Bunyan’s qualifications to write the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ sanctified by prison discipline.
That the author of the Pilgrim was pre-eminently qualified to write such a work is proved by its vast circulation, and by the extraordinary interest which it created, and has kept alive, for nearly two centuries, throughout the world. This ought not to excite surprise, When it is recollected that it was the production of a man profoundly learned in all the subtleties of the human heart; deeply skilled in detecting error and sophistry; thoroughly humbled under a sense of his own unworthiness. He was baptized into the Divine truths of Christianity by the searching, wounding, and healing influences if the Holy Spirit. Shut up for twelve years with his Bible, all the rags of popery and heathenism were stripped off, and he came out a living body of divinity, comparatively free from mere human doctrines or systems. The spirit of the prophets and apostles breathes in his language. His was an education which all the academies and universities in the world could not have communicated. He was deeply learned in that ‘wisdom that is from above,’ Ja. 3:17, and can be acquired only in the school of Christ. His spirit was nurtured by close, unwearied, prayerful searching of the Word of life—by perpetual watchfulness over the workings of his spirit, and by inward communion with God. He knew well what was meant by ‘groanings which cannot be uttered,’ Ro. 8:26, as well as by being ‘caught up,’ as it were, to ‘the third heaven,’ even to ‘paradise,’ and in his spirit to ‘hear unspeakable words which it is not possible for man to utter.’ 2 Co. 12:4. Previous to his imprisonment he had gone through every severe spiritual trial: with the Psalmist he had sunk in deep mire Where there was no standing; the powers of darkness, like ‘the floods, overflow me,’ Ps. 69:2; and with him he could also sing, ‘I will extol thee, O Lord, For thou hast lifted me up,’ Ps 30:1; ‘Thou hast brought up my soul from the grave,’ Ps. 30:3; ‘He brought me up out of an horrible pit,’ Ps. 40:2; ‘Thou hast healed me;’ ‘Thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness.’ In his happier days, even while in a gloomy jail, he felt that he was an inhabitant of that invisible, holy, spiritual Jerusalem, the universal church of Christ, encompassed by the ‘Lord as a wall of fire, and the glory in the midst of her.’ He lived in an atmosphere, and used a language, unknown to the wisdom of this World, and which a poet-laureate mistook for reveries, for ‘the hot and cold fits of a spiritual ague,’ or for the paroxysms of disease.13 His mind was deeply imbued with all that was most terrific, as well as most magnificent in religion. In proportion as his Christian course became pure and lovely, so his former life must have been surveyed with unmitigated severity and abhorrence.
These mental conflicts are deeply interesting; they arose from an agonized mind—a sincere and determined spirit roused by Divine revelation, opening before his astonished but bewildered mind, solemn, eternal realities. He that sits in the scorner’s seat may scoff at them, while he who is earnestly inquiring after the way, the truth, and the life, will examine them with prayerful seriousness. In after-life, the recollection of these emotions filled his lips with words that pierced his hearers.
When at liberty, his energetic eloquence had attracted to his sermons every class. It is said that the great Dr. John Owen was asked by the King how a man of his learning could attend to hear a tinker preach, he replied, ‘May it please your Majesty, had I the tinker’s abilities, I would most gladly relinquish my learning.’ Thus did a man, profoundly versed in scholastic literature, and that sanctified by piety, bow to the superiority of the Spirit’s teaching. The unlettered tinker led captive, by his consecrated natural eloquence, one of the most eminent divines of his day.
Considering the amazing popularity of the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress,’ and its astonishing usefulness to all classes of mankind, in all the countries of the earth, play we not attribute its author’s deep and hallowed feelings, severe trials, and every lesson of Divine wisdom he received, as being intended by the Holy Spirit to fit him to write this surprising Dream?
Bunyan was a master of rhetoric, and logic, and moral philosophy, without studying those sciences, or perhaps even understanding the terms by which they are designated. His Bible (wondrous book!) was his library. All his genius was nurtured from the living fountain of truth; it purified his style, and adapted his work, by its simplicity and energy, to every understanding. His key to its mysteries was earnest, holy prayer; and musing over the human heart, and watching the operations of nature, afforded him an ample illustration of its sacred truths. His labour in tagging laces required no application of mind, so that his time for study was every moment of his life that he could save from sleep, and even then his ever-active spirit was busy in dreams, many of which contained valuable lessons, so that his mind became most richly stored, and was perpetually overflowing.
