John Bunyan had enjoyed only a few years of freedom when he was again arrested for preaching and put in the town jail. Here he wrote Instruction for the Ignorant (a catechism for the saved and unsaved that emphasizes the need for self-denial), Saved by Grace (an exposition of Ephesians 2:5 that encourages the godly to persevere in the faith notwithstanding persecution), The Strait Gate (an exposition of Luke 13:24 that seeks to awaken sinners to the gospel message), Light for Them That Sit in Darkness (a polemical work against those who oppose atonement by Christ’s satisfaction and justification by His imputed righteousness, especially the Quakers and Latitudinarians), and the first part of his famous Pilgrim’s Progress.
Pilgrim’s Progress sold more than 100,000 copies in its first decade in print. It has since been reprinted in at least 1,500 editions and translated into more than two hundred languages, with Dutch, French, and Welsh editions appearing in Bunyan’s lifetime. Some scholars have asserted that, with the exception of the Bible and perhaps Thomas à Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ, this Bunyan classic has sold more copies than any other book ever written.
John Owen, minister of an Independent congregation at Leadenhall Street, London, successfully appealed for Bunyan to Thomas Barlow, bishop of Lincoln. Barlow used his influence at court to secure Bunyan’s release from prison on June 21, 1677.
John spent his last years ministering to the Nonconformists and writing. In 1678, he published Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ, a popular exposition of John 6:37 that movingly proclaims a strong free offer of grace to sinners to fly to Jesus Christ and be saved. This book went through six editions in the last decade of Bunyan’s life.
In 1680, he wrote The Life and Death of Mr. Badman, described as “a series of snapshots depicting the commonplace attitudes and practices against which Bunyan regularly preached. Two years later, he published The Greatness of the Soul and The Holy War. In 1685, he published the second part of Pilgrim’s Progress, dealing with Christiana’s pilgrimage, A Caution to Stir Up to Watch against Sin, and Questions About the Nature and the Perpetuity of the Seventh-day Sabbath.
As one author comments, “In the last three years of his life, Bunyan wrote ten more books, of which the best-known are The Pharisee and the Publican, The Jerusalem Sinner Saved, The Work of Jesus Christ as an Advocate, The Water of Life, Solomon’s Temple Spiritualized, and The Acceptable Sacrifice.”
In 1688, Bunyan died suddenly from a fever that he caught while traveling in cold weather. On his deathbed, he said to those who gathered around him, “Weep not for me, but for yourselves. I go to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will, no doubt, through the mediation of his blessed Son, receive me, though a sinner; where I hope we ere long shall meet, to sing the new song, and remain everlastingly happy, world without end.” After telling his friends that his greatest desire was to be with Christ, he raised his hands to heaven, and cried, “Take me, for I come to Thee!” He then died. He was buried in Bunhill Fields, close to Thomas Goodwin and John Owen.
Professor James Coffield writes, “If often seems as if God narrates the story of our lives with irony. Joy is often fleeting and real joy is paradoxically birthed in the most challenging of times. Joy flows from a particular way that one engages life. Joy is the product of praying for and entering into His presence, seeking His ultimate purpose, and stumbling toward His perspective.” Professor Coffield’s comments could well apply to the life and work of John Bunyan.
John 3:27 says, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.” Certainly, God gave John Bunyan the ability to communicate biblical truth through writing, even in the midst of persecution. What gift has God given you by which to serve Him and the church?
Soli deo Gloria!