John Bunyan and Pilgrim's Progress: Did You Know?
With the cooperation of his jailer, Bunyan occasionally was permitted to leave his prison cell to go and preach to “unlawful assemblies” gathered in secret, after which he voluntarily returned to his jail cell.
Bunyan made shoelaces while imprisoned to support his family, “many hundred gross” by his own accounting.
In terms of numbers, Pilgrim’s Progress would have been a runaway best seller had it appeared in our day. 100,000 copies were in print in English alone in 1692!
In January 1672 the Bedford congregation called John Bunyan to be its pastor while he was still in prison.
While some Baptists proudly claim Bunyan, other Baptists today still disown him because of his tolerant position in his work Differences in Judgment About Water Baptism, No Bar to Communion.
When local magistrates sentenced Bunyan to imprisonment unless he promised them he would not preach, he refused, declaring that he would remain in prison till the moss grew on his eyelids rather than fail to do what God had commanded him to do.
In Bunyan’s day great preachers swayed public opinion as much as the mass media do today, which is one reason his unlicensed activities were perceived as a threat.
A stained-glass window is devoted to John Bunyan in Westminster Abbey, London.
Bunyan combined his skill as a tinker and his love of music to create an iron violin; later, during his imprisonment, he carved a flute from the leg of a stool that was part of his furniture.
When China’s Communist government printed Pilgrim’s Progress as an example of Western cultural heritage, an initial printing of 200,000 copies was sold out in three days!
Bunyan would have been released from prison if he would agree not to preach in “unlawful” or unlicensed assemblies. His own writings attest that he was given every opportunity to “conform.” It was a compromise he would not make.
The church Bunyan pastored still continues in the heart of Bedford, England. Now called “Bunyan Meeting,” it is affiliated with both the Baptists and Congregationalists.
Between the ages of 16 and 19, Bunyan served in the Parliamentary army.
The position for which Bunyan contended, and for which he went to jail, finally prevailed with the Act of Toleration of 1689, which recognized in England the religious rights of Dissenters and Non-conformists.
Copyright © 1986 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian History magazine.
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