What makes those arrows more penetrating and distressing is, that Satan, with subtle art, tips them with sentences of Scripture. 'No place for repentance'; 'rejected'; 'hath never forgiveness,' and other passages which, by the malignant ingenuity of the fiend, are formed by his skill as the cutting and barbed points of his shafts. At one time Bunyan concluded that he was possessed of the devil; then he was tempted to speak and sin against the Holy Ghost. He thought himself alone in such a tempest, and that no one had ever felt such misery as he did. When in prayer, his mind was distracted with the thought that Satan was pulling his clothes; he was even tempted to fall down and worship him. Then he would cry after God, in awful fear that eventually Satan would overcome him. During all this time he was struggling against the tempter; and, at length, the dayspring visited him in these words, 'I am persuaded that nothing shall separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.' Again he was cast down with a recollection of his former blasphemies. What reason can I have to hope for an inheritance in eternal life? The questions was answered with that portion of Scripture, 'If God be for us, who can be against us?' These were visits which, like Peter's sheet, of a sudden were caught up to heaven again. At length the Sun of Righteousness arose, and shone upon him with healing influence. 'He hath made peace through the blood of his cross,' came with power to his mind, followed by the consoling words of the apostle, 'Forasmuch, then, as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage' (Heb 2:14,15). This was the key that opened every lock in Doubting Castle. The prisoner escaped to breathe the air of hope, and joy, and peace. 'This,' said he, 'was a good day to me, I hope I shall not forget it.' 'I thought that the glory of those words was then so weighty on me, that I was, both once and twice, ready to swoon as I sat, not with grief and trouble, but with solid joy and peace.'
His mind was now in a fit state to seek for church fellowship, as a further means of advance in his knowledge of Divine love. To effect this object, he was naturally led to the Baptist church at Bedford, to which those pious women belonged whose Christian communion had been blessed to him. I sat under the ministry of holy Mr. Gifford, whose doctrine, by God's grace, was much for my stability. Although his soul was led from truth to truth, his trials were not over—he passed through many severe exercises before he was received into communion with the church.
At length he determined to become identified with a body of professed Christians, who were treated with great scorn by other sects because they denied infant baptism, and he became engaged in the religious controversies which were fashionable in those days. We have noticed his encounter with the Ranters, and he soon had to give battle to persons called Quakers. Before the Society of Friends was formed, and their rules of discipline were published, many Ranters and others, some of whom were bad characters and held the wildest opinions, passed under the name of Quakers. Some of these denied that the Bible was the Word of God; and asserted that the death of Christ was not a full atonement for sin—that there is no future resurrection, and other gross errors. The Quakers, who were afterwards united to form the Society of Friends, from the first denied all those errors. Their earliest apologist, Barclay, in his theses on the Scriptures, says, 'They are the doctrines of Christ, held forth in precious declarations, spoken and written by the movings of God's Spirit.' Whoever it was that asserted the heresies, to Bunyan the investigation of them, in the light of Divine truth, was attended with great advantages. It was through 'this narrow search of the Scriptures that he was not only enlightened, but greatly confirmed and comforted in the truth.'
He longed to compare his experience with that of some old and eminent convert, and 'God did cast into his hand' Luther On the Galatians, 'so old that it was ready to fall piece from piece, if I did but turn it over.' The commentary of this enlightened man was a counterpart to his own feelings. 'I found,' says Bunyan, 'my condition, in his experience so largely and profoundly handled, as if his book had been written out of my own heart. I prefer the book before all others as most fit for a wounded conscience.' This was the 'voice of a man' that Christian 'heard as going before him in the Valley of the Shadow of Death,' and was glad that some who feared God were in this valley as well as himself, who could say, 'I will fear no evil for thou art with me.' In many things Luther and Bunyan were men of similar temperament. Like Emmanuel's captains, in the Holy War, they were 'very stout rough-hewn men; men that were fit to break the ice, and to make their way by dint of sword.' They were animated by the same principles, and fought with the same weapons; and although Luther resided in a castle protected by princes, was furnished with profound scholastic learning, and became a terror to Popery; yet the voice of the unlettered tinker, issuing from a dreary prison, bids fair to be far more extensively heard and blessed than that of this most illustrious reformer.
Bunyan's happiness was now very great; his soul, with all its affections, clave unto Christ: but lest spiritual pride should exalt him beyond measure, and lest he should be scared to renounce his Saviour, by the threat of transportation and death, his heart was again wounded, and quickly after this his 'love was tried to purpose.'
The tempter came in upon him with a most grievous and dreadful temptation; it was to part with Christ, to exchange him for the things of this life; he was perpetually tormented with the words 'sell Christ.' At length, he thought that his spirit gave way to the temptation, and a dreadful and profound state of despair overpowered him for the dreary space of more than two years. This is the most extraordinary part of this wonderful narrative, that he, without apparent cause, should thus be tempted, and feel the bitterness of a supposed parting with Christ. There was, doubtless, a cause for every pang; his heavenly Father afflicted him for his profit. We shall soon have to follow him through fiery trials. Before the justices, allured by their arguments, and particularly by the sophistry of their clerk, Mr. Cobb, and then dragged from a beloved wife and from children to whom he was most fondly attached—all these fiery trials might be avoided, if he would but 'sell Christ.' A cold damp dungeon was to incarcerate his body for twelve tedious years of the prime of his life, unless he would 'sell Christ.' His ministering brother and friend, John Child, a Bedford man, who had joined in recommending Bunyan's Vindication of Gospel Truths, fell under this temptation, and fearing temporal ruin and imprisonment for life, conformed, and then fell into the most awful state of despair, suffering such agonies of conscience, that, to get rid of present trouble, he hurried himself into eternity. Probably Bunyan alludes to this awful instance of fell despair in his Publican and Pharisee: 'Sin, when appearing in its monstrous shape and hue, frighteth all mortals out of their wits, away from God; and if he stops them not, also out of the world.' To arm Bunyan against being overcome by a fear of the lions in the way to the house Beautiful—against giving way, under persecution—he was visited with terrors lest he should sell or part with Christ. During these sad years he was not wholly sunk in despair, but had at times some glimmerings of mercy. In comparing his supposed sin with that of Judas, he was constrained to find a difference between a deliberate intention to sell Christ and a sudden temptation. Through all these searchings of heart and inquiries at the Word, he became fixed in the doctrine of the final perseverance of God's saints. 'O what love, what care, what kindness and mercy did I now see mixing itself with the most severe and dreadful of all God's ways to his people; he never let them fall into sin unpardonable.' 'But these thoughts added grief and horror to me; I thought that all things wrought for my eternal overthrow.' So ready is the tender heart to write bitter things against itself, and as ready is the tempter to whisper despairing thoughts. In the midst of this distress he 'saw a glory in walking with God,' although a dismal cloud enveloped him.
This misery was aggravated by reading the fearful estate of Francis Spira, who had been persuaded to return to a profession of Popery, and died in a state of awful despair. 'This book' was to his troubled spirit like salt rubbed into a fresh wound.
Bunyan now felt his body and mind shaking and tottering under the sense of the dreadful judgment of God; and he thought his sin—of a momentary and unwilling consent to give up Christ—was a greater sin than all the sins of David, Solomon, Manasseh, and even than all the sins that had been committed by all God's redeemed ones. Was there ever a man in the world so capable of describing the miseries of Doubting Castle, or of the Slough of Despond, as poor John Bunyan?
He would have run from God in utter desperation; 'but, blessed be his grace, that Scripture, in these flying sins, would call, as running after me, "I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me, for I have redeemed thee"' (Isa 44:22).Still he was haunted by that scripture, 'You know how that afterwards, when he would have inherited the blessing, he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.' Thus was he tossed and buffeted, involved in cloudy darkness, with now and then a faint gleam of hope to save him from despair. 'In all these,' he says, 'I was but as those that justle against the rocks; more broken, scattered, and rent. Oh! the unthought of imaginations, frights, fears, and terrors, that are effected by a thorough application of guilt.' 'Methought I saw as if the sun that shineth in the heavens did grudge to give light, and as if the very stones in the street, and tiles upon the houses, did bend themselves against me.' Here we find him in that doleful valley, where Christian was surrounded by enemies that 'cared not for his sword,' he put it up, and places his dependence upon the more penetrating weapon, 'All Prayer.' Depending upon this last resource, he prayed, even when in this great darkness and distress. To whom could he go? his case was beyond the power of men or angels. His refuge, from a fear of having committed the unpardonable sin, was that he had never refused to be justified by the blood of Christ, but ardently wished it; this, in the midst of the storm, caused a temporary clam. At length, he was led to look prayerfully upon those scriptures that had tormented him, and to examine their scope and tendency, and then he 'found their visage changed, for they looked not so grimly on him as before he thought they did.' Still, after such a tempest, the sea did not at once become a calm. Like one that had been scared with fire, every voice was fire, fire; every little touch hurt his tender conscience.
