Few individuals have influenced this world for Jesus Christ more broadly than the renowned Puritan figure John Bunyan. In the nineteenth century, it was said that virtually every English house possessed two books: the Authorized Version of the Bible and Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. If such a claim is even remotely true, it must be acknowledged that Bunyan exerted an extraordinary influence in that part of the English-speaking world. This far-reaching impact, though, was not restricted to his motherland. Through his gifted pen on the printed page, the spiritual legacy of Bunyan has reached around the globe.
Bunyan lived during the golden era of the Puritans, in one of the godliest generations ever assembled on the stage of human history. J. I. Packer has compared the Puritans to “California’s Redwoods,” giants in the forest of Christianity.(1) J. C. Ryle asserted that, in power as preachers, expositors, and writers, “the Puritans in their day were second to none.”(2) The Puritans were devoted men and women within the Church of England, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, who sought to purify its doctrine and worship as well as their own lives. In a broader sense, the Puritan spirit also animated the Non-Conformist movement outside the national church. Bunyan was one of these Non-Conformist Puritans.
These devout Puritans were first given their name in the early 1560s as a term of derision. They were so labeled because of their efforts to purify the Church of England according to the standard of Scripture. Moreover, they sought to purify their personal lives in every area of their existence. The Puritans distinguished themselves by their unwavering loyalty to the supreme authority of Scripture. They insisted that the beliefs and practices of every believer and each church must yield to the high ground of biblical truth. As they followed in the footsteps of the Reformers, the Puritans became the new champions of sola Scriptura—Scripture alone.
John Bunyan was one of the most Bible-saturated Puritans of this period. The Prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon, aptly called Bunyan “a living Bible,” describing him as one who bled out of every pore of his being “Bibline.”(3) Bunyan was a prolific author, not only writing The Pilgrim’s Progress, but penning many other Christian classics, including Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. It should also be noted that the Bedford tinker was a preacher par excellence. In the pulpit, he was a force for God, unleashing the power of Scripture in his biblical expositions. Though he was untrained and unlettered, his preaching ministry was attended by supernatural unction from on high.
At first, the authorities were fairly tolerant of Bunyan, withholding his arrest and imprisonment. But Bunyan knew that being indicted for preaching without a government-approved license was imminent. Nevertheless, he preached. He was apprehended and taken to the county jail in Silver Street, Bedford, where he was held for most of twelve years. Afterward, Bunyan became pastor of the Bedford church, only to be arrested and taken into custody again for preaching without a license. Though he was imprisoned, the Word of God was not imprisoned with him, as he remained ever active in his writing and preaching ministry. Eager crowds gathered outside his jail cell to hear him expound the Scriptures. It was said by the renowned Puritan John Owen that he would give up all his impressive learning if he could preach like the tinker from Bedford.(4)
The evangelical church today stands in dire need of recapturing the influence of John Bunyan. In a day when many churches possess the mere façade of external religion, the story of Bunyan needs to be retold and his spirit recaptured. Here is one solitary individual who, though weak in himself, was mightily empowered when the church stood in great need of spiritual awakening. Despite the centuries that have since passed, Bunyan remains as relevant today as when he lived and served the Lord.
Joel Beeke and Paul Smalley are to be commended for giving us a compelling look into the spiritual life and gospel ministry of John Bunyan. They trace a golden thread through Bunyan’s experience and teaching: the fear of the Lord. Few themes are as neglected today as the fear of God. Such fear is often viewed as psychologically harmful instead of as a delightful and energizing force for obedience. Bunyan stands as a preeminent example of the Puritan quest to find release from the guilty fear of God’s wrath through the saving righteousness of Jesus Christ and to bow joyfully before God with a childlike fear. In their exposition of fear in Bunyan’s life and doctrine, Beeke and Smalley open a window into the soul of true godliness—that reverent love for God’s glory that is fed by the doctrines of God’s sovereign grace.
Who better to introduce us to this stalwart Puritan than these two authors? Whether you are already familiar with this pivotal figure or are simply desiring an initial introduction, you will want to devour and digest these pages. Properly researched and skillfully written, this volume will be a dose of strong medicine for the spiritual health of your soul.
Let me encourage you to read this book carefully. Be inspired by its story. Internalize its substance. Each one of us needs to personally experience the same depth of sanctifying work that God performed in this outstanding Christian leader, John Bunyan.
Steven J. Lawson
President, OnePassion Ministries
(1). J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1990), 11.
(2). John Charles Ryle, Facts and Men: Being Pages from English Church History, between 1553 and 1683 (London: William Hunt, 1882), xviii.
(3). H. J. Harrald, ed., The Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon, vol. 4, 1878–1892 (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1892), 268.
(4). See John Brown, John Bunyan: His Life, Times, and Work (London: Hulbert, 1928), 366.