Both the career and the writings of John Bunyan (BUHN-yuhn) are full of interest for the student of the seventeenth century, for his career illustrates the difficulties faced by a convinced Baptist in a society that, after the restoration of Charles II, took a poor view of Puritan views in general. His writings speak clearly of the convictions that enabled Bunyan and others to endure social intolerance and oppression, and at least one of his works—The Pilgrim’s Progress—is more than a personal and sociological record: It is a work that many generations of readers have regarded as a wonderfully allegorized account of each individual’s spiritual experience.
Bunyan was one of the least learned and socially humblest of men to attain enduring literary fame. He was born in Elstow, in rural Bedfordshire, to Thomas Bunyan and Margaret Bentley. His father was a tinker, a hereditary trade to which, in due time, Bunyan himself was apprenticed. Baptized on November 30, 1628, he was brought up in an atmosphere of strict Puritanism which imposed checks on his youthful behavior and caused him to develop a profound sense of sin. Bunyan believed, in later years, that his youthful high spirits were displays of vice.
At sixteen, he joined the Parliamentary army in the Civil War and took part in the victorious campaigns of 1645. In 1646, he married a poor, pious woman whose only dowry was two religious books. Her name has been lost to history, but when she died in 1658, she left behind four children, including a blind daughter, Mary. His wife’s piety and study of the two books added to his habit of searching his soul for sin. Happily, in 1653, he joined a Baptist society and regained his equilibrium. He soon became a preacher and drew large crowds of laboring people, causing the Royalists to look on him with such suspicion that after the Restoration in 1660 and the passage of laws that forbade meetings hostile to the Established Church, Bunyan was brought to trial for refusing to give up his preaching. During his confinement, Bunyan’s family, headed by his second wife, Elizabeth, was penniless and often starving, and Bunyan suffered further pangs of guilt. Yet he declined opportunities to renounce his religious belief and remained in prison for twelve years, enjoying only short intervals of freedom. This confinement was at least to the advantage of posterity, for in prison he had ample leisure to...
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