What would it be like to be imprisoned for 12 years just for preaching the Gospel without a license from the government?
This was the fate of John Bunyan, author of the world renown book Pilgrim’s Progress.
John Bunyan was born in Bedford, England, in 1628, nearly a century before the Europe’s Age of Enlightenment.
He worked as a poor, unskilled tinker by trade.
In 1644, at the age of 16, Bunyan joined the Puritan Parliamentary Army and fought under Oliver Cromwell during the English Civil War.
After three years, having escaped death several times, Bunyan returned to his cottage in Elstow, where he learned from his father the trade of a tinker and got married.
In 1657, at age 29, Bunyan became a Baptist minister.
When Puritan leader Oliver Cromwell died in 1558, it led to royalists restoring the monarchy in 1660, with King Charles II.
This began a new wave of persecution of non-conformists.
Puritans, Separatists, Baptists, and other dissenters were spied upon, censored, and arrested for holding illegal religious meetings or for preaching politically incorrect views.
In 1662, Parliament passed the Act of Uniformity, which required all preachers to believe exactly what the government told them to believe in order to be ordained by an Anglican bishop, It required them to use the revised Book of Common Prayer.
In 1664, Parliament passed the Act of Conventicles, which made it illegal five or more people to have a religious meeting apart from the Church of England.
In 1665, Parliament passed the Five Mile Act where a dissenting preacher was not allowed to come within five miles of any town.
Currently, many socialist, communist, and Islamic sharia regions around the world have laws discriminating against Christians who spread Biblical views, as in areas of the Middle East, Iran, North Korea, Europe, Africa, South America, Turkey, China, and now Hong Kong.
In the United States, this has manifested in leftist driven courts, as well as state and federal government bureaucracies.
Advocates of LGBTQ values exhibit aggressive intolerance toward those holding Biblical views, as evidenced in cases regarding cake bakers, photographers, and, in August of 2014, when Houston’s first openly lesbian mayor subpoenaed the sermons of the city’s pastors who opposed a LGBTQ ordinance.
The U.S. Department of Justice (WND.com, August 31, 2017), issued a subpoena to force a Baptist pastor in Culpeper, Virginia, to disclose under oath his views on sharia Islam.
Culpeper, Virginia, discriminated against Baptists under its colonial Anglican government prior to the Revolutionary War, as James Madison wrote to William Bradford, January 24, 1774:
“There are at this time in the adjacent Culpeper County not less than 5 or 6 well meaning men in jail for publishing their religious sentiments which in the main are very orthodox.”
In 17th century England, John Bunyan was arrested for having an unauthorized religious meeting and for preaching without government permission.
Bunyan wrote in A Relation of My Imprisonment:
“Upon the 12th of … November 1660 … the justice … issued out his warrant to take me … as if we that were to meet together … to do some fearful business, to the destruction of the country;
when alas! the constable, when he came in, found us only with our Bibles in our hands, ready to speak and hear the word of God …
So I was taken and forced to depart … But before I went away, I spake some few words of counsel and encouragement to the people, declaring to them … that they would not be discouraged, for it was a mercy to suffer upon so good account …
We suffer as Christians … better be the persecuted, than the persecutors.”
Bunyan was imprisoned from 1660 to 1672, and again, from 1675 to 1676.
During his imprisonment, John Bunyan supported his family by making shoelaces.
It was during this time that he began writing The Pilgrim’s Progress, eventually published in 1678.
John Bunyan died August 31, 1688.
At the time of his death, the world was experiencing momentous events:
- England’s William and Mary were leading the Glorious Revolution;
- William Penn was founding Pennsylvania; and
- Ottoman Muslim Turks were laying siege to Vienna.
Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegory where a pilgrim traveler, named Christian, flees from the City of Destruction.
He is directed by Evangelist to follow the straight and narrow path toward the Celestial City of Zion.
Along the way, he overcomes temptations, depressions, deceptions, and persecutions.
