Skip to main content
Select Source:

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. □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"John Bunyan." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 28 Nov. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"John Bunyan." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 28, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/john-bunyan

"John Bunyan." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved November 28, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/john-bunyan

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

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

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Bunyan, John (1628–1688)." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. . Encyclopedia.com. 28 Nov. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Bunyan, John (1628–1688)." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 28, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bunyan-john-1628-1688

"Bunyan, John (1628–1688)." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. . Retrieved November 28, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bunyan-john-1628-1688

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

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).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Bunyan, John." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 28 Nov. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Bunyan, John." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 28, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bunyan-john

"Bunyan, John." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved November 28, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bunyan-john

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

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

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Bunyan, John." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 28 Nov. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Bunyan, John." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 28, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bunyan-john

"Bunyan, John." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Retrieved November 28, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bunyan-john

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

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.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Bunyan, John." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. 28 Nov. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Bunyan, John." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 28, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/bunyan-john

"Bunyan, John." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Retrieved November 28, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/bunyan-john

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

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).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Bunyan, John." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 28 Nov. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Bunyan, John." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 28, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bunyan-john-0

"Bunyan, John." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved November 28, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bunyan-john-0

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Bunyan, John

BUNYAN, JOHN

BUNYAN, JOHN (16281688), English Nonconformist and author of The Pilgrim's Progress. The son of a brazier, John Bunyan was born in the village of Elstow, near Bedford, and may have attended a local grammar school. During the Civil War he served with the parliamentary forces at Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire, where he came into contact with various religious sects. In the early 1650s he underwent prolonged spiritual turmoil, at the nadir of which he was convinced that he had betrayed Christ by allying himself with the devil. About 1655 Bunyan joined the open-communion Baptist church at Bedford, whose pastor was John Gifford, a former royalist officer. Some members of the congregation were sympathetic to the tenets of the Fifth Monarchists, a radical millenarian group to which Bunyan himself was apparently attracted for a time.

Bunyan launched his career as a preacher and prolific author before the monarchy and the Church of England were restored in 1660. For preaching illegally, he was arrested in November 1660 and imprisoned for twelve years in the county jail at Bedford. While imprisoned, he spent much of his time making laces to support his family and writing new books, but near the end of his incarceration he also worked closely with representatives of four other churches to organize a network of preachers and teachers in northern Bedfordshire and contiguous areas in order to resist the uniformity imposed by the Church of England and thus help to ensure the survival of Nonconformity during future periods of persecution. In January 1672 Bunyan was chosen pastor of the Bedford church, although he was not released from prison until the following September. The period of intense ministerial activity that ensued was threatened when a warrant for his arrest was issued in March 1675. Although Bunyan eluded this warrant by temporarily fleeing Bedford, he was rearrested late in 1676, only to be freed the following June. The last dozen years of his life were devoted to preaching in the Midlands and London, as well as to further writing. When the Roman Catholic monarch, James II, tried to win support by granting toleration to Nonconformists. Bunyan was cautious, although some members of his congregation accepted positions in the reorganized Bedford Corporation. Bunyan did not live to see James deposed in the Glorious Revolution, for he died in London on August 31, 1688.

Of Bunyan's approximately sixty works, the most popular is The Pilgrim's Progress, the first part of which was composed during his long imprisonment but not published until 1678. A virtual epic of the Christian life couched in Puritan ideals, the story of Christian's struggles from the Slough of Despond to the Eternal City draws heavily on Bunyan's own religious experience. The dramatic power of the narrative is enhanced by vivid symbolism, homely colloquialisms, and myriad human touches. The same ground is traversed in more quiescent fashion by Christiana and her children in the second part, published in 1684, in which Bunyan paid more attention to women. Both parts depend extensively on Bunyan's spiritual autobiography, Grade Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666), a sine qua non for understanding all his works. In its pages such psychologists as William James and Josiah Royce have sought the key to Bunyan's personality. Whether he was in fact troubled by psychotic disorders is difficult to ascertain, for Grace Abounding, like other works of this genre, follows a rather commonplace thematic pattern: the path to sainthood commences with denunciations of one's utter depravity.

