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“One thing I would not let slip: I took notice that now poor Christian was so confounded, that he did not know his own voice; and thus I perceived it : just when he was come over against the mouth of the burning pit, one of the wicked ones got behind him, and stepped up softly to him, and whisperingly suggested many grievous blasphemies to him, which he verily thought had proceeded from his own mind. This put Christian more to it than any thing that he met with before, even to think that he should now blaspheme him that he loved so much before : yet, if he could have helped it, he would not have done it; but he had not the discretion either to stop his ears, or to know from whence these blasphemies came.”—P. 83.
Thus furnished with a theory to account for the black suggestions which (as he says) he dared not to utter, either with word or pen, Bunyan was now taught by his mistaken pastor to look for a counterbalance in the equally direct inspirations of Heaven. So strong is the power of the human imagination, that he who seriously expects to see miracles, does not long expect them in vain. He spent hours in debating whether, in the strength of newly adopted faith, he should not command the puddles on the highway to be dry, and the dry places to be wet; and if he shrunk from so presumptuous an experiment, it was only because he had not courage to think of facing the despair which must have ensued, if the sign, which he would fain have demanded, had been refused to his prayer. Mr Southey thus describes his condition, while engaged in balancing the support and comfort which he received from Heaven with the discountenance and criminal suggestions inspired by the enemy of mankind:—
“Shaken continually thus by the hot and cold fits of a spiritual ague, his imagination was wrought to a state of excitement in
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which its own shapings became vivid as realities, and affected him more forcibly than impressions from the external world. He heard sounds as in a dream ; and as in a dream held conversations which were inwardly audible, though no sounds were uttered, and had all the connexion and coherency of an actual dialogue. Real they were to him in the impression which they made, and in their lasting effect; and even afterwards, when his soul was at peace, he believed them, in cool and sober reflection, to have been more than natural. Some days he was much ‘followed,” he says, by these words of the Gospel, ‘Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you !' He knew that it was a voice from within,—and yet it was so articulately distinct, so loud, and called, as he says, so strongly after him, that once in particular, when the words Simon Simon 1 rung in his ears, he verily thought some man had called to him from a distance behind, and though it was not his name, supposed nevertheless that it was addressed to him, and looked round suddenly to see by whom. As this had been the loudest, so it was the last time that the call sounded in his ears; and he imputes it to his ignorance and foolishness at that time, that he knew not the reason of it; for soon, he says, he was feelingly convinced that it was sent from heaven, as an alarm, for him to provide against the coming storm,-a storm which ‘handled him twenty times worse than all he had met with before.’”—P. 25.
The hideous apprehensions of unpardonable crimes committed, and eternal judgment incurred, were from time to time dispelled by texts and promises of scripture, borne in upon the mind of the sufferer with a force so totally irresistible, as, to him at least, had the appearance of undoubted inspiration; and in these violent alternations of mood passed nearly three years of Bunyan's life. He attained at length a more tranquil state of spirit from the practice which he finally adopted, of reading over his Bible with the utmost care and attention, observing how the different passages bore upon and explained each other; and, to use his own expression, “with careful heart and watchful eye, with great fearfulness to turn over every leaf, and with much diligence, mixed with trembling, to consider every sentence with its natural force and latitude.” The result of this minute and systematic investigation of the scriptures could not but have had a tranquillizing and composing effect on the mind of a man, whose sum of guilt consisted rather in the involuntary intrusion of wicked thoughts, than in the breaking of any known laws or desertion of any acknowledged duty; for his youthful sins of ignorance had been long ere now renounced. He now looked upon the gospel system with more comprehensive views—“he saw that it was good ; ” and although he retained highly enthusiastic opinions concerning the earlier part of his religious career, the same doubts and difficulties do not seem to have disturbed his more advanced or his closing life. Mr Scott, a former editor of the Pilgrim's Progress, thought it not advisable to dwell upon the fanaticism which characterises the first part of Bunyan's religious life. Mr Southey, on the contrary, is of opinion, that “His character would be imperfectly understood, and could not be justly appreciated, if this part of his history were kept out of sight. To respect him as he deserves—to admire him as he ought to be admired—it is necessary that we should be informed, not only of the coarseness and brutality of his youth, but of the extreme ignorance out of which he worked his way, and the stage of burning enthusiasm through which he passed—a passage not
less terrible than that of his own Pilgrim in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.”—P. xiv.
We are much of the opinion thus forcibly expressed. The history of a man so distinguished by natural talents as Bunyan, is connected with that of his age; nor can we so well conceive the dangers of fanaticism, as when we behold the struggles of so pure and so powerful a spirit involved in its toils. It may be easily supposed, that, of those around him, there were many who fell into the same temptations, and struggled with them in vain; and that, in not a few instances, the doctrine which summoned all men to the exercise of the private judgment, as it was called, led the way to the wildest, most blasphemous, and most fatal excesses. Don Quixote's balsam was not a more perilous medicine. Of this Southey gives one instance, in the case of a poor man, who, having the merit of being amongst the first whose conversation called Bunyan to a sense of religion, was himself so unable to endure the illumination of which he conveyed the earliest spark to so notable a person, that he became a Ranter, and wallowed in the foulest vice, as one who imagined himself secure of his election, and whom, consequently, the grossest sin could not debar from predestined happiness. This unfortunate man loved to tell Bunyan that he had run through all religions, and, in his persuasion, had fallen upon the right way at last ; a way, namely, which, in assuring to him an unalienable right to heaven, freed him from observing any limits in the indulgence of his passions during the time he remained on earth. Another instance of the moral danger of indulging such reveries as wrecked the peace of Bunyan for three years, though, fortunately, they were unable either to corrupt his heart, or to unsettle his reason, was seen in one of his contemporaries, Lawrence Claxton by name, whose rare treatise, containing the impudent avowal of his vicious life, lies now before us, and is so apposite to the subject as to claim some notice. This person was prevailed upon, so late as 1660, at the instigation, he says, “ of a man of no mean parts or parentage in this Reason's Kingdom, who had much importuned him to that effect, to publish the various leadings forth of his spirit through each dispensation, from the year 1630 to the year 1660; ” in order that, as Mr Claxton expresses it,” “he might appear stripped stark naked of his former formal righteousness and professed wickedness, and, instead thereof, clothed with innocency of life, perfect assurance, and sight for discerning by the spirit of the Revelation.” Our limits, as well as our inclinations, render it impossible for us to give more than a very general analysis. Some of Claxton's debaucheries are too coarse and indecent to permit them being more than indicated. Yet it may not be useless to trace the career of a man, who started under a vague apprehension of an extreme tender
* This rare tract is termed, at length, “The Lost Sheep Found ; or the Prodigal returned to his Father's House, after many a sad and weary Journey through many Religious Countries. Where now, notwithstanding all his former Transgressions and Breach of his Father's commands, he is received in all Eternal Favours, and all the Righteous and Wicked Men that he hath left behind reserved for Eternal Mercy. As, also, every Church or Dispensation may read, in his Travels, their portion after this Life. By Lawrence Claxton, the only true converted Messenger of Jesus Christ, Creator of Heaven and Earth. London, printed for the Author, 1660."