Wednesday, October 24, 2007


The Life of John Bunyan by Edmund Venables, M.A.

The Life of John Bunyan
by Edmund Venables, M.A.
John Bunyan, the author of the book which has probably passed
through more editions, had a greater number of readers, and been
translated into more languages than any other book in the English
tongue, was born in the parish of Elstow, in Bedfordshire, in the
latter part of the year 1628, and was baptized in the parish church
of the village on the last day of November of that year.
The year of John Bunyan's birth was a momentous one both for the
nation and for the Church of England. Charles I., by the extorted
assent to the Petition of Right, had begun reluctantly to strip
himself of the irresponsible authority he had claimed, and had
taken the first step in the struggle between King and Parliament
which ended in the House of Commons seating itself in the place of
the Sovereign. Wentworth (better known as Lord Strafford) had
finally left the Commons, baffled in his nobly-conceived but vain
hope of reconciling the monarch and his people, and having accepted
a peerage and the promise of the Presidency of the Council of the
North, was foreshadowing his policy of "Thorough," which was
destined to bring both his own head and that of his weak master to
the block. The Remonstrance of Parliament against the toleration
of Roman Catholics and the growth of Arminianism, had been
presented to the indignant king, who, wilfully blinded, had replied
to it by the promotion to high and lucrative posts in the Church of
the very men against whom it was chiefly directed. The most
outrageous upholders of the royal prerogative and the irresponsible
power of the sovereign, Montagu and Mainwaring, had been presented,
the one to the see of Chichester, the other - the impeached and
condemned of the Commons - to the rich living Montagu's
consecration had vacated. Montaigne, the licenser of Mainwaring's
incriminated sermon, was raised to the Archbishopric of York, while
Neile and Laud, who were openly named in the Remonstrance as the
"troublers of the English Israel," were rewarded respectively with
the rich see of Durham and the important and deeply-dyed Puritan
diocese of London. Charles was steadily sowing the wind, and
destined to reap the whirlwind which was to sweep him from his
throne, and involve the monarchy and the Church in the same
overthrow. Three months before Bunyan's birth Buckingham, on the
eve of his departure for the beleaguered and famine-stricken city
of Rochelle, sanguinely hoping to conclude a peace with the French
king beneath its walls, had been struck down by the knife of a
fanatic, to the undisguised joy of the majority of the nation,
bequeathing a legacy of failure and disgrace in the fall of the
Protestant stronghold on which the eyes of Europe had been so long
anxiously fixed.
The year was closing gloomily, with ominous forecasts of the coming
hurricane, when the babe who was destined to leave so imperishable
a name in English literature, first saw the light in an humble
cottage in an obscure Bedfordshire village. His father, Thomas
Bunyan, though styling himself in his will by the more dignified
title of "brazier," was more properly what is known as a "tinker";
"a mender of pots and kettles," according to Bunyan's contemporary
biographer, Charles Doe. He was not, however, a mere tramp or
vagrant, as travelling tinkers were and usually are still, much
less a disreputable sot, a counterpart of Shakespeare's Christopher
Sly, but a man with a recognized calling, having a settled home and
an acknowledged position in the village community of Elstow. The
family was of long standing there, but had for some generations
been going down in the world. Bunyan's grandfather, Thomas Bunyan,
as we learn from his still extant will, carried on the occupation
of a "petty chapman," or small retail dealer, in his own freehold
cottage, which he bequeathed, "with its appurtenances," to his
second wife, Ann, to descend, after her death, to her stepson, his
namesake, Thomas, and her own son Edward, in equal shares. This
cottage, which was probably John Bunyan's birthplace, persistent
tradition, confirmed by the testimony of local names, warrants us
in placing near the hamlet of Harrowden, a mile to the east of the
village of Elstow, at a place long called "Bunyan's End," where two
fields are still called by the name of "Bunyans" and "Further
Bunyans." This small freehold appears to have been all that
remained, at the death of John Bunyan's grandfather, of a property
once considerable enough to have given the name of its possessor to
the whole locality.
The family of Buingnon, Bunyun, Buniun, Boynon, Bonyon, or Binyan
(the name is found spelt in no fewer than thirty-four different
ways, of which the now-established form, Bunyan, is almost the
least frequent) is one that had established itself in Bedfordshire
from very early times. The first place in connection with which
the name appears is Pulloxhill, about nine miles from Elstow. In
1199, the year of King John's accession, the Bunyans had approached
still nearer to that parish. One William Bunion held land at
Wilstead, not more than a mile off. In 1327, the first year of
Edward III., one of the same name, probably his descendant, William
Boynon, is found actually living at Harrowden, close to the spot
which popular tradition names as John Bunyan's birthplace, and was
the owner of property there. We have no further notices of the
Bunyans of Elstow till the sixteenth century. We then find them
greatly fallen. Their ancestral property seems little by little to
have passed into other hands, until in 1542 nothing was left but "a
messuage and pightell (1) with the appurtenances, and nine acres of
land." This small residue other entries on the Court Rolls show to
have been still further diminished by sale. The field already
referred to, known as "Bonyon's End," was sold by "Thomas Bonyon,
of Elstow, labourer," son of William Bonyon, the said Thomas and
his wife being the keepers of a small road-side inn, at which their
overcharges for their home-baked bread and home-brewed beer were
continually bringing them into trouble with the petty local courts
of the day. Thomas Bunyan, John Bunyan's father, was born in the
last days of Elizabeth, and was baptized February 24, 1603, exactly
a month before the great queen passed away. The mother of the
immortal Dreamer was one Margaret Bentley, who, like her husband,
was a native of Elstow and only a few months his junior. The
details of her mother's will, which is still extant, drawn up by
the vicar of Elstow, prove that, like her husband, she did not, in
the words of Bunyan's latest and most complete biographer, the Rev.
Dr. Brown, "come of the very squalid poor, but of people who,
though humble in station, were yet decent and worthy in their
ways." John Bunyan's mother was his father's second wife. The
Bunyans were given to marrying early, and speedily consoled
themselves on the loss of one wife with the companionship of a
successor. Bunyan's grandmother cannot have died before February
24, 1603, the date of his father's baptism. But before the year
was out his grandfather had married again. His father, too, had
not completed his twentieth year when he married his first wife,
Anne Pinney, January 10, 1623. She died in 1627, apparently
without any surviving children, and before the year was half-way
through, on the 23rd of the following May, he was married a second
time to Margaret Bentley. At the end of seventeen years Thomas
Bunyan was again left a widower, and within two months, with
grossly indecent haste, he filled the vacant place with a third
wife. Bunyan himself cannot have been much more than twenty when
he married. We have no particulars of the death of his first wife.
But he had been married two years to his noble-minded second wife
at the time of the assizes in 1661, and the ages of his children by
his first wife would indicate that no long interval elapsed between
his being left a widower and his second marriage.
Elstow, which, as the birthplace of the author of "The Pilgrim's
Progress," has gained a world-wide celebrity, is a quiet little
village, which, though not much more than a mile from the populous
and busy town of Bedford, yet, lying aside from the main stream of
modern life, preserves its old-world look to an unusual degree.
Its name in its original form of "Helen-stow," or "Ellen-stow," the
STOW or stockaded place of St. Helena, is derived from a
Benedictine nunnery founded in 1078 by Judith, niece of William the
Conqueror, the traitorous wife of the judicially murdered Waltheof,
Earl of Huntingdon, in honour of the mother of the Emperor
Constantine. The parish church, so intimately connected with
Bunyan's personal history, is a fragment of the church of the
nunnery, with a detached campanile, or "steeple-house," built to
contain the bells after the destruction of the central tower and
choir of the conventual church. Few villages are so little
modernized as Elstow. The old half-timbered cottages with
overhanging storeys, peaked dormers, and gabled porches, tapestried
with roses and honeysuckles, must be much what they were in
Bunyan's days. A village street, with detached cottages standing
in gardens gay with the homely flowers John Bunyan knew and loved,
leads to the village green, fringed with churchyard elms, in the
middle of which is the pedestal or stump of the market-cross, and
at the upper end of the old "Moot Hall," a quaint brick and timber
building, with a projecting upper storey, a good example of the
domestic architecture of the fifteenth century, originally,
perhaps, the Guesten-Hall of the adjacent nunnery, and afterwards
the Court House of the manor when lay-lords had succeeded the
abbesses - "the scene," writes Dr. Brown "of village festivities,
statute hirings, and all the public occasions of village life."
The whole spot and its surroundings can be but little altered from
the time when our hero was the ringleader of the youth of the place
in the dances on the greensward, which he tells us he found it so
hard to give up, and in "tip-cat," and the other innocent games
which his diseased conscience afterwards regarded as "ungodly
practices." One may almost see the hole from which he was going to
strike his "cat" that memorable Sunday afternoon when he silenced
the inward voice which rebuked him for his sins, and "returned
desperately to his sport again." On the south side of the green,
as we have said, stands the church, a fine though somewhat rude
fragment of the chapel of the nunnery curtailed at both ends, of
Norman and Early English date, which, with its detached bell tower,
was the scene of some of the fierce spiritual conflicts so vividly
depicted by Bunyan in his "Grace Abounding." On entering every
object speaks of Bunyan. The pulpit - if it has survived the
recent restoration - is the same from which Christopher Hall, the
then "Parson" of Elstow, preached the sermon which first awoke his
sleeping conscience. The font is that in which he was baptized, as
were also his father and mother and remoter progenitors, as well as
his children, Mary, his dearly-loved blind child, on July 20, 1650,
and her younger sister, Elizabeth, on April 14, 1654. An old oaken
bench, polished by the hands of thousands of visitors attracted to
the village church by the fame of the tinker of Elstow, is
traditionally shown as the seat he used to occupy when he "went to
church twice a day, and that, too, with the foremost counting all
things holy that were therein contained." The five bells which
hang in the belfry are the same in which Bunyan so much delighted,
the fourth bell, tradition says, being that he was used to ring.
The rough flagged floor, "all worn and broken with the hobnailed
boots of generations of ringers," remains undisturbed. One cannot
see the door, set in its solid masonry, without recalling the
figure of Bunyan standing in it, after conscience, "beginning to be
tender," told him that "such practice was but vain," but yet unable
to deny himself the pleasure of seeing others ring, hoping that,
"if a bell should fall," he could "slip out" safely "behind the
thick walls," and so "be preserved notwithstanding." Behind the
church, on the south side, stand some picturesque ivy-clad remains
of the once stately mansion of the Hillersdons, erected on the site
of the nunnery buildings in the early part of the seventeenth
century, with a porch attributed to Inigo Jones, which may have
given Bunyan the first idea of "the very stately Palace, the name
of which was Beautiful."
The cottage where Bunyan was born, between the two brooks in the
fields at Harrowden, has been so long destroyed that even the
knowledge of its site has passed away. That in which he lived for
six years (1649-1655) after his first marriage, and where his
children were born, is still standing in the village street, but
modern reparations have robbed it of all interest.
From this description of the surroundings among which Bunyan passed
the earliest and most impressionable years of his life, we pass to
the subject of our biography himself. The notion that Bunyan was
of gipsy descent, which was not entirely rejected by Sir Walter
Scott, and which has more recently received elaborate support from
writers on the other side of the Atlantic, may be pronounced
absolutely baseless. Even if Bunyan's inquiry of his father
"whether the family was of Israelitish descent or no," which has
been so strangely pressed into the service of the theory, could be
supposed to have anything to do with the matter, the decided
negative with which his question was met - "he told me, 'No, we
were not'" - would, one would have thought, have settled the point.
But some fictions die hard. However low the family had sunk, so
that in his own words, "his father's house was of that rank that is
meanest and most despised of all the families in the land," "of a
low and inconsiderable generation," the name, as we have seen, was
one of long standing in Bunyan's native county, and had once taken
far higher rank in it. And his parents, though poor, were
evidently worthy people, of good repute among their village
neighbours. Bunyan seems to be describing his own father and his
wandering life when he speaks of "an honest poor labouring man,
who, like Adam unparadised, had all the world to get his bread in,
and was very careful to maintain his family." He and his wife were
also careful with a higher care that their children should be
properly educated. "Notwithstanding the meanness and
inconsiderableness of my parents," writes Bunyan, "it pleased God
to put it into their hearts to put me to school, to learn both to
read and write." If we accept the evidence of the "Scriptural
Poems," published for the first time twelve years after his death,
the genuineness of which, though questioned by Dr. Brown, there
seems no sufficient reason to doubt, the little education he had
was "gained in a grammar school." This would have been that
founded by Sir William Harpur in Queen Mary's reign in the
neighbouring town of Bedford. Thither we may picture the little
lad trudging day by day along the mile and a half of footpath and
road from his father's cottage by the brookside, often, no doubt,
wet and miry enough, not, as he says, to "go to school to Aristotle
or Plato," but to be taught "according to the rate of other poor
men's children." The Bedford school-master about this time,
William Barnes by name, was a negligent sot, charged with "nightwalking"
and haunting "taverns and alehouses," and other evil
practices, as well as with treating the poor boys "when present"
with a cruelty which must have made them wish that his absences,
long as they were, had been more protracted. Whether this man was
his master or no, it was little that Bunyan learnt at school, and
that little he confesses with shame he soon lost "almost utterly."
He was before long called home to help his father at the Harrowden
forge, where he says he was "brought up in a very mean condition
among a company of poor countrymen." Here, with but little to
elevate or refine his character, the boy contracted many bad
habits, and grew up what Coleridge somewhat too strongly calls "a
bitter blackguard." According to his own remorseful confession, he
was "filled with all unrighteousness," having "from a child" in his
"tender years," "but few equals both for cursing, swearing, lying
and blaspheming the holy name of God." Sins of this kind he
declares became "a second nature to him;" he "delighted in all
transgression against the law of God," and as he advanced in his
teens he became a "notorious sinbreeder," the "very ringleader," he
says, of the village lads "in all manner of vice and ungodliness."
But the unsparing condemnation passed by Bunyan, after his
conversion, on his former self, must not mislead us into supposing
him ever, either as boy or man, to have lived a vicious life. "The
wickedness of the tinker," writes Southey, "has been greatly
overrated, and it is taking the language of self-accusation too
literally to pronounce of John Bunyan that he was at any time
depraved." The justice of this verdict of acquittal is fully
accepted by Coleridge. "Bunyan," he says, "was never in our
received sense of the word 'wicked.' He was chaste, sober, and
honest." He hints at youthful escapades, such, perhaps, as
orchard-robbing, or when a little older, poaching, and the like,
which might have brought him under "the stroke of the laws," and
put him to "open shame before the face of the world." But he
confesses to no crime or profligate habit. We have no reason to
suppose that he was ever drunk, and we have his own most solemn
declaration that he was never guilty of an act of unchastity. "In
our days," to quote Mr. Froude, "a rough tinker who could say as
much for himself after he had grown to manhood, would be regarded
as a model of self-restraint. If in Bedford and the neighbourhood
there was no young man more vicious than Bunyan, the moral standard
of an English town in the seventeenth century must have been higher
than believers in progress will be pleased to allow." How then, it
may be asked, are we to explain the passionate language in which he
expresses his self-abhorrence, which would hardly seem exaggerated
in the mouth of the most profligate and licentious? We are
confident that Bunyan meant what he said. So intensely honest a
nature could not allow his words to go beyond his convictions.
When he speaks of "letting loose the reins to his lusts," and
sinning "with the greatest delight and ease," we know that however
exaggerated they may appear to us, his expressions did not seem to
him overstrained. Dr. Johnson marvelled that St. Paul could call
himself "the chief of sinners," and expressed a doubt whether he
did so honestly. But a highly-strung spiritual nature like that of
the apostle, when suddenly called into exercise after a period of
carelessness, takes a very different estimate of sin from that of
the world, even the decent moral world, in general. It realizes
its own offences, venial as they appear to others, as sins against
infinite love - a love unto death - and in the light of the
sacrifice on Calvary, recognizes the heinousness of its guilt, and
while it doubts not, marvels that it can be pardoned. The
sinfulness of sin - more especially their own sin - is the
intensest of all possible realities to them. No language is too
strong to describe it. We may not unreasonably ask whether this
estimate, however exaggerated it may appear to those who are
strangers to these spiritual experiences, is altogether a mistaken
The spiritual instinct was very early awakened in Bunyan. While
still a child "but nine or ten years old," he tells us he was
racked with convictions of sin, and haunted with religious fears.
He was scared with "fearful dreams," and "dreadful visions," and
haunted in his sleep with "apprehensions of devils and wicked
spirits" coming to carry him away, which made his bed a place of
terrors. The thought of the Day of Judgment and of the torments of
the lost, often came as a dark cloud over his mind in the midst of
his boyish sports, and made him tremble. But though these fevered
visions embittered his enjoyment while they lasted, they were but
transient, and after a while they entirely ceased "as if they had
never been," and he gave himself up without restraint to the
youthful pleasures in which his ardent nature made him ever the
ringleader. The "thoughts of religion" became very grievous to
him. He could not endure even to see others read pious books; "it
would be as a prison to me." The awful realities of eternity which
had once been so crushing to his spirit were "both out of sight and
mind." He said to God, "depart from me." According to the later
morbid estimate which stigmatized as sinful what were little more
than the wild acts of a roystering dare-devil young fellow, full of
animal spirits and with an unusually active imagination, he "could
sin with the greatest delight and ease, and take pleasure in the
vileness of his companions." But that the sense of religion was
not wholly dead in him even then, and that while discarding its
restraints he had an inward reverence for it, is shown by the
horror he experienced if those who had a reputation for godliness
dishonoured their profession. "Once," he says, "when I was at the
height of my vanity, hearing one to swear who was reckoned for a
religious man, it had so great a stroke upon my spirit that it made
my heart to ache."
This undercurrent of religious feeling was deepened by providential
escapes from accidents which threatened his life - "judgments mixed
with mercy" he terms them, - which made him feel that he was not
utterly forsaken of God. Twice he narrowly escaped drowning; once
in "Bedford river" - the Ouse; once in "a creek of the sea," his
tinkering rounds having, perhaps, carried him as far northward as
the tidal inlets of the Wash in the neighbourhood of Spalding or
Lynn, or to the estuaries of the Stour and Orwell to the east. At
another time, in his wild contempt of danger, he tore out, while
his companions looked on with admiration, what he mistakenly
supposed to be an adder's sting.
These providential deliverances bring us to that incident in his
brief career as a soldier which his anonymous biographer tells us
"made so deep an impression upon him that he would never mention
it, which he often did, without thanksgiving to God." But for this
occurrence, indeed, we should have probably never known that he had
ever served in the army at all. The story is best told in his own
provokingly brief words - "When I was a soldier I with others were
drawn out to go to such a place to besiege it. But when I was just
ready to go, one of the company desired to go in my room; to which
when I 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." Here, as is so often the case in Bunyan's autobiography, we
have reason to lament the complete absence of details. This is
characteristic of the man. The religious import of the occurrences
he records constituted their only value in his eyes; their temporal
setting, which imparts their chief interest to us, was of no
account to him. He gives us not the slightest clue to the name of
the besieged place, or even to the side on which he was engaged.
The date of the event is left equally vague. The last point
however we are able to determine with something like accuracy.
November, 1644, was the earliest period at which Bunyan could have
entered the army, for it was not till then that he reached the
regulation age of sixteen. Domestic circumstances had then
recently occurred which may have tended to estrange him from his
home, and turn his thoughts to a military life. In the previous
June his mother had died, her death being followed within a month
by that of his sister Margaret. Before another month was out, his
father, as we have already said, had married again, and whether the
new wife had proved the proverbial INJUSTA NOVERCA or not, his home
must have been sufficiently altered by the double, if we may not
say triple, calamity, to account for his leaving the dull monotony
of his native village for the more stirring career of a soldier.
Which of the two causes then distracting the nation claimed his
adherence, Royalist or Parliamentarian, can never be determined.
As Mr. Froude writes, "He does not tell us himself. His friends in
after life did not care to ask him or he to inform them, or else
they thought the matter of too small importance to be worth
mentioning with exactness." The only evidence is internal, and the
deductions from it vary with the estimate of the counter-balancing
probabilities taken by Bunyan's various biographers. Lord
Macaulay, whose conclusion is ably, and, we think, convincingly
supported by Dr. Brown, decides in favour of the side of the
Parliament. Mr. Froude, on the other hand, together with the
painstaking Mr. Offor, holds that "probability is on the side of
his having been with the Royalists." Bedfordshire, however, was
one of the "Associated Counties" from which the Parliamentary army
drew its main strength, and it was shut in by a strong line of
defence from any combination with the Royalist army. In 1643 the
county had received an order requiring it to furnish "able and
armed men" to the garrison at Newport Pagnel, which was then the
base of operations against the King in that part of England. All
probability therefore points to John Bunyan, the lusty young tinker
of Elstow, the leader in all manly sports and adventurous
enterprises among his mates, and probably caring very little on
what side he fought, having been drafted to Newport to serve under
Sir Samuel Luke, of Cople, and other Parliamentary commanders. The
place of the siege he refers to is equally undeterminable. A
tradition current within a few years of Bunyan's death, which Lord
Macaulay rather rashly invests with the certainty of fact, names
Leicester. The only direct evidence for this is the statement of
an anonymous biographer, who professes to have been a personal
friend of Bunyan's, that he was present at the siege of Leicester,
in 1645, as a soldier in the Parliamentary army. This statement,
however, is in direct defiance of Bunyan's own words. For the one
thing certain in the matter is that wherever the siege may have
been, Bunyan was not at it. He tells us plainly that he was "drawn
to go," and that when he was just starting, he gave up his place to
a comrade who went in his room, and was shot through the head.
Bunyan's presence at the siege of Leicester, which has been so
often reported that it has almost been regarded as an historical
truth, must therefore take its place among the baseless creations
of a fertile fancy.
Bunyan's military career, wherever passed and under whatever
standard, was very short. The civil war was drawing near the end
of its first stage when he enlisted. He had only been a soldier a
few months when the battle of Naseby, fatal to the royal cause, was
fought, June 14, 1645. Bristol was surrendered by Prince Rupert,
Sept. 10th. Three days later Montrose was totally defeated at
Philiphaugh; and after a vain attempt to relieve Chester, Charles
shut himself up in Oxford. The royal garrisons yielded in quick
succession; in 1646 the armies on both sides were disbanded, and
the first act in the great national tragedy having come to a close,
Bunyan returned to Elstow, and resumed his tinker's work at the
paternal forge. His father, old Thomas Bunyan, it may here be
mentioned, lived all through his famous son's twelve years'
imprisonment, witnessed his growing celebrity as a preacher and a
writer, and died in the early part of 1676, just when John Bunyan
was passing through his last brief period of durance, which was to
give birth to the work which has made him immortal.
It cannot have been more than two or three years after Bunyan's
return home from his short experience of a soldier's life, that he
took the step which, more than any other, influences a man's future
career for good or for evil. The young tinker married. With his
characteristic disregard of all facts or dates but such as concern
his spiritual history, Bunyan tells us nothing about the orphan
girl he made his wife. Where he found her, who her parents were,
where they were married, even her christian name, were all deemed
so many irrelevant details. Indeed the fact of his marriage would
probably have been passed over altogether but for the important
bearing it hid on his inner life. His "mercy," as he calls it,
"was to light upon a wife whose father was counted godly," and who,
though she brought him no marriage portion, so that they "came
together as poor as poor might be," as "poor as howlets," to adopt
his own simile, "without so much household stuff as a dish or a
spoon betwixt" them, yet brought with her to the Elstow cottage two
religious books, which had belonged to her father, and which he
"had left her when he died." These books were "The Plain Man's
Pathway to Heaven," the work of Arthur Dent, the puritan incumbent
of Shoebury, in Essex - "wearisomely heavy and theologically
narrow," writes Dr. Brown - and "The Practise of Piety," by Dr.
Lewis Bayley, Bishop of Bangor, and previously chaplain to Prince
Henry, which enjoyed a wide reputation with puritans as well as
with churchmen. Together with these books, the young wife brought
the still more powerful influence of a religious training, and the
memory of a holy example, often telling her young graceless husband
"what a godly man her father was, and how he would reprove and
correct vice both in his house and amongst his neighbours, and what
a strict and holy life he lived in his days both in word and deed."
Much as Bunyan tells us he had lost of the "little he had learnt"
at school, he had not lost it "utterly." He was still able to read
intelligently. His wife's gentle influence prevailed on him to
begin "sometimes to read" her father's legacy "with her." This
must have been entirely new reading for Bunyan, and certainly at
first not much to his taste. What his favourite reading had been
up to this time, his own nervous words tell us, "Give me a ballad,
a news-book, George on Horseback, or Bevis of Southampton; give me
some book that teaches curious arts, that tells of old fables."
But as he and his young wife read these books together at their
fireside, a higher taste was gradually awakened in Bunyan's mind;
"some things" in them he "found somewhat pleasing" to him, and they
"begot" within him "some desires to religion," producing a degree
of outward reformation. The spiritual instinct was aroused. He
would be a godly man like his wife's father. He began to "go to
church twice a day, and that too with the foremost." Nor was it a
mere formal attendance, for when there he tells us he took his part
with all outward devotion in the service, "both singing and saying
as others did; yet," as he penitently confesses, "retaining his
wicked life," the wickedness of which, however, did not amount to
more than a liking for the sports and games of the lads of the
village, bell-ringing, dancing, and the like. The prohibition of
all liturgical forms issued in 1645, the observance of which varied
with the strictness or laxity of the local authorities, would not
seem to have been put in force very rigidly at Elstow. The vicar,
Christopher Hall, was an Episcopalian, who, like Bishop Sanderson,
retained his benefice unchallenged all through the Protectorate,
and held it some years after the Restoration and the passing of the
Act of Uniformity. He seems, like Sanderson, to have kept himself
within the letter of the law by making trifling variations in the
Prayer Book formularies, consistent with a general conformity to
the old order of the Church, "without persisting to his own
destruction in the usage of the entire liturgy." The decent
dignity of the ceremonial of his parish church had a powerful
effect on Bunyan's freshly awakened religious susceptibility - a
"spirit of superstition" he called it afterwards - and helped to
its fuller development. "I adored," he says, "with great devotion,
even all things, both the High Place" - altars then had not been
entirely broken down and levelled in Bedfordshire - "Priest, Clerk,
Vestment, Service, 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
because they were the servants of God and were principal in the
Holy Temple, to do His work therein, . . . their name, their garb,
and work, did so intoxicate and bewitch me." If it is questionable
whether the Act forbidding the use of the Book of Common Prayer was
strictly observed at Elstow, it is certain that the prohibition of
Sunday sports was not. Bunyan's narrative shows that the aspect of
a village green in Bedfordshire during the Protectorate did not
differ much from what Baxter tells us it had been in Shropshire
before the civil troubles began, where, "after the Common Prayer
had been read briefly, the rest of the day even till dark night
almost, except eating time, was spent in dancing under a maypole
and a great tree, when all the town did meet together." These
Sunday sports proved the battle-ground of Bunyan's spiritual
experience, the scene of the fierce inward struggles which he has
described so vividly, through which he ultimately reached the firm
ground of solid peace and hope. As a high-spirited healthy
athletic young fellow, all kinds of manly sports were Bunyan's
delight. On week days his tinker's business, which he evidently
pursued industriously, left him small leisure for such amusements.
Sunday therefore was the day on which he "did especially solace
himself" with them. He had yet to learn the identification of
diversions with "all manner of vice." The teaching came in this
way. One Sunday, Vicar Hall preached a sermon on the sin of
Sabbath-breaking, and like many hearers before and since, he
imagined that it was aimed expressly at him. Sermon ended, he went
home "with a great burden upon his spirit," "sermon-stricken" and
"sermon sick" as he expresses it elsewhere. But his Sunday's
dinner speedily drove away his self-condemning thoughts. He "shook
the sermon out of his mind," and went out to his sports with the
Elstow lads on the village green, with as "great delight" as ever.
But in the midst of his game of tip-cat or "sly," just as he had
struck the "cat" from its hole, and was going to give it a second
blow - the minuteness of the detail shows the unforgetable reality
of the crisis - he seemed to hear a voice from heaven asking him
whether "he would leave his sins and go to heaven, or keep his sins
and go to hell." He thought also that he saw Jesus Christ looking
down on him with threatening countenance. But like his own Hopeful
he "shut his eyes against the light," and silenced the condemning
voice with the feeling that repentance was hopeless. "It was too
late for him to look after heaven; he was past pardon." If his
condemnation was already sealed and he was eternally lost, it would
not matter whether he was condemned for many sins or for few.
Heaven was gone already. The only happiness he could look for was
what he could get out of his sins - his morbidly sensitive
conscience perversely identifying sports with sin - so he returned
desperately to his games, resolved, he says, to "take my fill of
sin, still studying what sin was yet to be committed that I might
taste the sweetness of it."
This desperate recklessness lasted with him "about a month or
more," till "one day as he was standing at a neighbour's shopwindow,
cursing and swearing and playing the madman after his
wonted manner, the woman of the house, though a very loose and
ungodly wretch," rebuked him so severely as "the ungodliest fellow
for swearing that ever she heard, able to spoil all the youth in a
whole town," that, self-convicted, he hung down his head in silent
shame, wishing himself a little child again that he might unlearn
the wicked habit of which he thought it impossible to break
himself. Hopeless as the effort seemed to him, it proved
effectual. He did "leave off his swearing" to his own "great
wonder," and found that he "could speak better and with more
pleasantness" than when he "put an oath before and another behind,
to give his words authority." Thus was one step in his reformation
taken, and never retraced; but, he adds sorrowfully, "all this
while I knew not Jesus Christ, neither did I leave my sports and
plays." We might be inclined to ask, why should he leave them?
