Tag Archives: john bunyan

What Luther and Bunyan Learned in Suffering

Martin Luther, the great reformer said this of his times of suffering…

As soon as God’s Word becomes known through you, the devil will afflict you, will make a real doctor [theologian or teacher] of you, and will teach you by his temptations to seek and to love God’s Word.  For I myself…owe my [enemies] many thanks for so beating, pressing, and frightening me through the devil’s raging that they have turned me into a fairly good theologian, driving me to a goal I should have never reached.


John Bunyan speaking of his time in prison…

I never had in all my life so great an inlet into the Word of God as now [in prison].  Those scriptures that I saw nothing in before were made in this place and state to shine upon me. Jesus Christ also was never more real and apparent than now.  Here I have seen him and felt him indeed….I have had sweet sights of the forgiveness of my sins in this place, and of my being with Jesus in another world….I have seen that here that I am persuaded I shall never, while in this world, be able to express….I never knew what it was for God to stand by me at all times and at every offer of Satan to afflict me, as I have found HIm since I came in hither.


Bunyan goes on to implore the people of God to suffer well and not exact revenge…

Let me beg of thee, that thou wilt not be offended either with God, or men, if the cross is laid heavy upon thee.  Not with God, for he doth nothing without a cause, nor with men, for….they are the servants of God to thee for good.  Take therefore what comes to thee from God by them, thankfully.


Ewald M. Plass, comp., What Luther Says: An Anthology, vol. 3 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), p. 1360.

John Bunyan, Grace Abounding, p. 121.

Chosen out of the Heavenly University

John Bunyan never had a formal education.  He didn’t know Greek or Hebrew, and he had no theological degrees to brag about.  What he did have, however, was the power of the Spirit of Christ resting upon him.


This is not to say that those who have theological degrees and know Greek and Hebrew do not have the power of the Spirit of Christ resting upon them.  It does, however, underscore the importance of a life of piety and suffering for the sake of Christ.  Seminary can train young men how to have all the theological answers, but it can’t train them to be holy in ministering and suffering.  Those are things that they will learn soon enough when they receive a call.

Bunyan never had the advantage of being trained to have all his theological ducks in a row.  He had to learn on his own, while experiencing the pain and loss of suffering and ministering for the cause of Christ.  The result was a legacy that is still touching lives for Christ today.

Consider what these men of God said about Bunyan.  His pastor, John Burton…

This man is not chosen out of an earthly but out of the heavenly university, the Church of Christ….He hath, through grace, taken these three heavenly degrees, to wit, union with Christ, the anointing of the Spirit, and experiences and temptations of Satan, which do more fit a man for that mighty work of preaching the Gospel than all university learning and degrees that can be had.

George Whitefield on Bunyan’s masterpiece The Pilgrim’s Progress

It smells of the prison.  It was written when the author was confined in Bedford jail.  And ministers never write or preach so well as when under the cross: the Spirit of Christ and of Glory then rests upon them.


The master theologian John Owen was once asked by King Charles why he would waste his time to go and hear an uneducated tinker.  Owen replied…

I would willingly exchange my learning for the tinker’s power of touching men’s hearts.

This post is meant to spur us on to think about the importance of a life of piety and suffering for the cause of Christ.  It is not meant to diminish the importance of seminary training.  I have seminary training, but I pastored a church for almost 9 years before I started my seminary training.  I didn’t suffer anywhere near the same level as John Bunyan, but I often go back and read some of my thoughts from my days as a pastor and I can remember how the Lord was training me during those days.  They were days of learning, ministering, joy, pain, sorrow, peace, and through it all I was experiencing how to draw nigh to Christ.  Those were days that I would never trade for all the years that a seminary education has to offer.


Piper, John. The Hidden Smile of God. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001).