Once a year I attempt to do a biography of a leading Christian character on a Sunday evening. You can hear the talk on John Bunyan here.
I tried to tell Bunyan’s story using his own words. That meant there were lots of quotes! So, if you want to follow the talk, it is probably helpful to have my notes, which I’ve pasted below:
The life of John Bunyan
Born 1628 in Bedfordshire
Pilgrim’s Progress. Powerful Preacher
John Owen- “I would most gladly relinquish my learning for the tinker’s power of touching men’s hearts.”
The battles with sin and guilt
Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1665)- “A brief (!) and faithful relation of the exceeding mercy of God in Christ to his poor servant John Bunyan.”…”How the Lord at length delivered him from all the guilt and terror that lay upon him.”
“It is profitable for Christians often to be calling to mind the very beginnings of grace with their souls.”
As a child- “I had but few equals both for cursing, swearing, lying and blaspheming the holy God.”
“I was greatly afflicted with the thoughts of the day or judgement and that both night and day, and trembled at the thoughts of the fearful torments of hell fire.”
Mother died. Father remarried quickly. Turned from God and joined the army in the Civil War.
Married at age of 20. Mary’s parents were godly. Enjoyed church:
“I fell in very eagerly with the religion of the times…I adored…the high place, priest, clerk, vestments, services and whatever else belonged to the church.”
Convicted at church but went home and had lunch and did nothing.
“Suddenly the conclusion was fastened on my spirit…that I had been a great and grievous sinner, and that it was now too late for me to look to heaven for Christ would not forgive me nor pardon my transgressions.”
Tried various things- outrageous sin (rebuked) then self-improvement. Gives up dancing!
“God cannot choose but now be pleased with me!”
“I was nothing but a poor hypocrite yet I loved to be talked of as one that was truly godly.”
“I was all the while ignorant of Jesus Christ and going about to establish my own righteousness.”
The women in Bedford- “Their talk was about a new birth.” “They spoke as if joy did make them speak.”
The ups and downs.
Luke 14- “There was place enough in heaven for me!”
“I was more loathsome in my own eyes than a toad and I thought I was in God’s eyes too.”
“I fell at the sight of my own vileness deeply into despair.”
Song 4:1- “How beautiful you are my darling”
“I loved thee whilst thou was committing this sin, I loved thee before, I love thee still and I will love Thee forever.”
“Darkness seized me…” Swears against Christ.
Colossians 1:20- For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
“I was made to see, both again and again, that God and my soul were friends by His blood; yes, I saw that the justice of God and my sinful soul could embrace and kiss each other through His blood. This was a good day to me: I hope I shall never forget it.”
Two years of “an expectation of damnation.”
“One days as I was passing into the field…this sentence fell upon my soul. Thy righteousness is in heaven… Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed. Oh! I saw my gold was in my trunk at home! In Christ my Lord and Saviour. Now Christ was all, all my wisdom, all my righteousness, all my satisfaction, all my redemption” “Great sins do draw out great grace.”
Ten year later he wrote Pilgrim’s Progress- picking up his own experience:
The Slough of Despond- “Still as the sinner is awakened about his lost condition, there arises in his soul many fears and doubts and discouraging apprehensions.”
“So I saw in my dream that just as Christian came upon the Cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from his back and began to tumble, and so continued to do so until it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in. Then was Christian glad and lightsome and said with a merry heart, “He has given me rest by his death”. Then he stood still a while, to look and wonder, for it was very surprising to him that the sight of the cross should thus ease him of his burden. He looked therefore and looked again even till the springs that were in his head sent the water down his cheeks.”
Three shining ones- “Thy sins be forgiven.” “The second stripped him of his rags and clothed him with change of raiment. The third also sent a mark on his forehead, and gave him a roll with a seal upon it…and that he should give it in at the Celestial Gate…”
“Blessed Cross! Blessed Sepulchre! Blessed rather be the man that was there put to shame for me.”
“He is such a lover of poor pilgrims.”
“They cried out unto him that loves pilgrims.”
“He turns pilgrims into princes.”
“The King who has sent for me is one who delights in mercy.”
