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THE celebrated author of the Pilgrim's Progress was born, A.D. 1628, at ELSTOW, a small village near BEDFORD. His father earned his bread by the low occupation of a common tinker; but he bore a fair character, and took care that his son, whom he brought up to the same business, should be taught to read and write.-We are told indeed, that he quickly forgot all he had learned, through his extreme profligacy yet it is probable, that he retained so much, as enabled him to recover the rest, when his mind became better disposed; and that it was very useful to him in the subsequent part of his life.
The materials, from which an account of this valuable man must be compiled, are so scanty and confused, that nothing very satisfactory should be expected. He seems from his earliest youth to have been greatly addicted to impiety and profligacy: yet he was interrupted in his course by continual alarms and convictions, which were sometimes peculiarly overwhelming; but had no other effect at the time, than to extort from him the most absurd wishes that can be imagined. A copious narrative of these early conflicts and crimes is contained in a treatise published by himself, under the title of Grace abounding to the chief of Sinners.'
During this part of his life he was twice preserved from
the most imminent danger of drowning: and being a soldier in the parliament's army at the siege of Leicester, A.D. 1645, he was drawn out to stand centinel; but one of his comrades, having by his own desire taken his place, was shot through the head on his post; and thus BUNYAN was reserved by the all-disposing hand of GOD for better purposes. He seems however, to have made progressive advances in wickedness, and to have become the ring-leader of youth in every kind of profaneness and excess.
His career of vice received a considerable check, in consequence of his marriage, with the daughter of a person who had been very religious in his way, and remarkably bold in reproving vice, but who was then dead. His wife's discourse to him concerning her father's piety excited him to go regu. larly to church: and as she brought him, for her whole portion, The Practice of Piety, and The plain Man's Pathway to Heaven, he employed himself frequently in reading these books.
The events recorded of our author are so destitute of dates, or regard to the order in which they happened that no clear arrangement can now be made of them: but it is proba ble, that this new attention to religion, though ineffectual to the reformation of his conduct, rendered him more susceptible of convictions; and his vigorous imagination, at that time wholly unrestrained by knowledge or discretion, laid him open to a variety of impressions, sleeping and waking, which he verily supposed to arise from words spoken to him, or objects presented before his bodily senses; and he never after was able to break the association of ideas thus formed in his mind. Accordingly he says, that one day when he was engaged in diversion with his companions, "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?" The con sciousness of his wicked course of life, accompanied with the recollection of the truths he had read, suddenly meeting
as it were, in his mind, thus produced a violent alarm, and made such an impression on his imagination, that he seemed to have heard these words, and to have seen CHRIST frowning and menacing him. But we must not suppose, that there was any miracle wrought; nor could there be any occasion for a new revelation to suggest or enforce so scriptural a warning. This may serve as a specimen of those impressions, which constitute a large part of his religious experience; but which need not be particularized in this place.
He was next tempted to conclude that it was then too late to repent or seek salvation; and, as he ignorantly listened to the suggestion, he indulged his corrupt inclinations without restraint, imagining that this was the only way in which he could possibly have the least expectation of pleasure.
While he was proceeding in this wretched course, a woman of very bad character reproved him with great severity for profane swearing; declaring in the strongest expressions, that he exceeded in it all men she had ever heard. This made him greatly ashamed, when he reflected that he was too vile even for such a bad woman to endure: so that from that time he began to break off that odious custom. -His guilty and terrified mind was also prepared to admit the most alarming impressions during his sleep: and he had such a dream about the day of judgement and its awful circumstances and consequences, as powerfully influenced his conduct. There was, indeed, nothing extraordinary in this; for such dreams are not uncommon to men under deep convictions: yet the Lord was doubtless, by all these means secretly influencing his heart, and warning him to flee from the wrath to come.
He was, however, reluctant to part with his irreligious associates and vain pleasures; till the conversation of a poor. man, who came in his way, induced him to read the Bible, especially the preceptive and historical parts of it: and this put him upon an entire reformation of his conduct; insomuch that his neighbours were greatly astonished at the change,
which they had witnessed. In this manner he went on for about a year; at some times satisfied with himself, and at others distressed with fears and consciousness of guilt.-He seems ever after to have considered all the convictions and desires which he at this time experienced, as wholly originating from natural principles; but in this perhaps some persons will venture to dissent from him. A self-righteousness accompanied with self-complacency, and furnishing incentives to pride, is indeed a full proof of unregeneracy. But conscientiousness connected with disquietudes, humiliation for sin, and a disposition to wait for divine teaching, is an effect and evidence of life, though the mind be yet darkened with ignorance, error, and prejudice. And he, that hath given life will give it more abundantly; for "the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more " and more unto the perfect day."
While BUNYAN was in this state of mind he went, in the course of his trade as a tinker, to BEDFORD; where he overheard some women discourse about regeneration: and though he could not understand their meaning, he was greatly affected by observing the earnestness, chearfulness, and humility of their behaviour; and was also convinced that his views of religion were at that time very defective.Being thus led to frequent their company, he was brought as it were into a new world. Such an entire change took place in his sentiments, dispositions, and affections; and his mind was so deeply engaged in contemplating the great concerns of eternity, and the things pertaining to the kingdom of GOD, that he found it very difficult to employ his thoughts on any secular affairs.
But this extraordinary flow of affections, not being attended by a proportionable measure of doctrinal information, laid him open to various attemps of SATAN and his emissaries. -The RANTERS, a set of the vilest antinomians that almost ever existed, first assailed him, by one of their party, who had formerly been Mr. BUNYAN'S companion in vice: but
he over-acted his part; and, proceeding even to deny the being of a GOD, probably furnished the character of ATHEIST in the Pilgrim's Progress.'-While Mr. BUNYAN was engaged in reading the books of the RANTERS, not being able to form his judgement about them, he was led to offer up the following prayer:- O Lord, I am a fool, and not ⚫ able to know the truth from error: Lord, leave me not to my own blindness, either to approve or condemn this doctrine. If it be of GOD, let me not despise it; if it be of the Devil, let me not embrace it. Lord I lay my soul in this matter only at thy foot; let me not be deceived, I humbly beseech thee.' This most suitable request the Lord graciously answered; he soon saw through the delusions of the RANTERS; and probably referred to them, under the character of SELF-WILL, in the second part of this work.
The Epistles of ST. PAUL, which he now read with great attention, but without any guide or instructor, gave occasion to his being assaulted by many sore temptations. He found the apostle continually speaking of faith; and he could find. no way by which he might understand the meaning of that word or discover whether he was a believer or not: so that, mistaking the words of CHRIST', he was tempted, to seek a solution of his difficulty by trying to work a miracle; he thought however it would be right to pray, before he made the attempt, and this induced him to desist, though his difficulties still remained. He was delivered from great perplexities about the doctrine of election, by reflecting that none" ever "trusted in GoD and was confounded:" and therefore it would be best for him to trust in GoD, and leave election, as a "secret "thing," with the Lord, to whom it belonged. And the general invitations of the gospel, and the assurance that " yet "there is room," helped him to repel the temptation to conclude, that the day of grace was past.
This brief account of his temptations and escapes may teach others the best way of resisting similar suggestions: and it
1 Matt. xvii. 20.