After being at several minor schools, he went at Christmas 1791 to that of Thomas Broadhurst. At this school Jabez made friends with Edward Cropper, son of Thomas Percival, M.D., an Arian dissenter, chief founder of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, 1781. Percival took notice of Bunting, received him for four years into his family without fee as medical ‘pupil and amanuensis, made arrangements or his graduation abroad free of expense, and promised to introduce him to good practice in Manchester. But Bunting's own wishes coincided with those of his now widowed mother, and he entered the methodist ministry. He began to preach on 12 Aug, 1798, in his twentieth year, and was received into the ministry on trial in 1799. In 1803 he was received into full connexion as a minister at Oldham Street chapel, Manchester. He was first stationed at Oldham, then at Macclesfield 9801), London (1803), Manchester (1805), Sheffield (1807), Liverpool (1809), Halifax (1811), Leeds (1813), London (1815), Manchester (1824), Liverpool (1830), and finally, from 1833, at the headquarters of the denomination in London, where he filled the chief posts of influence and authority. As a preacher he soon acquired considerable reputation. He was elected assistant secretary in 1806, secretary to the conference and a member of the legal hundred in 1814, and filled the president's chair in 1820, 1828, 1836, and 1844. In 1833 he was made senior secretary of the Missionary Society, and in 1835 president of the Theological Institute. The university of Aberdeen made him M.A. in 1818; the Middleton University, U.S.A., made him D.D. in 1835. Bunting was a born disciplinarian, and with some justice has been called the second founder of methodism. In ecclesiastical polity he regarded himself as giving effect to the views of William Thompson, first president of conference after Wes1ey’s death. He completed the detachment of methodism from its Anglican base; he found it a society and consolidated it into a church. Under Bunting’s legislation the methodist organisation tended more and more to place laymen in equal number with ministers upon every connexional committee (Arthur). His policy had opponents from both sides. Bunting gave to methodism the machinery of self-government, thus permanently securing a great constitutional advance upon the simple autocracy of Wesley; but while he lived he guided the machine with a hand which never relaxed its firmness. In spite of secessions to old splits, Bunting held on his way, undisturbed in his singleness of aim. On the death of Richard Watson, Bunting was placed at the head of the Wesleyan missions. Here his practical sagacity and his genius for administration had full scope. He greatly enlarged the operations, enriched the resources, and deepened the success of methodism in the mission field. The work was peculiarly to his taste. He had early offered his own services as a missionary to India, but the conference kept him at home. Nor was he at all insensible to the political opportunities of his body. He was always friendly to the establishment. His attachment was to principles rather than to parties, but there was no more strenuous advocate of political freedom and religious liberty as he understood them. In many respects his position resembled that of a general of one of the great religious orders, directing the action of a religious corporation whose ramifications extend to all parts of the globe, He controlled the spiritual interests of half a million of people and received the emoluments of a curate. ‘From the great Connexion for which he has lived his sole revenue is a furnished house, coals, candles, and one hundred and fifty pounds a year’ (Arthur). He died on 16 June 1858 at his residence, 30 Myddelton Square, and was buried at City Road, where there is a monument in the chapel to his memory. He was twice married: first, on 24 Jan. 1804, to Sarah Maclardie of Macclesfield (born 26 Feb. 1782, died 29 Sept. 1835); secondly, in 1837, to Mrs. Martin (née Green) of Holcombe, Somersetshire, who survived him. His family consisted of four sons and three daughters; his eldest son was William Maclardie Bunting [q. v.]
From 1821 to 1824 he superintended the connexional literature, but his only publications were: 1. Two sermons. One preached before the Sunday School Union in 1805; the second upon ‘Justification by faith’ at Leeds in 1812 (the seventh edition of the last in 1847). 2. The ‘Memorials of the late Rev. Richard Watson,’ 1833, 8vo. 3. ‘Speech of the Rev. Dr. Bunting . . . in reference to the Government Scheme of National Education, &c.,’ Manchester, 1839, 8vo. 4. ‘Mormonism,’ 1853, 8vo (the introduction is by Bunting). Nos. 1 and 2 are included in two volumes of posthumous sermons, edited by his eldest son, 1861-2, 8vo (portrait). He edited the seventh edition, Liverpool, n. d. (preface dated Leeds, 15 Feb. 1815), of Cruden's ‘Concordance,’ with brief memoir; also ‘Memoirs of the early Life of William Cowper, written by himself, and never before pub1ished,’ &c., 1816, 8vo.