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When Bunyan passed from this horrible condition into a state of happy feeling, his mind was nearly overthrown by the transition. “ I had two or three times," he says, “ at or about my deliverance from this temptation, such strange apprehensions of the Grace of God that I could hardly bear up under it; it was so out of measure amazing when I thought it could reach me, that I do think if that sense of it had abode long upon me, it would have made me uncapable of business." He had not however yet attained that self controul which belongs to a sane mind; for after he had been formally admitted into fellowship with Gifford's little congregation, and had been by him baptized accordingly, by immersion, probably in the river Ouse, (for the Baptists at that time sought rather than shunned publicity on such occasions) he was for nearly a year pestered with strange and villainous thoughts whenever he communicated at the meeting. These however left him. When threatened with consumption at one time, he was delivered from the fear of dissolution, by faith, and the strong desire of entering upon eternal life; and in another illness, when the thought of approaching death for awhile overcame him, “ behold,” he says, “ as I was in the midst of those fears the words of the Angels carrying Lazarus into Abraham's bosom, darted in upon me, as who should say, “so shall it be with thee when thou dost leave this world !' This did sweetly revive my spirits, and help me to hope in God; which when I had with comfort mused on awhile, that Word fell with great weight upon my mind • O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?' At this I became both well in body and mind at once; for my sickness did presently vanish, and I walked comfortably in my work for God again.”
Gifford died in 1655, having drawn up during his last illness an Epistle to his congregation, in a wise and tolerant and truly Christian spirit: he exhorted them to remember his advice that when any person was to be admitted a member of their community, that person should solemnly declare that “ union with Christ was the foundation of all Saints' communion,” and not merely an agreement concerning “ any ordinances of Christ, or any judgement or opinion about externals:" and that such new members should promise that “ through Grace they would walk in love with the Church, though there should happen any difference in judgement about other things.” “ Concerning separation from the Church (the dying pastor pursued) about baptism, laying on of hands, anointing with oil, psalms, or any other externals, I charge every one of you respectively as ye will give an account of it to our Lord Jesus Christ who shall judge both quick and dead at his coming, that none of you be found guilty of this great evil, which some have committed, and that through a zeal for God, .. yet not according to knowledge. They have erred from the law of the love of Christ, and have made a rent in the true church, which is but one.” Mr. Ivimey in his History of the English Baptists says of Gifford,“ his labours were apparently confined to a narrow circle; but their effects have been very widely extended, and will not pass away when time shall be no more. We allude to his having baptized and introduced to the Church the wicked Tinker of Elstow. He was doubtless the honoured Evangelist who pointed Bunyan to the Wicket Gate, by instructing him in the knowledge of the Gospel; by turning him from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God. Little did he think such a chosen vessel was sent to his house, when he opened his door to admit the poor, the depraved, and the despairing Bunyan.”
But the wickedness of the Tinker has been greatly overcharged; and it is taking the language of self-accusation too literally to pronounce of John Bunyan that he was at any time depraved. The worst of what he was in his worst days is to be expressed in a single word, for which we have no synonyme, the full meaning of which no circumlocution can convey, and which though it may hardly be deemed presentable in serious composition, I shall use, as Bunyan himself (no mealy-mouthed writer) would have used it, had it in his
days borne the same acceptation in which it is now universally understood ;-in that word then, he had been a blackguard :
The very head and front of his offending
Hath this extent, no more. Such he might have been expected to be by his birth, breeding and vocation, scarcely indeed by possibility could he have been otherwise ; but he was never a vicious man. It has been seen that at the first reproof he shook off, at once and for ever, the practice of profane swearing, the worst if not the only sin to which he was ever addicted. He must have been still a very young man when that outward reformation took place, which little as he afterwards valued it, and insufficient as it may have been, gave evidence at least of right intentions under the direction of a strong will: and throughout his subsequent struggles of mind, the force of a diseased imagination is not more manifest, than the earnestness of his religious feelings and aspirations. His connection with the Baptists was eventually most beneficial to him; had it not been for the encouragement which he received from them he might have lived and died a tinker; for even when he cast off, like a slough, the coarse habits of his early life, his latent powers could never without some such encouragement and impulse have broken through the thick ignorance with which they were incrusted.
The coarseness of that incrustation could hardly be conceived, if proofs of it were not preserved in his own handwriting. There is no book except the Bible which he is known to have perused so intently as the Acts and Monuments of John Fox the martyrologist, one of the best of men; a work more hastily than judiciously compiled in its earlier parts, but invaluable for that greater and far more important portion which has obtained for it its popular name of the Book of Martyrs. Bunyan's own copy of this work is in existence,* and valued of course as such a relic of such a man ought to be. In each volume he has written his name beneath the title page in a large and stout print-hand, thus
* It was purchased in the year 1780 by Mr. Wontner of the Minories; from him it descended to his daughter Mrs. Parnell of Botolph-lane; and by her obliging permission the verses have been transcribed and fac-similes taken from it. cast the owle unto the ground. For this and for other kind assistance the present edition is indebted to Mr. Richard Thomson, author of An Historical Essay on Magna Charta, with a general View and Explanation of the whole of the English Charters of Liberties; -a book as beautifully and appropriately adorned as it is elaborately and learnedly compiled.
And under some of the wood cuts he has inserted a few rhymes, which are undoubtedly his own composition; and which though much in the manner of the verses that were printed under the illustrations to his own Pilgrim's Progress when that work was first adorned with cuts .. (verses worthy of such embellishments,) are very much worse than even the worst of those. Indeed it would not be possible to find specimens of more miserable doggerel. But as it has been proper to lay before the reader the vivid representation of Bunyan in his feverish state of enthusiasm, that the sobriety of mind into which he settled may be the better appreciated and the more admired; so for a like reason is it fitting that it should be seen, from how gross and deplorable a state of ignorance that intellect which produced the Pilgrim's Progress worked its way.—These then are the verses.
Under the print of an Owl appearing to a Council held by Pope John at Rome. (Acts and Monuments, vol. i. 781.)
Doth the owle to them apper
The edition of the Acts and Monuments is that of 1641, 3 vol. folio, the last of those in black letter, and probably the latest when it came into Bunyan's hands. One of his signatures bears the date of 1662: but the verses must undoubtedly have been written some years earlier, before the publication of his first tract.
Under the martyrdom of John Hus. (Acts and Mon. vol.i.821.)
heare is John hus that you may see
Whear he is full field in deed to the brim.
It was the will of X. (Christ) that thou should die
O how wilt thou shien with X in the last day.
M' Sanders is the next blessed man in deed
For to my dear Lord I must gooe.
kyan is an Shout and strong indoal ho doth not waar liko as dalk - Rad a Sighin ho give them you last of all that chat abordant lo the houonty.call
hear is one stout and strong in deed