Page images
PDF
EPUB

tions; that his fervour exceeded his knowledge; and that his imagination exercised despotic power over his body and mind.' When a yourg man, Bunyan served in the army of the Parliament. After his first spiritual impulses had been awakened, he continued long hanging—to use his own figurative language-as in a pair of scales, sometimes up and sometimes down; now in peace, and now again in terror.' By degrees his religious impressions acquired strength and permanence; till, after many doubts respecting his salvation, and the reality of his possession of faith—which last circumstance he was once on the eve of putting to the test by commanding some waterpuddles to be dry—he at length attained a comfortable state of mind; and, having resolved to lead a moral and pious life, was, about the year 1655, baptised and admitted as a member of the Baptist congregation in Bedford. By the solicitation of the other members of that body, he was induced to become a preacher, though not without some modest reluctance on his part. After zealously preaching the gospel for five years, he was apprehended as a maintainer and upholder of assemblies for religious purposes, which, soon after the Restoration, had been declared unlawful. His sentence of condemnation to perpetual banishment was commuted to imprisonment in Bedford jail, where he remained for twelve years and a half. During that long period he employed himself artly in writing pious works, and partly in making tagged laces for the support of himself and his family. His library while in prison consisted but of two books, the Bible and Fox's Book of Martyrs,' with both of which his own productions shew him to have become familiar. Having been liberated through the benevolent endeavours of Dr. Barlow, bishop of Lincoln, he resumed his occupation of itinerant preacher, and continued to exercise it until the proclamation of liberty of conscience by James II. After that event, he was enabled, by the contributions of his friends, to erect a meeting-house in Bedford, where his preaching attracted large congregations during the remainder of his life. He frequently visited and preached to the Nonconformists in London, and when there in 1688, was cut off by fever in the sixty-first year of

While in prison at Bedford, Bunyan, as we have said, composed several works; of these, “ The Pilgrim's Progress from this World to that which is to come' is the one which has acquired the most extensive celebrity. Ten editions were published between 1678 and 1685. The second part (now always printed with the first) appeared in 1684. The popularity of the work is almost unrivalled; it has gone through innumerable editions, and been translated into most of the European languages. The object of this remarkable production, it is hardly necessary to say, is to give an allegorical view of the life of a Christian, bis difficulties, temptations, encouragements, and ultimate triumph; and this is done with such skill and graphic effect, that the book, though upon the most serious of subjects, is read by

his age.

children with nearly as much pleasure as fictions professedly written for their amusement. The work is, throughout, strongly imbued with the Calvinistic principles of the author, who, in relating the contentions of his hero with the powers of darkness, and the terrible visions by which he was so frequently appalled, has doubtless drawn largely from what he himself experienced under the influence of his own fervid imagination. A vein of latent sarcasm and humour also runs through the work, as Bunyan depicts his halting and time-serving characters—the worldly personages that cumber and obstruct_the pilgrim on his way. Of the literary merits of “The Pilgrim's Progress,' Mr. Southey speaks in the following terms: His is a homespun style, not a manufactured one; and what a difference is there between its homeliness and the flippant vulgarity of the_Roger L'Estrange and Tom Brown school! If it is not a well of English undefiled to which the poet as well as the philologist must repair, if they would drink of the living waters, it is a clear stream of current English, the vernacular speech of his age, sometimes, indeed, in its rusticity and coarseness, but always in its plairness and its strength. To this natural style Bunyan is in some degree beholden for his general popularity; his language is everywhere level to the most ignorant reader and to the meanest capacity; there is a homely reality about it; a nursery tale is not more intelligible, in its manner of narration, to a child. Another cause of his popularity is, that he taxes the imagination as little as the understanding. The vividness of his own, which, as his history sbews, sometimes could not distinguish ideal impressions from actual ones, occasioned this. He saw the things of which he was writing as distinctly with his mind's eye as if they were indeed passing before him in a dream. And the reader perhaps sees them more satisfactorily to himself, because the outline of the picture only is presented to him, and the author having made no attempt to fill up the details, every reader supplies them according to the measure and scope of his own intellectual and imaginative powers.'*