The friends and dangers that Christian meets along the way inspired many subsequent stories and novels, such as:
- Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad or the New Pilgrim’s Progress (1869);
- Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist (1838) is subtitled “The Parish Boy’s Progress”;
- Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Celestial Railroad (1846);
- C.S. Lewis’ Pilgrim’s Regress (1933);
- Sir Walter Scott’s The Heart of Midlothian (1818);
- Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1868); and
- L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz (1900).
John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress was translated into over 200 languages and, after the Bible, was the world’s best-seller for hundreds of years.
Considered one of the most significant works of English literature, it was found in nearly every colonial New England home, along with the Bible and Fox’s Book of Martyrs.
Ben Franklin wrote in his Autobiography:
“From a child I was fond of reading, and all the little money that came into my hands was ever laid out in books.
Pleased with The Pilgrim’s Progress, my first collection was of John Bunyan’s works in separate little volumes …”
“My old favorite author, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress … has been translated into most of the languages of Europe, and suppose it has been more generally read than any other book, except perhaps the Bible.”
President Grover Cleveland had memorized The Pilgrim’s Progress as a youth, commenting:
“I have always felt that my training as a minister’s son has been more valuable to me as a strengthening influence than any other incident in life.”
President Theodore Roosevelt stated while laying the cornerstone of the office building of the House of Representatives, April 14, 1906:
“In Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress you may recall the description of the man with the muck-rake, the man who could look no way but downward, with the muck-rake in his hand, who was offered a celestial crown for his muck-rake, but who would neither look up nor regard the crown he was offered, but continued to rake to himself the filth of the floor.”
President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote January 19, 1936:
“When Theodore Roosevelt died, the Secretary of his class at Harvard, in sending classmates a notice of his passing, added this quotation from Pilgrim’s Progress:
‘My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get it.
My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought His battles who now will be my rewarder.'”
President Bill Clinton remarked at the Retirement of General Colin Powell in Arlington, Virginia, September 30, 1993:
“General Powell, I am reminded of the words of another young valiant warrior, spoken when, like you, he was finishing one journey and beginning a second.
John Bunyan wrote in Pilgrim’s Progress of the warrior valiant at the end of his life, as he prepared to present himself to the Almighty,
‘My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage and my courage and skill to him that can get them. My marks and scars I carry with me to be a witness for me, to Him who shall be my rewarder.'”
President Ronald Reagan greeted Australia’s Prime Minister, June 30, 1981:
“Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, ‘We are all travelers in what John Bunyan calls the wilderness of this world.
And the best that we find in our travels is an honest friend – they keep us worthy of ourselves.”
John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress began:
“As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a den, and I laid me down in that place to sleep: and, as I slept, I dreamed a dream.
I dreamed, and behold, I saw a man clothed with rags, standing in a certain place, with his face from his own house, a book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back.
I looked, and saw him open the book, and read therein; and, as he read, he wept, and trembled; and, not being able longer to contain, he brake out with a lamentable cry, saying, What shall I do?”
Leaving the City of Destruction, Christian was chased by Obstinate and Pliable, who tried to get him to turn back.
Determined to keep going, he was mired in doubts crossing the Slough of Despond, but was rescued by a man named Help.
Christian was easily led astray by Mr. Worldly Wiseman, and then tried to obey Mr. Legality.
Almost crushed by Mt. Sinai, he was rebuked by Evangelist who put him back on the King’s Highway of grace.
At the door of the Wicket Gate, Christian was shot at by the arrows from Beelzebub. Just in time, Goodwill reached out and yanked him through the doorway.
Continuing along in The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan wrote:
“Christian ran thus till he came at a place somewhat ascending, and upon that place stood a cross …
So I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back.”
Traveling further in The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan wrote:
“Then said Christian, You make me afraid, but whither shall I fly to be safe?…
To go back is nothing but death; to go forward is fear of death, and life-everlasting beyond it. I will yet go forward …
Frighted with the sight of the lions … Christian said to himself again,
These beasts range in the night for their prey; and if they should meet with me in the dark … how should I escape being by them torn in pieces? …
He lift up his eyes, and behold there was a very stately palace before him … He entered into a very narrow passage … he espied two lions in the way …
The porter at the lodge … perceiving that Christian made a halt as if he would go back, cried unto him, saying,
Is thy strength so small? Fear not the lions, for they are chained, and are placed there for trial of faith where it is, and for discovery of those that had none. Keep in the midst of the path, and no hurt shall come unto thee …
He went on, trembling for fear of the lions, but taking good heed to the directions of the porter; he heard them roar, but they did him no harm …”
John Bunyan continued, that after leaving the Palace Beautiful, clothed in the Armor of God, Christian had to go alone through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, where he recited Psalm 23:
“Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
Christian traveled further:
“But now, in this Valley of Humiliation, poor Christian was hard put to it … a foul fiend coming over the field to meet him; his name is Apollyon.