Bunyan's attempt to repeat the success of The Pilgrim's Progress with The Holy War (1682), a ponderous albeit technically superior allegory, produced a sophisticated but less personal work. Its complex allegorical levels embrace world history, recent English events, the experience of the individual soul, and probably an apocalyptic vision. Bunyan abandoned allegory to depict the wayward reprobate in The Life and Death of Mr. Badman (1680), which, although it lacks the emotional intensity and dramatic tension of The Pilgrim's Progress, has captured the interest of both literary specialists, as a possible forerunner of the novel, and historians, for its incisive comments on English society.

Bunyan's theological views were substantially shaped by the Bible, John Foxe's Book of Martyrs, Martin Luther's commentary on Galatians, and works of two early seventeenth-century Puritans, Arthur Dent's The Plaine Mans Pathway to Heaven (1601) and Lewis Bayly's The Practice of Piety (1612). Bunyan's views were essentially compatible with those of other strict Calvinists of his period, such as the Nonconformists John Owen and Thomas Goodwin. This is notably manifest in his exposition of the key concept of the covenants, particularly as expounded in his major theological treatise, The Doctrine of the Law and Grace Unfolded (1659). Bunyan's emphasis on God's role in establishing the covenant of grace set him apart from such moderate Calvinists as Richard Baxter, who gave greater prominence to human responsibility, but Bunyan stopped short of the antinomians by insisting that the moral law has a valid and significant place in the covenant of grace. Unlike most strict Calvinists, however, Bunyan repudiated the idea of a baptismal covenant, for in his judgment water baptism was necessary neither for admission to the Lord's Supper nor for church membership. Bunyan hotly debated this subject with such traditional Baptists as Henry Danvers, Thomas Paul, and John Denne. As a controversialist he also engaged in literary debates with the Quakers Edward Burrough and William Penn and with the latitudinarian Edward Fowler. Another prominent theme in Bunyan's theology was millenarianism, the loci classici of which are The Holy City (1665) and Of Antichrist and His Ruin (1692, posthumous).

Although Bunyan achieved virtually instantaneous recognition with the publication of The Pilgrim's Progress, especially in lay Protestant religious circles, critical acclaim was slow to follow. Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift referred kindly to his masterpiece, but Edmund Burke and David Hume sneered. With the onset of romanticism and the evangelical revivals, interest in Bunyan soared, and by the Victorian period he was commonly referred to in evangelical circles as a genius. Copies of The Pilgrim's Progress poured from the pressmore than thirteen hundred editions by 1938accompanied by numerous popular commentaries, nearly all from evangelicals. Predictions at the turn of the twentieth century of Bunyan's theological and literary obsolescence proved premature when the atrocities of World War I brought new relevance to his works. Although religious interest in him waned in the late twentieth century, his reputation is now firmly established among students of religion, history, literature, and psychology.

Bibliography

The standard critical edition of Bunyan's works includes The Pilgrim's Progress, edited by James Blanton Wharey and revised by Roger Sharrock (Oxford, 1960); Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, edited by Roger Sharrock (Oxford, 1962); The Holy War, edited by Roger Sharrock and James Forrest (Oxford, 1980); The Life and Death of Mr. Badman, edited by Roger Sharrock and James Forrest (Oxford, 1988); and The Miscellaneous Works of John Bunyan under the general editorship of Roger Sharrock (Oxford, 1976). The best biography is still John Brown's enthusiastic John Bunyan, 16281688: His Life, Times, and Work, revised by Frank Mott Harrison (London, 1928). For Bunyan's thought and its antecedents, the standard account is Richard L. Greaves's John Bunyan (Abingdon, U.K., and Grand Rapids, Mich., 1969). A provocative analysis of Bunyan's relationship to his contemporaries is provided in William York Tindall's John Bunyan: Mechanick Preacher (New York, 1934). For a full bibliography of Bunyan studies, see James Forrest and Richard L. Greaves's John Bunyan: A Reference Guide (Boston, 1982).

