August 29: John Bunyan, Writer, 1688

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

About this commemoration

John Bunyan

John Bunyan

John Bunyan was born in 1628 at Elstow in Bedfordshire England. Little is known about his early life. His parents were poor; his father was a brazier, a trade that Bunyan also followed for a time. Bunyan had little to no formal education, and he may have learned to read English from reading the Bible. He served as a soldier in the Parliamentary army during the English Civil War, after which he married. His wife introduced him to Arthur Dent’s Plain Man’s Pathway to Heaven and Bishop Lewis Bayly’s Practice of Piety, devotional books that set him on the religious path.

In 1653 he was baptized into the Bedford Baptist (Independent) Church, and was soon thereafter recognized as a preacher, a vocation at which he excelled. He claimed to have had visions similar to those of Teresa of Avila. After the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Bunyan was targeted and slandered by the new royalist government along with many others who had supported the revolutionary cause during the Civil War. Under the laws of the restored Stuart regime, congregational meeting houses were closed and citizens were required to attend their Anglican parishes. It was punishable by law for anyone, except those who had been ordained according to Episcopal orders, to conduct services or preach. Bunyan was arrested while preaching in 1660 and spent most of the next twelve years imprisoned in Bedford.

While imprisoned, Bunyan wrote the first part of his most famous work, The Pilgrim’s Progress, an allegorical story that was completed in 1684. The Pilgrim’s Progress tells the story of Christian, a lonely pilgrim who must cross such treacherous terrain as the Slough of Despond and the River of Death before finally reaching the Land of Beulah. Along with John Milton’s Paradise Lost, it was one of the most influential works of the seventeenth century, and retained its influence for several centuries thereafter.

Collect of the Day

God of peace, you called John Bunyan to be valiant for truth: Grant that as strangers and pilgrims we may at the last rejoice with all the faithful in your heavenly city; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Lessons

Job 33:14–19,26–28

Hebrews 4:12–15

Matthew 7:12–14

Psalm 49:4–15

Preface of All Saints

We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

8 Responses to August 29: John Bunyan, Writer, 1688

  1. Michael Hartney says:

    Collect: This collect needs another clause or something. It just stalls when it is prayed aloud
    .
    Readings: The Hebrew and New Testament readings are not short – and that’s good; however, the Gospel is 3 verses. John Bunyan, the author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, gets 3 verses from the Holy Gospels? That doesn’t seem right.

    Bio: Bunyon needs a ‘who he is’ and ‘why he is important’ statement; and a last sentence: ‘He died in 1688.’
    2nd paragraph: ‘ordained according to Episcopal orders …’ Could this be ‘Anglican orders’? Or if episcopal is to be retained perhaps is in lower case? And for that matter, the word ‘orders’ is not used consistently in HWHM for other clerics. Why not say those ordained by the Church of England?

  2. Suzanne Sauter says:

    John Bunyan is commemorated by the Church of England which is a bit ironic given his history with Authority in England. [He has imprisoned for being a non-licensed Baptist preacher from 1660-1672 and again in 1676.] I think the reason for his celebration in the Episcopal church needs to be made much more clear. Certainly the history of imprisonment of men of conscience who preached the Word of God such as John Bunyan would have been on the mind of the James Madison when it came to writing the Bill of Rights.

    As an aside, this sentence is confusing: “It was punishable by law for anyone, except those who had been ordained according to Episcopal orders, to conduct services or preach.” It would be clearer if the reference were to the Church of England.

    I doubt most contemporary Episcopalians have ever read Pilgrim’s Progress since it has been a very long time since it was part of any standard school curriculum. If the wills of my Puritan ancestors are any measure, Pilgrim’s Progress and/or Grace Abounding and the Bible were cherished books to passed on from one generation to the next. But that was centuries ago. I doubt most Episcopalian know any of Bunyan’s words unless they sing Percy Dearmer’s arrangement of Pilgrim’s hymn: He who would valiant be.

    John Bunyan’s life was full of suffering for his non-Conformist faith, not something to be taken lightly but to be consider soberly.

  3. Chris Drelich says:

    “Pilgrim’s Progress” being one of the most important texts in 17th century New England, I applaud this inclusion!

