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vitality to exchange their thoughts regarding it, and to relate what it—or rather, God in it-has done for them. specimen of such communings which impressed on the mind of Bunyan the need of something beyond an outside reformation. He had gone to Bedford in prosecution of his calling, when, passing along the street, he noticed a few poor women sitting in a doorway, and talking together. He drew near to listen to their discourse. It surprised him ; for though he had by this time become a great talker on religious subjects, their themes were far beyond his reach. God's work in their souls, the views they had obtained of their natural misery, and of God's love in Christ Jesus, what words and promises had particularly refreshed them and strengthened them against the temptations of Satan; it was of matters so personal and vital that they spoke to one another. “ And methought they spake as if you had made 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—as if they were people that dwelt alone, and were not to be reckoned among their neighbours !'"
The conversation of these poor people made a deep impression on Bunyan's mind. He saw that there was something in real religion into which he had not yet penetrated. He sought the society of these humble instructors, and learned from them much that he had not known before. He began to read the Bible with new avidity; and that portion which had formerly been most distasteful, the Epistles of Paul, now became the subject of his special study. A sect of Antinomians, who boasted that they could do whatsoever they pleased without sinning, now fell in his way. Professors of religion were rapidly embracing their opinions, and there was something in their wild fervour and apparent raptures prepossessing to the ardent mind of Bunyan,
He read their books, and pondered their principles; but prefaced his examination with the simple prayer,—“O Lord, I am a fool, and not able to know the truth from error. Lord, leave me not to my own blindness. If this doctrine be of God, let me not despise it; if it be of the devil, let me not embrace it. Lord, in this matter I lay my soul only at Thy foot: let me not be deceived, I humbly beseech Thee." His prayer was heard, and he was saved from this snare of the devil.
Then he had a sort of waking vision, suggested by what he had seen in his pious friends at Bedford. “I saw 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 gap or passage to 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
At last, with great striving, methought I at first did get in my head, and after that, by a sidelong striving, my shoulders and my whole body.* Then was I exceedingly glad ; went and sat down in the midst of them, and so was comforted with the light and heat of their sun. Now, this mountain and wall were thus made out to me: The mountain signified the
Those who are interested in the historic parallels supplied by Christian biography will find a similar instructive dream in the “Life of General Burn," vol. i. pp. 127-130.
Church of the living God; the sun that shone thereon, the comfortable shining of His merciful face on them that were therein; the wall, I thought, was the world 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 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 shewed me that none could enter into life but those that were in downright earnest, and unless they left that wicked world behind them; for here was only room for body and soul, but not for body and soul and sin.” The dream did him good, for, though it brought him no absolute assurance, it inspirited his efforts after it.
There is scarcely a fear which can assail an inquiring spirit which did not at some stage of his progress arrest the mind of Bunyan. At one time he was afflicted by an erroneous view of the doctrine of election. Looking at them from the exterior side, those purposes of everlasting love which secure the safety of such as are “in Christ," appeared ominous and awful -a chevaux de frise frowning on all effort, and to those outside threatening everlasting exclusion, rather than a fence of protection and preservation to such as were already within. And when somewhat relieved from this perplexity, he fell into another. He feared that the day of grace was gone; and so impressed on his mind was this mournful conviction, that he could do little else than upbraid his own infatuation for allowing the one propitious season to pass for ever away. But the words, “Compel them to come in, house may be filled;" and those others, " And yet there is room," brought him relief. Then, again, he saw that the call of Christ was needful to make a man a disciple; and he feared that he should never get that call. “But oh! how I now loved those words that spake of a Christian's calling! as when the Lord said to one, Follow Me; and to another, Come after Me: and oh! thought I, that He would say so to me too: how gladly would I run after Him! How lovely now was every one in my eyes, that I thought to be converted, whether man or woman! They shone, they walked like a people that carried the broad seal of heaven upon them. Oh! I saw the lot was fallen to them in pleasant places, and they had a goodly heritage. But that which made me sick, was that of Christ,—He went up into a mountain, and called to Him whom He would, and they came unto Him. This Scripture made me faint and fear, yet it kindled fire in my soul. That which made me fear was this : lest Christ should have no liking to me, for He called whom He would. But oh! the glory that I saw in that condition did still so engage my heart, that I could seldom read of any that Christ did call but I presently wished, “Would I had been in their clothes! would I had been born Peter! would I had been born John! or, would I had been by, and had heard Him when He called them, how would I have cried, O Lord, call me also.' But oh! I feared He would not call me.”
There was at that time a minister in Bedford whose history was almost as remarkable as Bunyan's own. His name was Gifford. He had been a stanch royalist, and concerned in the rising in Kent. He was arrested, and, with eleven of his comrades, was doomed to die. The night before the day fixed for his execution his sister came to visit him. She found the guard asleep, and, with her assistance, the prisoner effected his escape. For three days he was hid in a field, in the bottom of a deep ditch; but at last he contrived to get away to a place of safety in the neighbourhood of Bedford. Being there a perfect stranger, he ventured on the practice of physic; but he was still abandoned to reckless habits and outrageous vice.
One evening he lost a large sum of money at the gaming-table, and in the fierceness of his chagrin his mind was filled with the most desperate thoughts of the providence of God. In his
vexation he snatched up a book, which proved to be a volume of Bolton.* A sentence of this solemn and forcible writer went like a shaft into his conscience, and for many weeks he could get no rest in his spirit. When at last he found forgiveness through the blood of Christ, his joy was extreme, and, except for two days before his death, he never lost the comfortable persuasion of God's love. For some time the few pious individuals in that neighbourhood would not believe that such a reprobate was really converted; but, nothing daunted by their distrust, like his prototype of Tarsus, he began to preach the Word with boldness, and, endowed with a vigorous mind and a fervid spirit, remarkable success attended his ministry. A little church was formed, and he was invited to become its pastor; and there he continued till he died. It was to Mr Gifford that Bunyan was at this time introduced; and though the conversations of this “Evangelist" brought him no immediate comfort, it was well for him to enjoy the friendship and sympathy of one whose views were so clear and happy.
It is instructive to find, that, amid all the depression of these anxious days, it was not any one sin, nor any particular class of sins, which made him so fearful and unhappy. He felt that he was a sinner, and as a sinner he wanted a perfect righteousness to present him faultless before God. This righteousness, he also knew, was nowhere to be found except in the person of Jesus Christ. “My original and inward pollutionthat was my plague and affliction. That I saw at a dreadful rate, always putting forth itself within me—that I had the guilt of to amazement; by reason of that I was more loathsome in mine own eyes than a toad ; and I thought I was so in God's eyes too. Sin and corruption, I said, would as naturally bubble out of my heart as water would out of a fountain. I
See“ Christian Classics," vol i. p. 170.
+ “Ivimey’s Life of Bunyan,” pp. 51-53. VOL. II.