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up with, and speedily forgot, the slender proportion of schooling then accessible to the children of the poor in England. He was by nature of enthusiastic feelings, and so soon as the subject of religion began to fix his attention, his mind appears to have been agonized with the retrospect of a mispent youth. A quick and powerful imagination was at work on a tender conscience; for it would appear that his worst excesses fell far short of that utter reprobation to which he conceived them entitled. The young tinker, in the wildest period of his life, had never been addicted to intemperance, or to unlawful intercourse with women. He seems to have wrought for his family as an honest and industrious man, and early became the affectionate husband of a deserving wife. His looser habits, in short, seem only to have been those which every ignorant and careless young fellow, of the lowest ranks, falls into ; and, probably, profane swearing, sabbath-breaking, and a mind addicted to the games and idle sports of Vanity Fair, were the most important stains upon the character of his youth:— as Mr Southey sums it up, John Bunyan had been a blackguard. Repentance, however, in proportion to the imaginative power of the mind which it agitates, regards past offences with a microscopic eye ; nor can we wonder that such an ardent spirit, speaking, in his own energetic language, of his youthful faults, should paint them in blacker colours than the truth authorized. Bunyan had practised none of those debaucheries by which the heart of the epicurean is hardened against all feelings save those which can tend to his own gratification; and if he had lost the valuable time for instruction afforded by the Christian Sabbath, the hours had been given to folly rather than to vice. We are far, indeed, from desiring to treat these errors with indifference,—they are those with which crime almost always begins its career. But it is interesting to discover the exact amount of transgression for which this strong mind was afflicted with the deepest agonies of remorse. When it pleased Heaven to awaken this remarkable man to a sense of his own iniquities, the great Civil War was fast approaching; “the land was burning.” The nation was divided at once respecting the best form of government for their protection on this side time, and the surest means by which they might obtain felicity hereafter. Of John Bunyan's politics we know nothing, except that he was enrolled for a short time in the Parliamentary army—of his spiritual experience he has left an ample record. A few pious persons, with whom he became acquainted, were of the sect called Baptists, and were esteemed by the new convert, who heard them talk of the mysteries of our religion with joy, hope, and comfort, as a species of saints whose confidence and serenity argued the security of their calling and election; while, on his own condition and prospects, he could look only with a sensation resembling despair. Such views, natural to an ardent and enthusiastic mind, upon the first awakening of the feelings of conscience, were encouraged by the strict ideas of Calvinistic predestination, which formed the foundation of the creed of Bunyan's sectarian friends. He has described at length the wild tumult of his thoughts, when endeavouring to determine a point which all the schoolmen on earth must be inadequate to solve, and in the course of this fearful state of mind Mr Southey traces the germ of the Pilgrim's Progress. In a species of vision or waking reverie, he compared his own anxious condition with the sanctified repose of the members of the little Baptist congregation which he had joined.
“‘I saw,” he says, “as if they were on the sunny side of some high mountain, there refreshing themselves with the pleasant beams of the sun, while I was shivering and shrinking in the cold, afflicted with frost, snow, and dark clouds. Methought also betwixt me and them, I saw a wall that did compass about this mountain; now through this wall my soul did greatly desire to pass; concluding that if I could, I would even go into the very midst of them, and there also comfort myself with the heat of their sun. About this wall I thought myself to go again and again, still prying as I went, to see if I could find some way or passage, by which I might enter therein; but none could I find for some time. At the last I saw, as it were, a narrow gap, like a little doorway in the wall, through which I attempted to pass. Now the passage being very strait and narrow, I made many offers to get in, but all in vain, even until I was wellnigh quite beat out by striving to get in. At last with great striving, methought I at first did get in my head; and after that, by a sideling striving, my shoulders, and my whole body: then was I exceeding glad, went and sat down in the midst of them, and so was comforted with the light and heat of their sun. Now the mountain and wall, &c., were thus made out to me. The mountain signified the Church of the living God; the sun that shone thereon, the comfortable shining of his merciful face on them that were within : the wall, I thought, was the word, that did make separation between the Christians and the world; and the gap which was in the wall, I thought, was Jesus Christ, who is in the way to God
the Father. But forasmuch as the passage was wonderful narrow, even so narrow, that I could not but with great difficulty enter in thereat, it showed me that none could enter into life but those that were in downright earnest; and unless also they left that wicked world behind them; for here was only room for body and soul, but not for body and soul and sin.'”—P. xix.
Doubts, qualms, fears, returned upon him, notwithstanding the metaphorical assurance which this vision had conveyed to his mind. Whatever wild and wayward shadow streamed across the restless region of his thoughts, was arrested like a suspicious-looking person in a besieged city, brought to account for itself, and treated with an attention which the mere suggestion of casual fancy could hardly deserve. It is perhaps in this sense that the human heart is said in scripture to be abominably wicked, since not only without our will, but in positive opposition to our best exertions, sinful suggestions profane the thoughts of the wisest, and foul emotions sully the heart of the most pure. The wise and well-informed shrink with horror from the phantoms of guilt which thus intrude themselves, and pray to Heaven for strength to enable them to reject such pollution from their thoughts, and for power to fix their attention upon better objects. But the dark dread of his possible exclusion from the pale of the righteous rushed ever and anon with such vivid force on the mind of the unfortunate Bunyan, as to make him accept for fatal arguments against himself, the wildest and most transitory coinage of his own fancy, while, to fill up every pause, he was tortured by the equally terrible suspicion that he was guilty of the most unpardonable of crimes, as an habitual doubter of the efficacy of divine grace.
“In an evil hour (says Southey) were the doctrines of the Gospel sophisticated with questions which should have been left in the schools for those who are unwise enough to employ them. selves in excogitations of useless subtlety Many are the poor creatures whom such questions have driven to despair and madness, and suicide; and no one ever more narrowly escaped from such a catastrophe than Bunyan.”
In this state of anxiety and agony, the victim of his own ingenuity in self-torment, unable to escape from the idea that he was forsaken of God—that he was predestined to eternal reprobation—that the scriptures, the source of joy and comfort to others, were to him only as a roll like that seen by Ezekiel, full of curses and denunciations of evil— John Bunyan was at length induced to lay his case open to the teacher of the anabaptist congregation —Gifford by name, a good man, we doubt not, but little qualified to give sound advice to such a mind so tortured. He had been a soldier among the royalists, and a sad profligate, and was now settled down into about as wild an enthusiastic as our tinker himself. He advised his proselyte to receive no religious conviction or calling as indisputable, which had not been confirmed to his individual self by evidence from Heaven l
Bunyan had ere now formed to himself an hypothesis accounting for the blasphemous thoughts which distracted his mind, imputing them, in short, to the immediate suggestion of the devil; and how he clung to it we may discover from one striking passage in Christian's progress through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.