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The Life of John Bunyan.
he chose, remained away over nights, made long visits to his family, attended the meetings of his church, conducted midnight preaching services in the country, and altogether endured no other restraints than were requisite to elude his persecutors, or to lull their suspicion. “I followed my wonted course of preaching,” says he,“ taking all occasions that were put into my hand to visit the people of God, exhorting them to be steadfast in the faith of Jesus Christ, and to take heed that they touched not the common-prayer, &c., but to mind the word of God, which giveth direction to Christians in every point.” Suspicion could not fail to be excited; but, for several months, it was singularly foiled and stultified. And one particular instance of Bunyan's and the jailer's protection from it is a good specimen of the thousand beautiful little lessons on special providence which everywhere abound in the histories of the persecutions of Christians. “It being known to some of the prelates that Bunyan was often out of prison, they sent down an officer to talk with the jailer on the subject, and, in order to find him out, he was to arrive there in the middle of the night. Bunyan was at home with his family; but so restless that he could not sleep. He therefore told his wife that he must return imme. diately. He did so, and the jailer blamed him for coming in at so unreasonable an hour. Early in the morning the messenger came, and said, 'Are all the prisoners safe?' 'Yes.' 'Is John Bunyan safe?' 'Yes.' 'Let me see him.' He was called, and appeared; and all was well. After the messenger left, the jailer said to Bunyan, 'Well, you may go out again when you think proper; for you
know when to return better than I can tell you.'” Bunyan roamed so largely at liberty as to make a visit to London. This was a perilous step, and led to important consequences, both good and bad. Bunyan had few influential friends in the country, and did well to seize the opportunity of finding some in the metropolis, who might either help him as a prisoner or obtain him facilities as an author. He was instantly appreciated, and soon formed connexions which gave him ready access to the public through the press, and armed him with incomparably greater powers of usefulness than if he had continued, to the end of his days and unmolestedly, a mere preacher. But he also drew the notice of some of the minions of the government; and, when he went back to Bedford, he learned, to his astonishment, that he was suspected in London, feignedly so perhaps, as the clandestine plotter of an insurrection. Both he and his jailer were, in consequence, put under ban; and the latter was forced to tell him that he must no longer look out at the door. “ My enemies,” says Bunyan, “were so angry that they had almost cast my jailer out of his place, threatening to indict him, and to do what they could against him.”
Bunyan now made a strenuous attempt to obtain a hearing at the assizes in January, 1662; and he got his name put into the calendar, and received The Life of John Bunyan.
friendly assurances from the High Sheriff and the Judge; but he was defeated by means of the private and pertinacious erasure of his name by the Clerk of the Peace. He now bade farewell to liberty; and henceforth he lay in rigorous confinement during the long period of seven years. His thoughts, for some time, were very gloomy,—and dwelt much on the condition of his family, the sad prospects of his blind daughter, and the possibility of his imprisonment terminating in some awful catastrophe; but they soon took on the gladsomeness of Divine consolation, and began to shine luminously and steadily in brilliant premonitions of “the far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” He was cut off from all his old means of earning his family's bread; but he learned to make tagged thread-laces, which perhaps brought them not much less money than his tinkering had done,—and he had entire confidence that the All-Loving One, who feeds the birds and clothes the lilies, would not let him or his come to want in the season of their suffering for the gospel. His cell was small and dreary, in an edifice upon the town-bridge, overhanging the river Ouse; but it let in streams of sunshine, and permitted vista-views along the river's banks; and Bunyan was often allowed by the jailer to range through the whole prison, and sometimes put in charge of all its keys. His privation of the delights of home and the joys of church-fellowship was no doubt a severe affliction; but even this was eminently alleviated by the free access of his wife and children to him in his cell, and by the daily companionship of preachers and Christian brethren, averaging so many as about sixty at a time, who were shut up as fellow-confessors for the truth in the same prison. And his very suspension from the work of preaching,—that deprivation of his liberty which hindered him from running amongst the villages as a messenger of the Divine mercy, and which he doubtless felt as far the heaviest of his troubles--turned out, like the similar bondage of the apostle Paul at Rome, "rather to the furtherance of the gospel;" for, while in prison, he “helped the faith” of his fellow-confessors,—diffused a mighty, silent, benign influence far and wide among sympathizers with the truth,-acquired ripe experiences and mellow views of religious things, for the increase of his usefulness in the years after he obtained his freedom,--and above all, wrote a large portion of his many precious works for the press, and laid up stores of thought for afterwards producing the rest It was in Bedford jail that he composed the first part of his Pilgrim's Progress; and that alone made his imprisonment a well-spring of purling rivers that shall refresh the nations till the end of time. How gloriously on this occasion—and how gloriously indeed, on every other in the Church's history, though not always so perceptibly by purblind man—did the Most High bring good out of evil!
