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Life of John Bunyan
JOHN BROWN

 

 

JOHN BUNYAN, Bedfordshire's most distinguished son, and one of our most character-istic English writers, was born at Elstow, a quiet, picturesque village lying a mile away to the south of Bedford town. His birthplace was not in the village itself, but in a lonely place in the fields, a mile to the east, where stood, till the early part of this century, the house which had been the ancestral home of his family for generations. The Court Roll of the manor preserved in the Augmentation Office, and bearing date as early as 1542, describes that part of the parish as " Bonyon's End," the end or extremity of the parish where the Bunyans lived. A family name becoming thus descriptive and embodied in a legal document seems to indicate that its owners had long been dwellers in the place. This inference, natural in itself, is borne out by the fact that as far back as 1327 we find a William Bonyon and Matilda his wife making covenant with Simon, son of Robert atte Felde of Elnestowe, concerning a messuage and certain acres of land, on the very spot where, three centuries later, John Bunyan was born. Even earlier still, as early as 1199, there was a William Buniun, a probable ancestor of the William Bonyon of 1327, who was engaged in a lawsuit in the Court of King's Bench with the Abbess of Elstow to determine the title to half a virgate of land which he held of William of Wilsamstede, and which the Abbess claimed.

This long association of the family with the same parish and the same part of the parish effectually disposes of the theory first started by Sir Walter Scott, that because John Bunyan was a tinker he was probably also of gipsy origin. For to say nothing of the fact that all tinkers are not gipsies, nor all gipsies tinkers, we happen to know that Bunyan's father, who in his will, which is still in existence, describes himself as a "braseyer," was the first of the family to follow the craft; and that his grandfather, in his will, describes himself as a " Pettie Chapman," or small village trader. If we go still farther back, we find that the Thomas Bonyon of 1542, of whom we read in the Court Roll of the manor, is there spoken of as " a common brewer of beer," and " a common baker of human bread " - human bread it may be presumed as distinguished from horse bread. In another part of the Roll he is described as a labourer, and in the Privy Council Register of 1554 as " Bunyon, Victualler;" so that we shall be tolerably safe in thinking of him in both capacities - as cultivating his small patrimony of nine acres, and as taking a hand with his wife in attending to the shop and roadside inn, close by the bridle-path leading through the fields from Bedford to Wilstead. This Thomas Bonyon was for some cause, not mentioned, summoned before the Privy Council of Queen Mary, in the second year of her reign, while the Thomas Bonyon of a later date, John Bunyan's own grandfather, was, at the Visitation of 1617, presented before the Archdeacon's Court at Ampthill charged with resisting the churchwardens of Elstow, and telling them to their faces that they were " forsworne men." There was resolute blood in the family, therefore, long before their more distinguished descendant declared that he had determined, the Almighty God being his help and shield, yet to suffer, if frail life might continue so long, even till the moss should grow on his eyebrows, rather than violate his faith and his principles.

 

BUNYAN’s BIRTHPLACE

Here then, in the old home of his ancestors, in the east fields of Elstow, John Bunyan was born in the memorable year of the Petition of Right. The parish register previous to 1641 has long been lost; but as we learn from the Transcript Register in the archives of the archdeaconry, Thomas Bunyan the " braseyer " married for his second wife Margaret, the daughter of William Bentley of Elstow, on the 23rd of May, 1627, and that John, their firstborn, was baptised at Elstow Church on the 30th of November, 1628. There was not much of awe-inspiring grandeur about the scenery surrounding the Dreamer's childhood, at the same time there was not a little of tranquil beauty. Close to the house, and crossed by a rustic bridge, there rippled all day long a quiet streamlet on its way to the Ouse, the Fenlake bend of which, bordered with sedge-grass and osiers, was within a brisk walk of ten minutes across the fields. A little to the east the quiet hamlet of Harrowden, with its browsing cattle and pollard willows, lay sleeping in the sunshine, while across the rustic bridge rose the upland grassy slopes of Harrowden Hill, dotted with elm-trees, and divided just above the roadside cottage into two large fields, which are still described as "Bunyans," and "Farther Bunyans," by the labourers on the farm. The scene, looking all along the valley eastward, towards Barford and Tempsford, might have been the one on which the poet Cowper was looking when he gave that most perfect description yet written of the course of the " lilied Ouse " - the river which played so vital a part in his own life-story :-