All this instructive history is pictured by a few words in the Pilgrim's Progress. At the Interpreter's house the pilgrim is shown 'a fire burning against a wall, and one standing by it, always casting much water upon it, to quench it; yet did the fire burn higher and hotter.' As Esau beat him down, Christ raised him again. The threatening and the promise were like glittering swords clashing together, but the promise must prevail.
His entire relief at last was sudden, while meditating in the field upon the words, 'Thy righteousness is in heaven.' Hence he drew the conclusion, that his righteousness was in Christ, at God's right hand, ever before him, secure from all the powers of sin and Satan. Now his chains fell off; he was loosed from his affliction and irons; his temptation fled away. His present supply of grace he compared to the cracked groats and fourpence half-pennies, which rich men carry in their pockets, while their treasure is safe in their trunks at home, as his was in the store-house of heaven.
This dreary night of awful conflict lasted more than two years; but when the day-spring from on high visited him, the promises spangled in his eyes, and he broke out into a song, 'Praise ye the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power. Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness.'
Bunyan's opinion as to the cause of this bitter suffering, was his want of watchfulness, his not coming boldly to the throne of grace, and that he had tempted God. The advantages he considered that he had gained by it were, that it confirmed his knowledge of the existence of God, so that he lost all his temptations to unbelief, blasphemy, and hardness of heart, Doubts as to the truth of the Word, and certainty of the world to come, were gone for ever.
He found no difficulty as to the keys of the kingdom of heaven. 'Now I saw the apostles to be the elders of the city of refuge, those that they were to receive in, were received to life, but those that they were to shut out, were to be slain by the avenger of blood.' Those were to enter who, with Peter, confessed to Jesus, 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God' (Matt 16:16). This is simply an authority to proclaim salvation or condemnation to those who receive or reject the Saviour. It is upon his shoulder the key of the house is laid (Isa 22:22). Christ only has the key, no MAN openeth or shutteth (Rev 1:18, 3:7). All that man can do, as to binding or loosening, is to warn the hardened and to invite the contrite.
By these trials, the promises, became more clear and invaluable than ever. He never saw those heights and depths in grace, and love, and mercy, as he saw them after this severe trial—'great sins drew out great grace'; and the more terrible and fierce guilt was, the more high and mighty did the mercy of God in Christ appear. These are Bunyan's own reflections; but may we not add to them, that while he was in God's school of trial, every groan, every bitter pang of anguish, and every gleam of hope, were intended to fit him for his future work as a preacher and writer? Weighed in the balances of the sanctuary, there was not a jot too little, or an iota too much. Every important subject which embarrasses the convert, was most minutely investigated, especially faith, the sin against the Holy Ghost, the divinity of Christ, and such essential truths. He well knew every dirty lane, and nook, and corner of Mansoul, in which the Diabolonians found shelter, and well he knew the frightful sound of Diabolus' drum. Well did his pastor, John Burton, say of him, 'He hath through grace taken these three heavenly degrees, to wit, union with Christ, the anointing of the Spirit, and experience of the temptations of Satan, which do more fit a man for that mighty work of preaching the gospel, than all the university learning and degrees that can be had.'
Preserved in Christ Jesus, and called—selected from his associates in sin, he was taken into this school, and underwent the strictest religious education. It was here alone that his rare talent could be cultivated, to enable him, in two immortal allegories, to narrate the internal discipline he underwent. It was here he attained that habitual access to the throne of grace, and that insight into the inspired volume, which filled his writings with those solemn realities of the world to come; while it enabled him to reveal the mysteries of communion with the Father of spirits, as he so wondrously does in his treatise on prayer. To use the language of Milton—'These are works that could not be composed by the invocation of Dame Memory and her Siren daughters, but by devout prayer to that eternal Spirit, who can enrich with all utterance and knowledge, and send out his seraphim, with the hallowed fire of his altar, to touch and purify the lips of whom he pleases, without reference to station, birth, or education.' The tent-maker and tinker, the fisherman and publican, and even a friar or monk, became the honoured instruments of his choice.
Throughout all Bunyan's writings, he never murmurs at his want of education, although it is often a source of humble apology. He honoured the learned godly as Christians, but preferred the Bible before the library of the two universities. He saw, what every pious man must see and lament, that there is much idolatry in human learning, and that it was frequently applied to confuse and impede the gospel. Thus he addresses the reader of his treatise on The Law and Grace—'If thou find this book empty of fantastical expressions, and without light, vain, whimsical, scholar-like terms, it is because I never went to school, to Aristotle or Plato, but was brought up at my father's house, in a very mean condition, among a company of poor countrymen. But if thou do find a parcel of plain, yet sound, true, and home sayings, attribute that to the Lord Jesus his gifts and abilities, which he hath bestowed upon such a poor creature as I am and have been.' His maxim was—'Words easy to be understood do often hit the mark, when high and learned ones do only pierce the air. He also that speaks to the weakest may make the learned understand him; when he that striveth to be high, is not only of the most part understood but of a sort, but also many times is neither understood by them nor by himself!' This is one of Bunyan's maxims, well worthy the consideration of the most profoundly learned writers, and also of the most eloquent preachers and public speakers.
Bunyan was one of those pioneers who are far in advance of the age in which they live, and the narrative of his birth and education adds to the innumerable contradictions which the history of man opposes to the system of Mr. Owen and the Socialists, and to every scheme for making the offspring of the poor follow in leading-strings the course of their parents, or for rendering them blindly submissive to the dictates of the rich, the learned, or the influential. It incontestably proves the gospel doctrine of individuality, and, that native talent will rise superior to all impediments. Our forefathers struggled for the right of private judgment in matters of faith and worship—their descendants will insist upon it, as essential to salvation, personally to examine every doctrine relative to the sacred objects of religion, limited only by Holy Writ. This must be done with rigorous impartiality, throwing aside all the prejudices of education, and be followed by prompt obedience to Divine truth, at any risk of offending parents, or laws, or resisting institutions, or ceremonies which he discovers to be of human invention. All this, as we have seen in Bunyan, was attended with great mental sufferings, with painstaking labour, with a simple reliance upon the Word of God, and with earnest prayer. If man impiously dares to submit his conscience to his fellow-man, or to any body of men called a church, what perplexity must he experience ere he can make up his mind which to choose! Instead of relying upon the ONE standard which God has given him in his Word; should he build his hope upon a human system he could be certain only that man is fallible and subject to err. How striking an instance have we, in our day, of the result of education, when the mind does not implicitly follow the guidance of the revealed Word of God. Two brothers, named Newman, educated at the same school, trained in the same university, brought up under the same religious system—all human arts exhausted to mould their minds into strict uniformity, yet gradually receding from the same point in opposite directions, but in equally downward roads; one to embrace the most puerile legends of the middle ages, the other to open infidelity. Not so with those who follow the teachings of the Word of God, by which, and not by any church, they are to be individually judged at the great day: no pontiff, no priest, no minister, can intervene or mediate for them at the bar of God. There it will be said, 'I know you, by your prayers for Divine guidance and your submission to my revealed will'; or, 'I know you not,' for you preferred the guidance of frail, fallible men, to me, and to my Word—a solemn consideration, which, as it proved a source of solid happiness and extensive usefulness to Bunyan in his pilgrimage, so it insured to him, as it will to all who follow his course, a solid foundation on which to stand at the great and terrible day, and thus enable them to live as well as die in the sure and certain hope of a triumphant entry into the celestial city.
THE THIRD PERIOD.
BUNYAN IS BAPTIZED, AND ENTERS INTO COMMUNION WITH A CHRISTIAN CHURCH AT BEDFORD—IS SET APART TO FILL THE DEACON'S OFFICE, AND SENT OUT AS AN ITINERANT PREACHER IN THE NEIGHBOURING VILLAGES.
Man is naturally led to seek the society of his fellow-men. His personal progress, and the great interests of civilization, depend upon the nature of his friendly intercourse and his proper associations. So is it with the Christian, but in a much higher degree. Not only does he require companions with whom he can enjoy Christian communion—of sufferings and of pleasures—in seasons of depressing trials, and in holy elevations—but with whom he may also form plans to spread the genial influence of Christianity, which has blessed and so boundlessly enriched his own soul. Christian fellowship and communion has received the broad seal of heaven. 'The Lord hearkened,' when they that feared him spake often to one another, 'and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord' (Mal 3:16).