Bunyan continued a prisoner altogether about twelve years; but during the last four, as during the first one, he was mainly a prisoner at large. He pro
The Life of John Bunyan.
bably owed his enlargement, as before, to the mere good will of his jailer; but he was now famous, and very generally respected; and the men in power, though not just or magnanimous to set him free, were sufficiently prudent to connive at his going at large. In August 1671, while still a prisoner, he was called by the Baptist Church in Bedford to become their pastor; and “he at the same time accepted the invitation, and gave himself up to serve Christ and his Church in that charge, and received of the elders the right hand of fellowship.” Soon after his ordination, and within the short space of forty-five days, he wrote his polemical treatise on justification by faith, in opposition to the heretical work of Fowler, afterwards bishop of Gloucester; and by this means he excited a greater sensation and did more good than in the case of the controversy with the Quakers.
In the summer of 1672, Bunyan obtained a formal pardon from the crown. He owed his release mainly to the influence of some leading persons among his old opponents, the Quakers. The legal documents connected with it, directly show that the only offence with which he was charged—the only one for which he suffered so long an imprisonment, and endured such severe privations and hardships—was his attending religious meetings to worship God according to the dictates of his conscience. “When he came abroad again,” says one of his oldest biographers," he found his temporal affairs were gone to wreck; and he had, as to them, to begin 'again, as if he had newly come into the world. But yet he was not destitute of friends, who had all along supported him with The Life of John Bunyan.
essaries, and had been very good to his family; so that, by their assistance, getting things a little about him again, he resolved, as much as possible, to decline worldly business, and give himself wholly up to the service of God." He sprang right from imprisonment into a career of most brilliant activity. He attended well to his domestic and his pastoral duties, and at the same time undertook enormous labours as an author, a controversialist, a missionary, and a general philanthropist. In the autumn of 1672, he set about building, by voluntary subscription, a new meeting-house in Bedford, of capacity to contain nearly one thousand sittings. In November of next year, he had the comfort to see his son Thomas set apart as an occasional preacher and a rural missionary. In the two years following his liberation he went through a great controversy with his brethren, the Baptists, on the question of Christian catholicity of church-fellowship, and was enabled to inflict many and deep wounds upon bigotry and shibboleth-sectarianism. Before the expiry of four more years, he published six other valuable treatises, and got over a mountain of difficulties which his advisers had thrown in the way of his Pilgrim's Progress, and sent that best of all his works to the press. He laboured statedly in Bedford, always amid large audiences and high general esteem, till the eve of his
death; and he went on writing and publishing till he produced altogether about sixty pamphlets and volumes.
He preached often and earnestly in "all the region round about” Bedford, and exercised a special care over all the villages within his old itinerancies, and made occasional tours and journeys through the counties of Cambridge, Hertford, Huntingdon, Buckingham, and Northampton, and even to the extremities of the kingdom. He introduced the gospel to many benighted districts, set up many preaching stations, founded many permanent congregations, gathered and confirmed many scattered and crushed groups of persecuted Christians, carried large relief to the temporal wants of suffering brethren, reconciled differences and terminated strifes among individuals and families and communities, and, in general, performed on a large scale, in an earnest spirit, under the manifest sunshine of the Divine favour, the same sort of wide, miscellaneous, soul-winning work which was done by the early evangelists and the apostles. He was often styled by both friend and foe, in admiration and in derision, Bishop Bunyan; and well would it be for episcopalian communions if every bishop possessed some of his holy fire or did but a tithe of his holy work. He did all, too, in an age of persecution, and in the face of penal statutes—amid the scorn of the world, and in constant danger of renewed imprisonment; but, though often incommoded and several times hotly chased, he never again fell actually into “the snare of the fowler.” “It pleased the Lord,” says his old biographer, “to preserve him out of the hands of his enemies, in the severe persecution at the latter end of King Charles II.'s reign, though they often searched and laid wait for him, and sometimes narrowly missed him."