Richard L. Greaves (1987)

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Bunyan, John." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Encyclopedia.com. 28 Nov. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Bunyan, John." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 28, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bunyan-john

"Bunyan, John." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Retrieved November 28, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bunyan-john

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Bunyan, John

BUNYAN, JOHN

Puritan author and preacher; b. Elstow, England, November 1628; d. London, Aug. 31, 1688. His father was a tinker, a descendant of propertied yeoman farmers. Thus, John (like William Langland before him) became a rightful spokesman of "the common man" when he later wrote religious allegory in terms of his own life experience. His boyhood was made up of a little schooling, much hard work, games, and church-going. Village society was then becoming conscious of its political powers, while Puritanism struggled with the Established Church. When the Civil War between King and commoners broke out, Bunyan served in the parliamentarian army at a garrison in Newport Pagnell (164447). He then married and settled in a small house at Bunyan's End.

Bunyan had until then led what he called a "dissolute" life; he now turned to an intensely prayerful study of the Bible, seeking "the conviction of salvation." After five years of spiritual anguish, he found peace in the Baptist congregation in nearby Bedford, and, while working as a tinker, became one of the many "mechanic preachers" who spread the Gospel through the countryside. He also published controversial or devotional pamphlets, such as Gospel Truths Opened and A Few Sighs from Hell. In 1685 his wife died and he married again.

The Puritans, who had enjoyed freedom under the Commonwealth, were again persecuted after the Restoration. Bunyan refused to attend the Anglican Church services, was arrested in 1660 for preaching without a license, and, on refusing to desist, spent 12 years in Bedford prison. After his release he was named pastor of the Baptist congregation. In 1677 he was again imprisoned for six months. He died as a result of exposure while performing an act of charity, and was buried at Bunhill Fields.

Bunyan's works as a whole belong, in form and subject matter, in the flood of controversy of his day, but the best of them are marked by the observation, insight, and style of the born writer. They owe nothing to the university or to the coffeehouse, and very little to reading. From the Bible Bunyan drew doctrinal content, figures of speech, and a cadence that elevated his simple vocabulary; in his youth he had reveled in romantic chapbooks; his wife's dowry had brought him two books: the allegorical Plain Man's Pathway to Heaven and the devotional Practice of Piety. All these shaped his thought. Yet one authentic literary source, of which Bunyan was probably unconscious, may be found in pre-Reformation allegories. Their influence reached him through the living word of the pulpit tradition. G. R. Owst has shown ("Scripture and Allegory," Literature and Pulpit in the Middle Ages, Cambridge, Eng. 1933) that sermon figures from the poetical works of the 14th century spanned the gap made by the coincidence of Reformation and Renaissance in England and reached the Bedford tinker through sermons then still heard in rural pulpits (see sermon literature, english medieval).

Literary achievement. Of Bunyan's 60 printed works four are most notable. Grace Abounding to the Worst of Sinners (1660) recounts his conversion. The Life and Death of Mr. Badman (1680) relates the sad end of a sinful life in the form of a dialogue between Mr. Wiseman and Mr. Attentive concerning "this deep judgement of God, enough to stagger a whole world." The book exposes the evils of small-town society in a tone that anticipates the 18th-century novel. The Holy War (1682) is an elaborate allegory in which the town of Mansoul is recaptured from Diabolus by Emmanuel. The grandiose theme is vivid with memories of the Civil War.

The Pilgrim's Progress, Part 1 (written in prison and published in 1677) is a dream allegory in forthright prose. It has the tonal unity of a great poem and the human variety of a novel of character. It tells of the journey of Christian through "the wilderness of this world" to Sion, threatened by the Slough of Despond, the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Vanity Fair, and Doubting Castle, refreshed in the Palace Beautiful and the Delectable Mountains. Along the way he discourses with lively personifications of every human attitude. When he passes through the Waters of Death into the Golden City, "they shut up the gates, which when I had seen I wished myself among them," says the dreamer. In Part 2 (1684) Christiana follows the same road and at last joins her husband.

The Pilgrim's Progress has been translated into almost every language; its archetypal story has a supranational theme and its psychology is perennially familiar. It spread through Europe before the end of the 17th century, and was subsequently carried by Protestant missionaries to Africa, Asia, and Oceania. Through the colonial pilgrims it entered deeply into the orthodox New England consciousness. Its most appealing interpretation may be found in the first chapter of the American classic, Little Women, when Marmee says: "We are never too old for this. Our burdens are here, our road is before us, andour longing for goodness and happiness is the guide that leads us through many troubles and mistakes to the peace which is the true Celestial City." This is the basic ethical relevance of Bunyan's greatest work.