‘The poetry of the Bible was not less the source of Bunyan’s poetical powers, than the study of the whole Scriptures was the source of his simplicity and purity of style. His heart was not only made new by the spirit of the Bible, but his whole intellectual being was penetrated and transfigured by its influence. He brought the spirit and power, gathered from so long and exclusive a communion with the prophets and apostles, to the composition of every page of the “Pilgrim’s Progress.” ’14
Human character was unveiled before the penetrating eye of one so conversant with the inspired writings; every weak point is seen, as well as the advantage taken by the subtle enemy of souls; and all so admirably and plainly pictured that he who runs must stop, read, and admire, even to his surprise and wonder; and be constrained to inquire, Whence had this poor mechanic such knowledge?
Nor must it be forgotten, that in addition to his heavenly, he possessed peculiar earthly qualifications for his important work. He had been the very ringleader in all manner of vice and ungodliness. John Ryland’s description of his character is written with peculiar pungency: ‘No man of common sense and common integrity can deny, that Bunyan, the tinker of Elstow, was a practical atheist, a worthless, contemptible infidel, a vile rebel to God and goodness, a common profligate, a soul-despising, a soul-murdering, a soul-damning thoughtless wretch, as could exist on the face of the earth. Now be astonished, O heaven, to eternity, and wonder, O earth and hell! while time endures. Behold this very man become a miracle of mercy, a mirror of wisdom, goodness, holiness, truth, and love. See his polluted soul cleansed and adorned by Divine grace, his guilt pardoned, the Divine law inscribed upon his heart, the Divine image or the resemblance of God’s moral perfections impressed upon his soul.’15 He had received the mere rudiments of education, but vicious habits had ‘almost utterly’ blotted out of his memory every useful lesson; so that he must have had, when impressed with Divine truth, great determination to have enabled him not only to recover the instruction which he had received in his younger days, but even to have added to it such stores of valuable information. In this, his natural quickness of perception and retentive memory must have been of extreme value. Having been mixed up intimately with every class of men, and seen them in their most unguarded moments, it enabled him to draw his characters in such vivid colours, and with such graphic accuracy. Filled with an inspiration which could be drawn from the Bible alone, he has delineated characters as touching and interesting to us in the nineteenth century as they were to our pilgrim forefathers of a bygone age, and as they will be to the Christian sojourner of ages yet to come. It is a history, with little variation, of that which must always happen while Christianity endures.
Bunyan had run the round of sin; had sown the seed of vice, and brought forth the bitter fruits of repentance; had felt intense alarm lest eternal torments should swallow up his soul in death; had fled for, and found refuge in, the sufferings of Christ. His burden removed, he loved much, because to him much had been forgiven; he had been brought up out of horrible darkness, and well was he qualified to aid those who were walking through the dismal valley of the shadow of death!
His out-door habits and employments, and his sanctified contemplations on the beauties of nature, were calculated to strengthen the vigour of his imagination, and the decision of his character. Happily, the glorious Dreamer never appeared to have any idea of his own immortal fame as an author: little did he dream of the happy influence that his humble labours would have upon millions of mankind; all his spirit centred in his Saviour; all his efforts were to make known the glad tidings of salvation to surrounding sinners. If he coveted the tongue of an angel, it was not for brilliancy of language, but that he might use burning words to make an indelible impression upon his hearers. Even the greatest of his works he published under the humble similitude of a dream, or as that which had passed before his imagination, unaided by those mental powers which are called forth in composing a narrative intended for publication. His sixty humble books were printed without ornament, upon inferior paper, of the class called chap-books, from their being vended by travelling hawkers called chapmen, now magniloquently called colporteurs.
