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John Bunyan

John Bunyan

The English author and Baptist preacher John Bunyan (1628-1688) wrote "The Pilgrim's Progress" and some 60 other pious works. The sincere evangelical urgency of his religious thought and the vivid clarity of his prose have won wide admiration.

John Bunyan, born in Elstow near Bedford, was baptized on Nov. 30, 1628. His father, the brazier-tinker "Thomas Bonnion," derived from an old Bedfordshire family which had declined in fortune and status. Bunyan had a rudimentary education and at an early age became a tinker. From 1644 to 1647 he served with the parliamentary army during the Puritan Revolution, but he saw little or no fighting.

Religious Development

About 1649 Bunyan married a pious Anglican who introduced him to Arthur Dent's The Plain Man's Pathway to Heaven. Under their combined influence Bunyan became an attentive churchgoer and delighted in Anglican ceremonial and bell ringing. But he soon recognized that he was desperately bound by sin and that only Christ could provide redemption. He turned for guidance to John Gifford; once a roistering Cavalier, Gifford had been rescued from debauchery by the Gospel and was pastor of the Congregational Church in Bedford. "Mr. Gifford's doctrine," wrote Bunyan, "was much for my stability." Like Joan of Arc and St. Theresa, Bunyan heard voices, and like William Blake, he had visions. He saw Jesus looking "through the tiles on the roof" and felt Satan pluck his clothes to stop him from praying.

Bunyan was no fornicator, drunkard, or thief; but so urgent was his religion, so passionate his nature, that any sin, however small, was an enormous burden. With Gifford's guidance he made a spiritual pilgrimage and in 1653 was baptized in the Ouse River. Two years later, induced by his Baptist coreligionists, he started "the mighty work of preaching the Gospel." Soon his pen became as active as his tongue, and in 1658-1659 he published Sighs from Hell and other tracts.

Triumph in Adversity

The restoration of monarchy and Anglicanism in 1660 meant that Bunyan could no longer preach freely as he had under the Puritan Commonwealth. In January 1661 he was jailed for "pertinaciously abstaining" from Anglican services and for holding "unlawful meetings." Because he was unwilling to promise silence, his 3-month sentence stretched to 12 years with a few respites. After his wife's death he had remarried, and he worked while in prison to support his second wife and children. He also preached to his fellow sufferers and wrote a variety of religious works, including Grace Abounding published in 1666—one of the world's most poignant spiritual autobiographies. During this period he also wrote most of Part I of The Pilgrim's Progress, but he hesitated to release it because of its fictional structure.

After the Declaration of Indulgence (1672), Bunyan was freed and licensed as a preacher. He built a Nonconformist congregation of 3,000 or 4,000 souls in Bedfordshire; he ministered assiduously to his flock and helped to found about 30 other congregations. But in 1673 the edict of toleration was repealed. When Bunyan was imprisoned for about 6 months in 1675, he again worked on his masterpiece, and Part I of The Pilgrim's Progress was published in 1678. It won immediate popularity, and before Bunyan's death there were 13 editions, with some additions. Since then it has been continuously in print and has been translated into well over a hundred languages.

Bunyan's own experience and the language of the Bible were the sources of The Pilgrim's Progress. Unlike Grace Abounding, this work reveals his spiritual development through allegory. The countryside through which the hero, Christian, progresses is a blend of the English countryside, the world of the Bible, and the land of dreams. Despite his assertion that "manner and matter too was all my own," Bunyan owed a good deal to oral tradition and wide reading—folk tales, books of emblems and characters, sermons, homilies in dialogue form, and traditional allegories.

Bunyan's last decade was fertile. Like The Pilgrim's Progress, The Life and Death of Mr. Badman (1680) made a significant advance toward the English novel. The Holy War (1682) is a dramatic, allegorical account of siege warfare against the town of Mansoul. Although, like all his works, it is based on Calvinist theology, Bunyan should not be considered a rigid determinist but should be viewed as a Christian humanist who assigned personal responsibility to his characters. Part II of The Pilgrim's Progress (1684) emphasizes human relationships and the sanctification of the world, especially through marriage and family life. Bunyan produced 14 more books before he died at the age of 60 on Aug. 31, 1688. He was buried in Bunhill Fields, where he lies near other great Nonconformists—William Blake, George Fox, and Daniel Defoe.

Despite the Protestant evangelical cast of his mind, Bunyan transcended Puritanism and remains relevant in an age of ecumenism. Nor was he a pessimistic prophet: if his Pilgrim knew the Hill of Difficulty and the Slough of Despair, he also enjoyed the Delectable Mountains and reached the Celestial City.

