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JOHN BUNYAN. 1628-1688.
Witu what pleasure do we turn from the character of Waller, to that never to-be-forgotten and ever-to-be-revered name-John Bunyan, the poor “ tinker of Bedford.” If there was danger in Cowper's time of moving a sneer” at the mention of his name, there is none now; for it is doubtful whether, within the last fifty years, more editions have been published of any one book in the English language, the Bible excepted, than of Pilgrim's Progress.
John Bunyan was born in the village of Elston, near Bedford, in the year 1628. His father was a brazier or tinker, and the son was brought up to the saine trade. Though his parents were extremely poor, they put him to the best school they could afford, and thus he learned to read and write. He says of himself, that he was early thrown among vile companions, and initiated into profaneness, lying, and all sorts of boyish vice and ungodliness. Thus plainly he speaks of himself in view of his early sins, but it is just to say that to drinking and to licentiousness in its grossest forms, he was never addicted. He married very early, at the age of nineteen. “My mercy was,” he says, 6 to light upon a wife whose father was counted godly.” Who can tell the happy influence that this connection exerted over him? And how vastiy would the sum of human happiness be increased, if, in choosing a companion for life, moral and religious character were regarded more, and worldly circunstances less. Soon after this, Bunyan left off his profanity, and began to think more seriously. “My neighbors were amazed,” he says, “ at this my great conversion from prodigious profaneness to something like a moral life: they began to praise, to commend, and to speak well of me." Flattered by these commendations, and proud of his imagined godliness, he concluded that the Almighty “could not choose but be now pleased with him. Yea, to relate it in mine own way, I thought no man in England could please God bet ter than I.”
He was awakened from this self-righteous delusion by accidentally overhearing the discourse of three or four poor women, who were sitting at a door in the sun, in one of the streets of Bedford, “ talking about the things of God." What especially struck him was, that they conversed about matters of religion “as if joy did make them speak," and “as if they had found a new world." He was most deeply impressed by this, and carried the words of these poor women with him wherever he went. His spiritual conflict was long, and attended with many and sore temptations; but God heard bis prayer;' his views of truth became clear, and in 1653, when twenty-five years of age, he joined the Baptist church at Bedford. He occasionally addressed small meetings of the church, and at their urgent request, so full of power and unction did they deem his preaching, when their pastor died in 1655, he was desired by them to fill, for a time, his place. · He did so, and also preached in other places, and attracted great attention. But “bonds and imprisonments awaited him.” He hail, for five or six years, without any interruption, freely preached the gospel; but, in November, 1660, he was taken up by a warrant from a justice, who resolved, as he said, “ to break the neck of such meetings." Such was one of the first-fruits of the Restoration. The bill of indictment against him ran to this effect: «That John Bunyan, of the town of Bedford, laborer, hath devilishly and perniciously abstained from coming to church' to hear divine service, and is a common upholder of several unlawful meetings and conventicles,” &c.
1 *Lord, I am a fool, and not able to know the truth from error; Lord, leave me not to my own blindness. Lord, I lay my soul only at thy feet; let me not be deceived, I humbly beseech thee." Such a prayer was never made in vain.
The result was, of course, that he was convicted; and accordingly he was sent to Bedford jail, where he was confined for twelve long years, lest, like the great apostle of the Gentiles, he should persuade and “turn away much people." But how impotent is the rage of man! «He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh, the Lord shall have them in derision.” In the inscruta. ble purposes of Providence, this was the very way designed for this humble individual to do the greatest amount of good. It was there, in the damps of his prison-house, that he, ignorant of classic lore, but deeply read in the word of God, composed a work full of the purest spirit of poetry; caught indeed from no earthly muse, but from the sacred volume of inspiration :a work which is read with delight by all,-by the man of the world, who has no sympathy with its religious spirit, and by the Christian, who has the key to it in his own heart; a work which has been the delight of youth, and the solace of age; a work which has given comfort to many a wounded spirit, which has raised many a heart to the throne of God. What an illustrious instance of the superiority of goodness over learning! Who now reads the learned wits of the reign of Charles the Second? Who, comparatively, reads even Dryden, or Tillotson, or Barrow, or Boyle, or Sir William Temple? Who has not read, who will not read the immortal epic of John Bunyan? Who does not, who will not ever, with Cowper,
« Revere the man whose pilgrim marks the road,
And guides the progress of the soul to God?" What an affecting account he gives of his feelings during his imprison. inent!“I found myself a man encompassed with infirmities: the parting with my wife and poor children hath often been to me in this place as the pulling the flesh from the bones; and that not only because I am somewhat too fond of these great mercies, but also because I should have after brought to my mind the many hardships, miseries, and wants that my poor family was likely to meet with, should I be taken from them, especially my poor blind child, who lay nearer my heart than all beside. Oh! the thoughts of the hardship I thought my poor blind one might undergo, would break my heart to pieces. Poor child! thought I, what sorrow thou art like to have for thy portion in this world! Thou must be beaten, must beg, suffer hunger, cold, nakedness, and a thousand calamities, though I cannot now endure the wind should blow upon thee. But yet recalling myself, thought I, I rnust venture you all with God, though it goeth to the quick to leave you." What a heavenly spirit! what true sublimnily of character does such language display!