Bunyan possessed a soul with faculties capable of the highest enjoyment of the communion of saints in church order. His ideas of mutual forbearance—that 'in lowliness of mind should each esteem others better than themselves'—he enforces with very peculiar power, and, at the same time, with delicate sensibility. After the pilgrims had been washed by Innocence in the Interpreter's bath, he sealed them, which 'greatly added to their beauty,' and then arrayed them in white raiment of fine linen; and 'when the women were thus adorned, they seemed to be a terror one to the other, for that they could not see that glory each one on herself which they could see in each other. Now, therefore, they began to esteem each other better than themselves.' 'The Interpreter led them into his garden, where was great variety of flowers. Then said he, Behold, the flowers are diverse in stature, in quality and colour, and smell and virtue, and some are better than some; also, where the gardener hath set them, there they stand, and quarrel not with one another.' 'When Christians stand every one in their places, and do their relative work, then they are like the flowers in the garden that grow where the gardener hath planted them, and both honour the gardener and the garden in which they are planted.' In the same treatise on Christian Behaviour, similar sentiments are expressed in language extremely striking and beautiful. 'The doctrine of the gospel is like the dew and the small rain that distilleth upon the tender grass, wherewith it doth flourish and is kept green (Deut 32:2).Christians are like the several flowers in a garden that have upon each of them the dew of heaven, which, being shaken with the wind, they let fall their dew at each other's roots, whereby they are jointly nourished, and become nourishers of one another. For Christians to commune savourly of God's matters one with another, it is as if they opened to each other's nostrils boxes of perfume.' Similar peaceful, heavenly principles, flow through Bunyan's Discourse of the Building, &c., of the House of God and its inmates; and blessed would it be if in all our churches every believer was baptized into such motives of forbearance and brotherly love. These sentiments do honour to the head and heart of the prince of allegorists, and should be presented in letters of gold to every candidate for church fellowship. A young man entertaining such opinions as these, however rude his former conduct, being born again to spiritual enjoyments, would become a treasure to the Christian society with which he might be connected.
In ordinary cases, the minister or people who have been useful to a young convert, lead him in his first choice of Christian associates; but here we have no ordinary man. Bunyan, in all things pertaining to religion, followed no human authority, but submitted himself to the guidance of the inspired volume. Possessing a humble hope of salvation, he would read with deep interest that 'the Lord added to the church such as should be saved.' The question which has so much puzzled the learned, as to a church or the church, would be solved without difficulty by one who was as learned in the Scriptures as he was ignorant of the subtle distinctions and niceties of the schools. He found that there was one church at Jerusalem (Acts 8:1), another at Corinth (1 Cor 1:2), seven in Asia (Rev 1:4), and others distributed over the world; that 'the visible church of Christ is a (or every) congregation of faithful men.' He well knew that uniformity is a fool's paradise; that though man was made in the image of God; it derogates not from the beauty of that image that no two men are alike. The stars show forth God's handy work, yet 'one star different from another star in glory' (1 Cor 15:41). Uniformity is opposed to every law of nature, for no two leaves upon a majestic tree are alike. Who but an idiot or a maniac would attempt to reduce the mental powers of all men to uniformity? Every church may have its own order of public worship while the Scriptures form the standard of truth and morals. Where differences of opinion occur, as they most certainly will, as to the observance of days or abstinence from meats—whether to stand, or sit, or kneel, in prayer—whether to stand while listening to some pages of the inspired volume, and to sit while others are publicly read—whether to call Jude a saint, and refuse the title to Isaiah—are questions which should bring into active exercise all the graces of Christian charity; and, in obedience to the apostolic injunction, they must agree to differ. 'Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind' (Rom 14:5). Human arts have been exhausted to prevent that mental exercise or self-persuasion which is essential to a Christian profession. The great object of Satan has ever been to foster indifference, that deadly lethargy, by leading man to any source of information rather than prayerful researches into the Bible. Bunyan's severe discipline in Christ's school would lead him to form a judgment for himself; he was surrounded by a host of sects, and, with such a Bible-loving man, it is an interesting inquiry what party he would join.
He lived in times of extraordinary excitement. England was in a transition state. A long chain of events brought on a crisis which involved the kingdom in tribulation. It was the struggle between the unbridled despotism of Epsicopacy, and the sturdy liberty of Puritanism. For although the immediate cause of the civil wars was gross misgovernment—arbitrary taxation without the intervention of Parliament, monopolies and patents, to the ruin of trade; in fact, every abuse of the royal power—still, without the additional spur of religious persecution, the spirit of the people would never have proved invincible and overpowering. The efforts of Archbishop Laud, aided by the queen and her popish confessor, Panzani, to subjugate Britain to the galling yoke of Rome, signally failed, involving in the ruin the life of the king and his archbishop, and all the desolating calamities of intestine wars, strangely called 'civil.' In this strife many of the clergy and most of the bishops took a very active part, aiding and abetting the king's party in their war against the parliament—and they thus brought upon themselves great pains and penalties. The people became suddenly released from mental bondage; and if the man who had been born blind, when he first received the blessing of sight, 'saw men as trees walking,' we cannot be surprised that religious speculations were indulged in, some of which proved to be crude and wild, requiring much vigorous persuasive pruning before they produced good fruit. Bunyan was surrounded by all these parties; for although the rights of conscience were not recognized—the Papists and Episcopalians, the Baptists and Unitarians, with the Jews, being proscribed—yet the hand of persecution was comparatively light. Had Bunyan chosen to associate with the Episcopalians, he would not have passed through those severe sufferings on which are founded his lasting honours. The Presbyterians and Independents received the patronage of the state under the Commonwealth, and the great mass of the clergy conformed to the directory, many of them reciting the prayers they had formerly read; while a considerable number, whose conscience could not submit to the system then enforced by law, did, to their honour, resign their livings, and suffer the privations and odium of being Dissenters. Among these were necessarily included the bishops.
Of all sects that of the Baptists had been the most bitterly written against and persecuted. Even their first cousins, the Quakers, attacked them in language that would, in our peaceful days, be considered outrageous. 'The Baptists used to meet in garrets, cheese-lofts, coal-holes, and such like mice walks,'—'theses tumultuous, blood-thirsty, covenant-breaking, government-destroying Anabaptists.' The offence that called forth these epithets was, that in addressing Charles II on his restoration, they stated that "they were no abettors of the Quakers." Had royal authority possessed the slightest influence over Bunyan's religious opinions, the question as to his joining the Baptists would have been settled without investigation. Among other infatuations of Charles I, had been his hatred of any sect that professed the right and duty of man to think for himself in choosing his way to heaven. In 1639 he published his 'Declaration concerning the tumults in Scotland,' when violence was resorted to against the introduction of the Common Prayer in which he denounced voluntary obedience because it was not of constraint, and called it 'damnable'; he calls the principles of the Anabaptists, in not submitting their consciences to human laws, 'furious frenzies,' and 'madness'; all Protestants are 'to detest and persecute them'; 'these Anabaptists raged most in their madness'; 'the scandal of their frenzies'; 'we are amazed at, and aggrieved at their horrible impudence'; 'we do abhor and detest them all as rebellious and treasonable.' This whole volume is amusingly assuming. The king claims his subjects as personal chattels, with whose bodies and minds he had a right to do as he pleased. Bunyan owed no spiritual submission to man, 'whose breath is in his nostrils'; and risking all hazards, he became one of the denounced and despised sect of Baptists. To use the language of his pilgrim, he passed the lions, braving all the dangers of an open profession of faith in Christ, and entered the house called Beautiful, which 'was built by the Lord of the hill, on purpose to entertain such pilgrims in.' He first gains permission of the watchman, or minister, and then of the inmates, or church members. This interesting event is said to have taken place about the year 1653. Mr. Doe, in The Struggler, thus refers to it, Bunyan 'took all advantages to ripen his understanding in religion, and so he lit on the dissenting congregation of Christians at Bedford, and was, upon confession of faith, baptized about the year 1653,' when he was in the twenty-fifth year of his age. No minutes of the proceedings of this church, prior to the death of Mr. Gifford in 1656, are extant, or they would identify the exact period when Bunyan's baptism and admission to the church took place. The spot where he was baptized is a creek by the river Ouse, at the end of Duck Mill Lane. It is a natural baptistery, a proper width and depth of water constantly fresh; pleasantly situated; sheltered from the public highway near the High Street. The Lord's Supper was celebrated in a large room in which the disciples met, the worship consecrating the place.