" Here, Ouse, slowly-winding through a level plain
Of spacious meads with cattle sprinkled o'er,
Conducts the eye along his sinuous course
Delighted. There fast rooted in their bank
Stand, never overlooked, our favourite elms :
While far beyond, and overthwart the stream,
That as with molten glass inlays the vale,
The sloping land recedes. ...
Displaying on its varied side the grace
Of hedge-row beauties numberless, square tower,
Tall spire, from which the sound of cheerful bells
Just undulates upon the listening ear."

While the scenery surrounding the home of his early days was thus tranquil and pleasing, Bunyan was not altogether without the stimulus of historic association. Elstow, or Helenstow, the stow or stockaded place of St. Helen, so named after the mother of Constantine the Great, is, for an English village, a place of more than usual interest. Here, long even before Norman times, there was an old Saxon church; and as early as 1078, the niece of the Conqueror founded close to its site a Benedictine nunnery, which for centuries gave its distinguishing character and its local importance to the village life. Here, for nearly five hundred years, a long line of abbesses, with pillory and prison and gallows, held absolute sway over the villagers without, as well as over the nuns within the abbey walls. And even when the Reformation had scattered the nuns, and handed over the lands of the monastery to the grantee of the Crown, the old-world life of monastic days still continued to make itself felt by innumerable subtle links of association; for the ruins of choir, transept, and central tower still lay strewn to the east; it was in the truncated nave of the old monastic church the parishioners still met for worship; the mansion of the lord of the manor was the house of the abbess transformed; the bells Bunyan delighted to ring were, most of them, the bells which had called to matins and vespers in the days of old; and the delightful little chapter-house or nun's choir, with its central Purbeck column supporting its wonderful groined roof, was still made to do duty as school-house and vestry for the parish use. Elstow, therefore, in the days of Bunyan's boyhood, was, to an imaginative nature, still steeped in the ecclesiastical associations of the past, and the village life of to-day touched the life of bygone days in custom, usage, and whispered story at a thousand points. Even yet village life changes but slowly, and two centuries ago it probably changed more slowly still.

Such were the external scenes and historic associations of Bunyan's life; but looked at more nearly, that life, in its early beginnings, was prosaic enough. There was certainly not much poetry about the little grimy forge where his father earned the household bread, nor much breadth of literary culture to be had in the village school to which his own steps were turned. He learned both to read and write, but only according to the rate of other poor men's children, and the little he did learn was soon lost, "even almost utterly." His training for service, like that of some of the Galilean fishermen before him, was of the rough and ready sort. " I never went to school," says he, " to Aristotle or Plato, but was brought up at my father's house in a very mean condition, among a company of poor countrymen." Yet, adds he in his own manly fashion, "all things considered, I magnify the Heavenly Majesty for that by this door He brought me into the world to partake of the grace of life that is in Christ, by the Gospel."

The household into which Bunyan was born was never very numerous. As we have seen, he himself was the eldest child of his parents, and was baptised on the 3Oth of November, 1628. We learn further from the Transcript Register that he had a sister Margaret, born in 1630, and a brother William, born in 1633. This one brother and sister seem to have completed the household, until many years later, his mother dying, Bunyan's father remarried, and had other children born to him.

