Mary Bunyan: A New Introduction
The practice of reading biography is, without a doubt, one of the most enriching habits in which the Christian mind can engage. Faith brought to life in the recorded stories of characters of the past, often communicates to our hearts more richly than faith described in mere propositions. It is only unfortunate that, in so many instances, history has been allowed to leave us only sketchy data about a character. Thus has arisen the popular value of those books dubbed "living history", popularized by G.A. Henty and other authors who wrote much of it. Using those facts and knowledge which they have been able to gather, they help us grasp something of the life and times of a character about whom we would otherwise know little. Such is the case with Miss Mary Bunyan, young daughter of the famed John Bunyan of Bedford, England.
This English preacher (1628-1688) is best known as the author of "The Pilgrimís Progress". As an unintended and unfortunate outcome, the fame of that book (Bunyanís most well-known and beloved writing) has probably obscured to many believers the fact that Bunyan wrote dozens of other books and treatises. He penned a wealth of works, all of which are worthy of the highest recommendation to the Christian reader. For the current publication of his complete works, we are indebted to the Banner of Truth Trust.
But back to the volume in your hand: Sallie Rochester Ford, the teller of Mary Bunyanís story, originally entitled the book, "Mary Bunyan, The Dreamerís Blind Daughter: A Tale of Religious Persecution." Fordís focus on this one girl and the life of her family has left us one of the most moving stories of suffering for the Christian faith ever penned. She has done a masterful job with what data she was able to find, weaving into Maryís story an accurate portrayal of the political and religious climate of times, the stance of local and national rulers, the living conditions and situation of an impoverished family in seventeenth-century England (impoverished only because the husband was unlawfully held in prison), the prevailing opposition to Baptist principles and, perhaps the most striking element of the story, rarely mentioned but ever-present in the background: the blindness with which Johnís daughter Mary was afflicted, while still devoting so many hours of her days to a stunning devotion to her father and a more diligent service to her family than most perfectly healthy sons render in their households today.
Bringing food to him daily in prison, making frequent pleas and appeals to the authorities for his release, and doing more than her share at home to help manage the care of the other children, Mary truly bears her cross and makes her fatherís suffering her own while he spends 14 years in prison. Under a trial which would have made many question their faith, father and daughter both instead grow in faith, learning to trust their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ with an implicit trust under such afflictions; all the while as God providentially uses John to write many of his worthy and instructive works which we have today.
It has been speculated in other biographies of Mary Bunyan that, perhaps the reason "The Pilgrimís Progress" is so vivid in its word-pictures (not even to mention "The Holy War", Bunyanís lesser-known allegorical volume) is because of father Johnís yearning to describe the realities and truths of Christian the faith to his darling sight-impaired Mary. This may well be the case. One can picture him sharing with her his latest written efforts, reading them aloud to her as his first audience, and perhaps even improving and sharpening the imagery after she departed for the night, when he could see that his first composition did not quite "reach" her mindís eye.
The latter chapters of this book also contain the delightful and nearly equally-moving story of Agnes Beaumont, the young convert to Christ in Bedford who so loyally followed her dear pastor Bunyanís teachings, even at a great cost of the loss of family favor. For further reading on Agnes' striking testimony, the small volume "Behind Mr. Bunyan" is recommended.
Mary Bunyan will leave the reader with a greater appreciation not only of those who have suffered for the faith before us, but may well catch you off guard when it stirs you on an unexpected point: to realize the devotion called for from the rest of us when one member of the body suffers. For, as the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 12:26, when one member of the body suffers, it is fitting that all the members suffer with him. Mary Bunyan - already bearing more than enough afflictions of her own - made that choice, and made it for years. For this, the memory of her life is cherished, exemplary, unforgettable.