1 Meaning, of course, the established" churcb.
The only buoks that Bunyan had with himn in prison, were the Bible and Fox's Book of Martyrs. What use he made of the former the wide world knows, in that immortal fruit of his imprisonment--the “ Pilgrim's Progress." Well is it that wicked men, persecutors, and oppressors cannot chain the mind :
" The oppressor holds
COWPER. He was not released from prison till 1672. But no sooner was he out than, like the early apostles after their imprisonment, he entered at once on his Great Master's work, preaching his word not only to his former congregation, but wherever he went. Every year he paid a visit to his friends in London, where his reputation was so great that thousands flocked to hear him; and if bnt a day's notice were given, the meeting-house could not hold half the people that attendet. It is said that Dr. Owen was among his occasional audi. tors; and an anecdote is on record, that, being asked by Charles II. how a learned man, such as he was, could “ sit and hear an illiterate tinker prate," he replied: “ May it please your majesty, could I possess that tinker's abilities for preaching, I would most gladly relinquish all my learning.” He continued his labors until 1688, when, having taken a violent cold in a rain-storm, while on a journey to preach, he died August 12th, in the 61st year of his age.
Bunyan was a voluminous writer, having written, it is said, as many books as he was years old. Of these, the Holy War would have immortalized him, had he written nothing else. The title of this is, “ The Holy War made by King Shaddai upon Diabolus, for the Regaining the Metropolis of the World, or the Losing and Retaking of Mansoul.” Here the fall of man is typified by the capture of the flourishing city of Mansoul by Diabolus, the enemy of its rightful sovereign, Shaddai or Jehovah; whose son Immanuel recovers it after a tedious siege. Some of his other works are, “ Grace abounding to the Chief of Sinners," being an account of his own life: “ The Doctrine of the Law and Grace unfolded :" « The Life and Death of Mr. Badman," in the form of a dia. logue, giving an account of the different stages of a wicked man's life, and of his miserable death : « The Barren Fig Tree, or the Doom and Downfall of the fruitless Professor:" “ One Thing is Needful :” “ A Discourse touching Prayer," &c.
But his great work, and that by which he will ever best be known, is · The Pilgrim's Progress,” an allegorical view of the life of a Christian, bis difficulties, temptations, encouragements, and ultimate triumph. This work is so universally known as to render all comment unnecessary. No book has re. ceived such general commendation. As to the number of editions through which it has passed, it is impossible to form a conjecture. Mr. Southey thinks it probable that “no other book in the English language' has obtained so constant and so wide a sale," and that “there is no European language into which it has not been translated.” Dr. Johnson, Cowper. Scott, Byron, Wordsworth, Southey, Montgomery, have united to extol this truly original work ; indeed, pages might be occupied with the encomiums with which poi'is ard
I The Bible, of course, excepteu and probably Wrtis's Psalny and llynns.
critics have delighted to honor this once obscure and despised religious writer.1
We will make but one extract from the Pilgrim's Progress, as it is in the hands of almost every one, and that will be the case of
CHRISTIAN IN DOUBTING CASTLE. Now there was, not far from the place where they lay, a castle, called Doubting Castle, the owner whereof was Giant Despair, and it was in his grounds they now were sleeping ; wherefore he, getting up in the morning early, and walking up and down in his fields, caught Christian and Hopeful asleep in his grounds. Then, with a grim and surly voice, he bid them awake, and asked them whence they were, and what they did in his grounds ? They told him they were pilgrims, and that they had lost their way. Then said the giant, You have this night trespassed on me, by trampling and lying on my ground, and therefore you must go along with me. So they were forced to go, because he was stronger than they. They also had but little to say, for they knew themselves in fault. The giant, therefore, drove them before him, and put them into his castle, in a very dark dungeon, nasty, and stinking to the spirits of those two men. Here they lay from Wednesday morning till Saturday night, without one bit of bread, or drop of drink, or light, or any to ask how they did: they were therefore here in evil case, and were far from friends and acquaintance. Now, in this place Christian had double sorrow, because it was through his unadvised haste that they were brought into this distress.”
