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John Bunyan: English Author and Preacher

John BunyanJohn Bunyan: "The immortal dreamer of Bedford jail;" born at Harrowden (1 mile southeast of Bedford), in the parish of Elstow, christened November 30, 1628; died in London August 31, 1688. He had very little schooling, followed his father in the tinker's trade, was in the parliamentary army, 1644-47; married in 1649; lived in Elstow till 1655, when his wife died and he moved to Bedford. He married again 1659. He was received into the Baptist church in Bedford by immersion in the Ouse, 1653. In 1655 he became a deacon and began preaching with marked success from the start. In 1658 he was indicted for preaching without a license; kept on, however, and did not suffer imprisonment till November, 1660, when he was taken to the county jail in Silver Street, Bedford, and there confined, with the exception of a few weeks in 1666, till January, 1672. In that month he became pastor of the Bedford church. In March, 1675, he was again imprisoned for preaching and this time in the Bedford town jail on the stone bridge over the Ouse. In six months he was free and was not again molested. In August, 1688, on his way to London he caught a severe cold from being wet, and died at the house of a friend on Snow Hill.

All the world knows that Bunyan wrote The Pilgrim's Progress, in two parts, of which the first appeared at London in 1678, and was, at all events, begun during his imprisonment in 1676; the second in 1684. The earliest edition in which the two parts were combined in one volume was in 1728. A third part falsely attributed to Bunyan appeared in 1693, and was reprinted as late as 1852. The Pilgrim's Progress is the most successful allegory ever written, and like the Bible is adapted to man in every clime. It is indeed commonly translated by Protestant missionaries after the Bible. It is thus read in all literary languages and is a world classic. Two other works of Bunyan's would have given him fame but not as wide as that he now enjoys; viz., The Life and Death of Mr. Badman (1680), an imaginary biography, and the allegory The Holy War (1682). The book which lays bare Bunyan's inner life and reveals his preparation for his appointed work is Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666). It is very prolix, and being all about himself, in a man less holy would be intolerably egotistic, but his motive in writing being plainly to exalt the grace of God and to comfort those passing through experiences somewhat like his own, his egotism makes no disagreeable impression.

The works just named have appeared in numerous editions, and are accessible to all. There are several noteworthy collections of editions of the Pilgrim's Progress, e.g., in the British Museum, and in the New York Public Library, collected by the late James Lenox.

Bunyan was a popular preacher as well as a very voluminous author, though most of his works consist of expanded sermons. In theology he was a Puritan, but not a partizan; nor was there anything gloomy about him. The portrait which his friend Robert White drew, which has been often reproduced, is a most attractive one and this was his true character. He was tall, had reddish hair, prominent nose, a rather large mouth, and sparkling eyes. He was no scholar, except of the English Bible, but that he knew thoroughly. Another book which greatly influenced him was Martin Luther's Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, in the translation of 1575...

Bibliography: The best edition of Bunyan's Complete Works is by G. Offor and R. Philip, 3 vols., London, 1853, new ed., 1862. The best biography is by John Brown, London, 1885, new ed., 1902, the author of which was for many years the minister of the Bunyan chapel at Bedford. Other good biographies are: J. A. Froude, in English Men of Letters, 1887; E. Venables, in Great Writers Series, 1888; and W. H. White, in Literary Lives Series, 1904.

From The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge... New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1908.

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