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LIFE OF JOHN BUNYAN
The whole compass of biography exhibits not a character more interesting, than that of a man convert. ed from singular depravity of manners, to eminent piety; and raised from the deepest obscurity, to be an author celebrated for genius, and uncommonly useful to mankind. Such was the excellent writer of the Pilgrim's Progress.
John BUNYAN was born at Elstow, within a mile of Bedford, in the year 1628. His descent was, as himself expresses it, of a “low and inconsiderable generation,” his father being an itinerant tinker, and his mother of the like rank. They gave him the best education in their power, which was common reading and writing, of which he afterwards made a very excellent use; but for the present he gave himself up to the most execrable vices, particularly “cursing, swearing, lying, and blaspheming the holy name of God.”
During this period he was not without considerable checks of conscience. At but nine or ten years of age, in the midst of his sports and childish vanities, he was often distressed, both by day and night. For even in his sleep he was terrified with “ apprehensions of devils and wicked spirits,” and “of the fearful torments of
THE LIPE OF JOHN BUNYAN.
hell-fire,” insomuch that he sometimes wished himself to be a devil to torment others, that thereby (as he ignorantly hoped) he might escape being tormented by them.
These terrors were but partial and temporary restraints upon his conduct, and by no means cured him of his delight in sin, or of his aversion to true religion. He mentions it, however, as a remarkable circumstance in his experience, that though he delighted in his own sins and those of his wicked companions," it made his heart ache” to hear profane language from people reputedly religious, and to see the wicked actions of persons professing godliness.
The early part of Mr. Bunyan's life was also attended with some hair-breadth escapes from dangerous accidents. At one time he fell into the river Ouse ; at another into a creek of the sea; in a third instance he escaped the bite of an adder, and (after wounding it) drew out its sting with his fingers; but the most remarkable instance was the following: while a soldier in the Parliament army in 1645, he was draughted for the siege of Leicester, but another, desiring to change with him, took his place, and was shot through the head with a musket-ball, while standing sentinel.
Soon after this he married a young woman poor as himself; for they had not, he says, “ so much household-stuff as a spoon or dish between them.” But she had been blessed with a religious education, and brought for her marriage-portion two small devotional tracts, “ The Plain Man's Pathway to Heaven,” and “ The Practice of Piety." These books Bunyan repeatedly read ; and though they were not the means of his conversion, they had such an effect on him, that he was willing to “do many things,” and give up some of his outward vices.
At this period he received a considerable check of conscience under one of the sermons he heard at church on sabbath-breaking, to which he was much ad
THE LIFE OF JOHN BUNYAN.
dicted; but this conviction he shook out of his mind, and the same afternoon returned to his usual Sunday sports, when the following incident happened, which shall be related in his own words:
“ The same day, as I was in the midst of a game of cat, and having struck it one blow from the hole, just as I was about to strike 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 to an exceeding amaze; wherefore, leaving my cat upon 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.
“ I had no sooner thus conceived in my mind, but suddenly this conclusion was fastened on my spirit, that I had been a great and grievous sinner, and that it was now too late for me to look after heaven. Then I felt my heart sink in despair, and therefore I resolved to go on in sin : For, thought I, if the case be thus, my state is surely miserable : miserable if I leave my sins, and but miserable if I follow them. I can but be damned ; and if I must be so, I had as good be damned for many as for few.
“ Thus I stood in the midst of my play before all that then were present: yet I told them nothing; but, having made this conclusion, I returned desperately to my sport again : and I well remember, that presently this kind of despair did so possess my soul, that I was persuaded I could never attain to other comfort than what I should get in sin : wherefore I found within me great desire to take my fill of sin, still studying what sin was yet to be committed, that I might taste the sweetness of it, lest I should die before I had
desires. In these things I protest before God, I lie not; these were really, strongly, and with all my heart my
OF JOHN BUNYAN..
desires: the good Lord, whose mercy is unsearchable, forgive me my transgressions !”
Thus Bunyan went on sinning greedily for about a month or more, till one day, as he was standing at ą neighbour'sshop-window, and “there cursing and swearing, and playing the madman” (as he expresses it) after his usual manner, the woman of the house, though a loose and irreligious person, reproved him very severely, protesting he was the ungodliest fellow for swearing” she had ever heard, and enough to spoil all the youth in the whole town.
This reproof, coming from such a woman, silenced and shamed him; nay more, it even cured him of that detestable vice; and his remark on this circumstance is well worthy the attention of profane and customary swearers :* “ How it came to pass (says he,) I know not, I did from this time forward so leave my swearing, that it was a great wonder to myself to observe it; and whereas before I knew not how to speak unless I put an oath before and another behind, to make my words have authority, now I could, without it, speak better and with more pleasantness than I could before.”
Soon after this he fell into company with a poor, religious man, that spake pleasantly of religion and of the scriptures; which so delighted Bunyan, that he betook himself to his Bible, and found great pleasure in reading the historical and more entertaining parts of it. This carried his reformation one step farther. He became now conscientiously moral ; his acquaintance reckoned him very godly and religious; and himself thought that he pleased God as well as any man in England.”
* Similar to this, was a remarkable circumstance in the life of Mr. Per. kins, an able minister of the gospel. While a young man, and a scholar at Cambridge, he was devoted to drunkenness. As he was walking in the skirts of the town, he heard a woman say to a child that was froward and peevish, “Hold your tongue, or I will give you to drunken Perkins yon. der.” Finding himself become a by-word among the people, his conscience vas deeply impressed, and it was the first step towards his conversion.
THE LIFE OF JOHN BUNYAN.
Bunyan's two favourite amusements were ringing and dancing; these now appeared inconsistent with the character he had assumed, and therefore must be relinquished, though reluctantly and by degrees: they were like the extinction of a right eye, or the excision of a right hand.
All this time, however, he was building upon a wrong foundation : being “ignorant of God's righteousness," he went about to establish his own; and had no suspicion that he was in an error, till one day he overheard three or four poor women in Bedford discoursing on religious subjects. He was much surprised to hear them talk of conviction, the new birth, the sweetness of the promises, and the power of temptation, of the depravity of their own hearts, and of their unbelief ; and to hear them bitterly contemn“ their own righteousness as filthy, and insufficient to do them any good.” They also spake (as he expresses it) with such pleasantness of scripture language, and with such appearance of grace in all they said, that they were to him as if they had found a new world; as if they were people that dwelt alone, and not reckoned among the nations.'”(a)
These topics were not only new to him, but in a great measure unintelligible, and he was led first to suspect, and afterwards to condemn himself, as a vain babbler and a hypocrite ; as wanting the “true tokens of a godly man,” and as a stranger to those pleasures which he found these good people had experienced. This conviction induced him to seek repeated opportunities of their company, and the more he enjoyed of their conversation, the more earnestly he desired it. The various branches of christian experience, and the important truths of scripture, now engaged his whole attention, and he found it as difficult then to bring his
(a) Num. xxjii. 9