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ministry. Our Saviour committed the Gospel to unlearned, but not to ignorant men; and Bunyan, though illiterate, was not ignorant ; no man is so, who, believing with the heart in him who is the Light of the World, beholds Spiritual Realities, and acts with reference to them. “ The fears,” says Mr. Coleridge in his Aids to Reflection, “the hopes, the remembrances, the anticipations, the inward and outward experience, the belief and the faith of a Christian, form of themselves a philosophy and a sum of knowledge, which a life spent in the grove of Academus or the painted Porch, could not have attained or collected."
The fifth point which I shall mention as illustrating both the providence and grace of God in preparing Bunyan for his great work, not only in converting his soul, and fitting him for the ministry, but in preparing him for the painting of that beautiful map of the divine life in the Pilgrim's Progress, is the succession of characters he met with in his own experience. He worked his way, you are well aware, by the Spirit of God, out of the ignorance and vice by which he was surrounded, against much opposition, and with very little aid from any of his fellow creatures. And yet, all along in his own experience, you meet the germ of those characters afterwards so fully developed, so vigorously painted, in the progress of his pilgrim. His mind was as a magic lantern, or camera obscura, through which every form and figure that fell upon it was revealed again in glowing life and beauty on the canvass. The first that I shall name is his own Mr. Legality, who however after
wards, became in Bunyan's words, a devilish ranter, giving himself over to all manner of sin and wickedness. Under the influence of this man, and his pleasant talk of the scriptures and the matter of religion, Bunyan, like his own Christian at first setting out, went to Mount Sinai. “Wherefore,” he says, “I fell to some outward reformation, both in my words and life, and did set the commandments before me for my way to heaven; which commandments I also did strive to keep, and, as I thought, did keep them pretty well sometimes, and then I should have comfort; yet now and then should break one, and so afflict my conscience; but then I should repent, and say I was sorry for it, and prornised God to do better next time, and then got help again ; for then I thought I pleased God as well as any man in England. Thus I continued about a year; all which time our neighbors did take me to be a very godly man, a new and religious man, and did marvel much to see such a great and famous alteration in my life and manners, and indeed so it was, though I knew not Christ, nor grace, nor faith, nor hope ; for, as I have well since seen, had I then died, my state had then been most fearful.”
“ But I say my neighbors were amazed at this my great conversion from prodigious profaneness to something like a moral life; and truly so they well might; for this my conversion was as great, as for Tom of Bedlam to become a sober man. Now therefore they began to praise, to commend, and to speak well of me, both to my face and behind my back. Now I was, as they said, become godly; now I was become a right honest man. But oh, when I understood these were their words and opinions of me, it pleased me mighty well. For though as yet I was nothing but a poor painted hypocrite, yet I loved to be talked of as one that was truly godly. I was proud of my godliness, and indeed I did all I did, either to be seen of, or to be well spoken of by men; and thus I continued for about a twelvemonth, or more.”
Here he was, according to Mr. Worldly Wiseman's directions, under Mount Sinai. But now the mountain began to quake and thunder at a dreadful rate, and flames came out of it, and threatened to consume him. He saw more of this afterwards; “ But, poor wretch as I was,” he says, “I was all this while ignorant of Jesus Christ, and going about to establish my own righteousness, and had perished therein, had not God in mercy showed me more of my own state by nature."
At this very time, one of the happiest impulses and most remarkable helps he ever received in his spiritual conflicts, came from the conversation of three or four godly women sitting at a door in the sun, and talking joyfully of the things of God. Bunyan, busy at his occupation, drew near and listened like a child to all they said. “Methought,” he says, “they spake as if joy did make them speak. They spake with much pleasantness of scripture language, and with such appearance of grace in all they said, that they were to me as if I had found a new world; as if they
were a people that dwelt alone, and were not to be reckoned among their neighbors." These holy, happy women, sitting in the sun, may have dwelt as a sun-lit picture in Bunyan's imagination, till the vision was transfigured into that beautiful incident of the Three Shining Ones, who met Christian at the Cross, and gave him his robe and his roll. There were other incidents also, and lights in his experience, which contributed to form that picture; for Bunyan's was that great quality of genius, as well as of piety, which all unconsciously generalizes, and then combines into unity, even the most distant and separate events and experiences, that have a secret affinity, that spring from one principle or cause. The conversation of these holy, happy women, who evidently possessed an experience, such as he knew nothing of, set Bunyan at this time to questioning his own condition, and gave him an insight into the wickedness of his own heart, and the nature of true religion, and produced in him a longing desire after its blessedness, such as he never before possessed. The state and happiness of these poor people presented a lovely vision to him; and at length, after much conflict and inward temptation, he was persuaded to break his mind to them, and tell them his condition. And here he found sweet sympathy and guidance, for they were humble, happy, kind-hearted Christians, and as soon as they heard Bunyan's recital of his troubles, they ran and told their pastor, Mr. Gifford, about him, and with how much joy, we may well conceive. We may, perhaps, be reminded by these holy happy women of the three heavenly maidens, Prudence, Piety and Charity, whose discourse with Christian was so rich, who showed him the rarities of the House Beautiful, and who placed him for rest in a large upper chamber, whose windows opened to the sunrising; the name of the chamber was Peace, where he slept till break of day, and then he awoke and sang.
And now came a new and blessed era in his religious life, for this “holy Mr. Gifford” was a remarkable man, a man of deep piety and joy, and well prepared, by his own spiritual conflicts, to guide Bunyan through his. This man took Bunyan under his careful charge, and invited him to his house, where he could hear him converse with others about the dealings of God with their souls. This man was, indeed, the original of that delightful portrait of Evangelist in the Pilgrim's Progress, a character drawn from real life, being such an one as met Bunyan himself on his wandering way from the City of Destruction, “and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.” Of this man, Bunyan afterwards says, “I sat under the ministry of holy Mr. Gifford, whose doctrine, by God's grace, was much for my stability. This man made it much his business to deliver the people of God from all those hard and unsound tests, that by nature we are prone to. He would bid us take special heed that we took not up any truth upon trust, as from this or that, or any other man or men; but cry mightily to God that he would convince us of the reality thereof, and set us down therein, by his own Spirit in the holy word ; for, said he, if you do otherwise, when temptation