But indifferent and innocent in themselves, an overstrained
spirituality had taught him to regard them as sinful. To indulge
in them wounded his morbidly sensitive conscience, and so they were
sin to him.
The next step onward in this religious progress was the study of
the Bible, to which he was led by the conversation of a poor godly
neighbour. Naturally he first betook himself to the historical
books, which, he tells us, he read "with great pleasure;" but, like
Baxter who, beginning his Bible reading in the same course, writes,
"I neither understood nor relished much the doctrinal part," he
frankly confesses, "Paul's Epistles and such like Scriptures I
could not away with." His Bible reading helped forward the outward
reformation he had begun. He set the keeping the Ten Commandments
before him as his "way to Heaven"; much comforted "sometimes" when,
as he thought, "he kept them pretty well," but humbled in
conscience when "now and then he broke one." "But then," he says,
"I should repent and say I was sorry for it, and promise God to do
better next time, and then get help again; for then I thought I
pleased God as well as any man in England." His progress was slow,
for each step involved a battle, but it was steadily onwards. He
had a very hard struggle in relinquishing his favourite amusements.
But though he had much yet to learn, his feet were set on the
upward way, and he had no mind to go back, great as the temptation
often was. He had once delighted in bell-ringing, but "his
conscience beginning to be tender" - morbid we should rather say -
"he thought such practise to be vain, and therefore forced himself
to leave it." But "hankering after it still," he continued to go
while his old companions rang, and look on at what he "durst not"
join in, until the fear that if he thus winked at what his
conscience condemned, a bell, or even the tower itself, might fall
and kill him, put a stop even to that compromise. Dancing, which
from his boyhood he had practised on the village green, or in the
old Moot Hall, was still harder to give up. "It was a full year
before I could quite leave that." But this too was at last
renounced, and finally. The power of Bunyan's indomitable will was
bracing itself for severe trials yet to come.
Meanwhile Bunyan's neighbours regarded with amazement the changed
life of the profane young tinker. "And truly," he honestly
confesses, "so they well might for this my conversion was as great
as for Tom of Bedlam to become a sober man." Bunyan's reformation
was soon the town's talk; he had "become godly," "become a right
honest man." These commendations flattered is vanity, and he laid
himself out for them. He was then but a "poor painted hypocrite,"
he says, "proud of his godliness, and doing all he did either to be
seen of, or well spoken of by man." This state of selfsatisfaction,
he tells us, lasted "for about a twelvemonth or
more." During this deceitful calm he says, "I had great peace of
conscience, and should think with myself, 'God cannot choose but
now be pleased with me,' yea, to relate it in mine own way, I
thought no man in England could please God better than I." But no
outward reformation can bring lasting inward peace. When a man is
honest with himself, the more earnestly he struggles after complete
obedience, the more faulty does his obedience appear. The good
opinion of others will not silence his own inward condemnation. He
needs a higher righteousness than his own; a firmer standing-ground
than the shifting quicksand of his own good deeds. "All this
while," he writes, "poor wretch as I was, I was 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 state by
This revolution was nearer than he imagined. Bunyan's selfsatisfaction
was rudely shaken, and his need of something deeper in
the way of religion than he had yet experienced was shown him by
the conversation of three or four poor women whom, one day, when
pursuing his tinker's calling at Bedford, he came upon "sitting at
a door in the sun, and talking of the things of God." These women
were members of the congregation of "the holy Mr. John Gifford,"
who, at that time of ecclesiastical confusion, subsequently became
rector of St. John's Church, in Bedford, and master of the hospital
attached to it. Gifford's career had been a strange one. We hear
of him first as a young major in the king's army at the outset of
the Civil War, notorious for his loose and debauched life, taken by
Fairfax at Maidstone in 1648, and condemned to the gallows. By his
sister's help he eluded his keepers' vigilance, escaped from
prison, and ultimately found his way to Bedford, where for a time
he practised as a physician, though without any change of his loose
habits. The loss of a large sum of money at gaming awoke a disgust
at his dissolute life. A few sentences of a pious book deepened
the impression. He became a converted man, and joined himself to a
handful of earnest Christians in Bedford, who becoming, in the
language of the day, "a church," he was appointed its first
minister. Gifford exercised a deep and vital though narrow
influence, leaving behind him at his death, in 1655, the character
of a "wise, tolerant, and truly Christian man." The conversation
of the poor women who were destined to exercise so momentous an
influence on Bunyan's spiritual life, evidenced how thoroughly they
had drunk in their pastor's teaching. Bunyan himself was at this
time a "brisk talker in the matters of religion," such as he drew
from the life in his own Talkative. But the words of these poor
women were entirely beyond him. They opened a new and blessed land
to which he was a complete stranger. "They spoke of their own
wretchedness of heart, of their unbelief, of their miserable state
by nature, of the new birth, and the work of God in their souls,
and how the Lord refreshed them, and supported them against the
temptations of the Devil by His words and promises." But what
seems to have struck Bunyan the most forcibly was the happiness
which their religion shed in the hearts of these poor women.
Religion up to this time had been to him a system of rules and
restrictions. Heaven was to be won by doing certain things and not
doing certain other things. Of religion as a Divine life kindled
in the soul, and flooding it with a joy which creates a heaven on
earth, he had no conception. Joy in believing was a new thing to
him. "They spake as if joy did make them speak; they spake with
such pleasantness of Scripture language, and with such appearance
of grace in all they said, that they were to me as if they had
found a new world," a veritable "El Dorado," stored with the true
riches. Bunyan, as he says, after he had listened awhile and
wondered at their words, left them and went about his work again.
But their words went with him. He could not get rid of them. He
saw that though he thought himself a godly man, and his neighbours
thought so too, he wanted the true tokens of godliness. He was
convinced that godliness was the only true happiness, and he could
not rest till he had attained it. So he made it his business to be
going again and again into the company of these good women. He
could not stay away, and the more he talked with them the more
uneasy he became - "the more I questioned my own condition." The
salvation of his soul became all in all to him. His mind "lay
fixed on eternity like a horse-leech at the vein." The Bible
became precious to him. He read it with new eyes, "as I never did
before." "I was indeed then never out of the Bible, either by
reading or meditation." The Epistles of St. Paul, which before he
"could not away with," were now "sweet and pleasant" to him. He
was still "crying out to God that he might know the truth and the
way to Heaven and glory." Having no one to guide him in his study
of the most difficult of all books, it is no wonder that he
misinterpreted and misapplied its words in a manner which went far
to unsettle his brain. He read that without faith he could not be
saved, and though he did not clearly know what faith was, it became
a question of supreme anxiety to him to determine whether he had it
or not. If not, he was a castaway indeed, doomed to perish for
ever. So he determined to put it to the test. The Bible told him
that faith, "even as a grain of mustard seed," would enable its
possessor to work miracles. So, as Mr. Froude says, "not
understanding Oriental metaphors," he thought he had here a simple
test which would at once solve the question. One day as he was
walking along the miry road between Elstow and Bedford, which he
had so often paced as a schoolboy, "the temptation came hot upon
him" to put the matter to the proof, by saying to the puddles that
were in the horse-pads "be dry," and to the dry places, "be ye
puddles." He was just about to utter the words when a sudden
thought stopped him. Would it not be better just to go under the
hedge and pray that God would enable him? This pause saved him
from a rash venture, which might have landed him in despair. For
he concluded that if he tried after praying and nothing came of it,
it would prove that he had no faith, but was a castaway. "Nay,
thought I, if it be so, I will never try yet, but will stay a
little longer." "Then," he continues, "I was so tossed betwixt the
Devil and my own ignorance, and so perplexed, especially at
sometimes, that I could not tell what to do." At another time his
mind, as the minds of thousands have been and will be to the end,
was greatly harassed by the insoluble problems of predestination
and election. The question was not now whether he had faith, but
"whether he was one of the elect or not, and if not, what then?"
"He might as well leave off and strive no further." And then the
strange fancy occurred to him, that the good people at Bedford
whose acquaintance he had recently made, were all that God meant to
save in that part of the country, and that the day of grace was
past and gone for him; that he had overstood the time of mercy.
"Oh that he had turned sooner!" was then his cry. "Oh that he had
turned seven years before! What a fool he had been to trifle away
his time till his soul and heaven were lost!" The text, "compel
them to come in, and yet there is room," came to his rescue when he
was so harassed and faint that he was "scarce able to take one step
more." He found them "sweet words," for they showed him that there
was "place enough in heaven for him," and he verily believed that
when Christ spoke them He was thinking of him, and had them
recorded to help him to overcome the vile fear that there was no
place left for him in His bosom. But soon another fear succeeded
the former. Was he truly called of Christ? "He called to them
when He would, and they came to Him." But they could not come
unless He called them. Had He called him? Would He call him? If
He did how gladly would he run after Him. But oh, he feared that
He had no liking to him; that He would not call him. True
conversion was what he longed for. "Could it have been gotten for
gold," he said, "what could I have given for it! Had I a whole
world, it had all gone ten thousand times over for this, that my
soul might have been in a converted state." All those whom he
thought to be truly converted were now lovely in his eyes. "They
shone, they walked like people that carried the broad seal of
heaven about them. Oh that he were like them, and shared in their
goodly heritage!"
About this time Bunyan was greatly troubled, though at the same
time encouraged in his endeavours after the blessedness he longed
for so earnestly but could not yet attain to, by "a dream or
vision" which presented itself to him, whether in his waking or
sleeping hours he does not tell us. He fancied he saw his four
Bedford friends refreshing themselves on the sunny side of a high
mountain while he was shivering with dark and cold on the other
side, parted from them by a high wall with only one small gap in
it, and that not found but after long searching, and so strait and
narrow withal that it needed long and desperate efforts to force
his way through. At last he succeeded. "Then," he says, "I was
exceeding glad, and went and sat down in the midst of them, and so
was comforted with the light and heat of their sun."
But this sunshine shone but in illusion, and soon gave place to the
old sad questioning, which filled his soul with darkness. Was he
already called, or should he be called some day? He would give
worlds to know. Who could assure him? At last some words of the
prophet Joel (chap. iii, 21) encouraged him to hope that if not
converted already, the time might come when he should be converted
to Christ. Despair began to give way to hopefulness.
At this crisis Bunyan took the step which he would have been wise
if he had taken long before. He sought the sympathy and counsel of
others. He began to speak his mind to the poor people in Bedford
whose words of religious experiences had first revealed to him his
true condition. By them he was introduced to their pastor, "the
godly Mr. Gifford," who invited him to his house and gave him
spiritual counsel. He began to attend the meetings of his
The teaching he received here was but ill-suited for one of
Bunyan's morbid sensitiveness. For it was based upon a constant
introspection and a scrupulous weighing of each word and action,
with a torturing suspicion of its motive, which made a man's evervarying
spiritual feelings the standard of his state before God,
instead of leading him off from self to the Saviour. It is not,
therefore, at all surprising that a considerable period intervened
before, in the language of his school, "he found peace." This
period, which seems to have embraced two or three years, was marked
by that tremendous inward struggle which he has described, "as with
a pen of fire," in that marvellous piece of religious
autobiography, without a counterpart except in "The Confessions of
St. Augustine," his "Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners."
Bunyan's first experiences after his introduction to Mr. Gifford
and the inner circle of his disciples were most discouraging. What
he heard of God's dealings with their souls showed him something of
"the vanity and inward wretchedness of his wicked heart," and at
the same time roused all its hostility to God's will. "It did work
at that rate for wickedness as it never did before." "The
Canaanites WOULD dwell in the land." "His heart hankered after
every foolish vanity, and hung back both to and in every duty, as a
clog on the leg of a bird to hinder her from flying." He thought
that he was growing "worse and worse," and was "further from
conversion than ever before." Though he longed to let Christ into
his heart, "his unbelief would, as it were, set its shoulder to the
door to keep Him out."
Yet all the while he was tormented with the most perverse
scrupulosity of conscience. "As to the act of sinning, I never was
more tender than now; I durst not take a pin or a stick, though but
so big as a straw, for my conscience now was sore, and would smart
at every twist. I could not now tell how to speak my words, for
fear I should misplace them. Oh! how gingerly did I then go in all
I did or said: I found myself in a miry bog, that shook if I did
but stir, and was as those left both of God, and Christ, and the
Spirit, and all good things." All the misdoings of his earlier
years rose up against him. There they were, and he could not rid
himself of them. He thought that no one could be so bad as he was;
"not even the Devil could be his equal: he was more loathsome in
his own eyes than a toad." What then must God think of him?
Despair seized fast hold of him. He thought he was "forsaken of
God and given up to the Devil, and to a reprobate mind." Nor was
this a transient fit of despondency. "Thus," he writes, "I
continued a long while, even for some years together."
This is not the place minutely to pursue Bunyan's religious history
through the sudden alternations of hopes and fears, the fierce
temptations, the torturing illusions, the strange perversions of
isolated scraps of Bible language - texts torn from their context -
the harassing doubts as to the truth of Christianity, the depths of
despair and the elevations of joy, which he has portrayed with his
own inimitable graphic power. It is a picture of fearful
fascination that he draws. "A great storm" at one time comes down
upon him, "piece by piece," which "handled him twenty times worse
than all he had met with before," while "floods of blasphemies were
poured upon his spirit," and would "bolt out of his heart." He
felt himself driven to commit the unpardonable sin and blaspheme
the Holy Ghost, "whether he would or no." "No sin would serve but
that." He was ready to "clap his hand under his chin," to keep his
mouth shut, or to leap head-foremost "into some muckhill-hole," to
prevent his uttering the fatal words. At last he persuaded himself
that he had committed the sin, and a good but not overwise man, "an
ancient Christian," whom he consulted on his sad case, told him he
thought so too, "which was but cold comfort." He thought himself
possessed by the devil, and compared himself to a child "carried
off under her apron by a gipsy." "Kick sometimes I did, and also
shriek and cry, but yet I was as bound in the wings of the
temptation, and the wind would carry me away." He wished himself
"a dog or a toad," for they "had no soul to be lost as his was like
to be;" and again a hopeless callousness seemed to settle upon him.
"If I would have given a thousand pounds for a tear I could not
shed one; no, nor sometimes scarce desire to shed one." And yet he
was all the while bewailing this hardness of heart, in which he
thought himself singular. "This much sunk me. I thought my
condition was alone; but how to get out of, or get rid of, these
things I could not." Again the very ground of his faith was
shaken. "Was the Bible true, or was it not rather a fable and
cunning story?" All thought "their own religion true. Might not
the Turks have as good Scriptures to prove their Mahomet Saviour as
Christians had for Christ? What if all we believed in should be
but 'a think-so' too?" So powerful and so real were his illusions
that he had hard work to keep himself from praying to things about
him, to "a bush, a bull, a besom, or the like," or even to Satan
himself. He heard voices behind him crying out that Satan desired
to have him, and that "so loud and plain that he would turn his
head to see who was calling him;" when on his knees in prayer he
fancied he felt the foul fiend pull his clothes from behind,
bidding him "break off, make haste; you have prayed enough."
This "horror of great darkness" was not always upon him. Bunyan
had his intervals of "sunshine-weather" when Giant Despair's fits
came on him, and the giant "lost the use of his hand." Texts of
Scripture would give him a "sweet glance," and flood his soul with
comfort. But these intervals of happiness were but short-lived.
They were but "hints, touches, and short visits," sweet when
present, but "like Peter's sheet, suddenly caught up again into
heaven." But, though transient, they helped the burdened Pilgrim
onward. So vivid was the impression sometimes made, that years
after he could specify the place where these beams of sunlight fell
on him - "sitting in a neighbour's house," - "travelling into the
country," - as he was "going home from sermon." And the joy was
real while it lasted. The words of the preacher's text, "Behold,
thou art fair, my love," kindling his spirit, he felt his "heart
filled with comfort and hope." "Now I could believe that my sins
would be forgiven." He was almost beside himself with ecstasy. "I
was now so taken with the love and mercy of God that I thought I
could have spoken of it even to the very crows that sat upon the
ploughed lands before me, had they been capable to have understood
me." "Surely," he cried with gladness, "I will not forget this
forty years hence." "But, alas! within less than forty days I
began to question all again." It was the Valley of the Shadow of
Death which Bunyan, like his own Pilgrim, was travelling through.
But, as in his allegory, "by and by the day broke," and "the Lord
did more fully and graciously discover Himself unto him." "One
day," he writes, "as I was musing on the wickedness and blasphemy
of my heart, that scripture came into my mind, 'He hath made peace
by the Blood of His Cross.' By which I was made to see, both again
and again and again that day, that God and my soul were friends by
this blood: Yea, I saw the justice of God and my sinful soul could
embrace and kiss each other. This was a good day to me. I hope I
shall not forget it." At another time the "glory and joy" of a
passage in the Hebrews (ii. 14-15) were "so weighty" that "I was
once or twice ready to swoon as I sat, not with grief and trouble,
but with solid joy and peace." "But, oh! now how was my soul led
on from truth to truth by God; now had I evidence of my salvation
from heaven, with many golden seals thereon all banging in my
sight, and I would long that the last day were come, or that I were
fourscore years old, that I might die quickly that my soul might be
at rest."
At this time he fell in with an old tattered copy of Luther's
"Commentary on the Galatians," "so old that it was ready to fall
piece from piece if I did but turn it over." As he read, to his
amazement and thankfulness, he found his own spiritual experience
described. "It was as if his book had been written out of my
heart." It greatly comforted him to find that his condition was
not, as he had thought, solitary, but that others had known the
same inward struggles. "Of all the books that ever he had seen,"
he deemed it "most fit for a wounded conscience." This book was
also the means of awakening an intense love for the Saviour. "Now
I found, as I thought, that I loved Christ dearly. Oh, methought
my soul cleaved unto Him, my affections cleaved unto Him; I felt
love to Him as hot as fire."
And very quickly, as he tells us, his "love was tried to some
purpose." He became the victim of an extraordinary temptation - "a
freak of fancy," Mr. Froude terms it - "fancy resenting the
minuteness with which he watched his own emotions." He had "found
Christ" and felt Him "most precious to his soul." He was now
tempted to give Him up, "to sell and part with this most blessed
Christ, to exchange Him for the things of this life; for anything."
Nor was this a mere passing, intermittent delusion. "It lay upon
me for the space of a year, and did follow me so continually that I
was not rid of it one day in a month, no, not sometimes one hour in
many days together, except when I was asleep." Wherever he was,
whatever he was doing day and night, in bed, at table, at work, a
voice kept sounding in his ears, bidding him "sell Christ" for this
or that. He could neither "eat his food, stoop for a pin, chop a
stick, or cast his eyes on anything" but the hateful words were
heard, "not once only, but a hundred times over, as fast as a man
could speak, 'sell Him, sell Him, sell Him,' and, like his own
Christian in the dark valley, he could not determine whether they
were suggestions of the Wicked One, or came from his own heart.
The agony was so intense, while, for hours together, he struggled
with the temptation, that his whole body was convulsed by it. It
was no metaphorical, but an actual, wrestling with a tangible
enemy. He "pushed and thrust with his hands and elbows," and kept
still answering, as fast as the destroyer said "sell Him," "No, I
will not, I will not, I will not! not for thousands, thousands,
thousands of worlds!" at least twenty times together. But the
fatal moment at last came, and the weakened will yielded, against
itself. One morning as he lay in his bed, the voice came again
with redoubled force, and would not be silenced. He fought against
it as long as he could, "even until I was almost out of breath,"
when "without any conscious action of his will" the suicidal words
shaped themselves in his heart, "Let Him go if He will."
Now all was over. He had spoken the words and they could not be
recalled. Satan had "won the battle," and "as a bird that is shot
from the top of a tree, down fell he into great guilt and fearful
despair." He left his bed, dressed, and went "moping into the
field," where for the next two hours he was "like a man bereft of
life, and as one past all recovery and bound to eternal
punishment." The most terrible examples in the Bible came trooping
before him. He had sold his birthright like Esau. He a betrayed
his Master like Judas - "I was ashamed that I should be like such
an ugly man as Judas." There was no longer any place for
repentance. He was past all recovery; shut up unto the judgment to
come. He dared hardly pray. When he tried to do so, he was "as
with a tempest driven away from God," while something within said,
"'Tis too late; I am lost; God hath let me fall." The texts which
once had comforted him gave him no comfort now; or, if they did, it
was but for a brief space. "About ten or eleven o'clock one day,
as I was walking under a hedge and bemoaning myself for this hard
hap that such a thought should arise within me, suddenly this
sentence bolted upon me, 'The blood of Christ cleanseth from all
sin,'" and gave me "good encouragement." But in two or three hours
all was gone. The terrible words concerning Esau's selling his
birthright took possession of his mind, and "held him down." This
"stuck with him." Though he "sought it carefully with tears,"
there was no restoration for him. His agony received a terrible
aggravation from a highly coloured narrative of the terrible death
of Francis Spira, an Italian lawyer of the middle of the sixteenth
century, who, having embraced the Protestant religion, was induced
by worldly motives to return to the Roman Catholic Church, and died
full of remorse and despair, from which Bunyan afterwards drew the
awful picture of "the man in the Iron Cage" at "the Interpreter's
house." The reading of this book was to his "troubled spirit" as
"salt when rubbed into a fresh wound," "as knives and daggers in
his soul." We cannot wonder that his health began to give way
under so protracted a struggle. His naturally sturdy frame was
"shaken by a continual trembling." He would "wind and twine and
shrink under his burden," the weight of which so crushed him that
he "could neither stand, nor go, nor lie, either at rest or quiet."
His digestion became disordered, and a pain, "as if his breastbone
would have split asunder," made him fear that as he had been guilty
of Judas' sin, so he was to perish by Judas' end, and "burst
asunder in the midst." In the trembling of his limbs he saw Cain's
mark set upon him; God had marked him out for his curse. No one
was ever so bad as he. No one had ever sinned so flagrantly. When
he compared his sins with those of David and Solomon and Manasseh
and others which had been pardoned, he found his sin so much
exceeded theirs that he could have no hope of pardon. Theirs, "it
was true, were great sins; sins of a bloody colour. But none of
them were of the nature of his. He had sold his Saviour. His sin
was point blank against Christ." "Oh, methought this sin was
bigger than the sins of a country, of a kingdom, or of the whole
world; not all of them together was able to equal mine; mine
outwent them every one."
It would be wearisome to follow Bunyan through all the mazes of his
self-torturing illusions. Fierce as the storm was, and long in its
duration - for it was more than two years before the storm became a
calm - the waves, though he knew it not, in their fierce tossings
which threatened to drive his soul like a broken vessel headlong on
the rocks of despair, were bearing him nearer and nearer to the
"haven where he would be." His vivid imagination, as we have seen,
surrounded him with audible voices. He had heard, as he thought,
the tempter bidding him "Sell Christ;" now he thought he heard God
"with a great voice, as it were, over his shoulder behind him,"
saying, "Return unto Me, for I have redeemed thee;" and though he
felt that the voice mocked him, for he could not return, there was
"no place of repentance" for him, and fled from it, it still
pursued him, "holloaing after him, 'Return, return!'" And return
he did, but not all at once, or without many a fresh struggle.
With his usual graphic power he describes the zigzag path by which
he made his way. His hot and cold fits alternated with fearful
suddenness. "As Esau beat him down, Christ raised him up." "His
life hung in doubt, not knowing which way he should tip." More
sensible evidence came. "One day," he tells us, "as I walked to
and fro in a good man's shop" - we can hardly be wrong in placing
it in Bedford - "bemoaning myself for this hard hap of mine, for
that I should commit so great a sin, greatly fearing that I should
not be pardoned, and ready to sink with fear, suddenly there was as
if there had rushed in at the window the noise of wind upon me, but
very pleasant, and I heard a voice speaking, 'Did'st ever refuse to
be justified by the Blood of Christ?'" Whether the voice were
supernatural or not, he was not, "in twenty years' time," able to
determine. At the time he thought it was. It was "as if an angel
had come upon me." "It commanded a great calm upon me. It
persuaded me there might be hope." But this persuasion soon
vanished. "In three or four days I began to despair again." He
found it harder than ever to pray. The devil urged that God was
weary of him; had been weary for years past; that he wanted to get
rid of him and his "bawlings in his ears," and therefore He had let
him commit this particular sin that he might be cut off altogether.
For such an one to pray was but to add sin to sin. There was no
hope for him. Christ might indeed pity him and wish to help him;
but He could not, for this sin was unpardonable. He had said "let
Him go if He will," and He had taken him at his word. "Then," he
says, "I was always sinking whatever I did think or do." Years
afterwards he remembered how, "in this time of hopelessness, having
walked one day, to a neighbouring town, wearied out with his
misery, he sat down on a settle in the street to ponder over his
fearful state. As he looked up, everything he saw seemed banded
together for the destruction of so vile a sinner. The "sun grudged
him its light, the very stones in the streets and the tiles on the
house-roofs seemed to bend themselves against him." He burst forth
with a grievous sigh, "How can God comfort such a wretch as I?"
Comfort was nearer than he imagined. "No sooner had I said it, but
this returned to me, as an echo doth answer a voice, 'This sin is
not unto death.'" This breathed fresh life into his soul. He was
"as if he had been raised out of a grave." "It was a release to me
from my former bonds, a shelter from my former storm." But though
the storm was allayed it was by no means over. He had to struggle
hard to maintain his ground. "Oh, how did Satan now lay about him
for to bring me down again. But he could by no means do it, for
this sentence stood like a millpost at my back." But after two
days the old despairing thoughts returned, "nor could his faith
retain the word." A few hours, however, saw the return of his
hopes. As he was on his knees before going to bed, "seeking the
Lord with strong cries," a voice echoed his prayer, "I have loved
Thee with an everlasting love." "Now I went to bed at quiet, and
when I awaked the next morning it was fresh upon my soul and I
believed it."
These voices from heaven - whether real or not he could not tell,
nor did he much care, for they were real to him - were continually
sounding in his ears to help him out of the fresh crises of his
spiritual disorder. At one time "O man, great is thy faith,"
"fastened on his heart as if one had clapped him on the back." At
another, "He is able," spoke suddenly and loudly within his heart;
at another, that "piece of a sentence," "My grace is sufficient,"
darted in upon him "three times together," and he was "as though he
had seen the Lord Jesus look down through the tiles upon him," and
was sent mourning but rejoicing home. But it was still with him
like an April sky. At one time bright sunshine, at another
lowering clouds. The terrible words about Esau "returned on him as
before," and plunged him in darkness, and then again some good
words, "as it seemed writ in great letters," brought back the light
of day. But the sunshine began to last longer than before, and the
clouds were less heavy. The "visage" of the threatening texts was
changed; "they looked not on him so grimly as before;" "that about
Esau's birthright began to wax weak and withdraw and vanish." "Now
remained only the hinder part of the tempest. The thunder was
gone; only a few drops fell on him now and then."
The long-expected deliverance was at hand. As he was walking in
the fields, still with some fears in his heart, the sentence fell
upon his soul, "Thy righteousness is in heaven." He looked up and
"saw with the eyes of his soul our Saviour at God's right hand."
"There, I say, was my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or
whatever I was a-doing, God could not say of me, 'He wants my
righteousness,' for that was just before Him. Now did the chains
fall off from my legs. I was loosed from my affliction and irons.
My temptations also fled away, so that from that time those
dreadful Scriptures left off to trouble me. Oh methought Christ,
Christ, there was nothing but Christ that was before mine eyes. I
could look from myself to Him, and should reckon that all those
graces of God that now were green upon me, were yet but like those
crack-groats, and fourpence-halfpennies that rich men carry in
their purses, while their gold is in their trunks at home. Oh, I
saw my gold was in my trunk at home. In Christ my Lord and
Saviour. Further the Lord did lead me into the mystery of union
with the Son of God. His righteousness was mine, His merits mine,
His victory also mine. Now I could see myself in heaven and earth
at once; in heaven by my Christ, by my Head, by my Righteousness
and Life, though on earth by my body or person. These blessed
considerations were made to spangle in mine eyes. Christ was my
all; all my Wisdom, all my Righteousness, all my Sanctification,
and all my Redemption."
