John's mother Margaret passed away when he was only 16 years old, followed not long after by his sister. He then enlisted in the Parliamentary Army during the first stage of the English Civil War. His enlistment came as a result of an edict that demanded 225 recruits from his hometown of Bedfordshire.
One particular incident stands out during his years in the army. It seems that the group he was serving with had been ordered to besiege a certain city. As John was preparing to depart, another soldier asked to take his place. John agreed, only to find out later that this same soldier was on sentinel duty when he was killed by a musket round to the head.
Bunyan as a Young Man
At this time, John had no interest in religion, although his military service brought him into contact with a variety of religious sects. He was more interested in having a good time than anything else. As a child, he had gone through a time when he worried about his soul and even suffered nightmares about hell, but that concern faded and he went on with his life -- with no concern for God.
He testified later that he felt no conviction for his sin, and enjoyed it thoroughly. This was in spite of close calls, including a near drowning and a dangerous (and foolhardy) encounter with a poisonous snake. What is probably the most interesting aspect of John Bunyan's life at this time was that, while he felt nothing wrong with his own sin, he was very judgmental against professing Christians who sinned. He was especially upset when he heard them swearing.
Bunyan served in the army for three years. When he returned home, he found his father had remarried and had a brand new family. John, probably feeling unwelcome, headed out on his own. He began his own business as a tinker.
During this time he describes himself as the local ringleader in sin and wickedness, and his time in the army had sharpened his skills at swearing. Oddly enough, he married a few years later -- and married the daughter of a very pious man. You just have to wonder what would make such a riotous sinner decide to marry a sweet young woman from a Christian home.
Sadly, the first name of his wife was never recorded. However, her influence on his life is immeasurable. When they married, he said they were lucky to have a spoon and a fork between the two of them. By the time Mrs. Bunyan married, her father had already passed away and she brought into the marriage her inheritance: two Christian books, the Plain Man’s Pathway to Heaven and The Practice of Piety. Bunyan had always enjoyed reading, and read these two books with interest. His wife, he said, would tell him about her father -- what a good man he was, how he lived right, how he was respected. Bunyan, however, continued in his sinful ways.
Their first child was a sweet little girl named Mary. Heartache quickly followed her birth when they discovered that their precious baby had been born blind.
The Lord Moves
In spite of his wife's influence, and his choice of reading material, Bunyan kept on in his sin. He loved drinking, dancing, and playing sports, but his specialty was swearing. He said that he couldn't say anything with prefacing it with a swear, throwing in a few choice words in the middle, and ending it with another swear. That all came to a halt one day, though.
As he was in public swearing away, and elderly woman rebuked him. She told him that just a short time in his presence would ruin every youth in the village. Her words had an unusual power behind them, because for the first time in years John Bunyan felt conviction. He made up his mind that he would never swear again ... and he never did.
His friends and his wife were shocked, but no one was probably more shocked than John Bunyan himself.
TO BE CONTINUED
Sara McCaslin is an engineer, a computer scientist, and a freelance writer.