Red Booth Notes: John Bunyan and the Golden Things of the Soul
Nearly three hundred twenty-five years have passed since John Bunyan closed his pilgrim’s progress. But beyond the pages of his allegorical masterwork, his other writings reveal that he was a man of many parts. A tinker by trade, he knew that it was to craft fine work in metal. As a writer he was no less skilled, as much a wordsmith as a metal smith—a creator of finely burnished prose.
A lifelong student of scripture, Bunyan possessed what an earlier age would call “deep views of Christianity” and human nature. His great gifts as a pastor and teacher are also much in evidence, and his occasional use of rich, homely metaphor is complemented elsewhere by soaring imagery. There is a sense of wonder in his words which lead the heart to worship.
Then there are passages which make him seem very much our contemporary. There is often an ageless quality about his writing, which is all the more fitting since it was his great desire to commend the timeless truths of the faith.
What do we see when we turn the pages of Bunyan’s works. Phrases like this are to be found, studded with the consolations of faith—
Death can do thee no harm. It is but a passage out of a prison into a palace; out of a sea of troubles into a haven of rest; out of a crowd of enemies, to an innumerable company of true, loving, and faithful friends.
All true happiness is only to be found in God…God is the only desirable good. Nothing without Him is worthy of our hearts.
Great sins do draw out great grace; and where guilt is most terrible and fierce, there the mercy of God in Christ, when shewed to the soul, appears most high and mighty.
Other phrases reveal how richly, as Pulitzer Prize winning biographer Ola Winslow has written, Bunyan was “nourished by country fact.”
They are, said she, our Countrey birds: They sing these Notes but seldom, except it be at the Spring, when the Flowers appear, and the Sun shines warm, and then you may hear them all day long. I often, said she, go out to hear them; we also oft times keep them tame in our House. They are very fine Company for us when we are Melancholy.
And here is a timeless image of bravery and martial prowess that C.S. Lewis much admired—from the pages of The Pilgrim’s Progress:
I fought till my Sword did cleave to my Hand, and when they were joined together, as if a Sword grew out of my Arm, and when the Blood run thorow my Fingers, then I fought with most Courage.
Lastly, there is this, Bunyan’s description of the tidings of salvation, as he first heard them. It is a passage from his autobiography:
And methought they spake as if joy did make them speak; they spake with such pleasantness of Scripture language, and with such appearance of grace in all they said, that [it seemed] to me as if they had found a new world.
Some of the best writers, it’s said, are a deep well. That may truly be said of John Bunyan. Fortunate they who find the waters he knew, and revisit them.
 Words spoken by William Wilberforce in tribute to the writings of Blaise Pascal. See page 87 of William Wilberforce: A Hero for Humanity, by Kevin Belmonte, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan/HarperCollins, 2007).
 John Bunyan, as quoted on page 119 of John Bunyan, His Life, Times and Work, by John Brown, (London: Wm. Isbister Limited, 1886).
 From page 288 of Israel’s hope encouraged; The desire of the righteous granted; The saints privilege and profit; Christ a compleat saviour; The saints knowledge of Christ’s love…, by John Bunyan, ed. by W.R. Owens, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994).
 John Bunyan, as quoted on page 71 of Grace Abounding, With Other Spiritual Autobiographies, ed. by John Stachniewski and Anita Pacheco, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998).
 Ola Winslow, as quoted on page 30 of John Bunyan, by Kevin Belmonte, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010).
 John Bunyan, as quoted on page 150 of Selected Literary Essays, by C.S. Lewis, (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1969).
 John Bunyan, as quoted on page 151 of Selected Literary Essays, by C.S. Lewis, (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1969).
 John Bunyan, as quoted on page 132 of John Bunyan and His England 1628-88, ed. by Anne Laurence, W.R. Owens and Stuart Sim, (London: The Hambledon Press, 1990). Emphasis added.