The Pilgrim, having now floundered through the Slough of Despond,
passed through the Wicket Gate, climbed the Hill Difficulty, and
got safe by the Lions, entered the Palace Beautiful, and was "had
in to the family." In plain words, Bunyan united himself to the
little Christian brotherhood at Bedford, of which the former looseliving
royalist major, Mr. Gifford, was the pastor, and was
formally admitted into their society. In Gifford we recognize the
prototype of the Evangelist of "The Pilgrim's Progress," while the
Prudence, Piety, and Charity of Bunyan's immortal narrative had
their human representatives in devout female members of the
congregation, known in their little Bedford world as Sister
Bosworth, Sister Munnes, and Sister Fenne, three of the poor women
whose pleasant words on the things of God, as they sat at a doorway
in the sun, "as if joy did make them speak," had first opened
Bunyan's eyes to his spiritual ignorance. He was received into the
church by baptism, which, according to his earliest biographer,
Charles Doe "the Struggler," was performed publicly by Mr. Gifford,
in the river Ouse, the "Bedford river" into which Bunyan tells us
he once fell out of a boat, and barely escaped drowning. This was
about the year 1653. The exact date is uncertain. Bunyan never
mentions his baptism himself, and the church books of Gifford's
congregation do not commence till May, 1656, the year after
Gifford's death. He was also admitted to the Holy Communion, which
for want, as he deemed, of due reverence in his first approach to
it, became the occasion of a temporary revival of his old
temptations. While actually at the Lord's Table he was "forced to
bend himself to pray" to be kept from uttering blasphemies against
the ordinance itself, and cursing his fellow communicants. For
three-quarters of a year he could "never have rest or ease" from
this shocking perversity. The constant strain of beating off this
persistent temptation seriously affected his health. "Captain
Consumption," who carried off his own "Mr. Badman," threatened his
life. But his naturally robust constitution "routed his forces,"
and brought him through what at one time he anticipated would prove
a fatal illness. Again and again, during his period of
indisposition, the Tempter took advantage of his bodily weakness to
ply him with his former despairing questionings as to his spiritual
state. That seemed as bad as bad could be. "Live he must not; die
he dare not." He was repeatedly near giving up all for lost. But
a few words of Scripture brought to his mind would revive his
drooping spirits, with a natural reaction on his physical health,
and he became "well both in body and mind at once." "My sickness
did presently vanish, and I walked comfortably in my work for God
again." At another time, after three or four days of deep
dejection, some words from the Epistle to the Hebrews "came bolting
in upon him," and sealed his sense of acceptance with an assurance
he never afterwards entirely lost. "Then with joy I told my wife,
'Now I know, I know.' That night was a good night to me; I never
had but few better. I could scarce lie in my bed for joy and peace
and triumph through Christ."
During this time Bunyan, though a member of the Bedford
congregation, continued to reside at Elstow, in the little thatched
wayside tenement, with its lean-to forge at one end, already
mentioned, which is still pointed out as "Bunyan's Cottage." There
his two children, Mary, his passionately loved blind daughter, and
Elizabeth were born; the one in 1650, and the other in 1654. It
was probably in the next year, 1655, that he finally quitted his
native village and took up his residence in Bedford, and became a
deacon of the congregation. About this time also he must have lost
the wife to whom he owed so much. Bunyan does not mention the
event, and our only knowledge of it is from the conversation of his
second wife, Elizabeth, with Sir Matthew Hale. He sustained also
an even greater loss in the death of his friend and comrade, Mr.
Gifford, who died in September, 1655. The latter was succeeded by
a young man named John Burton, of very delicate health, who was
taken by death from his congregation, by whom he was much beloved,
in September, 1660, four months after the restoration of the
Monarchy and the Church. Burton thoroughly appreciated Bunyan's
gifts, and stood sponsor for him on the publication of his first
printed work. This was a momentous year for Bunyan, for in it Dr.
Brown has shown, by a "comparison of dates," that we may probably
place the beginning of Bunyan's ministerial life. Bunyan was now
in his twenty-seventh year, in the prime of his manly vigour, with
a vivid imagination, ready speech, minute textual knowledge of the
Bible, and an experience of temptation and the wiles of the evil
one, such as few Christians of double his years have ever reached.
"His gifts could not long be hid." The beginnings of that which
was to prove the great work of his life were slender enough. As
Mr. Froude says, "he was modest, humble, shrinking." The members
of his congregation, recognizing that he had "the gift of
utterance" asked him to speak "a word of exhortation" to them. The
request scared him. The most truly gifted are usually the least
conscious of their gifts. At first it did much "dash and abash his
spirit." But after earnest entreaty he gave way, and made one or
two trials of his gift in private meetings, "though with much
weakness and infirmity." The result proved the correctness of his
brethren's estimate. The young tinker showed himself no common
preacher. His words came home with power to the souls of his
hearers, who "protested solemnly, as in the sight of God, that they
were both affected and comforted by them, and gave thanks to the
Father of mercies for the grace bestowed on him." After this, as
the brethren went out on their itinerating rounds to the villages
about, they began to ask Bunyan to accompany them, and though he
"durst not make use of his gift in an open way," he would
sometimes, "yet more privately still, speak a word of admonition,
with which his hearers professed their souls edified." That he had
a real Divine call to the ministry became increasingly evident,
both to himself and to others. His engagements of this kind
multiplied. An entry in the Church book records "that Brother
Bunyan being taken off by the preaching of the gospel" from his
duties as deacon, another member was appointed in his room. His
appointment to the ministry was not long delayed. After "some
solemn prayer with fasting," he was "called forth and appointed a
preacher of the word," not, however, so much for the Bedford
congregation as for the neighbouring villages. He did not however,
like some, neglect his business, or forget to "show piety at home."
He still continued his craft as a tinker, and that with industry
and success. "God," writes an early biographer, "had increased his
stores so that he lived in great credit among his neighbours." He
speedily became famous as a preacher. People "came in by hundreds
to hear the word, and that from all parts, though upon sundry and
divers accounts," - "some," as Southey writes, "to marvel, and some
perhaps to mock." Curiosity to hear the once profane tinker preach
was not one of the least prevalent motives. But his word proved a
word of power to many. Those "who came to scoff remained to pray."
"I had not preached long," he says, "before some began to be
touched and to be greatly afflicted in their minds." His success
humbled and amazed him, as it must every true man who compares the
work with the worker. "At first," he says, "I could not believe
that God should speak by me to the heart of any man, still counting
myself unworthy; and though I did put it from me that they should
be awakened by me, still they would confess it and affirm it before
the saints of God. They would also bless God for me - unworthy
wretch that I am - and count me God's instrument that showed to
them the way of salvation." He preached wherever he found
opportunity, in woods, in barns, on village greens, or even in
churches. But he liked best to preach "in the darkest places of
the country, where people were the furthest off from profession,"
where he could give the fullest scope to "the awakening and
converting power" he possessed. His success as a preacher might
have tempted him to vanity. But the conviction that he was but an
instrument in the hand of a higher power kept it down. He saw that
if he had gifts and wanted grace he was but as a "tinkling cymbal."
"What, thought I, shall I be proud because I am a sounding brass?
Is it so much to be a fiddle?" This thought was, "as it were, a
maul on the head of the pride and vainglory" which he found "easily
blown up at the applause and commendation of every unadvised
christian." His experiences, like those of every public speaker,
especially the most eloquent, were very varied, even in the course
of the same sermon. Sometimes, he tells us, he would begin "with
much clearness, evidence, and liberty of speech," but, before he
had done, he found himself "so straitened in his speech before the
people," that he "scarce knew or remembered what he had been
about," and felt "as if his head had been in a bag all the time of
the exercise." He feared that he would not be able to "speak sense
to the hearers," or he would be "seized with such faintness and
strengthlessness that his legs were hardly able to carry him to his
place of preaching." Old temptations too came back. Blasphemous
thoughts formed themselves into words, which he had hard work to
keep himself from uttering from the pulpit. Or the tempter tried
to silence him by telling him that what he was going to say would
condemn himself, and he would go "full of guilt and terror even to
the pulpit door." "'What,' the devil would say, 'will you preach
this? Of this your own soul is guilty. Preach not of it at all,
or if you do, yet so mince it as to make way for your own escape.'"
All, however, was in vain. Necessity was laid upon him. "Woe," he
cried, "is me, if I preach not the gospel." His heart was "so
wrapped up in the glory of this excellent work, that he counted
himself more blessed and honoured of God than if he had made him
emperor of the Christian world." Bunyan was no preacher of vague
generalities. He knew that sermons miss their mark if they hit no
one. Self-application is their object. "Wherefore," he says, "I
laboured so to speak the word, as that the sin and person guilty
might be particularized by it." And what he preached he knew and
felt to be true. It was not what he read in books, but what he had
himself experienced. Like Dante he had been in hell himself, and
could speak as one who knew its terrors, and could tell also of the
blessedness of deliverance by the person and work of Christ. And
this consciousness gave him confidence and courage in declaring his
message. It was "as if an angel of God had stood at my back." "Oh
it hath been with such power and heavenly evidence upon my own soul
while I have been labouring to fasten it upon the conscience of
others, that I could not be contented with saying, 'I believe and
am sure.' Methought I was more than sure, if it be lawful so to
express myself, that the things I asserted were true."
Bunyan, like all earnest workers for God, had his disappointments
which wrung his heart. He could be satisfied with nothing less
than the conversion and sanctification of his hearers. "If I were
fruitless, it mattered not who commanded me; but if I were
fruitful, I cared not who did condemn." And the result of a sermon
was often very different from what he anticipated: "When I thought
I had done no good, then I did the most; and when I thought I
should catch them, I fished for nothing." "A word cast in by-thebye
sometimes did more execution than all the Sermon besides." The
tie between him and his spiritual children was very close. The
backsliding of any of his converts caused him the most extreme
grief; "it was more to me than if one of my own children were going
to the grave. Nothing hath gone so near me as that, unless it was
the fear of the loss of the salvation of my own soul."
A story, often repeated, but too characteristic to be omitted,
illustrates the power of his preaching even in the early days of
his ministry. "Being to preach in a church in a country village in
Cambridgeshire" - it was before the Restoration - "and the public
being gathered together in the churchyard, a Cambridge scholar, and
none of the soberest neither, inquired what the meaning of that
concourse of people was (it being a week-day); and being told that
one Bunyan, a tinker, was to preach there, he gave a lad twopence
to hold his horse, saying he was resolved to hear the tinker prate;
and so he went into the church to hear him. But God met him there
by His ministry, so that he came out much changed; and would by his
good will hear none but the tinker for a long time after, he
himself becoming a very eminent preacher in that country
afterwards." "This story," continues the anonymous biographer, "I
know to be true, having many times discoursed with the man." To
the same ante-Restoration period, Dr. Brown also assigns the
anecdote of Bunyan's encounter, on the road near Cambridge, with
the university man who asked him how he dared to preach not having
the original Scriptures. With ready wit, Bunyan turned the tables
on the scholar by asking whether he had the actual originals, the
copies written by the apostles and prophets. The scholar replied,
"No," but they had what they believed to be a true copy of the
original. "And I," said Bunyan, "believe the English Bible to be a
true copy, too." "Then away rid the scholar."
The fame of such a preacher, naturally, soon spread far and wide;
all the countryside flocked eagerly to hear him. In some places,
as at Meldreth in Cambridgeshire, and Yelden in his own county of
Bedfordshire, the pulpits of the parish churches were opened to
him. At Yelden, the Rector, Dr. William Dell, the Puritan Master
of Caius College, Cambridge, formerly Chaplain to the army under
Fairfax, roused the indignation of his orthodox parishioners by
allowing him - "one Bunyon of Bedford, a tinker," as he is
ignominiously styled in the petition sent up to the House of Lords
in 1660 - to preach in his parish church on Christmas Day. But,
generally, the parochial clergy were his bitterest enemies. "When
I first went to preach the word abroad," he writes, "the Doctors
and priests of the country did open wide against me." Many were
envious of his success where they had so signally failed. In the
words of Mr. Henry Deane, when defending Bunyan against the attacks
of Dr. T. Smith, Professor of Arabic and Keeper of the University
Library at Cambridge, who had come upon Bunyan preaching in a barn
at Toft, they were "angry with the tinker because he strove to mend
souls as well as kettles and pans," and proved himself more skilful
in his craft than those who had graduated at a university. Envy is
ever the mother of detraction. Slanders of the blackest dye
against his moral character were freely circulated, and as readily
believed. It was the common talk that he was a thorough reprobate.
Nothing was too bad for him. He was "a witch, a Jesuit, a
highwayman, and the like." It was reported that he had "his misses
and his bastards; that he had two wives at once," &c. Such charges
roused all the man in Bunyan. Few passages in his writings show
more passion than that in "Grace Abounding," in which he defends
himself from the "fools or knaves" who were their authors. He
"begs belief of no man, and if they believe him or disbelieve him
it is all one to him. But he would have them know how utterly
baseless their accusations are." "My foes," he writes, "have
missed their mark in their open shooting at me. I am not the man.
If all the fornicators and adulterers in England were hanged by the
neck till they be dead, John Bunyan would be still alive. I know
not whether there is such a thing as a woman breathing under the
copes of the whole heaven but by their apparel, their children, or
by common fame, except my wife." He calls not only men, but
angels, nay, even God Himself, to bear testimony to his innocence
in this respect. But though they were so absolutely baseless, nay,
the rather because they were so baseless, the grossness of these
charges evidently stung Bunyan very deeply.
So bitter was the feeling aroused against him by the marvellous
success of his irregular ministry, that his enemies, even before
the restoration of the Church and Crown, endeavoured to put the arm
of the law in motion to restrain him. We learn from the church
books that in March, 1658, the little Bedford church was in trouble
for "Brother Bunyan," against whom an indictment had been laid at
the Assizes for "preaching at Eaton Socon." Of this indictment we
hear no more; so it was probably dropped. But it is an instructive
fact that, even during the boasted religious liberty of the
Protectorate, irregular preaching, especially that of the much
dreaded Anabaptists, was an indictable offence. But, as Dr. Brown
observes, "religious liberty had not yet come to mean liberty all
round, but only liberty for a certain recognized section of
Christians." That there was no lack of persecution during the
Commonwealth is clear from the cruel treatment to which Quakers
were subjected, to say nothing of the intolerance shown to
Episcopalians and Roman Catholics. In Bunyan's own county of
Bedford, Quakeresses were sentenced to be whipped and sent to
Bridewell for reproving a parish priest, perhaps well deserving of
it, and exhorting the folks on a market day to repentance and
amendment of life. "The simple truth is," writes Robert Southey,
"all parties were agreed on the one catholic opinion that certain
doctrines were not to be tolerated:" the only points of difference
between them were "what those doctrines were," and how far
intolerance might be carried. The withering lines are familiar to
us, in which Milton denounces the "New Forcers of Conscience," who
by their intolerance and "super-metropolitan and
hyperarchiepiscopal tyranny," proved that in his proverbial words,
"New Presbyter is but old Priest writ large" -
"Because you have thrown off your prelate lord,
And with stiff vows renounce his liturgy
Dare ye for this adjure the civil sword
To force our consciences that Christ set free!"
How Bunyan came to escape we know not. But the danger he was in
was imminent enough for the church at Bedford to meet to pray "for
counsail what to doe" in respect of it.
It was in these closing years of the Protectorate that Bunyan made
his first essay at authorship. He was led to it by a long and
tiresome controversy with the Quakers, who had recently found their
way to Bedford. The foundations of the faith, he thought, were
being undermined. The Quakers' teaching as to the inward light
seemed to him a serious disparagement of the Holy Scriptures, while
their mystical view of the spiritual Christ revealed to the soul
and dwelling in the heart, came perilously near to a denial of the
historic reality of the personal Christ. He had had public
disputations with male and female Quakers from time to time, at the
Market Cross at Bedford, at "Paul's Steeple-house in Bedford town,"
and other places. One of them, Anne Blackley by name, openly bade
him throw away the Scriptures, to which Bunyan replied, "No; for
then the devil would be too hard for me." The same enthusiast
charged him with "preaching up an idol, and using conjuration and
witchcraft," because of his assertion of the bodily presence of
Christ in heaven.
The first work of one who was to prove himself so voluminous an
author, cannot but be viewed with much interest. It was a little
volume in duodecimo, of about two hundred pages, entitled "Some
Gospel Truths Opened, by that unworthy servant of Christ, John
Bunyan, of Bedford, by the Grace of God, preacher of the Gospel of
His dear Son," published in 1656. The little book, which, as Dr.
Brown says, was "evidently thrown off at a heat," was printed in
London and published at Newport Pagnel. Bunyan being entirely
unknown to the world, his first literary venture was introduced by
a commendatory "Epistle" written by Gifford's successor, John
Burton. In this Burton speaks of the young author - Bunyan was
only in his twenty-ninth year - as one who had "neither the
greatness nor the wisdom of the world to commend him," "not being
chosen out of an earthly but out of a heavenly university, the
Church of Christ," where "through grace he had taken three heavenly
degrees, to wit, union with Christ, the anointing of the Spirit,
and experience of the temptations of Satan," and as one of whose
"soundness in the faith, godly conversation, and his ability to
preach the Gospel, not by human aid, but by the Spirit of the
Lord," he "with many other saints had had experience." This book
must be pronounced a very remarkable production for a young
travelling tinker, under thirty, and without any literary or
theological training but such as he had gained for himself after
attaining to manhood. Its arrangement is excellent, the arguments
are ably marshalled, the style is clear, the language pure and well
chosen. It is, in the main, a well-reasoned defence of the
historical truth of the Articles of the Creed relating to the
Second Person of the Trinity, against the mystical teaching of the
followers of George Fox, who, by a false spiritualism, sublimated
the whole Gospel narrative into a vehicle for the representation of
truths relating to the inner life of the believer. No one ever had
a firmer grasp than Bunyan of the spiritual bearing of the facts of
the recorded life of Christ on the souls of men. But he would not
suffer their "subjectivity" - to adopt modern terms - to destroy
their "objectivity." If the Son of God was not actually born of
the Virgin Mary, if He did not live in a real human body, and in
that body die, lie in the grave, rise again, and ascend up into
heaven, whence He would return - and that Bunyan believed shortly -
in the same Body He took of His mortal mother, His preaching was
vain; their faith was vain; they were yet in their sins. Those who
"cried up a Christ within, IN OPPOSITION to a Christ without," who
asserted that Christ had no other Body but the Church, that the
only Crucifixion, rising again, and ascension of Christ was that
WITHIN the believer, and that every man had, as an inner light, a
measure of Christ's Spirit within him sufficient to guide him to
salvation, he asserted were "possessed with a spirit of delusion;"
deceived themselves, they were deceiving others to their eternal
ruin. To the refutation of such fundamental errors, substituting a
mystical for an historical faith, Bunyan's little treatise is
addressed; and it may be truly said the work is done effectually.
To adopt Coleridge's expression concerning Bunyan's greater and
world-famous work, it is an admirable "SUMMA THEOLOIAE
EVANGELICAE," which, notwithstanding its obsolete style and oldfashioned
arrangement, may be read even now with advantage.
Bunyan's denunciation of the tenets of the Quakers speedily
elicited a reply. This was written by a certain Edward Burrough, a
young man of three and twenty, fearless, devoted, and ardent in the
propagation of the tenets of his sect. Being subsequently thrown
into Newgate with hundreds of his co-religionists, at the same time
that his former antagonist was imprisoned in Bedford Gaol, Burrough
met the fate Bunyan's stronger constitution enabled him to escape;
and in the language of the times, "rotted in prison," a victim to
the loathsome foulness of his place of incarceration, in the year
of the "Bartholomew Act," 1662.
Burrough entitled his reply, "The Gospel of Peace, contended for in
the Spirit of Meekness and Love against the secret opposition of
John Bunyan, a professed minister in Bedfordshire." His opening
words, too characteristic of the entire treatise, display but
little of the meekness professed. "How long, ye crafty fowlers,
will ye prey upon the innocent? How long shall the righteous be a
prey to your teeth, ye subtle foxes! Your dens are in darkness,
and your mischief is hatched upon your beds of secret whoredoms?"
Of John Burton and the others who recommended Bunyan's treatise, he
says, "They have joined themselves with the broken army of Magog,
and have showed themselves in the defence of the dragon against the
Lamb in the day of war betwixt them." We may well echo Dr. Brown's
wish that "these two good men could have had a little free and
friendly talk face to face. There would probably have been better
understanding, and fewer hard words, for they were really not so
far apart as they thought. Bunyan believed in the inward light,
and Burrough surely accepted an objective Christ. But failing to
see each other's exact point of view, Burrough thunders at Bunyan,
and Bunyan swiftly returns the shot."
The rapidity of Bunyan's literary work is amazing, especially when
we take his antecedents into account. Within a few weeks he
published his rejoinder to Friend Burrough, under the title of "A
Vindication of Gospel Truths Opened." In this work, which appeared
in 1667, Bunyan repays Burrough in his own coin, styling him "a
proved enemy to the truth," a "grossly railing Rabshakeh, who
breaks out with a taunt and a jeer," is very "censorious and utters
many words without knowledge." In vigorous, nervous language,
which does not spare his opponent, he defends himself from
Burrough's charges, and proves that the Quakers are "deceivers."
"As for you thinking that to drink water, and wear no hatbands is
not walking after your own lusts, I say that whatsoever man do make
a religion out of, having no warrant for it in Scripture, is but
walking after their own lusts, and not after the Spirit of God."
Burrough had most unwarrantably stigmatized Bunyan as one of "the
false prophets, who love the wages of unrighteousness, and through
covetousness make merchandise of souls." Bunyan calmly replies,
"Friend, dost thou speak this as from thy own knowledge, or did any
other tell thee so? However that spirit that led thee out this way
is a lying spirit. For though I be poor and of no repute in the
world as to outward things, yet through grace I have learned by the
example of the Apostle to preach the truth, and also to work with
my hands both for mine own living, and for those that are with me,
when I have opportunity. And I trust that the Lord Jesus who bath
helped me to reject the wages of unrighteousness hitherto, will
also help me still so that I shall distribute that which God hath
given me freely, and not for filthy lucre's sake." The
fruitfulness of his ministry which Burrough had called in question,
charging him with having "run before he was sent," he refuses to
discuss. Bunyan says, "I shall leave it to be taken notice of by
the people of God and the country where I dwell, who will testify
the contrary for me, setting aside the carnal ministry with their
retinue who are so mad against me as thyself."
In his third book, published in 1658, at "the King's Head, in the
Old Bailey," a few days before Oliver Cromwell's death, Bunyan left
the thorny domain of polemics, for that of Christian exhortation,
in which his chief work was to be done. This work was an
exposition of the parable of "the Rich Man and Lazarus," bearing
the horror-striking title, "A Few Sighs from Hell, or the Groans of
a Damned Soul." In this work, as its title would suggest, Bunyan,
accepting the literal accuracy of the parable as a description of
the realities of the world beyond the grave, gives full scope to
his vivid imagination in portraying the condition of the lost. It
contains some touches of racy humour, especially in the similes,
and is written in the nervous homespun English of which he was
master. Its popularity is shown by its having gone through nine
editions in the author's lifetime. To take an example or two of
its style: dealing with the excuses people make for not hearing
the Gospel, "O, saith one, I dare not for my master, my brother, my
landlord; I shall lose his favour, his house of work, and so decay
my calling. O, saith another, I would willingly go in this way but
for my father; he chides me and tells me he will not stand my
friend when I come to want; I shall never enjoy a pennyworth of his
goods; he will disinherit me - And I dare not, saith another, for
my husband, for he will be a-railing, and tells me he will turn me
out of doors, he will beat me and cut off my legs;" and then
turning from the hindered to the hinderers: "Oh, what red lines
will there be against all those rich ungodly landlords that so keep
under their poor tenants that they dare not go out to hear the word
for fear that their rent should be raised or they turned out of
their houses. Think on this, you drunken proud rich, and scornful
landlords; think on this, you madbrained blasphemous husbands, that
are against the godly and chaste conversation of your wives; also
you that hold your servants so hard to it that you will not spare
them time to hear the Word, unless it will be where and when your
lusts will let you." He bids the ungodly consider that "the
profits, pleasures, and vanities of the world" will one day "give
thee the slip, and leave thee in the sands and the brambles of all
that thou hast done." The careless man lies "like the smith's dog
at the foot of the anvil, though the fire sparks flee in his face."
The rich man remembers how he once despised Lazarus, "scrubbed
beggarly Lazarus. What, shall I dishonour my fair sumptuous and
gay house with such a scabbed creephedge as he? The Lazaruses are
not allowed to warn them of the wrath to come, because they are not
gentlemen, because they cannot with Pontius Pilate speak Hebrew,
Greek, and Latin. Nay, they must not, shall not, speak to them,
and all because of this."
The fourth production of Bunyan's pen, his last book before his
twelve years of prison life began, is entitled, "The Doctrine of
Law and Grace Unfolded." With a somewhat overstrained humility
which is hardly worthy of him, he describes himself in the titlepage
as "that poor contemptible creature John Bunyan, of Bedford."
It was given to the world in May, 1659, and issued from the same
press in the Old Bailey as his last work. It cannot be said that
this is one of Bunyan's most attractive writings. It is as he
describes it, "a parcel of plain yet sound, true, and home
sayings," in which with that clearness of thought and accuracy of
arrangement which belongs to him, and that marvellous acquaintance
with Scripture language which he had gained by his constant study
of the Bible, he sets forth the two covenants - the covenant of
works, and the covenant of Grace - "in their natures, ends, bounds,
together with the state and condition of them that are under the
one, and of them that are under the other." Dr. Brown describes
the book as "marked by a firm grasp of faith and a strong view of
the reality of Christ's person and work as the one Priest and
Mediator for a sinful world." To quote a passage, "Is there
righteousness in Christ? that is mine. Is there perfection in that
righteousness? that is mine. Did He bleed for sin? It was for
mine. Hath He overcome the law, the devil, and hell? The victory
is mine, and I am come forth conqueror, nay, more than a conqueror
through Him that hath loved me. . . Lord, show me continually in
the light of Thy Spirit, through Thy word, that Jesus that was born
in the days of Caesar Augustus, when Mary, a daughter of Judah,
went with Joseph to be taxed in Bethlehem, that He is the very
Christ. Let me not rest contented without such a faith that is so
wrought even by the discovery of His Birth, Crucifying Death,
Blood, Resurrection, Ascension, and Second - which is His Personal
- Coming again, that the very faith of it may fill my soul with
comfort and holiness." Up and down its pages we meet with vivid
reminiscences of his own career, of which he can only speak with
wonder and thankfulness. In the "Epistle to the Reader," which
introduces it, occurs the passage already referred to describing
his education. "I never went to school to Aristotle or Plato, but
was brought up at my father's house in a very mean condition, among
a company of poor countrymen." Of his own religious state before
his conversion he thus speaks: "When it pleased the Lord to begin
to instruct my soul, He found me one of the black sinners of the
world. He found me making a sport of oaths, and also of lies; and
many a soul-poisoning meal did I make out of divers lusts, such as
drinking, dancing, playing, pleasure with the wicked ones of the
world; and so wedded was I to my sins, that thought I to myself, 'I
will have them though I lose my soul.'" And then, after narrating
the struggles he had had with his conscience, the alternations of
hope and fear which he passed through, which are more fully
described in his "Grace Abounding," he thus vividly depicts the
full assurance of faith he had attained to: "I saw through grace
that it was the Blood shed on Mount Calvary that did save and
redeem sinners, as clearly and as really with the eyes of my soul
as ever, methought, I had seen a penny loaf bought with a penny. .
. O let the saints know that unless the devil can pluck Christ out
of heaven he cannot pull a true believer out of Christ." In a
striking passage he shows how, by turning Satan's temptations
against himself, Christians may "Get the art as to outrun him in
his own shoes, and make his own darts pierce himself." "What!
didst thou never learn to outshoot the devil in his own bow, and
cut off his head with his own sword as David served Goliath?" The
whole treatise is somewhat wearisome, but the pious reader will
find much in it for spiritual edification.
We cannot doubt that one in whom loyalty was so deep and fixed a
principle as Bunyan, would welcome with sincere thankfulness the
termination of the miserable interval of anarchy which followed the
death of the Protector and the abdication of his indolent and
feeble son, by the restoration of monarchy in the person of Charles
the Second. Even if some forebodings might have arisen that with
the restoration of the old monarchy the old persecuting laws might
be revived, which made it criminal for a man to think for himself
in the matters which most nearly concerned his eternal interests,
and to worship in the way which he found most helpful to his
spiritual life, they would have been silenced by the promise,
contained in Charles's "Declaration from Breda," of liberty to
tender consciences, and the assurance that no one should be
disquieted for differences of opinion in religion, so long as such
differences did not endanger the peace and well-being of the realm.
If this declaration meant anything, it meant a breadth of
toleration larger and more liberal than had been ever granted by
Cromwell. Any fears of the renewal of persecution must be
But if such dreams of religious liberty were entertained they were
speedily and rudely dispelled, and Bunyan was one of the first to
feel the shock of the awakening. The promise was coupled with a
reference to the "mature deliberation of Parliament." With such a
promise Charles's easy conscience was relieved of all
responsibility. Whatever he might promise, the nation, and
Parliament which was its mouthpiece, might set his promise aside.
And if he knew anything of the temper of the people he was
returning to govern, he must have felt assured that any scheme of
comprehension was certain to be rejected by them. As Mr. Froude
has said, "before toleration is possible, men must have learnt to
tolerate toleration," and this was a lesson the English nation was
very far from having learnt; at no time, perhaps, were they further
from it. Puritanism had had its day, and had made itself generally
detested. Deeply enshrined as it was in many earnest and devout
hearts, such as Bunyan's, it was necessarily the religion not of
the many, but of the few; it was the religion not of the common
herd, but of a spiritual aristocracy. Its stern condemnation of
all mirth and pastime, as things in their nature sinful, of which
we have so many evidences in Bunyan's own writings; its repression
of all that makes life brighter and more joyous, and the sour
sanctimoniousness which frowned upon innocent relaxation, had
rendered its yoke unbearable to ordinary human nature, and men took
the earliest opportunity of throwing the yoke off and trampling it
under foot. They hailed with rude and boisterous rejoicings the
restoration of the Monarchy which they felt, with a true instinct,
involved the restoration of the old Church of England, the church
of their fathers and of the older among themselves, with its larger
indulgence for the instincts of humanity, its wider
comprehensiveness, and its more dignified and decorous ritual.