By universal assent the inspired tinker is ranked with our English classics and great masters of allegory; yet, so late as 1782, Cowper dared not name him in his poetry, lest the name should provoke a sneer! Another allegorical production of Bunyan, which is still read, though less extensively, is The Holy War made by King Shaddai upon Diabolus, for the Regaining of the Metropolis of the World, or the Losing and Retaking of Mansoul' (1682). The fall of man is typified by the capture of the flourishing city of Mansoul by Diabolus, the enemy of its rightful sovereign, Shaddai, or Jehovah'; whose son Immanuel recovers it after a tedious siege. Bunyan's *Grace abounding to the Chief of Sinners '-of which the most remarkable portions are given below—is an interesting though highly coloured narrative of his own life and religious experience. His other

* Life of Bunyan prefixed to The Pilgrim's Progress, 1831.

works are numerous, büt inferior, and collected editions of the whole have often been reprinted. One of the best is that of 1853, in three volumes, edited by George Offor.

Extracts from Bunyan's Autobiography. In this my relation of the merciful working of God upon my soul, it will not be amiss, if, in the first place, I do, in a few words, give you a hint of my pedigree and manner of bringing up, that thereby the goodness and beauty of God towards me may be the more advanced and magnified before the sons of men.

For my descent, then, it was, as is well known by many, of a low and inconsidable generation, my father's house being of that rank that is meanest and most despised of all the families of the land. Wherefore I have not here, as others, to boast of noble blood, and of any high-born state, according to the flesh, though, all things considered, I magnify the heavenly majesty, for that by this door he brought me into the world, to partake of the grace and life that is in Christ by the gospel. But, notwithstanding the meanness and inconsiderableness of my parents, it pleased God to put it into their hearts to put me to school, to learn me both to read and write; the which I also attained, according to the rate of other poor men's children, though to my shame, I confess I did soon lose that I had learned, even almost utterly, and that long before the Lord did work his gracious work of conversion upon my soul. As for my own natural life, for the time that I was without God in the world, it was, indeed, according to the course of this world, and the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience, Eph. ii. 2, 3. It was my delight to be taken captive by the devil at his will, 2 Tim. ii. 26, being filled with all unrighteousness; the which did also so strongly work, both in my heart and life, that I had but few equals, both for cursing, swearing, lying, and blaspheming the holy name of God. Yea, so settled and rooted was I in these things, that they became as a second nature to me; the which, as I have also with soberness considered since, did so offend the Lord, that even in my childhood he did scare and terrify me with fearful dreams and visions. For often, after I had spent this and the other day in sin, I have been greatly amicted while asleep with the apprehensions of devils and wicked spirits, who, as I then thought, laboured to draw me away with them, of which I could never be rid. Also I should, at these years, be greatly troubled with the thoughts of the fearful torments of hell-fire, still fearing that it would be my lot to be found at last among those devils and hellish fiends, who are there bound down with the chains and bonds of darkness unto the judgment of the great day,

These things, I say, when I was but a child but nine or ten years old, did so distress my soul, that then, in the midst of my many sports, and childish vanities, amidst my vain companions, I was often much cast down and afflicted in my mind therewith, yet could I not let go my sins. Yea, I was also then so overcome with despair of life and heaven, but I should often wish either that there had been no hell, or that I had been a devil, supposing they were only tormentors, that if it must needs be that I went thither, I might be rather a tormentor than be tormented myself.

A while after, these terrible dreams did leave me, which also I soon forgot; for my pleasures did quickly cut off the remembrance of them, as if they had never been; wherefore, with more greediness, according to the strength of nature, I did still let loose the reins of my lusts, and delighted in all transgressions against the law of God; so that, until I came to the state of marriage, I was the very ringleader in all manner of vice and ungodliness. Yea, such prevalency had the lusts of the flesh on my poor soul, that, had not a miracle of precious grace prevented, I had not only perished by the stroke of eternal justice, but also laid myself open to the stroke of those days which bring some to disgrace and shame before the face of the world.