John Burton, a minister, thus recommends Bunyan, in an introduction to Some Gospel Truths Opened, 1656: ‘Be not offended because Christ holds forth the glorious treasure of the gospel to thee in a poor earthen vessel, by one who hath neither the greatness nor the wisdom of this world to commend him to thee. This man is not chosen out of an earthly, but out of the heavenly university, the church of Christ, furnished with the Spirit, gifts, and graces of Christ. He hath, through grace, taken these three he venly degrees—union with Christ, the anointing of the Spirit, and experience of the temptations of Satan; which do more fit a man for that weighty work of preaching the gospel, than all university learning and degrees that can be had. Having had experience, with many other saints, of this man’s soundness in the faith, of his godly conversation, and his ability to preach the gospel, not by human art, but by the Spirit of Christ, and that with much success in the conversion of sinners.’
His character and qualifications were also admirably portrayed by his pastor, J. Gifford, soon after he entered upon the work of the ministry.16 It is in his introduction to the first edition of a ‘Few Sighs from Hell,’ 1658, and as this interesting portrait was not inserted in any of the subsequent editions of that book, and has escaped the researches of all the biographers of Bunyan, I am tempted to give it verbatim, more especially, as it is generally believed that John Gifford was the Evangelist who directed the Pilgrim to the Wicket Gate, put him again into the path when under the flames of Sinai, and prepared him for persecution at Vanity Fair. ‘Concerning the author (whatsoever the censures and reports of many are), I have this to say, that I verily believe God hath counted him faithful, and put him into the ministery; and though his outward condition and former employment was mean, and his humane learning small, yet is he one that hath acquaintance with God, and taught by his Spirit, and hath been used in his hand to do souls good; for to my knowledge there are divers who have felt the power of the word delivered by him, and I doubt not but that many more may, if the Lord continue him in his work; he is not like unto your drones that will suck the sweet, but do no work. For he hath laid forth himself to the utmost of his strength, taking all advantages to make known to others what he himself hath received of God; and I fear that is one reason why the archers have shot so soarly at him; for by his and others’ industry, in their Master’s work, their slothfulness hath been reproved, and the eyes of many have been opened to see a difference between those that are sent of God, and those that run before they are sent. And that he is none of those light fanatick spirits that our age abounds withal, this following discourse, together with his former, that have been brought to publique view, will testifie; for among other things that may bear record to him herein, you shall find him magnifying and exalting the Holy Scriptures, and largely showing the worth, excellency, and usefulness of them.
‘And surely if thou shalt (notwithstanding this) stumble at his meanness and want of humane learning, thou wilt declare thine unacquaintance with God’s declared method, who, to perfect his own praise, and to still the enemy and avenger, makes choice of babes and sucklings, and in their mouthes ordaineth strength. Ps. 8:2. Though men that have a great design do, and must make use of those that in reason are most likely to effect it, yet must the Lord do so too? then instruments (not himself) would carry away the praise; but that no flesh should glory in his presence, he hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and base things of the world, and things that are despised hath God chosen. 1 Co. 1:27–29. Cast thine eye back to the beginning of the gospel dispensation (which surely, if at any time, should have come forth in the wisdom and glory of the world), and thou shalt see what method the Lord did take at the first to exalt his Son Jesus; he goes not amongst the Jewish rabbies, nor to the schools of learning, to fetch out his gospel preachers, but to the trades, and those most contemptible too; yet let not any from hence conceive, that I undervalue the gifts and graces of such who have been, or now are endued with them, nor yet speak against learning, being kept in its place, but my meaning is, that those that are learned should not despise those that are not; or those that are not, should not despise those that are, who are faithful in the Lord’s work: and, therefore, being about to leave thee, I shall leave with thee two scriptures to be considered of. The one is, Jn. 13:20: Verily, verily I say unto you, he that receiveth whomsoever I send (mark whomsoever), receiveth me; and he that receiveth me, receiveth him that sent me. The other is, Lu. 10:16: He that heareth you, heareth me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth me; and he that despiseth me, despiseth him that sent me.’—I. G. Bunyan closes his own preface with these words, ‘I am thine, if thou be not ashamed to own me, because of my low and contemptible descent in the world, John Bunyan.’ This was altered in the subsequent editions to, ‘I am thine, to serve in the Lord Jesus, John Bunyan.’
His own account of his training perfectly agrees with that given by his pastor. In the epistle to his treatise on ‘The Law and Grace,’ about 1660, he thus speaks: ‘Reader, if thou do finde this book empty of fantastical expressions, and without light, vain, whimsical, scholar-like terms, thou must understand, it is because 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. But if thou do finde a parcel of plain, yet sound, true, and home sayings, attribute that to the Lord Jesus, his gifts and abilities, which he hath bestowed upon such a poor creature as I am, and have been.’
