the ‘pilgrim’s progress’ written in prison—difficulties thrown in the way of its publication.
The most important events have arisen out of circumstances very different to what reason could have expected. The great Lawgiver of Israel was a poor foundling. The Redeemer of the world was born in a stable. The sublime Revelations of John were written by an exile in a penal settlement. The universal guide to Christian pilgrims was the unaided work of an unlettered mechanic, while a prisoner for conscience sake. So unsearchable are the ways of God:
‘Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.’
‘Out of the eater came forth meat.’ Ju. 14:14. ‘The wrath of man shall praise thee,’ O God! How wretched is the state of those persecutors who, like Satan, are found fighting against the Almighty! To prevent the pious and talented John Bunyan from doing good, state religion shut him up in a noisome jail; and how remarkably was it overruled for the attainment of the very object they intended to prevent! What fearful odds—the power of the state, priests and justices, armed with Acts of Parliament, to compel uniformity in faith and practice, are linked together to crush a poor tinker! he preaches the glad tidings of salvation to a few poor trembling sinners; they are converted; from being pests to society, they become valuable and useful citizens; it is effectcd in a barn—the pomp and ceremonies and vestments used in a consecrated building are set at nought. The kingdom of Christ increased, with all its blessed effects, without the aid of a learned education. God must be prevented from thus going with, and blessing his devoted and humble servant, in a way so contrary to Acts of Parliament and human pride; the justices meet—they warn their destined prey, and endeavour to cajole him into obedience and spiritual slavery; he saw their hostile array, he knew their extensive powers—to imprison, transport, put to an ignominious death. What could a poor tinker do under such alarming circumstances? He had a refuge and a friend that they saw not, knew not. He took counsel with his God, and, while in the path of duty, felt that he had a wall of fire round about him, that all things must work together for good. He went calmly on his way. The warrant was issued by Justice Wingate, a name known only for this deed of iniquity. It was the first attempt in that county at persecution. The place at which the meeting was held is called Samsell. He was warned by the enemies of truth, in the hopes that he would fly, and that they might triumph. The posse comitatus was raised, and the liers-in-wait ‘kept a very strong watch about the house;’ his timid friends begged of him to fly; he walked into a close, to hold communion with his God; he went into the meeting with his spiritual strength renewed. When requested by his poor friends, who were alarmed for his safety, not to hold the meeting, he said, ‘I will not stir, neither will I have the meeting dismissed for this. Come, be of good cheer, let us not be daunted; our cause is good, we need not be ashamed of it.’ He commenced the service with prayer, during which he was not interrupted. He named his text: ‘Dost thou believe on the Son of God?’ Jn. 9:35; intending to show the absolute need of faith in Jesus Christ, and that it was also a thing of the highest concern for men to inquire into, and to ask their own hearts whether they had it or no.6 But before he could enter upon this important inquiry, the constable approached, produced his warrant, and put his hand upon his person. Bunyan looked at him; the man turned pale, withdrew his hand, and trembled; it was the first victim that he had arrested under those wicked laws. After a few words of counsel and encouragement to the people, he surrendered himself to the officer; and upon his refusal to leave off preaching, the justice committed him to Bedford jail, where he lay, under a cruel sentence, for nearly thirteen years.
We may easily imagine the alarm and misery felt by his affectionate wife and his four children, one of whom was blind, and the whole community of dissenters in that part of the country. Antichrist appeared to triumph. It is very probable that his fellow-worshippers would humble themselves before God, and, with broken hearts, inquire what peculiar crimes they had been guilty of to call forth this severe chastisement. They might call to remembrance the language of David, ‘Thy judgments are a great deep;’ and be comforted with his following words, ‘O Lord, thou preservest man.’ Who could have imagined that the jail was to be his study, his Bethel, and the means of his preaching to millions of his fellow-sinners, in all ages and languages! ‘O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!’