When he was in his sixteenth year, there came upon Bunyan the great sorrow to which reference has just been made, the death of his mother. He himself nowhere makes special mention of her, but we can scarcely help thinking that one who had so distinguished a son must have been in some way herself distinguished. Be that as it may, she passed away in the June days of 1644, and within a month her daughter Margaret, the companion and playmate of Bunyan's early years, was laid by her side in the quiet churchyard of Elstow. Scarcely had yet another month passed over the twice-opened grave, before the coarse-minded tinker had brought home another wife to fill the vacant place. Whether these heart-sorrows had anything to do with the fact or not, we know not, but the next year we find John Bunyan in the army, taking part in the great struggle of the time between Roundhead and Royalist. This he tells us himself, but only in quite incidental way, and as showing how mercifully God spared him in his unconverted days. Not only had he once fallen into a creek of the sea, and on another occasion out of a boat into Bedford river, both times narrowly escaping with his life, but in his soldiering days he being along with others drawn to take part in a siege, another man stepped forward, asked to take his place, and did so, and while standing sentinel was shot through the head with a musket bullet and died. This he tells us, as showing how easily this man's fate might have been his own.

Where this siege was at which his companion was shot Bunyan does not tell us, nor does he say on which side he himself fought in the great conflict of the time. On this latter point opinions have differed, Macaulay contending that he enlisted in the Parliamentary army, and served during the decisive campaign of 1645; while Froude is of opinion that as his father was of the national religion, he himself was a Royalist. The point is not very important, seeing that he had not reached the army regulation age of sixteen till November, 1644, and that the decisive battle of Naseby practically put an end to the Civil War in June, 1645. His term of military service was probably therefore very brief, but such as it was, was most likely on the side of the Parliament, seeing that Bedfordshire was almost wholly on that side from the commencement of the struggle till its termination. The eastern counties were for the Parliament, the western for the King, and the little town of Newport Pagnell as being "geometrically situate" between the two, was by Parliamentary ordinance created a garrison town and fortified. Thus fortified, it was placed under the command of Sir Samuel Luke, the original of Butler's " Hudibras," and as we gather from his " Letter Book" among the Egerton MSS., levies of men were continually being sent in from the villages of Bedfordshire, and storming parties sent out. It was probably here, therefore, that Bunyan went through those military experiences which served him in such good stead in the spiritual metaphors of that Holy War which he afterwards described as raging round Mansoul; and it was probably in connexion with one of the storming parties that left Newport that he was, as he says, "drawn out to go to such a place to besiege it."

Some time after these roystering, reckless days, during which, as he tells us, he grew more and more rebellious against God and careless of his salvation, Bunyan changed his condition into a married state. In what year he took to himself a wife he does not say, but as we find from the Elstow Register that his eldest child, his blind daughter, was born in 1650, it was probably in the previous year, when he would have reached the age of one-and-twenty. His mercy was, in a step so important, to light upon a wife whose father was counted godly. Who she was and where he married her we have no means of knowing, for we have never yet come upon the record in any of the registers. All that we do know is that she was an orphan, and that her father was personally unknown to Bunyan, which, if he were an Elstow man, he would not have been. In their summer evening walks, and their winter fireside talks, she would often tell her husband - clearly because of his own personal knowledge he did not know -" what a godly man her father was, and how he would reprove and correct vice both in his house and amongst his neighbours: what a strict and holy life he lived in his day, both in word and deed."

This good man had not much of this world's wealth to leave his daughter; but besides the priceless legacy of saintly memories he left her two books which, together with her Bible, were for those days a fairly respectable cottage library. " This woman and I, though we came together as poor as poor might be (not having so much household stuff as a dish or spoon bewixt us both), yet this she had for her part ' The Plain Man's Pathway to Heaven,' and ' The Practice of Piety,' which her father had left her when he died. In these two books I would sometimes read with her." These fireside readings and quiet talks about the good man who had gone to heaven were helpful and pleasing, but they were not enough to stir the depths of Bunyan's soul, or to awaken that despairing sense of sin through which he was hereafter to make his way to the City of God. They did, however, beget in him some desires to religion, and his neighbours noticed that he began to go to church twice a day, and that with the foremost. When there he felt with wondering awe the impress of the scene, for there was not a little to work upon a susceptible nature like his. Beneath his feet were the brasses of the Abbesses on their tombs, showing them with clasped hands and Madonna-like faces; around him were the monuments of the great people at the manor house - the Radcliffes and the Hillersdons; while high up over the carved oaken screen hung helmet and coat of mail of some warrior of the olden time. " So overrun was I," says he, " with the spirit of superstition, that I adored, and that with great devotion, even all things (both the high place, priest, clerk, vestment, service, and what else) belonging to the church; counting all things holy that were therein contained."

