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BUNY A N’S MINISTERIAL POSITION.
In order to appreciate, or even to apprehend, Bunyan's reasons for writing and acting as he did, it is necessary to have a clear idea, of his Ministerial position. That regulated, as well as influenced, his chief movements and habits. Had he not been a Baptist, he would have written a little more than his Pilgrim's Progress and the Holy War; because he knew, that profounder theologians than he ever pretended to be, were publishing quite enough, both doctrinal and practical, for any nation to read : but he knew also, that the Baptists, as a body, would take a lesson from him more readily than from an Episcopalian, a Presbyterian, or an Independent; or at least, that he would be read by many who would not read Owen nor Baxter. In like manner, had he not been more than a Bap. tist, he would have written less than he did. But he had to write against the Baptists as well as for them; because, in general, they sprinkled all other churches then, with the bitter waters of strict communion. I say, sprinkled : but if any one choose to read, immersed, fact will warrant the version. Bun. yan had no sympathy with this Shibboleth of his times. He was the first to oppose it formally as a test of faith or fellow. ship : and thus, its best opponent-Robert Hall not excepted. He was not, however, the originator of open communion at Bedford. The Baptist Church there, was founded by Mr. Gifford in 1650, upon the principle, that a profession of faith in Christ, attended with holinesss of life, was the only condi. tion of Christian fellowship.
Another thing which influenced him to write so much, and as well as he could, was, the consideration that he could not do too much for the glory of that grace which plucked him as * a brand from the burning.” It is quite a mistake, that he wrote in order to beguile the tedious years of his imprisonment, or for the sake of authorship. He enjoyed indeed—no man
more—the exercise of his own talents, when he discovered them; but he began to write, as he did to preach, from the single consideration, that he could speak to the hearts of both sinners and saints from an experience, to which both would listen, and neither could misunderstand. Besides, both expected Bunyan to address them. He had been too long and too far amongst the wild, in early life, to be forgotten by them, when deserted from their ranks. That ring looked after their ring. leader, when he ceased to lead them. They were amazed at his conversion from “ prodigious profaneness to something like a moral life,” even before he had left off dancing at the Maypole. When, therefore, he became altogether a Chris. tian, they calculated upon hearing from him in some form. They mocked him, because they feared him. He knew them; and therefore wrote the Life and Death of Mr. Badman. He knew them; and therefore when he saw them come to hear his preaching, he often said in his heart, “ that if to be hanged before their eyes would be the means to awaken them, he would gladly be contented.'” Thus the Minister tried all means to save some of those whom, in his youth, he had led on or joined in ungodliness. These were not few, nor all in one place. His most intimate companions in iniquity were, of course, about Bedford : but the Tinker had associated with the scum of every town and village in the county, whilst fol. lowing his craft. The minister did not forget this. Accord. ingly, his “ great desire,” as he calls it, “ was to get into the darkest places of the country; even amongst those people who were farthest off of a profession.” “ My spirit,” he adds, 66 did lean most after awakening and converting work, and the word that I carried did lean itself most that way also.” It was this leaning which led him to write that awakening Work, “ Sighs from Hell ; or the Groans of a Damned Soul :” a book no man could have written, who had not both seen and shared the ways of the most ungodly, as well as known the pangs of remorse.
Bunyan's conversion drew the attention of the pious also, from the first ; and they never lost sight of him afterwards. They crowded to hear him when he began to preach, and longed to hear from him when he was imprisoned. He knew this, and wrote his Pilgrim for their edification, just as he did his 6 Grace Abounding,” for the comfort of his own spiritual children, “ whom he had begotten by the ministry of the word.”
Thus his popularity as a preacher was won, at first, by his " amazing conversion.” That told upon saint and sinner, throughout the county, 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 of. ter 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.
This is an interesting fact. Ivimey says truly, “ there is no record in his Works, nor in authentic sources, that he was ever the object of derision and virulence among the lower classes.” The only intimation of the kind is in Ireland's Print of Bunyan's cottage. I have preserved that print; but expunged from it both the rabble and the dog, which Ireland, the forger of the Shakspeare documents, foisted in for effect. I did this before seeing his original draughts of these forged papers; and since, I am quite satisfied that I do his memory no injury. He could do any thing for effect.
It is honourable to Bunyan's times, as well as to himself, that his character and talents commanded the veneration of all rabbles, except the rabble Magistracy of the Restoration. The common people, with the exception of a few half.crazy Quakers, heard him gladly.
