Frowning providence, The Pilgrim’s Progress, and you

John Bunyan was a preacher who was thrown in jail in the 17th century. He was separated from his wife, children and congregation.

A colleague named John Owen was a theologian who had a lot of influence, even in the government. Owen tried to get Bunyan released. He used his connections to do so, but to no avail. Time after time, he couldn’t get him freed.

After twelve years in 1676, Bunyan walked out of jail. As he did so he carried a manuscript under his arm. It was a book he wrote while in jail called The Pilgrim’s Progress. That book would go on to be the best-selling English devotional work in the history of the world, second only to the Bible!

For over 340 years it has inspired millions of people and has even been translated into approximately 200 languages.

Reflecting on this story, theologian John Piper calls it a “frowning providence.”* A harsh and difficult situation (frowning) was used in an incredible way by our good and almighty Father (providence). Bunyan was thrown in jail and separated from his family, and John Owen failed in his attempts to free him. The result was a powerful blessing and encouragement that will most likely last forever.

Think about your own hardships—perhaps something you think is a dead end, failure, unexpected problem, or challenge. Ask God to use it for his good purposes, and then trust that the God of providence will in fact do it.

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21).

The Lord’s purpose prevails—in John Owen, in John Bunyan, in countless thousands of faithful souls throughout history, and in you.


–The Up Devotional is published 5 days a week (Monday-Friday) and returns on February 20, 2023.

–*John Piper, 21 Servants of Sovereign Joy (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 436.

–Bible quotes are from the NIV.

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