Bunyan’s great natural abilities required to be tempered in the school of affliction: and his ardent temperament met with no ordinary degree of chastisement; his principles and constancy were tried by bonds and imprisonment; his spirit, in the warfare of controversy, not only with the enemies of his Lord, but upon minor points with his brother disciples. And with some of these he, after their wordy war, met in the same common jail; united in worship before the throne of God; former wounds were healed, and heart-burnings sanctified; and he became more fully fitted as a guide to all pilgrims of every sect. He passed through every trial that his Lord saw needful, to temper his ardent spirit, and fit him to write his immortal Allegory.
It is difficult to account for Bunyan’s freedom from those popular delusions which so characterize the age in which he lived, and which spread over the most pious and learned of his contemporaries; the belief in witchcraft, sorcery, ghosts, and goblin sprites, who, in his days, were supposed to ride upon broomsticks through the air, or ‘dart through a key-hole swift as light.’ Stories of witchcraft, haunted houses, necromancy, and such follies, are found in the pilgrimages of his day. Although Sir Matthew Hale, Cotton Mather, Baxter, and our most eminent men, were strangely full of faith in these fancies, even from that king who thought himself a mickle wise man, but proved to be a fool and a pedant, to the wretch called the witchfinder, who, by his perjuries, legally murdered so many poor helpless old women, for the rich were rarely, if ever, attacked. Bunyan’s early habits, and want of education, and prolific imagination, must have peculiarly fitted him for all such vulgar errors; but he escaped them all. Was it that, after his conversion, the solemnities of the world to come swallowed up all other considerations? or, was it the workings of the Holy Spirit, to fit his writings to be a blessing to future and more enlightened generations? It is a remarkable fact, worthy of serious reflection.
That a man possessing such extraordinary talent should excite the envy of some, and the bitterest animosity of others, is natural. ‘The archers did shoot sorely at him,’ and never was a man better armed to resist and crush his comparatively puny assailants. His sentiments and conduct, as to the profitable trade of preaching, were also calculated to injure him in the esteem of the clergy. Among many false charges brought against him, one was, the making merchandise of souls through covetousness. His reply was, ‘Friend, the spirit that led thee to this 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 hath 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.’17 In those days, hard words and uncivil language were commonly used in controversy, and Bunyan’s early associations and singular genius furnished his quiver with arrows of piercing point. His moral character was assailed in the grossest terms; he was called a wizard, a Jesuit, a highwayman, a libertine, and was charged as guilty of every crime; to this he gave a direct denial, and triumphantly pointed to his whole conduct since his conversion as a refutation of such unfounded calumnies. These malignant accusations are referred to and refuted in that thrilling narrative, ‘The singular experience and great sufferings of Mrs. Agnes Beaumont,’ contained in a deeply interesting volume, An Abstract of the gracious Dealings of God with several eminent Christians, by Samuel James, M.A.18 Another and very different tournament took place between him and E. Fowler, afterwards Bishop of Gloucester. He published his views of The Design of Christianity; that it was merely the restoration of man to his primitive state. Bunyan saw his book, and very justly conceiving that the learned divine had asserted some gross errors upon doctrinal points of the greatest importance, he treated the embryo bishop just the same as if he had been a brother tinker, a mere man who was attempting to rob his (Bunyan’s) beloved Master of one of the most glorious gems in his crown. In the almost incredibly short time of forty-five days,19 he, in jail, composed an answer, consisting of 118 pages of small quarto, closely printed, and in which he completely demolished the theory of this great scholar. It is entitled, ‘A Defence of the Doctrine