Theological relevance. This has been both attacked and defended. Much in the book is obviously "antipapist"the views of an uneducated Puritan conditioned by his historical place at the storm-center of an embittered religious warfare. His picture of "Old Man Pope" biting his nails because he cannot get at the pilgrims passing his cave is probably as sincere as it is ludicrous. There are other repellent elements, such as the condemnation of Ignorance to Hell. A rather extreme criticism of these and of other features has been voiced by Alfred Noyes ("Bunyan Revisited," The Opalescent Parrot, New York 1929). But scholarly study and popular opinion alike form a constant tradition that recognizes these elements merely as limitations due to Bunyan's times and to his upbringing. The book is almost universally placed among the classic expressions of the Christian imagination. R. M. Frye (God, Man, and Satan, Princeton, N.J. 1960) claims that The Pilgrim's Progress has as much to contribute to contemporary Christian thought as that thought has to contribute to an understanding of the book itself.

Bunyan's "Christian" is perennially important; he is guided by Evangelist, he is freed from sin by the Cross of Christ, and cries in return: "To tell you the truth, I love Him." Bunyan is a writer whose private experience finds a place in the long confessio tradition begun by St. Augustine; his universal vision follows the journey of Everyman through successive lifetimes to an abiding city.

See Also: allegory.

Bibliography: j. bunyan, The Works of That Eminent Servant of Christ, John Banyan, ed. g. offor, 3 v. (London 1862), the only complete edition; The Pilgrim's Progress, ed. j. b. wharey, rev. r. sharrock (2d ed. Oxford 1963) definitive edition; Grace Abounding and The Pilgrim's Progress, ed. j. brown (Cambridge, Eng. 1907); Life and Death of Mr. Badman and The Holy War (Cambridge, Eng. 1905). j. brown, John Bunyan, His Life, Times and Work, ed. f. m. harrison (Tercentenary ed. London 1928). r. sharrock, John Bunyan (London 1954). w. y. tindall, John Bunyan, Mechanick Preacher (New York 1934). o. e. winslow, John Bunyan (New York 1961), good bibliography.

[m. williams]

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Bunyan, John." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 28 Nov. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Bunyan, John." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 28, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bunyan-john

"Bunyan, John." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved November 28, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bunyan-john

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Bunyan, John

Bunyan John

BORN: 1628, Elstow, England

DIED: 1688, London, England

NATIONALITY: English

GENRE: Poetry, fiction, nonfiction

MAJOR WORKS:
Some Gospel-Truths Opened According to theScriptures (1656)

A Few Sighs from Hell; or, The Groans of a Damned Soul (1658)
A New and Useful Concordance to the Holy Bible (1672)
The Pilgrim's Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come (1678)
The Life and Death of Mr. Badman (1680)

Overview

The English author and Baptist preacher John Bunyan is recognized as a master of allegorical prose, and his art is often compared in conception and technique to that of John Milton and Edmund Spenser. Although he wrote nearly fifty works, he is chiefly remembered for The Pilgrim's Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come (1678), which, translated into numerous foreign languages and dialects, has long endured as a classic in world literature. While structured from a particular religious point of view, The Pilgrim's Progress has drawn both ecclesiastical and secular audiences of all ages and has enjoyed a worldwide exposure and popularity second only to the Bible.

Works in Biographical and Historical Context

Humble Upbringing and Service in the English Civil War John Bunyan was born in 1628 in Elstow, England, near Bedford, to Thomas Bunyan and his second

wife, Margaret Bentley Bunyan. Not much is known about the details of Bunyan's life; his autobiographical memoir, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666), is concerned with life events only as they relate to his own spiritual experience. His family was humble though not wholly impoverished, and after learning to read at a grammar school he became a tinker, a sort of wandering junkman, like his father.

The year 1644, when Bunyan was sixteen, proved shockingly eventful. Within a few months his mother and sister died, his father married for the third time, and Bunyan was drafted into the Parliamentary Army fighting against the Royalist cause in the English Civil War. The English Civil War occurred when conflicts between leaders of the English Parliament and the reigning monarch, Charles I, led to the execution of the king in 1649 and the institution of a commonwealth run by Parliamentarian and Puritan Oliver Cromwell. By 1660, however, Charles II—the heir to the English throne who had been living in exile—was brought back to England and restored as its ruler in an event known as the Restoration.

