06 December 2006

The Tinker of Bedford

n Tuesday, Darlene and I went with Tom and Kathy McConnell and sons to Bedford to visit the Bunyan Meeting Free Church, whose name (of course) comes from their best-known pastor, John Bunyan (1628-1688).

In keeping with this week's theme, Bunyan was another uneducated preacher who had a few things in common with the Lollards. Like them, Bunyan was a severe irritant to the pompous hierarchy of the established church. Also like them, he was especially annoying to high-sacramentalist types who loved ceremonies and vestments more than powerful preaching, and who valued erudition more than plain speaking.

Between you and me, I think Bunyan also would have greatly appreciated this week's Dose-o'-Spurgeon.

So we're on a bit of a roll here, and I want to say another word or two about John Bunyan's career.

But first . . .

It appears I need to clarify something regarding Monday's dispatch about Wycliffe and the Lollards.

It has been brought to my attention that Kevin Johnson has managed to unearth from somewhere in the white spaces of that post several outlandish but unstated assertions that even I didn't know I had made. Kevin evidently feels I have somehow indicated that the Lollards were Reformed Baptists, or something like that. He is (to put it as mildly as possible) rather cross with me.

Now, Kevin rarely misses any opportunity to demonstrate how much he hates Baptists (and all evangelicals, for that matter). So we're not really surprised that reading PyroManiacs occasionally tends to elevate his sense of ecclesiastical outrage. This time, though, Kevin was left so thoroughly gobsmacked—so profoundly smitten with "stunned amazement" (his words)—that pretty much all he could do was sputter and fulminate.

Sadly, poor Kevin wasn't even able to recover his rational senses in time to point out or refute any of my actual statements that he disagreed with. But at least it was clear that he disagreed.

Moreover, he was by no means alone in his staggered sense of bewilderment. Most of the commenters over at "Reformed Catholicism" were nearly as stupefied as Kevin was.

Did I really suggest that the Lollards believed exactly as I do about all the distinctive points of my doctrinal stance? I would of course immediately retract and correct such a statement if I could find it in Monday's post. But since I didn't actually say that (or anything like it), and since I don't even hold a view that remotely approximates any form of "Baptist successionism" or any of the other grotesquely naïve caricatures Kevin loves so much to lampoon, I don't really have anything I can honestly retract.

And if my post contained any subliminal messages visible only to those wearing their cardboard episcopalian secret-decoder glasses, I was totally unaware of it.

I'll leave the post completely unedited and let more objective readers compare it with the comments made by Kevin Johnson and company. You can judge for yourself whether truth and accuracy really appear to be the driving concerns in Kevin's post. Compare his professed concern for honesty and objectivity in the handling of historical figures with the rhetorical way he distorts the views and statements of his own contemporary theological opponents. Then draw your own conclusions.

Anyway, I think it odd that men who profess to have so much esteem for "generosity" and "catholicity" instantly swarm so angrily whenever they think they see an opportunity to vituperate against evangelicals or Baptists.

That's OK. Kevin and friends were not one-tenth as outraged to see a picture of me in an Anglican pulpit as I am by the way Anglicans themselves have abused their own pulpits—and allowed them to be regularly misemployed by men (and women!) who possess all the right academic credentials and lots of initials after their names, but who have none of the spiritual qualifications for church leadership.

But that's a story for another post.

Back to Bunyan

John Bunyan was both poor and uneducated. He was born into a traveling tinker's family November 28, 1628 and lived a typically shallow and worldly life as a youth, caught up in the entertainments of the time. He followed his father's trade, becoming an itinerate tinker at an age when most youth of today are still in high school.

Tortured by fears and nightmares, and fearful that he might have already committed the unpardonable sin, he finally found peace and assurance in Christ through the gospel. He was baptized by immersion in 1653 and received into a Baptist church.

Within a few years he began preaching, and the response to his preaching was dramatic almost immediately. His sermons were imbued with pathos and delivered with amazing power.