In these days the thoughts of religion were very grievous to me; I could neither endure it myself, nor that any other should; so that when I have seen some read in those books that concerned Christian piety, it would be as it were a prison to me. Then I said unto God : 'Depart from me, for I desire not the knowledge of thy ways,' Job, xxi. 14, 15. I was now void of all good consideration; heaven and hell were both out of sight and mind; and as for saving and damning, they were least in my thoughts. “O Lord, thou knowest my life, and my ways are not hid from thee.'

But this I well remember, that, though I could myself sin with the greatest delight and ease, yet even then, if I had at any time seen wicked things, by those who professed goodness, it would make my spirit tremble. As once, above all the rest, when I was in the height of vanity, yet hearing one to swear that was reckoned for a religious man, it had so great a stroke upon my spirit, that it made my heart ache. But God did not utterly leave me, bui followed me still, not with convictions, but judgments mixed with mercy. For once I fell into a creek of the sea, and hardly escaped drowning. Another time I fell out of a boat into Bedford river, but mercy yet preserved me; besides, another time being in the field with my companions, it chanced that an adder passed over the highway, so I, having a stick, struck her over the back, and having stunned her, I forced open her mouth with my stick, and plucked her sting out with my fingers; by which act, had not God been merciful to me, I might, by my desperateness, have brought myself to my end. This, also, I have taken notice of with thanksgiving: when I was a soldier, I with others were drawn out to go to such a place to besiege it; but when I was just ready to go, one of the company desired to go in my room; to which, when I had consented, he took my place, and coming to the siege, as he stood sentinel, he was shot in the head with a musket-bullet, and died. Here, as I said, were judgments and mercy,

but neither of them did awaken my soul to righteousness ; wherefore I sinned still, and grew more and more rebellious against God, and careless of my own salvation.

Presently after this I changed my condition into a married state, and my mercy was to light upon a wife whose father and mother were counted godly; this woman and I, though we came together as poor as poor might be—not baving so much household stuff as a dish or spoon betwixt us both-yet this she had for her part, • The Plain Man's Pathway to Heaven,' and The Practice of Piety,' which her father had left her when he died. In these two books I sometimes read, wherein I found some things that were somewhat pleasant to me—but all this while I met with no conviction. She also often would tell me what a godly man her father was, and how he would reprove and correct vice, both in his house and among his neighbours, and what a strict and holy life he lived in his days, both in word and deed. Wherefore these books, though they did not reach my heart to awaken it about my sad and sinful state, yet they did beget within me some desires to reform my vicious life, and fall in very eagerly with the religion of the times; to wit, to go to church twice a day, and there very devoutly both say and sing as others did, yet retaining my wicked life; but withal was so overrun with the spirit of superstition, that I adored, and that with great devotion, even all things—both the high-place, priest, clerk, vestment, service, and what else—belonging to the church : counting ali things holy that were therein contained, and especially the priest and clerk most happy, and, without doubt, greatly blessed, because they were the servants, as then thought, of God, and were principal in the holy temple, to do his work therein. This conceit grew so strong upon my spirit, that had I but seen a priest, though never so sordid and debauched in his life, I should find my spirit fall under him, reverence him, and knit unto him; yea, I thought for the love I did bear unto them supposing they were the ministers of God, I could have lain down at their feet, and have been trampled upon by them—their name, their garb, and work did so intoxicate and bewitch me.

But all this while I was not sensible of the danger and evil of sin; was kept from considering that sin would damn me, what religion soever I followed, unless I was found in Christ. Nay, I never thought whether there was such a one or no. Thus man, while blind, doth wander, for he knoweth not the way to the city of God, Eccles. X. 15.

But one day, amongst all the sermons our parson made, his subject was to treat of the Sabbath-day, and of the evil of breaking that, either with labour, sports, or otherwise; wherefore I fell in my conscience under his sermon, thinking and believing that he made that sermon on purpose to shew me my evil doing. And at that time I felt what guilt was, though never before that I can remember; but then I was for the present greatly loaded therewith, and so went home, when the sermon was ended, with a great burden upon my spirit. This, for that instant, did embitter my former pleasures to me; but hold, iť lasted not, for before I had well dined, the trouble began to go off my mind, and my heart returned to its old course; but oh, how glad was I that this trouble was gone from me, and that the fire was put out, that I might sin again without control! Wherefore, when I had satisfied nature with my food, I shook the sermon out of my mind, and to my old custom of sports and gaming I returned with great delight.

