Pulling the Flesh From My Bones
John Bunyan was arrested because of his conviction that God had called him to preach—an especially dangerous calling at a time when Nonconformists were “dreaded as potential revolutionaries only waiting for a chance to murder Charles II as they had murdered Charles I.” (Robert M. Adams, Land and Literature of England, p. 242). Nonconformists faced prison and even banishment for gathering in groups of five or more, and ministers and teachers, the leaders in the separatist movements, came under special suspicion. Bunyan’s first arrest and sentence demonstrate the political climate: the constables who came to arrest Bunyan acted, as he later recalled, “as if we that was to meet together in that place did intend to do some fearful business, to the destruction of the country,” and, after indicting him as “an Upholder and Maintainer of unlawful Assemblies and Conventicles, and for not conforming to the National Worship of the Church of England,” the justices sentenced Bunyan to “perpetual banishment.” (Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, Section 319.)
The sentence was never carried out, but Bunyan spent the greater part of the next fourteen years in prison. His imprisonment exacted a real price in suffering, one which his family shared: his second wife, Elizabeth, lost her first child after a premature labor precipitated by the arrest. She was left to care for Bunyan’s four children from his earlier marriage “with nothing to live on but the charity of good people,” as she told one of her husband’s judges (A Relation of the Imprisonment of Mr. John Bunyan, p. 128). Bunyan never mentioned this loss in his writing, but fear for his family led to acute psychological suffering:
The parting with my Wife and poor Children hath oft ...