by George Offor
[Reprinted with permission from the Banner of Truth Magazine Issue 299-300, Aug-Sept. 1998.]
The death of John Bunyan occurred on 31st August 1688, just over three hundred years ago. Bunyan was born at Elstow near Bedford in 1628. He came under the powerful work of the Spirit of God about 1650. He was pastor at Bedford for sixteen years, died at Holborn and was buried in Bunhill Fields. The following account of his death is by George Offor, written in his Memoirs of 1862.
The time was drawing near when, in the midst of his usefulness, and with little warning, he was to be summoned to his eternal rest. He had been seriously attacked with that dangerous pestilence which, in former years, ravaged this country, called the sweating sickness, a malady as mysterious and fatal as the cholera has been in later times. The disease was attended by great prostration of strength; but, under the careful management of his affectionate wife, his health became sufficiently restored to enable him to undertake a work of mercy; from the fulfilment of which, as a blessed close to his incessant earthly labour, he was to ascend to his Father and his God to be crowned with immortality. A father had been seriously offended with his son, and had threatened to disinherit him. To prevent the double mischief of a father dying in anger with his child, and the evil consequence to the child of his being cut off from his patrimony, Bunyan again ventured, in his weak state, on his accustomed work, to win the blessings of the peace-maker. He made a journey on horseback to Reading, it being the only mode of travelling at that time, and he was rewarded with success. Returning home by way of London to impart the gratifying news, he was overtaken by excessive rains, and, in an exhausted state, he found a kindly refuge in the house of his Christian friend Mr Strudwick, and was there seized with a fatal fever. His much-loved wife, who had so powerfully pleaded for his liberty with the judges, and to whom he had been united thirty years, was at a great distance from him. Bedford was then two days’ journey from London. Probably at first, his friends had hopes of his speedy recovery; but when the stroke came, all his feelings, and those of his friends, appear to have been absorbed, by the anticipated blessings of immortality, to such an extent, that no record is left as to whether his wife, or any of his children, saw him cross the river of death. There is abundant testimony of his faith and patience, and that the presence of God was eminently with him.
He bore his trying sufferings with all the patience and fortitude that might be expected from such a man. His resignation was most exemplary; his only expressions were ‘a desire to depart, to be dissolved, to be with Christ’ His sufferings were short, being limited to ten days. He enjoyed a holy frame of mind, desiring his friends to pray with him, and uniting fervently with them in the exercise. His last words, while struggling with death, were, ‘Weep not for me, but for yourselves. I go to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will, no doubt, through the mediation of his blessed Son, receive me, though a sinner; where I hope we ere long shall meet, to sing the new song, and remain everlastingly happy, world without end. Amen.’ He felt the ground solid under his feet in passing the black river which has no bridge, and followed his pilgrim into the celestial city in August 1688, in the sixtieth year of his age. The circumstances of his peaceful decease are well compared by Dr Cheever to the experience of Mr Standfast, when he was called to pass the river: the great calm—the firm footing—the address to by-standers—until his countenance changed, his strong man bowed under him, and his last words were, ‘Take me, for I come to thee.’ Then the joy among the angels while they welcomed the hero of such spiritual fights, and conducted his wandering soul to the New Jerusalem, which he had so beautifully described as ‘the holy city;’ and then his wonder and amazement to find how infinitely short his description came to the blissful reality.