If The Imitation of Christ has a rival in sales, it is The Pilgrim’s Progress, written by John Bunyan. On November 12, 1660 Bunyan left home to conduct a small worship service in a friend’s house. Earlier that year King Charles II of England, Bible clutched to breast, had returned from exile to restore the monarchy and to return the Church of England to its position of authority. All non-Anglican houses of worship were closed, making Bunyan’s preaching of the gospel now treasonous.

Arriving at the farmhouse, Bunyan learned that a warrant had been issued for his arrest. His friends urged flight. “No!” he replied. “I will not stir neither have the meeting dismissed. Let us not be daunted. To preach God’s Word is so good a work that we shall be well rewarded if we suffer for that.” The service was soon disrupted by the local constable, and Bunyan managed only a few parting words before being arrested. He spent the next 12 years imprisoned in Bedford, England, during which time his family suffered and his beloved blind daughter, Mary, passed away.

Bunyan supported his family by making laces in prison; but shortly he discovered a hidden gift—the ability to write. His fame as an imprisoned writer fueled sales of his books, and he eventually wrote 60 volumes, one for every year he lived. His most famous work, written during the final phase of incarceration, is The Pilgrim’s Progress. It sold 100,000 copies during Bunyan’s lifetime and millions since. It joins The Imitation of Christ in being publishing history’s top bestseller, apart from Scripture.

Bunyan spent his final years in his little cottage in Bedford where visitors often found him studying, his library consisting only of a Bible and some of his own works. On his deathbed battling high fever, Bunyan rambled in tortured, fractured words; but even these were collected and published as Mr. Bunyan’s Dying Sayings. They include this one: The spirit of prayer is more precious than treasure of gold and silver. Pray often, for prayer is a shield to the soul, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge for Satan.

When people talk this way, it is clear that they are looking for a place to call their own. If they had been talking about the land where they had once lived, they could have gone back at any time. But they were looking forward to a better home in heaven. (Hebrews 11:14-16a)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Nov. 12.

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