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The Life of John Bunyan.
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."
Some remarkable escapes from danger occurred to him during this part of his life; and were, at a future period, recorded by him as things which ought to have roused him to salutary reflection, but which were impiously perverted into occasions of increased recklessness and wickedness. At one time, he fell into a creek of the sea, and narrowly escaped drowning. At another, he fell out of a boat into the river Ouse near Bedford, and again made a narrow escape. At another, when in a field, with a stick in his hand, he saw an adder, stunned it by a blow, forced open its mouth, and plucked out its sting with his fingers, yet got no harm from the venom. But what most struck him was an event which occurred, in June 1645, at the siege of Leicester. Bunyan had enlisted in the Parliamentarian army, and seems to have been in action at the battle of Naseby, but was awkward in handling his arms, and did not appear to his officer alert enough for any very hot duty. He was drawn for the siege, and just ready to go, when an active comrade, probably thirsting for what is madly called military glory, volunteered to go instead of him, and was accepted. “And this man coming to the siege,” says Bunyan," as he stood sentinel, he was shot in the head with a musket bullet, and died. Here 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.”
Bunyan was soon discharged from the army; and he returned to his native village, and became there a leader in all rude sports and games, and was wilder and more roystering than ever, but often emitted flashes of genius and scintillations of loveableness which won him a large amount of admiring and tender regard. Friends rose up, and wondered how he might be reclaimed; and warm hearts beat for him, and were deterred only by his wickedness from abandoning themselves to his wellbeing. At length, when he was scarcely nineteen years of age, he married and reformed. “His friends," says an old extant manuscript sketch of his life, “ thought that changing his condition to the married state might reform him, and therefore urged him to it as a seasonable and comfortable advantage. But the difficult thing was that his poverty and irregular course of life made it very difficult for him to get a wife suitable to his inclination; and because none of the rich would yield to his solicitations, he found himself constrained to marry one without any fortune. She was very virtuous, loving, and conformably obedient and obliging; having been born of good, honest, godly parents, who had instructed her, as well as they were able,
The Life of John Bunyan.
in the ways of truth and saving knowledge. Her husband going on at the old rate, she endeavoured to make him see his wicked ways, and laid before his eyes the vanity of sin and the danger that attended its wages, being no less than death; and having two or three books left her, which it seems was all or the greatest part of her dowry, she frequently enticed him to read in them, and apply the use of them to the reforming his manners and saving his soul.” Bunyan himself confirms the main points of this statement, and adds some others of great interest. He says that his wife and he “came together as poor as poor might be, not having so much household stuff as a dish or a spoon betwixt them;" that the books that she possessed were “the Plain Man's Pathway to Heaven” and “the Practice of Piety," and had been left to her by her father at his death; and that she often told him “what a godly man her father had been, and how he would reprove and correct vice, both in his house and among his neighbours, and what a strict and holy life he had lived in his days, both in words and deeds." "Wherefore,” he adds," these books, with the relation, 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 that too with the foremost; and there should very devoutly both sing and say as others did, yet retaining my wicked life. But withal, I was so overcome 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 all 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 I then thought, of God, and were principal in the holy temple to do his work therein.”
His reformation in outward matters seems, on other testimony, to have been more sweeping than he here indicates, and it became a beautiful testimony to the benign power which a good and gentle young wife can wield over a roving, bearish, dare-devil blade of a husband. But it was merely outward. His heart continued untouched by Divine truth; and though perhaps less turbulent than before, was more deceitful and daring. He became less a dog, but more a fox, -less a lion, but more a serpent,-less a fiend, but more an imp,-less a contemner of religion, but more a killer of his own soul. He ceased, for a time, to roll in the mire of sin, but intoxicated himself every day with some one or other of its worst fumes and gases. His fervid imagination often co-operated with his depraved heart to produce illusions which, in more ordinary minds, either would never have occurred at all, or bave indicated raving moral mad
He tried, for example, to discover a ground of hope for his soul in the fact of connexion by blood with the gipsies. “Another thought,” says he, The Life of John Bunyan.
my mind; and that was, whether we were of the Israelites or no? For finding in the scripture that they were once the peculiar people of God, thought I, if I were one of this race, my soul must needs be happy. Now again I found within me a great longing to be resolved about this question, but could not tell how I should. At last, I asked my father of it; who told me, no, we were not. Wherefore then I fell in my spirit as to the hopes of that, and so remained.”
