Sallie Rochester Ford originally published her book, Mary Bunyan – The Blind Daughter of John Bunyan, in 1860. Later, Reiner Publications reprinted it in 1976 with the purpose of preparing today’s church for coming persecution. We may think we suffer persecution even today, but when we read of the lives of John Bunyan, Mary Bunyan, William Dormer, Elizabeth Gaunt and others, we see examples of real persecution.
Of these, we recognize the name of John Bunyan most. He lived from 1628 to 1688 in Elstow, England. During his 60 years of life he penned 60 works. Pilgrim’s Progress remains the most famous of all of them. Amazingly most of what we remember him for happened during his adult life. As an adult, he overheard women talking about the things of God. God used that, along with books that his wife brought into the marriage, to draw John to Himself. As he began reading the Bible and attending church he stopped doing activities that drew him away from God.
Within four years of his conversion, he had begun to preach in his Bedford church and surrounding areas. This occurred during the reign of the ungodly Charles II. Christians met in secret in the middle of the night because of the harsh laws restricting the worship of “dissenters.” Those not following the state established religion received stiff penalties for violating the law of the land. When he was first jailed, his wife, Elizabeth had just given birth to a baby who died. Elizabeth suffered much from all that the family endured during this time.
John Bunyan was imprisoned in the Bedford jail for 12 years. Amazingly, he found a sympathetic jailer who allowed him to leave the prison to spend time with his family and church. One night, even though the jailer had allowed him to be at home, he knew that he needed to go back. When he arrived late, the jailer complained until someone from the King came to check to be sure that Bunyan was indeed in custody. Since the jailer realized that Bunyan knew better when he should be in the jail and when he could be out, the jailer told him that he could come and go as he pleased.
Other than being away from his family and church, it distressed Bunyan that his family was in dire need of food and other necessities. Members of the church helped the Bunyan family as much as they could, but they had little themselves. Bunyan realized that he could make shoe laces that his blind daughter could sell. His younger son, Joseph would go around with Mary to make these sales to help provide for the family. Some would not even buy them because Bunyan was considered a traitor to the state church.
After the persecution of Charles II ended, Bunyan was freed, but later imprisoned for six months. They would have freed him earlier if he had promised not to preach. This he could not do, but during his imprisonment he began to write and his readers have benefited from his writings ever since.
From Ford’s biography of Mary Bunyan, we can glean much. While Mary always demonstrated a love for her father, visiting him often in jail and selling the shoe laces he prepared, God did not save her until she was a young adult. Mary showed signs of interest in a young man named William Dormer. On one occasion he had accompanied her as a courtesy since she needed someone at all times to show her the way. Later, she was in London for the purpose of going before the King to plead for her father’s release. While at the home of Elizabeth Gaunt she expected to see him, but no one mentioned him and he did not show up. Elizabeth treated William as a son and testified of Christ to this young man who did not trust Christ. Later, God worked in these two young adults to bring them to Christ.
In Mary’s case, she attended the secret church meetings in London with Elizabeth Gaunt. During one of those meetings God convicted her of her sin. She thought she needed to return to her father for her salvation. Insisting that someone take her to see her father, she poured her heart out to her father and trusted Christ as Savior. This occurred during a time when John Bunyan could not leave his jail cell. On the day of Mary’s baptism, the church gathered at a river that John could see from his cell. Thus, he witnessed the baptism of Mary.
After God had also saved William Dormer, he would visit the Bunyan home. Just as God brought them together, He sovereignly caused Dormer to flee the country as a Dissenter. Time passed and the family finally heard from him, but he still could not return. Finally, as the Duke of Monmouth challenged Charles II for the crown, many lost their lives in battle and others, including William, were executed for the cause of religious freedom. Mary, though recognizing God’s hand in all of this, never really survived this tragedy. She died with her father by her side.
Finally, we learn from Elizabeth Gaunt. We know that she cared deeply for Mary and William, as well as the whole Bunyan family. During the time when many were imprisoned in London for their faith, she went daily to the prison with broth and medical supplies. She cared for William Dormer and others. Further, Elizabeth had given safety to a family who she had thought needed protection for religious freedom. Once they escaped as the police came looking for them. Later, they testified against her and she too, was sentenced to death. John Bunyan had been freed, and he and Mary, followed the prisoners to the city where they were tried and sentenced to death. In each case, the prisoners refused to recant and bravely died for the cause of Christ.
In our day and in our country, we may think we are suffering for Christ’s sake, but learning about the lives of John Bunyan and his contemporaries, we know that:
· We can freely worship in public on the Lord ‘s Day and at other times as we feel necessary.
· We can speak His name as we testify of His saving grace as the opportunity arises.
· We have food, shelter, jobs without discrimination regarding our religion.
23 if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister. 24 I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God, Colossians 1:23- (NKJV)
May we exercise this rare gift of freedom of religion and speech for His glory! God uses persecution to purify the church. If the day comes that we suffer anything like John Bunyan and his contemporaries, may be found faithful!