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CHAPTER IV

BUNYAN'S FIRST REFORMATION.

It was some reformation in his case even to go to church at all on the Sabbath. By the influence of his wife, and her father's books and memory, he fell in eagerly with the religion of the times. His own account of this change is equally mi. nute and graphic. “I went,” he says, “ to church twice a day, and that with the foremost; and there I would very de. voutly both say and sing as others did, yet retained my wicked life. But withal, I was so overrun with the spirit of superstition, that I adored, and that with great devotion, even all things belonging to the church; the high place (pulpit), priest, clerk, vestment, service, and what else ; counting all things holy, that were therein contained ; and especially the priest and clerk most happy, and without doubt greatly blessed, because they were the servants of God, as I then thought, and were principal in his temple, to do his work therein.

“This conceit grew so strong in a little time upon my spi- . rit, that had I but seen a priest (though never so debauched and sordid in his life), I should feel my spirit fall under him, reverence him, and knit to him. Yea, I thought, for the love I did bear unto them (supposing them the ministers of God), I could have laid down at their feet, and have been trampled upon by them ; their name, their garb and work, did so intox. icate and bewitch me.”

Dr. Southey says of this, “Bunyan describes himself as having a most superstitious veneration” for the servants and service of the church; and very properly adds, “ The service, it must be remembered, was not the Liturgy of the Church of England, but the Directory of the victorious Puritans, substi. tuted for it.”-Southey's Bunyan.

Now, I have no objection to this distinction. I even think the Directory "meager," when contpared with the Liturgy. What, however, is the design of this contrast here? Does the meagerness of the Directory account for Bunyan's gross superstition? Would the Liturgy have prevented “ most superstitious reverence,” for either priest, service, garb, or

what else? If it would then, it does not now. Its very excel. lencies—and I think them glories- win, from wiser men than Bunyan then was, veneration for priests who utter nothing evangelical but the liturgy. It is easy to laugh at Bunyan's veneration for the clerk; but veneration for Archbishop Laud is far more laughable, and superstitious too, if Bishop Hall's opinion of him was just, or Hume's honest. I have much sympathy for Laud on the scaffold : his dying prayer, as given by Rushworth, I love more than I can express. Its opening petitions breathe a penitential faith of the highest order, be. cause of the humblest character. But Laud on the scaffold, and Laud on his own throne or behind the King's throne, is rot the same person. His life was a curse to the Church, whatever ornament his death became. They are more superstitious than Bunyan, who canonize either Laud or Charles.

It was whilst this superstitious fit lasted, that Bunyan con. sulted his father about the Jews. They, like the gypsies, had come out of Egypt originally; and as tinkers and gypsies were often identified, he fondly hoped that there might be some connexion between the two races. “ The Israelites,” he says, 6 were once the peculiar people of God: if I were one of them, thought I, my soul must needs be happy. I found a great longing to be resolved about this question; but could not tell how I should.” He asked his father, and he told him, “ No, we were not.” He then fell in spirit, as to the hopes of that. The fact seems to be, that he was unhappy in his own mind; but still wishing for an easier way to heaven, than he had found church-going to be, easy as he made that duty by sport afterwards. He wanted to be one of the “peculiar people," that he might have nothing peculiar to do, as he thought.' So . think many, who conclude their own election from less re. semblance to the elect, than what subsists between Jews and

gypsies.

“But all this while,” he says, “ I was not sensible of the danger and evil of sin. I was kept from considering, that sin would damn me, what religion soever I followed, unless I was found in Christ. Nay, I never thought of Hiu, nor whether there was such a one or no.”

What must the Directory have been, it may be said, see. ing it left him thus ignorant of the Saviour ? Very inferior, I grant, to the Liturgy, except when filled up by the prayers of eminently devotional men ; I have, however, known of not a few instances of similar ignorance, under the Liturgy. The

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sober experimental fact is, that the prayers rarely teach the ignorant the way of salvation, however much they edify the pious. Wherever the Pulpit contradicts the Desk, the pray. ers soon become a dead letter. This is a solemn, as well as a sober fact; for if any thing human could counteract bad preaching, the Liturgy would do so; but it is itself counteracted wherever the Gospel is not preached.

Whatever else Bunyan's “parson” was, he seems to have been a Puritan, in reference to the Sabbath. It was well for Bunyan he was so. A sermon against amusements on that day, made him feel what he never felt before-guilty before God. “One day,” he says, “amongst all the sermons our parson made, his subject was, to treat of the Sabbath-day, and of the evil of breaking that, either with labour, sports or otherwise. Now I was, notwithstanding my religion, one that took much delight in all manner of vice; and especially that was the day I did solace myself therewith. Wherefore I fell in my conscience under this sermon ; thinking and believing that he made that sermon on purpose to show me my evil doing. And at that time I felt what guilt was, though never before, that I can remember : but then I was, for the present, greatly loaden therewith, and so went home when the sermon was ended, with a great burthen upon my spirit.

