John Bunyan

John Bunyan: Baptist/Congregationalist, pastor, author, sufferer.

(talk given by the pastor, August 2022)

Chonology (based upon W. R. Owens' and Anne Page's)

1628   Bunyan born at Elstow, near Bedford (baptized 30 November), the eldest child of Thomas Bunyan (1603–76), a brazier or tinker, and his second wife Margaret Bentley (1603–44).

1644   Bunyan’s mother and sister Margaret die (in June and July respectively). His father remarries within two months. Bunyan joins the Parliamentary forces stationed in the garrison of Newport Pagnell (Buckinghamshire) under the command of Sir Samuel Luke, but seems not to have taken part in much military combat.

(January) Use of the Book of Common Prayer is prohibited and replaced by the Directory for Public Worship. (February) New Model Army is formed. (June)

1646   Bunyan volunteers for service in Ireland, but his regiment is disbanded and he does not serve.

(June) Surrender of Oxford ends the Civil War. (October) Parliamentary ordinance abolishing bishops passed.

1647   Bunyan is demobilised (in July) and returns to his father’s house in Elstow

1649   Probably in October, Bunyan marries his first wife (name unknown); four children will be born of the union. She brings as a dowry Arthur Dent’s The Plaine Mans Path-way to Heaven (1601) and Lewis Bayly’s The Practise of Pietie (1612?). Bunyan attends the parish church in Elstow, but feels himself to be a grievous sinner and endures what will be a prolonged period of spiritual crisis (lasting until about 1655), subsequently described in Grace Abounding (1666).

1650   Birth of Bunyan’s first child Mary (baptized 20 July), who is blind. He experiences a spiritual awakening after hearing ‘three or four poor women’

During this time Bunyan, whilst on his travels as a tinker, happened to be in Bedford and pass a group of women who were talking about spiritual matters on their doorstep. The women were in fact some of the founding members of the Bedford Free Church or Meeting and Bunyan, who had been attending the parish church of Elstow, was so impressed by their talk that he joined their church.[15] At that time the nonconformist group was separatist open-communion Baptist congregation meeting in St John's church in Bedford under the leadership of former Royalist army officer John Gifford.[16] At the instigation of other members of the congregation Bunyan began to preach, both in the church and to groups of people in the surrounding countryside.

By his own account, Bunyan had as a youth enjoyed bell-ringing, dancing and playing games including on Sunday, which was forbidden by the Puritans, who held a particularly high view of Sunday, called the Lord's Day. One Sunday the vicar of Elstow preached a sermon against Sabbath breaking, and Bunyan took this sermon to heart. That afternoon, as he was playing tip-cat (a game in which a small piece of wood is hit with a bat) on Elstow village green, he heard a voice from the heavens "Wilt thou leave thy sins, and go to Heaven? Or have thy sins, and go to Hell?"

(July–September) Cromwell invades Scotland and defeats Scots at Dunbar. Act repealing all laws compelling attendance at the Church of England is passed.

1653   (April) Cromwell forcibly dissolves the Rump Parliament. (July) Meeting of the Nominated (‘Barebones’) Parliament (resigns December). (December) Cromwell becomes Lord Protector.

1655    Bunyan moves from Elstow to Bedford. He is admitted a full member of the Bedford congregation, possibly after accepting baptism by total immersion, and begins to preach, first to the Bedford congregation and then more widely. Death of John Gifford, succeeded as pastor of the Bedford congregation by John Burton.

(August) Rule of the Major-Generals established. (December) Cromwell allows readmission of Jews to England.

1656   On at least three occasions, Bunyan engages in public controversy with the Quakers. His first published work, Some Gospel-Truths Opened According to the Scriptures, is an attack on the Quakers. It is responded to by Edward Burrough in The True Faith of the Gospel of Peace Contended for, in the Spirit of Meekness (1656).

1657   Publication of Bunyan’s second work, A Vindication of the Book Called, Some Gospel-Truths Opened, a rejoinder to Edward Burrough’s The True Faith of the Gospel of Peace. Burrough replies in Truth (the Strongest of All) Witnessed Forth in the Spirit of Truth, Against All Deceit (1657).

1658    Publication of A Few Sighs from Hell, an attack on professional clergy and the rich which became one of Bunyan’s most popular non-fiction works. Death of Bunyan’s first wife.

(September) Death of Oliver Cromwell. Richard Cromwell becomes Lord Protector.

1659   Publication of The Doctrine of the Law and Grace Unfolded, Bunyan’s most important exposition of his theological principles.

