Monday, August 31, 2020

John Bunyan

I have just noticed that on August 31, 1688 the English Puritan writer and preacher John Bunyan died at the age of 59.  In the Cambridge church, where I was minister, we had a large stained glass window at the front showing key figures from the story of Pilgrim's Progress, with a central focus on Christian and his burden rolling off as he looked up at the Cross.  Baptist churches do not often have such windows! It was a powerful reminder of the Christian message as well as of John Bunyan who spent his life within 5 miles of his birthplace in Bedford apart from occasional visits to London such as the one in this story.

So many aspects of his life are remarkable.  But I didn't realize until today that he died because of promise he made to a young man whose father, who lived in Reading, had become so angry that he threatened to disinherit him.  In the middle of August 1688 Bunyan had to ride horseback to London to preach there and, because of this young man's trouble he decided to detour to Reading.  He was already tired and probably his wife had not wanted him to travel at all but Bunyan had friends in Reading with whom he stayed and for whom he preached. The day after, he visited the irate father in the morning and successfully achieved reconciliation with his son.  About midday he set off to cover the 40 miles to London.  But before long a heavy storm broke and pounded him with rain for several hours. Soaked to the skin, shivering and exhausted he reached his destination where friends put him to bed, and gave him a potion.  He seemed to improve a little and next day worked on his latest book for publication. Indeed, he felt strong enough to preach but two days later pneumonia hit him.  A doctor could nothing for him and on 31st. August he died.

Some biographers have commented how typical it was of him to take key themes of his preaching - love and reconciliation - so seriously that he made this detour and suffered sad consequences. That he was pastoral to the end.  With all the other tributes that can be made to him we see he never stopped caring for people. This story really brings out the character of the man and I am even more grateful for his legacy given to us all.

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