of Justification by Faith in Jesus Christ, showing true Gospel Holiness flows from thence; or, Mr. Fowler’s pretended Design of Christianity proved to be nothing more than to trample under foot the blood of the Son of God; and the idolizing of man’s own righteousness.’20 In this hastily written, but valuable book, Bunyan used very strong language; reflecting upon a man of considerable influence, and one of his decided enemies. Of some of Mr. Fowler’s sentiments, he says, ‘Here are pure dictates of a brutish, beastly man, that neither knows himself nor one tittle of the Word of God.’21 ‘But why should this thief love thus to clamber and seek to go to God by other means than Christ?’22 Mr. Fowler said, ‘It cannot be worth our while to lay out any considerable matter of our heat, either for or against doubtful opinions, alterable modes, rites and circumstances of religion; it would be like the apes blowing at a glow-worm, which affords neither light nor warmth,23 and whatsoever is commended by the custom of the places we live in, or commanded by superiors, our Christian liberty is to do them.’24 Bunyan knew the feelings of the clergy in his own neighbourhood, and he also knew that the Act of Uniformity had just turned out all the godly and evangelical ministers from the Church of England. To this sophistry, as to a Christian’s being bound by the custom of the country he lives in, and by the authority of superiors, as to outward forms or ceremonies of Divine worship and religious teaching, our Pilgrim’s guide thus breaks out into what Mr. Fowler calls a Rabshakeh, ‘I know none so wedded thereto as yourselves, even the whole gang of your rabbling counterfeit clergy; who, generally, like the ape you speak of, lie blowing up the applause and glory of your trumpery, and, like the tail, with your foolish and sophistical arguings, you cover the filthy parts thereof.’25
To Bunyan’s Treatise a reply was immediately published, and in it the gentleman and scholar complains of the uncharitable terms used by Bunyan, and we are led to expect something polite and genteel; but, unfortunately, the bishop in expectancy, or one of his friends, beats the tinker in harsh epithets, without answering his hard arguments. The scoffer calls our Pilgrim’s guide ‘grossly ignorant,’ ‘most unchristian and wicked,’26 ‘a piece of proud folly,’ ‘so very dirty a creature that he disdains to defile his fingers with him;’ and yet writes a book in reply to him. He vauntingly says, that ‘Bunyan can no more disgrace the bishop than a rude creature can eclipse the moon by barking at her, or make palaces contemptible by their lifting up their legs against them.’27 ‘He is not in the least concerned (so he pretends) at the brutish barkings of such a creature;’ ‘a most blackmouthed calumniator;’28 ‘John Bunyan, a person that hath been near these twenty years, or longer, most infamous in the town and county of Bedford for a very pestilent schismatic;’29 and winds up much of his abuse in these words:—‘I now appeal to authority, whether this man ought to enjoy any interest in his Majesty’s toleration; and whether the letting such firebrands, and most impudent, malicious schismaticks, go unpunished doth not tend to the subversion of all government? I say, let our superiors judge of this.’30 Bunyan had then suffered nearly twelve years’ imprisonment, and was more zealous and intrepid than ever; and yet this fanatic bishop would have had his imprisonment continued, or his life forfeited, because he could not resist the arrows with which this prisoner for Christ assailed him, drawn all burning from the furnace of God’s Holy Word. This was one of the lessons by which Bunyan was taught how to lead the Pilgrims in their attack upon the monster, Antichrist, which was very rampant, and looked upon the Pilgrims with great disdain; but these valiant worthies did continually assault him, until he became wounded, ‘and it is verily believed by some that this beast will certainly die of his wounds.’31 How would it delight the church of Christ to witness his death, and to see his vile remains buried under all his implements of torture; his inquisitions, flames, and stakes, dungeons and racks, halters and church-rates. Another, and a very serious lesson, he was taught in the controversy which he carried on with some Quakers and strict Baptists.
