Gambar halaman
[blocks in formation]

engaged in diversion with his companions, '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?' The consciousness 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 impression 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 suggest or enforce so scriptural a warning. This may serve as a specimen of those impressions, which constitute a large part of his religious experience, but which it is not advisable to recapitulate.

He was next tempted to conclude that it was then too late to repent or seek salvation; and, as he ignorantly listened to the suggestion, he indulged his corrupt inclinations without restraint, imagining that this was the only way in which he could possibly have the least expectation of pleasure, during his whole existence.

While he was proceeding in this wretched course, a woman of very bad character reproved him with great severity for profane swearing; declaring, in the strongest expressions, that he exceeded in it all men she had ever heard. This made him greatly ashamed, when he reflected that he was too vile even for such a had woman to endure : so that from that time he began to break off that odious custom.—His guilty and terrified mind was also prepared to admit the most alarming impressions during his sleep: and he had such a dream about the day of judgment, and its awful circumstances and consequences, as powerfully influenced his conduct. There was, indeed, nothing very extraordinary in this ; for such dreams are not uncommon to men under deep convictions : yet the Lord was doubtless, by all these means, secretly influencing his heart, and Warning him to flee from the wrath to come.

He was, however, reluctant to part with his irreligious associates and vain pleasures ; till the conversation of a poor man, who came in his way, induced him to read the Bible, especially the preceptive and historical pirts of it: and this put him upon an entire reformation of his conduct; so that his neighbours were greatly astonished at the change. In this manner he went on for about a year; at come times satisfied with himself, and at others distressed with fears and consciousness of guilt. Indeed, he seems ever after to have considered all these convictions and desires as wholly originating from natural principles ; but in this perhaps some persons will venture to dissent from him. A self-righteous dependence accompanied with self-complacency, and furnishing incentives to pride, is indeed a full proof of unregeneracy: but conscientiousness connected with disquietudes, humiliation for sin, and a disposition to wait for divine teaching, is an effect and evidence of life, though the mind be yet darkened with ignorance, error, and prejudice. And he that hath given life will give it more abundantly; for, “ The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.

While Bunyan was in this state of mind he went to Bedford, in the exercise of his trade as a tinker, where he overheard some women discourse about regeneration: and though he did not understand their meaning, he was greatly affected by observing the earnestness, cheerfulness, and humility of their behaviour; and he was also convinced that his own


views of religion were very defective. Being thus led to frequent their company, he was brought as it were into a new world. Such an entire change took place in his views and affections, and his mind was so deeply engaged in contemplating the great concerns of eternity, and the things pertaining to the kingdom of God, that he found it very difficult to employ his thoughts on any secular affairs.

But this extraordinary flow of affections, not being attended by doctrinal information in any measure proportionable, laid him open to various attempts of Satan and his emissaries. The Ranters, a set of the vilest antinomians that almost ever existed, first assailed him by one of their party, who had formerly been Mr. Bunyan's companion in vice: but he over-acted his part; and, proceeding even to deny the being of a God, probably furnished the character of Atheist in the PILGRIM'S PROGRESS. While Mr. Bunyan was engaged in reading the books of the Ranters, not being able to form his judgment about them, he was led to offer up the following prayer: 'O Lord, I am a fool, and not able to know the truth from error: Lord, leave me not to my own blindness, either to approve or condemn this doctrine. If it be of God, let me not despise it ; if it be of the devil, let me not embrace it. Lord, I lay my soul in this matter only at thy foot; let me not be deceived, I humbly beseech thee.' No experienced Christian will be surprised to find, that the Lord, in an evident manner, graciously answered this most suitable request. Mr. Bunyan soon saw through the delusions of the Ranters; and probably referred to them, under the character of Self-will, in the second part of this work.

The Epistles of St. Paul, which he now read with great attention, but without any guide or instructer, gave occasion to his being assaulted by many sore temptations. He found the Apostle continually speaking of faith ; and he could not understand the meaning of that word, or discover whether he was a believer or not : so that, mistaking the words of Christ,* he was tempted to seek a solution of this diffculty hy trying to work a miracle. He thought, however, it would be right to pray, before he made the attempt, and thus he was induced to desist, though his difficulties still remained. On another occasion he was delivered from great perplexities about the doctrine of election, by reflecting that none "ever trusted in God and was confounded :” and therefore it would be best for him to trust in God, and leave election, as a "çecret thing," with the Lord, to whom it belonged. And the general invitations of the gospel, and the assurance that "yet there is room,” helped him to repe! the temptation to conclude that the day of grace was past.