During the English Civil War, Bunyan did garrison duty for three years. He never saw combat, from which he seems to have thought himself providentially spared, because, as he reports, a soldier who was sent in his place to a siege was killed. Nothing more is known about Bunyan's military service, but his exposure to Puritan ideas and preaching presumably dates from this time.

Conversion Experience The central event in Bunyan's life, as he describes it in Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, was his religious conversion. This was both preceded and followed by extreme psychic torment. Under the influence of his first wife (whose name is not known) Bunyan began to read works of popular piety and to attend services regularly in Elstow Church. At this point he was still a member of the Church of England, in which he had been baptized.

One Sunday, however, while playing a game called “cat” on the village green, he was suddenly stopped by an inner voice that demanded, “Wilt thou leave thy sins and go to heaven, or have thy sins and go to hell?” Since Puritans were bitterly opposed to participation in Sunday sports, Bunyan saw the occasion of this intervention as no accident; his conduct thereafter was “Puritan” in two essential respects. First, he wrestled inwardly with guilt and self-doubt. Second, he based his religion upon the Bible rather than upon traditions or ceremonies.

For years afterward, he would hear specific scriptural texts in his head, some threatening damnation and others promising salvation. Suspended between the two, Bunyan came close to despair, and his anxiety was reflected in physical as well as mental suffering. At last, he happened to overhear a group of old women, sitting in the sun, speak eloquently of their own abject unworthiness. This gave him the sudden realization that those who feel their guilt most deeply have been most chosen by God for

special attention. Like St. Paul and like many other Puritans, he would proclaim himself the “chief of sinners” and thereby declare himself one of those destined for Heaven.

While he was never wholly free from inner conflict, Bunyan's gaze from that point on was directed outward rather than inward, and he soon gained a considerable local reputation as a preacher and spiritual counselor. In 1653 he joined the Baptist congregation of John Gifford in Bedford. Gifford was a remarkable pastor who greatly assisted Bunyan's progress toward spiritual stability and encouraged him to speak to the congregation. After Gifford's death in 1655 Bunyan began to preach in public, and his sermons were so energetic that he gained the nickname “Bishop Bunyan.” Among Puritan sects, the Bedford Baptists were more moderate and peaceful in their attitude.

Imprisonment Bunyan's first published work, Some Gospel-Truths Opened (1656), was an attack on the Quakers for their reliance on inner light rather than on the strict interpretation of Scripture. Above all Bunyan's theology asserted the helplessness of man unless assisted by the undeserved gift of divine grace. His inner experience and his theological position both encouraged a view of the self as the passive battleground of mighty forces, a fact which is of the first importance in considering the fictional narratives he went on to write.

Bunyan's wife died in 1658 and left four children, including a daughter who had been born blind and whose welfare remained a constant worry. Bunyan remarried the following year. It is known that his second wife was named Elizabeth, that she bore two children, and that she spoke eloquently on his behalf when he was in prison. The imprisonment is the central event of his later career: It was at once a martyrdom that he seems to have sought and a liberation from outward concerns that inspired him to write literary works. Once the Stuart monarchy had been reestablished in 1660 under Charles II, it was illegal for anyone to preach who was not an ordained clergyman in the Church of England. Bunyan spent most of the next twelve years in Bedford Jail because he would not give up preaching, although the confinement was not difficult and he was out on parole on several occasions. In 1672, the political situation changed when Charles II issued a Declaration of Indulgence that allowed for greater religious freedom. Except for a six-month return to prison in 1677, Bunyan was relatively free to travel and preach, which he did with immense energy and good will. Bunyan's principal fictional works were published during this post-imprisonment period and included the two parts of The Pilgrim's Progress in 1678 and 1684, The Life and Death of Mr. Badman in 1680, and The Holy War in 1682.

Bunyan died in 1688 after catching cold while riding through a rainstorm on a journey to reconcile a quarreling family. He was buried at the Nonconformist cemetery of Bunhill Fields in London. By 1692 a folio edition of his works had been published, together with a biographical sketch that includes this portrait: “As for his person he was tall of stature, strong boned though not corpulent, somewhat of a ruddy face, with sparkling eyes, wearing his hair on his upper lip after the old British fashion; his hair reddish, but in his latter days time had sprinkled it with grey; his nose well set, but not declining or bending; and his mouth moderate large, his forehead something high, and his habit always plain and modest.”