Bunyan’s controversy, which is said to have been with the Quakers, was, in fact, not with that highly respectable and useful body of Christians, but with persons whom he considered to be under serious delusions; some of these called themselves Quakers. At this period, the Society of Friends were not united into a body or denomination. The battle, according to his own words, was against Satan, and those lies with which he had deceived some enthusiastic spirits. These characters were called, by Bunyan, a company of loose ranters and light notionists, with here and there a legalist, who were shaking in their principles, sometimes on this religion and sometimes on that. It is true that he talks of the Quakers’ delusions; but his fight was with principles, and not persons, and he sets forth what, in his opinion, were ‘the lies with which the devil beguileth poor souls.’ First, That salvation was not fully completed for sinners by Christ Jesus. Second, That the light within was sufficient without the written Word. Some of these visionaries denied the divinity of Christ; others asserted that Christ was born, lived, and was crucified within them, and that he was only to be found within themselves by the aid of that light which enlighteneth every man that cometh into the world; that his being found in fashion as a man, and humbling himself to the death of the cross—in fact, that his personal appearance on earth, was only typical of his taking up a residence in the soul of every believer. Thus they entirely abandoned and neglected the written Word. They adopted some singular practices, lived upon bread and water, forbade marriage, and refused to wear hat-bands.32 Such were the adversaries against whom he wrote the first book that he published, called ‘Gospel Truths Opened.’ It was about this time that Naylor appeared; and he, acting under the delusion of having Christ within him, rode on an ass into Bristol, while the mob strewed their clothes before him, crying, ‘Hosanna! blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.’ And instead of reasoning with him, in order to remove this temporary delusion, he was cruelly tormented, imprisoned, pilloried, with its brutal accompaniments; burned through the tongue with a hot iron; branded with a B on his forehead for blasphemy; whipped, and confined to hard labour. Mr. Grainger says ‘that the discipline of a prison soon restored him to his senses;’33 and we are inclined to think that he was mercifully restored to his right mind, because he was some years afterwards received into the Society of Friends, as a member, and died in their communion—a fact which the clergyman had not the honesty to state.
Against this first work of Bunyan’s an answer was published by Edward Burroughs, afterwards an eminent Quaker. In this, he fought, as Bunyan called it, ‘bitterly, with a parcel of scolding expressions;’ and he advises him not to appear so gross a railing Rabshakeh; and, in fact, he proved himself a match for his adversary with those weapons. He calls Bunyan ‘of the stock of Ishmael, and of the seed of Cain, whose line reacheth to the murthering priests, enemies of Christ preaching for hire.’ Bunyan replies, ‘These are words flung unto the winds by thee, my adversary.’ Burroughs having thoughtlessly urged that there was not a Quaker heard of in the days of John, his keen antagonist replied, ‘Friend, thou hast rightly said, there was not a Quaker heard of indeed, though there were many Christians heard of then.’ ‘Your sister, Anne Blackley, bid me, in the audience of many, to throw away the Scriptures; to which I answered, No, for then the devil would be too hard for me.’ Among other queries put to him by Burroughs, one was, ‘Is not the liar and slanderer an unbeliever, and of the cursed nature?’34 Bunyan’s reply was, ‘The liar and slanderer is an unbeliever; and if he live and die in that condition, his state is very sad, though, if he turn, there is hope for him; therefore repent and turn quickly, or else look to yourselves, for you are the men, as is clear by your discourse.’
This controversy, carried on with great spirit and warmth, related much to that difficult question, Whether Christ continued his human body after his ascension, or was it resolved into a spiritual form? These disputations, which led to a prayerful investigation of Scripture, must have had a beneficial tendency. Bunyan considered that his antagonist did not value the Holy Oracles sufficiently; and Burroughs considered that too little attention was paid to ‘Christ formed in us the hope of glory.’ Both were questions of the deepest importance; and happy was it for those of their countrymen who witnessed the strife between these giants, and were led earnestly and prayerfully to search into these vital and important truths. The dispute presented much wholesome fruit, although not served up in silver dishes. Burroughs’s friend, Howgill, bears this testimony of his worth:—‘Though thou didst cut as a razor—and many a rough stone hast thou squared and polished, and much knotty wood hast thou hewn in thy day—yet, to the seed, thy words dropped like oil, and thy lips as the honeycomb.’ Bunyan held a public disputation with these zealous missionaries in Paul’s Steeple House, Bedford Town, May 23, 1656.35 This was a contest which involved in it a close examination of the Sacred Scriptures, and certainly afforded valuable lessons in fitting Britain’s allegorist for his great and important work.
