set Pen to Paper with delight, and quickly had my thoughts in black and white.” Among things he was a lover of poetry. And the reason I know that is because his introduction to the Pilgrim’s Progress is a 6 and wanna say 1/8th page poem. And if you read the whole thing, which I’m not going to cover, it’s actually apologetics. He’s defending his work in a poem! In fact at the end of the book (the version I have, anyway) he has another poem in vindication of this Pilgrim (taken from the Holy War) and that one is about a page long, so much shorter. But I thought it was interesting when he showed his finished work to some friends to see what they thought. Some said, “John this is wonderful!” Others said, “Do yourself a favor, John, forget it.”
“Publish it, John!”
“No don’t publish it!”
Ugh! As a writer that does wonders for your confidence. So he says, “Well Johnny boy, since you’re so conflicted go ahead and publish it—see what happens. To those I offended, I’m sorry. But I don’t’ want to deprive those that might get blessing from it.” History reveals that it was a blessing to many. You don’t always know what the end of a thing will be when you start it. Even if it’s a blessing to only one person—it’s worth it. It may be a blessing to millions it may be a blessing to one it doesn’t matter. God is very efficient—nothing is waste. In hindsight we read things like John Bunyan “breathed the very atmosphere of heaven.” People didn’t know that when they were telling him not to publish his work. That’s okay. I don’t even think it was obvious to him at the time that this was something of worth. In fact, the longer I live (which is not very long) the more believe that “The will of God is not often a spoken voice, but a growing certainty.” For some people he just pops up “Hey, this what I want you to do.” For most us it’s not that way. Some of you already know what you want to do and be. Some of you may not. That’s okay. Stay on the path—you’ll know. Even if it’s something small (this is something my mom drilled into me). It may be for a short time, it may not be something flashy but everyone has their place. And I can tell you, serving God is worth it.