In 1628 the wife of a poor brazier gave birth to a son they named John. Since John’s family was poor, he was educated at home. His education included learning his father’s trade of repairing kettles and pots. John took his trade on the road and became what they called a tinkerer. A tinkerer was basically a travelling kettle and pot repairman. God had plans for John’s life that went beyond that of a tinkerer, as a fairly young man John was saved, baptized into the Baptist church, and began preaching the Gospel.
At this time however, England wasn’t overly fond of Baptist preachers and set strict rules about who could preach the Gospel. John had not obtained a government license to preach the Gospel but he preached anyway. In 1658 at the age of 30, John was arrested for preaching without a license. He managed to avoid imprisonment on this arrest but it would not be his last. On 12 November 1660, John was arrested for preaching in a private meeting in a town 10 miles south of Bedford England.
John was brought before the magistrate and refused to stop preaching the Gospel. He was imprisoned for a month to consider his situation. Many people went to John to tell him that all the magistrates wanted was an assurance from him that he would not preach at private gatherings. John replied that he was obligated to preach the Gospel every time he was given an opportunity. In January of 1661, John was brought to trial for violations of the Religion Acts of 1592. In this trial, John spoke for himself and said, “If you release me today, I will preach tomorrow.” So John was imprisoned for the crimes of “pertinaciously abstaining” from attending mandatory Anglican church services and preaching at “unlawful meetings”.
During his imprisonment, various attempts were made to get him a new trial in which he would be freed if he would swear not to preach the Gospel. John consistently informed them that if he were released he would indeed begin preaching again. In 1666, John was briefly released and then rearrested for preaching the Gospel. This time he remained in prison for six years.
John wrote about his imprisonment and said that the worst part was in regards to his blind daughter Mary. She came to visit him on a regular basis stumbling along to and from the jail with food for her imprisoned father. John was afraid of what might happen to her on her long trips to see him. He also feared for her safety should he die in prison.
In speaking about the agony of Mary’s leaving John wrote it was, “Like the tearing of my flesh from my bones.” The shock of John’s imprisonment had caused his wife to miscarry. Seeing John’s agony, prison authorities informed him that he could be released at any time. All he had to do was sign a paper swearing never to preach again.
John could not make that promise. Listen to what he said about it. “I have determined, the almighty God being my help and my shield, yet to suffer, if frail life might continue so long, even till the moss shall grow on mine eyebrows, rather than thus to violate my faith.” So John Bunyan, the author of The Pilgrims Progress, spent 12 long years in prison because he would not stop preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I find Bunyan’s example of faithfulness in following Christ to be challenging to say the least. One of the things I thought of as I read about Bunyan’s life was that those who arrested and opposed Bunyan knew one thing for certain; John Bunyan believed in and was devoted to Jesus Christ. I can imagine them wondering why he wouldn’t just sign the stupid paper. Why wouldn’t he cave to their demands to stop following Christ? It was because the change that Christ brought to Bunyan’s life was so profound that nothing would keep him from following Jesus Christ. This week I’ll be writing about some of the changes that Jesus brings into our lives.