Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

The Life of John Bunyan.

xvii

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! () grave, where is thy victory!' At this I became both well in body and mind at once; for my sickness did presently

[ocr errors]

с

[ocr errors][merged small]

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 ('hristian'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 07 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 orit 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 come. “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.

xix

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 time. 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 “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 t'niversity 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 mo 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 The Life of John Bunyan.

xxi

prayer on account of it.

ut it came to nought; and seems to have been abandoned before the time of the assizes arrived.

A much more serious opposition arose in the form of calumny. This probably began at the very outset of his preaching,-or even at the commencement of his Christian profession; and may have become broader and more malignant in proportion as he grew more devoted and useful; and, at all events, it spread like a thundercloud from side to side of his horizon, and burst in a storm which might have scathed or deluged an hundred meaner men to infamy. “Now," narrates he, “what the devil could devise and his instruments invent was whirled up and down the country against me, thinking that by that means they should make my ministry to be abandoned.

It began therefore to be rumoured up and down among the people that I was a witch, a jesuit, a highwayman, and the like. But that which was reported with the boldest confidence was"-a tissue of defamation too vile for gossip among even the offscourings of society, and too polluting to be told in any readable phraseology. “Now," adds he," these slanders I glory in, because but slanders, foolish or knavish lies and falsehoods, cast upon me by the devil and his seed. And should I not be dealt with thus wickedly by the world, I should want one sign of a saint and a child of God Blessed are you,' said the Lord Jesus, 'when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil of you falsely for my sake; rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.' These things, therefore, upon mine own account trouble me not. No, though they were twenty times more than they are, I have a good conscience; and whereas they speak evil of me as an evil-doer, they shall be ashamed that falsely accuse my good conversation in Christ. So then, what shall I say to those who have thus bespattered me? Shall I threaten them? Shall I chide them? Shall I flatter them? Shall I entreat them to hold their tongues? No, not I. Were it not for that these things make them ripe for damnation that are the authors and abettors, I would say unto them, report it, because it will increase my glory. Therefore I bind these lies and slanders to me as an ornament. It belongs to my Christian profession to be vilified, slandered, reproached, and reviled. And since all this is nothing else, as my God and my conscience do bear me witness, I rejoice in reproaches for Christ's sake."

About this time, Bunyan suffered severe domestic affliction in the death of his wife. She was manifestly a person of rare worth, and must have become inexpressibly dear to him as the soother and sharer of his thousand sorrows. Yet burningly sore as her death must have been to him, he probably thought of it only as her own glorification and a means for his sanctification-a matter properly for silent, sacred, heart-closed reflexion; and he makes no mention of it in the records of his experience. Four pledges of their conjugal love

« ForrigeFortsett »