  4. Celinda Scott says:

    I still have the copy of _Pilgrim’a Progress_ that an ancestor brought to America. I must admit that I haven’t read most of it. But I love the lines from “The Shepherd Boy Sings in the Valley of Humiliation” that I learned from another source: “He who is low needs fear no fall, he who is down no pride. He who is humble ever shall have God to be his guide. I am content with what I have, little it be, or much; but, Lord, contentment still I crave, because thou savest such.” We read _The Shack_ in our adult study group at church last spring; I didn’t think I’d like it, the beginning is pretty pretentious, but we got into some very good theological discussions the book springboarded and I wound up liking it very much. One of the blurbs on the jacket compared it to _Pilgrimi’s Progress_ in that the latter was a best seller in its time, for the same reasons: it was a gripping story, and a springboard to the discussion of deep theological issues. I recommended _Pilgrim’s Progress_ as our next study, but don’t think it will “take.” Suzanne–do you know of any groups reading and commenting on it recently?

  5. Celinda Scott says:

    One issue that would make it hard, I think, for Anglicans today to identify with the story is that the protagonist is “ffleeing the wrath to come.” A couple of “closed Evangelicals” on the Fulcrum blog often take the rest of the contributors to task for insufficient consideration of the “wrath of God.” One contemporary critical omment I read in a “readers’ response” to a new edition sold on amazon.com was that he left his wife and children in his flight; the idea was that he would find salvation himself, then come back and get them (the responder did not approve). I think the new editions, with commentary, are selling pretty well (but not to Episcopalians)–and there are a couple of film versions. But Suzanne is right.,probably, that it’s not Anglicans who are participating. Here’s an important person on our calendar whose ideas we seem fo disapprove of today. I would love to be studying the book with a group that could try to get past that–Bunyan had a tremendous influence in his day and I think it was for good. –Ironic that the year he died was the year (or close to the year) of the passage of the English Bill of Rights. Perhaps his life had something to do with its passage. –About Anglicans who did not want William and Mary on the throne: does anyone know how they felt about the Bill of Rights? I strongly agree with Suzanne that Bunyan’s life is “not to be taken lightly, but examined soberly.” How can that be done?

  6. Philip Wainwright says:

    Michael Hartney is right about the collect. ‘Grant that as strangers and pilgrims we may at the last rejoice with all the faithful in your heavenly city’ implies that we will still be strangers and pilgrims in the heavenly city, which is after all our heavenly home. Perhaps ‘grant that although we are strangers and pilgrims on this earth, we may at last rejoice etc’. Definitely room for improvement.

    Bunyan does still have readers in the Episcopal Church, especially (as you might expect) in its evangelical wing. I read it aloud to my children, and while it wasn’t the most popular book I read to them, they still remember the characters and, more importantly, the qualities needed for the Christian life, and will occasionally describe someone as ‘like Mr Standfast’ or ‘valiant for truth’. I’d put its demise as popular reading as recently as the 1950s, and believe that prior to that it was as widely read by Anglicans as by non-conformists. It was very familiar to my parents, although I didn’t read it until I was an adult. I haven’t given up hope of a successful ‘modernised’ edition and a return of its popularity.

  7. Philip Wainwright says:

    Perhaps ‘grant that having endured as strangers and pilgrims on this earth, we may at last rejoice etc’ picks up more of Bunyan’s theme.

  8. Nigel Renton says:

    I suggest that he be described as “Writer and Preacher”.

    Some revision of the account of his baptism could avoid the suggestion that one can truly be baptized “into” a particular denomination. (I realize that some adherents to other forms of Christianity would argue that one can, but that is not the The Episcopal Church’s understanding.)
    I suggest: “He was baptized in 1653, becoming a member of the Bedford baptist…”

    In the tenth line of the second paragraph, I recommend substituting “Anglican” for “Episcopal”. Although the Church of England is an episcopal form of the Christian church, “Anglican” is the right word. (Remember that the Roman Catholic church is also a church with bishops: in no way would it have been acceptable in Restoration England for a “Papist” to preach!) The word “Episcopal” may have been chosen as a synonym for “Anglican”, which it isn’t–perhaps to avoid re-using “Anglican” soon after its use in the previous sentence.

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