Bunyan visited London, and preached in it, almost every year from his liberation till his death. And there, as everywhere, he was exceedingly popular. If but one day's notice were given of his intention to preach, the Meeting-house in Southwark, where he generally officiated, would not hold half the people who went to hear him. “I have seen by my computation,” says a credible eye-witness, “about twelve hundred persons to hear him at a morning lecture, on a working day in dark working time. I also computed about three thousand that came to hear him at a town's-end meeting-house; so that half were fain to go back again for want of room; and then himself was fain at a back door to be pulled almost over people to get upstairs to the pulpit.” It is said that the great Dr. Owen was sometimes one of his audience, and that, on being once asked by Charles II. how a learned man like hiin could sit and listen to an illiterate tinker; the Doctor replied, “ May it please your Majesty, could I possess that tinker's abilities for preaching, I would most gladly relinquish all my learning.” But amidst all his popularity, Bunyan continued humble and modest, and assumed not one air of being superior to
The Life of John Bunyan.
his brethren, and seemed always all-absorbed in burning desire to win souls to Christ.
In 1687, an act of indulgence was passed by James II., giving a wily yet real and most unexpected religious liberty to all classes of dissenters. Bunyan, ever perfectly active under the deepest gloom of persecution, was unconsciously roused to blazing energy under this singular burst of political sunshine. He sent no fewer than six books through the press in the course of a few months, and probably increased or at all events maintained his old brisk rate of preaching labours. He consequently was overworked, overthrown, and brought under what his old biographer calls “ a sweating distemper,"--a sure symptom of great exhaustion and debility. But he did not yield to it; and after he had suffered under it several weeks, and was still going about, he received a request to go to Reading and attempt a reconcilement there between a father and son, and complied. He had the happiness of success in his labour of love; but as he was returning to London on horseback, he became drenched with rain; and when he arrived at his lodgings in London, he fell into a violent fever. His host was Mr. Strudwick, grocer, at the sign of the Star, on Snow Hill,—an admiring friend, who doubtless rendered and procured every aid which he could devise. But Bunyan's time had come: the pilgrim had passed through Beulah, and was on the banks of the river of death. He found his strength fast sinking; and settled his worldly affairs as promptly as circumstances would permit; and expressed a wish to depart and to be with Christ, considering death as gain, and life as only a tedious delay of expected felicity. “His prayers,” says his first biographer, “were fervent and frequent; and he even so little minded himself, as to the concerns of this life, that he comforted those that wept about him, exhorting them to trust in God, and pray to him for mercy and forgiveness of their sins, telling them what a glorious exchange it would be to leave the troubles and cares of a wretched mortality to live with Christ for ever, with peace and joy inexpressible, expounding to them the comfortable scriptures by which they were to hope and assuredly come into a blessed resurrection in the last day. He desired some to pray with him; and he joined with them in prayer. And the last words, after he had struggled with a languishing disease, were, “Weep not for me, but for yourselves. I go to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will no doubt, through the mediation of his blessed Son, receive me, though a sinner; where I hope we ere long shall meet, to sing the new song, and remain for everlastingly happy, world without end, Amen!” This seems too laboured a sentence to be the “last” saying of any man dying of fever, and is not at all in the curt, sapid, pithy style of Bunyan; and must probably be understood as the summary or substance of many things which he said near his end. A classified collection of his dying sayings is preserved, under the heads of sin,