The Life of John Bunyan by Edmund Venables

This etext was orginally prepared from the 1888 Walter Scott edition by David Price, email, but will not be kept in an exact match with that edition as we make corrections/emendations. The Life of John Bunyan CHAPTER I. John Bunyan, the author of the book which has probably passed through more editions, had a
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  • 1888
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This etext was orginally prepared from the 1888 Walter Scott edition by David Price, email, but will not be kept in an exact match with that edition as we make corrections/emendations.

The Life of John Bunyan


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 “night- walking” 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 one?

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 shop- window, 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 self- satisfaction, 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 nature.”

This revolution was nearer than he imagined. Bunyan’s self- satisfaction 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 disciples.

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 ever- varying 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 loose- living 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-the- bye 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 old- fashioned 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 title- page 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 groundless.

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 ever- increasing 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 true- hearted 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,