« ForrigeFortsett »
The Life of John Bunyan.
I still do remember, presently I found two things within me, at which I did sometimes marvel, especially considering what a blind, ignorant, sordid, and ungodly wretch but just before I was. The one was a very great softness and tenderness of heart, which caused me to fall under the conviction of what by scripture they asserted; and the other was a great bending in my mind, to a continual meditating on it, and on all other good things, which at any time I heard or read of."
The women whose conversation proved so useful to Bunyan were members of a small Baptist congregation in Bedford, under the pastoral care of John Gifford. This man had run a very singular career, and was now an eminently successful instructor of troubled souls, and is commonly believed to be the original of the honoured 'Evangelist of the Pilgrim's Progress. He was a Kentish man, and had been a major in the royalist army, and had in some way made himself so obnoxious to the Parliamentarians that, along with eleven other cavaliers, he was condemned to be hanged. On the night preceding the day appointed for his execution, his sister made a visit to his cell; and, finding his guards without fast asleep and his fellow-prisoners within dead drunk, she urged him to escape. He safely passed the guards, and got into the fields; he lay three days concealed in a ditch, and living only upon water, till hot search for him was over; he then went in disguise first to London and afterwards to Bedfordshire, and was harboured in that county by some royalists of high rank; and, after concealment became no longer necessary, he set up in the town of Bedford as a medical man. He was a shocking profligate,-a reckless roué,— a swearer, drunkard, gambler, and sensualist; and he detested the Puritans, and often thought of killing one of their principal men in Bedford, one Anthony Harrington, for the simple reason that he was a leading Puritan. Gifford often gambled, and generally lost; and one night, after being fleeced almost to penury, he became furious, and phrenzied, uttered awful blasphemies, and strode to the very verge of suicide. But he suddenly espied one of the books of Robert Bolton, and opened it; and in a moment, he was startled into another state of mind. The passage which arrested him was this:-"In the invitation of Christ to all that labour and are heavy laden to come to him for rest to their souls, there is no exception of sins, times, nor places. And if thou shouldest reply, ‘Yea, but alas I am the unworthiest man in the world to draw near unto so holy a God, to press into so pure a presence, to expect upon the sudden such glorious, spiritual, and heavenly advancement;-most impure, abominable, and beastly wretch that I am, readier far to sink into the bottom of hell by the insupportable weight of my manifold heinous sins!' I say then the text tells thee plainly that thou mightily mistakest; for therefore only art thou fit, because thou feelest so sensibly thy unfitness, unworthiness, vileness, wretchedness. The sorer and heavier thy burden is, the rather thou shouldest The Life of John Bunyan.
It is such as thou whom Christ here specially aims at, invites, and accepts.” Gifford was awe-struck, and continued thence for some weeks under deep impression, and then experienced peace and joy in believing on the Redeemer. And so well-established once for all was his faith that from that time till within a few days of his death he declared "he lost not the light of God's countenance, no, not for an hour.” He speedily inquired after the religious persons whom he had formerly hated; and, “ being naturally bold, would thrust himself again and again into their company, both together and apart." He first courted them for the sake of their fellowship, and next aspired to become their leader, and to associate them under him as their pastor. They shied him and repelled him, and then slowly permitted his advances: and not till a good while after he had made himself acceptable as a preacher by both private and public services, did any of them consent to his proposals. But at length he succeeded in forming Anthony Harrington and other ten into a church, on the simple principle of a common faith in Christ and holiness of life; and he found such numerous occasions, in the course of his pastoral work, to “comfort others with the comforts wherewith he had been comforted of God,” that when he came to his deathbed he could eminently say with Dr. Donne, “I have quieted the consciences of many that groaned under a wounded spirit.”
