He did not however, like some, neglect his business, or forget to "show piety at home." He still continued his craft as a tinker, and that with industry and success. "God," writes an early biographer, "had increased his stores so that he lived in great credit among his neighbours." He speedily became famous as a preacher. People "came in by hundreds to hear the word, and that from all parts, though upon sundry and divers accounts," - "some," as Southey writes, "to marvel, and some perhaps to mock." Curiosity to hear the once profane tinker preach was not one of the least prevalent motives. But his word proved a word of power to many. Those "who came to scoff remained to pray." "I had not preached long," he says, "before some began to be touched and to be greatly afflicted in their minds." His success humbled and amazed him, as it must every true man who compares the work with the worker. "At first," he says, "I could not believe that God should speak by me to the heart of any man, still counting myself unworthy; and though I did put it from me that they should be awakened by me, still they would confess it and affirm it before the saints of God. They would also bless God for me - unworthy wretch that I am - and count me God's instrument that showed to them the way of salvation." He preached wherever he found opportunity, in woods, in barns, on village greens, or even in churches. But he liked best to preach "in the darkest places of the country, where people were the furthest off from profession," where he could give the fullest scope to "the awakening and converting power" he possessed. His success as a preacher might have tempted him to vanity. But the conviction that he was but an instrument in the hand of a higher power kept it down. He saw that if he had gifts and wanted grace he was but as a "tinkling cymbal." "What, thought I, shall I be proud because I am a sounding brass? Is it so much to be a fiddle?" This thought was, "as it were, a maul on the head of the pride and vainglory" which he found "easily blown up at the applause and commendation of every unadvised christian." His experiences, like those of every public speaker, especially the most eloquent, were very varied, even in the course of the same sermon. Sometimes, he tells us, he would begin "with much clearness, evidence, and liberty of speech," but, before he had done, he found himself "so straitened in his speech before the people," that he "scarce knew or remembered what he had been about," and felt "as if his head had been in a bag all the time of the exercise." He feared that he would not be able to "speak sense to the hearers," or he would be "seized with such faintness and strengthlessness that his legs were hardly able to carry him to his place of preaching." Old temptations too came back. Blasphemous thoughts formed themselves into words, which he had hard work to keep himself from uttering from the pulpit. Or the tempter tried to silence him by telling him that what he was going to say would condemn himself, and he would go "full of guilt and terror even to the pulpit door." "'What,' the devil would say, 'will you preach this? Of this your own soul is guilty. Preach not of it at all, or if you do, yet so mince it as to make way for your own escape.'" All, however, was in vain. Necessity was laid upon him. "Woe," he cried, "is me, if I preach not the gospel." His heart was "so wrapped up in the glory of this excellent work, that he counted himself more blessed and honoured of God than if he had made him emperor of the Christian world." Bunyan was no preacher of vague generalities. He knew that sermons miss their mark if they hit no one. Self-application is their object. "Wherefore," he says, "I laboured so to speak the word, as that the sin and person guilty might be particularized by it." And what he preached he knew and felt to be true. It was not what he read in books, but what he had himself experienced. Like Dante he had been in hell himself, and could speak as one who knew its terrors, and could tell also of the blessedness of deliverance by the person and work of Christ. And this consciousness gave him confidence and courage in declaring his message. It was "as if an angel of God had stood at my back." "Oh it hath been with such power and heavenly evidence upon my own soul while I have been labouring to fasten it upon the conscience of others, that I could not be contented with saying, 'I believe and am sure.' Methought I was more than sure, if it be lawful so to express myself, that the things I asserted were true."
Bunyan, like all earnest workers for God, had his disappointments which wrung his heart. He could be satisfied with nothing less than the conversion and sanctification of his hearers. "If I were fruitless, it mattered not who commanded me; but if I were fruitful, I cared not who did condemn." And the result of a sermon was often very different from what he anticipated: "When I thought I had done no good, then I did the most; and when I thought I should catch them, I fished for nothing." "A word cast in by-the- bye sometimes did more execution than all the Sermon besides." The tie between him and his spiritual children was very close. The backsliding of any of his converts caused him the most extreme grief; "it was more to me than if one of my own children were going to the grave. Nothing hath gone so near me as that, unless it was the fear of the loss of the salvation of my own soul."
A story, often repeated, but too characteristic to be omitted, illustrates the power of his preaching even in the early days of his ministry. "Being to preach in a church in a country village in Cambridgeshire" - it was before the Restoration - "and the public being gathered together in the churchyard, a Cambridge scholar, and none of the soberest neither, inquired what the meaning of that concourse of people was (it being a week-day); and being told that one Bunyan, a tinker, was to preach there, he gave a lad twopence to hold his horse, saying he was resolved to hear the tinker prate; and so he went into the church to hear him. But God met him there by His ministry, so that he came out much changed; and would by his good will hear none but the tinker for a long time after, he himself becoming a very eminent preacher in that country afterwards." "This story," continues the anonymous biographer, "I know to be true, having many times discoursed with the man." To the same ante-Restoration period, Dr. Brown also assigns the anecdote of Bunyan's encounter, on the road near Cambridge, with the university man who asked him how he dared to preach not having the original Scriptures. With ready wit, Bunyan turned the tables on the scholar by asking whether he had the actual originals, the copies written by the apostles and prophets. The scholar replied, "No," but they had what they believed to be a true copy of the original. "And I," said Bunyan, "believe the English Bible to be a true copy, too." "Then away rid the scholar."