Then did Christian begin to be afraid, and to cast in his mind whether to go back or to stand his ground.
But he considered again that he had no armor for his back; and therefore thought that to turn the back to him might give him the greater advantage with ease to pierce him with his darts.
Therefore he resolved to venture and stand his ground …”
“The monster was hideous to behold; he was clothed with scales … wings like a dragon, feet like a bear, and out of his belly came fire and smoke …
Apollyon straddled quite over the whole breadth of the way, and said … prepare thyself to die; for I swear by my infernal den, that thou shalt go no further; here will I spill thy soul.
And with that he threw a flaming dart at his breast; but Christian had a shield in his hand, with which he caught it …
Apollyon as fast made at him, throwing darts as thick as hail; by the which, notwithstanding all that Christian could do to avoid it, Apollyon wounded him in his head, his hand, and foot …”
“This sore combat lasted for above half a day, even till Christian was almost quite spent; for you must know that Christian, by reason of his wounds, must needs grow weaker and weaker …
Christian’s sword flew out of his hand. Then said Apollyon, I am sure of thee now.
And with that he had almost pressed him to death, so that Christian began to despair of life; but as God would have it, while Apollyon was fetching of his last blow, thereby to make a full end of this good man, Christian nimbly stretched out his hand for his sword, and caught it, saying,
Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy; when I fall I shall arise; and with that gave him a deadly thrust, which made him give back …
And with that Apollyon spread forth his dragon’s wings, and sped him away, that Christian for a season saw him no more …
A more unequal match can hardly be, —
Christian must fight an angel; but you see,
The valiant man by handling Sword and Shield,
Doth make him, though a Dragon, quit the field.”
Soon after, Christian met a friend named Faithful, and the two of them traveled to Vanity Fair where they were almost enticed by pleasures, but Faithful confronted the sin of the town and was martyred.
Christian escaped, and met another traveler, Hopeful.
The straight and narrow path was rocky, so they took a parallel softer path, which gradually got them lost.
They were trapped by Giant Despair, who chained them in Doubting Castle and told them to commit suicide.
Depressed in the dungeon, they began to sing praise songs. Suddenly, they remembered they had the Key of Promise which unlocks every door.
They escaped, but almost fell asleep crossing the Enchanted Land, and were almost led astray by Flatter and Lucre.
Seeing Immanuel’s Land in the distance, they saw someone walking toward them in the opposite direction.
It was Atheist who told them that there was no Heaven and God, and to turn back.
Thankfully, they had been previously warned by Shepherds, so they continued on.
They saw a man named Ignorance get into a ferryboat named Vain Hope , trusting in his good works instead of God’s grace.
The ferryman took him across, but he ended up on a byway to Hell.
John Bunyan concluded his epic with Christian and Hopeful finally crossing the River of Death to be gloriously welcomed into the Celestial City of Zion:
“Now while they were thus drawing towards the gate, behold a company of the heavenly host came out to meet them …
These are the men that have loved our Lord when they were in the world, and that have left all for his holy name … that they may go in and look their Redeemer in the face with joy.
Then the heavenly host gave a great shout, saying, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb.”
Oh, by what tongue or pen can their glorious joy be expressed! …
Now I saw in my dream that these two men went in at the gate: and lo, as they entered, they were transfigured, and they had raiment put on that shone like gold.
There was also that met them with harps and crowns …
Then I heard in my dream that all the bells in the city rang again for joy, and that it was said unto them, Enter ye into the joy of your Lord.
I also heard the men themselves, that they sang with a loud voice, saying, Blessing and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever.”