He marries his second wife, Elizabeth (three children born of the union). No copies have survived of a tract he apparently writes in support of a woman accusing Quakers of witchcraft, but it is replied to by the Quaker James Blackley, in A Lying Wonder Discovered . . . Also this Contains an Answer to John Bunions Paper Touching the Said Imagined Witchcraft (1659).

Bunyan is also attacked by George Fox in The Great Mistery of the Great Whore Unfolded (1659). His right to preach is challenged by Thomas Smith, keeper of Cambridge University Library and Professor of Arabic, at a public disputation at Toft, near Cambridge. He is defended by the General Baptist Henry Denne, in The Quaker No Papist, in Answer to the Quaker Disarm’d (1659).

On Christmas Day he preaches in the parish church at Yelden at the invitation of the Rector, William Dell, but against the wishes of some of the parishioners.

1660    Death of the Bedford congregation’s minister, John Burton. William Wheeler is invited to become the minister, but declines. On 12 November Bunyan is arrested for illegal preaching at the hamlet of Lower Samsell (Bedfordshire), and is sent to prison in Bedford to await trial. His wife Elizabeth gives premature birth to an infant who dies shortly afterwards.

1661    In early January Bunyan is tried under an Elizabethan statute of 1593 which had outlawed preaching at conventicles. The indictment charges that he has ‘devilishly and perniciously abstained from coming to church to hear divine service’ and that he is ‘a common upholder of several unlawful meetings and conventicles, to the great disturbance and distraction of the good subjects of this kingdom’. He is found guilty and sentenced initially to three months in prison (but continued refusal to give an undertaking to stop preaching means that he remains in prison for twelve years).

His wife petitions for his release at the assizes in August, but her pleas are rejected. Bunyan writes an account of his trial and imprisonment in a series of five letters to members of the Bedford congregation (later published as A Relation of the Imprisonment of Mr. John Bunyan (1765), usually reprinted with Grace Abounding). His first prison book, a lengthy poem entitled Profitable Meditations, is published. He is occasionally allowed out of prison on parole, and even travels to London, but objections are raised and he is subsequently closely confined. He makes shoelaces to help support his family, as well as writing.

(January) Bodies of Oliver Cromwell and two other regicides are exhumed and hung on the gallows at Tyburn. Thomas Venner leads a Fifth-Monarchist uprising in London, quickly suppressed. (May) First session of the ‘Cavalier’ Parliament. Bishops restored to the House of Lords. Corporation Act requiring all municipal officers to swear the oaths of allegiance, supremacy and non-resistance. Widespread persecution of Nonconformists begins. (November) Quaker Act singles out Quakers for special persecution. Publication of Mirabilis Annus, Or The Year of Prodigies and Wonders (Second Part, 1662).

1662   Probably towards the later part of this year, Bunyan’s I Will Pray with the Spirit is published, attacking the use of the Book of Common Prayer in worship. (No edition of this date survives, but a ‘second edition’ appeared in 1663.)

(April) Book of Common Prayer as revised by Convocation accepted by Parliament. (May) Act of Uniformity, outlawing the holding of a number of Puritan views in the Church of England, schools, and universities. Act to License and Control Printing re-establishes censorship of the press.

(August) Ejection from the Church of England of about 2,000 Puritan ministers who refuse to conform as required by the Act of Uniformity. (December) Charles II’s first Declaration of Indulgence is overruled by Parliament.

1663   Publication of Bunyan’s Prison-Meditations, a poem of seventy stanzas; Christian Behaviour, a conduct book; and (probably) A Mapp Shewing the Order & Causes of Salvation & Damnation (though no copy of this date survives). In December Samuel Fenne and John Whitman are elected co-pastors of the Bedford congregation.

1664  (November) First Conventicle Act outlaws all religious meetings not conducted according the Book of Common Prayer.

1665   Publication of Bunyan’s The Holy City, a millenarian treatise, and also, probably, his sermon-treatise, The Resurrection of the Dead, and two poems, One Thing is Needful and Ebal and Gerizzim (though no copies of editions of these works bearing this date have survived).

 (October) Five Mile Act prohibits ejected ministers from coming within five miles of where they had previously ministered or living in any incorporated town. The Great Plague begins in London.

1666   Publication of Bunyan’s spiritual autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners.

1668   Bunyan is probably writing The Heavenly Footman (published posthumously in 1698), but sets it aside and begins writing The Pilgrim’s Progress (not published until 1678).

1670   In May, twenty-eight members of the Bedford congregation are arrested at an illegal meeting at John Fenne’s house.