Bunyan got his first glimpses of Christ and the new birth among Gifford's church-members, and he soon obtained an introduction to Gifford himself; and he may therefore seem to have been in circumstances which should speedily lead him to the enjoyment of clear Christian light and joy. He appears also to have received a favourable first impression of evangelical doctrine. sinner's conversion to God, though strictly one change, comprises two elements, -justification or a change of state on the ground of Christ's imputed righteousness, and regeneration or a change of heart effected by the Holy Spirit,the former experienced in the act of the sinner's believing the Divine testimony respecting Christ, and the latter done through the instrumentality of the truth contained in that testimony,--the two together constituting “a new creation,” a transition from death to life, an unique and instantaneous though often unconscious commencement of Christian, spiritual, imperishable wellbeing; and it usually is all the sooner understood, and is followed all the more rapidly by the development of its results in peace and hope and holiness, when its two elements are presented together, and in mutual illustration, to the mind. One religious inquirer becomes perplexed by thinking only or mainly about justification; another becomes perplexed by thinking only or mainly about regeneration; and a third, in a great degree, escapes perplexity by thinking of the two together, in their inseparable connexion with each other, and in their jointly constituting conversion. Now Bunyan seems to have been in the way to be like the last, -hearing most indeed of the new birth, but
The Life of John Bunyan.
probably enough also of the Lord Jesus to have led him on to a full view of justification; and was he not, therefore, in circumstances to arrive at least as soon and satisfactorily at the possession of sure and settled peace as the profligate Gifford had been! As regarded God, he was,- for any sinner may at once look to God and lice; but as regarded himself, he was far otherwise, -and he accordingly groped and stumbled and ran after many an illusion, long and variously, before he walked fairly forth in the light of life.
First, he was ulcered all over with self-righteousness; and that was a far worse disease, and a far greater repeller of the gospel, than profligacy. “Christ Jesus came to call, not the righteous, but sinners to repentance;” and had most mournful occasion to tell the self-righteous religionists of his day that the publicans and the harlots entered the kingdom of heaven before them. Next, Bunyan was “a brisk talker” on religious subjects, and imagined himself to be wise as well as righteous, and felt inclined to treat every new thought which met him far more as a disputer and a combatant than as a learner. Next, he had the reputation of a great recent convert, and was regarded by multitudes of the poor as a religious wonder, and went daily among them, in the course of his occupation as a tramping tinker, conversing and disputing with the air of an oracle; and he therefore could not fail to receive flatteries, endure reproaches, encounter cavils, sport conceits, and play in many a way with errors an hundredfold numerous enough to turn the head of any ordinary novice, and to bewilder the most astute. Again, he was a man of strong feeling, far more at home in matters of the heart than in matters of the head, and powerfully predisposed by both constitution and habit to treat religion vastly more as a thing of emotion than a thing of knowledge; and hence, in spite of his hearing simultaneously of the new birth and justification, he seems to have fixed his thoughts for a time almost exclusively on the former, and even to have tried at the very start to comprehend all the intricacies of emotion, in the soul's interior enjoyments and in its conflicts with temptation, by which the experience of the good women of Bedford declared the new birth to be followed. But, what is more important than all, Bunyan had at this time a morbid imagination. He certainly was not insane, not phrenzied, not monomaniacal, not in any sense at all “out of his wits,” but he was extremely excited and far from possessing a cool, calm, healthy exercise of judgment. He had already been a day-dreamer, seeing sights and hearing sounds which were imperceptible by sense; and he continued a day-dreamer still, and sank also into physical depressions too wild and fitful to be fairly attributable to mere moral causes. He passed for a time into a condition similar to Cowper's, though never by any means so bad; and he was all the more liable to mistake its illusions for moral impressions that he probably did not once suspect its existence, and still more that, on the whole, he thought soundly, reasoned consecutively, and was The Life of John Bunyan.
essentially and truly a sane man. Or if the morbidness of his imagination did not arise from physical causes, it must at least be ascribed, as Sir Walter Scott ascribes it, to “ fanaticism,” or as Dr. Southey ascribes it, to “burning enthusiasm.” In either view, it was common to him with but a very small number of religious inquirers; and produced many a vagary which had no proper connexion with his religious experience, and can in any respect be profitably interesting only as a psychological phenomenon.