The reaction from Puritanism pervaded all ranks. In no class,
however, was its influence more powerful than among the country
gentry. Most of them had been severe sufferers both in purse and
person during the Protectorate. Fines and sequestrations had
fallen heavily upon them, and they were eager to retaliate on their
oppressors. Their turn had come; can we wonder that they were
eager to use it? As Mr. J. R. Green has said: "The Puritan, the
Presbyterian, the Commonwealthsman, all were at their feet. . .
Their whole policy appeared to be dictated by a passionate spirit
of reaction. . . The oppressors of the parson had been the
oppressors of the squire. The sequestrator who had driven the one
from his parsonage had driven the other from his manor-house. Both
had been branded with the same charge of malignity. Both had
suffered together, and the new Parliament was resolved that both
should triumph together."
The feeling thus eloquently expressed goes far to explain the
harshness which Bunyan experienced at the hands of the
administrators of justice at the crisis of his life at which we
have now arrived. Those before whom he was successively arraigned
belonged to this very class, which, having suffered most severely
during the Puritan usurpation, was least likely to show
consideration to a leading teacher of the Puritan body. Nor were
reasons wanting to justify their severity. The circumstances of
the times were critical. The public mind was still in an excitable
state, agitated by the wild schemes of political and religious
enthusiasts plotting to destroy the whole existing framework both
of Church and State, and set up their own chimerical fabric. We
cannot be surprised that, as Southey has said, after all the nation
had suffered from fanatical zeal, "The government, rendered
suspicious by the constant sense of danger, was led as much by fear
as by resentment to seventies which are explained by the
necessities of self-defence," and which the nervous apprehensions
of the nation not only condoned, but incited. Already Churchmen in
Wales had been taking the law into their own hands, and manifesting
their orthodoxy by harrying Quakers and Nonconformists. In the May
and June of this year, we hear of sectaries being taken from their
beds and haled to prison, and brought manacled to the Quarter
Sessions and committed to loathsome dungeons. Matters had advanced
since then. The Church had returned in its full power and
privileges together with the monarchy, and everything went back
into its old groove. Every Act passed for the disestablishment and
disendowment of the Church was declared a dead letter. Those of
the ejected incumbents who remained alive entered again into their
parsonages, and occupied their pulpits as of old; the surviving
bishops returned to their sees; and the whole existing statute law
regarding the Church revived from its suspended animation. No new
enactment was required to punish Nonconformists and to silence
their ministers; though, to the disgrace of the nation and its
parliament, many new ones were subsequently passed, with everincreasing
disabilities. The various Acts of Elizabeth supplied
all that was needed. Under these Acts all who refused to attend
public worship in their parish churches were subject to fines;
while those who resorted to conventicles were to be imprisoned till
they made their submissions; if at the end of three months they
refused to submit they were to be banished the realm, and if they
returned from banishment, without permission of the Crown, they
were liable to execution as felons. This long-disused sword was
now drawn from its rusty sheath to strike terror into the hearts of
Nonconformists. It did not prove very effectual. All the truehearted
men preferred to suffer rather than yield in so sacred a
cause. Bunyan was one of the earliest of these, as he proved one
of the staunchest.
Early in October, 1660, the country magistrates meeting in Bedford
issued an order for the public reading of the Liturgy of the Church
of England. Such an order Bunyan would not regard as concerning
him. Anyhow he would not give obeying it a thought. One of the
things we least like in Bunyan is the feeling he exhibits towards
the Book of Common Prayer. To him it was an accursed thing, the
badge and token of a persecuting party, a relic of popery which he
exhorted his adherents to "take heed that they touched not" if they
would be "steadfast in the faith of Jesus Christ." Nothing could
be further from his thoughts than to give any heed to the
magistrates' order to go to church and pray "after the form of
men's inventions."
The time for testing Bunyan's resolution was now near at hand.
Within six months of the king's landing, within little more than a
month of the issue of the magistrate's order for the use of the
Common Prayer Book, his sturdy determination to yield obedience to
no authority in spiritual matters but that of his own conscience
was put to the proof. Bunyan may safely be regarded as at that
time the most conspicuous of the Nonconformists of the
neighbourhood. He had now preached for five or six years with
ever-growing popularity. No name was so rife in men's mouths as
his. At him, therefore, as the representative of his brother
sectaries, the first blow was levelled. It is no cause of surprise
that in the measures taken against him he recognized the direct
agency of Satan to stop the course of the truth: "That old enemy
of man's salvation," he says, "took his opportunity to inflame the
hearts of his vassals against me, insomuch that at the last I was
laid out for the warrant of a justice." The circumstances were
these, on November 12, 1660, Bunyan had engaged to go to the little
hamlet of Lower Samsell near Harlington, to hold a religious
service. His purpose becoming known, a neighbouring magistrate,
Mr. Francis Wingate, of Harlington House, was instructed to issue a
warrant for his apprehension under the Act of Elizabeth. The
meeting being represented to him as one of seditious persons
bringing arms, with a view to the disturbance of the public peace,
he ordered that a strong watch should be kept about the house, "as
if," Bunyan says, "we did intend to do some fearful business to the
destruction of the country." The intention to arrest him oozed
out, and on Bunyan's arrival the whisperings of his friends warned
him of his danger. He might have easily escaped if he "had been
minded to play the coward." Some advised it, especially the
brother at whose house the meeting was to take place. He, "living
by them," knew "what spirit" the magistrates "were of," before whom
Bunyan would be taken if arrested, and the small hope there would
be of his avoiding being committed to gaol. The man himself, as a
"harbourer of a conventicle," would also run no small danger of the
same fate, but Bunyan generously acquits him of any selfish object
in his warning: "he was, I think, more afraid of (for) me, than of
(for) himself." The matter was clear enough to Bunyan. At the
same time it was not to be decided in a hurry. The time fixed for
the service not being yet come, Bunyan went into the meadow by the
house, and pacing up and down thought the question well out. "If
he who had up to this time showed himself hearty and courageous in
his preaching, and had made it his business to encourage others,
were now to run and make an escape, it would be of an ill savour in
the country. If he were now to flee because there was a warrant
out for him, would not the weak and newly-converted brethren be
afraid to stand when great words only were spoken to them. God
had, in His mercy, chosen him to go on the forlorn hope; to be the
first to be opposed for the gospel; what a discouragement it must
be to the whole body if he were to fly. No, he would never by any
cowardliness of his give occasion to the enemy to blaspheme the
gospel." So back to the house he came with his mind made up. He
had come to hold the meeting, and hold the meeting he would. He
was not conscious of saying or doing any evil. If he had to suffer
it was the Lord's will, and he was prepared for it. He had a full
hour before him to escape if he had been so minded, but he was
resolved "not to go away." He calmly waited for the time fixed for
the brethren to assemble, and then, without hurry or any show of
alarm, he opened the meeting in the usual manner, with prayer for
God's blessing. He had given out his text, the brethren had just
opened their Bibles and Bunyan was beginning to preach, when the
arrival of the constable with the warrant put an end to the
exercise. Bunyan requested to be allowed to say a few parting
words of encouragement to the terrified flock. This was granted,
and he comforted the little company with the reflection that it was
a mercy to suffer in so good a cause; and that it was better to be
the persecuted than the persecutors; better to suffer as Christians
than as thieves or murderers. The constable and the justice's
servant soon growing weary of listening to Bunyan's exhortations,
interrupted him and "would not be quiet till they had him away"
from the house.
The justice who had issued the warrant, Mr. Wingate, not being at
home that day, a friend of Bunyan's residing on the spot offered to
house him for the night, undertaking that he should be forthcoming
the next day. The following morning this friend took him to the
constable's house, and they then proceeded together to Mr.
Wingate's. A few inquiries showed the magistrate that he had
entirely mistaken the character of the Samsell meeting and its
object. Instead of a gathering of "Fifth Monarchy men," or other
turbulent fanatics as he had supposed, for the disturbance of the
public peace, he learnt from the constable that they were only a
few peaceable, harmless people, met together "to preach and hear
the word," without any political meaning. Wingate was now at a
nonplus, and "could not well tell what to say." For the credit of
his magisterial character, however, he must do something to show
that he had not made a mistake in issuing the warrant. So he asked
Bunyan what business he had there, and why it was not enough for
him to follow his own calling instead of breaking the law by
preaching. Bunyan replied that his only object in coming there was
to exhort his hearers for their souls' sake to forsake their sinful
courses and close in with Christ, and this he could do and follow
his calling as well. Wingate, now feeling himself in the wrong,
lost his temper, and declared angrily that he would "break the neck
of these unlawful meetings," and that Bunyan must find securities
for his good behaviour or go to gaol. There was no difficulty in
obtaining the security. Bail was at once forthcoming. The real
difficulty lay with Bunyan himself. No bond was strong enough to
keep him from preaching. If his friends gave them, their bonds
would be forfeited, for he "would not leave speaking the word of
God." Wingate told him that this being so, he must be sent to gaol
to be tried at the next Quarter Sessions, and left the room to make
out his mittimus. While the committal was preparing, one whom
Bunyan bitterly styles "an old enemy to the truth," Dr. Lindall,
Vicar of Harlington, Wingate's father-in-law, came in and began
"taunting at him with many reviling terms," demanding what right he
had to preach and meddle with that for which he had no warrant,
charging him with making long prayers to devour widows houses, and
likening him to "one Alexander the Coppersmith he had read of,"
"aiming, 'tis like," says Bunyan, "at me because I was a tinker."
The mittimus was now made out, and Bunyan in the constable's charge
was on his way to Bedford, when he was met by two of his friends,
who begged the constable to wait a little while that they might use
their interest with the magistrate to get Bunyan released. After a
somewhat lengthened interview with Wingate, they returned with the
message that if Bunyan would wait on the magistrate and "say
certain words" to him, he might go free. To satisfy his friends,
Bunyan returned with them, though not with any expectation that the
engagement proposed to him would be such as he could lawfully take.
"If the words were such as he could say with a good conscience he
would say them, or else he would not."
After all this coming and going, by the time Bunyan and his friends
got back to Harlington House, night had come on. As he entered the
hall, one, he tells us, came out of an inner room with a lighted
candle in his hand, whom Bunyan recognized as one William Foster, a
lawyer of Bedford, Wingate's brother-in-law, afterwards a fierce
persecutor of the Nonconformists of the district. With a simulated
affection, "as if he would have leapt on my neck and kissed me,"
which put Bunyan on his guard, as he had ever known him for "a
close opposer of the ways of God," he adopted the tone of one who
had Bunyan's interest at heart, and begged him as a friend to yield
a little from his stubbornness. His brother-in-law, he said, was
very loath to send him to gaol. All he had to do was only to
promise that he would not call people together, and he should be
set at liberty and might go back to his home. Such meetings were
plainly unlawful and must be stopped. Bunyan had better follow his
calling and leave off preaching, especially on week-days, which
made other people neglect their calling too. God commanded men to
work six days and serve Him on the seventh. It was vain for Bunyan
to reply that he never summoned people to hear him, but that if
they came he could not but use the best of his skill and wisdom to
counsel them for their soul's salvation; that he could preach and
the people could come to hear without neglecting their callings,
and that men were bound to look out for their souls' welfare on
week-days as well as Sundays. Neither could convince the other.
Bunyan's stubbornness was not a little provoking to Foster, and was
equally disappointing to Wingate. They both evidently wished to
dismiss the case, and intentionally provided a loophole for
Bunyan's escape. The promise put into his mouth - "that he would
not call the people together" - was purposely devised to meet his
scrupulous conscience. But even if he could keep the promise in
the letter, Bunyan knew that he was fully purposed to violate its
spirit. He was the last man to forfeit self-respect by playing
fast and loose with his conscience. All evasion was foreign to his
nature. The long interview came to an end at last. Once again
Wingate and Foster endeavoured to break down Bunyan's resolution;
but when they saw he was "at a point, and would not be moved or
persuaded," the mittimus was again put into the constable's hands,
and he and his prisoner were started on the walk to Bedford gaol.
It was dark, as we have seen, when this protracted interview began.
It must have now been deep in the night. Bunyan gives no hint
whether the walk was taken in the dark or in the daylight. There
was however no need for haste. Bedford was thirteen miles away,
and the constable would probably wait till the morning to set out
for the prison which was to be Bunyan's home for twelve long years,
to which he went carrying, he says, the "peace of God along with
me, and His comfort in my poor soul."
A long-standing tradition has identified Bunyan's place of
imprisonment with a little corporation lock-up-house, some fourteen
feet square, picturesquely perched on one of the mid-piers of the
many-arched mediaeval bridge which, previously to 1765, spanned the
Ouse at Bedford, and as Mr. Froude has said, has "furnished a
subject for pictures," both of pen and pencil, "which if correct
would be extremely affecting." Unfortunately, however, for the
lovers of the sensational, these pictures are not "correct," but
are based on a false assumption which grew up out of a desire to
heap contumely on Bunyan's enemies by exaggerating the severity of
his protracted, but by no means harsh imprisonment. Being arrested
by the warrant of a county magistrate for a county offence,
Bunyan's place of incarceration was naturally the county gaol.
There he undoubtedly passed the twelve years of his captivity, and
there the royal warrant for his release found him "a prisoner in
the common gaol for our county of Bedford." But though far
different from the pictures which writers, desirous of exhibiting
the sufferings of the Puritan confessor in the most telling form,
have drawn - if not "a damp and dreary cell" into which "a narrow
chink admits a few scanty rays of light to render visible the
prisoner, pale and emaciated, seated on the humid earth, pursuing
his daily task to earn the morsel which prolongs his existence and
his confinement together," - "the common gaol" of Bedford must have
been a sufficiently strait and unwholesome abode, especially for
one, like the travelling tinker, accustomed to spend the greater
part of his days in the open-air in unrestricted freedom. Prisons
in those days, and indeed long afterwards, were, at their best,
foul, dark, miserable places. A century later Howard found Bedford
gaol, though better than some, in what would now be justly deemed a
disgraceful condition. One who visited Bunyan during his
confinement speaks of it as "an uncomfortable and close prison."
Bunyan however himself, in the narrative of his imprisonment, makes
no complaint of it, nor do we hear of his health having in any way
suffered from the conditions of his confinement, as was the case
with not a few of his fellow-sufferers for the sake of religion in
other English gaols, some of them even unto death. Bad as it must
have been to be a prisoner, as far as his own testimony goes, there
is no evidence that his imprisonment, though varying in its
strictness with his various gaolers, was aggravated by any special
severity; and, as Mr. Froude has said, "it is unlikely that at any
time he was made to suffer any greater hardships than were
absolutely inevitable."
The arrest of one whose work as a preacher had been a blessing to
so many, was not at once tamely acquiesced in by the religious body
to which he belonged. A few days after Bunyan's committal to gaol,
some of "the brethren" applied to Mr. Crompton, a young magistrate
at Elstow, to bail him out, offering the required security for his
appearance at the Quarter Sessions. The magistrate was at first
disposed to accept the bail; but being a young man, new in his
office, and thinking it possible that there might be more against
Bunyan than the "mittimus" expressed, he was afraid of compromising
himself by letting him go at large. His refusal, though it sent
him back to prison, was received by Bunyan with his usual calm
trust in God's overruling providence. "I was not at all daunted,
but rather glad, and saw evidently that the Lord had heard me."
Before he set out for the justice's house, he tells us he had
committed the whole event to God's ordering, with the prayer that
"if he might do more good by being at liberty than in prison," the
bail might be accepted, "but if not, that His will might be done."
In the failure of his friends' good offices he saw an answer to his
prayer, encouraging the hope that the untoward event, which
deprived them of his personal ministrations, "might be an awaking
to the saints in the country," and while "the slender answer of the
justice," which sent him back to his prison, stirred something akin
to contempt, his soul was full of gladness. "Verily I did meet my
God sweetly again, comforting of me, and satisfying of me, that it
was His will and mind that I should be there." The sense that he
was being conformed to the image of his great Master was a stay to
his soul. "This word," he continues, "did drop in upon my heart
with some life, for he knew that 'for envy they had delivered
Seven weeds after his committal, early in January, 1661, the
Quarter Sessions came on, and "John Bunyan, of the town of Bedford,
labourer," was indicted in the customary form for having
"devilishly and perniciously abstained from coming to church to
hear Divine Service," and as "a common upholder of several unlawful
meetings and conventions, to the great disturbance and distraction
of the good subjects of the kingdom." The chairman of the bench
was the brutal and blustering Sir John Keeling, the prototype of
Bunyan's Lord Hategood in Faithful's trial at Vanity Fair, who
afterwards, by his base subserviency to an infamous government,
climbed to the Lord Chief Justice's seat, over the head of Sir
Matthew Hale. Keeling had suffered much from the Puritans during
the great Rebellion, when, according to Clarendon, he was "always
in gaol," and was by no means disposed to deal leniently with an
offender of that persuasion. His brethren of the bench were
country gentlemen hating Puritanism from their heart, and eager for
retaliation for the wrongs it had wrought them. From such a bench,
even if Bunyan had been less uncompromising, no leniency was to be
anticipated. But Bunyan's attitude forbade any leniency. As the
law stood he had indisputably broken it, and he expressed his
determination, respectfully but firmly, to take the first
opportunity of breaking it again. "I told them that if I was let
out of prison today I would preach the gospel again to-morrow by
the help of God." We may dislike the tone adopted by the
magistrates towards the prisoner; we may condemn it as overbearing
and contemptuous; we may smile at Keeling's expositions of
Scripture and his stock arguments against unauthorized prayer and
preaching, though we may charitably believe that Bunyan
misunderstood him when he makes him say that "the Book of Common
Prayer had been ever since the apostles' time"; we may think that
the prisoner, in his "canting pedlar's French," as Keeling called
it, had the better of his judges in knowledge of the Bible, in
Christian charity, as well as in dignity and in common sense, and
that they showed their wisdom in silencing him in court - "Let him
speak no further," said one of them, "he will do harm," - since
they could not answer him more convincingly: but his legal offence
was clear. He confessed to the indictment, if not in express
terms, yet virtually. He and his friends had held "many meetings
together, both to pray to God and to exhort one another. I
confessed myself guilty no otherwise." Such meetings were
forbidden by the law, which it was the duty of the justices to
administer, and they had no choice whether they would convict or
no. Perhaps they were not sorry they had no such choice. Bunyan
was a most "impracticable" prisoner, and as Mr. Froude says, the
"magistrates being but unregenerate mortals may be pardoned if they
found him provoking." The sentence necessarily followed. It was
pronounced, not, we are sure reluctantly, by Keeling, in the terms
of the Act. "He was to go back to prison for three months. If at
three months' end he still refused to go to church to hear Divine
service and leave his preaching, he was to be banished the realm,"
- in modern language "transported," and if "he came back again
without special royal license," he must "stretch by the neck for
"This," said Keeling, "I tell you plainly." Bunyan's reply that
"as to that matter he was at a point with the judge," for "that he
would repeat the offence the first time he could," provoked a
rejoinder from one of the bench, and the unseemly wrangling might
have been still further prolonged, had it not been stopped by the
gaoler, who "pulling him away to be gone," had him back to prison,
where he says, and "blesses the Lord Jesus Christ for it," his
heart was as "sweetly refreshed" in returning to it as it had "been
during his examination. So that I find Christ's words more than
bare trifles, where He saith, He will give a mouth and wisdom, even
such as all the adversaries shall not gainsay or resist. And that
His peace no man can take from us."
The magistrates, however, though not unnaturally irritated by what
seemed to them Bunyan's unreasonable obstinacy, were not desirous
to push matters to extremity. The three months named in his
sentence, at the expiration of which he was either to conform or be
banished the realm, were fast drawing to an end, without any sign
of submission on his part. As a last resort Mr. Cobb, the Clerk of
the Peace, was sent to try what calm and friendly reasoning might
effect. Cobb, who evidently knew Bunyan personally, did his best,
as a kind-hearted, sensible man, to bring him to reason. Cobb did
not profess to be "a man that could dispute," and Bunyan had the
better of him in argument. His position, however, was
unassailable. The recent insurrection of Venner and his Fifth
Monarchy men, he said, had shown the danger to the public peace
there was in allowing fanatical gatherings to assemble unchecked.
Bunyan, whose loyalty was unquestioned, must acknowledge the
prudence of suppressing meetings which, however good their
ostensible aim, might issue in nothing less than the ruin of the
kingdom and commonwealth. Bunyan had confessed his readiness to
obey the apostolic precept by submitting himself to the king as
supreme. The king forbade the holding of private meetings, which,
under colour of religion, might be prejudicial to the State. Why
then did he not submit? This need not hinder him from doing good
in a neighbourly way. He might continue to use his gifts and
exhort his neighbours in private discourse, provided he did not
bring people together in public assemblies. The law did not
abridge him of this liberty. Why should he stand so strictly on
public meetings? Or why should he not come to church and hear?
Was his gift so far above that of others that he could learn of no
one? If he could not be persuaded, the judges were resolved to
prosecute the law against him. He would be sent away beyond the
seas to Spain or Constantinople - either Cobb's or Bunyan's
colonial geography was rather at fault here - or some other remote
part of the world, and what good could he do to his friends then?
"Neighbour Bunyan" had better consider these things seriously
before the Quarter Session, and be ruled by good advice. The
gaoler here put in his word in support of Cobb's arguments:
"Indeed, sir, I hope he will be ruled." But all Cobb's friendly
reasonings and expostulations were ineffectual to bend Bunyan's
sturdy will. He would yield to no-one in his loyalty to his
sovereign, and his readiness to obey the law. But, he said, with a
hairsplitting casuistry he would have indignantly condemned in
others, the law provided two ways of obeying, "one to obey
actively, and if his conscience forbad that, then to obey
passively; to lie down and suffer whatever they might do to him."
The Clerk of the Peace saw that it was no use to prolong the
argument any further. "At this," writes Bunyan, "he sat down, and
said no more; which, when he had done, I did thank him for his
civil and meek discoursing with me; and so we parted: O that we
might meet in heaven!"
The Coronation which took place very soon after this interview,
April 13, 1661, afforded a prospect of release without unworthy
submission. The customary proclamation, which allowed prisoners
under sentence for any offence short of felony to sue out a pardon
for twelve months from that date, suspended the execution of the
sentence of banishment and gave a hope that the prison doors might
be opened for him. The local authorities taking no steps to enable
him to profit by the royal clemency, by inserting his name in the
list of pardonable offenders, his second wife, Elizabeth, travelled
up to London, - no slight venture for a young woman not so long
raised from the sick bed on which the first news of her husband's
arrest had laid her, - and with dauntless courage made her way to
the House of Lords, where she presented her petition to one of the
peers, whom she calls Lord Barkwood, but whom unfortunately we
cannot now identify. He treated her kindly, and showed her
petition to other peers, who appear to have been acquainted with
the circumstances of Bunyan's case. They replied that the matter
was beyond their province, and that the question of her husband's
release was committed to the judges at the next assizes. These
assizes were held at Bedford in the following August. The judges
of the circuit were Twisden and Sir Matthew Hale. From the latter
- the friend of Richard Baxter, who, as Burnet records, took great
care to "cover the Nonconformists, whom he thought too hardly used,
all he could from the seventies some designed; and discouraged
those who were inclined to stretch the laws too much against them"
- Bunyan's case would be certain to meet with sympathetic
consideration. But being set to administer the law, not according
to his private wishes, but according to its letter and its spirit,
he was powerless to relieve him. Three several times did Bunyan's
noble-hearted wife present her husband's petition that he might be
heard, and his case taken impartially into consideration. But the
law forbad what Burnet calls Sir Matthew Hale's "tender and
compassionate nature" to have free exercise. He "received the
petition very mildly at her hand, telling her that he would do her
and her husband the best good he could; but he feared he could do
none." His brother judge's reception of her petition was very
different. Having thrown it into the coach, Twisden "snapt her
up," telling her, what after all was no more than the truth, that
her husband was a convicted person, and could not be released
unless he would promise to obey the law and abstain from preaching.
On this the High Sheriff, Edmund Wylde, of Houghton Conquest, spoke
kindly to the poor woman, and encouraged her to make a fresh
application to the judges before they left the town. So she made
her way, "with abashed face and trembling heart," to the large
chamber at the Old Swan Inn at the Bridge Foot, where the two
judges were receiving a large number of the justices of the peace
and other gentry of the county. Addressing Sir Matthew Hale she
said, "My lord, I make bold to come again to your lordship to know
what may be done with my husband." Hale received her with the same
gentleness as before, repeated what he had said previously, that as
her husband had been legally convicted, and his conviction was
recorded, unless there was something to undo that he could do her
no good. Twisden, on the other hand, got violently angry, charged
her brutally with making poverty her cloak, told her that her
husband was a breaker of the peace, whose doctrine was the doctrine
of the devil, and that he ran up and down and did harm, while he
was better maintained by his preaching than by following his
tinker's craft. At last he waxed so violent that "withal she
thought he would have struck her." In the midst of all his coarse
abuse, however, Twisden hit the mark when he asked: "What! you
think we can do what we list?" And when we find Hale, confessedly
the soundest lawyer of the time, whose sympathies were all with the
prisoner, after calling for the Statute Book, thus summing up the
matter: "I am sorry, woman, that I can do thee no good. Thou must
do one of these three things, viz., either apply thyself to the
king, or sue out his pardon, or get a writ of error," which last,
he told her, would be the cheapest course - we may feel sure that
Bunyan's Petition was not granted because it could not be granted
legally. The blame of his continued imprisonment lay, if anywhere,
with the law, not with its administrators. This is not always
borne in mind as it ought to be. As Mr. Froude remarks, "Persons
often choose to forget that judges are sworn to administer the law
which they find, and rail at them as if the sentences which they
are obliged by their oath to pass were their own personal acts."
It is not surprising that Elizabeth Bunyan was unable to draw this
distinction, and that she left the Swan chamber in tears, not,
however, so much at what she thought the judges' "hardheartedness
to her and her husband," as at the thought of "the sad account such
poor creatures would have to give" hereafter, for what she deemed
their "opposition to Christ and His gospel."
No steps seem to have been taken by Bunyan's wife, or any of his
influential friends, to carry out either of the expedients named by
Hale. It may have been that the money needed was not forthcoming,
or, what Southey remarks is "quite probable," - "because it is
certain that Bunyan, thinking himself in conscience bound to preach
in defiance of the law, would soon have made his case worse than it
then was."
At the next assizes, which were held in January, 1662, Bunyan again
made strenuous efforts to get his name put on the calendar of
felons, that he might have a regular trial before the king's judges
and be able to plead his cause in person. This, however, was
effectually thwarted by the unfriendly influence of the county
magistrates by whom he had been committed, and the Clerk of the
Peace, Mr. Cobb, who having failed in his kindly meant attempt to
induce "Neighbour Bunyan" to conform, had turned bitterly against
him and become one of his chief enemies. "Thus," writes Bunyan,
"was I hindered and prevented at that time also from appearing
before the judge, and left in prison." Of this prison, the county
gaol of Bedford, he remained an inmate, with one, short interval in
1666, for the next twelve years, till his release by order of the
Privy Council, May 17, 1672.
The exaggeration of the severity of Bunyan's imprisonment long
current, now that the facts are better known, has led, by a very
intelligible reaction, to an undue depreciation of it. Mr. Froude
thinks that his incarceration was "intended to be little more than
nominal," and was really meant in kindness by the authorities who
"respected his character," as the best means of preventing him from
getting himself into greater trouble by "repeating an offence that
would compel them to adopt harsh measures which they were earnestly
trying to avoid." If convicted again he must be transported, and
"they were unwilling to drive him out of the country." It is,
however, to be feared that it was no such kind consideration for
the tinker-preacher which kept the prison doors closed on Bunyan.
To the justices he was simply an obstinate law-breaker, who must be
kept in prison as long as he refused compliance with the Act. If
he rotted in gaol, as so many of his fellow sufferers for
conscience' sake did in those unhappy times, it was no concern of
theirs. He and his stubbornness would be alone to blame.
It is certainly true that during a portion of his captivity,
Bunyan, in Dr. Brown's words, "had an amount of liberty which in
the case of a prisoner nowadays would be simply impossible." But
the mistake has been made of extending to the whole period an
indulgence which belonged only to a part, and that a very limited
part of it. When we are told that Bunyan was treated as a prisoner
at large, and like one "on parole," free to come and go as he
pleased, even as far as London, we must remember that Bunyan's own
words expressly restrict this indulgence to the six months between
the Autumn Assizes of 1661 and the Spring Assizes of 1662.
