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Print Version Main Index : Biographies : Life of John Bunyan Index : Page 24
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The Life of John Bunyan
by Edmund Venables, M.A.

CHAPTER VI. - continued

Bunyan being precluded by his imprisonment from carrying on his brazier's craft for the support of his wife and family, and his active spirit craving occupation, he got himself taught how to make "long tagged laces," "many hundred gross" of which, we are told by one who first formed his acquaintance in prison, he made during his captivity, for "his own and his family's necessities." "While his hands were thus busied," writes Lord Macaulay, "he had often employment for his mind and for his lips." "Though a prisoner he was a preacher still." As with St. Paul in his Roman chains, "the word of God was not bound." The prisoners for conscience' sake, who like him, from time to time, were cooped up in Bedford gaol, including several of his brother ministers and some of his old friends among the leading members of his own little church, furnished a numerous and sympathetic congregation. At one time a body of some sixty, who had met for worship at night in a neighbouring wood, were marched off to gaol, with their minister at their head. But while all about him was in confusion, his spirit maintained its even calm, and he could at once speak the words of strength and comfort that were needed. In the midst of the hurry which so many "newcomers occasioned," writes the friend to whom we are indebted for the details of his prison life, "I have heard Mr. Bunyan both preach and pray with that mighty spirit of faith and plerophory of Divine assistance that has made me stand and wonder." These sermons addressed to his fellow prisoners supplied, in many cases, the first outlines of the books which, in rapid succession, flowed from his pen during the earlier years of his imprisonment, relieving the otherwise insupportable tedium of his close confinement. Bunyan himself tells us that this was the case with regard to his "Holy City," the first idea of which was borne in upon his mind when addressing "his brethren in the prison chamber," nor can we doubt that the case was the same with other works of his. To these we shall hereafter return. Nor was it his fellow prisoners only who profited by his counsels. In his "Life and Death of Mr. Badman," he gives us a story of a woman who came to him when he was in prison, to confess how she had robbed her master, and to ask his help. Hers was probably a representative case. The time spared from his handicraft, and not employed in religious counsel and exhortation, was given to study and composition. For this his confinement secured him the leisure which otherwise he would have looked for in vain. The few books he possessed he studied indefatigably. His library was, at least at one period, a very limited one, - "the least and the best library," writes a friend who visited him in prison, "that I ever saw, consisting only of two books - the Bible, and Foxe's 'Book of Martyrs.'" "But with these two books," writes Mr. Froude, "he had no cause to complain of intellectual destitution." Bunyan's mode of composition, though certainly exceedingly rapid, - thoughts succeeding one another with a quickness akin to inspiration, - was anything but careless. The "limae labor" with him was unsparing. It was, he tells us, "first with doing, and then with undoing, and after that with doing again," that his books were brought to completion, and became what they are, a mine of Evangelical Calvinism of the richest ore, entirely free from the narrow dogmatism and harsh predestinarianism of the great Genevan divine; books which for clearness of thought, lucidity of arrangement, felicity of language, rich even if sometimes homely force of illustration, and earnestness of piety have never been surpassed.

Bunyan's prison life when the first bitterness of it was past, and habit had done away with its strangeness, was a quiet and it would seem, not an unhappy one. A manly self-respect bore him up and forbade his dwelling on the darker features of his position, or thinking or speaking harshly of the authors of his durance. "He was," writes one who saw him at this time, "mild and affable in conversation; not given to loquacity or to much discourse unless some urgent occasion required. It was observed he never spoke of himself or his parents, but seemed low in his own eyes. He was never heard to reproach or revile, whatever injury he received, but rather rebuked those who did so. He managed all things with such exactness as if he had made it his study not to give offence."

According to his earliest biographer, Charles Doe, in 1666, the year of the Fire of London, after Bunyan had lain six years in Bedford gaol, "by the intercession of some interest or power that took pity on his sufferings," he enjoyed a short interval of liberty. Who these friends and sympathisers were is not mentioned, and it would be vain to conjecture. This period of freedom, however, was very short. He at once resumed his old work of preaching, against which the laws had become even more stringent during his imprisonment, and was apprehended at a meeting just as he was about to preach a sermon. He had given out his text, "Dost thou believe on the Son of God?" (John ix. 35), and was standing with his open Bible in his hand, when the constable came in to take him. Bunyan fixed his eyes on the man, who turned pale, let go his hold, and drew back, while Bunyan exclaimed, "See how this man trembles at the word of God!" This is all we know of his second arrest, and even this little is somewhat doubtful. The time, the place, the circumstances, are as provokingly vague as much else of Bunyan's life. The fact, however, is certain. Bunyan returned to Bedford gaol, where he spent another six years, until the issuing of the "Declaration of Indulgence" early in 1672 opened the long- closed doors, and he walked out a free man, and with what he valued far more than personal liberty, freedom to deliver Christ's message as he understood it himself, none making him afraid, and to declare to his brother sinners what their Saviour had done for them, and what he expected them to do that they might obtain the salvation He died to win.

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