This brief account of his temptations and escapes may teach others the best way of resisting similar suggestions : and it may show us, that numbers are durably harassed by such perplexities, for want of doctrinal knowledge and faithful instructers and counsellors. He was, however, afterward enabled, by means of these inward trials, to caution others to better effect, and more tenderly to sympathize with the tempted.

After some time Mr. Bunyan became acquainted with Mr. Gifford, an Antipoedo-baptist minister, at Bedford, whose conversation was very useful to him: yet he was in some respects more discouraged than ever, by fuler discoveries of those evils in his heart, which he had not before


[ocr errors]

* Matt. xvii. 20.

[blocks in formation]


noticed; and by doubts concerning the truth of the Scriptures, which his entire ignorance of the evidences by which they are most completely authenticated, rendered durably perplexing to him. He was, however, at length relieved by a sermon he heard on the love of Christ; though the grounds, on which he derived satisfaction and encouragement from it, are not very accurately stated. Soon after this he was admitted, by adult baptism, a member of Mr. Gifford's church, A. D. 1655, being then twenty-seven years of age; and after a little time, he was earnestly desired by the congregation to expound or preach, in a manner which is customary among the Dissenters, as a preparation to the ministry. For a while he resisted their importunity, under a deep sense of his incompetency; but at length he was prevailed upon to speak in a small company, which he did greatly to their satisfaction and edification. Having been thus proved for a considerable time, he was at length called forth, and set apart by fasting and prayer to the ministerial office, which he executed with faithfulness and success during a long course of years; though frequently with the greatest trepidation and inward disquietude.

As he was baptize: 1655, and imprisoned 1660, he could not have been long engaged in the work when the latter event took place : and it does pot appear whether he obtained a stated employment as a minister; or whether he only preached occasionally, and continued to work at his trade; as many Dissenters very laudably do, when called to minister among poor people, that they “may not be burdensome to them.” Previously however to the restoration of Charles II. when the churches were principally filled by those who have since been distinguished as nonconformists ; he was expected to preach in a church near Cambridge; and a student of that university, not remarkable for sobriety, observing a concourse of people, was induced by curiosity to hear the tinker prate;' but the discourse made an unexpected impression on his niind; he embraced every future opportunity of braring Mr. Bunyan, and at length became an eminent preacher in Cambridgeshire.

When the restoration took place, and, contrary to equity, engagements, and sound policy, the laws were framed and executed with a severity evidently intended to exclude every man, who scrupled the least tittle of the doctrine, liturgy, discipline, or government of the established church, Mr. Bunyan was one of the first that suffered by them: for being courageous and unreserved, he went on in his ministerial work without any disguise ; and November 12, 1660, he was apprehended by a warrant from Justice Wingate at Harlington, near Bedford, with sixty other persons, and committed to the county jail. Security was offered for his appearance at the sessions; but it was refused, as his sureties would not consent that he should be restricted from preaching. He was accordingly confined till the quarter-sessions, when his indictment stated—s That John Bunyan, of the town of Bedford, labourer, had devilishly and perniciously abstained from coming to church to hear divine service; and was a common upholder of several unlawful meetings and conventicles, to the great disturbance and distraction of the good subjects of this kingdom, contrary to the laws of our sovereign lord the King. The facts charged upon him in this absurd indictment were never proved; as no witnesses were produced. He had confessed, in conversation with the magistrates, that he was a Dissenter, and had preached : these words being considereri as equivalent to conviction, were recorded against him; and as he re


fused to conform, he was sentenced to perpetual banishment. This sentence indeed was not executed: but he was confined in Bedford jail more than twelve years, notwithstanding several attempts were made to obtain his deliverance.

During this tedious imprisonment, or at least part of it, he had no books, except a Bible and Fox's Martyrology : yet thus circumstanced, he penned the PILGRIM'S PROGRESS, and many other treatises ! He was only thirty-two years of age, when he was imprisoned ; he had spent his youth in the most disadvantageous manner imaginable ; and he had been no more than five years a member of the church at Bedford, and less time a preacher of the gospel : yet in this admired allegory he appears to have been most intimately acquainted with all the variety of characters, which ministers, long employed in the sacred service, and eminent for judgment and sagacity, have observed among professors or opposers of evangelical truth!