In possession of a strong bodily frame, and of that robust health which arises from incessant activity in the open air; travelling about the country to obtain means of support to his family by his labours, and exerting himself on the day of rest by proclaiming in the villages the glad tidings of salvation; from a state of incessant activity, he was suddenly incarcerated in a jail, situated on a bridge, and over the centre of the river; the small damp dens being on a level with the water. Had he been sent there for crime, it might have rapidly affected his health and spirits; but he was called to suffer, that the cause of truth might be honoured, and the God of truth was with him to preserve his health, and to comfort and support his mind with those supplies of happiness to which the world is a stranger, and which it can neither give nor take away.7
At the assizes, a plea of guilty was recorded; and although numerous prisoners, charged with crimes, were liberated at the coronation of Charles II., his case did not come within the proclamation, and he appeared to be doomed to hopeless imprisonment or to an untimely end. Happily, the regulations of the jail allowed him the use of his Bible and Fox’s Book of Martyrs, and of the materials for writing. His time was beguiled with tagging laces to provide for his poor family; in praying with and exhorting his fellow-prisoners, and in the composing, of books, which were extensively published, for the instruction of the world. He soon became, like Joseph in Pharaoh’s prison, a favourite with the jailer, who was at times severely threatened for the privileges lie allowed this prisoner for Christ. Among the books that he wrote in prison, we shall find that the most prominent and important one was the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress.’ Charles Doe, who was a personal friend of Mr. Bunyan’s, and who called him ‘an apostle of our age, if we have any,’ thus narrates the fact in his Struggler for the Preservation of Mr. John Bunyan’s Labours:8 ‘In the year 1660 (being the year King Charles returned to England), having preached about five years, the rage of gospel enemies was so great, that, November 12th, they took him prisoner, at a meeting of good people, and put him in Bedford jail; and there he continued about six years, and then was let out again, 1666. Being the year of the burning of London, and a little after his release, they took him again, at a meeting, and put him in the same jail, where he lay six years more. And after he was released again, they took him again, and put him in prison the third time; but that proved but for about half a year. Whilst he was thus twelve years and a half in prison, he wrote several of his published books, as by many of their epistles appears;9 as ‘Pray by the Spirit,’ ‘Holy City,’ ‘Resurrection,’ ‘Grace Abounding,’ and others; also, ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress,’ as himself and many others have said.’ Mr. Doe thus argues upon the fact: ‘And I reckon I shall not be out of the way if I observe and say, what hath the devil or his agents gotten by putting our great gospel minister, Bunyan, in prison? for in prison, as before mentioned, he wrote many excellent books, that have published to the world his great grace, and great truth, and great judgment, and great ingenuity; and to instance, in one, ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress,’ he hath suited to the life of a traveller so exactly and pleasantly, and to the life of a Christian, that this very book, besides the rest, hath done the superstitious sort of men and their practice more harm, or rather good, as I may call it, than if he had been let alone at his meeting at Bedford to preach the gospel to his own auditory, as it might have fallen out; for none but priest-ridden people know how to cavil at it, it wins so smoothly upon their affections, and so insensibly distils the gospel into them; and hath been printed in France, Holland, New England, and in Welsh, and about a hundred thousand in England, whereby they are made some means of grace, and the author become famous, and may be the cause of spreading his other gospel books over the European and American world, and, in process of time, may be so to the whole universe.’
This agrees with Bunyan’s marginal glossary, as to the place where he was located when visited with this wondrous dream. ‘As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place, where was a den; and I laid me down in that place to sleep; and as I slept I dreamed a dream.’ The marginal note to that ‘place where was a den,’ is ‘The Jail.’. This was first added to the fourth edition, 1680; he had probably been asked, what was meant by the den, and from that time, in every edition, he publishes that his meaning was, ‘The Jail.’ That Bunyan attached much importance to these marginal notes, as a key to his works, is plainly stated in his verses to the reader of the ‘Holy war:’—
Nor do thou go to work without my key
(In mysteries men soon do lose their way),
And also turn it right, if thou would’st know
My riddle, and would’st with my heifer plough.
It lies there in the window,* fare thee well,
My next may be to ring thy passing-bell.
No language can be plainer. The author wishes all his readers to understand where he conceived and wrote the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress.’ He says that it was in ‘a den.’ He puts his key to this word in the window, and upon turning the key right, it discovers the den to be Bedford jail. In this dismal den he tranquilly slept; like the Psalmist, he feared not ten thousands of people, ‘I laid me down and slept: I awaked, for the Lord sustained me.’ And why? It was because ‘I cried unto the Lord,’ ‘thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.’ Ps. 3. Like Peter, with a conscience void of Offence, ‘he slept while a prisoner in a jail.’ And although Bunyan had no angel from heaven to open the prison doors before him, he had that heavenly communion which filled his soul with peace, and fitted him to write for the instruction of mankind. The rapidity with which the conception of the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ came over his mind and was reduced to writing, he thus describes:—
‘And thus it was: I writing of the way
And race of saints, in this our gospel day,
Fell suddenly into an allegory
About their journey, and the way to glory.
In more than twenty things, which I set down;
This done, I twenty more had in my crown;
And they again began to multiply,
Like sparks that from the coals of fire do fly.
Nay then, thought I, if that you breed so fast,
I’ll put you by yourselves, lest you at last
Should prove ad infinitum, and eat out
The book that I already am about.
* * * * *
Thus I set pen to paper with delight,
And quickly had my thoughts in black and white.
For having now my method by the end,
Still as I pull’d, it came; and so I penn’d
It down; until at last it came to be,
For length and breadth, the bigness which you see.’
