For many years I sensed that there was something missing in my Christian life. I had been converted and discovering Reformed Theology added new depth and stability to my faith. I had started reading some of the great works of the Reformed tradition, devouring Jonathan Edwards' The Religious Affections, dipping into the Works of John Owen and plodding through Berkhof's Systematic Theology. I'd even read lots of stuff by Lloyd-Jones, but still I had a sense that something was amiss. Training for the ministry at London Theological Seminary was immencely helpful, but the nagging ache at the back of my mind remained. "What's wrong with me?" I wondered. Then it struck me like a thunderbolt. I had been a Christian for many years, studied theology and always had a book or three on the go, but I hadn't yet read The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan. What I fool I had been! I quickly got hold of a copy and was instantly captivated by the Bedford preacher's great allegory with its wonderfully vibrant heroes, Christian, Faithful, Evangelist and terrifying villains, Giant Despair, Lord Hategood and Apollyon. That is what I'd been missing, Bunyan's remarkably innovative repository of authentic Puritan spirituality, jam packed full with countless biblical allusions. Now I understood why Spurgeon said of the Puritan writer, "Wherever you prick him his blood is bibline". Of course I was well aware of The Pilgrim's Progress and its famous author, but was it one of those must read books that I'd never quite got around to reading.
When it comes to Bunyan's life, I had a smattering of knowledge from sources as diverse as the preacher D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and the old commie historian, Christopher Hill. The basic facts of his story are well known, his lowly social status and work as a "tinker", his dramatic conversion and imprisonment for refusing to stop preaching the gospel. Bunyan's autobiographical Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners is readily available online. But while the internet is good for skim reading stuff like blogs, its difficult (at least for me) to study a lengthy piece of work in that format. Therefore after a few attempts at getting to grips with Grace Abounding I gave up. However, I noticed that Faith Cook had written Fearless Pilgrim, a full-length biography of John Bunyan. I enjoyed her earlier work, William Grimshaw of Haworth, (Banner of Truth Trust, 1997) and had my eye on her latest title. A friend kindly bought it for me as a birthday present and I've just finished reading it.
Come Sunday evenings I usually feel a little tired and weary after a full days preaching. It's probably my age. In that state I couldn't read anything too heavy or hard going. Faith Cook's Bunyan biog was therefore just the thing for Sunday evening reading. She has written a fascinating account of the author and preacher, setting his life against the backdrop of the tumultuous years of the English Civil War. Cook is a discerning interpreter of Bunyan's spiritual experiences and a sympathetic analyst of his theology. She writes appreciatively, although not uncritically of of his literary output. Bunyan's family life, preaching labours and periods in prison are brought to life in this richly detailed study. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to get to know the fearless pilgrim who wrote The Pilgrim's Progress. Oh, and if you haven't yet read John Bunyan's greatest work, then tolle lege, take and read. It's probably what you've been missing all these years. Believe me, I speak from experience. Order from PTS Christian Bookshop - here.