LITERARY AND HISTORICAL CONTEMPORARIES

Bunyan's famous contemporaries include:

John Owen (1616–1683): An influential Puritan theologian, he wrote condemnations of the state of the English Church and supported other radical religious thinkers, going so far as to bail Bunyan out of jail.

Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658): The preeminent military leader during the English Civil War, Cromwell went on to become head of state (called the “Lord Protector”) after the execution of Charles I.

Charles II (1630–1685): King of England after the collapse of Cromwell's government, and monarch during the Restoration.

Samuel Pepys (1633–1703): English Parliamentarian and naval administrator best remembered today for his famous diary, which he kept from 1660 to 1669 and which covers events such as the Great Plague and Great Fire of London.

Works in Literary Context

Once Bunyan was able to preach freely, he infused his works with a sense of authority. He no longer prefaced them with apologies for his limitations, and he began to address his readers more in fatherly than brotherly fashion, as is clearly evidenced in his spiritual autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. When he was sent back to prison after the Declaration of Indulgence was withdrawn and the persecution of religious dissenters resumed, Bunyan began his first religious allegory, The Pilgrim's Progress. Specific incidents in The Pilgrim's Progress were borrowed directly from the Scriptures as well as from numerous secular and less edifying works available to Bunyan. But generations of critics have testified to Bunyan's own comprehensive scope, rich characterization, and genuine spiritual torment and joy drawn from personal experience. Thus, autobiography and allegory serve as two main themes running through his major works.

Spiritual Autobiography Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, a relatively short narrative of about a hundred pages, stands unchallenged as the finest achievement in the Puritan genre of spiritual autobiography. Its origins lie in the personal testimony that each new member was required to present before being admitted to the Bedford congregation, and Bunyan's allusions to St. Paul in the preface suggest that he intended the published work as a kind of modern-day Epistle for the encouragement of believers. Determined to tell his story exactly, Bunyan promises to “be plain and simple, and lay down the thing as it was.” What follows is a deeply moving account of inner torment, in which God and Satan vie for possession of the anguished sinner by causing particular Biblical texts to come into his head; Bunyan exclaims grimly, “Woe be to him against whom the Scriptures bend themselves.”

Religious Allegory The Pilgrim's Progress records in allegorical form the author's spiritual awakening and growth. An allegory is a story in which abstract ideas, such as Love or Hope, appear as concrete things or characters. The idea of human life as a pilgrimage was not new in Bunyan's time; its story elements stretched back to even such adventurous journeys as The Odyssey, and its popularity was further intensified with the chivalric romances of the Middle Ages. For generations, the virtues and vices had been personified; those peopling the Christian's difficult road to spiritual salvation—many who assist him when he is beset by obstacles and others who are the obstacles themselves—were familiar story elements to Bunyan's first readers.

The Life and Death of Mr. Badman and The Holy War, while not as celebrated as Bunyan's renowned allegory, are works equally representative of the author's spiritual concerns, albeit from different perspectives. The first is a dialog between Mr. Wiseman, Bunyan's fictional counterpart, and his faithful disciple, Attentive, who discuss the degeneracy of Mr. Badman as it progresses from youthful vices to misspent and miserable adulthood. The Holy War, like The Pilgrim's Progress, is an allegorical depiction of spiritual struggle but, rather than employing the metaphor of quest or journey, it makes the human soul itself a bastion besieged by evil forces. The Holy War chronicles the original fall of humanity, the personal acceptance of salvation through Christ, the falling away after conversion, and ultimate restitution; on a more personal level, it also stresses the lifelong vigilance against sin that each person must wage.

Works in Critical Context

Generations of critics have testified to Bunyan's own comprehensive scope, rich characterization, and genuine spiritual torment and joy drawn from personal experience. Charles Doe, one of Bunyan's contemporaries, remarked: “What hath the devil, or his agents, gotten by putting our great gospel minister Bunyan, in prison? For in prison he wrote many excellent books, that have published to the world his great grace, and great truth, and great judgment, and great ingenuity; and to instance in one, the Pilgrim's Progress, he hath suited to the life of a traveler so exactly and pleasantly, and to the life of a Christian, that this very book, besides the rest, hath done the superstitious sort of men more good than if he had been let alone at his meeting at Bedford, to preach the gospel to his own [audience].”

