The author of Pilgrim’s Progress was born in the year 1628, at Elstow, England. He was married in the year 1649. In his book, Grace Abounding, he states, “This woman and I came together as poor as poor might be, not having so much household stuff as a dish or spoon betwixt us both.” In 1660 Bunyan as, “a common holder of several unlawful meetings,” was confined to Bedford jail where he remained for twelve years.
Bunyan had an only daughter named Mary who had been born blind. An understanding jailor records a memorable visit to Bunyan by his wife, the blind daughter, and an infant son whom the mother carried. After a few gentle inquiries regarding his blind child, Bunyan briefly recounted the incidents of his arrest, then ended the conversation as follows:
“On the morning after, we went to Justice Compton of Elstow, but he refused to release me, though I had broken no law whatsoever; still I am content that, if my lying here will serve the cause of God, I will lie here till my flesh drops from my bones. Let it be as God will.”
Bunyan’s wife sympathetically replied, “True, Beloved, but we still will do our utmost; the house is so dull without thee. Thy little Mary sits pining for thy voice, and the other two are often crying for their father. It goes to my heart to see them craving for thee. And some, that I thought better of, will not pay thee what they owe thee. William Swinton, the sexton of St. Cuthbert, owes thee a matter of five pounds, ye know; now he says that not a penny will he pay thee. Yield not, John, for we will beg from door to door ‘before, for our sakes, thou shalt yield to do what ye feel to be wrong in the sight of God. I pray much that we may see thee again by our fireside, and I look through the pane; but I pray more that thou mightest stand fast, like David against the giant, that thou shalt one day too conquer. Think not of us, but be firm.”
“Ay, that I will,” said Bunyan, who had nestled the blind girl in his arms; “but what will my Mary do if her father has to die for the truth?”
“Do, Father? why, love thee all the more, and pray for them that shall kill thee, and come as quickly as I may to be with thee. But I should like to see thee as thou really art. When I feel thy warm breath upon my cheek, and rest in thine arms, I fear not, and want naught. Oh, Father, my mother taught me that thou art Christ’s servant, and I am proud that those are called to suffer, while the great ones deny the Lord.” “My little maiden, then, loves my Lord?” asked Bunyan, bending with tearful eye over the clear white face radiant with love.
“Ay, Father! I have loved Him a little for a long time, but I have loved Him, I cannot tell how much, since these dark days began. When mother and I sat trembling and wondering how thou wert faring away from home in this time of trouble, how I prayed for thee, and I felt that thy God was my God, and I would serve Him too.”
“But it is not enough, Darling, to say that ye love Christ. What about thy sins?”
“Oh, Father, I have confessed them all, and repented of them, and I do accept Jesus as my Saviour. I feel more certain every day that He has forgiven my sins. Is it not sweet to feel this, we are tied together by a bond that nothing can break?”
“Ay, it is, Dear One, and in thy love and the love of thy mother, I feel brave and strong. Ye help me not a little to stand without blenching in the time of trial.”
The frequent references to his wife and children in Bunyan’s writings reveal what deep love the man had for his family. It is striking that almost the opening paragraphs of Pilgrim’s Progress bring us face to face with Mr. Worldy-Wiseman who asks Christian, “Hast thou a wife and children?” The same question is repeated in “Palace Beautiful.”
Knowing the love Bunyan had for his family makes the more remarkable his words: “I will stay in this prison until my eyelids are grown over with moss before I will deny my faith in Christ;” they appear as letters of gold in pictures of silver.
While Bunyan was in prison, Mary died. It is to the perpetual infamy of Judge Wingate that he did not release Bunyan to attend the funeral for his little blind daughter. What a claim this syncophant Judge has to fame in his treatment of John Bunyan; a questionable honour, indeed, and one not many would care to share with him.
It was while lying in prison for those twelve years that the idea of Pilgrim’s Progress came to the fertile mind of Bunyan. In his doggerel preface he explains:
“…yet I did not think
To show to all this world my pen and ink…
Neither did I but vacant seasons spend
In this scribble; nor did I intend
But to divert myself in doing this
From worser thoughts which make me do amiss.
Thus I set pen to paper with delight…
He tells then of showing his story to friends while he was still imprisoned, and of their different reactions:
“Well, when I had thus put mine ends together,
I showed them others, that I might see whether
They would condemn them or justify:
And some said, let them live; some, let them die;
Some said, John, print it; others said, not so:
Some said it might do good, others said, no.”
Finally, Pilgrim’s Progress, Part One, was taken from the prison to the printer, and ever since has been a successful seller. Before Bunyan died over 100,000 copies had been published in England alone. When we recall how few persons could read in England at that time, the seventeenth century, we are all the more impressed by the tremendous popularity of this spiritual allegory.
This touching incident in the life of John Bunyan was submitted by Richard Burson, Hutchinson, Kansas.