Religious feelings and conduct have at all times a tendency to promote the comfort, and elevate the character of the poor. How often have we seen them thus blessed; the ragged family comfortably clothed, the hungry fed, and the inmates of a dirty miserable cottage or hovel become a pattern of cleanly happiness. One of Bunyan's biographers, who was an eye-witness, bears this testimony. 'By this time his family was increased, and as that increased God increased his stores, so that he lived now in great credit among his neighbours.' He soon became a respectable member of civil as well as religious society; for, by the time that he joined the church, his Christian character was so fully established, that, notwithstanding the meanness of his origin and employment, he was considered worthy of uniting in a memorial to the Lord Protector. It was to recommend two gentlemen to form part of the council, after Cromwell had dissolved the Long Parliament. It is a curious document, very little known, and illustrative of the peculiar style of these eventful times.
Letter from the people of Bedfordshire to the Lord Generall Cromwell, and the Councell of the army.
May 13th, 1653.
May it please your Lordship, and the rest of the council of the army. We (we trust) servants of Jesus Christ, inhabitants in the county of Bedford, haveing fresh upon our hearts the sadde oppressions we have (a long while) groan'd under from the late parlayment, and now eyeing and owning (through grace) the good hand of God in this great turne of providence, being persuaded that it is from the Lord that you should be instrument in his hand at such a time as this, for the electing of such persons whoe may goe in and out before his people in righteousnesse, and governe these nations in judgment, we having sought the Lord for yow, and hopeing that God will still doe greate things by yow, understanding that it is in your hearte through the Lord's assistance, to establish an authority consisting of men able, loveing truth, feareing God, and hateing covetouseness; and we having had some experience of men with us, we have judged it our duty to God, to yow, and to the rest of his people, humbly to present two men, viz., Nathaniell Taylor, and John Croke, now Justices of Peace in our County, whom we judge in the Lord qualified to manage a trust in the ensuing government. All which we humbly referre to your serious considerations, and subscribe our names this 13th day of May, 1653—
John Eston, Clement Berridge, Isaac Freeman, John Grewe, John Bunyan, William Dell, John Gifford, William Baker, junr., William Wheelar, Ja. Rush, Anth. Harrington, John Gibbs, Tho. Varrse, Richard Spensley, John Donne, Michael Cooke, Edward Covinson, Tho. Gibbs, John Ramsay, John Hogge, Edward White, Robert English, John Jeffard, John Browne, John Edridge, John Ivory, John White, George Gee, Daniell Groome, Charles Peirse, Ambrose Gregory, Luke Parratt, Thomas Cooke, William Page, Thomas Knott, Thomas Honnor. These to the Lord Generall Cromwell, and the rest of the councell of the army, present.
Bunyan's daughter Elizabeth was born at Elstow, April 14, 1654, and a singular proof of his having changed his principles on baptism appears in the church register. His daughter Mary was baptized in 1650, but his Elizabeth in 1654 is registered as born, but no mention is made of baptism.
The poor harassed pilgrim having been admitted into communion with a Christian church, enjoyed fully, for a short season, his new privileges. He thus expresses his feelings:—'After I had propounded to the church that my desire was to walk in the order and ordinances of Christ with them, and was also admitted by them: while I thought of that blessed ordinance of Christ, which was his last supper with his disciples before his death, that scriptures, "this do in remembrance of me," was made a very precious word unto me; for by it the Lord came down upon my conscience with the discovery of his death for my sins: and as I then felt, did as if he plunged me in the virtue of the same.'
In this language we have an expression which furnishes a good sample of his energetic feelings. He had been immersed in water at his baptism, and doubtless believed it to be a figure of his death to sin and resurrection to holiness; and when he sat at the Lord's table he felt that he was baptized into the virtue of his Lord's death; he is plunged into it, and feels the holy influence covering his soul with all its powers.
His pastor, John Gifford, was a remarkably pious and sensible man, exactly fitted to assist in maturing the mind of his young member. Bunyan had, for a considerable time, sat under his ministry, and had cultivated acquaintance with the members of his church; and so prayerfully had he made up his mind as to this important choice of a church, with which he might enter into fellowship, that, although tempted by the most alluring prospects of greater usefulness, popularity, and emolument, he continued his church fellowship with these poor people through persecution and distress, imprisonment and the threats of transportation, or an ignominious death, until he crossed the river 'which has no bridge,' and ascended to the celestial city, a period of nearly forty years. Of the labours of his first pastor, John Gifford, but little is known, except that he founded the church of Christ at Bedford, probably the first, in modern times, which allowed to every individual freedom of judgment as to water baptism; receiving all those who decidedly appeared to have put on Christ, and had been received by him; but avoiding, with godly jealousy, any mixture of the world with the church. Mr. Gifford's race was short, consistent, and successful. Bunyan calls him by an appellation, very probably common in his neighbourhood and among his flock, 'holy Mr. Gifford'; a title infinitely superior to all the honours of nobility, or of royalty. He was a miracle of mercy and grace, for a very few years before he had borne the character of an impure and licentious man—an open enemy to the saints of God. His pastoral letter, left upon record in the church-book, written when drawing near the end of his pilgrimage, is most admirable; it contains an allusion to his successors, Burton or Bunyan, and must have had a tendency in forming their views of a gospel church. Even Mr. Southey praises this puritanic epistle as exemplifying 'a wise and tolerant and truly Christian spirit': and as it has not been published in any life of Bunyan, I venture to introduce it without abridgement:—
To the Church over which God made me an overseer when I was in the world.
I beseech you, brethren beloved, let these following words (wrote in my love to you, and care over you, when our heavenly Father was removing me to the kingdom of his dear Son), be read in your church-gatherings together. I shall not now, dearly beloved, write unto you about that which is the first, and without which all other things are as nothing in the sight of God, viz., the keeping the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience; I shall not, I say, write of these things, though the greatest, having spent my labours among you, to root you and build you up in Christ through the grace you have received; and to press you to all manner of holiness in your conversations, that you may be found of the Lord, without spot, and blameless, at His coming. But the things I shall speak to you of, are about your CHURCH AFFAIRS, which I fear have been little considered by most of you; which things, if not mended aright, and submitted unto, according to the will of God, will by degrees bring you under divisions, distractions, and at last, to confusion of that gospel order and fellowship which now, through grace, you enjoy. Therefore, my brethren, in the first place, I would not have any of you ignorant of this, that every one of you are as much bound now to walk with the church in all love; and in the ordinances of Jesus Christ our Lord, as when I was present among you: neither have any of you liberty to join yourselves to any other society, because your pastor is removed from you; for you were not joined to the ministry, but to Christ, and the church; and this is and was the will of God in Christ to all the churches of the saints, read Acts 2:42; and compare it with Acts 1:14, 15. And I charge you before the Lord, as you will answer it at the coming of our Lord Jesus, that none of you be found guilty herein.
Secondly. Be constant in your church assemblies. Let all the work which concerns the church be done faithfully among you; as admission of members, exercising of gifts, election of officers, as need requires, and all other things as if named, which the Scriptures being searched, will lead you into, through the Spirit; which things, if you do, the Lord will be with you, and you will convince others that Christ is your head, and your dependency is not upon man; but if you do the work of the Lord negligently, if you mind your own things and not the things of Christ, if you grow of indifferent spirits, whether you mind the work of the Lord in his church or no, I fear the Lord by degrees will suffer the comfort of your communion to be dried up, and the candlestick which is yet standing to be broken in pieces; which God forbid.