Further Reading

Because there is no complete modern edition of Bunyan's works, students rely on The Works of John Bunyan, edited by George Offor (1853-1855). Roger Sharrock's edition of The Pilgrim's Progress (1960) is textually definitive. James F. Forrest's admirable edition of The Holy War (1968) emphasizes Bunyan's modern relevance. There are several excellent biographies of Bunyan. The fullest treatment is John Brown, John Bunyan: His Life, Times, and Work (1885; rev. ed. by Frank Mott Harrison, 1928). Roger Sharrock, John Bunyan (1954), is a brilliant brief survey. Henri Antoine Talon, John Bunyan: The Man and His Work (1948; trans. 1951), is a scholarly interpretation. Bunyan's personality is emphasized in George Bagshawe H. Harrison, John Bunyan (1928). Robert Hay Coats, John Bunyan (1927), is a popularized account. William York Tindall, John Bunyan (1934), places Bunyan in the tradition of "mechanick" preachers. Richard L. Greaves, John Bunyan (1969), focuses on Bunyan's theology. Bunyan's place in the history of fiction is explored in Dorothy Van Ghent, The English Novel: Form and Function (1953). There is a brief appreciation of Bunyan's style in George Bernard Shaw, Dramatic Opinions and Essays (1906).

Additional Sources

Arnott, Anne, Valiant for truth: the story of John Bunyan, Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1986, 1985.

Bunyan, John, The trial of John Bunyan & the persecution of the Puritans: selections from the writings of John Bunyan and Agnes Beaumont, London: Folio Society, 1978.

Griffith, Gwilym Oswald, John Bunyan, Folcroft, Pa.: Folcroft Library Editions, 1979.

Harding, Richard Winboult, John Bunyan, his life and times, Philadelphia: R. West, 1978.

Venables, Edmund, Life of John Bunyan, Folcroft, Pa.: Folcroft Library Editions, 1977.

Williams, Charles, A bi-centenary memorial of John Bunyan, who died A. D. 1688, Philadelphia: R. West, 1978. □

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Bunyan, John (1628–1688)

BUNYAN, JOHN (16281688)

BUNYAN, JOHN (16281688), English Nonconformist author. John Bunyan was born in Elstow, Bedfordshire, England, where his father, Thomas Bunyan, was a brazier. Educated at a petty school and perhaps briefly at a grammar school, John Bunyan served during the civil war in the parliamentary garrison at Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire, from November 1644 until about September 1646 and reenlisted briefly in 1647. By 1649 he had married, and his wife's dowry consisted of two books by Lewis Bayly and Arthur Dent that influenced Bunyan's religious development.

Following his spiritual awakening in 1650, Bunyan experienced recurring bouts of depression and spiritual doubt that lasted until late 1657 or early 1658, recounted in his spiritual autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666). During this period of crisis he joined the open-membership congregation at Bedford in 1655 and under its auspices began to preach. Among his earliest religious foes were "Ranters," by whom he meant antinomians and deniers of a physical Resurrection and external worship. He also challenged the Quakers, engaging in a literary dispute with Edward Burrough in 16561657, and he wrote a tract, now lost, against witchcraft. In the late 1650s he was influenced by the millenarian tenets of the Fifth Monarchists.

Refusing to cease preaching at the Restoration, Bunyan was arrested in November 1660. Although he would have been released had he promised to relinquish his preaching, he refused and was incarcerated in the Bedford county jail until the spring of 1672. Some of his time was spent making shoelaces to support his family, including his second wife, Elizabeth, whom he had married in 1659 following the death of his first wife the preceding year. In prison he continued to write, manifesting a discipline that enabled him to produce some sixty books during his career. His most important theological work, The Doctrine of the Law and Grace Unfolded, an exposition of covenant thought, had appeared in 1659, and his early prison writings included poetry, an attack on the Book of Common Prayer (I Will Pray with the Spirit [1662]), and a millenarian tract, The Holy City (1665). Following the completion of Grace Abounding, he turned in 1667 to a sermon about the Christian life, The Heavenly Foot-Man (1698).

While working on this sermon, Bunyan was inspired to write his famous allegory The Pilgrim's Progress, begun about March 1668 and completed three years later, though not published until 1678, partly because some colleagues deemed it insufficiently serious. The allegory was both a guide to the Christian life and a contribution to the debate over liberty of conscience that raged in the late 1660s and the 1670s. Drawing extensively on the Bible, Bunyan was also influenced by the pilgrimage theme in the Christian tradition and his own experience. The allegory denounced persecution and provided a critique of the Church of England, the restored monarchy, and society.

While still in prison, Bunyan entered the debate over church membership and baptism in A Confession of My Faith (1672), which sparked attacks from the Baptists Thomas Paul and John Denne. Bunyan defended himself in Differences in Judgment about Water Baptism (1673) and Peaceable Principles (1674); his position was that of an open-membership Baptist. In the meantime he engaged the debate over justification by attacking Edward Fowler's The Design of Christianity (1671) in A Defence of the Doctrine of Justification, by Faith (1672), his last imprisonment work. Shortly before Bunyan's release, the Bedford church appointed him a pastor on 21 December 1671. When on 4 March 1675 a new warrant for his arrest was issued, accusing him of teaching at conventicles, he went into hiding. He was apprehended in December 1676 and was confined until June 1677.

