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(1628-1688) English Baptist preacher and writer
John Bunyan was born in Elstow, England, near Bedford, where he spent most of his life. Although today he is regarded as a literary genius, he had little formal education. At the age of sixteen, this rough and profane young man enlisted in the army of Parliament, and saw active duty during the English Civil War. In 1647, at the age of 19, he married a young woman, who persuaded him to attend church with her regularly, where he heard the Gospel.
After deep and prolonged soul struggle, he made a complete surrender to Christ, and was converted, after which he was baptized and joined the Baptist church of Bedford. Soon, he began to preach there and also in the surrounding villages, which caused the people to recognize in him elements of leadership as well as ability as an expositor of the Scriptures.
Continuing in his trade as a tinker, he witnessed wherever he went, in addition to spending his holidays and Sundays preaching in barns, shops, village greens, as well as in the open air. Soon great crowds began to follow him, which led to his arrest and imprisonment in 1660 for conducting a conventicle religious meeting without the permission of the State Church.
When offered his freedom if he would promise not to preach, he refused and chose jail. While in prison, he studied, preached, wrote, and supported his family by making and selling shoelaces. It was while a prisoner that he wrote his immortal Pilgrim's Progress in 1672. He was released and immediately resumed his ministry. During the last sixteen years of his life, he was active as pastor, writer, helper, counselor, organizer, administrator, and pastor-in-chief to a multitude of churches and young ministers.
Bunyan was a champion for the cause of religious liberty and freedom of conscience in spiritual matters. One who knew him well wrote, "The grace of God was magnified in him and by him, and a rich anointing of the Spirit was upon him. And yet this great saint was always, in his own eyes, the chiefest of sinners and the poorest of saints." He died in 1688 after riding forty miles in a driving rain on horseback to London to preach. He was always a poor man, yet, through his example, his ministry, and especially his pen, he bequeathed inestimable riches to posterity.