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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 The Life of John Bunyan.
light of magnificent contrast to the sins and perils he had passed; and settles down in a sense of acceptance with God in Christ. “I had two or three times, about this period,” says he, “ such strong apprehensions of the grace of God that I could hardly bear up under it. It was so out of measure amazing, when I thought it could reach me, that I do think if that sense of it had abode long upon me, it would have made me incapable for business.”
In 1653, when he was about 25 years of age, Bunyan joined Gifford's church in Bedford, and was baptized by immersion. He continued for a short time in high peace, but afterwards began to be tormented, for nearly a year, with blasphemous and villanous thoughts whenever he was at the Lord's Supper. In 1654, he fell into a sinking disease, which presented some symptoms of “galloping consumption,” and threatened for a time to carry him to the grave. It probably arose in no small degree from the reaction of his tremendous excitement throughout the period of his severe experiences; and, at all events, was enormously aggravated by relapse into despondencies, apprehensions, and agitating alarms. His disease of body and his depression of soul reacted on each other, and rose or fell together; and at length were simultaneously cured by the glorious anodynes of gospel peace.
“Amid my apprehensions," says he, “my sickness was doubled upon me; for now I was 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 or 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 woful state, that word of God took hold of my heart, ‘Ye are justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.' But oh what a turn it made upon me! Now was I as one awaked out of some troublesome sleep and dream." Again," he relates, “ as I was at another time very ill and weak, all that time also the tempter did beset me strongly, labouring to hide from me my former experience of God's goodness, also 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, and was as if I had felt myself already descending into the pit Methought, I said, there was no way; but to hell I must. But behold, just as I was in the midst of those fears, these words of the angels carrying Lazarus into Abraham's bosom darted in upon me, as who should say, 'So it shall be with thee when thou dost leave this world.' This did sweetly revive my spirits, and help me to hope in God; which when I had with comfort mused on a while, that word fell with great weight on my mind, 'O death, where is thy sting! O grave, where is thy victory!' At this I became both well in body and mind at once; for my sickness did presently
The Life of John Bunyan.
vanish, and I walked comfortably in my work for God again.” This illness, together with his experiences under it, is supposed by some to be the type of Christian's passage through the Valley of Humiliation.
In 1656, Gifford died; and, in the same year, Bunyan was requested by the church to become a public exhorter. He had not a particle of the conceit or presumption which impels many incompetent persons, in Baptist and Congregational Churches, to thrust themselves upon their brethren, but, on the contrary, was so full of modesty and diffidence that he required to be drawn out and encouraged. “Some of the most able among the saints with us,” says he, “I
say the most able for judgment and holiness of life, did perceive, as they conceived, that God had counted me worthy to understand something of his will in his holy and blessed word, and had given ine utterance to express, in some measure, 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. He immediately found that his exhortations were highly acceptable to the brethren; and he was soon induced to accompany some of them to deliver addresses to small promiscuous meetings in the country; and not long after, he was solemnly chosen and set apart, along with seven others, to act as an itinerant preacher among the neighbouring villages.
In his earliest sermons, he dwelt chiefly on the terrors of the law, endeavouring to arouse and alarm his hearers about their sins and the wrath to
“Now this part of my work,” says he, “I fulfilled with great sense; for the terrors of the law, and guilt for my transgressions, lay heavy on my conscience. I preached what I felt, what I smartingly did feel; even that under which my poor soul did groan and tremble to astonishment. I went myself in chains to preach to them in chains, and carried that fire in my own conscience that I persuaded them to be aware of." But, after about two years, when he ceased to have frequent fits of dismal disquietude, and enjoyed a steady and brilliant sunshine of heavenly hope, he left off the Sinai and Ebal style of preaching, and took his stand, where every consistent and efficient minister of the gospel must take it, on Sion and Calvary. “The Lord,” says he, “ did give me many sweet discoveries of his blessed grace through Christ. Wherefore now I altered in my preaching; for still I preached what I saw and felt. Now therefore I did much labour to hold forth Jesus Christ in all his offices, relations, and benefits unto the world, and did strive also to discover, to condemn, and remove those false supports and props on which the world doth lean, and by them fall and perish. On these things also I staid as long as on the other. After this, God led me into something of the mystery of the The Life of John Bunyan.
union of Christ; wherefore that I discovered and showed to them also.” But the best notion of his matured style of appeal, with its pathos and pungency, its gorgeous views of redeeming love and its melting appeals to the sinner's conscience, may be obtained from what Philip calls his favourite sermon, the well-known discourse on the words, “ Beginning at Jerusalem."