“This for that instant, did benumb the sinews of my best de. lights, and did embitter my former pleasures to me. But hold -it lasted not! for before I had well dined, the trouble began to go off my mind, and my heart returned to its old course. O, how glad was I, that this trouble was gone from me, and that the fire was put out, that I might sin again without con. trol! Wherefore, when I had satisfied nature with my food, I shook the sermon out of my mind, and to my old custom of sports and gaming I returned with great delight.”

Dr. Southey says, “ It is remarkable to find a married man engaged in games which are now only practised by boys." This seems to imply that Bunyan was singular, in thus dese. crating the Sabbath. Would he had been so ! But he was not. Married men, and greybeards, as well as boys, then acted up to the letter and the spirit of the Book of Sports. Besides, what else was to be expected from Bunyan? He was no Puritan, whatever his Minister may have been. If he was any thing, he was now a high-Church bigot, according to the cavalier style of Churchmanship ; saying or singing any thing within the Church, and doing as he liked when he came out.

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So far the Doctor's remark is inexplicable. It is preceded, however, by the following fling at the Puritans : “ Notwithstanding the outcry which they have raised against what is called The Book of Sports, they found it necessary to tolerate such recreations on the Sabbath.” This is an unfortunate re. mark, in connexion with a sermon against such sports, which had set on fire the conscience of Bunyan. The sermon which did that could not have been very tolerant to Sunday recrea. tions. The preacher may have been obliged to wink at such things, from inability to enforce the law against them ; but this was not tolerating them.

Bunyan's dinner did not quench the fire which the sermon bad kindled. Dr. Southey says well, “ The dinner sat easy upon him ; the sermon did not.” Bunyan says better, “ But the same day, as I was in the midst of a game of Cat, and hav. ing struck it one blow from the hole,-just as I was about to strike it a second time, a voice did suddenly dart from Heaven into my soul, which said, “Wilt thou leave thy sins and go to heaven, or have thy sins and go to hell ? At this, I was put into an exceeding maze. Wherefore, leaving my Cat on the ground, I looked up to heaven, and was as if I had, with the eyes of my understanding, seen the Lord Jesus looking down upon me, as being very hotly displeased with me; and as if he did severely threaten me with some grievous punishment for these and other ungodly practices.”

At this point, as might be expected, Bunyan's biographers differ. Ivimey lets the vision alone. Mons. Suard tells it with a true French sneer. Dr. Southey says, “ The voice Bunyan believed to be from Heaven ; and it may be inferred from his relation, that though he was sensible the vision was only seen with the mind's eye, hedeemed it not the less real." J. A. St. John says, “ The passage translated into common English, means no more than that the thought arose in his mind; and being an incitement to good, must, he supposed, proceed from Heaven.” Scott of Aston Sandford says, “The con. sciousness of his wicked course of life, accompanied with the recollection of the truths he had read, suddenly meeting in his mind, thus produced a violent alarm, and made such an impres. sion on his imagination, that he seemed to have heard these words, and to have seen Christ frowning and menacing him. But we must not suppose that there was any miracle wrought ; nor could there be any occasion for a new revelation to sug. gest or enforce so scriptural a warning.”

This last explanation of the matter is the best, so far as all but Bunyan bimself is concerned. It is also the true explana. tion of the vision, so far as means were concerned. This was not the way, however, in which Bunyan explained it to himself. He saw more in it, than the junction of recollected truth and conscience. He says, indeed, that it was darted into his soul; conceived in his mind ; seen with the eyes of his understand. ing : and special metaphysical pleading might make a great deal of these words, to prove that he reckoned the whole matter only a very vivid creation of the mind itself. Be it remember. ed, however, that by the time Bunyan wrote his own account of it, no man knew better than he did what vivid imaginings were. Many thoughts had been virtually realities ; and many ideas sensations, to him. But no familiarity he ever acquired with mental phenomena, led him to strip this signal providence of the supernatural entirely. He was too wise to call it a mi. racle, but he was too pious to exclude the hand of God from it: that hand, indeed, cannot be excluded from the event, by any philosophy which deserves the name.

I have called Scott's explanation both the best and the true one, because Scott does not intend to exclude the agency of the Holy Spirit, although he mentions only the meeting of Truth and Conscience. It is only justice to Thomas Scott, to say this. He was, I both grant and regret, too much afraid of what he calls “those impressions, which constitute so large a portion of Bunyan's religious experience.” He thought it “ not advisable to recapitulate” “them. Dr. Southey judged more wisely, although less kindly towards the agency of the Holy Spirit, when he said, “Bunyan's character would be im. perfectly understood, and could not be justly appreciated, if this part of his history were kept out of sight.” He therefore brings them fully into sight; but, as a “ Stage of burning enthusiasm, not less terrible than that of the Pilgrim in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.” Thus whilst Scott's object was to guard the doctrine of Divine influence from being confounded with visionary impulses, Southey's object was to fasten the charge of “rampant fanaticism” upon Puritanism, as well as to make Bunyan “admired as he ought to be admi. red.” “The enthusiasm,” he says, “ was brought on by the circumstances of an age in which hypocrisy was frequent, and fanaticism rampant throughout the land.”-Southey's Life.

There is only too much truth in this picture of the preva. lence of hypocrisy and fanaticism, so far as certain sects, or rather cliques of the day, are concerned; but there is no truth

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