Today many people believe the word martyr means someone who has died for their religious beliefs or a principal. While it can mean that, it is so much more. The word really means witness and since we are all to be witnesses of what Christ has done in our lives and what He can do in the lives of others, we should all be martyrs of the Gospel.
Today, we usually do not think of it in that sense but to say that one is a martyr only if they have lost their life is erroneous. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of the English Language the word martyr is defined as:
1: a person who voluntarily suffers death as the penalty of witnessing to and refusing to renounce a religion
2: a person who sacrifices something of great value and especially life itself for the sake of principle
3: victim; especially : a great or constant sufferer
On November 12, 1660 a man named John Bunyan was arrested for preaching the Word of God unlawfully. At that time it was illegal to conduct religious services outside of the Anglican Church or to preach the Gospel if you were not ordained by the Church of England. Several months later at a hearing, John Bunyan declared that if he was released today he'd be preaching tomorrow. He remained imprisoned until 1666 when he was released for a few weeks before being arrested once again... for preaching. He was incarcerated for another six years but that did not stop him from preaching. He had a prison congregation of about sixty.
In 1672, legislation changed and John Bunyan was released and even issued a license to preach. In 1672, however the law which enabled him to legally preach was withdrawn and he was once again arrested and imprisoned for preaching. This time he was only imprisoned for six months before being released. While he continued to preach and write, he was never arrested again.
In 1678 part one of The Pilgrim's Progress was published. Bunyan had written it during his imprisonment. The second part was published in 1684. It is said that this book is second only to the Bible in the number of copies it has sold. This book has been continuoulsy in print for 333 years. That's pretty amazing isn't it? Not many books can make that claim.
I was first introduced to The Pilgrim's Progress when I was about seven years old. My mother was in charge of children's ministries and she was doing a series of lessons on The Pilgrim's Progress using a visual book distributed by Child Evangelism Fellowship. I had just become a Christian and it had a profound impact on me. A few months later, she bought us the book, The Little Pilgrim's Progress by Helen Taylor which is a wonderful version of the story for children. I read it over and over again and later read it over and over again to my own son.
God has used the writing of John Bunyan as a tool to teach me a lot about following Christ during my lifetime. Lessons which I needed when I was a babe in Christ and lessons which I have remembered as I have dealt with very serious illness over the past few years.
The Pilgrim's Progress, a book written while the author was in prison. I cannot help but wonder what sort of impact it would have had on my life if John Bunyan had never been imprisoned and perhaps never written that book. Perhaps when we go through trials and hardships in this life it will not just have an impact on us. Maybe, just maybe it will have an impact on others within our own generation and upon future generations as well.
This blog is part of a series entitled Those Who Counted The Cost...And Paid It