Bunyan's preaching, from the first and everywhere, proved attractive and impressive. Multitudes in Bedford went early from curiosity to hear what so wonderful a reformed profligate would have to say; and both these, and others in the villages, afterwards followed him out of resistless sympathy with his powerful appeals. Even before he began to preach, his mere attendance at the Baptist Meeting-House acted as a magnet upon many who felt astonishment at his conversion. When I went out to seek the bread of life,” says he, “some of them would follow, and the rest be put into a muse at home. Yea, almost all the town, at first, at times would go out to hear at the place where I found good. Yea, young and old for a while had some reformation on them; also, some of them, perceiving that God had mercy upon me, came crying to Him for mercy too.” And when this remarkable convert from ignorance and wickedness became himself a preacher of that gospel which he had despised—a preacher, too, with such “winged words” and “ breathing thoughts” and burning earnestness—the attraction upon the masses of the people all around was like that of the moon upon our Earth's “world of waters.”
“ His popularity as a preacher," remarks Mr. Philip, “ was won at first by his amazing conversion.' That told upon saint and sinner, throughout the country, as Saul's did upon Jew and Gentile. It was not the novelty of a preaching tinker in Bedfordshire any more than that of a preaching tentmaker at Corinth, that drew attention. Odd and unexpected preachers were no novelty in Bunyan's timè. Cromwell's soldiers preached too often in their armour, to leave any singularity for the man who could mend casques and kettles.
Even stranger transitions than Bunyan's were not uncommon then. It was his moral and spiritual transformation, that drew so many eyes upon him at once. Both the godly and the ungodly paused to wonder,—not at the preaching tinker, but at the holy and zealous man whom they had long known as a reprobate. Only 'the doctors and priests of the country,' he says, 'did open wide against me.' The rabble seem never to have molested him.”
He continued all the while to support himself and his family by means of his labour as a tinker. He received no earthly compensation whatever for his missionary work. He was
He was “not slothful in business” for his family's daily bread, and “ in labours abundant” for the spiritual good of his fellowmen; and in 1657 he was nominated to serve as a deacon in his church, but set aside as ineligible-on the ground of his being otherwise so fully employed. Yet, amid all his occupations, in the very first year of his preaching, he found time
The Life of John Bunyan.
to write a book. This was entitled, “Some Gospel Truths opened according to the Scriptures; or the Divine and Human Nature in Christ Jesus,-his coming into the world, his righteousness, death, resurrection, ascension, intercession, and second coming to judgment plainly demonstrated and proved.” It was provoked by intrusive and extravagant opposition to his preaching on the part of some primitive Quakers; and it aims to rectify the delusions and explode the errors of that wildly heretical people, whose scalding roaring steam has settled down into ice among their nominal successors of modern times; but it really ranges over all the doctrines of our Lord's Deity and Messiahship, and is one of the best books which could be put into the hands of plain men at the present day as an antidote to Unitarianism, and deserves to hold a high place among practical theological treatises to the end of time. It must have been written promptly and spontaneously with little premeditation and not only scholarly appliance; and, viewed simply in a literary light, is one of the most wondrous things which ever went to press. Mr. Burton, who had succeeded Gifford in the pastorate of the Bedford Baptist Church, prefixed to it a commendatory epistle, and said respecting its author, “He hath through grace taken three heavenly degrees, viz. union with Christ, the anointing of the Spirit, experience of temptation,—which do more fit a man for the weighty work of preaching the gospel than all the University learning and degrees that can be had.” But,” remarks Philip, “if Bunyan's friend felt thus, what must his wife have enjoyed when she saw her husband writing a book! She deserved the joy of that event, after having seen him so often and long sitting, like the man in the iron cage, ‘with his eyes looking down to the ground, his hands folded together, and sighing as if he would break his heart.' She who watched over him then would work for him now, and take care that neither pan nor kettle should thrust the pen out of his hand whilst he was getting on, whenever her own hand could clench a rivet or solder a crack.” A reply to Bunyan was published by the eminent Quaker Edward Burroughs, under the title, “ The True Faith of the Gospel of Peace, contended for in the spirit of meekness;" but it is a declamatory, railing, furious composition. Bunyan replied, and Burroughs rejoined; and then the controversy went to rest,-not without evidence that Bunyan's efforts in it had made a deep and wide impression.”
At an early period of his missionary labours, Bunyan began to suffer obstruction and opposition from “doctors,” “priests,” and ungodly landowners; and toward the close of 1657, he was indicted to stand trial at the assizes for preaching at Eaton. The attempt, at that time, to inculpate him under form of law was contrary to all the spirit and drift of Cromwell's government, and probably proceeded from some ignorant country magistrate, who had more irreligious zeal than worldly discretion. Yet it was perfectly serious, and so much alarmed the Church at Bedford that they set apart a special day of public