John Bunyan (November 28, 1628 – August 31, 1688), a Christian writer and preacher, was born at Harrowden (one mile south-east of Bedford), in the Parish of Elstow, England. He wrote The Pilgrim's Progress, arguably the most famous published Christian allegory.
Bunyan had very little schooling (about 2-4 years). He followed his father in the Tarish Tinker's trade, and served in the parliamentary army at Newport Pagnell (1644 - 1647); in 1649 he married a pious young woman, whose only dowry appears to have been two books, Arthur Dent's Plain Man's Pathway to Heaven and Lewis Bayly's Practice of Piety, by which he was influenced towards a religious life. He lived in Elstow till 1655 (when his wife died) and then moved to Bedford. He married again in 1659.
In his autobiographical book, Grace Abounding, Bunyan describes himself as having led an abandoned life in his youth; but there appears to be no evidence that he was, outwardly at any rate, worse than the average of his neighbours: the only serious fault which he specifies is profanity, others being dancing and bell-ringing. The overwhelming power of his imagination led him to contemplate acts of impiety and profanity, and to a vivid realisation of the dangers these involved. In particular he was harassed by a curiosity in regard to the "unpardonable sin," and a prepossession that he had already committed it. He continually heard voices urging him to "sell Christ," and was tortured by fearful visions. After severe spiritual conflicts he escaped from this condition, and became an enthusiastic and assured believer. He was received into the Baptist church in Bedford by immersion in the River Great Ouse in 1653. In 1655 he became a deacon and began preaching, with marked success from the start.
Bunyan fiercely disagreed with the teachings of the Quakers and took part in written debates during the years 1656-1657 with some of its leaders. First Bunyan published Some Gospel Truths Opened in which he attacked Quaker beliefs. The Quaker Edward Burrough responded with The True Faith of the Gospel of Peace. Bunyan countered Burrough's pamphlet with A Vindication of Some Gospel Truths Opened, which Burrough answered with Truth (the Strongest of All) Witnessed Forth. Later the Quaker leader George Fox entered the verbal fray by publishing a refutation of Bunyan's essay in his The Great Mystery of the Great Whore Unfolded.
In 1658 Bunyan was indicted for preaching without a licence. He continued, however, and did not suffer imprisonment till November 1660, when he was taken to the county gaol in Silver Street, Bedford. There he was confined at first for three months, but on his refusing to conform or to desist from preaching, his confinement was extended for a period of nearly 12 years (with the exception of a few weeks in 1666). It was during this time that he completed his allegorical novel: The Pilgrim's Progress. He was released in January 1672, when Charles II issued the Declaration of Religious Indulgence.
In that month he became pastor of the Bedford church. In March 1675, he was again imprisoned for preaching (because Charles II withdrew the Declaration of Religious Indulgence), this time in the Bedford town jail on the stone bridge over the Ouse. (The original warrant, discovered in 1887, is published in facsimile by Rush and Warwick, London). In six months he was free and as a result of his popularity he was not again arrested.
On his way to London he caught a severe cold, and died as a result of a fever at the house of a friend at Snow Hill on August 31, 1688. His grave lies in the cemetery at Bunhill Fields in London.