He laboured hard, for several weeks, to become religious, but he had no view of Christ and no wish to get rid of sin, and of course could not succeed. His devotions were as formal as could well be imagined, and often failed to keep his conscience quiet. His religious notions were confused and dreamy, and went readily up with the flights of his imagination into fanaticism and absurdity. Sometimes he thought that words were spoken to him by heaven; and at other times he imagined that new and mysterious objects were presented to his very senses. Now he betook himself, with remarkable docility, to the reading of the scriptures; and again he recoiled naughtily from instruction, or rushed recklessly into speculation. On some occasions he quailed and cowered beneath the denunciations of the Divine law; and on others he leaped right from them into folly, and coolly forgot them. At one time he felt as if a ray of light were shooting across his gloomy mind, and kindling within him the hope of heaven ; and at another, he groped in darkness, or thought himself a mark for the thunderbolts of the All-Righteous One, and sank down in terror and despair. And at the expiration of about a month or little more from the commencement of his reformation, he madly flung all religion from him, and became a desperado in the practice of his former sins. His characteristic thoughts at this time were appallingly wicked, -inexpressibly terrible; and even as recorded by himself twenty years after, they look more like the ravings of a maniac than the wildest ideas of any sane sinner. But all his reminiscences of them, in common with most other things in his wonderful autobiography, are encased in the fine gold of Paul the apostle's declaration,—“ It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”
Thus did Bunyan fall from his reformation into deeper iniquity than at first. But speedily and by a singular means he was startled into a making of new amendments. “One day,” says he, “ as I was standing at a neighbour's shop-window, and there cursing and swearing and playing the madman after my wonted manner, there sat within the woman of the house, and heard me; who, though she was a very loose and ungodly wretch, yet protested that I swore and cursed at that most fearful rate that she was made to tremble to hear me,--and told me further that I was the ungodliest fellow for swearing that she ever heard in all her life, and that I, by this doing, was able to spoil
The Life of John Bunyan.
all the youth in the whole town if they came but in my company. At this reproof I was silenced, and put to secret shame, and that too, as I thought, before the God of heaven. * I did from this time forward so leave my swearing that it was a great wonder to myself to observe it. And whereas before I knew not how to speak unless I put an oath before and another behind to make my words have authority, now I could without it speak better and with more pleasantness than ever I could before."
This amendment sprang from no real religious feeling,—from no knowledge or love of Christ,—from no true conviction or hatred of sin,—but from mere legalism and self-resolution; and it was accompanied for a time by a continuance of all his old sports and follies, but was eventually followed by a series of brisk reformations of similar hollowness and showiness to itself. Bunyan first resumed the reading of the Bible, and studied eagerly and pleasantly its historical portions, and became a voluble talker about what he read. But "as for Paul's epistles and such like scriptures, he could not away with them, being as yet ignorant either of the corruptions of our nature, or of the want and worth of Jesus Christ to save us." He next commenced strenuous attempts to keep all the Divine commandments, and attained very considerable success in avoiding gross violations of them, and in maintaining an appearance before men of respecting them. He then left off all his sports, including even the favourite one of bell-ringing, and got into a severe struggle between hankerings after them and nervous apprehensions about seeing them practised by others. The last which he renounced was dancing; and that he did not get quit of for
year. His general reformation, considering the utter unprincipledness of it, was wonderful; and ought to figure before all his readers to the end of time as a solemn warning not to mistake amendment of manners for regeneration of soul. My neighbours,” says he, “were amazed at this my great conversion from prodigious profaneness to something like a moral life,—and truly so they might; for this my conversion was as great as for Tom of Bedlam to become a 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, or to be well spoken of, by men. When I thought I kept this or that commandment, or did by word or deed anything that 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 mine own way, I thought no man in England could please God better than I.” Thus was his outward reformation but the smooth shell of
The Life of John Bunyan.
bitter atrocious inward guilt; and well might he say about it, as he does, “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 mercy showed me more of my state by nature.”
But very soon a new light broke in upon him, and began to make him aware that he was all vile, and that he could be saved only by being created anew in Christ Jesus. “Upon a day,” says he, “the good providence of God called me to Bedford to work at my calling; and in one of the streets of that town, I came where there were three or four poor women sitting at a door, in the sun, talking about the things of God, and being now willing to hear their discourse, I drew near to hear what they said, for I was now a brisk talker of myself, in the matters of religion. But I may say I heard but understood not; for they were far above, out of my reach. Their talk was about a new birth, the work of God in their hearts; as also how they were convinced of their miserable state by nature. They talked how God had visited their souls with his love in the Lord Jesus, and with what words and promises they had been refreshed, comforted and supported against the temptations of the devil. Moreover, they reasoned of the suggestions and temptations of Satan in particular; and told to each other, by what means they had been afflicted, and how they were borne up under his assaults. They also discoursed of their own wretchedness of heart and of their unbelief; and did contemn, slight, and abhor their own righteousness, as filthy and insufficient to do them any good. And, methought, they spake as if joy did make them speak. They spake with such pleasantness of scripture language, and with such appearance of grace in all they said, that they were to me as if they had found a new world; as if they were 'people that dwelt alone, and were not to be reckoned among their neighbours. At this I felt my own heart began to shake, and mistrust my condition to be naught; for I saw that in all my thoughts about religion and salvation, the new birth did never enter into my mind; neither knew I the comfort of the word and promise, nor the deceitfulness and treachery of my own wicked heart. As for secret thoughts, I took no notice of them; neither did I understand what Satan's temptations were, nor how they were to be withstood and resisted, &c. Thus, therefore, when I had heard and considered what they said, I left them, and went about my employment again; but their talk and discourse went with me; also my heart would tarry with them, for I was greatly affected with their words, both because by them I was convinced that I wanted the true tokens of a truly godly man, and also because by them I was convinced of the happy and blessed condition of him that was such a one. Therefore I would often make it my business to be going again and again into the company of these poor people; for I could not stay away; and the more I went among them, the more I did question my condition. And as