As the nation divided over alleged Catholic conspiracy, the anticipated succession of James, duke of York (James II; ruled 16851688), allegations of arbitrary rule, and the treatment of dissenters, Bunyan wrote some of his best work. Those contributions include The Life and Death of Mr. Badman (1680), a searing critique of Restoration society; The Holy War (1682), a complex allegory about soteriology as well as an attack on Charles II (ruled 16601685) and the Tory-Anglicans; Of Antichrist (1692), a treatise criticizing the Stuarts, Catholicism, and the Church of England; and the second part of The Pilgrim's Progress (1684), which focuses on the dissenting pastor Great-heart and Christian's wife Christiana.

After James II introduced his policy of toleration, Bunyan was cautiously cooperative. Seven members of his church were named to the Bedford Corporation, and another was considered for appointment as a justice of the peace. On 31 August 1688 Bunyan died in London, and he was buried several days later in Bunhill Fields. He was survived by his wife, three sons, and two daughters; his blind daughter, Mary, had predeceased him. Transcending its polemical context, The Pilgrim's Progress became one of the most widely published works in history, reaching more than 1,300 editions by 1938.

See also Dissenters, English ; England ; English Civil War and Interregnum.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Primary Sources

Bunyan, John. The Miscellaneous Works of John Bunyan. Edited by Roger Sharrock. 13 vols. Oxford, 19761994.

. The Pilgrim's Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come. Edited by James Blanton Wharey. 2nd ed. Revised by Roger Sharrock. Oxford, 1960.

Secondary Source

Greaves, Richard L. Glimpses of Glory: John Bunyan and English Dissent. Stanford, 2002.

Richard L. Greaves

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Bunyan, John

John Bunyan (bŭn´yən), 1628–88, English author, b. Elstow, Bedfordshire. After a brief period at the village free school, Bunyan learned the tinker's trade, which he followed intermittently throughout his life. Joining the parliamentary army in 1644, he served until 1647. The reading of several pious books and a constant study of the Bible intensified Bunyan's religious beliefs, and in 1653 he began acting as lay preacher for a congregation of Baptists in Bedford. In this capacity he came into conflict with the Quakers led by George Fox and turned to writing in defense of his beliefs. In 1660 agents of the restored monarchy arrested him for unlicensed preaching, and he remained in prison for the next 12 years. During this period Bunyan wrote nine books, the most famous of which is Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666), a fervent spiritual autobiography. Soon after his release in 1672 he was reimprisoned briefly and wrote the first part of his masterpiece The Pilgrim's Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come, published in 1678. A second part appeared in 1684. By the time Bunyan was released from his second imprisonment, he had become a hero to the members of his sect, and he continued preaching and writing until his death. The principal works of these later years are The Life and Death of Mr. Badman (1680) and The Holy War (1682). Pilgrim's Progress is an allegory recounting Christian's journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City; the second part describes the manner in which Christian's wife, Christiana, makes the same pilgrimage. Remarkable for its simple, biblical style and its vivid presentation of character and incident, Pilgrim's Progress is considered one of the world's great works of literature. Bunyan's continued popularity rests on the spiritual fervor that permeates his works and on the compelling style in which they are written. His prose unites the eloquence of the Bible with the vigorous realism of common speech.

See biography by O. E. Winslow (1961); studies by H. A. Talon (1951), W. Y. Tindall (1934, repr. 1964), D. E. Smith (1966), R. Sharrock (rev. ed. 1968), V. Newey, ed. (1980), and E. B. Batson (1984); A. Duncan-Page, ed, The Cambridge Companion to Bunyan (2010).

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Bunyan, John

Bunyan, John (1628–88). Puritan author. Son of a brazier near Bedford, but mustered in a parliamentary levy and stationed at Newport Pagnell 1644–6, Bunyan resumed his father's trade, then suffered a severe religious crisis initiated by his wife's piety. Subsequently joining a nonconformist group in Bedford under John Gifford, he began to preach (1657). The Restoration revived hostilities against conventicles, so his refusal to give any undertaking not to continue preaching led to imprisonment for most of the next twelve years, until the Declaration of Indulgence (1672); the county gaol being less brutal than portrayed by legend, the enforced leisure produced a stream of theological and devotional works. After further brief confinement (1677), he became pastor of the Bedford separatist church, was nicknamed ‘Bishop Bunyan’ for his zeal in pastoral work and preaching, and continued to write. The vitality of Pilgrim's Progress, written in gaol, made him a household name.

A. S. Hargreaves

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Bunyan, John

Bunyan, John (1628–88). Puritan preacher and writer. He served in the Parliamentary army for a period during the Civil War and was a vigorous preacher. He was partially ‘silenced’ during the Restoration period, spending most of twelve years in prison. Calvinist in ethos, he was a prolific writer, his main works, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (a spiritual autobiography, 1666), Pilgrim's Progress (part i, 1678; part ii, 1684), and The Holy War (1682) have become spiritual classics.

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Bunyan, John

Bunyan, John (1628–88) English preacher and writer. During the English Civil War (1642–52), Bunyan fought as a Parliamentarian. In 1653, he began preaching at a Baptist Church in Bedford. In 1660, he was arrested for unlicensed preaching. Bunyan spent the next 12 years in prison, where he wrote the spiritual autobiography Grace Abounding (1666). In 1672 he was reimprisoned and started work on his masterpiece, the Christian allegory The Pilgrim's Progress (1684).

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