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this memorable examination, his answers being taken down as a confession of guilt, without any other trial, without the verdict of a jury, he was sentenced in the following terms: “ You must be had back again to prison, and there. lie for three months following; and at the three months'end, if you do not submit to go to church to hear divine service, and leave your preaching, you must be banished the realm; and if you be found to come over again without special licence from the king, you must be stretched by the neck for it, I tell you plainly,” said the judge: and so he bade the jailor remove bis prisoner. Bunyan resolutely answered, that if he were out of prison to-day, he would preach the gospel again to-morrow, by the help of God. .
Of the propriety of Bunyan's conduct in refusing to desist from preaching, differing opinions will be formed. Dr. Southey, as might be anticipated, takes a decided part with his judges; giving it as his opinion, that in none of Bunyan's writings “ does he appear so little reasonable, or so little tolerant, as upon these examinations." In what his intolerance consisted, is not very apparent; but the learned Biographer possibly refers to honest John's objection to using the common- prayer-book, as not being of divine authority. In proof that he was unreasonable, it is urged, that “ he was neither called upon to renounce any thing that he did believe, nor to profess any thing that he did not; that the congregation to which he belonged, held at this time their meetings unmolested; that he might have worshipped when he pleased, where he pleased, and how he pleased ; and that he was only required not to go about the country holding conventicles.”* The extreme disingenuousness of this statement will be evident when it
• Dr. Southey adds: “The cause for that interdiction was, not that persons were admonished in such conventicles to labour for salvation, but that they were exhorted there to regard with abhorrence that Protestant church which is essentially part of the constitution of this kingdom.” An assertion imbodying an historical misrepresentation and a calumny, and which would serve just as well to justify the persecution of Dissenters in the present day. If the conventicle act was right, the toleration act was wrong.
is recollected, that the statute under which he was indicted, rendered his nonconformity itself a crime; that his abstaining from coming to church was placed in the front of his offence; and that he was not only required to profess what, in him, would have been hypocrisy, but to renounce what he believed to be his sacred duty. “Sir,” said Bunyan, in a subsequent examination, to the clerk of the peace, who tried to persuade him to forbear awhile,—“ Wicliff saith, that he who leaveth off preaching and hearing of the word of God for fear of excommunication of men, he is already excommunicated of God, and shall in the day of judgment be counted a traitor to Christ.” When reminded that the Scripture enjoined obedience to the powers that be, his answer was: “ That Paul did own the powers that were in his day to be of God; and yet he was often in prison under them, for all that; and also, though Jesus Christ told Pilate that he had no power against him, but of God, yet he died under the same Pilate. And yet,” (he added, " I hope you will not say that either Paul or Christ were such as did deny magistracy, and so sinned against God in slighting the ordinance. Sir, the law hath provided two ways of obeying: the one, to do that which I in my conscience do believe I am bound to do actively; and where I cannot obey actively, there I am willing to lie down, and to suffer what they shall do unto me.” Such was the “ unreasonable” character of his defence; and because it was, in the opinion of the Apologist for Laud, * unreasonable, Bunyan, we have been told, “is most wrongfully represented as having been the victim of intolerant laws and prelatical oppression.” Yet, it is admitted, that he evinced at least the strength of will and strength of heart, the fortitude and the patience of a martyr. Nor was it without a painful conflict of emotions that he made up his mind to the consequences of his firmness, as we learn from the touching expression of his feelings during
* And Biographer of Wesley, whom, but for the Toleration-act, the same statute would have condemned to incarceration and exile.
imprisonment, contained in his Narrative. “I found myself,” he says, “a man encompassed with infirmities: the parting with my wife and poor children hath often been to me in this place as the pulling the flesh from the bones; and that not only because I am somewhat too fond of these great mercies, but also because I should have after brought to my mind the many hardships, miseries, and wants that my poor family was likely to meet with, should I be taken from them ; especially my poor blind child, who lay nearer my heart than all beside. Oh! the thoughts of the hardship I thought my poor blind one might go under, would break my heart to pieces. Poor child! thought I, what sorrow art thou like to have for thy portion in this world! Thou must be beaten, must beg, suffer hunger, cold, nakedness, and a thousand calainities, though I cannot now endure the wind should blow upon thee. But yet, recalling myself, thought I, I must venture you all with God, though it goeth to the quick to leave you.”