Bunyan was concerned about the rising influence of early Quakerism, and that prompted him to take part in written debates with Quakers. This both prompted him to undertake an earnest study of doctrine and demonstrated his natural flair for writing.

Bunyan was put in jail in 1660 for preaching without a license. He could have been released at almost any time if he had merely promised to stop his unlicensed preaching. He refused, and was kept in prison for the better part of twelve years. He redeemed the time and worked to support his family by writing while in prison. Released in 1672, he became the pastor of the Bedford church.

In 1675, he was arrested and jailed for unlicensed preaching again, but the public outcry against his imprisonment was so fierce that this time he obtained release after just six months.

It's ironic that this uneducated workman became one of the best-known preachers of the Puritan age (an era rich with well-schooled pastors, theologians, and doctors of divinity). Perhaps it is even more ironic that such a man made so important a contribution to English literature—writing one of the greatest allegories of all time, Pilgrim's Progress.

That work was most likely begun during Bunyan's first imprisonment and completed during his final stint in jail. The work is in two parts, the first of which was originally released in 1678, three years after Bunyan's final release from the Bedford Jail. It may be the most popular book ever written in English. It was a favorite of Charles Spurgeon's, who read it at least once a year and said before he died that he had probably read it more than a hundred times.

Spurgeon wasn't the only important admirer of Bunyan. John Owen, probably the most prominent and respected academic leader of Bunyan's own era, once went to hear Bunyan preach. Charles II, hearing of it, asked the learned doctor of divinity why someone as thoroughly educated as he would want hear a mere tinker preach. Owen replied: "May it please your Majesty, if I could possess the tinker's abilities to grip men's hearts, I would gladly give in exchange all my learning."

Owen, of course, never joined any movement that was drifting in a Romish direction.


Today we're taking the train to London, where we'll be for the rest of the week. I'll be attending a board meeting of the Martyn Lloyd-Jones Recordings Trust this morning; calling in at the Metropolitan Tabernacle Book Shop and seeing Dr. Masters on Thursday; visiting the V&A (our first time there) on Friday; teaching a men's group, and then spending the day with Doug McMasters and family (who have recently relocated from California to pastor a church in the London area) on Saturday; and preaching in Doug's pulpit at Trinity Road Chapel in Upper Tooting on the Lord's Day morning.

I'll be back in California Monday evening, Lord willing. See you then.

Phil's signature


SB said...

Great Post-Bunyan is my favorite Puritan-I even liked the polemics-plain spoken and earnest. cool to see you in two famous pulpits too bad you couldnt hit more-do you have a pic in Metropolitan Tabernacle?

Colin Maxwell said...

I am currently doing a wee bit of light reading in a short biography of Robert Burns, the Scottish poet. When he went up to Edinburgh for the first time, he was immediately welcomed into the high society on account of his poetry. He said that his name was in a fair way becoming as eminent as that of John Bunyan. Which is an interesting measuring stick is it not? (He also mentioned the name of Thomas A Kempis, but I'll let some vassal of the Pope muse on that one) Enjoyed your post.

Kay said...

Geeky 'squeee' at the V&A. So many school trips there, and I loved every one.

Michael King said...

The links to Kevin Johnson's stuff have already been removed. Thanks though. Much grace to you, Mike

Jeremy Weaver said...

I am so jealous. Bunyan is my hero. I can only hope that there were no natural disasters while you were at the Church.

donsands said...

Great read. I love the quote from John Owens about Bunyan.

It's so essential to know the history of the Church. The Lord's grace and truth are much more vivid when we combine Church History with the Scriptures.

Paul said...

Is it just me, or are you not changing your shirt? :-)

Jim Crigler said...

kerux asked Phil: Is it just me, or are you not changing your shirt?

Maybe you both aren't changing shirts.

James Scott Bell said...

The following deserves to be saved in a quotation anthology. Is there a Pyro volume coming soon?

"Kevin and friends were not one-tenth as outraged to see a picture of me in an Anglican pulpit as I am by the way Anglicans themselves have abused their own pulpits—and allowed them to be regularly misemployed by men (and women!) who possess all the right academic credentials and lots of initials after their names, but who have none of the spiritual qualifications for church leadership."

