A History of the Christian Church
Part Twenty Two
compiled by Denis Jenkins
Title A History of the Christian Church
Part Twenty Two
Theme The reformation after John Knox; The Role of John Bunyan
This is Part 22 in the series. Parts 1 to 21 can be found by referring to the index of articles via this link --> Index to Articles
While persecution became less in Britain after John Knox, the Church of England purely replaced the Roman church. The Pope was renounced but purely replaced by the monarch. A great number of Roman worship forms still remained. Citizens were still not allowed complete religious freedom. All religious gatherings, except for those agreed to by the Church of England were banned.
The state church had changed very little from the Roman Church in doctrine and in the culture of limiting the personal religious conscience.
Hundreds of pastors, who through conscience followed the reformation understandings, were expelled from the Anglican Church. The British people were forbidden to attend religious meetings that were not organised and sanctioned by the state. If they did attend unauthorised religious services, the people could be fined, whipped publicly, gaoled and some still were burned at the stake.
John Bunyan was one such individual, who was gaoled at Bedford. John Bunyan had very little schooling. He followed his father in the tinker's trade for a while.
A Tinker was a tinsmith who made buckets, watering cans, cake dishes, tin cups, dippers ( they were large cup like vessels that were used to dip into the copper to measure out hot water for a person to have a bath) and ornaments out of tin. John must not have been satisfied with this profession as he served in the parliamentary army from1644 to 1647. Bunyan married in 1649 and lived in Elstow until 1655, when his wife died. He then moved to Bedford, and married again in 1659.In Bedford, John Bunyan was received into the Baptist church and was baptised by immersion in 1653.
Bunyan became a deacon of the Bedford Baptist church, in 1655, and began preaching. Right from the beginning of John Bunyan's public ministry, he met with marked success. His preaching became so powerful and public by 1658 that he was indicted for preaching without a license, as the only pastors who could obtain a license were associated with the state church. For a while, the authorities were fairly tolerant. He did not face imprisonment until November of 1660, when he was taken to the county jail in Silver Street, Bedford. John was gaoled with the exception of a few weeks for 12 years. John Bunyan was released in January 1672.
John Bunyan, after this gaol term, became pastor of the Bedford church. Unfortunately for the authorities, John Bunyan could not hold back from publicly sharing his faith which In March of 1675 caused him again to be imprisoned for preaching publicly without a license. This time, however, he was only held for six months as the authorities could see that John Bunyan's faith and his need to follow God in the fullness of the Holy Spirit meant more to Bunyan than his physical freedom. In Christ a man does not need his physical freedom, as Christians, we are free from the sin of this world in Christ. Being held in the Bedford town jail, meant nothing to him as the gaolers could see, as in the case of the apostle Paul, that while man may physically gaol us we are free and are able to rejoice in the freedom of the Holy Spirit. No doubt the authorities were growing weary of providing Bunyan with free shelter and food and he was not bothered again by the authorities.
John Bunyan wrote The Pilgrim's Progress in two parts. The first part he had begun during his imprisonment in 1676.It then appeared in print in London during 1678. The second part appeared in 1684. The earliest edition in which the two parts were combined in one volume came out in 1728. The Pilgrim's Progress is the most successful allegory ever written. Like the Bible, it has been extensively translated into other languages
When a person is on fire for God, all the forces of evil cannot silence a sincere witness of the living God. While out of sight and not preaching powerfully in the physical world, God inspired John Bunyan to use his solitude to preach a sermon 200 years long in the written word; a sermon that has reached thousands of people encouraging them in their Christian Journey during the spiritual drought of the reformation.
During this period in the British reformation, the gaols were over crowded with those being persecuted for their faith. Families were broken up and scattered over many nations. Some who were compelled by the Holy Spirit to meet with God's fellowship of believers had to meet in forests, woods, caves, in the garrets of castles owned by wealthy believers. While the social conditions were hard, Satan could not put out the fire of the reformation no matter how hard he tried. The more he scattered the genuine believers in God, the further the gospel spread around the world in diverse places. It was like putting water on an oil fire. Instead of putting it out it only spread the fire of the reformation further afield.
During this period of Darkness in Britain God raised men with a deep Christian faith and with talent and prominence in education to valiantly defend the faith and advanced understanding God had given mankind through the early part of the reformation. Baxter, Flavel and Alleine were raised up by God to stand against the most insidious academic ploy that the devil had devised yet. Under the rule of the established church the people of England lapsed into a state of religious decline so that the Christian faith was hardly distinguished from heathenism. Natural religion was the favourite study of the clergy that allowed science to take the place of the Holy Spirit and science at the same time to divert our communication from directly communing with God through His spirit. Religion no longer was a personal relationship but was to become a series of propositions giving rise to the focus of doctrine over the leadership of the Holy Spirit to direct us into Truth. Christianity was to become academic and it was to take centuries to undo misdirecting followers of God down the paths of religious deception. Such is the battle between Good and evil that is being worked out in what is known as the Great Controversy between God and Satan.
In the next chapter, a more in-depth investigation of natural religion is made.
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