"Between these two assizes," he says, "I had by my jailer some
liberty granted me more than at the first." This liberty was
certainly of the largest kind consistent with his character of a
prisoner. The church books show that he was occasionally present
at their meetings, and was employed on the business of the
congregation. Nay, even his preaching, which was the cause of his
imprisonment, was not forbidden. "I followed," he says, writing of
this period, "my wonted course of preaching, taking all occasions
that were put into my hand to visit the people of God." But this
indulgence was very brief and was brought sharply to an end. It
was plainly irregular, and depended on the connivance of his
jailer. We cannot be surprised that when it came to the
magistrates' ears - "my enemies," Bunyan rather unworthily calls
them - they were seriously displeased. Confounding Bunyan with the
Fifth Monarchy men and other turbulent sectaries, they imagined
that his visits to London had a political object, "to plot, and
raise division, and make insurrections," which, he honestly adds,
"God knows was a slander." The jailer was all but "cast out of his
place," and threatened with an indictment for breach of trust,
while his own liberty was so seriously "straitened" that he was
prohibited even "to look out at the door." The last time Bunyan's
name appears as present at a church meeting is October 28, 1661,
nor do we see it again till October 9, 1668, only four years before
his twelve years term of imprisonment expired.
But though his imprisonment was not so severe, nor his prison quite
so narrow and wretched as some word-painters have described them,
during the greater part of the time his condition was a dreary and
painful one, especially when spent, as it sometimes was, "under
cruel and oppressive jailers." The enforced separation from his
wife and children, especially his tenderly loved blind daughter,
Mary, was a continually renewed anguish to his loving heart. "The
parting with them," he writes, "hath often been to me as 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 often
have brought to my mind the many hardships, miseries, and wants my
poor family was like to meet with, should I be taken from them;
especially my poor blind child, who lay nearer to my heart than all
beside. Poor child, thought I, thou must be beaten, thou must beg,
thou must suffer hunger, cold, nakedness, and a thousand
calamities, though I cannot now endure the wind should blow on
thee. O, the thoughts of the hardships my blind one might go under
would break my heart to pieces." He seemed to himself like a man
pulling down his house on his wife and children's head, and yet he
felt, "I must do it; O, I must do it." He was also, he tells us,
at one time, being but "a young prisoner," greatly troubled by the
thoughts that "for aught he could tell," his "imprisonment might
end at the gallows," not so much that he dreaded death as that he
was apprehensive that when it came to the point, even if he made "a
scrabbling shift to clamber up the ladder," he might play the
coward and so do discredit to the cause of religion. "I was
ashamed to die with a pale face and tottering knees for such a
cause as this." The belief that his imprisonment might be
terminated by death on the scaffold, however groundless, evidently
weighed long on his mind. The closing sentences of his third
prison book, "Christian Behaviour," published in 1663, the second
year of his durance, clearly point to such an expectation. "Thus
have I in few words written to you before I die, . . . not knowing
the shortness of my life, nor the hindrances that hereafter I may
have of serving my God and you." The ladder of his apprehensions
was, as Mr. Froude has said, "an imaginary ladder," but it was very
real to Bunyan. "Oft I was as if I was on the ladder with a rope
about my neck." The thought of it, as his autobiography shows,
caused him some of his deepest searchings of heart, and noblest
ventures of faith. He was content to suffer by the hangman's hand
if thus he might have an opportunity of addressing the crowd that
he thought would come to see him die. "And if it must be so, if
God will but convert one soul by my very last words, I shall not
count my life thrown away or lost." And even when hours of
darkness came over his soul, and he was tempted to question the
reality of his Christian profession, and to doubt whether God would
give him comfort at the hour of death, he stayed himself up with
such bold words as these. "I was bound, but He was free. Yea,
'twas my duty to stand to His word whether He would ever look on me
or no, or save me at the last. If God doth not come in, thought I,
I will leap off the ladder even blindfold into Eternity, sink or
swim, come heaven, come hell. Lord Jesus, if Thou wilt catch me,
do. If not, I will venture for Thy name."
Bunyan being precluded by his imprisonment from carrying on his
brazier's craft for the support of his wife and family, and his
active spirit craving occupation, he got himself taught how to make
"long tagged laces," "many hundred gross" of which, we are told by
one who first formed his acquaintance in prison, he made during his
captivity, for "his own and his family's necessities." "While his
hands were thus busied," writes Lord Macaulay, "he had often
employment for his mind and for his lips." "Though a prisoner he
was a preacher still." As with St. Paul in his Roman chains, "the
word of God was not bound." The prisoners for conscience' sake,
who like him, from time to time, were cooped up in Bedford gaol,
including several of his brother ministers and some of his old
friends among the leading members of his own little church,
furnished a numerous and sympathetic congregation. At one time a
body of some sixty, who had met for worship at night in a
neighbouring wood, were marched off to gaol, with their minister at
their head. But while all about him was in confusion, his spirit
maintained its even calm, and he could at once speak the words of
strength and comfort that were needed. In the midst of the hurry
which so many "newcomers occasioned," writes the friend to whom we
are indebted for the details of his prison life, "I have heard Mr.
Bunyan both preach and pray with that mighty spirit of faith and
plerophory of Divine assistance that has made me stand and wonder."
These sermons addressed to his fellow prisoners supplied, in many
cases, the first outlines of the books which, in rapid succession,
flowed from his pen during the earlier years of his imprisonment,
relieving the otherwise insupportable tedium of his close
confinement. Bunyan himself tells us that this was the case with
regard to his "Holy City," the first idea of which was borne in
upon his mind when addressing "his brethren in the prison chamber,"
nor can we doubt that the case was the same with other works of
his. To these we shall hereafter return. Nor was it his fellow
prisoners only who profited by his counsels. In his "Life and
Death of Mr. Badman," he gives us a story of a woman who came to
him when he was in prison, to confess how she had robbed her
master, and to ask his help. Hers was probably a representative
case. The time spared from his handicraft, and not employed in
religious counsel and exhortation, was given to study and
composition. For this his confinement secured him the leisure
which otherwise he would have looked for in vain. The few books he
possessed he studied indefatigably. His library was, at least at
one period, a very limited one, - "the least and the best library,"
writes a friend who visited him in prison, "that I ever saw,
consisting only of two books - the Bible, and Foxe's 'Book of
Martyrs.'" "But with these two books," writes Mr. Froude, "he had
no cause to complain of intellectual destitution." Bunyan's mode
of composition, though certainly exceedingly rapid, - thoughts
succeeding one another with a quickness akin to inspiration, - was
anything but careless. The "limae labor" with him was unsparing.
It was, he tells us, "first with doing, and then with undoing, and
after that with doing again," that his books were brought to
completion, and became what they are, a mine of Evangelical
Calvinism of the richest ore, entirely free from the narrow
dogmatism and harsh predestinarianism of the great Genevan divine;
books which for clearness of thought, lucidity of arrangement,
felicity of language, rich even if sometimes homely force of
illustration, and earnestness of piety have never been surpassed.
Bunyan's prison life when the first bitterness of it was past, and
habit had done away with its strangeness, was a quiet and it would
seem, not an unhappy one. A manly self-respect bore him up and
forbade his dwelling on the darker features of his position, or
thinking or speaking harshly of the authors of his durance. "He
was," writes one who saw him at this time, "mild and affable in
conversation; not given to loquacity or to much discourse unless
some urgent occasion required. It was observed he never spoke of
himself or his parents, but seemed low in his own eyes. He was
never heard to reproach or revile, whatever injury he received, but
rather rebuked those who did so. He managed all things with such
exactness as if he had made it his study not to give offence."
According to his earliest biographer, Charles Doe, in 1666, the
year of the Fire of London, after Bunyan had lain six years in
Bedford gaol, "by the intercession of some interest or power that
took pity on his sufferings," he enjoyed a short interval of
liberty. Who these friends and sympathisers were is not mentioned,
and it would be vain to conjecture. This period of freedom,
however, was very short. He at once resumed his old work of
preaching, against which the laws had become even more stringent
during his imprisonment, and was apprehended at a meeting just as
he was about to preach a sermon. He had given out his text, "Dost
thou believe on the Son of God?" (John ix. 35), and was standing
with his open Bible in his hand, when the constable came in to take
him. Bunyan fixed his eyes on the man, who turned pale, let go his
hold, and drew back, while Bunyan exclaimed, "See how this man
trembles at the word of God!" This is all we know of his second
arrest, and even this little is somewhat doubtful. The time, the
place, the circumstances, are as provokingly vague as much else of
Bunyan's life. The fact, however, is certain. Bunyan returned to
Bedford gaol, where he spent another six years, until the issuing
of the "Declaration of Indulgence" early in 1672 opened the longclosed
doors, and he walked out a free man, and with what he valued
far more than personal liberty, freedom to deliver Christ's message
as he understood it himself, none making him afraid, and to declare
to his brother sinners what their Saviour had done for them, and
what he expected them to do that they might obtain the salvation He
died to win.
From some unknown cause, perhaps the depressing effect of
protracted confinement, during this second six years Bunyan's pen
was far less prolific than during the former period. Only two of
his books are dated in these years. The last of these, "A Defence
of the Doctrine of Justification by Faith," a reply to a work of
Edward Fowler, afterwards Bishop of Gloucester, the rector of
Northill, was written in hot haste immediately before his release,
and issued from the press contemporaneously with it, the prospect
of liberty apparently breathing new life into his wearied soul.
When once Bunyan became a free man again, his pen recovered its
former copiousness of production, and the works by which he has
been immortalized, "The Pilgrim's Progress" - which has been
erroneously ascribed to Bunyan's twelve years' imprisonment - and
its sequel, "The Holy War," and the "Life and Death of Mr. Badman,"
and a host of more strictly theological works, followed one another
in rapid succession.
Bunyan's second term of imprisonment was certainly less severe than
that which preceded it. At its commencement we learn that, like
Joseph in Egypt, he found favour in his jailer's eyes, who "took
such pity of his rigorous suffering, that he put all care and trust
into his hands." Towards the close of his imprisonment its rigour
was still further relaxed. The Bedford church book begins its
record again in 1688, after an interval of ominous silence of five
years, when the persecution was at the hottest. In its earliest
entries we find Bunyan's name, which occurs repeatedly up to the
date of his final release in 1672. Not one of these notices gives
the slightest allusion of his being a prisoner. He is deputed with
others to visit and remonstrate with backsliding brethren, and
fulfil other commissions on behalf of the congregation, as if he
were in the full enjoyment of his liberty. This was in the two
years' interval between the expiration of the Conventicle Act,
March 2, 1667-8, and the passing of the new Act, styled by Marvell,
"the quintessence of arbitrary malice," April 11, 1670. After a
few months of hot persecution, when a disgraceful system of
espionage was set on foot and the vilest wretches drove a lucrative
trade as spies on "meetingers," the severity greatly lessened.
Charles II. was already meditating the issuing of a Declaration of
Indulgence, and signified his disapprobation of the "forceable
courses" in which, "the sad experience of twelve years" showed,
there was "very little fruit." One of the first and most notable
consequences of this change of policy was Bunyan's release.
Mr. Offor's patient researches in the State Paper Office have
proved that the Quakers, than whom no class of sectaries had
suffered more severely from the persecuting edicts of the Crown,
were mainly instrumental in throwing open the prison doors to those
who, like Bunyan, were in bonds for the sake of their religion.
Gratitude to John Groves, the Quaker mate of Tattersall's fishing
boat, in which Charles had escaped to France after the battle of
Worcester, had something, and the untiring advocacy of George
Whitehead, the Quaker, had still more, to do with this act of royal
clemency. We can readily believe that the good-natured Charles was
not sorry to have an opportunity of evidencing his sense of former
services rendered at a time of his greatest extremity. But the
main cause lay much deeper, and is connected with what Lord
Macaulay justly styles "one of the worst acts of one of the worst
governments that England has ever seen" - that of the Cabal. Our
national honour was at its lowest ebb. Charles had just concluded
the profligate Treaty of Dover, by which, in return for the
"protection" he sought from the French king, he declared himself a
Roman Catholic at heart, and bound himself to take the first
opportunity of "changing the present state of religion in England
for a better," and restoring the authority of the Pope. The
announcement of his conversion Charles found it convenient to
postpone. Nor could the other part of his engagement be safely
carried into effect at once. It called for secret and cautious
preparation. But to pave the way for it, by an unconstitutional
exercise of his prerogative he issued a Declaration of Indulgence
which suspended all penal laws against "whatever sort of
Nonconformists or Recusants." The latter were evidently the real
object of the indulgence; the former class were only introduced the
better to cloke his infamous design. Toleration, however, was thus
at last secured, and the long-oppressed Nonconformists hastened to
profit by it. "Ministers returned," writes Mr. J. R. Green, "after
years of banishment, to their homes and their flocks. Chapels were
re-opened. The gaols were emptied. Men were set free to worship
God after their own fashion. John Bunyan left the prison which had
for twelve years been his home." More than three thousand licenses
to preach were at once issued. One of the earliest of these, dated
May 9, 1672, four months before his formal pardon under the Great
Seal, was granted to Bunyan, who in the preceding January had been
chosen their minister by the little congregation at Bedford, and
"giving himself up to serve Christ and His Church in that charge,
had received of the elders the right hand of fellowship." The
place licensed for the exercise of Bunyan's ministry was a barn
standing in an orchard, once forming part of the Castle Moat, which
one of the congregation, Josias Roughead, acting for the members of
his church, had purchased. The license bears date May 9, 1672.
This primitive place of worship, in which Bunyan preached regularly
till his death, was pulled down in 1707, when a "three-ridged
meeting-house" was erected in its place. This in its turn gave
way, in 1849, to the existing more seemly chapel, to which the
present Duke of Bedford, in 1876, presented a pair of noble bronze
doors bearing scenes, in high relief, from "The Pilgrim's
Progress," the work of Mr. Frederick Thrupp. In the vestry are
preserved Bunyan's chair, and other relics of the man who has made
the name of Bedford famous to the whole civilized world.
Mr. Green has observed that Bunyan "found compensation for the
narrow bounds of his prison in the wonderful activity of his pen.
Tracts, controversial treatises, poems, meditations, his 'Grace
Abounding,' and his 'Holy War,' followed each other in quick
succession." Bunyan's literary fertility in the earlier half of
his imprisonment was indeed amazing. Even if, as seems almost
certain, we have been hitherto in error in assigning the First Part
of "The Pilgrim's Progress" to this period, while the "Holy War"
certainly belongs to a later, the works which had their birth in
Bedford Gaol during the first six years of his confinement, are of
themselves sufficient to make the reputation of any ordinary
writer. As has been already remarked, for some unexplained cause,
Bunyan's gifts as an author were much more sparingly called into
exercise during the second half of his captivity. Only two works
appear to have been written between 1666 and his release in 1672.
Mr. Green has spoken of "poems" as among the products of Bunyan's
pen during this period. The compositions in verse belonging to
this epoch, of which there are several, hardly deserve to be
dignified with so high a title. At no part of his life had Bunyan
much title to be called a poet. He did not aspire beyond the rank
of a versifier, who clothed his thoughts in rhyme or metre instead
of the more congenial prose, partly for the pleasure of the
exercise, partly because he knew by experience that the lessons he
wished to inculcate were more likely to be remembered in that form.
Mr. Froude, who takes a higher estimate of Bunyan's verse than is
commonly held, remarks that though it is the fashion to apply the
epithet of "doggerel" to it, the "sincere and rational meaning"
which pervades his compositions renders such an epithet improper.
"His ear for rhythm," he continues, "though less true than in his
prose, is seldom wholly at fault, and whether in prose or verse, he
had the superlative merit that he could never write nonsense."
Bunyan's earliest prison work, entitled "Profitable Meditations,"
was in verse, and neither this nor his later metrical ventures
before his release - his "Four Last Things," his "Ebal and
Gerizim," and his "Prison Meditations" - can be said to show much
poetical power. At best he is a mere rhymester, to whom rhyme and
metre, even when self-chosen, were as uncongenial accoutrements "as
Saul's armour was to David." The first-named book, which is
entitled a "Conference between Christ and a Sinner," in the form of
a poetical dialogue, according to Dr. Brown has "small literary
merit of any sort." The others do not deserve much higher
commendation. There is an individuality about the "Prison
Meditations" which imparts to it a personal interest, which is
entirely wanting in the other two works, which may be characterized
as metrical sermons, couched in verse of the Sternhold and Hopkins
type. A specimen or two will suffice. The "Four Last Things" thus
"These lines I at this time present
To all that will them heed,
Wherein I show to what intent
God saith, 'Convert with speed.'
For these four things come on apace,
Which we should know full well,
Both death and judgment, and, in place
Next to them, heaven and hell."
The following lines are from "Ebal and Gerizim":-
"Thou art like one that hangeth by a thread
Over the mouth of hell, as one half dead;
And oh, how soon this thread may broken be,
Or cut by death, is yet unknown to thee.
But sure it is if all the weight of sin,
And all that Satan too hath doing been
Or yet can do, can break this crazy thread,
'Twill not be long before among the dead
Thou tumble do, as linked fast in chains,
With them to wait in fear for future pains."
The poetical effusion entitled "Prison Meditations" does not in any
way rise above the prosaic level of its predecessors. But it can
be read with less weariness from the picture it presents of
Bunyan's prison life, and of the courageous faith which sustained
him. Some unnamed friend, it would appear, fearing he might
flinch, had written him a letter counselling him to keep "his head
above the flood." Bunyan replied in seventy stanzas in ballad
measure, thanking his correspondent for his good advice, of which
he confesses he stood in need, and which he takes it kindly of him
to send, even though his feet stand upon Mount Zion, and the gaol
is to him like a hill from which he could see beyond this world,
and take his fill of the blessedness of that which remains for the
Christian. Though in bonds his mind is free, and can wander where
it will.
"For though men keep my outward man
Within their locks and bars,
Yet by the faith of Christ, I can
Mount higher than the stars."
Meanwhile his captivity is sweetened by the thought of what it was
that brought him there:-
"I here am very much refreshed
To think, when I was out,
I preached life, and peace, and rest,
To sinners round about.
My business then was souls to save
By preaching grace and faith,
Of which the comfort now I have
And have it shall till death.
That was the work I was about
When hands on me they laid.
'Twas this for which they plucked me out
And vilely to me said,
'You heretic, deceiver, come,
To prison you must go,
You preach abroad, and keep not home,
You are the Church's foe.'
Wherefore to prison they me sent,
Where to this day I lie,
And can with very much content
For my profession die.
The prison very sweet to me
Hath been since I came here,
And so would also hanging be
If God would there appear.
To them that here for evil lie
The place is comfortless;
But not to me, because that I
Lie here for righteousness.
The truth and I were both here cast
Together, and we do
Lie arm in arm, and so hold fast
Each other, this is true.
Who now dare say we throw away
Our goods or liberty,
When God's most holy Word doth say
We gain thus much thereby?"
It will be seen that though Bunyan's verses are certainly not highclass
poetry, they are very far removed from doggerel. Nothing
indeed that Bunyan ever wrote, however rugged the rhymes and
limping the metre, can be so stigmatized. The rude scribblings on
the margins of the copy of the "Book of Martyrs," which bears
Bunyan's signature on the title-pages, though regarded by Southey
as "undoubtedly" his, certainly came from a later and must less
instructed pen. And as he advanced in his literary career, his
claim to the title of a poet, though never of the highest, was much
strengthened. The verses which diversify the narrative in the
Second Part of "The Pilgrim's Progress" are decidedly superior to
those in the First Part, and some are of high excellence. Who is
ignorant of the charming little song of the Shepherd Boy in the
Valley of Humiliation, "in very mean clothes, but with a very fresh
and well-favoured countenance, and wearing more of the herb called
Heartsease in his bosom than he that is clad in silk and velvet?" -
"He that is down need fear no fall;
He that is low, no pride;
He that is humble, ever shall
Have God to be his guide.
I am content with what I have,
Little be it or much,
And, Lord, contentment still I crave,
Because Thou savest such.
Fulness to such a burden is
That go on Pilgrimage,
Here little, and hereafter Bliss
Is best from age to age."
Bunyan reaches a still higher flight in Valiant-for-Truth's song,
later on, the Shakesperian ring of which recalls Amiens' in "As You
Like It,"
"Under the greenwood tree,
Who loves to lie with me. . .
Come hither, come hither,"
and has led some to question whether it can be Bunyan's own. The
resemblance, as Mr. Froude remarks, is "too near to be accidental."
"Perhaps he may have heard the lines, and the rhymes may have clung
to him without his knowing whence they came."
"Who would true Valour see,
Let him come hither,
One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather.
There's no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a Pilgrim.
Who so beset him round
With dismal stories,
Do but themselves confound
His strength the more is.
No lion can him fright,
He'll with a giant fight,
But he will have a right
To be a Pilgrim.
Hobgoblin nor foul fiend
Can daunt his spirit,
He knows he at the end
Shall life inherit.
Then fancies fly away
He'll fear not what men say,
He'll labour night and day
To be a Pilgrim."
All readers of "The Pilgrim's Progress" and "The Holy War" are
familiar with the long metrical compositions giving the history of
these works by which they are prefaced and the latter work is
closed. No more characteristic examples of Bunyan's muse can be
found. They show his excellent command of his native tongue in
racy vernacular, homely but never vulgar, and his power of
expressing his meaning "with sharp defined outlines and without the
waste of a word."
Take this account of his perplexity, when the First Part of his
"Pilgrim's Progress" was finished, whether it should be given to
the world or no, and the characteristic decision with which he
settled the question for himself:-
"Well, when I had then put mine ends together,
I show'd them others that I might see whether
They would condemn them, or them justify;
And some said Let them live; some, Let them die.
Some said, John, print it; others said, Not so;
Some said it might do good; others said No.
Now was I in a strait, and did not see
Which was the best thing to be done by me;
At last I thought since you are thus divided
I print it will; and so the case decided;"
or the lines in which he introduces the Second Part of the Pilgrim
to the readers of the former part:-
"Go now, my little Book, to every place
Where my first Pilgrim hath but shown his face:
Call at their door: If any say, 'Who's there?'
Then answer that Christiana is here.
If they bid thee come in, then enter thou
With all thy boys. And then, as thou knowest how,
Tell who they are, also from whence they came;
Perhaps they'll know them by their looks or name.
But if they should not, ask them yet again
If formerly they did not entertain
One Christian, a pilgrim. If they say
They did, and were delighted in his way:
Then let them know that these related are
Unto him, yea, his wife and children are.
Tell them that they have left their house and home,
Are turned Pilgrims, seek a world to come;
That they have met with hardships on the way,
That they do meet with troubles night and day."
How racy, even if the lines are a little halting, is the defence of
the genuineness of his Pilgrim in "The Advertisement to the Reader"
at the end of "The Holy War."
"Some say the Pilgrim's Progress is not mine,
Insinuating as if I would shine
In name or fame by the worth of another,
Like some made rich by robbing of their brother;
Or that so fond I am of being sire
I'll father bastards; or if need require,
I'll tell a lie or print to get applause.
I scorn it. John such dirt-heap never was
Since God converted him. . .
Witness my name, if anagram'd to thee
The letters make NU HONY IN A B.
How full of life and vigour his sketch of the beleaguerment and
deliverance of "Mansoul," as a picture of his own spiritual
experience, in the introductory verses to "The Holy War"! -
"For my part I, myself, was in the town,
Both when 'twas set up, and when pulling down;
I saw Diabolus in possession,
And Mansoul also under his oppression.
Yes, I was there when she crowned him for lord,
And to him did submit with one accord.
When Mansoul trampled upon things divine,
And wallowed in filth as doth a swine,
When she betook herself unto her arms,
Fought her Emmanuel, despised his charms:
Then I was there, and did rejoice to see
Diabolus and Mansoul so agree.
I saw the prince's armed men come down
By troops, by thousands, to besiege the town,
I saw the captains, heard the trumpets sound,
And how his forces covered all the ground,
Yea, how they set themselves in battle array,
I shall remember to my dying day."
Bunyan's other essays in the domain of poetry need not detain us
long. The most considerable of these - at least in bulk - if it be
really his, is a version of some portions of the Old and New
Testaments: the life of Joseph, the Book of Ruth, the history of
Samson, the Book of Jonah, the Sermon on the Mount, and the General
Epistle of St. James. The attempt to do the English Bible into
verse has been often made and never successfully: in the nature of
things success in such a task is impossible, nor can this attempt
be regarded as happier than that of others. Mr. Froude indeed, who
undoubtingly accepts their genuineness, is of a different opinion.
He styles the "Book of Ruth" and the "History of Joseph" "beautiful
idylls," of such high excellence that, "if we found them in the
collected works of a poet laureate, we should consider that a
difficult task had been accomplished successfully." It would seem
almost doubtful whether Mr. Froude can have read the compositions
that he commends so largely, and so much beyond their merit. The
following specimen, taken haphazard, will show how thoroughly
Bunyan or the rhymester, whoever he may be, has overcome what Mr.
Froude regards as an almost insuperable difficulty, and has managed
to "spoil completely the faultless prose of the English
"Ruth replied,
Intreat me not to leave thee or return;
For where thou goest I'll go, where thou sojourn
I'll sojourn also - and what people's thine,
And who thy God, the same shall both be mine.
Where thou shalt die, there will I die likewise,
And I'll be buried where thy body lies.
The Lord do so to me and more if I
Do leave thee or forsake thee till I die."
The more we read of these poems, not given to the world till twelve
years after Bunyan's death, and that by a publisher who was "a
repeated offender against the laws of honest dealing," the more we
are inclined to agree with Dr. Brown, that the internal evidence of
their style renders their genuineness at the least questionable.
In the dull prosaic level of these compositions there is certainly
no trace of the "force and power" always present in Bunyan's rudest
rhymes, still less of the "dash of genius" and the "sparkle of
soul" which occasionally discover the hand of a master.
Of the authenticity of Bunyan's "Divine Emblems," originally
published three years after his death under the title of "Country
Rhymes for Children," there is no question. The internal evidence
confirms the external. The book is thoroughly in Bunyan's vein,
and in its homely naturalness of imagery recalls the similitudes of
the "Interpreter's House," especially those expounded to Christiana
and her boys. As in that "house of imagery" things of the most
common sort, the sweeping of a room, the burning of a fire, the
drinking of a chicken, a robin with a spider in his mouth, are made
the vehicle of religious teaching; so in this "Book for Boys and
Girls," a mole burrowing in the ground, a swallow soaring in the
air, the cuckoo which can do nothing but utter two notes, a flaming
and a blinking candle, or a pound of candles falling to the ground,
a boy chasing a butterfly, the cackling of a hen when she has laid
her egg, all, to his imaginative mind, set forth some spiritual
truth or enforce some wholesome moral lesson. How racy, though
homely, are these lines on a Frog! -
"The Frog by nature is but damp and cold,
Her mouth is large, her belly much will hold,
She sits somewhat ascending, loves to be
Croaking in gardens, though unpleasantly.
The hypocrite is like unto this Frog,
As like as is the puppy to the dog.
He is of nature cold, his mouth is wide
To prate, and at true goodness to deride.
And though this world is that which he doth love,
He mounts his head as if he lived above.
And though he seeks in churches for to croak,
He neither seeketh Jesus nor His yoke."
There is some real poetry in those on the Cuckoo, though we may be
inclined to resent his harsh treatment of our universal favourite:-
"Thou booby says't thou nothing but Cuckoo?
The robin and the wren can that outdo.
They to us play thorough their little throats
Not one, but sundry pretty tuneful notes.
But thou hast fellows, some like thee can do
Little but suck our eggs, and sing Cuckoo.
Thy notes do not first welcome in our spring,
Nor dost thou its first tokens to us bring.
Birds less than thee by far like prophets do
Tell us 'tis coming, though not by Cuckoo,
Nor dost thou summer bear away with thee
Though thou a yawling bawling Cuckoo be.
When thou dost cease among us to appear,
Then doth our harvest bravely crown our year.
But thou hast fellows, some like thee can do
Little but suck our eggs, and sing Cuckoo.
Since Cuckoos forward not our early spring
Nor help with notes to bring our harvest in,
And since while here, she only makes a noise
So pleasing unto none as girls and boys,
The Formalist we may compare her to,
For he doth suck our eggs and sing Cuckoo."
A perusal of this little volume with its roughness and quaintness,
sometimes grating on the ear but full of strong thought and
picturesque images, cannot fail to raise Bunyan's pretensions as a
poet. His muse, it is true, as Alexander Smith has said, is a
homely one. She is "clad in russet, wears shoes and stockings, has
a country accent, and walks along the level Bedfordshire roads."
But if the lines are unpolished, "they have pith and sinew, like
the talk of a shrewd peasant," with the "strong thought and the
knack of the skilled workman who can drive by a single blow the
nail home to the head."
During his imprisonment Bunyan's pen was much more fertile in prose
than in poetry. Besides his world-famous "Grace Abounding," he
produced during the first six years of his gaol life a treatise on
prayer, entitled "Praying in the Spirit;" a book on "Christian
Behaviour," setting forth with uncompromising plainness the
relative duties of husbands and wives, parents and children,
masters and servants, by which those who profess a true faith are
bound to show forth its reality and power; the "Holy City," an
exposition of the vision in the closing chapters of the Book of
Revelation, brilliant with picturesque description and rich in
suggestive thought, which, he tells us, had its origin in a sermon
preached by him to his brethren in bonds in their prison chamber;
and a work on the "Resurrection of the Dead and Eternal Judgment."
