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LIFE AND DEATH
MR. JOHN BUNYAN.
MR. JOHN BUNYAN, the celebrated author of THE
PILGRIM'S PROGRESS, and many other useful works, was born at Elstow, within a mile of Bedford, in the year 1628. His extraction was very mean, his father being a tinker. His parents, however, gave him the best education in their power, bringing him up to read and write: but such was his extreme depravity, that he almost forgot both, addicting himself, even in childhood, to the basest practices, particularly to cursing and swearing; to which he was so peculiarly abandoned, that he exceeded the worst of his wicked companions. He was a Town-swearer, as he calls himself; and soon arrived to such a sad preeminence in vice, that his virtuous neighbours shunned him, and he became the ringleader of the lewd and profane.
Yet, amidst all these enormities, God left not himself without a witness in his bosom. He had many severe checks of conscience, and many terrifying fears of hell. After days spent in sin, his dreams were sometimes extremely frightful. The thoughts of death and judgment intruded themselves into his gayest hours of vanity and pleasure. The Lord was also pleased to mingle mercies with his judgments, by granting him several remarkable deliverances from death. Once he fell into the River
Ouse, at or near Bedford; at another time into an arm of the sea, and narrowly escaped being drowned. In the year 1645, when he was seventeen years of age, he be came a soldier in the Parliament's army, and was present at the seige of Leicester; where being drawn out to stand centinel, and another soldier of the company desiring to take his place, he consented, and thereby probably escaped being shot through the head with a musket ball, which took off his comrade.
But neither mercies nor judgments made any durable impressions on his hardened heart. He was not only insensible of the danger and evil of sin, but an enemy to every thing serious. The thoughts of religion, or the very appearance of it in others, were intolerably burdensome to him.
The first step towards his reformation, was his marriage with a woman, whose parents were accounted religious. Though extremely poor, (having, as he says himself, not a dish or a spoon between them) she had two books, left her by her father, The Practice of Piety, and the Plain Man's Path-Way to Heaven. In these they read together occasionally, and though he was not yet convinced of his lost and undone condition, yet by reading these, and hearing a sermon against Sabbath-breaking, he formed some desires of reformation, and of performing a few religious duties, which he then thought.would be sufficient to carry him to heaven. These convictions were not sufficient to keep him from his beloved sports, even on the afternoon of that Sabbath he had received them. But being engaged in a game of Cat, a sentence was impressed on his mind so forcibly, that he thought it like a voice from heaven: "Wilt thou leave thy sins and go to heaven, or have thy sins and go to hell?" This excited a dreadful consternation in his mind, which was instantly followed with a suggestion from Satan, That he was an enormous, unparalleled sinner-that it was now too late to seek after heaven-and that his trangressions were beyond the reach of mercy. Despair seized his mind, and he formed this desperate conclusion-that he must be miserable if he left his sins, and miserable if he
continued in his sins, and therefore determined to take his fill of them, as the only pleasure he was ever likely to have. It may be justly feared that multitudes perish by such temptations as these. Their language is, "There is no hope. No, for we have loved strangers, and after them we will go-There is no hope-but we will walk after our own devices, and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart." Jer. ii. 25. and xviii. 12. Fatal resolutions indeed!
Contriving and studying how to sin with pleasure, and grudging that he was not satisfied, he continued about a month longer; when it pleased God to give him a severe check, by means of a woman, who, though a notorious sinner herself, was so shocked at the prodigious oaths which he uttered, as he was standing at a neighbour's shop-window, that she told him, "He was the ungodliest fellow for swearing, that ever she heard in all her life, and that he was enough to spoil all the youth in the town, if they came into his company." By this reproof, from the mouth of such a person, he was entirely confounded; and from that moment he refrained in general from swearing, though before he scarcely ever spoke a sentence without an oath *.