The summary punishment which the justices had inflicted upon Bunyan, was not only an act of gross oppression, but obviously a stretch of the law, both as he was apprehended before there had been any proclamation against the meetings, upon a statute which had lain dormant, and as he was convicted upon a mere construction put upon his own words during examination. His detention in prison afterwards turned upon his having been thus irregularly convicted.
On the King's coronation, in April 1661, a general pardon was proclaimed ; and thousands who had been committed to prison for nonconformity and other offences, were set at liberty. “ In which privilege,” says Bunyan, “ I should also have had my share, but they took me for a convicted person; and, therefore, unless I sued out a pardon, as they called it, I could have no benefit thereby." Bunyan, therefore, was still detained; and at the next assizes, in August 1661, that he might leave no lawful means of escape unattempt d, he did, by his wife, present à petition to the judges, three times, that he might be heard, and his case taken into consideration. Sir Matthew Hale was one of these judges; and it appears from Mrs. Bunyan's testimony, as preserved in the Narrative, that, on receiving the petition, he expressed a willingness to do for her the best he could, but feared that nothing could be done; and on being assured by one of the justices who had committed Bunyan, that he was a hot-spirited fellow, he waived the matter, and declined interfering. Encouraged, however, by the high sheriff, to make another effort before the judges left the town, Elizabeth Bunyan, who seems to have imbibed a portion of her husband's spirit, again made her way, “ with a bashed face and a trembling heart," into the judges' chamber. Addressing herself to Judge Hale, she pleaded the unlawfulness of his conviction; urging that she had been told in London by a nobleman, to whom she bad delivered a petition to the House of Lords on her husband's behalf, that his releasement was committed to the judges at the next assizes. “And now,” she said, “ I am come to you, to see if any thing may be done in this business, and you give neither releasement nor relief.” “ My Lord,” said Justice Chester, “ he is a pestilent fellow; there is not such a fellow in the country again.” “ Will your husband leave preaching ?” said Judge Twisdon: “ if he will do so, then send for him.” “ My Lord,” replied Elizabeth Bunyan, “ he dares not leave preaching, as long as he can speak.” “ See here!” exclaimed the last-mentioned judge; " what should we talk any more about such a fellow ? Must he do what he lists? He is a breaker of the peace.” “ He desires to live peaceably, my Lord,” rejoined Mrs. Bunyan, " and to follow his calling, that his family may be maintained. Moreover,” she added, “ I have four small children that cannot help themselves, one of which is blind; and we have nothing to live upon but the charity of good people.” “ Hast thou four children?" said Judge Hale : “ thou art but a young woman to have four children.” “ My Lord,” said she, “I am but mother-in-law to them, having not been married to him yet two full years.” She proceeded to add, that she was near her confinement when her husband was apprehended; and that the shock brought on premature labour, and the child died. Upon hearing which, Judge Hale, looking very seriously, exclaimed, “ Alas! poor woman.” Judge Twisdon brutally remarked, that she made poverty a cloak; and that Bunyan was maintained better by running up and down preaching, than by following his calling. “What is his calling ?” asked Judge Hale. “A tinker, my Lord,” said a bystander. “ Yes," rejoined Elizabeth Bunyan, “ and because he is a tinker and a poor man, therefore he is despised, and cannot have justice.” There was truth in this blunt appeal, and Hale felt its force. “I tell thee, woman,” he very mildly replied, “ seeing it is so, that they have taken what thy husband spake for a conviction, thou must apply thyself to the king, or sue out his pardon, or get a writ of error." Justice Chester, on hearing the upright judge give her this counsel, could not conceal his vexation ; exclaiming, “ My Lord, he will preach, and do what he lists.” “ He preacheth nothing but the word of God,” said his wife. “He preach the word of God!" said Twisdon in a rage; “ he runneth up and down, and doth harm.” “No, my Lord,” said she, “it is not so: God hath owned him, and done much good by him.” “God !” said Twisdon, “his doctrine is the doctrine of the devil.” “ My Lord,” once more replied this meek, yet spirited woman, " when the righteous Judge shall appear, it will be known that his doctrine is not the doctrine of the devil.” There was no answering this; and Twisdon, turning to Hale, begged him not to mind her, but to send her away. The Judge, evidently moved, said again to Mrs. Bunyan, in a tone of kindness : “ I am sorry, woman, that I can do thee no good. Thou must do one of those three things aforesaid, namely, either to apply thyself to the king, or sue out his pardon, or get a writ of error; but a writ of error will be the cheapest.”