On these works we may not linger. There is not one of them which
is not marked by vigour of thought, clearness of language, accuracy
of arrangement, and deep spiritual experience. Nor is there one
which does not here and there exhibit specimens of Bunyan's
picturesque imaginative power, and his command of forcible and racy
language. Each will reward perusal. His work on "Prayer" is
couched in the most exalted strain, and is evidently the production
of one who by long and agonizing experience had learnt the true
nature of prayer, as a pouring out of the soul to God, and a
wrestling with Him until the blessing, delayed not denied, is
granted. It is, however, unhappily deformed by much ignorant
reviling of the Book of Common Prayer. He denounces it as "taken
out of the papistical mass-book, the scraps and fragments of some
popes, some friars, and I know not what;" and ridicules the order
of service it propounds to the worshippers. "They have the matter
and the manner of their prayer at their fingers' ends; they set
such a prayer for such a day, and that twenty years before it
comes: one for Christmas, another for Easter, and six days after
that. They have also bounded how many syllables must be said in
every one of them at their public exercises. For each saint's day
also they have them ready for the generations yet unborn to say.
They can tell you also when you shall kneel, when you shall stand,
when you should abide in your seats, when you should go up into the
chancel, and what you should do when you come there. All which the
apostles came short of, as not being able to compose so profound a
manner." This bitter satirical vein in treating of sacred things
is unworthy of its author, and degrading to his sense of reverence.
It has its excuse in the hard measure he had received from those
who were so unwisely endeavouring to force the Prayer Book on a
generation which had largely forgotten it. In his mind, the men
and the book were identified, and the unchristian behaviour of its
advocates blinded his eyes to its merits as a guide to devotion.
Bunyan, when denouncing forms in worship, forgot that the same
apostle who directs that in our public assemblies everything should
be done "to edification," directs also that everything should be
done "decently and in order."
By far the most important of these prison works - "The Pilgrim's
Progress," belonging, as will be seen, to a later period - is the
"Grace Abounding," in which with inimitable earnestness and
simplicity Bunyan gives the story of his early life and his
religious history. This book, if he had written no other, would
stamp Bunyan as one of the greatest masters of the English language
of his own or any other age. In graphic delineation of the
struggles of a conscience convicted of sin towards a hardly won
freedom and peace, the alternations of light and darkness, of hope
and despair, which chequered its course, its morbid self-torturing
questionings of motive and action, this work of the travelling
tinker, as a spiritual history, has never been surpassed. Its
equal can hardly be found, save perhaps in the "Confessions of St.
Augustine." These, however, though describing a like spiritual
conflict, are couched in a more cultured style, and rise to a
higher metaphysical region than Bunyan was capable of attaining to.
His level is a lower one, but on that level Bunyan is without a
rival. Never has the history of a soul convinced of the reality of
eternal perdition in its most terrible form as the most certain of
all possible facts, and of its own imminent danger of hopeless,
irreversible doom - seeing itself, to employ his own image,
hanging, as it were, over the pit of hell by a thin line, which
might snap any moment - been portrayed in more nervous and aweinspiring
language. And its awfulness is enhanced by its selfevident
truth. Bunyan was drawing no imaginary picture of what
others might feel, but simply telling in plain unadorned language
what he had felt. The experience was a very tremendous reality to
him. Like Dante, if he had not actually been in hell, he had been
on the very threshold of it; he had in very deed traversed "the
Valley of the Shadow of Death," had heard its "hideous noises," and
seen "the Hobgoblins of the Pit." He "spake what he knew and
testified what he had seen." Every sentence breathes the most
tremendous earnestness. His words are the plainest, drawn from his
own homely vernacular. He says in his preface, which will amply
repay reading, as one of the most characteristic specimens of his
style, that he could have stepped into a higher style, and adorned
his narrative more plentifully. But he dared not. "God did not
play in convincing him. The devil did not play in tempting him.
He himself did not play when he sunk as into a bottomless pit, and
the pangs of hell caught hold on him. Nor could he play in
relating them. He must be plain and simple and lay down the thing
as it was. He that liked it might receive it. He that did not
might produce a better." The remembrance of "his great sins, his
great temptations, his great fears of perishing for ever, recalled
the remembrance of his great help, his great support from heaven,
the great grace God extended to such a wretch as he was." Having
thus enlarged on his own experience, he calls on his spiritual
children, for whose use the work was originally composed and to
whom it is dedicated, - "those whom God had counted him worthy to
beget to Faith by his ministry in the Word" - to survey their own
religious history, to "work diligently and leave no corner
unsearched." He would have them "remember their tears and prayers
to God; how they sighed under every hedge for mercy. Had they
never a hill Mizar (Psa. xlii. 6) to remember? Had they forgotten
the close, the milkhouse, the stable, the barn, where God visited
their souls? Let them remember the Word on which the Lord had
caused them to hope. If they had sinned against light, if they
were tempted to blaspheme, if they were down in despair, let them
remember that it had been so with him, their spiritual father, and
that out of them all the Lord had delivered him." This dedication
ends thus: "My dear children, the milk and honey is beyond this
wilderness. God be merciful to you, and grant you be not slothful
to go in to possess the land."
This remarkable book, as we learn from the title-page, was "written
by his own hand in prison." It was first published by George
Larkin in London, in 1666, the sixth year of his imprisonment, the
year of the Fire of London, about the time that he experienced his
first brief release. As with "The Pilgrim's Progress," the work
grew in picturesque detail and graphic power in the author's hand
after its first appearance. The later editions supply some of the
most interesting personal facts contained in the narrative, which
were wanting when it first issued from the press. His two escapes
from drowning, and from the supposed sting of an adder; his being
drawn as a soldier, and his providential deliverance from death;
the graphic account of his difficulty in giving up bell-ringing at
Elstow Church, and dancing on Sundays on Elstow Green - these and
other minor touches which give a life and colour to the story,
which we should be very sorry to lose, are later additions. It is
impossible to over-estimate the value of the "Grace Abounding,"
both for the facts of Bunyan's earlier life and for the spiritual
experience of which these facts were, in his eyes only the outward
framework. Beginning with his parentage and boyhood, it carries us
down to his marriage and life in the wayside-cottage at Elstow, his
introduction to Mr. Gifford's congregation at Bedford, his joining
that holy brotherhood, and his subsequent call to the work of the
ministry among them, and winds up with an account of his
apprehension, examinations, and imprisonment in Bedford gaol. The
work concludes with a report of the conversation between his noblehearted
wife and Sir Matthew Hale and the other judges at the
Midsummer assizes, narrated in a former chapter, "taken down," he
says, "from her own mouth." The whole story is of such sustained
interest that our chief regret on finishing it is that it stops
where it does, and does not go on much further. Its importance for
our knowledge of Bunyan as a man, as distinguished from an author,
and of the circumstances of his life, is seen by a comparison of
our acquaintance with his earlier and with his later years. When
he laid down his pen no one took it up, and beyond two or three
facts, and a few hazy anecdotes we know little or nothing of all
that happened between his final release and his death.
The value of the "Grace Abounding," however, as a work of
experimental religion may be easily over-estimated. It is not many
who can study Bunyan's minute history of the various stages of his
spiritual life with real profit. To some temperaments, especially
among the young, the book is more likely to prove injurious than
beneficial; it is calculated rather to nourish morbid imaginations,
and a dangerous habit of introspection, than to foster the quiet
growth of the inner life. Bunyan's unhappy mode of dealing with
the Bible as a collection of texts, each of Divine authority and
declaring a definite meaning entirely irrespective of its context,
by which the words hide the Word, is also utterly destructive of
the true purpose of the Holy Scriptures as a revelation of God's
loving and holy mind and will. Few things are more touching than
the eagerness with which, in his intense self-torture, Bunyan tried
to evade the force of those "fearful and terrible Scriptures" which
appeared to seal his condemnation, and to lay hold of the promises
to the penitent sinner. His tempest-tossed spirit could only find
rest by doing violence to the dogma, then universally accepted and
not quite extinct even in our own days, that the authority of the
Bible - that "Divine Library" - collectively taken, belongs to each
and every sentence of the Bible taken for and by itself, and that,
in Coleridge's words, "detached sentences from books composed at
the distance of centuries, nay, sometimes at a millenium from each
other, under different dispensations and for different objects,"
are to be brought together "into logical dependency." But "where
the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty." The divinely given
life in the soul of man snaps the bonds of humanly-constructed
logical systems. Only those, however, who have known by experience
the force of Bunyan's spiritual combat, can fully appreciate and
profit by Bunyan's narrative. He tells us on the title-page that
it was written "for the support of the weak and tempted people of
God." For such the "Grace Abounding to the chief of sinners" will
ever prove most valuable. Those for whom it was intended will find
in it a message - of comfort and strength.
As has been said, Bunyan's pen was almost idle during the last six
years of his imprisonment. Only two of his works were produced in
this period: his "Confession of Faith," and his "Defence of the
Doctrine of Justification by Faith." Both were written very near
the end of his prison life, and published in the same year, 1672,
only a week or two before his release. The object of the former
work was, as Dr. Brown tells us, "to vindicate his teaching, and if
possible, to secure his liberty." Writing as one "in bonds for the
Gospel," his professed principles, he asserts, are "faith, and
holiness springing therefrom, with an endeavour so far as in him
lies to be at peace with all men." He is ready to hold communion
with all whose principles are the same; with all whom he can reckon
as children of God. With these he will not quarrel about "things
that are circumstantial," such as water baptism, which he regards
as something quite indifferent, men being "neither the better for
having it, nor the worse for having it not." "He will receive them
in the Lord as becometh saints. If they will not have communion
with him, the neglect is theirs not his. But with the openly
profane and ungodly, though, poor people! they have been christened
and take the communion, he will have no communion. It would be a
strange community, he says, that consisted of men and beasts. Men
do not receive their horse or their dog to their table; they put
them in a room by themselves." As regards forms and ceremonies, he
"cannot allow his soul to be governed in its approach to God by the
superstitious inventions of this world. He is content to stay in
prison even till the moss grows on his eyelids rather than thus
make of his conscience a continual butchery and slaughter-shop by
putting out his eyes and committing himself to the blind to lead
him. Eleven years' imprisonment was a weighty argument to pause
and pause again over the foundation of the principles for which he
had thus suffered. Those principles he had asserted at his trial,
and in the tedious tract of time since then he had in cold blood
examined them by the Word of God and found them good; nor could he
dare to revolt from or deny them on pain of eternal damnation."
The second-named work, the "Defence of the Doctrine of
Justification by Faith," is entirely controversial. The Rev.
Edward Fowler, afterwards Bishop of Gloucester, then Rector of
Northill, had published in the early part of 1671, a book entitled
"The Design of Christianity." A copy having found its way into
Bunyan's hands, he was so deeply stirred by what he deemed its
subversion of the true foundation of Evangelical religion that he
took up his pen and in the space of six weeks composed a long and
elaborate examination of the book, chapter by chapter, and a
confutation of its teaching. Fowler's doctrines as Bunyan
understood them - or rather misunderstood them - awoke the worst
side of his impetuous nature. His vituperation of the author and
his book is coarse and unmeasured. He roundly charges Fowler with
having "closely, privily, and devilishly turned the grace of God
into a licentious doctrine, bespattering it with giving liberty to
lasciviousness;" and he calls him "a pretended minister of the
Word," who, in "his cursed blasphemous book vilely exposes to
public view the rottenness of his heart, in principle diametrically
opposite to the simplicity of the Gospel of Christ, a glorious
latitudinarian that can, as to religion, turn and twist like an eel
on the angle, or rather like the weathercock that stands on the
steeple;" and describes him as "contradicting the wholesome
doctrine of the Church of England." He "knows him not by face much
less his personal practise." He may have "kept himself clear of
the ignorant Sir Johns who had for a long time, as a judgment of
God, been made the mouth to the people - men of debauched lives who
for the love of filthy lucre and the pampering of their idle
carcases had made shipwreck of their former faith;" but he does
know that having been ejected as a Nonconformist in 1662, he had
afterwards gone over to the winning side, and he fears that "such
an unstable weathercock spirit as he had manifested would stumble
the work and give advantage to the adversary to speak vilifyingly
of religion." No excuse can be offered for the coarse violence of
Bunyan's language in this book; but it was too much the habit of
the time to load a theological opponent with vituperation, to push
his assertions to the furthest extreme, and make the most
unwarrantable deductions from them. It must be acknowledged that
Bunyan does not treat Fowler and his doctrines with fairness, and
that, if the latter may be thought to depreciate unduly the
sacrifice of the Death of Christ as an expiation for man's guilt,
and to lay too great a stress on the moral faculties remaining in
the soul after the Fall, Bunyan errs still more widely on the other
side in asserting the absolute, irredeemable corruption of human
nature, leaving nothing for grace to work upon, but demanding an
absolutely fresh creation, not a revivification of the Divine
nature grievously marred but not annihilated by Adam's sin.
A reply to Bunyan's severe strictures was not slow to appear. The
book bears the title, characteristic of the tone and language of
its contents, of "DIRT WIP'T OFF; or, a manifest discovery of the
Gross Ignorance, Erroneousness, and most Unchristian and Wicked
Spirit of one John Bunyan, Lay-preacher in Bedford." It professes
to be written by a friend of Fowler's, but Fowler was generally
accredited with it. Its violent tirades against one who, he says,
had been "near these twenty years or longer very infamous in the
Town and County of Bedford as a very Pestilent Schismatick," and
whom he suggests the authorities have done wrong in letting out of
prison, and had better clap in gaol again as "an impudent and
malicious Firebrand," have long since been consigned to a merciful
oblivion, where we may safely leave them.
Bunyan's protracted imprisonment came to an end in 1672. The exact
date of his actual liberation is uncertain. His pardon under the
Great Seal bears date September 13th. But we find from the church
books that he had been appointed pastor of the congregation to
which he belonged as early as the 21st of January of that year, and
on the 9th of May his ministerial position was duly recognized by
the Government, and a license was granted to him to act "as
preacher in the house of Josias Roughead," for those "of the
Persuasion commonly called Congregational." His release would
therefore seem to have anticipated the formal issue of his pardon
by four months. Bunyan was now half way through his forty-fourth
year. Sixteen years still remained to him before his career of
indefatigable service in the Master's work was brought to a close.
Of these sixteen years, as has already been remarked, we have only
a very general knowledge. Details are entirely wanting; nor is
there any known source from which they can be recovered. If he
kept any diary it has not been preserved. If he wrote letters -
and one who was looked up to by so large a circle of disciples as a
spiritual father and guide, and whose pen was so ready of exercise,
cannot fail to have written many - not one has come down to us.
The pages of the church books during his pastorate are also
provokingly barren of record, and little that they contain is in
Bunyan's handwriting. As Dr. Brown has said, "he seems to have
been too busy to keep any records of his busy life." Nor can we
fill up the blank from external authorities. The references to
Bunyan in contemporary biographies are far fewer than we might have
expected; certainly far fewer than we could have desired. But the
little that is recorded is eminently characteristic. We see him
constantly engaged in the great work to which he felt God had
called him, and for which, "with much content through grace," he
had suffered twelve years' incarceration. In addition to the
regular discharge of his pastoral duties to his own congregation,
he took a general oversight of the villages far and near which had
been the scene of his earlier ministry, preaching whenever
opportunity offered, and, ever unsparing of his own personal
labour, making long journeys into distant parts of the country for
the furtherance of the gospel. We find him preaching at Leicester
in the year of his release. Reading also is mentioned as receiving
occasional visits from him, and that not without peril after the
revival of persecution; while the congregations in London had the
benefit of his exhortations at stated intervals. Almost the first
thing Bunyan did, after his liberation from gaol, was to make
others sharers in his hardly won "liberty of prophesying," by
applying to the Government for licenses for preachers and preaching
places in Bedfordshire and the neighbouring counties, under the
Declaration of Indulgence. The still existing list sent in to the
authorities by him, in his own handwriting, contains the names of
twenty-five preachers and thirty buildings, besides "Josias
Roughead's House in his orchard at Bedford." Nineteen of these
were in his own native county, three in Northamptonshire, three in
Buckinghamshire, two in Cambridgeshire, two in Huntingdonshire, and
one in Hertfordshire. The places sought to be licensed were very
various, barns, malthouses, halls belonging to public companies,
&c., but more usually private houses. Over these religious
communities, bound together by a common faith and common suffering,
Bunyan exercised a quasi-episcopal superintendence, which gained
for him the playful title of "Bishop Bunyan." In his regular
circuits, - "visitations" we may not improperly term them, - we are
told that he exerted himself to relieve the temporal wants of the
sufferers under the penal laws, - so soon and so cruelly revived, -
ministered diligently to the sick and afflicted, and used his
influence in reconciling differences between "professors of the
gospel," and thus prevented the scandal of litigation among
Christians. The closing period of Bunyan's life was laborious but
happy, spent "honourably and innocently" in writing, preaching,
visiting his congregations, and planting daughter churches.
"Happy," writes Mr. Froude, "in his work; happy in the sense that
his influence was daily extending - spreading over his own country
and to the far-off settlements of America, - he spent his last
years in his own land of Beulah, Doubting Castle out of sight, and
the towers and minarets of Immanuel's Land growing nearer and
clearer as the days went on."
With his time so largely occupied in his spiritual functions, he
could have had but small leisure to devote to his worldly calling.
This, however, one of so honest and independent a spirit is sure
not to have neglected, it was indeed necessary that to a certain
extent he should work for his living. He had a family to maintain.
His congregation were mostly of the poorer sort, unable to
contribute much to their pastor's support. Had it been otherwise,
Bunyan was the last man in the world to make a trade of the gospel,
and though never hesitating to avail himself of the apostolic
privilege to "live of the gospel," he, like the apostle of the
Gentiles, would never be ashamed to "work with his own hands," that
he might "minister to his own necessities," and those of his
family. But from the time of his release he regarded his
ministerial work as the chief work of his life. "When he came
abroad," says one who knew him, "he found his temporal affairs were
gone to wreck, and he had as to them to begin again as if he had
newly come into the world. But yet he was not destitute of
friends, who had all along supported him with necessaries and had
been very good to his family, so that by their assistance getting
things a little about him again, he resolved as much as possible to
decline worldly business, and give himself wholly up to the service
of God." The anonymous writer to whom we are indebted for
information concerning his imprisonment and his subsequent life,
says that Bunyan, "contenting himself with that little God had
bestowed upon him, sequestered himself from all secular employments
to follow that of his call to the ministry." The fact, however,
that in the "deed of gift" of all his property to his wife in 1685,
he still describes himself as a "brazier," puts it beyond all doubt
that though his ministerial duties were his chief concern, he
prudently kept fast hold of his handicraft as a certain means of
support for himself and those dependent on him. On the whole,
Bunyan's outward circumstances were probably easy. His wants were
few and easily supplied. "Having food and raiment" for himself,
his wife, and his children, he was "therewith content." The house
in the parish of St. Cuthbert's which was his home from his release
to his death (unhappily demolished fifty years back), shows the
humble character of his daily life. It was a small cottage, such
as labourers now occupy, with three small rooms on the ground
floor, and a garret with a diminutive dormer window under the highpitched
tiled roof. Behind stood an outbuilding which served as
his workshop. We have a passing glimpse of this cottage home in
the diary of Thomas Hearne, the Oxford antiquary. One Mr. Bagford,
otherwise unknown to us, had once "walked into the country" on
purpose to see "the study of John Bunyan," and the student who made
it famous. On his arrival the interviewer - as we should now call
him - met with a civil and courteous reception from Bunyan; but he
found the contents of his study hardly larger than those of his
prison cell. They were limited to a Bible, and copies of "The
Pilgrim's Progress," and a few other books, chiefly his own works,
"all lying on a shelf or shelves." Slight as this sketch is, it
puts us more in touch with the immortal dreamer than many longer
and more elaborate paragraphs.
Bunyan's celebrity as a preacher, great before he was shut up in
gaol, was naturally enhanced by the circumstance of his
imprisonment. The barn in Josias Roughead's orchard, where he was
licensed as a preacher, was "so thronged the first time he appeared
there to edify, that many were constrained to stay without; every
one that was of his persuasion striving to partake of his
instructions." Wherever he ministered, sometimes, when troublous
days returned, in woods, and in dells, and other hiding-places, the
announcement that John Bunyan was to preach gathered a large and
attentive auditory, hanging on his lips and drinking from them the
word of life. His fame grew the more he was known and reached its
climax when his work was nearest its end. His biographer Charles
Doe tells us that just before his death, "when Mr. Bunyan preached
in London, if there were but one day's notice given, there would be
more people come together than the meeting-house could hold. I
have seen, by my computation, about twelve hundred at a morning
lecture by seven o'clock on a working day, in the dark winter time.
I also computed about three thousand that came to hear him one
Lord's Day in London, at a town's-end meeting-house, so that half
were fain to go back again for want of room, and then himself was
fain at a back door to be pulled almost over people to get upstairs
to his pulpit." This "town's-end meeting house" has been
identified by some with a quaint straggling long building which
once stood in Queen Street, Southwark, of which there is an
engraving in Wilkinson's "Londina Illustrata." Doe's account,
however, probably points to another building, as the Zoar Street
meeting-house was not opened for worship till about six months
before Bunyan's death, and then for Presbyterian service. Other
places in London connected with his preaching are Pinners' Hall in
Old Broad Street, where, on one of his occasional visits, he
delivered his striking sermon on "The Greatness of the Soul and the
Unspeakableness of the Loss thereof," first published in 1683; and
Dr. Owen's meeting-house in White's Alley, Moorfields, which was
the gathering-place for titled folk, city merchants, and other
Nonconformists of position and degree. At earlier times, when the
penal laws against Nonconformists were in vigorous exercise, Bunyan
had to hold his meetings by stealth in private houses and other
places where he might hope to escape the lynx-eyed informer. It
was at one of these furtive meetings that his earliest biographer,
the honest combmaker at the foot of London Bridge, Charles Doe,
first heard him preach. His choice of an Old Testament text at
first offended Doe, who had lately come into New Testament light
and had had enough of the "historical and doing-for-favour of the
Old Testament." But as he went on he preached "so New Testament
like" that his hearer's prejudices vanished, and he could only
"admire, weep for joy, and give the preacher his affections."
Bunyan was more than once urged to leave Bedford and settle in the
metropolis. But to all these solicitations he turned a deaf ear.
Bedford was the home of his deepest affections. It was there the
holy words of the poor women "sitting in the sun," speaking "as if
joy did make them speak," had first "made his heart shake," and
shown him that he was still a stranger to vital godliness. It was
there he had been brought out of darkness into light himself, and
there too he had been the means of imparting the same blessing to
others. The very fact of his long imprisonment had identified him
with the town and its inhabitants. There he had a large and loving
congregation, to whom he was bound by the ties of a common faith
and common sufferings. Many of these recognized in Bunyan their
spiritual father; all, save a few "of the baser sort," reverenced
him as their teacher and guide. No prospect of a wider field of
usefulness, still less of a larger income, could tempt him to
desert his "few sheep in the wilderness." Some of them, it is
true, were wayward sheep, who wounded the heart of their pastor by
breaking from the fold, and displaying very un-lamb-like behaviour.
He had sometimes to realize painfully that no pale is so close but
that the enemy will creep in somewhere and seduce the flock; and
that no rules of communion, however strict, can effectually exclude
unworthy members. Brother John Stanton had to be admonished "for
abusing his wife and beating her often for very light matters" (if
the matters had been less light, would the beating in these days
have been thought justifiable?); and Sister Mary Foskett, for
"privately whispering of a horrid scandal, 'without culler of
truth,' against Brother Honeylove." Evil-speaking and backbiting
set brother against brother. Dissensions and heartburnings grieved
Bunyan's spirit. He himself was not always spared. A letter had
to be written to Sister Hawthorn "by way of reproof for her
unseemly language against Brother Scot and the whole Church." John
Wildman was had up before the Church and convicted of being "an
abominable liar and slanderer," "extraordinary guilty" against "our
beloved Brother Bunyan himself." And though Sister Hawthorn
satisfied the Church by "humble acknowledgment of her miscariag,"
the bolder misdoer only made matters worse by "a frothy letter,"
which left no alternative but a sentence of expulsion. But though
Bunyan's flock contained some whose fleeces were not as white as he
desired, these were the exception. The congregation meeting in
Josias Roughead's barn must have been, take them as a whole, a
quiet, God-fearing, spiritually-minded folk, of whom their pastor
could think with thankfulness and satisfaction as "his hope and joy
and crown of rejoicing." From such he could not be severed
lightly. Inducements which would have been powerful to a meaner
nature fell dead on his independent spirit. He was not "a man that
preached by way of bargain for money," and, writes Doe, "more than
once he refused a more plentiful income to keep his station." As
Dr. Brown says: "He was too deeply rooted on the scene of his
lifelong labours and sufferings to think of striking his tent till
the command came from the Master to come up to the higher service
for which he had been ripening so long." At Bedford, therefore, he
remained; quietly staying on in his cottage in St. Cuthbert's, and
ministering to his humble flock, loving and beloved, as Mr. Froude
writes, "through changes of ministry, Popish plots, and Monmouth
rebellions, while the terror of a restoration of Popery was
bringing on the Revolution; careless of kings and cabinets, and
confident that Giant Pope had lost his power for harm, and
thenceforward could only bite his nails at the passing pilgrims."
Bunyan's peace was not, however, altogether undisturbed. Once it
received a shock in a renewal of his imprisonment, though only for
a brief period, in 1675, to which we owe the world-famous
"Pilgrim's Progress"; and it was again threatened, though not
actually disturbed ten years later, when the renewal of the
persecution of the Nonconformists induced him to make over all his
property - little enough in good sooth - to his wife by deed of
The former of these events demands our attention, not so much for
itself as for its connection with Bishop Barlow's interference in
Bunyan's behalf, and, still more, for its results in the production
of "The Pilgrim's Progress." Until very recently the bare fact of
this later imprisonment, briefly mentioned by Charles Doe and
another of his early biographers, was all that was known to us.
They even leave the date to be gathered, though both agree in
limiting its duration to six months or thereabouts. The recent
discovery, among the Chauncey papers, by Mr. W. G. Thorpe, of the
original warrant under which Bunyan was at this time sent to gaol,
supplies the missing information. It has been already noticed that
the Declaration of Indulgence, under which Bunyan was liberated in
1672, was very short-lived. Indeed it barely lasted in force a
twelvemonth. Granted on the 15th of March of that year, it was
withdrawn on the 9th of March of the following year, at the
instance of the House of Commons, who had taken alarm at a
suspension of the laws of the realm by the "inherent power" of the
sovereign, without the advice or sanction of Parliament. The
Declaration was cancelled by Charles II., the monarch, it is said,
tearing off the Great Seal with his own hands, a subsidy being
promised to the royal spendthrift as a reward for his complaisance.
The same year the Test Act became law. Bunyan therefore and his
fellow Nonconformists were in a position of greater peril, as far
as the letter of the law was concerned, than they had ever been.
But, as Dr. Stoughton has remarked, "the letter of the law is not
to be taken as an accurate index of the Nonconformists' condition.
The pressure of a bad law depends very much upon the hands employed
in its administration." Unhappily for Bunyan, the parties in whose
hands the execution of the penal statutes against Nonconformists
rested in Bedfordshire were his bitter personal enemies, who were
not likely to let them lie inactive. The prime mover in the matter
was doubtless Dr. William Foster, that "right Judas" whom we shall
remember holding the candle in Bunyan's face in the hall of
Harlington House at his first apprehension, and showing such
feigned affection "as if he would have leaped on his neck and
kissed him." He had some time before this become Chancellor of the
Bishop of Lincoln, and Commissary of the Court of the Archdeacon of
Bedford, offices which put in his hands extensive powers which he
had used with the most relentless severity. He has damned himself
to eternal infamy by the bitter zeal he showed in hunting down
Dissenters, inflicting exorbitant fines, and breaking into their
houses and distraining their goods for a full discharge,
maltreating their wives and daughters, and haling the offenders to
prison. Having been chiefly instrumental in Bunyan's first
committal to gaol, he doubtless viewed his release with indignation
as the leader of the Bedfordshire sectaries who was doing more
mischief to the cause of conformity, which it was his province at
all hazards to maintain, than any other twenty men. The church
would never be safe till he was clapped in prison again. The power
to do this was given by the new proclamation. By this act the
licenses to preach previously granted to Nonconformists were
recalled. Henceforward no conventicle had "any authority,
allowance, or encouragement from his Majesty." We can easily
imagine the delight with which Foster would hail the issue of this
proclamation. How he would read and read again with ever fresh
satisfaction its stringent clauses. That pestilent fellow, Bunyan,
was now once more in his clutches. This time there was no chance
of his escape. All licences were recalled, and he was absolutely
defenceless. It should not be Foster's fault if he failed to end
his days in the prison from which he ought never to have been
released. The proclamation is dated the 4th of March, 1674-5, and
was published in the GAZETTE on the 9th. It would reach Bedford on
the 11th. It placed Bunyan at the mercy of "his enemies, who
struck at him forthwith." A warrant was issued for his
apprehension, undoubtedly written by our old friend, Paul Cobb, the
clerk of the peace, who, it will be remembered, had acted in the
same capacity on Bunyan's first committal. It is dated the 4th of
March, and bears the signature of no fewer than thirteen
magistrates, ten of them affixing their seals.
