This teacher’s copy of the Famous Christians in History lesson plan is printer-friendly.
John Bunyan is an inspiring story of faith from 360 years ago.
Optional: Print out John Bunyan’s story or display words digitally.
Optional: A globe, an Atlas, or Google Maps to look up where Beirut is.
For Google Maps copy this link: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Beirut,+Lebanonemail@example.com,35.3817161,5z/data=!4m6!3m5!1s0x151f17215880a78f:0x729182bae99836b4!8m2!3d33.8937913!4d35.5017767!16zL20vMDlianY
Q. Do you know of anybody whose life has had a big influence on others?
Where they have helped or changed people?
We are going to look at the life of a Christian who wrote many books.
One, called ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’, has been translated into more than 200 languages, which is more than any other book, except the Bible.
His life affected many people around him and continued to affect people even after his death.
His name was John Bunyan and he was born in 1628 at Elstow, 1 mile south of Bedford in England.
His father was a tinker who wandered around mending pots and pans for people.
England was in civil war and John at the age of 16, joined the Parliamentary army which was fighting against King Charles l, and his army.
About a year later his friend asked him to swap places with him while they were laying siege to the King’s army.
As his friend stood on sentry duty he was shot and died.
John was not a Christian at that time.
Q. What would you have thought about that?
Two years later he left the army and took up the trade of his father.
When John Bunyan was 20 he married an orphan girl whose father had died, and the few things that he had left to her were some Christian books.
John was challenged by what was written in them, and he became a Christian.
They were very poor and they had virtually no possessions.
They went on to have four children, the firstborn was a daughter who was blind.
For several years he was not satisfied with his own faith.
He had changed from a rough character to a man who held good Christian values, but he felt that there should be something more, and he wanted to feel changed within himself.
Then suddenly he received such a feeling of peace from God and of heavenly joy, that it marked the end of his doubts, fears and despair.
When John was 27 his wife died leaving him with the four children.
In the next two years, John started to write Christian books and he was also proving that he was a preacher.
Q. What is a preacher?
A preacher is someone who explains the things in the Bible, and who introduces Jesus to the ones he is talking to.
At that time the Church consisted of two groups:
1) One group was the long-established Church of England which was under the authority of the king of England.
Many of the ministers of these churches had accepted the job because it offered a position of authority over the people of the parish.
Therefore many of them were not gifted at explaining the things in the Bible, and a lot were probably not even Christians!
This was very frustrating for the Christians who wanted to hear a lively sermon based on the Bible.
So a number of people started going to the ‘other’ group:
2) This second group were the Independent Churches, known as ‘Non-Conformists’ who would not ‘conform’.
They wanted to be separate – ‘independent’ from the king of England, and independent from the authority of the Church of England.
They wanted to be free to worship in the way that suited them.
Unfortunately, the Church of England and King Charles ll reacted very badly to this.
They wanted to stop the independent preachers from preaching and they wanted to close down all the independent churches.
So a law was passed making it illegal to preach and illegal to worship outside of the Church of England (Anglican churches).
One year after John had married again, when he was 32 years old, he was arrested because he had gone to preach at a nearby village!
He was charged with not attending his local Church and for holding unlawful Christian meetings which disturbed the good local people, and which was against the law of the king of England.
John answered the judge’s verdict with:
“If I were out of prison today, I would preach the gospel again tomorrow, by the help of God.”
He was put in Bedford prison until he learnt how to obey the king.
John’s wife who was pregnant at the time, was so shocked by the news that she went into early labour and the baby died.
Q. What do you think of the king being able to force you to go to a certain church?
Q. What do you think of John Bunyan’s answer?
It was thought that they would hold him in prison for just a few weeks and then they would release him.
But one year later his wife appealed to the judge to get him released, but she was denied.
Another year went by and John applied for his case to be brought before the judge, but the Court Clerk altered John’s papers so that his case wouldn’t be seen for about 4 years.
The Prisons then were cold, dark and unhealthy places to be.
His small cell had some straw for a bed, a table, a chair and a bucket for his toilet!
The prisoners received very little food and so they relied on family members to take food into the prison.
John’s daughter took him a bowl of soup and some other food every day.
But his family barely could afford to live themselves, so John used to make shoelaces in his cell so his family could sell them to make a little money.
In addition to making shoe laces, he wrote about 6 books.
Then in 1666, he was released, but very quickly arrested again!
He remained in prison for a few months and then he was released again.
So he went to one of the independent Church meetings, where he was arrested and put back into Bedford prison for 6 more years!
At the age of 43, he was released from prison along with all the other Christians who had chosen to be a part of the Independent Churches, and John Bunyan was given a license to preach from the king!
So he and some friends bought a barn in Bedford and used it for their Independent Church meetings, and John became an independent minister there.
But this freedom didn’t last very long, because the king withdrew the Independent’s licence to preach, so John was again arrested and put in prison for six months where he wrote the book ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ which has become known throughout the world.
After he was released he wrote about 40 more Christian books and then in 1688, at the age of 60, he died.
Q. What do you think of John Bunyan?
Q. How important to him was his faith in Jesus Christ?
But that is not the end of his Christian ministry, because it lives on in his books.
One modern example of how his ministry stills speaks to people was when a Christian called Terry Waite, was held as a hostage in Beirut for 5 years, from 1987 to 1991.
(Teacher’s note: Show where Beirut is in the world.)
At times Terry found his imprisonment very difficult to cope with.
But a Christian lady in Britain decided to write an encouraging note to Terry on a postcard that had a picture of John Bunyan in his prison cell.
She didn’t know where he was being held – because it was a secret location.
So she just put on the card:
Terry Waite, Beirut.
Somehow the card got through to Terry and he was extremely encouraged by, not just her letter, but that it had a picture of John Bunyan in his prison cell.
The thought of how John had spent all those years in prison due to his faith in Jesus Christ gave fresh hope to Terry to go on persevering.
(Teacher’s note: Show where Beirut is in the world.)
Q. How important would certain values be to you?
Q. If you were imprisoned for holding certain values, would you change your mind so you could be released?
Either take a short time to discuss this question, or leave it with them.
(Teacher’s note: There is a text-only copy of John Bunyan’s story which can either be displayed digitally, or it can be printed out and given to the children: The true story of John Bunyan – Children’s handout
Also, there is a John Bunyan questions worksheet to accompany this lesson plan.
See also: John Bunyan RE resources Famous Christian