Bunyan’s difference of opinion relative to the terms of communion at the Lord’s table, led to a controversy with the Strict Baptist churches, to all of which he was sincerely attached; and this was probably one of the means by which he was enabled to write an itinerary to all pilgrims; for it must have blunted the edge of his sectarian feelings, and have enlarged his heart towards the whole Christian community of every class. In the preface to the ‘Reason of his Practice,’ he displays all the noble sentiments of a Christian confessor; of one who has been deservedly called the Apostle of Bedford, or Bishop Bunyan. ‘Faith and holiness are my professed principles, with an endeavour, so far as in me lieth, to be at peace with all men. What shall I say? let mine enemies themselves be judges, if anything in these following doctrines, or if aught that any man hath heard me preach, doth, or hath, according to the true intent of my words, savoured either of heresy or rebellion. I say, again, let they themselves be judges, if aught they find in my writings or preaching doth render me worthy of almost twelve years’ imprisonment, or one that deserveth to be hanged, or banished for ever, according to their tremendous sentence. Indeed, my principles are such as lead me to a denial to communicate in the things of the kingdom of Christ with ungodly and open profane; neither can I, in or by the superstitious inventions of this world, consent that my soul should be governed in any of my approaches to God, because commanded to the contrary, and commended for so refusing. Wherefore, excepting this one thing, for which I ought not to be rebuked, I shall, I trust, in despite of slander and falsehood, discover myself at all times a peaceable and obedient subject. But if nothing will do, unless I make my conscience a continual butchery and slaughter-shop, unless, putting out mine own eyes, I commit me to the blind to lead me (as, I doubt, is desired by some), I have determined, the Almighty God being my help and shield, yet to suffer, if frail life might continue so long, even till the moss shall grow on mine eyebrows, rather than to violate my faith and principles. Touching my practice, as to communion with visible saints, although not baptized with water, I say, it is my present judgment so to do, and am willing to render a further reason thereof, shall I see the leading hand of God thereto. Thine in bonds for the gospel, John Bunyan.’ At the end of this treatise, he severely alludes to the unfair practices of controversialists; he signs himself, ‘I am thine to serve thee, Christian, so long as I can look out at those eyes that have had so much dirt thrown at them by many, John Bunyan.’
Kiffin, Denne, T. Paul, and Danvers replied to this ‘Confession;’ Jesse, and others, defended it. This led to the publication of ‘The Differences about Water-Baptism no Bar to Communion,’ and to the ‘Peaceable Principles and True.’ The controversy was carried on with sufficient acrimony to shake Bunyan’s sectarian feelings, and to excite in his breast a determined spirit of personal, prayerful inquiry at the Fountain of Truth, in all matters, both of his faith and practice in religion, even at the risk of life.
The principles of our great allegorist upon this subject have spread over a great number of the Baptist churches. Bunyan probably considered these sentiments as the precursors of the dawn of a happy day, when the baptism of the Holy Ghost, with purifying power like heavenly fire, shall absorb all these bitter waters of contention which occasioned such angry, unholy dissension among the churches of Christ; when the soul of every believer shall be imbued and immersed in sacred love and zeal for the honour of our Lord and the increase of his kingdom, and the subject of water-baptism, as a personal duty, be better understood and appreciated.
In this conflict with his brethren, all that sanctified penetration, that unwavering fortitude, and that determination, first to understand, and then to do his Lord’s will, was displayed, that fitted the Author to write his surprising Allegory, and to be a ‘Great-heart’ to guide and protect his weaker fellow-pilgrims.
Soon after this, the prisons of England were filled with the most pious and virtuous of her citizens; and when Bunyan and his antagonists, both Quakers and Baptists, were confined within the same walls, conversed upon spiritual things, worshipped unitedly their God by the same way of access, all former bitterness and animosities were swallowed up in the communion of saints, and the wall of separation was thrown down; not only did their sufferings increase their catholic spirit and respect for each other, but they became a blessing to many who were confined for real crimes; and when they came forth, it was with renewed powers to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ. Hundreds of poor, imprisoned, godly ministers felt the power of those words: ‘Blessed be God, who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them that are in trouble.’ 2 Co. 1:4. Like Kelsey, a Baptist minister, who suffered seventeen years’ imprisonment, they could say—
‘I hope the more they punish me, that I shall grow more bold:
The furnace they provide for me, will make me finer gold.
My friends, my God will do me good, when they intend me harm;
They may suppose a prison cold, but God can make it warm.
What if my God should suffer them on me to have their will,
And give me heaven instead of earth? I am no loser still.’
Thus does Antichrist destroy himself, for whether he imprisons the Christian, or only seizes on his goods, he uses weapons to hasten the destruction of his own kingdom.