John Bunyan: A Sectary or a Puritan or Both? A Historical Exploration of His Religious Identity

Richard Greaves, a leading Bunyan scholar, proposed a thesis that studies John Bunyan (1628-1688) in the light of the sectarian tradition.[1] This thesis, however, is not original with him. William York Tindall, in his book John Bunyan: Mechanick Preacher (1934), had already set Bunyan in a sectarian context.[2] Twenty years later came Roger Sharrock’s biography of Bunyan, which devotes a chapter to Bunyan as a sectary.[3] Then, in the late 1980s Christopher Hill’s volume appeared, A Turbulent, Seditious, and Factious People: John Bunyan and his Church 1628-1688, which further places Bunyan in a radical sectarian milieu.[4] All these books have been supplanted by Greaves’s biography of Bunyan, Glimpses of Glory: John Bunyan and English Dissent (2002), which, from Greaves’s own mouth, is “the first to deal with all of his [Bunyan’s] works in the context of his life and the broader world of nonconformity.”[5]

Usually scholars who situate Bunyan within a sectarian framework question his identity as a Puritan, and consequently slight his spiritual riches, a treasure found in other Puritans. This paper will argue that Bunyan uniquely possessed the spirit of both sectarianism and Puritanism.

 

To continue reading the article, see Brian G. Najapfour, “John Bunyan: A Sectary or a Puritan or Both? A Historical Exploration of His Religious Identity,” Puritan Reformed Journal 3, no. 2 (2011): 142-159.


                 [1] Richard L. Greaves, John Bunyan and English Nonconformity (London: Hambledon Press, 1992), viii.

                 [2] William York Tindall, John Bunyan: Mechanick Preacher (New York: Columbia University Press, 1934; reprint, New York: Russell & Russell, 1964).

                 [3] See chapter two of Roger Sharrock, John Bunyan (London: Hutchinson’s University Library, 1954; reprint, London: Macmillan, 1968), 29-51.

                 [4] Christopher Hill, A Turbulent, Seditious, and Factious People: John Bunyan and his Church 1628-1688 (Oxford: Calderon Press, 1988), 19. Also published in the U.S. as A Tinker and A Poor Man: John Bunyan and His Church, 1628-1988.

                 [5] Richard Greaves, Glimpses of Glory: John Bunyan and English Dissent (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002), viii.

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“A Holy Life”: Bunyan’s Theology of Piety

The Puritans are well-known for their strong emphasis on purity both in doctrine and in practice. In fact, this very emphasis is obviously one reason why they have been labeled puritans. In chapter one, a case was made that on the ground of this same emphasis, Bunyan can be deservedly regarded as a Puritan. Bunyan undeniably held the essence of Puritanism which may be described in two words: God (doctrine) and godliness (practice). The Puritans believe that right doctrine of God prompts holy practice, and that the practice of holiness becomes only superficial when it does not emanate from the proper knowledge of God.

Charles Hambrick-Stowe contends that ‘“at its heart… Puritanism was a devotional movement, rooted in religious experience, and that ‘the rise of Puritanism and the settlement of New England ought to be understood as a significant episode in the ongoing history of Christian spirituality.”’[1] This reinforces the importance of reading Bunyan in light of his spirituality.

Bunyan’s pursuit in all of life—especially in preaching and in writing—was personal piety. With the help of the Holy Spirit, he made every effort to “be a pattern, and example of piety.”  From Bunyan’s own testimony:


[1] Cited in Dewey D. Wallace, Introduction to The Spirituality of the Later English Puritans: An Anthology (Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1987), xi.

 

Note: This article is an excerpt from Chapter 3 of Brian G. Najapfour, “‘The Very Heart of Prayer’: Reclaiming John Bunyan’s Spirituality.” Th.M. thesis, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, 2009. Click here to continue reading the article.

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A Summary of John Piper’s “To Live Upon God that Is Invisible: Suffering and Service in the Life of John Bunyan”

The phrase—“to live upon God that is invisible” in the title came from John Bunyan’s (1628-1688) own mouth. He said that after reading 2 Corinthians 1:9: “But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead.” Here Bunyan realized that if ever he would suffer rightly, he must first consider himself dead to anything precious to him in this world which includes his very own loved ones; and second, he must live upon God that is invisible, which means for him to endure sufferings he must focus on things that have eternal value. Such a realization became Bunyan’s passion throughout his life. With God’s help, after Bunyan became a believer, he had endeavored to serve the invisible God faithfully even in the midst of his sufferings. This attitude is what John Piper wants to promote among Christians, especially among pastors.

 

Click here to read the entire paper.

Note: Piper’s “To Live Upon God that Is Invisible: Suffering and Service in the Life of John Bunyan” was a paper he delivered at the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors, 1999.

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“After this manner therefore pray ye”: Puritan Perspectives on the Lord’s Prayer

Let us have a great esteem of the Lord’s prayer; let it be the model and pattern of all our prayers.

                                                                                                                                                Thomas Watson

When Jesus says, “After this manner therefore pray ye,” what does He mean? Is He telling His disciples to pray the exact words of the Lord’s Prayer, is He telling them to just use this prayer as a pattern, or perhaps both? Is the Lord’s Prayer a set form (a set order of words to pray), a pattern (a sample of prayer), or both? This article, after briefly surveying some works on the Lord’s Prayer from patristic to Puritan periods, will deal with these questions, specifically focusing on how the Puritans understood Jesus’ words concerning how to pray.

 

Click here to read my entire article.

See also “‘After this manner therefore pray ye’: Puritan Perspectives on the Lord’s Prayer,” Puritan Reformed Journal 4, no. 2 (2012): 158-69.

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