(February) Second Conventicle Act, leading to harsher persecution of Nonconformists. (May) Treaty of Dover secretly concluded between Charles II and Louis XIV, committing Charles to return England to Roman Catholicism.

1671   On 21 December Bunyan is elected pastor of the Bedford congregation.- while still in prison

1672    Bunyan is included in a list of Nonconformists to be granted a royal pardon and is allowed out of prison in February or March. Under the terms of the Declaration of Indulgence he applies for and on 9 May is granted a licence to preach at a barn in Bedford belonging to Josiah Ruffhead, a cordwinder. The Bedford congregation later purchase this barn to use as a meeting place.

On Sunday 6 October Bunyan preaches in Leicester. His A Confession of my Faith is published. It includes an attack on closed-communion Baptists who held that church membership should only be granted to those who had undergone baptism by water, and was replied to by Thomas Paul, in Some Serious Reflections on that Part of Mr. Bunion’s Confession of Faith: Touching Church Communion with Unbaptized Persons (1673), and by John Denne, in Truth Outweighing Error (1673).

Also published is Bunyan’s A Defence of the Doctrine of Justification, by Faith in Jesus Christ, an attack on the Latitudinarian clergyman Edward Fowler’s Design of Christianity (1671). Fowler (or one of his associates) responds with Dirt Wip’t Off: or A Manifest Discovery of the Gross Ignorance, Erroneousness and most Unchristian and Wicked Spirit of One John Bunyan, Lay-Preacher in Bedford (1672).

(March) Outbreak of third Anglo-Dutch war (to 1674). Charles II issues second Declaration of Indulgence permitting worship by Nonconformists and Roman Catholics.

1673   Publication of Bunyan’s The Barren Fig-Tree, a sermon, and Differences in Judgment about Water-Baptism, No Bar to Communion, a response to Thomas Paul’s Some Serious Reflections. Paul responds, but no copy is known, and Henry Danvers includes a postscript in his Treatise of Baptism (1673) attacking Bunyan for his views on baptism.

1674   Publication of Bunyan’s Peaceable Principles And True, a response to the attacks on him by Thomas Paul and Henry Danvers. Henry Denne replies in Hypocrisie Detected, or Peaceable and True Principles (1674), though no copy of this has survived, and some time later William Kiffin also quotes from Bunyan’s book in A Sober Discourse of Right to Church-Communion (1681).

A local scandal is caused when Bunyan takes a young woman, Agnes Beaumont, to a meeting behind him on horseback. When her father dies suddenly, it is rumoured that she has poisoned him at Bunyan’s instigation, but she is cleared of murder by a coroner’s jury. Bunyan refers to the incident in the third edition of Grace Abounding. Beamount’s own account, A Narrative of the Persecution of Agnes Beaumont, circulated in manuscript and was eventually published in 1760.

1675   Publication of Bunyan’s sermon, Light for Them that Sit in Darkness, and a catechism, Instruction for the Ignorant. In March a warrant for his arrest is issued in Bedford, and he apparently goes into hiding for a few months, possibly finding refuge with Nonconformists in London.

 In April he is declared to have been excommunicated from the Church of England ‘having been presented by the churchwardens for refusing to come to church and receive the sacrament’, and the Bishop of Lincoln procures a writ de excommunicato capiendo under which Bunyan is arrested the following December.

(February) Charles II cancels the licences to preach granted under the Declaration of Indulgence of 1673.

1676  Publication of two sermon-treatises by Bunyan, The Strait Gate, and Saved by Grace. His father dies. Beginning of his second imprisonment, December 1676 to June 1677.

1677   Bunyan is released from prison in June, probably owing to the intervention of John Owen who obtained an order from the chancellor, Heneage Lord Finch directing the Bishop of Lincoln to liberate Bunyan.

(October) William of Orange is betrothed to Mary, daughter of James, Duke of York and his wife, the late Ann Hyde, daughter of the Earl of Clarendon. Publication of Andrew Marvell’s An Account of the Growth of Popery, and Arbitrary Government, and of Aphra Behn’s The Rover.

1678    In February, Nathaniel Ponder publishes the first part of The Pilgrim’s Progress. Shortly afterwards, Come, & Welcome, to Jesus Christ is published, and becomes one of Bunyan’s most popular non-fiction works.