Now, concerning your admission of members, I shall leave you to the Lord for counsel, who hath hitherto been with you; only thus much I think expedient to stir up your remembrance in; that after you are satisfied in the work of grace in the party you are to join with, the said party do solemnly declare (before some of the church at least), That Union with Christ is the foundation of all saints' communion; and not any ordinances of Christ, or any judgment or opinion about externals; and the said party ought to declare, whether a brother or sister, that through grace they will walk in love with the church, though there should happen any difference in judgment about other things. Concerning separation from the church about baptism, laying on of hands, anointing with oil, psalms, or any externals, I charge every one of you respectively, as you will give an account for it to our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge both quick and dead at his coming, that none of you be found guilty of this great evil; which, while some have committed, and that through a zeal for God, yet not according to knowledge, they have erred from the law of the love of Christ, and have made a rent from the true church, which is but one. I exhort you, brethren, in your comings together, Let all things be done decently, and in order, according to the Scriptures. Let all things be done among you without strife and envy, without self-seeking and vain-glory. Be clothed with humility, and submit to one another in love. Let the gifts of the church be exercised according to order. Let no gift be concealed which is for edification; yet let those gifts be chiefly exercised which are most for the perfecting of the saints. Let your discourses be to build up one another in your most holy faith, and to provoke one another to love and good works: if this be not well-minded, much time may be spent and the church reap little or no advantage. Let there be strong meat for the strong, and milk for babes. In your assemblies avoid all disputes which gender to strife, as questions about externals, and all doubtful disputations. If any come among you who will be contentious in these things, let it be declared that you have no such order, nor any of the churches of God. If any come among you with any doctrine contrary to the doctrine of Christ, you must not treat with such an one as with a brother, or enter into dispute of the things of faith with reasonings (for this is contrary to the Scriptures); but let such of the brethren who are the fullest of the Spirit, and the word of Christ, oppose such an one steadfastly face to face, and lay open his folly to the church, from the Scriptures. If a brother through weakness speak anything contrary to any known truth of God (though not intended by him), some other brother of the church must in love clear up the truth, lest many of the church be laid under temptation. Let no respect of persons be in your comings-together; when you are met as a church there's neither rich nor poor, bond nor free in Christ Jesus. 'Tis not a good practice to be offering places or seats when those who are rich come in; especially it is a great evil to take notice of such in time of prayer, or the word; then are bowings and civil observances at such times not of God. Private wrongs are not presently to be brought unto the church. If any of the brethren are troubled about externals, let some of the church (let it not be a church business) pray for and with such parties.
None ought to withdraw from the church if any brother should walk disorderly, but he that walketh disorderly must bear his own burden, according to the Scriptures. If any brother should walk disorderly, he cannot be shut out from any ordinance before church censure. Study among yourselves what is the nature of fellowship, as the word, prayer, and breaking of bread; which, whilst few, I judge, seriously consider, there is much falling short of duty in the churches of Christ. You that are most eminent in profession, set a pattern to all the rest of the church. Let your faith, love, and zeal, be very eminent; if any of you cast a dim light, you will do much hurt in the church. Let there be kept up among you solemn days of prayer and thanksgiving; and let some time be set apart, to seek God for your seeds, which thing hath hitherto been omitted. Let your deacons have a constant stock by them, to supply the necessity of those who are in want. Truly, brethren, there is utterly a fault among you that are rich, especially in this thing, 'tis not that little which comes from you on the first day of the week that will excuse you. I beseech you, be not found guilty of this sin any longer. He that sows sparingly will reap sparingly. Be not backward in your gatherings-together; let none of you willingly stay till part of the meeting be come, especially such who should be examples to the flock. One or two things are omitted about your comings-together, which I shall here add. I beseech you, forbear sitting in prayer, except parties be any way disabled; 'tis not a posture which suits with the majesty of such an ordinance. Would you serve your prince so? In prayer, let all self-affected expressions be avoided, and all vain repetitions. God hath not gifted, I judge, every brother to be a mouth to the church. Let such as have most of the demonstration of the Spirit and of power, shut up all your comings-together, that ye may go away with your hearts comforted and quickened.
Come together in time, and leave off orderly; for God is a God of order among his saints. Let none of you give offence to his brethren in indifferent things, but be subject to one another in love. Be very careful what gifts you approve of by consent for public service.
Spend much time before the Lord, about choosing a pastor, for though I suppose he is before you, whom the Lord hath appointed, yet it will be no disadvantage to you, I hope, if you walk a year or two as you are before election; and then, if you be all agreed, let him be set apart, according to the Scriptures. Salute the brethren who walk not in fellowship with you, with the same love and name of brother or sister as those who do.
Let the promises made to be accomplished in the latter days, be often urged before the Lord in your comings-together; and forget not your brethren in bonds. Love him much for the work's sake, who labours over you in the word and doctrine. Let no man despise his youth. Muzzle not the mouth of the ox that treads out the corn to you. Search the Scriptures; let some of them be read to you about this thing. If your teacher at any time be laid aside, you ought to meet together as a church, and build up one another. If the members at such a time will go to a public ministry, it must first be approved of by the church. Farewell; exhort, counsel, support, reprove one another in love.
Finally, brethren, be all of one mind, walk in love one to another, even as Christ Jesus hath loved you, and given himself for you. Search the Scriptures for a supply of those things wherein I am wanting. Now the God of peace, who raised up our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, multiply his peace upon you, and preserve you to his everlasting kingdom by Jesus Christ. Stand fast: the Lord is at hand.
That this was written by me, I have set my name to it, in the presence of two of the brethren of the church.
Bunyan was now settled under the happiest circumstances, and doubtless looked forward to much religious enjoyment. A pious wife—peace in his soul—a most excellent pastor, and in full communion with a Christian church. Alas! his enjoyments were soon interrupted; again a tempest was to agitate his mind, that he might be more deeply humbled and prepared to become a Barnabas or son of consolation to the spiritually distressed.
It is a remarkable fact, that upon the baptism of our Lord, after that sublime declaration of Jehovah—'this is my beloved Son,' 'Jesus was led into the wilderness, to be tempted of the devil.' As it was with their leader, so it frequently happens to his followers. After having partaken, for the first time, of the holy enjoyments of the Lord's table—tending to exalt and elevate them, they are often abased and humbled in their own esteem, by the assaults of Satan and his temptations, aided by an evil heart of unbelief. Thus Christian having been cherished in the house called Beautiful, and armed for the conflict, descended into the Valley of Humiliation, encountered Apollyon in deadly combat, and walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. 'For three quarters of a year, fierce and said temptations did beset me to blasphemy, that I could never have rest nor ease. But at last the Lord came in upon my soul with that same scripture, by which my soul was visited before; and after that, I have been usually very well and comfortable in the partaking of that blessed ordinance; and have, I trust, therein discerned the Lord's body, as broken for my sins, and that his precious blood hath been shed for my transgressions.' This is what Bunyan calls, 'the soul killing to itself its sins, its righteousness, wisdom, resolutions, and the things which it trusted in by nature'; and then receiving 'a most glorious, perfect, and never-fading life.' The life of Christ in all its purity and perfections imputed to me—'Sometimes I bless the Lord my soul hath had this life not only imputed to me, but the very glory of it upon my soul—the Son of God himself in his own person, now at the right hand of his Father representing me complete before the mercy-seat in his ownself.' 'There was my righteousness just before the eyes of Divine glory.'
About this period his robust hardy frame gave way under the attack of disease, and we have to witness his feelings when the king of terrors appeared to be beginning his deadly work. Whether the fiery trials, the mental tempest through which he had passed, were too severe for his bodily frame, is not recorded. His narrative is, that, 'Upon a time I was somewhat inclining to a consumption, wherewith, about the spring I was suddenly and violently seized, with much weakness in my outward man; insomuch that I thought I could not live.' This is slightly varied in his account of this illness in his Law and Grace. He there says, 'having contracted guilt upon my soul, and having some distemper of body upon me, I supposed that death might now so seize upon, as to take me away from among men. These serious considerations led to a solemn investigation of his hopes. His having been baptized, his union to a church, the good opinion of his fellow-men, are not in the slightest degree relied upon as evidences of the new birth, or of a death to sin and resurrection to holiness.' 'Now began I afresh to give myself up to a serious examination after my state and condition for the future, and of my evidences for that blessed world to come: for it hath, I bless the name of God, been my usual course, as always, so especially in the day of affliction, to endeavour to keep my interest in the life to come, clear before my eye.
'But I had no sooner began to recall to mind my former experience of the goodness of God to my soul, but there came flocking into my mind an innumerable company of my sins and transgressions: amongst which these were at this time most to my affliction, namely, my deadness, dullness, and coldness in holy duties; my wanderings of heart, my wearisomeness in all good things, my want of love to God, his ways and people, with this at the end of all, "Are these the fruits of Christianity? Are these the tokens of a blessed man?"
'At the apprehension of these things my sickness was doubled upon me, for now was I sick in my inward man, my soul was clogged with guilt; now also was my former experience of God's goodness to me quite taken out of my mind, and hid as if it had never been, nor seen. Now was my soul greatly pinched between these two considerations, "Live I must not, die I dare not." Now I sunk and fell in my spirit, and was giving up all for lost; but as I was walking up and down in my house, as a man in a most woeful state, that word of God took hold of my heart, Ye are "justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ" (Rom 3:24). But O! what a turn it made upon me!
'Now was I as one awakened out of some troublesome sleep and dream; and listening to this heavenly sentence, I was as if I had heard it thus expounded to me:—"Sinner, thou thinkest, that because of thy sins and infirmities, I cannot save thy soul; but behold my Son is by me, and upon him I look, and not on thee, and will deal with thee according as I am pleased with him." At this I was greatly lightened in my mind, and made to understand, that God could justify a sinner at any time; it was but his looking upon Christ, and imputing of his benefits to us, and the work was forthwith done.'
