Here is an excerpt from Bunyan's discussion with the Constable upon his arrest. My comments are in [ ] square brackets.
CONSTABLE: What do you do there? And why do you not content yourself with following your calling (tinker)? for it is against the law, that such as you should be admitted to do as you do. [It seems that their major issue with Bunyan was that he was preaching without being ordained by the government-encouraged national church. How dare a mere tinker take it upon himself to preach the Gospel!]
BUNYAN: The intent of my coming thither, and to other places, was to instruct, and counsel people to forsake their sins, and close in with Christ, lest they did miserably perish; and that I could do both these without confusion (to wit), follow my calling, and preach the Word also.
CONSTABLE: I will break the neck of your meetings. [I would hate to be there when this man has to answer to God for this statement.]
BUNYAN: It may be so. [This was a most humble answer.]
Here is a an excerpt from his actual trial before a judge.
JUDGE: I understand: but well, if you will promise to call the people no more together, you shall have your liberty to go home; for my brother is very loath to send you to prison, if you will be but ruled.
BUNYAN: Sir, pray what do you mean by calling the people together? my business is not anything among them, when they are come together, but to exhort them to look after the salvation of their souls, that they may be saved, etc. [Bunyan spoke when the people gathered together. He did not, as they try to imply, gather them together of his own accord. That he left up to the local church that requested his services.]
JUDGE: We must not enter into explication, or dispute now; but if you will say you will call the people no more together, you may have your liberty; if not, you must be sent away to prison.
BUNYAN: Sir, I shall not force or compel any man to hear me; but yet, if I come into any place where there is a people met together, I should, according to the best of my skill and wisdom, exhort and counsel them to seek out after the Lord Jesus Christ, for the salvation of their souls. [No matter what, Bunyan would continue to lead people to the Lord.]
JUDGE: That is none of your work; you must follow your calling; and if you would but leave off preaching, and follow your calling, you will have the justice's favour, and be acquitted presently. [My, but weren't they preoccupied with Bunyan sticking to his 'calling' of being a tinker ... makes me wonder who felt threatened by his ministry.]
BUNYAN: I can follow my calling, and that too, namely, preaching the Word: and I look upon it as my duty to do them both, as I have an opportunity. [Again, Bunyan made it clear that he would speak to people about the Lord when the opportunity opened itself up ... but also implied here is the fact that Bunyan was not going around seeking opportunities to preach, but rather responding to them as the Lord brought them his way.]
There were vicious attacks against Bunyan, even comparing him to Alexander the coppersmith (coppersmith, tinsmith) of the Bible, who opposed the Apostles (ref. 2 Timothy 4:14). This hurt Bunyan, but he held firm.
Through the providence of God, he was allowed out of jail a few times ... and he even managed to preach a few times. After all, what could they do? Throw him in prison? He was already imprisoned.
Oddly enough, it was while he was still imprisoned that he was voted pastor of the Bedford non-conformist church. Apparently they knew something that no one else did, because shortly afterwards, in 1672, the king of England felt that religious tolerance was the proper thing to do. He had all of the non-conformist preachers freed from prison, and made it possible for them to obtain a license to preach without compromising their beliefs.
As soon as Bunyan was released, he headed off to get his license and began to preach again. This time, however, his "calling" of being a tinker fell by the wayside as he entered into full-time ministry. He rode horseback wherever he was needed, earning him the nickname of Bishop Bunyan, and continued to write. However, unlike most famous writers of his time, Bunyan saw little of the proceeds of his book sales.
Bunyan ran into a scandal when he was 46. A young woman named Agnes Beaumont was a member of his church. One day, she needed a ride and Bunyan allowed her to ride on his horse ... and he may have ridden with her on the horse. Her father was outraged and angered. So angered, in fact, that he died suddenly.
Bunyan's daughter was accused of poisoning Mr. Beaumont, apparently in defense of her father's good name. An autopsy was performed, and it turned out that the man died of completely natural causes, and any suspicion of Bunyan's daughter committing murder disappeared.
All I can say is that I bet the next time a young woman needed transportation, Bunyan thought long and hard before he offered her the service of his horse.
Bunyan was imprisoned again when he was 48 years old, and this time is was because he refused to attend the government-approved parish church. While in jail this time, the Lord gave him a dream that became his most famous book, Pilgrim's Progress. He began writing this powerful allegory while imprisoned a second time. He was eventually released, and continued his ministry until his was 60.
Strudwick buried John Bunyan in his own tomb in the non-conformist burial ground in London. Bunyan, the man who spent years of his life imprisoned for the gospel, passed away in the house of a friend and was buried in a grave intended for someone else. He left very little money behind to his faithful wife, Elizabeth. Now upon his grave is a statue, representing Bunyan resting peacefully. This was added in the 1800s.
Bunyan published 58 works, of which Pilgrim's Progress is the most famous. Many people have said that it is the most read, published, and translated book in the word after the Bible itself (look here for a good discussion). There have been 90 editions of it in just the first 100 years after its initial publication. It has been translated into over 200 hundred languages.
Those are just numbers, though. It has been instrumental in the salvation of many, including evangelist Rodney "Gispy" Smith and his evangelist father and uncles. The ripple effect of his sermons, his testimony, and his writings in incalculable.
So what lessons can we learn from this man's life?
There always remains only one way to salvation, and that is Jesus Christ, but the Lord has a personalized path for each one of us to lead us to Himself. We may not come to the Lord in the same way that those around us did, but that doesn't make our testimony any less valid.
Second, John Bunyan struggled long and hard with understanding that he could never make himself worthy of God ... the only way we can ever be acceptable before God is to allow Jesus Christ into our hearts. Bunyan took this struggle, and explained it clearly in his story and in Pilgrim's Progress so others could be helped along their path. We should never, ever wait until we think we are worthy to approach the Lord -- we need to go to Him today -- sin, faults, doubts, chaos and all. This song, written long after Bunyan's time, sums it up quite well:
Finally, as Christians we can rest assured that no heartache, no trial, no pain, no loss, no tears shed are ever meaningless. The Lord uses everything for our good. According to Romans 8:28, "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose."
Bunyan's jailers intended to silence his message, but the Lord used their evil intents to spread Bunyan's message of hope and forgiveness further than they could have ever imagined. Our pain and tears could be the healing for someone else. Our survival could be the first ray of hope for someone else. The most horrible, painful times in our lives can be used by the Lord for good, no matter what someone else may have intended. Trust the Lord, even with the hardest times in your life, and you will not be disappointed.
Sara McCaslin is an engineer, a computer scientist, and a freelance writer.