The Pilgrim's Progress Although individual critical interpretations and appraisals of his writings have varied over time, the popularity and relevance of Bunyan's work, most notably of The Pilgrim's Progress, remain undiminished today. James Anthony Froude affirmed:

It has been the fashion to dwell on the disadvantages of his education, and to regret the carelessness of nature which brought into existence a man of genius in a tinker's hut at Elstow …. Circumstances, I should say, qualified Bunyan perfectly well for the work, which he had to do …. He was born to be the Poet-apostle of the English middle classes, imperfectly educated like himself; and, being one of themselves, he had the key of their thoughts and feelings in his own heart …. [His] mental furniture was gathered at first hand from his conscience, his life, and his occupations. Thus, every idea which he received falling into a soil naturally fertile, sprouted up fresh, vigorous, and original.

COMMON HUMAN EXPERIENCE

John Bunyan was neither the first nor the last author to use allegory to communicate his religious thoughts. Here are some other famous allegories:

Unto This Last (1860), an allegory by John Ruskin. A Victorian author, poet, and artist, Ruskin was also an influential religious thinker. In this work he lays down theories that would prove highly influential to left-wing Christian socialist thought.

The Divine Comedy (1308–1321), an epic poem by Dante Alighieri. Perhaps the best-known religious allegory, this fourteenth-century poem describes the author's journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven.

The Chronicles of Narnia (1949–1954), a series of novels by C. S. Lewis. Although these tales can be read simply as children's fantasy literature, Lewis purposely wove a deeper layer of Christian allegory into his stories as well.

Responses to Literature

  1. What are Bunyan's major themes? How does he express those themes through allegory?
  2. In The Pilgrim's Progress, Christian and Christiana are the allegorical stand-ins for Christian men and women, respectively. How do these two characters' struggles differ, and what does that have to say about Bunyan's views of men and women and their relationship to Christianity?
  3. In your opinion, exactly how much progress does the pilgrim Christian make over the course of his journey? In what aspects does he evolve the most as a person?
  4. How do you think Bunyan felt about the religious experience? Did he view it as an individual experience or a group experience? Research the Puritan movement and describe how Bunyan's views fit into it.
  5. What are Bunyan's “stumbling blocks”? What other allegorical obstacles to Christian virtue can you think of from other stories or legends?

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Books

Batson, E. Beatrice. John Bunyan: Allegory and Imagination. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes & Noble Books, 1984.

Brown, John. John Bunyan: His Life, Times, and Work, rev. Frank Mott Harrison. London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1928.

Forrest, James F. John Bunyan: A Reference Guide, NewYork: G. K. Hall, 1982.

Furlong, Monica, Puritan's Progress: A Study of John Bunyan. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1975.

Keeble, N. H., ed. John Bunyan, Conventicle and Parnassus: Tercentenary Essays. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988.

Newey, Vincent, ed., The Pilgrim's Progress: Critical and Historical Views. Liverpool, England: University of Liverpool Press, 1980.

Sutherland, James, Restoration Literature, 1660–1700:Dryden, Bunyan, and Pepys, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Watkins, Owen C., The Puritan Experience: Studies in Spiritual Autobiography. New York: Schocken, 1972.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Bunyan, John." Gale Contextual Encyclopedia of World Literature. . Encyclopedia.com. 28 Nov. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Bunyan, John." Gale Contextual Encyclopedia of World Literature. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 28, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bunyan-john

"Bunyan, John." Gale Contextual Encyclopedia of World Literature. . Retrieved November 28, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bunyan-john

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Bunyan, John (1628–1688)

Bunyan, John (1628–1688)

Bunyan, John (1628–1688), English author and Baptist preacher. John Bunyan 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 braziertinker "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.

EWB

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Bunyan, John (1628–1688)." Encyclopedia of European Social History. . Encyclopedia.com. 28 Nov. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Bunyan, John (1628–1688)." Encyclopedia of European Social History. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 28, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/international/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bunyan-john-1628-1688

"Bunyan, John (1628–1688)." Encyclopedia of European Social History. . Retrieved November 28, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/international/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bunyan-john-1628-1688

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.