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John Bunyan was born in Elstow, England, within a mile of Bedford, sometime in the fall of 1628. He had very little formal education and at an early age was set to work at his father's workshop learning to become a tinker. At the age of sixteen, he became a soldier in the army and served in the forefront during the English Civil War.
As a child, Bunyan was sensitive and suffered from terrifying dreams. He was tormented by devils and spirits in his dreams, and thought constantly about the possibility of going to Hell. These dreams and his vivid imagination have truly been a source of inspiration for him in his writings.
In 1647, at the age of nineteen, Bunyan married Margaret Bentley at Elstow Church. Her influence over him finally convinced him to attend church regularly and he began to read the Bible. Bunyan made a complete surrender to Christ, and was converted to the Baptist Church of Bedford. Bunyan's Christian faith and knowledge of the scriptures increased steadily. Though his preaching activities increased, he continued his work as a brazier. He started preaching not only at Bedford, but also in the surrounding villages. Crowds followed him wherever he preached. Ten years later, after the birth of four children, Margaret died. Bunyan remarried Elizabeth, whom he stayed with
In 1660, Bunyan was imprisoned for conducting a religious meeting without the permission of the State Church, which was the Church of England. He was offered freedom if he would submit to the official religion instead of his nonconformist religion, but he refused. He spent twelve years in prison, despite pleas from friends and family to have him released. He considered it his duty to God. While there, he penned his autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, and two other books, Confession of Faith and A Defense of the Doctrine of Justification of Faith. It was also here that he began The Pilgrim's Progress, though he would not finish the work for several years.
He was released from prison in 1672 when the King made it legal for citizens to practice other religions. For three years Bunyan enjoyed his religious freedom, preaching and teaching as he once had in his nonconformist churches. Then, in 1675 the King once again passed a statute against nonconformity, and Bunyan found himself in jail again. Here imprisoned for six months, he finished The Pilgrim's Progress. To date, it is still his most famous work.
The success of The Pilgrim's Progress was immediate. After a few years, Bunyan wrote a sequel to it, which was published in 1685. The story of Christiana, her children and her companion, Mercy-- though perhaps less dramatic and vivid than the story of Christian--is still of astonishing interest.
In his lifetime, John Bunyan was the author of more than sixty works. Though his earlier works were controversial, his later ones display maturity in tone and style. Bunyan produced a considerable amount of verse too. 1688, the year of Bunyan's death, saw no fewer than five publications, Good News for the Vilest of Men being the most popular.
John Bunyan continued to preach and write until the time of his death, which came suddenly in 1688, just months before his sixtieth birthday. He contracted pneumonia and died within weeks.