But the same day, as I was in the midst of a game of cat, and having struck it one blow from the hole, just as I was about to strike it the second time, a voice did suddenly dart from heaven into my soul, which said: Wilt thou leave thy sins and go to heaven, or have thy sins and go to hell ?' At this I was put to an exceeding maze; wherefore, leaving my cat upon the ground, I looked up to heaven, and was as if I had, with the eyes of my understanding, seen the Lord Jesus look down upon me, as being very hotly displeased with me, and as if he did severely threaten me with some grievous punishment for those and other ungodly practices.

But quickly after this, I fell into company with one poor man that made profession of religion, who, as I then thought, did talk pleasantly of the Scriptures and of religion; wherefore, liking what he said, I betook me to my Bible, and began to take great pleasure in reading: Wherefore I fell to some outward reformation both in my words and life, and did set the commandments before me for my way to heaven; which commandments I also did strive to keep, and, as I thought, did keep them pretty well sometimes, and then I should have comfort; yet now and then should break one, and so afflict my conscience; but then I should repent, and say I was sorry for it, and promise God to do better next time, and there got help again; for then I thought I pleased God as well as any man in England.

Thús I continued about a year, all which time our neighbours did take me to be a very godly and religious man, and did marvel much to see such great alteration in my life and manners; and, indeed, so it was, though I knew not Christ, nor grace, nor faith, nor hope; for, as I have since seen, had I then died, my state had been most fearful. But, I say, my neighbours were amazed at this my great conversion --from prodigious profaneness to something like a moral life and sober man. Now, therefore, they began to praise, to commend, and to speak well of me, both to my face and behind my back. Now I was, as they said, become godly, now I was become a right honest man. But oh! when I understood those were their words and opinions of me, it pleased me mighty well; for though as yet I was nothing but a poor painted hypocrite, yet I loved to be talked of as one that was truly godly. I was proud of my godliness, and, indeed, I did all I did either to be seen of or well spoken of by men; and thus I continued for about a twelvemonth or more.

Now you must know, that before this I had taken much delight in ringing, but my conscience beginning to be tender, I thought such practice was but vain, and therefore forced myself to leave it; yet my mind hankered; wherefore I would go to the steeple-house and look on, though I durst not ring; but I thought this did not become religion neither; yet I forced myself, and would look on still. But quickly after, I began to think, “How, if one of the bells should fall ? Then I chose to stand under a main beam that lay overthwart the steeple, from side to side, thinking here I might stand sure; but then I thought again, should the bell fall with a swing, it might first hit the wall

, and then rebounding upon me, might kill me for all this beam. This made me stand in the steeple-door; and now, thought I, I am safe enough; for if the bell should then fall, I can slip out behind these thick walls, and so be preserved notwithstanding. So after this I would yet go to see them ring, but would not go any further than the steeple-door; but then it came into my head, • How, if the steeple itself should fall ?' And this thought-it may, for aught I know, when I stood and looked on-did continually so shake my mind, that I durst not stand at the steeple-door any longer, but was forced to flee, for fear the steeple should fall upon my head.

Another thing was my dancing; I was a full year before I could quite leave that. But all this while, when I thought I kept that or this commandment, or did by word or deed anything I thought was good, I had great peace in my conscience, and would think with myself, God cannot choose but be now pleased with me; yea, to relate it in my own way, I thought no man in England could please God better than I. But, poor wretch as I was, I was all this while ignorant of Jesus Christ, and going about to establish my own righteousness; and had perished therein, had not God in his mercy shewed me more of my state by nature.

The Golden City.From The Pilgrim's Progress.' Now I saw in my dream that by this time the pilgrims were got over the Enchanted Ground, and entering into the country of Beulah, whose air was very sweet and

« PreviousContinue »