'Now was I got on high, I saw myself within the arms of grace and mercy; and though I was before afraid to think of a dying hour, yet now I cried, Let me die. Now death was lovely and beautiful in my sight, for I saw that we shall never live indeed, till we be gone to the other world. I saw more in those words, "Heirs of God" (Rom 8:17), than ever I shall be able to express. "Heirs of God," God himself is the portion of his saints.'
As his mental agitation subsided into this delicious calm, his bodily health was restored; to use his own figure, Captain Consumption, with all his men of death, were routed, and his strong bodily health trimphed over disease; or, to use the more proper language of an eminent Puritan, 'When overwhelmed with the deepest sorrows, and that for many doleful months, he who is Lord of nature healed my body, and he who is the Father of mercies and God of all grace has proclaimed liberty to the captive, and given rest to my weary soul.' Here we have a key to the most eventful picture in the Pilgrim's Progress—The Valley of the Shadow of Death—which is placed in the midst of the journey. When in the prime of life, death looked at him and withdrew for a season. It was the shadow of death that came over his spirit.
The church at Bedford having increased, Bunyan was chosen to fill the honourable office of a deacon. No man could have been better fitted for that office than Bunyan was. He was honesty itself, had suffered severe privations, so as to feel for those who were pinched with want; he had great powers of discrimination, to distinguish between the poverty of idleness, and that distress which arises from circumstances over which human foresight has no control, so as to relieve with propriety the pressure of want, without encouraging the degrading and debasing habit of depending upon alms, instead of labouring to provide the necessaries of life. He had no fine clothes to be spoiled by trudging down the filthiest lanes, and entering the meanest hovels to relieve suffering humanity. The poor—and that is the great class to whom the gospel is preached, and by whom it is received—would hail him as a brother. Gifted in prayer, full of sound and wholesome counsel drawn from holy writ, he must have been a peculiar blessing to the distressed, and to all the members who stood in need of advice and assistance. Such were the men intended by the apostles, 'men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom' (Acts 6:3), whom the church were to select, to relieve the apostles from the duties of ministration to the wants of the afflicted members, in the discharge of which they had given offence.
While thus actively employed, he was again visited with a severe illness, and again was subject to a most searching and solemn investigation as to his fitness to appear before the judgment-seat of God. 'All that time the tempter did beset me strongly, labouring to hide from me my former experience of God's goodness; setting before me the terrors of death, and the judgment of God, insomuch that at this time, through my fear of miscarrying for ever, should I now die, I was as one dead before death came; I thought that there was no way but to hell I must.'
'A wounded spirit who can bear.' Well might the apostle say, 'If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable' (1 Cor 15:19). Bunyan had enjoyed holy emotions full of glory, and now the devil was threatening him, not only with the loss of heaven, but the terrors of hell. The Puritan, Rogers, describes religious melancholy as 'the worst of all distempers, and those sinking and guilty fears which it brings along with it are inexpressibly dreadful; what anguish, what desolation! I dare not look to heaven; there I see the greatness of God, who is against me. I dare not look into his Word; for there I see all his threats, as so many barbed arrows to strike me to the heart. I dare not look into the grave; because thence I am like to have a doleful resurrection; in this doleful night the soul hath no evidence at all of its former grace.' Bunyan's experience reminds us of the impressive language of Job—a book full of powerful imagery and magnificent ideas, in which Bunyan delighted, calling it 'that blessed book.' Job goes on, from step to step, describing his mental wretchedness, until he rises to a climax, God 'runneth upon me like a giant' (16:7-22). 'Thou huntest me as a fierce lion' (10:16). 'The arrows of the Almighty are within me; they drink up my spirit: the terrors of God do set themselves in array against me' (6:4). Poor Bunyan, in the depth of his distress, cried unto God, and was heard and relieved from these soul troubles. He recollected the joyful ascent of Lazarus from the extreme of human misery to the height of celestial enjoyments. His spirit was sweetly revived, and he was enabled, with delight, to hope yet in God, when that word fell with great weight upon his mind, 'O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?' 'At this he became both well in body and mind at once; his sickness did presently vanish, and he again walked comfortably in his work for God.' The words, 'by grace are ye saved,' followed him through the rest of his pilgrimage. His consolation was, that 'a little true grace will go a great way; yea, and do more wonders than we are aware of. If we have but grace enough to keep us groaning after God, it is not all the world that can destroy us.' He had now become deeply instructed in the school of Christ, and was richly furnished with the weapons of spiritual warfare; 'a scribe instructed into the kingdom of heaven, like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old' (Matt 13:12). Or, as 'the man of God, perfected, thoroughly furnished unto all good works' (2 Tim 3:17). It was powerfully impressed upon his mind that all his inward conflicts were to be made use of in preparing him to instruct others. All the events of his Saviour's life passed before his mind as if he had stood by as a witness to his birth—his walking with his disciples; his wondrous parables and stupendous miracles; his mental and bodily sufferings; his sacrifice, burial, ascension, intercession, and final judgment; all passed in vivid review before the eye of his mind; and then, he says, 'as I was musing with myself what these things should mean, methought I heard such a word in my heart as this, I have set thee down on purpose, for I have something more than ordinary for thee to do'; which made me the more to marvel, saying, 'What, my Lord, such a poor wretch as I?' Such was his inward call to the ministry; and it being attended with the three requisites usually insisted on among Dissenters—ability, inclination, and opportunity—he was sent out as an itinerant preacher in the surrounding villages in 1655, and laid the foundation of many churches, which now flourish to the praise of the glory of Divine grace. In some of these villages the gospel had never before been preached; they were strongholds of Satan. These were fit places for the full display of his intrepid energy.
After thus preaching and much suffering, for fifteen years, he was appointed to the pastoral office, or eldership. Can a man enter upon the work of the ministry from a better school than this? Deeply versed in scriptural knowledge; thoroughly humbled by the assaults of sin and Satan; aware of his devices; with a keen perception of the value of the soul; its greatness; and, if lost, the causes and the unspeakable extent of its loss. Solemnly devout and fluent in prayer; ready in conversation upon heavenly things; speaking the truth without fear of consequences, yet avoiding unnecessary offence; first speaking in the church-meeting, and then more extensively in barns, or woods, or dells, to avoid the informers. Such was his training; and the result was, that, when permitted to proclaim the gospel publicly, thousands hung upon his words with intense feeling; numerous converts were by his means added to the church; the proud became broken-hearted, and the lowly were raised, and blessings abounded; the drunkards were made sober; thieves and covetous were reclaimed; the blasphemers were made to sing the praises of God; the desert bid fair to blossom and bring forth fruit as a garden. But, alas! his early labours were contrary to acts of parliament; the spirit of intolerance and persecution soon troubled, and eventually consigned him to a prison.