From the combined operation of these causes, and of his natural depravity and ignorance, antagonizing with the evidences and influences of Divine truth, Bunyan traversed a long course of severe, varied, conflicting experiences between the epoch of his first glimpses of Christ, and the epoch of his acquiring steady spiritual peace. These experiences are among the most striking on record, and have been used by some theological writers as a mine of thought for illustrating the difficulties of anxious religious inquirers. But many of them are much too deeply tinged with Bunyan's personal peculiarities to be of any possible use to the great mass of awakened sinners; and all the rest are interwoven with the tissue of the Pilgrim's Progress, and figure far more luminously and instructively there than any skill could make them do in the very best told common narrative. Besides, they could not be compressed without injury, and are a great deal too long to be admitted entire to any brief sketch; for they occupy about three-eighths of Ivimey's Life of Bunyan, upwards of threetenths of Southey's Life of Bunyan, and even about three-elevenths of Philip's Life, Times, and Characteristics of Bunyan. For these reasons, we shall do no more than give general indications, in chronological order, of the most remarkable of the experiences.
Bunyan, for some time, clung as tenaciously to the life-giving doctrines of the gospel as the horse-leech does to the blood-yielding orifice, crying, “Give, give." He was afterwards tempted by bad books and a voluble talker to the verge of antinomian licentiousness; and was also dragged by other persons within the pestilential marshes of infidelity; but he soon escaped from both by means of special, prayerful study of the scriptures. He next had great agitations about the nature of faith, and about whether or not he possessed it. He next got into the delusion that he should put himself to the test by trying to work some miracle; and went so far one day as to resolve to supplicate God for power to turn supernaturally the puddles in the horse-paths into dry places and the dry places into puddles; but was deterred from the awful presumption, and at the same time pushed into another perplexity, by further reflexion. He next imagined a curious vision respecting the members of Mr. Gifford's church at Bedford, and afterwards studied it as a great allegorical lesson upon his spiritual interests. He next got into profound difficulties on the subject of election. He then was tempted to believe that the day of grace was past. He
The Life of John Bunyan.
next drew peace and comfort, for a considerable time, from the fulness of the gospel; but was marred in his enjoyments by temptations to give up religion, and go back to the world. He then went into a study of the clean and the unclean beasts of the Mosaic law, and acquired a glowing admiration of every man and woman whom he thought to be a true Christian, and “continued for a time all on a flame to be converted to Jesus Christ.” He now spent many months in fears and uncertainty; and then opened his case personally to Mr. Gifford; and afterwards attended conferences of anxious inquirers, where instruction was given about God's dealing with their souls. He obtained little relief, yet acquired more conviction of his depravity, and became sensitively afraid of sin; and he soon sank into successively discouragement, tremulousness, and despair. His despairing condition was very dismal and of long continuance; but went eventually off by means of a sermon on the love of Christ. Bunyan was now full of joy, but very fanciful, and soon relapsed. He then went through awful temptations, first to infidelity, next about the unpardonable sin, and next to blasphemy and the abandonment of all religion. But he had glimpses of the gospel's light, and made persevering struggles for deliverance, and uttered earnest cries for mercy; and he obtained first relief and afterwards firm comfort and solid joy from close meditation on some of the passages of scripture which teach our Lord's atonement.
But we are getting too slowly over his experiences; and shall indicate the rest in the manner of running titles:-Bunyan attends Mr. Gifford's preaching; prays for Divine teaching; gets clear views of Christ as God-man Mediator; escapes the errors of the Quakers; rests on the atonement of Christ; feels fervent love to Christ; is tempted to sell Christ; fears he shall comply; sinks into despair; resists the devil; fears he has no faith ; fears the unpardonable sin; thinks himself like Judas; envies those who had a good conscience; is tempted to atheism; looks for hope; and suddenly hears as if a voice said, very pleasantly, “Didst thou ever refuse to be justified by the blood of Christ?” He has difficulties in prayer; is tempted to discontinue prayer; fears he is rejected of God; fears the wrath of the Lamb; wishes Christ could die again; thinks all creation against him; hopes his sin is not unto death. He is greatly relieved; gets soothing answer to prayer; grieves for sin; and rejoices in Christ. He desponds again; thinks he shall perish; determines to pray; resumes hope; sees the all-sufficiency of Christ; has fluctuations of fear and peace; and gets light and joy from the cities of refuge, from the excellence of the gospel over the law, and from the saying of Christ, “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” He still has misgivings; reasons his case in the light of some special texts of scripture; obtains solutions of his difficulties about the unpardonable sin; acquires glorious views of Christ's righteousness and of union with him; sees the heights and depths of Divine grace in the