That so unusually large a number took part in the execution of this
warrant, is sufficient indication of the importance attached to
Bunyan's imprisonment by the gentry of the county. The following
is the document:-
"To the Constables of Bedford and to every of them
Whereas information and complaint is made unto us that
(notwithstanding the Kings Majties late Act of most gracious
generall and free pardon to all his subjects for past misdemeanours
that by his said clemencie and indulgent grace and favor they might
bee mooved and induced for the time to come more carefully to
observe his Highenes lawes and Statutes and to continue in theire
loyall and due obedience to his Majtie) Yett one John Bunnyon of
youre said Towne Tynker hath divers times within one month last
past in contempt of his Majtie's good Lawes preached or teached at
a Conventicle Meeting or Assembly under color or ptence of exercise
of Religion in other manner than according to the Liturgie or
practiss of the Church of England These are therefore in his
Majties name to comand you forthwith to apprehend and bring the
Body of the said John Bunnion before us or any of us or other his
Majties Justice of Peace within the said County to answer the
premisses and further to doo and receave as to Lawe and Justice
shall appertaine and hereof you are not to faile. Given under our
handes and seales this ffourth day of March in the seven and
twentieth yeare of the Raigne of our most gracious Soveraigne Lord
King Charles the Second A que Dni., juxta &c 1674
J Napier W Beecher G Blundell Hum: Monoux
Will ffranklin John Ventris
Will Spencer
Will Gery St Jo Chernocke Wm Daniels
T Browne W ffoster
Gaius Squire"
There would be little delay in the execution of the warrant.
John Bunyan was a marked man and an old offender, who, on his
arrest, would be immediately committed for trial. Once more, then,
Bunyan became a prisoner, and that, there can be little doubt, in
his old quarters in the Bedford gaol. Errors die hard, and those
by whom they have been once accepted find it difficult to give them
up. The long-standing tradition of Bunyan's twelve years'
imprisonment in the little lock-up-house on the Ouse bridge, having
been scattered to the winds by the logic of fact and common sense,
those to whom the story is dear, including the latest and ablest of
his biographers, Dr. Brown, see in this second brief imprisonment a
way to rehabilitate it. Probability pointing to this imprisonment
as the time of the composition of "The Pilgrim's Progress," they
hold that on this occasion Bunyan was committed to the bridge-gaol,
and that he there wrote his immortal work, though they fail to
bring forward any satisfactory reasons for the change of the place
of his confinement. The circumstances, however, being the same,
there can be no reasonable ground for questioning that, as before,
Bunyan was imprisoned in the county gaol.
This last imprisonment of Bunyan's lasted only half as many months
as his former imprisonment had lasted years. At the end of six
months he was again a free man. His release was due to the good
officers of Owen, Cromwell's celebrated chaplain, with Barlow,
Bishop of Lincoln. The suspicion which hung over this intervention
from its being erroneously attributed to his release in 1672, three
years before Barlow became a bishop, has been dispelled by the
recently discovered warrant. The dates and circumstances are now
found to tally. The warrant for Bunyan's apprehension bears date
March 4, 1675. On the 14th of the following May the supple and
time-serving Barlow, after long and eager waiting for a mitre, was
elected to the see of Lincoln vacated by the death of Bishop
Fuller, and consecrated on the 27th of June. Barlow, a man of very
dubious churchmanship, who had succeeded in keeping his university
appointments undisturbed all through the Commonwealth, and who was
yet among the first with effusive loyalty to welcome the
restoration of monarchy, had been Owen's tutor at Oxford, and
continued to maintain friendly relations with him. As bishop of
the diocese to which Bedfordshire then, and long after, belonged,
Barlow had the power, by the then existing law, of releasing a
prisoner for nonconformity on a bond given by two persons that he
would conform within half a year. A friend of Bunyan's, probably
Ichabod Chauncey, obtained a letter from Owen to the bishop
requesting him to employ this prerogative in Bunyan's behalf.
Barlow with hollow complaisance expressed his particular kindness
for Dr. Owen, and his desire to deny him nothing he could legally
grant. He would even strain a point to serve him. But he had only
just been made a bishop, and what was asked was a new thing to him.
He desired a little time to consider of it. If he could do it,
Owen might be assured of his readiness to oblige him. A second
application at the end of a fortnight found this readiness much
cooled. It was true that on inquiry he found he might do it; but
the times were critical, and he had many enemies. It would be
safer for him not to take the initiative. Let them apply to the
Lord Chancellor, and get him to issue an order for him to release
Bunyan on the customary bond. Then he would do what Owen asked.
It was vain to tell Barlow that the way he suggested was
chargeable, and Bunyan poor. Vain also to remind him that there
was no point to be strained. He had satisfied himself that he
might do the thing legally. It was hoped he would remember his
promise. But the bishop would not budge from the position he had
taken up. They had his ultimatum; with that they must be content.
If Bunyan was to be liberated, his friends must accept Barlow's
terms. "This at last was done, and the poor man was released. But
little thanks to the bishop."
This short six months' imprisonment assumes additional importance
from the probability, first suggested by Dr. Brown, which the
recovery of its date renders almost a certainty, that it was during
this period that Bunyan began, if he did not complete, the first
part of "The Pilgrim's Progress." We know from Bunyan's own words
that the book was begun in gaol, and its composition has been
hitherto unhesitatingly assigned to his twelve years' confinement.
Dr. Brown was, we believe, the first to call this in question.
Bunyan's imprisonment, we know, ended in 1672. The first edition
of "The Pilgrim's Progress" did not appear till 1678. If written
during his earlier imprisonment, six years must have elapsed
between its writing and its publication. But it was not Bunyan's
way to keep his works in manuscript so long after their completion.
His books were commonly put in the printers' hands as soon as they
were finished. There are no sufficient reasons - though some have
been suggested - for his making an exception to this general habit
in the case of "The Pilgrim's Progress." Besides we should
certainly conclude, from the poetical introduction, that there was
little delay between the finishing of the book and its being given
to the world. After having written the book, he tells us, simply
to gratify himself, spending only "vacant seasons" in his
"scribble," to "divert" himself "from worser thoughts," he showed
it to his friends to get their opinion whether it should be
published or not. But as they were not all of one mind, but some
counselled one thing and some another, after some perplexity, he
took the matter into his own hands.
"Now was I in a strait, and did not see
Which was the best thing to be done by me;
At last I thought, Since you are so divided,
I print it will, and so the case decided."
We must agree with Dr. Brown that "there is a briskness about this
which, to say the least, is not suggestive of a six years' interval
before publication." The break which occurs in the narrative after
the visit of the Pilgrims to the Delectable Mountains, which so
unnecessarily interrupts the course of the story - "So I awoke from
my dream; and I slept and dreamed again" - has been not
unreasonably thought by Dr. Brown to indicate the point Bunyan had
reached when his six months' imprisonment ended, and from which he
continued the book after his release.
The First Part of "The Pilgrim's Progress" issued from the press in
1678. A second edition followed in the same year, and a third with
large and important additions in 1679. The Second Part, after an
interval of seven years, followed early in 1685. Between the two
parts appeared two of his most celebrated works - the "Life and
Death of Mr. Badman," published in 1680, originally intended to
supply a contrast and a foil to "The Pilgrim's Progress," by
depicting a life which was scandalously bad; and, in 1682, that
which Macaulay, with perhaps exaggerated eulogy, has said, "would
have been our greatest allegory if the earlier allegory had never
been written," the "Holy War made by Shaddai upon Diabolus."
Superior to "The Pilgrim's Progress" as a literary composition,
this last work must be pronounced decidedly inferior to it in
attractive power. For one who reads the "Holy War," five hundred
read the "Pilgrim." And those who read it once return to it again
and again, with ever fresh delight. It is a book that never tires.
One or two perusals of the "Holy War" satisfy: and even these are
not without weariness. As Mr. Froude has said, "The 'Holy War'
would have entitled Bunyan to a place among the masters of English
literature. It would never have made his name a household word in
every English-speaking family on the globe."
Leaving the further notice of these and his other chief literary
productions to another chapter, there is little more to record in
Bunyan's life. Though never again seriously troubled for his
nonconformity, his preaching journeys were not always without risk.
There is a tradition that when he visited Reading to preach, he
disguised himself as a waggoner carrying a long whip in his hand to
escape detection. The name of "Bunyan's Dell," in a wood not very
far from Hitchin, tells of the time when he and his hearers had to
conceal their meetings from their enemies' quest, with scouts
planted on every side to warn them of the approach of the spies and
informers, who for reward were actively plying their odious trade.
Reference has already been made to Bunyan's "deed of gift" of all
that he possessed in the world - his "goods, chattels, debts, ready
money, plate, rings, household stuff, apparel, utensils, brass,
pewter, bedding, and all other his substance whatsoever - to his
well-beloved wife Elizabeth Bunyan." Towards the close of the
first year of James the Second, 1685, the apprehensions under which
Bunyan executed this document were far from groundless. At no time
did the persecution of Nonconformists rage with greater fierceness.
Never, not even under the tyranny of Laud, as Lord Macaulay records
had the condition of the Puritans been so deplorable. Never had
spies been so actively employed in detecting congregations. Never
had magistrates, grand-jurors, rectors, and churchwardens been so
much on the alert. Many Nonconformists were cited before the
ecclesiastical courts. Others found it necessary to purchase the
connivance of the agents of the Government by bribes. It was
impossible for the sectaries to pray together without precautions
such as are employed by coiners and receivers of stolen goods.
Dissenting ministers, however blameless in life, however eminent in
learning, could not venture to walk the streets for fear of
outrages which were not only not repressed, but encouraged by those
whose duty it was to preserve the peace. Richard Baxter was in
prison. Howe was afraid to show himself in London for fear of
insult, and had been driven to Utrecht. Not a few who up to that
time had borne up boldly lost heart and fled the kingdom. Other
weaker spirits were terrified into a show of conformity. Through
many subsequent years the autumn of 1685 was remembered as a time
of misery and terror. There is, however, no indication of Bunyan
having been molested. The "deed of gift" by which he sought to
avoid the confiscation of his goods was never called into exercise.
Indeed its very existence was forgotten by his wife in whose behalf
it had been executed. Hidden away in a recess in his house in St.
Cuthbert's, this interesting document was accidentally discovered
at the beginning of the present century, and is preserved among the
most valued treasures of the congregation which bears his name.
Quieter times for Nonconformists were however at hand. Active
persecution was soon to cease for them, and happily never to be
renewed in England. The autumn of 1685 showed the first
indications of a great turn of fortune, and before eighteen months
had elapsed, the intolerant king and the intolerant Church were
eagerly bidding against each other for the support of the party
which both had so deeply injured. A new form of trial now awaited
the Nonconformists. Peril to their personal liberty was succeeded
by a still greater peril to their honesty and consistency of
spirit. James the Second, despairing of employing the Tories and
the Churchmen as his tools, turned, as his brother had turned
before him, to the Dissenters. The snare was craftily baited with
a Declaration of Indulgence, by which the king, by his sole
authority, annulled a long series of statutes and suspended all
penal laws against Nonconformists of every sort. These lately
political Pariahs now held the balance of power. The future
fortunes of England depended mainly on the course they would adopt.
James was resolved to convert the House of Commons from a free
deliberative assembly into a body subservient to his wishes, and
ready to give parliamentary sanction to any edict he might issue.
To obtain this end the electors must be manipulated. Leaving the
county constituencies to be dealt with by the lords-lieutenants,
half of whom preferred dismissal to carrying out the odious service
peremptorily demanded of them, James's next concern was to
"regulate" the Corporations. In those days of narrowly restricted
franchise, the municipalities virtually returned the town members.
To obtain an obedient parliament, he must secure a roll of electors
pledged to return the royal nominees. A committee of seven privy
councillors, all Roman Catholics but the infamous Jeffreys,
presided over the business, with local sub-committees scattered
over the country to carry out the details. Bedford was dealt with
in its turn. Under James's policy of courting the Puritans, the
leading Dissenters were the first persons to be approached. Two
are specially named, a Mr. Margetts, formerly Judge-Advocate-
General of the Army under General Monk, and John Bunyan. It is no
matter of surprise that Bunyan, who had been so severe a sufferer
under the old penal statutes, should desire their abrogation, and
express his readiness to "steer his friends and followers" to
support candidates who would pledge themselves to vote for their
repeal. But no further would he go. The Bedford Corporation was
"regulated," which means that nearly the whole of its members were
removed and others substituted by royal order. Of these new
members some six or seven were leading persons of Bunyan's
congregation. But, with all his ardent desire for religious
liberty, Bunyan was too keen-witted not to see through James's
policy, and too honest to give it any direct insidious support.
"In vain is the net spread in the sight of any bird." He clearly
saw that it was not for any love of the Dissenters that they were
so suddenly delivered from their persecutions, and placed on a kind
of equality with the Church. The king's object was the
establishment of Popery. To this the Church was the chief
obstacle. That must be undermined and subverted first. That done,
all other religious denominations would follow. All that the
Nonconformists would gain by yielding, was the favour Polyphemus
promised Ulysses, to be devoured last. Zealous as he was for the
"liberty of prophesying," even that might be purchased at too high
a price. The boon offered by the king was "good in itself," but
not "so intended." So, as his biographer describes, when the
regulators came, "he expressed his zeal with some weariness as
perceiving the bad consequences that would ensue, and laboured with
his congregation" to prevent their being imposed on by the fair
promises of those who were at heart the bitterest enemies of the
cause they professed to advocate. The newly-modelled corporation
of Bedford seems like the other corporations through the country,
to have proved as unmanageable as the old. As Macaulay says, "The
sectaries who had declared in favour of the Indulgence had become
generally ashamed of their error, and were desirous to make
atonement." Not knowing the man they had to deal with, the
"regulators" are said to have endeavoured to buy Bunyan's support
by the offer of some place under government. The bribe was
indignantly rejected. Bunyan even refused to see the government
agent who offered it, - "he would, by no means come to him, but
sent his excuse." Behind the treacherous sunshine he saw a black
cloud, ready to break. The Ninevites' remedy he felt was now
called for. So he gathered his congregation together and appointed
a day of fasting and prayer to avert the danger that, under a
specious pretext, again menaced their civil and religious
liberties. A true, sturdy Englishman, Bunyan, with Baxter and
Howe, "refused an indulgence which could only be purchased by the
violent overthrow of the law."
Bunyan did not live to see the Revolution. Four months after he
had witnessed the delirious joy which hailed the acquittal of the
seven bishops, the Pilgrim's earthly Progress ended, and he was
bidden to cross the dark river which has no bridge. The summons
came to him in the very midst of his religious activity, both as a
preacher and as a writer. His pen had never been more busy than
when he was bidden to lay it down finally. Early in 1688, after a
two years' silence, attributable perhaps to the political troubles
of the times, his "Jerusalem Sinner Saved, or a Help to Despairing
Souls," one of the best known and most powerfully characteristic of
his works, had issued from the press, and had been followed by four
others between March and August, the month of his death. These
books were, "The Work of Jesus Christ as an Advocate;" a poetical
composition entitled "The Building, Nature, and Excellency of the
House of God," a discourse on the constitution and government of
the Christian Church; the "Water of Life," and "Solomon's Temple
Spiritualized." At the time of his death he was occupied in seeing
through the press a sixth book, "The Acceptable Sacrifice," which
was published after his funeral. In addition to these, Bunyan left
behind him no fewer than fourteen works in manuscript, written at
this time, as the fruit of his fertile imagination and untiring
pen. Ten of these were given to the world soon after Bunyan's
death, by one of Bunyan's most devoted followers, Charles Doe, the
combmaker of London Bridge (who naively tells us how one day
between the stairhead and the middle of the stairs, he resolved
that the best work he could do for God was to get Bunyan's books
printed and sell them - adding, "I have sold about 3,000"), and
others, a few years later, including one of the raciest of his
compositions, "The Heavenly Footman," bought by Doe of Bunyan's
eldest son, and, he says, "put into the World in Print Word for
Word as it came from him to Me."
At the time that death surprised him, Bunyan had gained no small
celebrity in London as a popular preacher, and approached the
nearest to a position of worldly honour. Though we must probably
reject the idea that he ever filled the office of Chaplain to the
Lord Mayor of London, Sir John Shorter, the fact that he is styled
"his Lordship's teacher" proves that there was some relation more
than that of simple friendship between the chief magistrate and the
Bedford minister. But the society of the great was never congenial
to him. If they were godly as well as great, he would not shrink
from intercourse, with those of a rank above his own, but his heart
was with his own humble folk at Bedford. Worldly advancement he
rejected for his family as well as for himself. A London merchant,
it is said, offered to take his son Joseph into his house of
business without the customary premium. But the offer was declined
with what we may consider an overstrained independence. "God," he
said, "did not send me to advance my family but to preach the
gospel." "An instance of other-worldliness," writes Dr. Brown,
"perhaps more consistent with the honour of the father than with
the prosperity of the son."
Bunyan's end was in keeping with his life. He had ever sought to
be a peacemaker and to reconcile differences, and thus had
"hindered many mishaps and saved many families from ruin." His
last effort of the kind caused his death. The father of a young
man in whom he took an interest, had resolved, on some offence,
real or supposed, to disinherit his son. The young man sought
Bunyan's mediation. Anxious to heal the breach, Bunyan mounted his
horse and took the long journey to the father's house at Reading -
the scene, as we have noticed, of his occasional ministrations -
where he pleaded the offender's cause so effectually as to obtain a
promise of forgiveness. Bunyan returned homewards through London,
where he was appointed to preach at Mr. Gamman's meeting-house near
Whitechapel. His forty miles' ride to London was through heavy
driving rain. He was weary and drenched to the skin when he
reached the house of his "very loving friend," John Strudwick,
grocer and chandler, at the sign of the Star, Holborn Bridge, at
the foot of Snow Hill, and deacon of the Nonconformist meeting in
Red Cross Street. A few months before Bunyan had suffered from the
sweating sickness. The exposure caused a return of the malady, and
though well enough to fulfil his pulpit engagement on Sunday, the
19th of August, on the following Tuesday dangerous symptoms
declared themselves, and in ten days the disease proved fatal. He
died within two months of completing his sixtieth year, on the 31st
of August, 1688, just a month before the publication of the
Declaration of the Prince of Orange opened a new era of civil and
religious liberty, and between two and three months before the
Prince's landing in Torbay. He was buried in Mr. Strudwick's
newly-purchased vault, in what Southey has termed the Campo Santo
of Nonconformists, the burial-ground in Finsbury, taking its name
of Bunhill or Bonehill Field, from a vast mass of human remains
removed to it from the charnel house of St. Paul's Cathedral in
1549. At a later period it served as a place of interment for
those who died in the Great Plague of 1665. The day after Bunyan's
funeral, his powerful friend, Sir John Shorter, the Lord Mayor, had
a fatal fall from his horse in Smithfield, and "followed him across
the river."
By his first wife, whose Christian name is nowhere recorded, Bunyan
had four children - two sons and two daughters; and by his second
wife, the heroic Elizabeth, one son and one daughter. All of these
survived him except his eldest daughter Mary, his tenderly-loved
blind child, who died before him. His wife only survived him for a
brief period, "following her faithful pilgrim from this world to
the other whither he was gone before her" either in 1691 or 1692.
Forgetful of the "deed of gift," or ignorant of its bearing,
Bunyan's widow took out letters of administration of her late
husband's estate, which appears from the Register Book to have
amounted to no more than, 42 pounds 19s. On this, and the proceeds
of his books, she supported herself till she rejoined him.
Bunyan's character and person are thus described by Charles Doe:
"He appeared in countenance to be of a stern and rough temper. But
in his conversation he was mild and affable, not given to loquacity
or much discourse in company, unless some urgent occasion required
it. Observing never to boast of himself or his parts, but rather
to seem low in his own eyes and submit himself to the judgment of
others. Abhorring lying and swearing, being just, in all that lay
in his power, to his word. Not seeming to revenge injuries; loving
to reconcile differences and make friendship with all. He had a
sharp, quick eye, with an excellent discerning of persons, being of
good judgment and quick wit. He was tall of stature, strong-boned,
though not corpulent; somewhat of a ruddy face, with sparkling
eyes, wearing his hair on his upper lip after the old British
fashion. His hair reddish, but in his later days time had
sprinkled it with grey. His nose well set, but not declining or
bending. His mouth moderately large, his forehead something high,
and his habit always plain and modest. Not puffed up in
prosperity, nor shaken in adversity, always holding the golden
We may add the portrait drawn by one who had been his companion and
fellow-sufferer for many years, John Nelson: "His countenance was
grave and sedate, and did so to the life discover the inward frame
of his heart, that it was convincing to the beholders and did
strike something of awe into them that had nothing of the fear of
The same friend speaks thus of Bunyan's preaching: "As a minister
of Christ he was laborious in his work of preaching, diligent in
his preparation for it, and faithful in dispensing the Word, not
sparing reproof whether in the pulpit or no, yet ready to succour
the tempted; a son of consolation to the broken-hearted, yet a son
of thunder to secure and dead sinners. His memory was tenacious,
it being customary with him to commit his sermons to writing after
he had preached them. A rich anointing of the Spirit was upon him,
yet this great saint was always in his own eyes the chiefest of
sinners and the least of saints."
An anecdote is told which, Southey says, "authenticates itself,"
that one day when he had preached "with peculiar warmth and
enlargement," one of his hearers remarked "what a sweet sermon he
had delivered." "Ay," was Bunyan's reply, "you have no need to
tell me that, for the devil whispered it to me before I was well
out of the pulpit." As an evidence of the estimation in which
Bunyan was held by the highly-educated, it is recorded that Charles
the Second expressed his surprise to Dr. Owen that "a learned man
such as he could sit and listen to an illiterate tinker." "May it
please your Majesty," Owen replied. "I would gladly give up all my
learning if I could preach like that tinker."
Although much of Bunyan's literary activity was devoted to
controversy, he had none of the narrowness or bitter spirit of a
controversialist. It is true that his zeal for what he deemed to
be truth led him into vehemence of language in dealing with those
whom he regarded as its perverters. But this intensity of speech
was coupled with the utmost charity of spirit towards those who
differed from him. Few ever had less of the sectarian temper which
lays greater stress on the infinitely small points on which all
true Christians differ than on the infinitely great truths on which
they are agreed. Bunyan inherited from his spiritual father, John
Gifford, a truly catholic spirit. External differences he regarded
as insignificant where he found real Christian faith and love. "I
would be," he writes, "as I hope I am, a Christian. But for those
factious titles of Anabaptist, Independent, Presbyterian, and the
like, I conclude that they come neither from Jerusalem nor from
Antioch, but from Hell or from Babylon." "He was," writes one of
his early biographers, "a true lover of all that love our Lord
Jesus, and did often bewail the different and distinguishing
appellations that are among the godly, saying he did believe a time
would come when they should be all buried." The only persons he
scrupled to hold communion with were those whose lives were openly
immoral. "Divisions about non-essentials," he said, "were to
churches what wars were to countries. Those who talked most about
religion cared least for it; and controversies about doubtful
things and things of little moment, ate up all zeal for things
which were practical and indisputable." His last sermon breathed
the same catholic spirit, free from the trammels of narrow
sectarianism. "If you are the children of God live together
lovingly. If the world quarrel with you it is no matter; but it is
sad if you quarrel together. If this be among you it is a sign of
ill-breeding. Dost thou see a soul that has the image of God in
him? Love him, love him. Say, 'This man and I must go to heaven
one day.' Serve one another. Do good for one another. If any
wrong you pray to God to right you, and love the brotherhood." The
closing words of this his final testimony are such as deserve to be
written in letters of gold as the sum of all true Christian
teaching: "Be ye holy in all manner of conversation: Consider
that the holy God is your Father, and let this oblige you to live
like the children of God, that you may look your Father in the face
with comfort another day." "There is," writes Dean Stanley, "no
compromise in his words, no faltering in his convictions; but his
love and admiration are reserved on the whole for that which all
good men love, and his detestation on the whole is reserved for
that which all good men detest." By the catholic spirit which
breathes through his writings, especially through "The Pilgrim's
Progress," the tinker of Elstow "has become the teacher not of any
particular sect, but of the Universal Church."
We have, in this concluding chapter, to take a review of Bunyan's
merits as a writer, with especial reference to the works on which
his fame mainly rests, and, above all, to that which has given him
his chief title to be included in a series of Great Writers, "The
Pilgrim's Progress." Bunyan, as we have seen, was a very copious
author. His works, as collected by the late industrious Mr. Offor,
fill three bulky quarto volumes, each of nearly eight hundred
double-columned pages in small type. And this copiousness of
production is combined with a general excellence in the matter
produced. While few of his books approach the high standard of
"The Pilgrim's Progress" or "Holy War," none, it may be truly said,
sink very far below that standard. It may indeed be affirmed that
it was impossible for Bunyan to write badly. His genius was a
native genius. As soon as he began to write at all, he wrote well.
Without any training, is he says, in the school of Aristotle or
Plato, or any study of the great masters of literature, at one
bound he leapt to a high level of thought and composition. His
earliest book, "Some Gospel Truths Opened," "thrown off," writes
Dr. Brown, "at a heat," displays the same ease of style and
directness of speech and absence of stilted phraseology which he
maintained to the end. The great charm which pervades all Bunyan's
writings is their naturalness. You never feel that he is writing
for effect, still less to perform an uncongenial piece of taskwork.
He writes because he had something to say which was worth
saying, a message to deliver on which the highest interests of
others were at stake, which demanded nothing more than a
straightforward earnestness and plainness of speech, such as coming
from the heart might best reach the hearts of others. He wrote as
he spoke, because a necessity was laid upon him which he dared not
evade. As he says in a passage quoted in a former chapter, he
might have stepped into a much higher style, and have employed more
literary ornament. But to attempt this would be, to one of his
intense earnestness, to degrade his calling. He dared not do it.
Like the great Apostle, "his speech and preaching was not with
enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit
and in power." God had not played with him, and he dared not play
with others. His errand was much too serious, and their need and
danger too urgent to waste time in tricking out his words with
human skill. And it is just this which, with all their rudeness,
their occasional bad grammar, and homely colloquialisms, gives to
Bunyan's writings a power of riveting the attention and stirring
the affections which few writers have attained to. The pent-up
fire glows in every line, and kindles the hearts of his readers.
"Beautiful images, vivid expressions, forcible arguments all aglow
with passion, tender pleadings, solemn warnings, make those who
read him all eye, all ear, all soul." This native vigour is
attributable, in no small degree, to the manner in which for the
most part Bunyan's works came into being. He did not set himself
to compose theological treatises upon stated subjects, but after he
had preached with satisfaction to himself and acceptance with his
audience, he usually wrote out the substance of his discourse from
memory, with the enlargements and additions it might seem to
require. And thus his religious works have all the glow and
fervour of the unwritten utterances of a practised orator, united
with the orderliness and precision of a theologian, and are no less
admirable for the excellence of their arrangement than for their
evangelical spirit and scriptural doctrine. Originally meant to be
heard, they lose somewhat by being read. But few can read them
without being delighted with the opulence of his imagination and
impressed with the solemn earnestness of his convictions. Like the
subject of the portrait described by him in the House of the
Interpreter, he stands "like one who pleads with men, the law of
truth written upon his lips, the world behind his back, and a crown
of gold above his head."
These characteristics, which distinguish Bunyan as a writer from
most of his Puritan contemporaries, are most conspicuous in the
works by which he is chiefly known, "The Pilgrim's Progress," the
"Holy War," the "Grace Abounding," and we may add, though from the
repulsiveness of the subject the book is now scarcely read at all,
the "Life and Death of Mr. Badman."
One great charm of these works, especially of "The Pilgrim's
Progress," lies in the pure Saxon English in which they are
written, which render them models of the English speech, plain but
never vulgar, homely but never coarse, and still less unclean, full
of imagery but never obscure, always intelligible, always forcible,
going straight to the point in the fewest and simplest words;
"powerful and picturesque," writes Hallam, "from concise
simplicity." Bunyan's style is recommended by Lord Macaulay as an
invaluable study to every person who wishes to gain a wide command
over his mother tongue. Its vocabulary is the vocabulary of the
common people. "There is not," he truly says, "in 'The Pilgrim's
Progress' a single expression, if we except a few technical terms
of theology, that would puzzle the rudest peasant." We may, look
through whole pages, and not find a word of more than two
syllables. Nor is the source of this pellucid clearness and
imaginative power far to seek. Bunyan was essentially a man of one
book, and that book the very best, not only for its spiritual
teaching but for the purity of its style, the English Bible. "In
no book," writes Mr. J. R. Green, "do we see more clearly than in
'The Pilgrim's Progress' the new imaginative force which had been
given to the common life of Englishmen by their study of the Bible.
Bunyan's English is the simplest and homeliest English that has
ever been used by any great English writer, but it is the English
of the Bible. His images are the images of prophet and evangelist.
So completely had the Bible become Bunyan's life that one feels its
phrases as the natural expression of his thoughts. He had lived in
the Bible till its words became his own."