Now, Giant Despair had a wife, and her name was Diffidence : so when he was gone to bed, he told his wise what he had done,
1 The poet Southey has written his life; but he was not qualified for it, having little sympathy with Bunyan as a Reformer. Read an excellent article in the 79th number of the North American Review: also, another in Macaulay's Miscellanles, i. 428. From the latter I cannot but extract the following: -"The style of Bunyan is delightful to every reader, and invaluable as a study to every person who wishes to obtain a wide command over the English language. The vocabulary is the vocabulary of the common people. There is not an expression, if we except a few technical terms of theology, wbich would puzzle the rudest peasant. We have observed several pages which do not contain a single word of more than two syllables. Yet no writer has said more exactly what he meant to say. For magnificence, for pathos, for vehement exhortation, for subtle disquisition, for every purpose of the poet, the orator, and the divine, this bomcly dialect, the dialect of plain working-men, was perfectly sufficient. There is no book in our literature on which we would so readuy stake the fame of the unpolluted English language, no book which shows so well how rich that language is in its own proper wealth, and how little it has been improved by all that it has borrowed." And again: “We are not afraid to say, that, thongh there were many clever men in England during the latter half of the seventeenth century, there were only two minds which possessed the imaginative faculty in a very eminent degree. One of those minds produced the Paradise Lost,' the other the Pilgrim's l'rogress.'»
2 " What I these highly favored Christians in Doubting Castle! Is it possible, after having travelled ao far in the way of salvation, seen so many glorious things in the way, experienced so much of the trace and love of their Lord, and having so often proved his faithfulness, yet after all this to get into Doubting Castle! Is not this strange? No, it is common the strongest Christians are liable to err, and get out of the way, and then to be beset with very great and distressing doubts."
to wit, that he had taken a couple of prisoners and cast them into his dungeon, for trespassing on his grounds. Then he asked her also what he had best to do further to them. So she asked him what they were, whence they came, and whither they were bound, and he told her. Then she counselled him, that when he arose in the morning, he should beat them without mercy. So when he arose, he getteth him a grievous crab-tree cudgel, and goes down into the dungeon to them, and there first falls to rating them as if they were dogs, although they never gave him a word of distaste : then he falls upon them, and beats them fearfully, in such sort that they were not able to help themselves, or turn them upon the floor. This done, he withdraws, and leaves them there to condole their misery, and to mourn under their distress: so all that day they spent their time in nothing but sighs and bitter lamentations. The next night she talked with her husband about them further, and understanding that they were yet alive, did advise him to counsel them to make away with themselves. So when morning was come, he goes to them in a surly manner, as before, and perceiving them to be very sore with the stripes that he had given them the day before, he told them, that since they were never like to come out of that place, their only way would be forthwith to make an end of themselves, either with knife, halter, or poison : For why, said he, should you choose life, seeing it is attended with so much bitterness? But they desired him to let them go; with which he looked ugly upon them, and rushing to them, had doubtless made an end of them himself, but that he fell into one of his fits, (for he sometimes in sun-shiny weather fell into fits,) and lost for a time the use of his hands : wherefore he withdrew, and left them, as before, to consider what to do. Then did the prisoners consult between themselves whether it was best to take his counsel or no: and thus they began to discourse :
Chr. Brother, said Christian, what shall we do? The life that we now live is miserable. For my part, I know not whether it is best to live thus, or die out of hand. “My soul chooseth strangling rather than life," and the grave is more easy for me than this dungeon! Shall we be ruled by the giant ?
Hope. Indeed our present condition is dreadful, and death would be far more welcome to me, than thus for ever to abide ; but let us consider, the Lord of the country to which we are going hath said, “ Thou shalt do no murder :" no, not to any man's person; much more then are we forbidden to lake his counsel to kill ourselves. Besides, he that kills another can but commit murder on Lis own body ; but for one to kill himself, is to kill body and soul at once. And, moreover, my brother, thou talkest of ease in the grave; but hast thou forgotten the hell, whither for certain the murderers go? For no murderer hath eternal life. And let