This glimpse at Bunyan's ministerial position, although it embraces a little more than belongs to the first years of his preaching, was necessary, in order to understand his own ac. count of the character and success of his itinerant labours. We have seen, that for the space of two years, he imitated John the Baptist chiefly, by warning the multitude to flee from the wrath to come. This fact renders the reception he met with, the more creditable to them. He had not to say to them, “ Strike, but hear :"—they listened to his remonstrances and warnings without threatening to strike, or venturing to, stir. Nor was he less faithful to their consciences, when he began to preach “ the fulness of the blessing of the Gospel.” “I did labour," he says, “ to speak the Word so that thereby, if it were possible, the sin and the guilty person might be particu. larized by it.” Those who have read Bunyan's sermons know well how he could particularize! There is a personality, as well as point, in his improvements, which makes individuals stand out even to the eye of the reader. We almost expect the strain of his appeal to take a new turn, from some pente. costal outcry.
Nothing, however, is so instructive in the history of his preaching, as his intense solicitude to win souls. Whatever was bis subject, this was his grand object. Hence he says, on reviewing his preaching, “ I thank God, my heart hath often, all the time of this and the other exercise, cried to God with great earnestness, that he would make the Word effectual to the salvation of the soul : being still grieved lest the Enemy should take it away from the Conscience, and so it should become unfruit. ful. And when I had done the exercise, it hath gone to my heart to think the Word should now fall in stony places, I was still wishing in my heart,-0, that they who have heard me speak this day, did but see as I do, what sin, death, hell, and the curse of God is! And also (did see as I see what the grace, and love, and mercy of God, through Christ, is, to men in such a case as they are, who are yet estranged from him !” Bunyan did not, like Paul, exactly desire to be Anathema, on these occasions of soul-travail : but he came very near to the Apostle's magnanimity, when he “ did often say in his heart before the Lord, I would gladly be hanged up be. , fore their eyes presently, if that would be a means to awaken them, and confirm them in the truth.'"
This is a spirit which God was sure to honour, and man to feel. Accordingly, Bunyan says, “ I have been, in my preach. ing, especially when I have been engaged in the doctrine of life by Christ, without works, as if an Angel of God had stood at my back to encourage me; oh! it hath been with such power and heavenly evidence upon my own soul, while I have been labouring to unfold it, to demonstrate it, and to fasten it upon the consciences of others,—that I could not be contented with saying, “I believe, and am sure:' methought I was more than sure (if it be lawful so to express myself) that those things which I then asserted were true.” He could thus afford, whilst he felt as if an Angel strengthened him, to shut his ears “ when the Doctors and Priests of the country did open wide" upon him. Their railing could not make him rail. «I set
myself instead,” he says, “ to see how many of these carnal professors I could convince of their miserable state by the law, and of the want and worth of Christ : for, thought I, . This shall answer for me in time to come, when they shall be for my hire before their face.' Gen. xxx. 33.
“I never cared to meddle with things that were controvert. ed, and in dispute among the saints, especially things of the lowest nature; yet it pleased me much to contend with great earnestness for the word of faith, and the remission of sins by the death and sufferings of Jesus : but I say, as to other things, I would let them alone, because I saw they engendered strife; and because that they neither in doing, nor in leaving undone, did commend us to God to be his. Besides, I saw my work before me did run into another channel, even to carry an awakening word ;-to that, therefore, I did stick and adhere.
“I never endeavoured to nor durst make use of other men's lines (though I condemn not all that do,) for I verily thought, and found by experience, that what was taught to me by the word and spirit of Christ, could be spoken, maintained, and stood to, by the soundest and best established conscience; and though I will not now speak all that I know, in this matter, yet my experience hath more interest in that text of Scripture, Gal. i. 11, 12, than many amongst men are aware :- I certi. fy unto you, Brethren, that the Gospel which is preached of me, is not after man. For I neither received it of man, nei. ther was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.'
“If any of those who were awakened by my ministry, did after that fall back (as sometimes too many did,) I can truly say, their loss hath been more to me, than if my own children, begotten of my own body, had been going to their grave. I think verily, I may speak it without any offence to the Lord, nothing has gone so near me as that; unless it was the fear of the loss of the salvation of my own soul. I have counted as if I had goodly buildings and Jordships in those places where my (spiritual) children were born ; my heart had been so wrapt up in the glory of this excellent work, that I counted myself more blessed and honoured of God by this, than if he had made me the emperor of the Christian world, or the Lord of all the glory of the earth without it! Oh these words! He that converteth a sinner from the error of his way doth save a soul from death. The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise. - They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many