Friday, February 28, 2014

Feb. 21 Towery newspaper column ---- A classic book is born in jail

There was a Baptist preacher who was known more for being thrown in jail than making converts. In the year 1678, this middle class man of fifty years wrote a book.

The father of the preacher-writer was the son of a rural tinker who mended utensils, pots and pans. The boy traveled with his father, learning the trade and meeting a variety of people.

Later in this preacher’s life he would talk much about his poor upbringing, when actually he did not grow up in poverty nor did he lack an education.

At the age of 16 he joined the Parliamentary army and fought in the English Civil War. He married a young woman he described as “amiable and religious.” Her dowry was simple: a Bible and two other religious books.

The man was John Bunyan and his book became the renowned “The Pilgrim’s Progress.”

In his 1666 autobiography, Grace Abounding, Bunyan wrote about his youth, describing himself as did the Apostle Paul as the "chief of sinners." The sins he listed were profanity, dancing, and bell-ringing.

John Bunyan’s conversion to Christianity was with a nonconformist sect. A nonconformist was a believer who did not conform to the teachings and worship of the Church of England. Numbers of nonconformist left for the British colonies in America.

One thing this sect did not do was preach or worship in public. They were real “house churches.” Not authorized to worship as they pleased. John Bunyan began preaching in public places and he was thrown in jail.

The story goes that the judge asked Bunyan to give up preaching, but he refused. Next the judge asked Bunyan to just stop preaching even in private groups. What the king feared was such private gathers were forming plots against him.

Bunyan refused the judge on that count as well and he stayed in prison for 12 years. When released he went right back to preaching the Gospel but was jailed again for six months.

To support his family while in jail he made thousands of shoelaces. But this work did not meet the need he felt about the Christian life and he began to write “The Pilgrim’s Progress.” (A “denn” was another word for jail.)

He begins his book: "As I walk'd through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place, where was a Denn; And I laid me down in that place to sleep: And as I slept I dreamed a Dream." (A “Denn” was another word for jail.)

Many are the lessons in this powerful allegory. Many of the phrases are a part of the English language. It follows its main character, Christian, on a journey from the City of Destruction (earth) to the Celestial City (heaven).

Along the way Christian faces many difficulties as is common to all of us. Places like the Valley of Humiliation, Slough of Despond, Doubting Castle and Hill Difficulty.

He meets interesting bunch of characters along his journey, each with a lesson for him: Mr. Worldly Wiseman, Old Honest, Mr. By-Ends, and Talkative.

The book was a best seller from the first day. It has been translated numerous times into many languages. (In our first year of studying Chinese, we were required to read portions in Mandarin.)

With all the trials of Christian readers are reminded there is no “free lunch,” or “bed of roses” without leaving the impression of being “persecuted.” It is just the way life is.

This classic would not be such a treasure had the nonconformists been stamped out by the government. It was a tremendous step toward freedom of religion.


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