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tyranny were laid upon you, and your face were pressed in the dust beneath that book, and it were said to you, Either abide by this and obey it, or you shall neither preach nor teach, nor hold any civil office; nay, you shall be thrust into prison, or banished, and if found returning, you shall be hanged by the neck till you are dead! I say,
, what think you would be your feelings towards that book? Why, if it were better than the Pilgrim's Progress itself, you would abhor it, and I had almost said, you would do well to hate it; and you would, as an instrument of pride and tyranny. Prejudice against the Common Prayer Book? If men wish to bring it into disgrace, let them persevere in their assumption that there is no true church, and no true ministry without it. The cross itself, the moment you erect it into a thing of worship, the moment you put the image in place of the thing signified, becomes an idol, a mark of sin instead of glory. Just so it was with the Brazen Serpent. There was a race of Romanists in that day, who kept it as an object of idolatrous adoration; had they been let go on in their absurdities, they would have passed a law that no person should worship without the Brazen Serpent. But good King Hezekiah, the noble old royal image-breaker, took, it, and called it with the utmost contempt, a piece of brass, Nehustan, and burned it in the fire, and ground it to powder.
Here I am reminded of a very beautiful remark by Mr. Coleridge, taken partly from an old writer, that an appropriate and seemly religious ceremony is as a gold chain about the neck of faith ; it at once
adorns and secures it. Yes, says Mr. Coleridge, but if you draw it too close, you strangle it. You strangle and destroy religion if you make that which is not essential, and especially that which is not commanded in scripture, to be essential and inevitable. And just so with the prayer book, the liturgy; if you seek to enforce it on men’s consciences, if you make it essential to religion or to the true church, you suffocate and strangle your religion, and instead of finding in it a living seraph, it will be to you a dead corpse. Let no man judge you in regard to these things, saith Paul; let no man be admitted to spy out and destroy your liberty, which ye have in Christ Jesus. Give no place in subjection to such an one, no, not for an hour.
One of the most instructive and important lessons to be drawn from this part of Bunyan's history, and from the survey of his times, is the invaluable preciousness of that discipline of trial, which God, in infinite wisdom and mercy, has appointed for his people, as their pathway to the kingdom of heaven. We scarcely know how the church of Christ could have existed, or what she would have become, without the purifying and ennobling fires of persecution to burn upon her. The most precious of her literary and religious treasures have come out of this furnace.
The most heavenly and inspiring names in the record of her living examples are the names of men whose souls were purged from their dross by just such discipline, and perhaps taken out of their bodies, and conveyed in a chariot of fire to heaven. The martyr literature of England, a possession like which, in
glory and in value, no nation in the world can show the counterpart, grew out of that fiery process upon men's souls; it is as gold seven-fold purified in the furnace. This book of Bunyan's, the heavenly Pilgrim's Progress, grew out of just such a process; for such is the nature of adversity in the hand of God, not only to refine and purify, but to bring out hidden virtue into exercise, and to give to all qualities so wrought, a power over the universal heart of man, such as no learning can sway, and no philosophy communicate. The best work of Baxter's was written on the borders of the grave, in weakness and suffering, having bidden the world adieu, and being raised by the magic of such discipline to a mount of vision, from whence he could take a broad and near survey of the glories of heaven. And perhaps self-denial, by the grace of God, is still more efficacious to raise a man's soul, impart to it power, and transfigure it with glory, than even adversity under the hand of God. At any rate, here is the true secret of greatness. Virtue, said Lord Bacon, is like precious odors, most fragrant when they are either burned or crushed. This is the power of adversity with noble natures, or, with the grace of God, even in a poor nature. But self-denial is a sort of self-burning, that makes a purer fire, and more surely separates the dross from a man's being, than temptation and affliction. Indeed, self-denial is the great end in this world, of which temptation and affliction are the means ; a man being then most free and powerful, when most completely dead to self and absorbed in God the Saviour.
The importance of suffering and self-denial as elements of spiritual discipline, is never by us sufficiently considered. If we draw back from the baptism of suffering, we are not likely to be instrumental in the regeneration either of the soul or the literature of the world. How beautiful the language of the poet Cowper, wrung from him by his own experience of anguish,
“ The path of sorrow, and that path alone,
Leads to the land where sorrow is unknown."
And Cowper's own intellectual being, Cowper's own poetry, derived a strength and a sacred fire of inspiration from his own sufferings, which nothing else could have communicated. Such has been the experience of multitudes; and it is true that the very best part of our literature has come out of that same furnace. And must not this be our experience if in our piety and intellect we would retain the elements of originality and vital power? It was a remark of Mr. Coleridge, that cannot be too often quoted, that Death only supplies the oil for the inextinguishable lamp of life ; a great truth, which is true even before our mortal dissolution ; that death to self, which trial, by God's grace, produces, constituting, even in this world, the very essence of strength, life and glory.
Another most important and instructive lesson to be drawn from this part of Bunyan's history, and from our survey of his times, is that of the invaluable preciousness of religious liberty, and the importance not only of the possession, but of the right understanding and use of this great blessing. The
experience of ages has proved that there is no lesson so difficult for mankind to learn as that of true religious toleration; for almost every sect in turn, when tempted by the power, has resorted to the practice of religious persecution. Were it not for the seeming incongruity of the sentiment, we should say that good men have even taken turns in burning one another; though, to the credit of Rome, it must be said that the baptism of fire is almost exclusively her sacrament for heretics. Good men of almost all persuasions have been confined in prison for conscience' sake.
Bunyan was the first person in the reign of Charles II. punished for the crime of non-conformity. This, in part, is Southey's own language, punished is the phrase he uses ; it should have been, persecuted for the virtue ; for such it was in Bunyan: and any palliation which could be resorted to for the purpose of justifying an English Hierarchy for shutting up John Bunyan in prison, would also justify a Romish Hierarchy for burning Latimer and Ridley at the stake. Strange, that the lesson of religious toleration should be one of the last and hardest, even for liberal minds, to learn.
It cost long time, instruction and discipline even for the disciples of Christ to learn it; and they never would have learned it, had not the infant church been cut loose from the state, deprived of all possibility of girding the secular arm with thunder in its behalf. John had not learned it, when he would have called down fire from heaven to destroy the Samaritans; nor John nor his fellows, when they forbade a faithful saint (some John Bunyan of