Before we bid a final farewell to Bunyan's extraordinary mental struggles with unbelief, it may be well to indulge in a few sober reflections. Are the narratives of these mighty tempests in his spirit plain matters of fact? No one can read the works of Bunyan and doubt for a moment his truthfulness. His language is that of the heart, fervent but not exaggerated, strong but a plain tale of real feelings. He says, and he believed it, 'My sins have appeared so big to me, that I thought one of my sins have been as big as all the sins of all the men in the nation; ay and of other nations too, reader; these things be not fancies, for I have smarted for this experience. It is true that Satan has the art of making the uttermost of every sin; he can blow it up, make it swell, make every hair of its head as big as a cedar; but yet the least stream of the heart blood of Jesus hath vanished all away and hath made it to fly, to the astonishment of such a poor sinner, and hath delivered me up into sweet and heavenly peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.' Some have supposed the narrative to be exaggerated, while others have attributed the disturbed state of his mind to disease; my humble belief is that the whole is a plain unvarnished account of facts; that those facts occurred while he was in full possession of all the faculties of his mind. To ascribe such powers to the invisible world by which we are constantly surrounded, does not agree with the doctrines of modern philosophers. Those holy or unholy suggestions suddenly injected, would by the world be set down as the hallucinations of a distempered imagination. Carnal relations attributed Christian's alarm to 'some frenzy distemper got into his head,' and Southey, following their example, ascribes Bunyan's hallowed feelings to his want of 'sober judgment,' 'his brutality and extreme ignorance,' a 'stage of burning enthusiasm,' and to 'an age in which hypocrisy was regnant, and fanaticism rampant throughout the land.' What a display of reigning hypocrisy and rampant fanaticism was it to see the game at cat openly played by men on Sunday, the church bells calling them to their sport!!! Had Southey been poet-laureate to Charles II, he might with equal truth have concealed the sensuality, open profaneness, and debauchery of that profligate monarch and his court of concubines, and have praised him as 'the Lord's anointed.' Bunyan was an eye-witness of the state of the times in which he lived, and he associated with numbers of the poor in Bedfordshire and the adjoining counties. So truthful a man's testimony is of great value, and he proves that no miraculous reformation of manners had taken place; no regnant hypocrisy nor rampant fanaticism. In 1655, that being the brightest period of the Commonwealth, he thus 'sighs' over the state of his country:—'There are but a few places in the Bible but there are threatenings against one sinner or another; against drunkards, swearers, liars, proud persons, strumpets, whoremongers, covetous, railers, extortioners, thieves, lazy persons. In a word, all manner of sins are reproved, and there is a sore punishment to be executed on the committers of them; and all this made mention of in the Scriptures. But for all this, how thick, and by heaps, do these wretches walk up and down our streets? Do but go into the ale-houses, and you shall see almost every room besprinkled with them, so foaming out their own shame that it is enough to make the heart of a saint to tremble.' This was a true character of the great masses of the labouring and trading portions of the commonwealth. Let us hear his testimony also as to the most sacred profession, the clergy, in 1654:—
'A reason why delusions do so easily take place in the hearts of the ignorant, is, because those that pretend to be their teachers, do behave themselves so basely among them. And indeed I may say of these, as our Lord said of the Pharisees in another case, the blood of the ignorant shall be laid to their charge. They that pretend they are sent of the Lord, and come, saying, Thus saith the Lord; we are the servants of the Lord, our commission is from the Lord by succession; I say, these pretending themselves to be the preachers of truth, but are not, do, by their loose conversation, render the doctrine of God, and his Son Jesus Christ, by whom the saints are saved, contemptible, and do give the adversary mighty encouragement, to cry out against the truths of our Lord Jesus Christ, because of their wicked waling. For the most part of them, they are the men that at this day do so harden their hearers in their sins by giving them such ill examples, that none goeth beyond them for impiety. As, for example, would a parishioner learn to be proud, he or she need look no farther than to the priest, his wife, and family; for there is a notable pattern before them. Would the people learn to be wanton? they may also see a pattern among their teachers. Would they learn to be drunkards? they may also have that from some of their ministers; for indeed they are ministers in this, to minister ill example to their congregations. Again, would the people learn to be covetous? they need but look to their minister, and they shall have a lively, or rather a deadly resemblance set before them, in both riding and running after great benefices, and parsonages by night and by day. Nay, they among themselves will scramble for the same. I have seen, that so soon as a man hath but departed from his benefice as he calls it, either by death or out of covetousness of a bigger, we have had one priest from this town, and another from that, so run, for these tithe-cocks and handfuls of barley, as if it were their proper trade, and calling, to hunt after the same. O wonderful impiety and ungodliness! are you not ashamed of your doings? Read Romans 1 towards the end. As it was with them, so, it is to be feared, it is with many of you, who knowing the judgments of God, that they who do such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure also in them that do them. And now you that pretend to be the teachers of the people in verity and truth, though we know that some of you are not, is it a small thing with you to set them such an example as this? Were ever the Pharisees so profane; to whom Christ said, Ye vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? Doth not the ground groan under you? surely, it will favour you no more than it favoured your fore-runners. Certainly the wrath of God lies heavy at your doors, it is but a very little while, and your recompense shall be upon your own head. And as for you that are indeed of God among them, though not of them, separate yourselves. Why should the righteous partake of the same plagues with the wicked? O ye children of the harlot! I cannot well tell how to have done with you, your stain is so odious, and you are so senseless, as appears by your practices.'
The testimony of George Fox as to England's fashions in 1654, is very pointed and extremely droll:—Men and women are carried away with fooleries and vanities; gold and silver upon their backs, store of ribbands hanging about the waist, knees, and feet—red or white, black or yellow; women with their gold; their spots on their faces, noses, cheeks, foreheads; rings on their fingers, cuffs double, like a butcher's white sleeves; ribbands about their hands, and three or four gold laces about their clothes; men dressed like fiddlers' boys or stage players; see them playing at bowls, or at tables, or at shovel-board, or each one decking his horse with bunches of ribbands on his head, as the rider hath on his own. These are gentlemen, and brave fellows, that say pleasures are lawful, and in their sports they should like wild asses. This is the generation carried away with pride, arrogancy, lust, gluttony, and uncleanness; who eat and drink and rise up to play, their eyes full of adultery, and their bodies of the devil's adorning. Such quotations from the writings of men of undoubted veracity, and who lived during that period, might be multiplied to fill a volume.
Is this the regnant hypocrisy and rampant fanaticism which prevailed in England, and which Southey supposes to have influenced Bunyan and deranged his sober judgment? It is true that the Protector and his council discountenanced vice and folly, and that there was more piety and virtue in the kingdom at that time than it had ever before witnessed. But it would have been the greatest of miracles, had the people been suddenly moralized, after having been baptized in brutality for ages. Not a century had elapsed since the autos da fe had blazed throughout the country, burning the most pious, moral, and enlightened of her citizens. A century of misery to the professors of religions had passed, in which the persecutions of Papists and Puritans, hanging, transporting, murdering by frightful imprisonments all those who dared to dissent from the church of England. All this must have produced a debasing effect upon public morals. Even among professors Bunyan discovered pride, covetousness, impiety and uncleanness.
Bunyan's religious impressions did not, as Southey states, arise from his ignorance, brutal manners, low station, nor from the fanaticism of the age in which he lived. Did the similar feeling of Job or David spring from these polluted fountains? He is a stranger to Christ's school that confounds its discipline with mental drunkenness, or with the other depraved sources alluded to by Southey. The luxurious imagination which ruled over him, must be curbed and brought into subjection to Christ. He must be weaned from a reliance upon sudden impulses to rely upon Divine truth. The discovery of errors by scriptural investigation was putting on armour of proof. Self-confidence was gradually swallowed up by dependence upon the word—the result of the severest spiritual training. Those painful exercises produced a life of holiness and usefulness. Can the thistle produce grapes, or the noxious weeds corn? Never! His experience came from heaven, in mercy to his soul, and to make him a blessing to millions of his race. By this he was made truly wise, civilized, enlightened, and elevated. Every painful feeling was measured by Divine rule—weighed in the sanctuary balance—not one iota too much or too little to form his noble character. He has been compared with Lord Byron, one of our most impassioned thinkers and writers; but the noble poet's heart-griefs were on the wrong side. Judging of his own feelings by those painted on his heroes—they fight for freedom only to gratify lust, pride, and ambition, while the future appeared in dark, dreary uncertainty. But Bunyan strives to be released from the slavery of sin and Satan, that he might enjoy the liberty of being a servant of Christ, whose service is perfect freedom, with a glorious vista of eternity occasionally breaking in upon his soul.
Well may it be said of him:—Simple, enchanting man! what does not the world owe to thee and to the great Being who could produce such as thee? Teacher alike of the infant and of the aged; who canst direct the first thought and remove the last doubt of man; property alike of the peasant and the prince; welcomed by the ignorant and honoured by the wise; thou hast translated Christianity into a new language, and that a universal one! Thou art the prose poet of all time!
THE FOURTH PERIOD.
BUNYAN ENTERS INTO CONTROVERSY—BECOMES AN AUTHOR—OFFENDS A PERSECUTING MAGISTRACY, AND IS PROCEEDED AGAINST AT THE SESSIONS UNDER AN ACT OF THE COMMONWEALTH—IS ACCUSED OF REPORTING A STRANGE CHARGE OF WITCHCRAFT—PUBLICLY DISPUTES WITH THE QUAKERS.
In proportion as a man becomes a public character, especially if eminent for talent and usefulness in the church, so will his enemies increase. The envy of some and the malice of others will invent slanders, or, what is worse, put an evil construction upon the most innocent conduct, in the hope of throwing a shade over that brightness which reveals their own defects. In this they are aided by all the craft, and cunning, and power of Satan, the archenemy of man. The purity of gospel truth carries with it the blessed fruits of the highest order of civilization; the atmosphere in which it lives is 'good will to man.' Salvation is a free gift, direct from God to the penitent sinner. It cannot be obtained by human aid, nor for all the gold in the universe. It cannot possibly be traded in, bought, or sold, but is bestowed without money or price. Hence the opposition of Antichrist. The cry or groan of the contrite enters heaven and brings down blessings, while the most elegant and elaborately-composed prayer, not springing from the heart, is read or recited in vain. Human monarchs must be approached by petitions drawn up in form, and which may be accepted, although the perfection of insincerity and hypocrisy. The King of kings accepts no forms; he knows the heart, and requires the approach of those who worship him to be in sincerity and in truth; the heart may plead without words, God accepteth the groans and sighs of those that fear him. These were the notions that Bunyan had drawn from the Holy Oracles, and his conversation soon made him a favourite with the Puritans, while it excited feelings of great hostility among the neighbouring clergy and magistrates.
