Posted in theology

John Bunyan’s conversion: Words of grace overheard

By Elizabeth Prata

Two Sundays ago I came across a wonderful sermon by Charles Spurgeon. It was titled “Christian Conversation.” It’s based on Psalm 145,

They shall speak of the glory of thy kingdom, and talk of thy power;

One of the reasons Spurgeon gave for the fact we believers must speak of Christ more often, is that conversions happen when we speak of him more. He said,

Souls are often converted through godly conversation. Simple words frequently do more good than long sermons. Disjointed, unconnected sentences are often of more use than the most finely polished periods or rounded sentences.

That brought to mind the wonderful conversion of the Puritan John Bunyan (1628-1688). Bunyan is the author of the famous book Pilgrim’s Progress. A powerful preacher, an incredible author, not just of that one book, though that would certainly be enough, but of sixty books. His witness of remaining in prison for 12 years for preaching and refusing to recant stands today as a sterling example of strong faith.

John Bunyan didn’t start out that way. He was rowdy and profane, known throughout the town as a most expert curser. Even after he got a whiff of religion he was a whitewashed tomb, outwardly moral but inside the same profane rebellious man he was as a youth.

One day he was walking along and he heard four women in a doorstoop talking of Christ. He stopped to listen. Intrigued, he realized they were speaking of a Person different from the Jesus he knew. They talked of Him like a friend, extolling his virtues and couching their proclamations in tones of love.

Who IS this Jesus, Bunyan wondered. Much later, Bunyan wrote in his autobiography of the scene:

 “Upon a day, the good providence of God called me to Bedford, to work at my Calling: and in one of the streets of that town (would we knew which street!) I came where there were three or four women sitting at a door in the sun, talking about the things of God. And being now willing to hear what they said, I drew near, to hear their discourse—for I was now a brisk talker of myself in the matters of religion—but I may say, I heard, but understood not; for they were far above, out of my reach.

“Their talk was about a new birth—the work of God in their hearts; as also, how they were convinced of their miserable state by nature. They talked how God had visited their souls with his love in the Lord Jesus, and with what Promises they had been refreshed, comforted, and supported against the temptations of the devil.”

The good folks at Banner of Truth Magazine wrote of the scene:

Bunyan listened intently and later wrote, ‘They spoke as if joy was making them speak. They were to me as if they had found a new world,’ and he often sought them out and sat with them.

From these pious women Bunyan learned to despise sin and to hunger for the Savior, as Chapel Library writes.

It happened to me as well. The Lord graciously set my feet upon the path of righteousness by allowing me to overhear conversations about Jesus, a Jesus who was far from me in my heart and mind. I lived in a deeply godless state, Maine, and the things of God were not visibly abounding. Satan was abounding. Yet as I worked in a public building that had much public traffic, there was one pastor of a Bible Believing Church who came in daily for his business and spoke of Jesus every time he opened his mouth. He greeted people in the name of Jesus. He spoke of the love of Jesus. He talked of the things of Jesus. It used to grind my soul and prick my mind. I rejected his talk as I overheard it daily, thinking to myself as my blackened soul wrenched away from each word as if it was poison, ‘What ridiculous talk. Doesn’t he know that no one is listening?!’

I was listening.

You never know where the grace of the Lord’s providential works will waft those words and to which ears. You never know which hearts, wrinkled in black sin and dripping poison into their soul, will receive those words as seeds, take root, and bring light. You never know where your soft words about Jesus will wind up, except that they will not fall void to the ground.

Knowing this, will you speak of Jesus more often? Will I? Will I pray ahead of time for Him to open cracks in conversations and let words of strength and grace flow out, widening the very door that consciences want to close?

Will I be the one in whom the Psalm will be true?

They shall speak of the glory of thy kingdom, and talk of thy power;

Spurgeon’s Christian Conversation installments are below with a link also to the audio of me reading it, or read the whole thing here.

Part 1 here
Part 2 here
Part 3 here
Part 4 here
Part 5 here
Part 6 here
Part 7 here


Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.