About this time he had several remarkable dreams, in which he thought the earth quaked and opened her mouth to receive him-that the end of the world and the day of judgment was arrived. Once he dreamed that he was just dropping into the flames among the damned, and that a person, in white shining raiment, suddenly plucked him as a brand out of the fire. These dreams made impressions on his mind never to be forgotten, and perhaps inclined him many years after to publish that masterpiece of all his works, The PILGRIM'S PROGRESS, under the similitude of a dream.
Similar to this, was a remarkable circumstance in the life of Mr. Perkins, an able minister of the gospel. While a young man, and a Scholar at Cambridge, he was devoted to drunkenness. he was walking in the skirts of the town, he heard a woman say to a child that was troward and peevish, "Hold your tongue, or I will give you to drunken Perkins yonder." Finding himself become a by-word among the people, his conscience was deeply im pressed, and it was the first step towards his conversion.
Soon after, he fell into the company of a poor man, who made a profession of religion, whose discourse of religion and of the scriptures so affected him, that he applied himself to reading the Bible, especially the historical parts of it; but he was yet ignorant of the corruption of his nature, and, by necessary consequence, of the want and worth of Jesus Christ as a Saviour.
However a reformation of manners certainly took place, which was so remarkable, that his neighbours were greatly surprised at it, and often complimented him upon it: By these commendations he was greatly puffed up pride, and began to think himself a very good Christian; and to use his own words, "That no man in England could please God better than he." But all this was only lopping off the branches of sin, while the root of an unregenerate nature still remained. With much difficulty, and by slow degrees, he refrained from his accustomed diversions of dancing and ringing; from the latter by the apprehensions that one of the bells, or even the steeple, might fall and crush him to death. But hitherto he remained ignorant of Christ, and was "going about to establish his own righteousness." He was yet of that generation Solomon speaks of, Prov. xxx. 12. "who are pure in their own eyes, and yet are not washed from their filthiness."
Not long after, the providence of God so ordered it, that Mr. Bunyan went to Bedford to work at his occupation (which was the same as his father's), and happened there to hear three or four women, who were sitting at a door in the sun, talking together about the things of God; his curiosity was excited to listen to them, but he soon found their conversation above his reach. They were speaking of the new birth, and the work of God on their hearts;-how they were convinced of their miser. able state by nature;-how God had visited their souls with his love in Christ Jesus; with what promises they had been refreshed, comforted, and supported under afflictions, and the temptations of the enemy. They also talked of the wretchedness of their own hearts, and of their unbelief-their renouncing their own works and
righteousness, as insufficient to justify them before God. All this appeared to be spoken in such scriptural language, in such a gracious manner, and with such an air of christian joy and cheerfulness, that he seemed like one who had found a new world.
This conversation was of great service to him. He now saw that his state was not so good as he had fondly imagined; that among all his thoughts about religion, that grand essential of it had never entered his mindthe NEW BIRTH;-that he had never taken comfort from the promises of God;-that he had never known the plague of his own heart, having never taken notice of his s cret thoughts;-and that he was entirely unacquainted with Satan's temptations, and the way to resist them. He therefore frequented the company of those persons, to obtain farther information; his mind was constantly intent upon gaining spiritual knowledge; and his whole soul was so fixed on eternal things, that it was then as difficult to withdraw his mind from heaven to earth, as he often found it afterwards, to raise it from earth to heaven.
He now began to read his Bible with new eyes. The epistle of St. Paul particularly, in which formerly he could see no beauty, became inexpressibly sweet and pleasant to him. They held forth and displayed, what he now felt the want of a Saviour. Reading, meditation, and prayer to understand the scripture, were his delightful employments.
This was the time for the great enemy of God and souls to set in with his temptations. One of the principal was, Whether he was elected or not? This question appeared to him at once so difficult and so important, that he was quite at a stand. He had not yet learned that we are to "give all diligence to make our calling and election sure," 2 Pet. i. 10; that is we are to examine whether we are indeed called by grace, and from thence cou clude we are chosen of God. But it pleased God to deliver him out of this trial, by the application of that scripture, "look at the generations of old, and see, did ever