If you ever want to visit John Bunyan, Isaac Watts, John Owen, Susannah Wesley, and a host of other great Christians, then make your way to Bunhill Fields. This quaint cemetery is located in London, on city Road, across the street from Wesley’s Chapel. Be sure to visit the Chapel first, especially the grave of John Wesley in the garden behind the Chapel. Then cross City Road into Bunhill Fields and enter a different world. Bunhill Fields, an old burial ground, probably was first called Bone-Hill Fields. Some 120,000 bodies are buried here, with the last burial recorded on January 5, 1854. The people whose remains mingle this dust were Dissenters; they refused to follow the teaching of the established church. This meant that they could not be buried in consecrated ground, so they were interred at Bunhill Fields. This place is sacred to Christians who believe in liberty of conscience, the preaching of the Word, and the winning of lost souls. Many are buried here who “loved not their lives unto the death” and who willingly died in defense of God’s truth.
Walk through the east gate and take the main path toward the center to find the tomb of John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim’s Progress and many other works. This great monument would have been lost to us were it not for the Earl of Shaftesbury who directed a generous public subscription that restored it in 1862.
The tomb itself excites any lover of Pilgrim’s Progress. On one side is a pilgrim carrying his heavy burden. On the other side, the burden rolls away! The inscription is simple: “John Bunyan, Author of the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress.’ Oct. 31st August, 1688, AEt. 60.” Charles Spurgeon claimed he read Pilgrim’s Progress at least one hundred times during his life. You will find reference to it in many of his sermons. John Henry Jowett attributed his purge English style to his familiarity with Bunyan’s masterpiece.
When my wife and I, with Dr. and Mrs. Howard Sugden, visited Bedford, England, the famous Bunyan Meeting House was locked. We watched hundreds drive past the large Bunyan statue on St. Peter’s Street, and wondered how many of the drivers knew much about the man.
In Elstow, near Bedford, we visited the famous Moot Hall that dates back to 1500. This museum depicts English life in Bunyan’s day (1628-1688). The jail list is there with Bunyan’s name, and also a heavy door from the very jail in which Bunyan was confined.
The definitive Bunyan biography is John Bunyan, His Life, Times and Work by John Brown. Be sure to purchase the Tercentenary Edition, revised by another great Bunyan scholar, Frank Mott Harrison (Hulbert Publishing Co., London, 1928). Dr. Brown devoted his life to Bunyan research, and Frank Mott has continued his work.
By the way, Mott’s book John Bunyan, A Story of His Life, is an excellent study (Banner of Truth Trust, London, 1964). But let no book replace Pilgrim’s Progress. Every gospel-preaching pastor ought to master it. It may not make a Spurgeon out of us, but it certainly will help us better understand the Christian conflict and the way of victory.
Take the path east of Bunyan’s tomb and you cannot miss the tomb inscribed “John Owen, D. D.” This great English scholar and preacher died in 1683. While a student at Oxford, he allowed himself only four hours’ sleep each night so he might study more.
When he first started his ministry, Owen was probably not converted. One Sunday in London, he went to hear a great Presbyterian preacher, only to discover that another man was substituting. But the unknown preacher’s message reached John Owen’s heart and he received assurance of peace with God. His tongue and pen were mighty weapons for the Lord. The 1850 edition of his complete works contains twenty-four large volumes. Some of his works are available today in reprint editions. They are wordy but meaty, a treasure-house for the serious student.
Providentially, Owen and Bunyan are buried near each other, for their lives and ministries intersected. John Owen interceded with Dr. Barlow, Bishop of London, to have Bunyan released from jail. And Owen encouraged Bunyan to publish Pilgrim’s Progress, and even recommended him to his own publisher. When Ken Charles chided the learned Dr. Owen for going to hear Bunyan preach, the scholar replied: “I would willingly exchange all my learning for that tinker’s power of touching men’s hearts.”
In the section across from Owen, near the entrance path, is the marker for Thomas Goodwin’s grave. Some years ago lighting struck the tomb and split the top; all you can read now is “Thomas Goodwin, D.D.” He died in 1679 at age eighty, and left behind a rich legacy of books. Goodwin was converted while attending a funeral service as a student. The sermon text was Luke 19:41-42, and the simple message profoundly affected him.
Refusing to bow to the established church, Goodwin cast his lot with the nonconformists and became one of their greatest scholars and saints. He was a member of the Westminster Assembly in 1643. During the London fire of 1666, Goodwin lost a large part of his library. He served as a chaplain to Oliver Cromwell. His writings were published in five large volumes with reprints available today. The great Alexander Whyte fed his soul on the works of Thomas Goodwin.
(This article first appeared in Moody Magazine, September 1977. Copyright Warren W. Wiersbe, all rights reserved.)
Dr. Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) was an internationally known Bible teacher, author, and conference speaker. He graduated in 1953 from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. While attending seminary, he was ordained as pastor of Central Baptist Church in 1951 and served until 1957. From September 1957 to 1961, Wiersbe served as Director of The Literature Division for Youth for Christ International. From 1961 to 1971 he pastored Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky south of Cincinnati, Ohio. His sermons were broadcast as the “Calvary Hour” on a local Cincinnati radio station. From 1971 to 1978, He served as the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago 1971 to 1978. While at Moody Church he continued in radio ministry. Between August 1979 and March 1982, he wrote bi-weekly for Christianity Today as “Eutychus X”, taught practical theology classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and wrote the course material and taught a Doctor of Ministry course at Trinity and Dallas Seminary. In 1980 he transitioned to Back to the Bible radio broadcasting network where he worked until 1990. Dr. Wiersbe became Writer in Residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids and Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. In his lifetime, Dr. Wiersbe wrote over 170 books—including the popular Be series, which has sold over four million copies. Dr. Wiersbe was awarded the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).