No fewer than sixty Dissenters and two ministers were confined with Mr. Bunyan in this jail ! and as some were discharged, others were committed during the time of his imprisonment! But this painful situation afforded him an opportunity of privately exercising his ministry to good effect. He learned in prison to make tagged thread lace in the intervals of his other labours; and by this employment he provided in the most unexceptionable manner for himself and his family. He seems to have been endued with extraordinary patience and courage, and to have experienced abundant consolations, while enduring these hardships : he was, however, sometimes distressed about his family, especially his eldest daughter, who was blind; but in these trying seasons he received comfort from meditating on the promises of God's word.*

He was at some times favoured by the jailors, and permitted to see his family and friends; and, during the former part of his imprisonment, he was even allowed to go out occasionally, and once to take a journey to London, probably to see whether any legal redress might be obtained ; according to some intimations given by Sir Matthew Hale, when petitions in his favour were laid before the judges. But this indulgence of the jailor exposing him to great danger, Mr. Bunyan was afterward more closely confined. Hence I suppose has arisen the opinion, which commonly prevails, that he was imprisoned at different times : but he seems never to have been set at liberty, and then re-committed ; though his hardships and restraints were greater at one time than another.

In the last year of his imprisonment, (A. D. 1671) he was chosen pastor of the dissenting church at Bedford ; though it does not appear what opportunity he could have of exercising his pastoral office, except within the precincts of the jail. Ile was, however, liberated soon after, through the good offices of Dr. Barlow, Bishop of Lincoln, after many fruitless attempts had been made for that purpose. Thus terminated his tedious, severe, and even illegal imprisonment, which had given him abundant opportunity for the exercise of patience and meekness; and which seems to have been overruled both for his own spiritual improvement, and the furtherance of the gospel ; by leading him to study, and to form habits of close reflection, and accurate investigation of various subjects, in order to

[ocr errors]

* Jer. xv. 11. xlix. 11.

[ocr errors][merged small]

pen his several treatises. When probably he would neither have thought so deeply, nor written so well, had he been more at ease and at liberty.

A short time after his enlargement, he built a meeting-house at Bedford, by the voluntary contributions of his friends; and here he statedly preached to large auditories, till his death, without meeting with any remarkable molestation. He used to come up to London every year, where he preached among the nonconformists with great acceptance; and it is said that Dr. Owen frequently attended on these occasions, and expressed his approbation in very decided language. He likewise made stated circuits into other parts of England; and animated his brethern to bear the cross patiently, to obey God rather than man, and to leave all consequences with him. He was at the same time peculiarly attentive to the temporal wants of those who suffered for conscience sake, and of the sick or afflicted : and he employed his influence very successfully, in reconciling differences among professors of the gospel, and thus preventing disgraceful and burdensome litigations. He was very exact in family religion, and the instruction of his children; being principaily concerned for their spiritual interests, and comparatively indifferent about their temporal prosperity. He therefore declined the liberal proposal of a wealthy citizen of London, to take his son as an apprentice without any premium, saying, God did not send me to advance my family, but to preach the gospel ;'-probably disliking the business or situation as unlavourable to piety.

Nothing material is recorded concerning him, between his enlargement in 1672, and his death in 1688. It is said, that he clearly saw through the designs of the court in favour of popery, when the indulgence was granted to the Dissenters, by James II. in 1687: but that he advised his brethren to avail themselves of the sunshine, by diligent endeayours to spread the gospel, and to prepare for an approaching storm by fasting and prayer. The next year he took a journey in very bad weather from London to Reading, Berks, to make up a breach between a father and son, with whom he had some acquaintance ; and having happily effected his last work and labour of love, he returned to his lodgings on Snow-hill, apparently in good health, but very wet with the heavy rain that was then falling: and soon after he was seized with a fever, which in ten days terminated his useful life. He bore his malady with great patience an:) composure, and died in a very comfortable and triumphant manner, August 31, 1688, aged sixty years ; after having exercised his ministry about thirty-two. He lies buried in Bunhill fields, where a tombstone to his memory may still be seen. He was twice married : by his first wise, he had four children, one of which, a daughter named Mary, who was blind, died before him. He was married to his second wife A. D. 1658, two years before his imprisonment, by whom he seems not to have had any children. She survived him about four years. Concerning the other branches of his family we have not been able to gain any information.

Mr. Bunyan was tall and broad set, though not corpulent : he had a ruddy complexion, with sparkling eyes, and hair inclining to red, but in his old age sprinkled with gray. His whole appearance was plain, and his dress always simple and unaffected. He published sixty tracts, which equalled the number of years he lived. The Pilgrim's Progress had passed through more than fifty editions in 1784.

« SebelumnyaLanjutkan »