This simple statement requires no comment. In jail he was writing some book of ‘the way and race of saints,’ most probably his own spiritual experience, when the idea came over his mind to represent a Christian’s course from his conviction of sin to his arrival in glory, as a journey from the city of destruction to the celestial city. This is the opinion, very elegantly expressed, of Dr. Cheever; ‘As you read the “Grace Abounding,” you are ready to say at every step, Here is the future author of the “Pilgrim’s Progress.” It is as if you stood by the side of some great sculptor, and watched every movement of his chisel, having had his design explained to you before, so that at every blow some new trait of beauty in the future statue comes clearly into view.’ While thus employed, he was suddenly struck with the thought of his great allegory, and at once commenced writing it, and in a short time his first part was completed. It may be inferred that he wrote these two books about the same time, because what he omitted in the first edition of ‘Grace Abounding’ he also omitted in the first edition of the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress,’ but inserted it in the subsequent editions of both these books; one of these is his singular illustration of gospel truth from the unclean beasts, being those that neither chewed the cud nor divided the hoof—one of the conversations between Hopeful and Christian. This is also introduced as an addition to ‘Grace Abounding,’ No. 71. It was familiar with Bunyan to connect the term ‘den’ with his cell in the prison. Thus, when narrating his spiritual imprisonment in Doubting Castle, the Giant, instead of ordering his prisoners to their cell or dungeon, says, ‘Get you down into your den again.’ So also in the preface to ‘Grace Abounding,’ he thus addresses his converts: ‘I being taken from you in presence, and so tied up that I cannot perform that duty that from God doth lie upon me to youward, I now once again, as before, from the top of Shenir and Hermon, so now from the lion’s den - do look yet after you all, greatly longing to see your safe arrival into the desired haven.’
The continuation of ‘Grace Abounding’ was written by ‘a true friend and long acquaintance’ of Mr. Bunyan’s; ‘That his good end may be known as well as his evil beginning, I have taken upon me from my knowledge, and the best account given by other of his friends, to piece this to the thread, too soon broken off, and so lengthen it out to his entering upon eternity.’ In this we are told of his long imprisonment, and that in prison he wrote the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress,’ First Part. The mode in which it was written, and the use made of it, in illustrating his addresses to his fellow-prisoners, has been handed down by one of them—Mr. Marsom, an estimable and pious preacher, who was confined with Mr. Bunyan in Bedford jail, for conscience’ sake. His grand-daughter married Mr. Gurney, the grandfather of the late Baron Gurney, and of W. B. Gurney, Esq., his brother, the justly venerated Treasurer of the Baptist Missionary Society, and he furnished me with the following facts: ‘Thomas Marsom was an ironmonger, and pastor of the Baptist Church at Luton; he died in January 1726, at a very advanced age. This Thomas Marsom was a fellow-prisoner with Bunyan; and my grandfather, who knew him well, was in the habit of repeating to his son, my father, many interesting circumstances which he had heard from him, connected with his imprisonment. One of these was, that Bunyan read the manuscript of the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ to his fellow-prisoners, requesting their opinion upon it. The descriptions naturally excited a little pleasantry, and Marsom, who was of a sedate turn, gave his opinion against the publication; but on reflection, requested permission to take the manuscript to his own cell, that he might read it alone. Having done so, he returned it with an earnest recommendation that it should be published.’ How easily can we imagine the despised Christians in prison for their Lord’s sake, thus beguiling the dreary hours. How admirably could the poor preacher illustrate his discourses to his fellow prisoners by the various adventures of his pilgrims. He had received calls to join more wealthy churches, but he affectionately cleaved to his poor flock at Bedford. Suppose his exhortation to have been founded on these words, ‘Freely ye have received, freely give;’ how adimirably could he introduce all the jesuitic subteties of Bye-ends, Money-love, and his party, and refute the arguments they had been taught by one Gripe-man of Love Gain, a market town in the county of Coveting, in the north. Imagine him to be exhorting his fellow-prisoners on the ‘Terrors of the Lord,’ and you would anticipate his leading in the burdened Christian, recounting the awful dream of the day of judgment, at the Interpreter’s house, and narrating his adventures in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Or when preaching on the words, ‘Resist the devil,’ who like him could recount the fight with Apollyon?
These facts are placed before the reader lest any one should for a moment entertain a doubt which would cast a shade over one of the glories of the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress.’ It is an imperishable monument to the folly and wickedness of persecution to prevent the spread of religious principles. The enemies of the Christian faith imprisoned John Bunyan to prevent his preaching the gospel to a few poor people, and by it he preaches and will preach to millions of every clime. Keep these facts in recollection—the evidence of C. Doe who had it from Bunyan’s own mouth; his own key—‘den,’ ‘the jail;’ the testimony of one who long enjoyed his friendship, published within four years of his decease; the tradition handed down by a fellow-prisoner—none of which evidence was ever denied by the advocates for persecution. If we refuse such testimony, neither should we believe if Bunyan was permitted to come from the invisible world and proclaim its truth with the trump of an archangel.