(January) The ‘Cavalier’ Parliament is dissolved. (March) The first ‘Exclusion’ Parliament meets (to May). Impeachment of the first minister, Sir Thomas Osborne, Earl of Danby. Bill to exclude James, Duke of York from the succession is discussed in Parliament, marking the beginning of the ‘Exclusion Crisis’ (which lasts until 1681). Censorship lapses with expiry of the Licensing Act. (November) Pope-burning demonstrations in London (and in November 1680). Death of Thomas Hobbes.

1680   Nathaniel Ponder publishes Bunyan’s The Life and Death of Mr. Badman. In November the Bedford congregation excommunicate John Wildman for being ‘an abominable liar and slanderer of our beloved brother Bunyan’.

1681   (March) The third ‘Exclusion’ Parliament meets at Oxford. An Exclusion Bill passes in both Commons and Lords, but Charles II dissolves Parliament and rules without one until 1685. John Dryden’s Absalom and Achitophel. (July) The opposition leader Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury, is imprisoned on a charge of treason, but is released (in November) when a London Grand Jury issues a verdict of ignoramus. From now until 1684, the period of the ‘Tory Reaction’, there are purges of Whigs from public offices, and savage persecution of Nonconformists. Publication of Andrew Marvell’s Miscellaneous Poems.

1682   Publication of a spurious ‘second’ part of The Pilgrim’s Progress by the General Baptist Thomas Sherman. Dorman Newman and Benjamin Alsop publish Bunyan’s The Holy War. Probably in June, Bunyan preaches at Pinners’ Hall in London, one of the most important meeting-places of Nonconformists. Publication of his sermon-treatise, The Greatness of the Soul.

1683   Publication of Bunyan’s A Case of Conscience Resolved, in which he argues against separate women assemblies.

1684  Nathaniel Ponder publishes the authentic Second Part of The Pilgrim’s Progress. Also published are Bunyan’s sermon-treatises A Holy Life, the Beauty of Christianity; Seasonable Counsel: or, Advice to Sufferers; and a poem, A Caution to Stir Up Against Sin. Suicide of the apostate John Child, at one time a member of the Bedford congregation.

1685   Publication of Bunyan’s Questions about the Nature and Perpetuity of the Seventh-Day-Sabbath, arguing against Sabbatarians who worshipped on Saturdays, and A Discourse upon the Pharisee and the Publicane. He preaches in Southwark at Stephen More’s open-communion church. On 23 December Bunyan draws up a deed of gift giving all his property to his wife, evidently from a concern that he might be arrested and his property confiscated.

(February) Death of Charles II and accession of James II. (July) Battle of Sedgemoor ends in the defeat of a rebellion against James II led by Charles II’s illegitimate son, James, Duke of Monmouth. It is followed by the ‘Bloody Assizes’ of Lord Chief Justice Jeffries. (October) Revocation of the Edict of Nantes is followed by Louis XIV’s dragonnades against Huguenots, and their flight to England. Licensing Act is renewed for seven years. Publication of Aphra Behn’s Miscellany. Montaigne’s Essays translated by Charles Cotton.

1686   Publication of Bunyan’s A Book for Boys and Girls: Or, Country Rhimes for Children.

(March) James II issues a Direction to Preachers, forbidding the preaching of anti-Catholic sermons, and orders the release of about 1,600 Quakers from prison. (May) Bishop of London refuses to suspend a clergyman who disobeyed James’s Directions. (June) James wins a legal case allowing him to dispense individuals from the provisions of the Test Acts. (July) James establishes Court of Ecclesiastical Commission, which subsequently suspends the Bishop of London. (November) James II establishes a Licensing Office to sell to Nonconformists certificates of dispensation from penal legislation.

1687   Bunyan is consulted by representatives of the King about which parliamentary candidates would be most likely to support royal policy and vote for repeal of the Test Acts. Seven members of his congregation are appointed to the Bedford corporation, and it is possible that Bunyan himself is offered, but does not accept, ‘a place of publick Trust’.

(April) James attempts to force Magdalen College, Oxford to appoint a Roman Catholic as its President. He issues a Declaration of Indulgence suspending the Test and Corporation Acts. Publication of Halifax’s Letter to a Dissenter, warning Nonconformists against allying themselves with the King. James begins a campaign to try to secure the election of a parliament that would repeal the Test and Corporation Acts. Publication of John Dryden’s The Hind and the Panther, and Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica.

