The Life of John Bunyan HTML version

Chapter 8
Bunyan's protracted imprisonment came to an end in 1672. The exact date of his
actual liberation is uncertain. His pardon under the Great Seal bears date
September 13th. But we find from the church books that he had been appointed
pastor of the congregation to which he belonged as early as the 21st of January
of that year, and on the 9th of May his ministerial position was duly recognized by
the Government, and a license was granted to him to act "as preacher in the
house of Josias Roughead," for those "of the Persuasion commonly called
Congregational." His release would therefore seem to have anticipated the formal
issue of his pardon by four months. Bunyan was now half way through his forty-
fourth year. Sixteen years still remained to him before his career of indefatigable
service in the Master's work was brought to a close. Of these sixteen years, as
has already been remarked, we have only a very general knowledge. Details are
entirely wanting; nor is there any known source from which they can be
recovered. If he kept any diary it has not been preserved. If he wrote letters - and
one who was looked up to by so large a circle of disciples as a spiritual father
and guide, and whose pen was so ready of exercise, cannot fail to have written
many - not one has come down to us. The pages of the church books during his
pastorate are also provokingly barren of record, and little that they contain is in
Bunyan's handwriting. As Dr. Brown has said, "he seems to have been too busy
to keep any records of his busy life." Nor can we fill up the blank from external
authorities. The references to Bunyan in contemporary biographies are far fewer
than we might have expected; certainly far fewer than we could have desired. But
the little that is recorded is eminently characteristic. We see him constantly
engaged in the great work to which he felt God had called him, and for which,
"with much content through grace," he had suffered twelve years' incarceration.
In addition to the regular discharge of his pastoral duties to his own congregation,
he took a general oversight of the villages far and near which had been the
scene of his earlier ministry, preaching whenever opportunity offered, and, ever
unsparing of his own personal labour, making long journeys into distant parts of
the country for the furtherance of the gospel. We find him preaching at Leicester
in the year of his release. Reading also is mentioned as receiving occasional
visits from him, and that not without peril after the revival of persecution; while
the congregations in London had the benefit of his exhortations at stated
intervals. Almost the first thing Bunyan did, after his liberation from gaol, was to
make others sharers in his hardly won "liberty of prophesying," by applying to the
Government for licenses for preachers and preaching places in Bedfordshire and
the neighbouring counties, under the Declaration of Indulgence. The still existing
list sent in to the authorities by him, in his own handwriting, contains the names
of twenty-five preachers and thirty buildings, besides "Josias Roughead's House
in his orchard at Bedford." Nineteen of these were in his own native county, three