Bunyan's conversion from being a pest to the neighbourhood to becoming a pious man, might have been pardoned had he conformed to the Directory; but for him to appear as a Dissenter and a public teacher, without going through the usual course of education and ordination, was an unpardonable offence. The opinions of man gave him no concern; all his anxiety was to have the approbation of his God, and then to walk accordingly, braving all the dangers, the obloquy, and contempt that might arise from his conscientious discharge of duties, for the performance of which he knew that he alone must give a solemn account at the great day.
He entered upon the serious work of the ministry with fear and trembling, with much heart-searching, earnest prayer, and the advice of the church to which he was united, not with any pledge to abide by their decision contrary to his own conviction, but to aid him in his determination. His own account of these important inquiries is very striking:—'After I had been about five or six years awakened, and helped myself to see both the want and worth of Jesus Christ our Lord, and also enabled to venture my soul upon him, some of the most able among the saints with us, for judgment and holiness of life, as they conceived, did perceive that God had counted me worthy to understand something of his will in His holy and blessed Word, and had given me utterance, in some measure, to express what I saw to others for edification; therefore they desired me, and that with much earnestness, that I would be willing at some times to take in hand, in one of the meetings, to speak a word of exhortation unto them. The which, though at the first it did much dash and abash my spirit, yet being still by them desired and entreated, I consented to their request, and did twice, at two several assemblies in private, though with much weakness and infirmity, discover my gift amongst them; at which they did solemnly protest, as in the sight of the great God, they were both affected and comforted, and gave thanks to the Father of mercies for the grace bestowed on me.
'After this, sometimes, when some of them did go into the country to teach, they would also that I should go with them; where, though as yet I did not, nor durst not, make use of my gift in an open way, yet more privately, as I came amongst the good people in those places, I did sometimes speak a word of admonition unto them also, the which they, as the other, received with rejoicing at the mercy of God to me-ward, professing their souls were edified thereby.
'Wherefore at last, being still desired by the church, after some solemn prayer to the Lord, with fasting, I was more particularly called forth, and appointed to a more ordinary and public preaching of the word, not only to and amongst them that believed, but also to offer the gospel to those who had not yet received the faith thereof.'
The ministry of Bunyan's pastor, whom he affectionately called holy Mr. Gifford, must have been wonderfully blessed. In 1650 only twelve pious men and women were formed into a Christian church, and, although subject to fierce persecution, they had so increased that in 1672 ten members had been solemnly set apart for the work of the ministry, and they became a blessing to the country round Bedford. The benighted state of the villages was a cause of earnest prayer that men might be sent out, apt to teach, and willing to sacrifice liberty, and even life, to promote the peaceful reign of the Redeemer. The names of the men who were thus set apart were—John Bunyan, Samuel Fenn, Joseph Whiteman, John Fenn, Oliver Scott, Luke Ashwood, Thomas Cooper, Edward Dent, Edward Isaac, and Nehemiah Coxe. Four of these were permitted to fulfil their course without notoriety; the others were severely persecuted, fined and imprisoned, but not forsaken.
Encouraged by the opinion of the church which had been so prayerfully formed, that it was his duty to proclaim the glad tidings of salvation, Bunyan entered upon his important work, and was soon encouraged by a hope that his labours were useful to his fellow-men. 'About this time,' he narrates, 'I did evidently find in my mind a secret pricking forward thereto, though, I bless God, not for desire of vain glory, for at that time I was most sorely afflicted with the fiery darts of the devil concerning my eternal state. But yet I could not be content unless I was found in the exercise of my gift; unto which also I was greatly animated, not only by the continual desires of the godly, but also by that saying of Paul to the Corinthians, "I beseech you, brethren [ye know the household of Stephanas, that it is the first-fruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints], that ye submit yourselves unto such, and to every one that helpeth with us, and laboureth" (1 Cor 16:15,16).
'By this text I was made to see that the Holy Ghost never intended that men, who have gifts and abilities, should bury them in the earth, but rather did command and stir up such to the exercise of their gift, and also did commend those that were apt and ready so to do.
'Wherefore, though of myself, of all the saints the most unworthy, yet I, but with great fear and trembling at the sight of my own weakness, did set upon the work, and did according to my gift, and the proportion of my faith, preach that blessed gospel that God had showed me in the holy Word of truth; which, when the country understood, they came in to hear the Word by hundreds, and that from all parts. And I thank God he gave unto me some measure of bowels and pity for their souls, which did put me forward to labour with great diligence and earnestness, to find out such a word as might, if God would bless it, lay hold of and awaken the conscience, in which also the good Lord had respect to the desire of his servant; for I had not preached long before some began to be touched, and be greatly afflicted in their minds at the apprehension of the greatness of their sin, and of their need of Jesus Christ.
'But I at first could not believe that God should speak by me to the heart of any man, still counting myself unworthy; yet those who were thus touched would love me, and have a particular respect for me; and though I did put it from me that they should be awakened by me, still they would confess it, and affirm it before the saints of God. They would also bless God for me, unworthy wretch that I am! and count me God's instrument that showed to them the way of salvation.
'Wherefore, seeing them in both their words and deeds to be so constant, and also in their hearts so earnestly pressing after the knowledge of Jesus Christ, rejoicing that ever God did send me where they were; then I began to conclude that it might be so, that God had owned in his work such a foolish one as I; and then came that word of God to my heart with much sweet refreshment, "The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me, and I caused the widow's heart to sing for joy" (Job 29:13).
'At this therefore I rejoiced; yea, the tears of those whom God did awaken by my preaching would be both solace and encouragement to me. I thought on those sayings, "Who is he that maketh me glad, but the same that is made sorry by me" (2 Cor 2:2). And again, "Though I be not an apostle to others, yet doubtless I am unto you: for the seal of my apostleship are ye in the Lord" (1 Cor 9:2). These things, therefore, were as an another argument unto me, that God had called me to, and stood by me in this work.
'In my preaching of the Word I took special notice of this one thing, namely, that the Lord did lead me to begin where his Word begins with sinners; that is, to condemn all flesh, and to open and allege, that the curse of God by the law doth belong to, and lay hold on all men as they come into the world, because of sin. Now this part of my work I fulfilled with great feeling, for the terrors of the law, and guilt for my transgressions, lay heavy on my own conscience. I preached what I felt, what I smartingly did feel, even that under which my poor soul did groan and tremble to astonishment. Indeed, I have been as one sent to them from the dead; I went myself in chains to preach to them in chains; and carried that fire in my own conscience that I persuaded them to beware of. I can truly say, that when I have been to preach, I have gone full of guilt and terror even to the pulpit-door, and there it hath been taken off, and I have been at liberty in my mind until I have done my work, and then, immediately, even before I could get down the pulpit stairs, I have been as bad as I was before: yet God carried me on with a strong hand, for neither guilt nor hell could take me off my work. Thus I went on for the space of two years, crying out against men's sins, and their fearful state because of them.'
A man so much in earnest soon became a most acceptable and popular preacher. He studied his sermons carefully, and wrote such memorandums and notes as might refresh his memory before going into the pulpit, although his intensity of feeling, his ready utterance, and natural eloquence which charmed his hearers, and his extensive usefulness as a preacher, render it quite improbable that he restricted himself to notes while publicly engaged in sacred services. They must have aided him when he did not enjoy liberty of utterance. 'At times when I have begun to speak the Word with much liberty, I have been presently so straitened in speech that I scarcely knew what I was about, or as if my head had been in a bag.' They were valuable, also, as a proof that all he said had its exclusive reference to the world to come, without the mixture of politics, which might have given offence to the Government. Thus, when he was apprehended for neglecting to attend the church service and for preaching the gospel, in his conversation with Mr. Cobb, the magistrate's clerk, he said 'that, to cut off all occasions of suspicion from any, as touching the harmlessness of my doctrine, in private I would willingly take the pains to give any one the notes of all my sermons, for I do sincerely desire to live quietly in my country, and to submit to the present authority.' In such troublesome times these would afford abundant proof that he was desirous of submitting to all the political institutions of his country, while he dared not conform to human laws affecting his faith or his mode of worshipping God, for which he alone was to stand answerable at the great day.