1688   Publication of Bunyan’s Solomon’s Temple Spiritualiz’d; A Discourse of … the House of God; The Water of Life; The Advocateship of Jesus Christ; and Good News for the Vilest of Men. On 19 August, Bunyan preaches to John Gammon’s open-communion congregation meeting in Boar’s Head Yard, off Petticoat Lane in London. While staying at the house of the grocer John Strudwick, in Holborn, he falls ill and dies on 31 August, probably from a fever contracted while riding to London in heavy rain from Reading (where he had been engaged in pastoral business, seeking to reconcile an estranged father and son). On 2 September he is interred in Strudwick’s tomb in the Nonconformist burial ground at Bunhill Fields, Finsbury.

Following his death a number of spurious works are published, including An Exhortation to Peace and Unity Among All that Fear God (1688) and Mr. John Bunyan’s Dying Sayings (1688).

1689   Posthumous publication of Bunyan’s The Acceptable Sacrifice and his Last Sermon.

(January) The Convention Parliament declares the throne ‘vacant’, and the crown is offered to William and Mary. Toleration Act passed, granting freedom of worship (but not full civil rights) to Nonconformists. (February) Declaration of Rights is read to William III and Mary II, and they are crowned joint monarchs. About 400 non-jurors refuse to swear oath of allegiance to William III and Mary II. (March) James II lands at Kinsale in south-west Ireland. (August) William III sends army to Ireland. (December) Declaration of Rights enacted as Bill of Rights. Publication of John Locke’s first Letter Concerning Toleration (a second and third follow in 1690 and 1692), and his Two Treatises on Government (dated 1690). Death of Aphra Behn.

1690    (July) William III defeats James II at the Battle of the Boyne. Publication of John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding.

1691   Death of Elizabeth Bunyan.

1692   Bunyan’s friend Charles Doe publishes The Works of that Eminent Servant of Christ, Mr. John Bunyan in folio, including twelve previously unpublished works: An Exposition on the First Ten Chapters of Genesis; Of Justification by an Imputed Righteousness; Paul’s Departure and Crown; Of the Trinity and a Christian; Of the Law and a Christian; Israel’s Hope Encouraged; The Desire of the Righteous Granted; The Saints Privilege and Profit; Christ a Compleat Saviour; The Saints Knowledge of Christ’s Love; A Discourse of the House of the Forest of Lebanon; Of Antichrist, and His Ruine.

1698   Charles Doe publishes The Heavenly Foot-man, probably written by Bunyan in early 1668, its central metaphor of the Christian life as a race sparking the idea of The Pilgrim’s Progress.


You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you. ― John Bunyan

Pray and read, read and pray; for a little from God is better than a great deal from men. ―John Bunyan

I saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor my bad frame that made my righteousness worse; for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, the same yesterday and today and forever. ―John Bunyan

Whatever contradicts the Word of God should be instantly resisted as diabolical. ― John Bunyan

It is profitable for Christians to be often calling to mind the very beginnings of grace with their souls. ― John Bunyan

Old truths are always new to us, if they come with the smell of heaven upon them. ― John Bunyan

No child of God sins to that degree as to make himself incapable of forgiveness. ― John Bunyan

One leak will sink a ship, and one sin will destroy a sinner. ― John Bunyan

A tender heart is a wakeful, watchful heart. It watches against sin in the soul, sin in the family, sin in the calling, sin in spiritual duties and performances. ― John Bunyan

When you pray, rather let your heart be without words then your words without heart. ― John Bunyan

It is possible to learn all about the mysteries of the Bible and never be affected by it in one’s soul. Great knowledge is not enough. ― John Bunyan

Conversion is not the smooth, easy-going process some men seem to think… It is wounding work, this breaking of the hearts, but without wounding there is no saving… Where there is grafting there will always be a cutting, the graft must be let in with a wound; to stick it onto the outside or to tie it on with a string would be of no use. Heart must be set to heart and back to back or there will be no sap from root to branch. And this, I say, must be done by a wound, by a cut. ― John Bunyan

An idle man’s brain is the devil’s workshop.― John Bunyan

Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Spirit, for such things as God has promised. ― John Bunyan

Run when I can, walk when I cannot run, and creep when I cannot walk. ― John Bunyan

Top imagge: By Thomas Sadler - one or more third parties have made copyright claims against Wikimedia Commons in relation to the work from which this is sourced or a purely mechanical reproduction thereof. This may be due to recognition of the "sweat of the brow" doctrine, allowing works to be eligible for protection through skill and labour, and not purely by originality as is the case in the United States (where this website is hosted). These claims may or may not be valid in all jurisdictions.As such, use of this image in the jurisdiction of the claimant or other countries may be regarded as copyright infringement. Please see Commons:When to use the PD-Art tag for more information., Public Domain,