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Bunyan has given an account of his own conversion and life, especially of the workings of the grace of God, and the guidance of his providence, in a little work entitled Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. It is powerfully written, though with extreme and studied plainness; and almost all the material obtained and worked into various shapes by his various biographers was gained in that book. It is deeply interesting, and in following its delineation I shall mark some successive particulars, in which the providence and grace of God are clearly illustrated, and which, on a comparison with the Pilgrim's Progress, make it evident at once that in that work Bunyan was following his own experience, and that in such experience God was so ordering all things as to fit Bunyan for that work.
As you read the Grace Abounding you are ready to say at every step, Here is the future author of Pilgrim's Progress. It is as if you stood beside some great sculptor, and watched every movement with his chisel, having had his design described to you beforehand, so that at every blow some new trait of beauty in the future statue comes clearly into view. In the Grace Abounding you see at every step the work of the Divine Artist on one of the most precious living stones, that ever his wisdom and mercy selected in this world to shine in the glory of his living temple. Nay, to lay aside every figure but that employed by the Holy Spirit, you see the refiner's fire, and the crucible, and the gold in it, and the Heavenly Refiner himself sitting by it, and bending over it, and
carefully removing the dross, and tempering the heat, and watching and waiting for his own perfect image. How beautiful, how sacred, how solemn, how interesting, how thrilling the process !
But with Bunyan it begins in dreams. Would you think it ? Indeed it is no illusion, but the very beginning of God's refining work on Bunyan's soul. The future dreamer for others was himself visited with dreams, and this is the first point which I mark, where the providence and grace of God are illustrated together; for it is the first point which Bunyan himself has noted down, after describing the iniquity of his childhood, “ in cursing, swearing, lying, and blaspheming the holy name of God.” “ Yea,” says he, “so settled and rooted was I in these things, that they became as a second nature to me; the which, as I have also with soberness considered since, did so offend the Lord, that even in my childhood he did scare and affrighten me with fearful dreams, and did terrify me with fearful visions. For often after I had spent this and the other day in sin, I have in my bed been greatly afflicted while asleep, with the apprehensions of devils and wicked spirits, who still, as I then thought, labored to draw me away with them, of which I never could be rid.” If now you would have a glinipse of the nature of these terrifying dreams, with which Bunyan's sinful childhood was visited, you have only to turn to your Pilgrim's Progress, and there read the powerful description of the last sight shown to Christian in the House of the Interpreter. There you have the manner in which, even in Bunyan's childish soul, his partly awa
kened conscience, with his vivid imagination, and the word and the Spirit of God, wrestled together. And now, before leaving this point for another, let me call your attention to a text strikingly illustrative of it, which I marvel that Bunyan himself had not used, to which none of his biographers, that I am aware of, save one, in dwelling upon this early experience, have referred, but which, in the unconverted state of a man, made afterwards by God's grace so signally useful, receives, as well as reflects, a very striking illustration. It is that remarkable passage in Job, where the Divine Spirit is recounting the discipline of God with his creatures for the salvation of their souls. “For God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed, then he openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction; that he may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man.” You may find this in the thirtythird chapter, and the whole is worthy of studying. Bunyan not only in his childhood, but all his life, was made the subject of such discipline.
The next point which I shall select as an illustration of Divine Providence in Bunyan's life, sets us down with him in the parliamentary army, as a soldier. It was probably in 1645, at the siege of Leicester. He was drawn to be one of the besiegers; but when he was just ready to go upon this perilous service, one of the company desired to go in his room; "to which,” says Bunyan, “when I had consented, he took my place ; and coming to the siege, as he stood sentinel, he was shot in the
head with a musket bullet, and died.” At this time he was seventeen years of age. “Here," says Bunyan, “ were judgments and mercy, but neither of them did awaken my soul to righteousness; wherefore I sinned still, and grew more and more rebellious against God, and careless of my own salvation.” The providence of God in Bunyan's case was wonderfully similar to the instances recorded in the early life of John Newton; so were the recklessness and habits of profaneness, in which, notwithstanding these remarkable interpositions, he still persisted.
The next important point is Bunyan's marriage, at the time of which event he could not have been more than nineteen years of age. Upon this point we would not lay so much stress as to say with some, that it constituted Bunyan's salvation ; but it was certainly a great step towards it. Being with a woman, who had received from a godly. father a religious education, it gave him a quiet, well-ordered home; and through the instrumentality of two excellent books, which his wife brought to him as her only marriage portion, (the Plain Man's Pathway to Heaven, and the Practice of Piety,) it begat in him some desires to reform his vicious life. He and his wife would read together in these books, and then young Mrs. Bunyan would bring her own recollections of the godly life of her father in aid of her husband's better impulses. All these things together wrought upon him for an external reformation at least, and produced certain church-going habits to fall in, as Bunyan says, “ very eagerly with the religion of the times; to wit, to go to church twice a day, and that too with the foremost; and there should very devoutly both say and sing, as others did, yet retaining my wicked life ; but withal I was so overrun with the spirit of superstition, that I adored, and that with great devotion, even all things, both the high place, priest,clerk, vestmentservice, and what else, belonging to the church ; counting all things holy that were therein contained, and especially the priest and clerk most happy, and without doubt greatly blessed.” “ This conceit grew so strong in a little time upon my spirit, that, had I but seen a priest, though never so sordid and debauched in his life, I should find my spirit fall under him, reverence him, and knit unto him; yea, I thought for the love I did bear unto them, supposing they were the ministers of God, I could have laid down at their feet, and have been trampled on by them; their name, their garb and work did so intoxicate and bewitch me."
This stage in Bunyan's experience is exceedingly curious and instructive; his mind seems to have been in that state of bondage, which we call priestridden ; heartily as he afterwards hated the pope, it would not have taken much, at this time, to have carried him completely over to Rome. Had he lived in our day, with such an experience, he would assuredly have made what some might be disposed to call a thorough-going Puseyite. Such was the intoxicating effect of the glare of religious formalism upon his soul, that he adored, and that with great devotion, all things belonging to the church. Mark the phraseology, and see if it does not wonderfully cha