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and forbidden to preach because of their Nonconformity, have entered the vacant churches, and are “ holding forth the word of life,” in the face of death, to trembling multitudes, in pulpits from which they had been driven with penal inflictions in a season of health! They preach as dying unto dying men; hearers one day, sick the next, and dead the next. They preach and listen, as though never to preach or listen again. But while God is consuming the people by these judgments, and the Nonconformists, fearless of death, are laboring to save men's souls, King Charles is revelling with his dissolute court at Oxford, and contriving with his Parliament and clergy, removed thither from London for fear of the Plague, an additional act of persecution, to drive these fearless ministers, whom death itself cannot stop from preaching, beyond the very limits of cities, towns and villages! The impiety of such proceedings could not have been much greater, had they passed a law enacting that if any man attempted to be saved out of the established church, he should forthwith be consigned to eternal perdition. “ So little,” says Baxter, “ did the sense of God's terrible judgments, or of the necessities of many hundred thousand ignorant souls, or the groans of the poor people for the teaching which they had lost, or the fear of the great and final reckoning, affect the hearts of the prelatists, or stop them in their way.” It is a fearful picture of impiety, but nevertheless a picture of the times.
We return, in the next scene, to Bunyan's prison. The graphic dialogue forms so instructive a sketch in
manner as in matter, that it shall be given in his own words. After he had laid in jail for some time, the justices sent their clerk of the peace, Mr. Cobb, to admonish him and demand his submission. This man sent for Bunyan, and when he was come to him,
Cobb. Neighbor Bunyan, how do you do?
Bun. I thank you sir, said I, very well, blessed be the Lord.
Cobb. Saith he, I come to tell you that it is desired you would submit yourself to the laws of the land, or else at the next sessions it will go worse with you, even to be sent away out of the nation, or else worse than that.
Bun. I said that I did desire to demean myself in the world both as becometh a man and a Christian.
Cobb. But, saith he, you must submit to the laws of the land, and leave off those meetings which you were wont to have ; for the statute law is directly against it; and I am sent to you by the justices to tell you that they do intend to prosecute the law against you, if you submit not.
Bunyan made answer to this that the law by which he was in prison neither reached himself nor his meetings, being directed only against those who met for wicked treasonable purposes.
The clerk argued that Bunyan ought to consider it liberty enough, if permitted to speak to his neighbor privately and alone on the subject of religion ; and added that it was his private meetings that the law was against.
Bun. Sir, said I, if I may do good to one by my
discourse, why may I not do good to two ? And if to two, why not to four, and so to eight, and so forth. Bunyan's arithmetical progression would soon make a congregation. Ay, saith Cobb, and to an hundred, I warrant you.
Bun. Yes sir, said I, I think I should not be forbid to do as much good as I can. If I, by discoursing, may do good to one, surely, by the same law, I may do good to many.
Cobb. The law, saith he, doth expressly forbid your private meetings, therefore they are not to be tolerated.
Bunyan argued again that the law only intended mischievous meetings.
Cobb. But, good man Bunyan, said he, methinks you need not stand so strictly upon this one thing, as to have meetings of such public assemblies. Cannot you submit, and notwithstanding do as much good as you can in a neighborly way, without having such meetings ? You may come to the public assemblies and hear. What though you do not preach, you may bear: do not think yourself so well enlightened, and that you have received a gift so far above others, but that you may hear other men preach.
Bunyan answered that he was as willing to be taught, as to give instruction, and that he looked upon it as his duty to do both.
Cobb. But, said he, what if you should forbear awhile, and sit still, till you see further how things will go ?
And now comes into view one of the mighty impulses, which Bunyan had gained, doubtless
from the Book of Martyrs, which had come sweeping down through the current of time and revolution, from John Wickliffe ; Wickliffe's soul and Bunyan's meeting and communing together, across the gulf of more than two hundred years, in this
passage, as Bunyan's and Luther's had done, to such powerful purpose, in the great Reformer's Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians.
Sir, said Bunyan, as if he had been speaking scripture ; and it shows what inspiring power the Book of Martyrs had over him; Sir, said Bunyan, Wickliffe saith, that he which 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.
Cobb. Ay, saith he, they that do not hear.
Bun. But, sir, said I, he saith, he that shall leave off either preaching or hearing. That is, if he hath received a gift for edification, it is his sin, if he doth not lay it out in a way of exhortation and counsel, according to the proportion of his gift, as well as to spend his time altogether in hearing others preach.
Cobb. But, said he, how shall we know that you have received a gift?
Bun. Said I, let any man hear and search, and prove the doctrine by the Bible.
Cobb. But will you be willing, said he, that two indifferent persons shall determine the case, and will you stand by their judgment?
Bun. I said, are they infallible ?
Cobb. He said no.
Bun. Then said I, it is possible my judgment may be as good as theirs ; but yet I will pass by either, and in this matter be judged by the Scrip
I am sure that is infallible, and cannot err. Cobb. But, said he, who shall be judge between you, for you take the Scriptures one way and they another.
Bun. I said the Scriptures should, and that by comparing one scripture with another; for that will open itself, if it be rightly compared. As for instance, naming several passages.
Cobb. But are you willing, said he, to stand to the judgment of the Church?
Bun. Yes, sir, said I, to the approbation of the Church of God; the Church's judgment is best expressed in Scripture. This answer of Bunyan was admirable ; nor can any one do other than admire the wisdom, patience, and pertinency, as well as sometimes wit, and always calmness, of Bunyan's replies.
Well, neighbor Bunyan, said Mr. Cobb, indeed, I would wish you seriously to consider of these things, between this and the quarter sessions, and to submit yourself. You may do much good, if you continue still in the land; but alas, what benefit will it be to your friends, or what good can it do to. them, if you should be sent away beyond the seas into Spain or Constantinople, or some other remote part of the world ? Pray, be ruled.
Jailor. Indeed, sir, I hope he will be ruled.
Bun. I shall desire, said I, in all godliness and honesty, to behave myself in the nation whilst I