There are very strong internal proofs that the Pilgrim was written long before it was published. A second edition issued from the same press, by the same publishers, in the same year, 1678; and there is found a striking difference in the spelling of many words in these two editions, such as ‘drownded’ is corrected to ‘drowned,’ ‘Slow of Despond’ to ‘Slough of Despond,’ ‘chaulk’ to ‘chalk,’ ‘travailler’ to ‘traveller,’ ‘countrey’ to ‘Country,’ ‘raggs’ to ‘rags,’ ‘brust’ to ‘burst.’ This may readily be accounted for by the author’s having kept the work in manuscript for some years before it was printed, and that he had at length consented to send it to the printers as he had written it. There is an apparent difference of twenty years in the orthography of these two books, which were published in the same year, besides some considerable additions of new characters in the second edition. The printer appears to have followed the manuscript as to spelling, punctuation, capitals, and italics. It proves, that notwithstanding his very numerous and important engagements, Bunyan found time to cultivate and improve his talents in composition, between the time when he wrote the first, and published the second edition.
The reason why it was not published for several years after his release, appears to have arisen from the difference of opinion expressed by his friends as to the propriety of printing a book which treated so familiarly the most solemn subjects.
‘Well, when I had thus put my ends together,
I show’d them others, that I might see whether
They would condemn them, or them justify:
And some said, Let them live; some, Let them die.
Some said, John, print it; others said, Not so.
Some said, It might do good; others said, No.’
Somewhat similar to this, was the conference of dissenting ministers when Sunday Schools were first attempted; the desecration of the Lord’s Day was pleaded against them, and it was only by a very small majority that institutions were sanctioned, which advanced the spread of Divine truth with a rapidity as extraordinary as the spread of the missionary spirit, or even as is the increased speed of travelling by the aid of steam.
Thus it was debated whether the Pilgrim should walk forth or not, fearing lest the singularity of his dress should excite vain or trivial thoughts in the readers, like the disturbance at Vanity Fair; or it might arise from a fear lest the various characters and dialogues should be considered as approaching in the slightest degree to the drama. It is impossible to account for the different feelings excited in the minds of men by reading the same narrative in which all are equally interested. In this case the fear was, lest it should tend to excite a light or trifling spirit, while the solemn realities of eternity were under consideration. In most cases, reading this volume has had a solemnizing effect upon the mind. Some have tried to read it, but have shut it up with fear, because it leads directly to the inquiry, Have I felt the burden of sin? Have I fled for refuge? Others have been deterred, because it has such home-thrusts at hypocrisy, and such cutting remarks upon those who profess godliness, but in secret are wanton and godless. The folly of reliance upon an imperfect obedience to the law for the pardon of sin, repeatedly and faithfully urged, is a hard and humbling lesson. It mercilessly exposes the worthlessness of all those things which are most prized by the worldling. No book has so continued and direct a tendency to solemn self-examination. Every character that is drawn makes a powerful appeal to the conscience, and leads almost irresistibly to the mental inquiry, ‘Lord, is it I?’ No work is calculated to infuse deeper solemnity into the mind of an attentive reader. Well might Mr. Macaulay in his review say. ‘The allegory of Bunyan has been read by many thousands with tears;’ or as some pious man has written upon the fly-leaf of the fourth edition, 1680—
‘Sleep on, good man,
Continue still thy dreame.
Your allegories do,
I think, resemble
Some landskip vision
At which souls tremble.’10
In addition to the serious opposition of his friends to the publication of the Pilgrim, we should also consider the author’s other engagements. After so long, so harassing, so unjust an imprisonment, much of his time must have been spent in restoring order to his house and in his church; in paying pastoral visits, recovering lost stations which had been suspended during the violence of persecution, and in extending his devotional and ministerial exercises in all the villages around Bedford which were within his reach. Such was the great extent of his labours in that and the adjoining counties, as to obtain for him the title of Bishop of Bedford. As his popular talents became known, the sphere of his usefulness extended, so that an eye-witness testified, that when he preached in London, ‘if there were but one day’s notice given, there would be more people come together to hear him preach, than the meeting-house could hold. I have seen, to hear him preach, about twelve hundred at a morning lecture, by seven o’clock on a working day, in the dark winter time.’11 Such popularity must have occasioned a considerable tax upon his time, in addition to which he was then warmly engaged in his controversy on Baptism,12 and in some admirable practical works. These were probably some of the reasons why a humble, pious author, hesitated for several years to publish a work, on the practical bearings of which his friends had expressed such opposite opinions. At length he made up his mind—
——‘Since you are thus divided,
I print it will; and so the case decided.’