All who have undertaken to take an estimate of Bunyan's literary
genius call special attention to the richness of his imaginative
power. Few writers indeed have possessed this power in so high a
degree. In nothing, perhaps, is its vividness more displayed than
in the reality of its impersonations. The DRAMATIS PERSONS are not
shadowy abstractions, moving far above us in a mystical world, or
lay figures ticketed with certain names, but solid men and women of
our own flesh and blood, living in our own everyday world, and of
like passions with ourselves. Many of them we know familiarly;
there is hardly one we should be surprised to meet any day. This
life-like power of characterization belongs in the highest degree
to "The Pilgrim's Progress." It is hardly inferior in "The Holy
War," though with some exceptions the people of "Mansoul" have
failed to engrave themselves on the popular memory as the
characters of the earlier allegory have done. The secret of this
graphic power, which gives "The Pilgrim's Progress" its universal
popularity, is that Bunyan describes men and women of his own day,
such as he had known and seen them. They are not fancy pictures,
but literal portraits. Though the features may be exaggerated, and
the colours laid on with an unsparing brush, the outlines of his
bold personifications are truthfully drawn from his own experience.
He had had to do with every one of them. He could have given a
personal name to most of them, and we could do the same to many.
We are not unacquainted with Mr Byends of the town of Fair Speech,
who "always has the luck to jump in his judgment with the way of
the times, and to get thereby," who is zealous for Religion "when
he goes in his silver slippers," and "loves to walk with him in the
streets when the sun shines and the people applaud him." All his
kindred and surroundings are only too familiar to us - his wife,
that very virtuous woman my Lady Feigning's daughter, my Lord Fairspeech,
my Lord Time-server, Mr. Facingbothways, Mr. Anything, and
the Parson of the Parish, his mother's own brother by the father's
side, Mr. Twotongues. Nor is his schoolmaster, one Mr. Gripeman,
of the market town of Lovegain, in the county of Coveting, a
stranger to us. Obstinate, with his dogged determination and
stubborn common-sense, and Pliable with his shallow
impressionableness, are among our acquaintances. We have, before
now, come across "the brisk lad Ignorance from the town of
Conceit," and have made acquaintance with Mercy's would-be suitor,
Mr. Brisk, "a man of some breeding and that pretended to religion,
but who stuck very close to the world." The man Temporary who
lived in a town two miles off from Honesty, and next door to Mr.
Turnback; Formalist and Hypocrisy, who were "from the land of
Vainglory, and were going for praise to Mount Sion"; Simple, Sloth,
and Presumption, "fast asleep by the roadside with fetters on their
heels," and their companions, Shortwind, Noheart, Lingerafterlust,
and Sleepyhead, we know them all. "The young woman whose name was
Dull" taxes our patience every day. Where is the town which does
not contain Mrs. Timorous and her coterie of gossips, Mrs. Batseyes,
Mrs. Inconsiderate, Mrs. Lightmind, and Mrs. Knownothing,
"all as merry as the maids," with that pretty fellow Mr. Lechery at
the house of Madam Wanton, that "admirably well-bred gentlewoman"?
Where shall we find more lifelike portraits than those of Madam
Bubble, a "tall, comely dame, somewhat of a swarthy complexion,
speaking very smoothly with a smile at the end of each sentence,
wearing a great purse by her side, with her hand often in it,
fingering her money as if that was her chief delight;" of poor
Feeblemind of the town of Uncertain, with his "whitely look, the
cast in his eye, and his trembling speech;" of Littlefaith, as
"white as a clout," neither able to fight nor fly when the thieves
from Dead Man's Lane were on him; of Ready-to-halt, at first coming
along on his crutches, and then when Giant Despair had been slain
and Doubting Castle demolished, taking Despondency's daughter
Muchafraid by the hand and dancing with her in the road? "True, he
could not dance without one crutch in his hand, but I promise you
he footed it well. Also the girl was to be commanded, for she
answered the musick handsomely." In Bunyan's pictures there is
never a superfluous detail. Every stroke tells, and helps to the
completeness of the portraiture.
The same reality characterizes the descriptive part of "The
Pilgrim's Progress." As his characters are such as he must meet
with every day in his native town, so also the scenery and
surroundings of his allegory are part of his own every-day life,
and reproduce what he had been brought up amidst in his native
county, or had noticed in his tinker's wanderings. "Born and
bred," writes Kingsley, "in the monotonous Midland, he had no
natural images beyond the pastures and brooks, the town and country
houses, he saw about him." The Slough of Despond, with its
treacherous quagmire in the midst of the plain, into which a
wayfarer might heedlessly fall, with its stepping-stones half
drowned in mire; Byepathmeadow, promising so fair, with its stile
and footpath on the other side of the fence; the pleasant river
fringed with meadows, green all the year long and overshadowed with
trees; the thicket all overgrown with briars and thorns, where one
tumbled over a bush, another stuck fast in the dirt, some lost
their shoes in the mire, and others were fastened from behind with
the brambles; the high wall by the roadside over which the fruit
trees shot their boughs and tempted the boys with their unripe
plums; the arbour with its settle tempting the footsore traveller
to drowsiness; the refreshing spring at the bottom of Hill
Difficulty; all are evidently drawn from his own experience.
Bunyan, in his long tramps, had seen them all. He had known what
it was to be in danger of falling into a pit and being dashed to
pieces with Vain Confidence, of being drowned in the flooded
meadows with Christian and Hopeful; of sinking in deep water when
swimming over a river, going down and rising up half dead, and
needing all his companion's strength and skill to keep his head
above the stream. Vanity Fair is evidently drawn from the life.
The great yearly fair of Stourbridge, close to Cambridge, which
Bunyan had probably often visited in his tinker days, with its
streets of booths filled with "wares of all kinds from all
countries," its "shows, jugglings, cheats games, plays, fools,
apes, knaves, and rogues, and that of every kind," its "great one
of the fair," its court of justice and power of judgment, furnished
him with the materials for his picture. Scenes like these he draws
with sharp defined outlines. When he had to describe what he only
knew by hearsay, his pictures are shadowy and cold. Never having
been very far from home, he had had no experience of the higher
types of beauty and grandeur in nature, and his pen moves in
fetters when he attempts to describe them. When his pilgrims come
to the Hill Difficulty and the Delectable Mountains, the difference
is at once seen. All his nobler imagery is drawn from Scripture.
As Hallam has remarked, "There is scarcely a circumstance or
metaphor in the Old Testament which does not find a place bodily
and literally in 'The Pilgrim's Progress,' and this has made his
imagination appear more creative than it really is."
It would but weary the reader to follow the details of a narrative
which is so universally known. Who needs to be told that in the
pilgrimage here described is represented in allegorical dress the
course of a human soul convinced of sin, struggling onwards to
salvation through the trials and temptations that beset its path to
its eternal home? The book is so completely wrought into the mind
and memory, that most of us can at once recall the incidents which
chequer the pilgrim's way, and realize their meaning; the Slough of
Despond, in which the man convinced of his guilt and fleeing from
the wrath to come, in his agonizing self-consciousness is in danger
of being swallowed up in despair; the Wicket Gate, by which he
enters on the strait and narrow way of holiness; the Interpreter's
House, with his visions and acted parables; the Wayside Cross, at
the sight of which the burden of guilt falls from the pilgrim's
back, and he is clothed with change of raiment; the Hill
Difficulty, which stands right in his way, and which he must
surmount, not circumvent; the lions which he has to pass, not
knowing that they are chained; the Palace Beautiful, where he is
admitted to the communion of the faithful, and sits down to meat
with them; the Valley of Humiliation, the scene of his desperate
but victorious encounter with Apollyon; the Valley of the Shadow of
Death, with its evil sights and doleful sounds, where one of the
wicked ones whispers into his ear thoughts of blasphemy which he
cannot distinguish from the suggestions of his own mind; the cave
at the valley's mouth, in which, Giant Pagan having been dead this
many a day, his brother, Giant Pope, now sits alone, grinning at
pilgrims as they pass by, and biting his nails because he cannot
get at them; Vanity Fair, the picture of the world, as St. John
describes it, hating the light that puts to shame its own selfchosen
darkness, and putting it out if it can, where the Pilgrim's
fellow, Faithful, seals his testimony with his death, and the
Pilgrim himself barely escapes; the "delicate plain" called Ease,
and the little hill, Lucre, where Demas stood "gentlemanlike," to
invite the passersby to come and dig in his silver mine; Byepath
Meadow, into which the Pilgrim and his newly-found companion stray,
and are made prisoners by Giant Despair and shut up in the dungeons
of Doubting Castle, and break out of prison by the help of the Key
of Promise; the Delectable Mountains in Immanuel's Land, with their
friendly shepherds and the cheering prospect of the far-off
heavenly city; the Enchanted Land, with its temptations to
spiritual drowsiness at the very end of the journey; the Land of
Beulah, the ante-chamber of the city to which they were bound; and,
last stage of all, the deep dark river, without a bridge, which had
to be crossed before the city was entered; the entrance into its
heavenly gates, the pilgrim's joyous reception with all the bells
in the city ringing again for joy; the Dreamer's glimpse of its
glories through the opened portals - is not every stage of the
journey, every scene of the pilgrimage, indelibly printed on our
memories, for our warning, our instruction, our encouragement in
the race we, as much as they, have each one to run? Have we not
all, again and again, shared the Dreamer's feelings - "After that
they shut up the Gates; which, when I had seen, I wished myself
among them," and prayed, God helping us, that our "dangerous
journey" - ever the most dangerous when we see its dangers the
least - might end in our "safe arrival at the desired country"?
"The Pilgrim's Progress" exhibits Bunyan in the character by which
he would have most desired to be remembered, as one of the most
influential of Christian preachers. Hallam, however, claims for
him another distinction which would have greatly startled and
probably shocked him, as the father of our English novelists. As
an allegorist Bunyan had many predecessors, not a few of whom,
dating from early times, had taken the natural allegory of the
pilgrimage of human life as the basis of their works. But as a
novelist he had no one to show him the way. Bunyan was the first
to break ground in a field which has since then been so
overabundantly worked that the soil has almost lost its
productiveness; while few novels written purely with the object of
entertainment have ever proved so universally entertaining.
Intensely religious as it is in purpose, "The Pilgrim's Progress"
may be safely styled the first English novel. "The claim to be the
father of English romance," writes Dr. Allon, "which has been
sometimes preferred for Defoe, really pertains to Bunyan. Defoe
may claim the parentage of a species, but Bunyan is the creator of
the genus." As the parent of fictitious biography it is that
Bunyan has charmed the world. On its vivid interest as a story,
its universal interest and lasting vitality rest. "Other
allegorises," writes Lord Macaulay, "have shown great ingenuity,
but no other allegorist has ever been able to touch the heart, and
to make its abstractions objects of terror, of pity, and of love."
Whatever its deficiencies, literary and religious, may be; if we
find incongruities in the narrative, and are not insensible to some
grave theological deficiencies; if we are unable without
qualification to accept Coleridge's dictum that it is "incomparably
the best 'Summa Theologiae Evangelicae' ever produced by a writer
not miraculously inspired;" even if, with Hallam, we consider its
"excellencies great indeed, but not of the highest order," and deem
it "a little over-praised," the fact of its universal popularity
with readers of all classes and of all orders of intellect remains,
and gives this book a unique distinction. "I have," says Dr.
Arnold, when reading it after a long interval, "always been struck
by its piety. I am now struck equally or even more by its profound
wisdom. It seems to be a complete reflexion of Scripture." And to
turn to a critic of very different character, Dean Swift: "I have
been better entertained and more improved," writes that cynical
pessimist, "by a few pages of this book than by a long discourse on
the will and intellect." The favourite of our childhood, as "the
most perfect and complex of fairy tales, so human and
intelligible," read, as Hallam says, "at an age when the spiritual
meaning is either little perceived or little regarded," the
"Pilgrim's Progress" becomes the chosen companion of our later
years, perused with ever fresh appreciation of its teaching, and
enjoyment of its native genius; "the interpreter of life to all who
are perplexed with its problems, and the practical guide and solace
of all who need counsel and sympathy."
The secret of this universal acceptableness of "The Pilgrim's
Progress" lies in the breadth of its religious sympathies. Rigid
Puritan as Bunyan was, no book is more completely free from
sectarian narrowness. Its reach is as wide as Christianity itself,
and it takes hold of every human heart because it is so intensely
human. No apology is needed for presenting Mr. Froude's eloquent
panegyric: "The Pilgrim, though in Puritan dress, is a genuine
man. His experience is so truly human experience that Christians
of every persuasion can identify themselves with him; and even
those who regard Christianity itself as but a natural outgrowth of
the conscience and intellect, and yet desire to live nobly and make
the best of themselves, can recognize familiar footprints in every
step of Christian's journey. Thus 'The Pilgrim's Progress' is a
book which when once read can never be forgotten. We too, every
one of us, are pilgrims on the same road; and images and
illustrations come back to us from so faithful an itinerary, as we
encounter similar trials, and learn for ourselves the accuracy with
which Bunyan has described them. Time cannot impair its interest,
or intellectual progress make it cease to be true to experience."
Dr. Brown's appreciative words may be added: "With deepest pathos
it enters into the stern battle so real to all of us, into those
heart-experiences which make up, for all, the discipline of life.
It is this especially which has given to it the mighty hold which
it has always had upon the toiling poor, and made it the one book
above all books well-thumbed and torn to tatters among them. And
it is this which makes it one of the first books translated by the
missionary who seeks to give true thoughts of God and life to
heathen men."
The Second Part of "The Pilgrim's Progress" partakes of the
character of almost all continuations. It is, in Mr. Froude's
words, "only a feeble reverberation of the first part, which has
given it a popularity it would have hardly attained by its own
merits. Christiana and her children are tolerated for the
pilgrim's sake to whom they belong." Bunyan seems not to have been
insensible of this himself, when in his metrical preface he thus
introduces his new work:
"Go now my little book to every place
Where my first Pilgrim has but shown his face.
Call at their door; if any say 'Who's there?'
Then answer thus, 'Christiana is here.'
If they bid thee come in, then enter thou
With all thy boys. And then, as thou know'st how,
Tell who they are, also from whence they came;
Perhaps they'll know them by their looks or name."
But although the Second Part must be pronounced inferior, on the
whole, to the first, it is a work of striking individuality and
graphic power, such as Bunyan alone could have written. Everywhere
we find strokes of his peculiar genius, and though in a smaller
measure than the first, it has added not a few portraits to
Bunyan's spiritual picture gallery we should be sorry to miss, and
supplied us with racy sayings which stick to the memory. The sweet
maid Mercy affords a lovely picture of gentle feminine piety, well
contrasted with the more vigorous but still thoroughly womanly
character of Christiana. Great-Heart is too much of an
abstraction: a preacher in the uncongenial disguise of a knightly
champion of distressed females and the slayer of giants. But the
other new characters have generally a vivid personality. Who can
forget Old Honesty, the dull good man with no mental gifts but of
dogged sincerity, who though coming from the Town of Stupidity,
four degrees beyond the City of Destruction, was "known for a cock
of the right kind," because he said the truth and stuck to it; or
his companion, Mr. Fearing, that most troublesome of pilgrims,
stumbling at every straw, lying roaring at the Slough of Despond
above a month together, standing shaking and shrinking at the
Wicket Gate, but making no stick at the Lions, and at last getting
over the river not much above wetshod; or Mr. Valiant for Truth,
the native of Darkland, standing with his sword drawn and his face
all bloody from his three hours' fight with Wildhead,
Inconsiderate, and Pragmatick; Mr. Standfast, blushing to be found
on his knees in the Enchanted Ground, one who loved to hear his
Lord spoken of, and coveted to set his foot wherever he saw the
print of his shoe; Mr. Feeblemind, the sickly, melancholy pilgrim,
at whose door death did usually knock once a day, betaking himself
to a pilgrim's life because he was never well at home, resolved to
run when he could, and go when he could not run, and creep when he
could not go, an enemy to laughter and to gay attire, bringing up
the rear of the company with Mr. Readytohalt hobbling along on his
crutches; Giant Despair's prisoners, Mr. Despondency, whom he had
all but starved to death - and Mistress Much-afraid his daughter,
who went through the river singing, though none could understand
what she said? Each of these characters has a distinct
individuality which lifts them from shadowy abstractions into
living men and women. But with all its excellencies, and they are
many, the general inferiority of the history of Christiana and her
children's pilgrimage to that of her husband's must be
acknowledged. The story is less skilfully constructed; the
interest is sometimes allowed to flag; the dialogues that interrupt
the narrative are in places dry and wearisome - too much of sermons
in disguise. There is also a want of keeping between the two parts
of the allegory. The Wicket Gate of the First Part has become a
considerable building with a summer parlour in the Second; the
shepherds' tents on the Delectable Mountains have risen into a
palace, with a dining-room, and a looking-glass, and a store of
jewels; while Vanity Fair has lost its former bad character, and
has become a respectable country town, where Christiana and her
family, seeming altogether to forget their pilgrimage, settled down
comfortably, enjoy the society of the good people of the place, and
the sons marry and have children. These same children also cause
the reader no little perplexity, when he finds them in the course
of the supposed journey transformed from sweet babes who are
terrified with the Mastiffs barking at the Wicket Gate, who catch
at the boughs for the unripe plums and cry at having to climb the
hill; whose faces are stroked by the Interpreter; who are
catechised and called "good boys" by Prudence; who sup on bread
crumbled into basins of milk, and are put to bed by Mercy - into
strong young men, able to go out and fight with a giant, and lend a
hand to the pulling down of Doubting Castle, and becoming husbands
and fathers. We cannot but feel the want of VRAISEMBLANCE which
brings the whole company of pilgrims to the banks of the dark river
at one time, and sends them over in succession, following one
another rapidly through the Golden Gate of the City. The four boys
with their wives and children, it is true, stay behind awhile, but
there is an evident incongruity in their doing so when the allegory
has brought them all to what stands for the close of their earthly
pilgrimage. Bunyan's mistake was in gratifying his inventive
genius and making his band of pilgrims so large. He could get them
together and make them travel in company without any sacrifice of
dramatic truth, which, however, he was forced to disregard when the
time came for their dismissal. The exquisite pathos of the
description of the passage of the river by Christian and Hopeful
blinds us to what may be almost termed the impossibility of two
persons passing through the final struggle together, and dying at
the same moment, but this charm is wanting in the prosaic picture
of the company of fellow-travellers coming down to the water's
edge, and waiting till the postman blows his horn and bids them
cross. Much as the Second Part contains of what is admirable, and
what no one but Bunyan could have written, we feel after reading it
that, in Mr. Froude's words, the rough simplicity is gone, and has
been replaced by a tone of sentiment which is almost mawkish.
"Giants, dragons, and angelic champions carry us into a spurious
fairyland where the knight-errant is a preacher in disguise. Fair
ladies and love-matches, however decorously chastened, suit ill
with the sternness of the mortal conflict between the soul and
sin." With the acknowledged shortcomings of the Second Part of
"The Pilgrim's Progress," we may be well content that Bunyan never
carried out the idea hinted at in the closing words of his
allegory: "Shall it be my lot to go that way again, I may give
those that desire it an account of what I am here silent about; in
the meantime I bid my reader - Adieu."
Bunyan's second great allegorical work, "The Holy War," need not
detain us long. Being an attempt, and in the nature of things an
unsuccessful attempt, to clothe what writers on divinity call "the
plan of salvation" in a figurative dress, the narrative, with all
its vividness of description in parts, its clearly drawn characters
with their picturesque nomenclature, and the stirring vicissitudes
of the drama, is necessarily wanting in the personal interest which
attaches to an individual man, like Christian, and those who are
linked with or follow his career. In fact, the tremendous
realities of the spiritual history of the human race are entirely
unfit for allegorical treatment as a whole. Sin, its origin, its
consequences, its remedy, and the apparent failure of that remedy
though administered by Almighty hands, must remain a mystery for
all time. The attempts made by Bunyan, and by one of much higher
intellectual power and greater poetic gifts than Bunyan - John
Milton - to bring that mystery within the grasp of the finite
intellect, only render it more perplexing. The proverbial line
tells us that -
"Fools rush in where angels fear to tread."
Bunyan and Milton were as far as possible from being "fools"; but
when both these great writers, on the one hand, carry us up into
the Council Chamber of Heaven and introduce us to the Persons of
the ever-blessed Trinity, debating, consulting, planning, and
resolving, like a sovereign and his ministers when a revolted
province has to be brought back to its allegiance; and, on the
other hand, take us down to the infernal regions, and makes us
privy to the plots and counterplots of the rebel leaders and
hearers of their speeches, we cannot but feel that, in spite of the
magnificent diction and poetic imagination of the one, and the
homely picturesque genius of the other, the grand themes treated of
are degraded if not vulgarized, without our being in any way helped
to unravel their essential mysteries. In point of individual
personal interest, "The Holy War" contrasts badly with "The
Pilgrim's Progress." The narrative moves in a more shadowy region.
We may admire the workmanship; but the same undefined sense of
unreality pursues us through Milton's noble epic, the outcome of a
divinely-fired genius, and Bunyan's humble narrative, drawing its
scenes and circumstances, and to some extent its DRAMATIS PERSONAE,
from the writer's own surroundings in the town and corporation of
Bedford, and his brief but stirring experience as a soldier in the
great Parliamentary War. The catastrophe also is eminently
unsatisfactory. When Christian and Hopeful enter the Golden Gates
we feel that the story has come to its proper end, which we have
been looking for all along. But the conclusion of "The Holy War"
is too much like the closing chapter of "Rasselas" - "a conclusion
in which nothing is concluded." After all the endless vicissitudes
of the conflict, and the final and glorious victory of Emmanuel and
his forces, and the execution of the ringleaders of the mutiny, the
issue still remains doubtful. The town of Mansoul is left open to
fresh attacks. Diabolus is still at large. Carnal Sense breaks
prison and continues to lurk in the town. Unbelief, that "nimble
Jack," slips away, and can never be laid hold of. These,
therefore, and some few others of the more subtle of the
Diabolonians, continue to make their home in Mansoul, and will do
so until Mansoul ceases to dwell in the kingdom of Universe. It is
true they turn chicken-hearted after the other leaders of their
party have been taken and executed, and keep themselves quiet and
close, lurking in dens and holes lest they should be snapped up by
Emmanuel's men. If Unbelief or any of his crew venture to show
themselves in the streets, the whole town is up in arms against
them; the very children raise a hue and cry against them and seek
to stone them. But all in vain. Mansoul, it is true, enjoys some
good degree of peace and quiet. Her Prince takes up his residence
in her borders. Her captains and soldiers do their duties. She
minds her trade with the heavenly land afar off; also she is busy
in her manufacture. But with the remnants of the Diabolonians
still within her walls, ready to show their heads on the least
relaxation of strict watchfulness, keeping up constant
communication with Diabolus and the other lords of the pit, and
prepared to open the gates to them when opportunity offers, this
peace can not be lasting. The old battle will have to be fought
over again, only to end in the same undecisive result. And so it
must be to the end. If untrue to art, Bunyan is true to fact.
Whether we regard Mansoul as the soul of a single individual or as
the whole human race, no final victory can be looked for so long as
it abides in "the country of Universe." The flesh will lust
against the spirit, the regenerated man will be in danger of being
brought into captivity to the law of sin and death unless he keeps
up his watchfulness and maintains the struggle to the end.
And it is here, that, for purposes of art, not for purposes of
truth, the real failing of "The Holy War" lies. The drama of
Mansoul is incomplete, and whether individually or collectively,
must remain incomplete till man puts on a new nature, and the
victory, once for all gained on Calvary, is consummated, in the
fulness of time, at the restitution of all things. There is no
uncertainty what the end will be. Evil must be put down, and good
must triumph at last. But the end is not yet, and it seems as far
off as ever. The army of Doubters, under their several captains,
Election Doubters, Vocation Doubters, Salvation Doubters, Grace
Doubters, with their general the great Lord Incredulity at their
head, reinforced by many fresh regiments under novel standards,
unknown and unthought of in Bunyan's days, taking the place of
those whose power is past, is ever making new attacks upon poor
Mansoul, and terrifying feeble souls with their threatenings.
Whichever way we look there is much to puzzle, much to grieve over,
much that to our present limited view is entirely inexplicable.
But the mind that accepts the loving will and wisdom of God as the
law of the Universe, can rest in the calm assurance that all,
however mysteriously, is fulfilling His eternal designs, and that
though He seems to permit "His work to be spoilt, His power defied,
and even His victories when won made useless," it is but seeming, -
that the triumph of evil is but temporary, and that these apparent
failures and contradictions, are slowly but surely working out and
helping forward
"The one unseen divine event
To which the whole creation moves."
"The mysteries and contradictions which the Christian revelation
leaves unsolved are made tolerable by Hope." To adopt Bunyan's
figurative language in the closing paragraph of his allegory, the
day is certainly coming when the famous town of Mansoul shall be
taken down and transported "every stick and stone" to Emmanuel's
land, and there set up for the Father's habitation in such strength
and glory as it never saw before. No Diabolonian shall be able to
creep into its streets, burrow in its walls, or be seen in its
borders. No evil tidings shall trouble its inhabitants, nor sound
of Diabolian drum be heard there. Sorrow and grief shall be ended,
and life, always sweet, always new, shall last longer than they
could even desire it, even all the days of eternity. Meanwhile let
those who have such a glorious hope set before them keep clean and
white the liveries their Lord has given them, and wash often in the
open fountain. Let them believe in His love, live upon His word;
watch, fight, and pray, and hold fast till He come.
One more work of Bunyan's still remains to be briefly noticed, as
bearing the characteristic stamp of his genius, "The Life and Death
of Mr. Badman." The original idea of this book was to furnish a
contrast to "The Pilgrim's Progress." As in that work he had
described the course of a man setting out on his course
heavenwards, struggling onwards through temptation, trials, and
difficulties, and entering at last through the golden gates into
the city of God, so in this later work his purpose was to depict
the career of a man whose face from the first was turned in the
opposite direction, going on from bad to worse, ever becoming more
and more irretrievably evil, fitter and fitter for the bottomless
pit; his life full of sin and his death without repentance; reaping
the fruit of his sins in hopeless sinfulness. That this was the
original purpose of the work, Bunyan tells us in his preface. It
came into his mind, he says, as in the former book he had written
concerning the progress of the Pilgrim from this world to glory, so
in this second book to write of the life and death of the ungodly,
and of their travel from this world to hell. The new work,
however, as in almost every respect it differs from the earlier
one, so it is decidedly inferior to it. It is totally unlike "The
Pilgrim's Progress" both in form and execution. The one is an
allegory, the other a tale, describing without imagery or metaphor,
in the plainest language, the career of a "vulgar, middle-class,
unprincipled scoundrel." While "The Pilgrim's Progress" pursues
the narrative form throughout, only interrupted by dialogues
between the leading characters, "Mr. Badman's career" is presented
to the world in a dialogue between a certain Mr. Wiseman and Mr.
Attentive. Mr. Wiseman tells the story, and Mr. Attentive supplies
appropriate reflections on it. The narrative is needlessly
burdened with a succession of short sermons, in the form of
didactic discourses on lying, stealing, impurity, and the other
vices of which the hero of the story was guilty, and which brought
him to his miserable end. The plainness of speech with which some
of these evil doings are enlarged upon, and Mr. Badman's indulgence
in them described, makes portions of the book very disagreeable,
and indeed hardly profitable reading. With omissions, however, the
book well deserves perusal, as a picture such as only Bunyan or his
rival in lifelike portraiture, Defoe, could have drawn of vulgar
English life in the latter part of the seventeenth century, in a
commonplace country town such as Bedford. It is not at all a
pleasant picture. The life described, when not gross, is sordid
and foul, is mean and commonplace. But as a description of English
middle-class life at the epoch of the Restoration and Revolution,
it is invaluable for those who wish to put themselves in touch with
that period. The anecdotes introduced to illustrate Bunyan's
positions of God's judgment upon swearers and sinners, convicting
him of a credulity and a harshness of feeling one is sorry to think
him capable of, are very interesting for the side-lights they throw
upon the times and the people who lived in them. It would take too
long to give a sketch of the story, even if a summary could give
any real estimate of its picturesque and vivid power. It is
certainly a remarkable, if an offensive book. As with "Robinson
Crusoe" and Defoe's other tales, we can hardly believe that we have
not a real history before us. We feel that there is no reason why
the events recorded should not have happened. There are no
surprises; no unlooked-for catastrophes; no providential
interpositions to punish the sinner or rescue the good man.
Badman's pious wife is made to pay the penalty of allowing herself
to be deceived by a tall, good-looking, hypocritical scoundrel. He
himself pursues his evil way to the end, and "dies like a lamb, or
as men call it, like a Chrisom child sweetly and without fear," but
the selfsame Mr. Badman still, not only in name, but in condition;
sinning onto the last, and dying with a heart that cannot repent.
Mr. Froude's summing up of this book is so masterly that we make no
apology for presenting it to our readers. "Bunyan conceals
nothing, assumes nothing, and exaggerates nothing. He makes his
bad man sharp and shrewd. He allows sharpness and shrewdness to
bring him the reward which such qualities in fact command. Badman
is successful; is powerful; he enjoys all the pleasures which money
can bring; his bad wife helps him to ruin, but otherwise he is not
unhappy, and he dies in peace. Bunyan has made him a brute,
because such men do become brutes. It is the real punishment of
brutal and selfish habits. There the figure stands - a picture of
a man in the rank of English life with which Bunyan was most
familiar; travelling along the primrose path to the everlasting
bonfire, as the way to Emmanuel's Land was through the Slough of
Despond and the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Pleasures are to be
found among the primroses, such pleasures as a brute can be
gratified by. Yet the reader feels that even if there was no
bonfire, he would still prefer to be with Christian."
(1) A small enclosure behind a cottage.

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