James Scott Bell said...

One more note. In the pic Phil looks either like a Reformation preacher or the strong man at the circus about to tear a phone book in half.

Maybe he's a bit of both.

James White said...

Greetings Phil:

Please give my regards to Doug and when passing a certain Days Inn down near the Thames please say Three Reformed Baptist Lollards and a Hail Spurgeon for me--and have someone video tape it so you can prove to certain folks who love oxymoronic self-descriptions that you are appropriately ecumenical.


Tony Byrne said...

"visible only to those wearing their cardboard episcopalian secret-decoder glasses"

I'm still cracking up over those words lol

Solameanie said...

Just for clarification all...the Kevin Johnson to whom Phil refers in this post is NOT my associate in (and president of) The Institute for Christian Apologetics..Rev. Kevin S. Johnson. My friend Kevin loves this blog and is in agreement with the vast majority of it.

FX Turk said...

Seriously: that bat-eating centipede has me up at night.

Phil Johnson said...


Will do. By the way, I'm sure you realize that hotel is practically adjacent to the backyard of Lambeth Palace. I hope you didn't heave trash over the fence when you stayed there.

JSB: ". . . deserves to be saved in a quotation anthology."

Thanks. But I should note, in fairness, that I don't mean those comments as a universal indictment of all Anglican clergy on both sides of the equator. There are some (even a primate here and there) who do understand the gospel and still proclaim it with a fair degree of boldness. Greg Venables is one such blessed exception to the normal rule. Click here to watch him throw down against the miscreants who have ransacked his denomination and (in the name of "catholicity") have virtually torn it asunder.

Good stuff, actually.

Tom Chantry said...

And speaking of unfortunate last names, I've always wondered just what a "bunyun" was back then!

Douglas McMasters said...

Haven't been there, haven't done that--yet--but excited to see I can still get the T-shirt when I get there....

Ebeth said...

My paternal grandmother gave me a hard cover copy of THE PILGRIM'S PROGRESS when I was baptized. I loved it to pieces, but of course still have it.
Stray thought: Is not THE PILGRIM'S PROGRESS Dr. Wayne Mack's favorite book after THE BIBLE?

jamey bennett said...

Phil, I still like you. And I still like Kevin. Can I be in both clubs? (Incidentally, I was just talking today about the piece I wrote, "Smoking to the Glory of God" based upon your Spurgeon Archive about five years ago. It was quite fun.)

Jason Alligood said...


Thanks for the history lesson.

I was just in London last month to visit some of our missionaries who are there with World Harvest Hope you enjoy the rest of your time.


FX Turk said...

Hey wait! That was JAMES WHITE! THE James White! The famous book-writer and anti-catholic! The guy with the podcast -- um, I mean webcast!


Wow. See: I never got star struck with Phil, but with James I'd be a little agog if I met him in person. He's the real Christian celebrity -- I'm just a fanboy and a channel rat.

I'm going to have to write this one in my diary. James WHite posted a comment at TeamPyro today ... wow ...

Warren Pearson said...

Tornado Strikes London So what's new? - Phil's in town. As many know Phil's travel associated 'disasters' are legendary.

Cameron said...

Looks like Kevin deleted to post. But have no fear, Google comes to the rescue.

Anonymous said...

So, Phil, you just had to be like your pastor who I recall was himself recently photographed standing in Calvin's pulpit! I guess Wycliffe's doesn't rise up out of the floor automatically, though. Can't wait until I get to go visit my sister in Covina and make them drive me out to see either of you behind that thing of beauty! Of course, I'll be torn. Perhaps my next visit will have to include two Lord's days. The amillennial paedobaptist in me will also be wanting to go worship the Lord with Christ Reformed Church's congregation for an opportunity to hear and meet Dr. Kim Riddlebarger as well. Can't wait until my wife and I can find the time and money to make a similar overseas trip! Thus far, I have been "let hitherto."