“He has performed righteousness to cover you and spilt blood to wash you in”
Christian to Apollyon: “The Prince whom I serve is merciful and ready to forgive.”
The Holy War- and the forgiveness that Emmanuel brings: “They went down to the camp in black, but they came back to the town in white; they went down to the camp in ropes, they came back in chains of gold; they went down to the camp with their feet in fetters, but came back with their steps enlarged under them; they went to the camp looking for death, but they came back from thence with assurance of life; they went down to the camp with heavy hearts, but came back with pipe and tabor playing before them.”
The challenge at the end of the first part of Pilgrim’s Progress:
Ignorance- “I believe that Christ died for sinners and that I shall be justified before God from the curse through His gracious acceptance of my obedience to the law.”
Hopeful- “Faithful told me that unless I could obtain the righteousness of a man that had never sinned, neither mine nor all the righteousness of the world could save me.”
“The King would not come down to see him but commanded the two Shining Ones that conducted Christian and Hopeful to the City to go out and take Ignorance and bind him hand and foot and take him away.”
The battle with suffering
“The way to the Celestial City lay through the midst of the Valley of the Shadow of Death”
“The molestations, troubles, wars, captivities, groans, frights and fears that he had in his journey.”
Set apart for some sort of preaching ministry in 1656
A lot of prejudice- he was a tinker.
Mary Bunyan dies in 1658. Marries Elizabeth in 1659.
Religious atmosphere changes in 1660 with the restoration of Charles II to the throne
Arrested as an illegal preacher. Would be freed if he agreed not to preach:
“I should not leave speaking the Word of God.”
Remained in prison (with occasional leaves of absence) for the next twelve years.
“If ever I would suffer rightly I must first pass a sentence of death upon everything that can properly be called a thing of this life, even to reckon myself, my wife, my children, my health, my enjoyments and all as dead to me and myself as dead to them. The second was to live upon God that is invisible.”
“I begged of God that if I might do more good by being at liberty than in prison, I might be set at liberty; but if not, his will be done.”
In prison that he writes Pilgrim’s Progress.
Vanity Fair- the martyrdom of Faithful.
Christian- “You must also take up religion when in his rags as well as when in his silver slippers, and stand by him too when bound in irons, as well as when he walks the streets with applause.”
“To confirm the truth by way of suffering as before in way of preaching.”
The experience of being in prison:
“The pulling of flesh from my bones…I was a man who was pulling down his house upon the head of his wife and children…I did meet my God sweetly in the prison again, comforting me and satisfying me that it was His will and mind that I should be there.”
“Jesus Christ was never more real and apparent than now. Here I have seen him and felt him indeed…I have had sweet sights of the forgiveness of my sins in this place and of my being with Jesus in another world.”
In Advice to Sufferers- based on 1 Peter 4:19. “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”
“He can make those things that in themselves are most fearful to behold, the most pleasant, delightful and desirable things. He can make a gaol more beautiful than a palace…”
“Was it not worth being in the furnace and the den to see such things as these?”
The benefits of suffering- “Affliction is better than sin, and if God sends the one to cleanse us from the other, let us thank Him.”
The perspective in suffering- “Suffering comes not by chance, or the will of man, but by the will and appointment of God.”
The importance of respecting the authorities- “The magistrate is the minister of God to thee for good.”
Attitude towards opponents- “Learn to pity and bewail the condition of the enemy.”
This is what leads to Hopeful’s conversion in Vanity Fair
Expectation of suffering- “The people of God are a suffering people- a people subject to trouble for their faith and profession.”
Freed in 1672
Died on 31st August 1688
Mr.Despondency: “Farewell night; welcome day.”
Mr.Valiant: “My marks and my scars I carry with me to be a witness for me that I have fought his battles who will now be my rewarder. Death, where is thy victory? Grave, where is thy sting?” So he passed over, and the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.
Mr.Stand Fast: “I see myself now at the end of my journey, my toilsome days are ended. I am going now to see that head that was crowned with thorns, and the face that was spat upon for me. I have formerly lived by hear-say and faith, but now I shall go where I shall live by sight, and shall be with Him in whose company I delight myself.”
“I go to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will, no doubt through the mediation of his blessed Son, receive me, though a sinner.”