It's easy to think the giants of the Christian faith were all strong men, but John Bunyan is proof that God uses people of all shapes and sizes.
His masterpiece, The Pilgrim's Progress, remains the bestselling novel of all-time, an acknowledged English literary classic, and a source of immeasurable comfort and encouragement to believers in the centuries since it was published in 1678.
Bunyan wrote the book that would make him famous not in the comfort of his home but in Bedford County Jail, where he was to spend 12 years for his Nonconformist beliefs.
Separated from his beloved wife and children, and confronted with the miserable reality of prison life in the 1600s, these became the conditions in which Bunyan learned not only to survive, but "to thrive", writes Peter Morden.
In his new book, John Bunyan: The People's Pilgrim, Morden tells Bunyan's own inspiring story, starting with his humble, unpromising beginnings as an impoverished and foul-mouthed tinker, to his conversion and heroic struggle against the authorities of the day, to his development into one of the most respected and admired Christian authors of all time.
Fans of The Pilgrim's Progress will be familiar with the journey of 'Christian' past the 'Slough of Despond' and 'Vanity Fair' to the 'Celestial City'. What they may not be so familiar with are the real life experiences that he drew from in his writings.
In addition to prison, the book details many of Bunyan's painful spiritual struggles as he wrestled with sin, feelings of guilt and fear of judgement.
Morden, a lecturer at Spurgeon's College, acknowledges Bunyan's life could be considered "a sad life, even a failure". But as he concludes, Bunyan was not interested in wealth, comfort, ease or safety. Spiritual wealth was his focus and his primary concern was about helping people to grow closer to Christ.
Writes Morden: "He was never comfortable. His was a courageous life; it had to be, given the times he lived in and all he faced. But he was a man of principle, with unshakeable, deep convictions he was determined to live by come what may. At almost any time during his long imprisonment he could have been released – if he had sacrificed his principles. However, he steadfastly refused to do so. The battles he faced shaped and fitted him for useful service. As a result he gained immense respect and was able to lead people through extraordinarily difficult times with vigour, integrity and grace … Bunyan put faithfulness to Christ over and above every other concern. Now he is with his Lord and knows his true reward."
Morden's engaging and accessible account of Bunyan is complemented further by beautiful illustrations and helpful points for spiritual reflection.
John Bunyan: The People's Pilgrim is out from CWR priced £9.99