The vicar of the time was Christopher Hall, a somewhat pliant man; for he was inducted by Laud, remained through Cromwell's Protectorate, and still held to the living for years after the Restoration and the Act of Uniformity had scattered so many others of more resolute sort. His leaning, however, seems to have been towards Puritanism, for on one occasion he preached a sermon against Sunday sports. That sermon was memorable in Bunyan's life, as having awakened in his soul the first sense of guilt he ever remembered to have had; for these Sunday sports were among the things he most enjoyed, and the vicar's sermon, for the moment at least, did benumb the sinews of his best delights and embitter his former pleasures. But not for long, for when he had " well dined" he shook the sermon out of his mind, and to his old custom of sports and gaming returned with great delight.

But that Sunday was to be memorable in his history, not merely for the searching sermon of the morning, but for the weird voices of the afternoon. As he was in the midst of a game of cat, and was about to strike the tapered stick a second time, these words did suddenly dart into his soul, - " Wilt thou leave thy sins and go to heaven, or have thy sins and go to hell?" He was put into an exceeding maze, and looking up to the sky he seemed with his inmost vision to see the Lord Jesus looking down with displeasure. He paused, and felt himself a grievous sinner - a sinner past forgiveness. Then came a sudden revulsion. His heart sank in despair. It was, he thought, too late to turn. He would be miserable if he left his sins, and miserable if he went on in them. He could but be damned, and he might as well be damned for many sins as for few. All this conflict passed in his mind as he stood there on the greensward without his saying a word to any of those around him, and the struggle ended by his returning desperately to his sport again.

Conscience resisted became conscience embittered. The law rising up, like a rock in mid-stream making the waters swirl and dash, did only rouse the resentment of his soul the more. His profanity, ever a besetting sin of his, grew in intensity. In the course of the month following that never-to-be-forgotten Sunday, he was one day cursing and swearing, and playing the madman at a neighbour's shop-window, when the woman of the house, herself a loose and ungodly wretch, and therefore not over-nice, openly rebuked him, telling him that his blasphemies made her tremble, that he was the ungodliest fellow she had ever known, and enough to spoil the youth of the whole town.

This rebuke from such a quarter made him hang down his head and wish himself a child again, and it had this effect also of more permanent sort, that he really did leave off swearing, and found to his own surprise that without it he could speak better and with more pleasantness than ever he could before. Fortunately, also, he at this time struck up a friendship with a Christian man in the place, whose talk he liked, and who led him to his Bible and to a good deal of outward reformation. This lasted for a twelvemonth or more, during which his neighbours did marvel much to see such a great and famous alteration in his life and manners. He left off his bell-ringing in Elstow steeple, a diversion dear to his heart, but about which for some reason or other he began to have sore misgiving. With even harder struggle still he gave up dancing too. " I was a full year before I could quite leave that." But leave it he did, and with not a little flutter of self-satisfaction found that he was acquiring quite a reputation for godliness. Seeing himself flatteringly reflected in his neighbours' glances, he concluded that he was sure of even higher approval still. He thought with himself " God cannot choose but be now pleased with me; yea, to relate it in my own way, I thought no man in England could please God better than I."

 

BUNYAN LISTENING TO THE GOOD WOMEN AT BEDFORD

Out of this unwholesome self-righteousness, however, Bunyan was soon shaken by an event which happened, of which our artist has depicted the scene. Going into Bedford town to work at his craft, he came upon three or four poor women sitting at a door in the sun, and talking together of the things of God. They were members of a little Christian community, founded in the town a year or two before by John Gifford, a converted Royalist major. The Act-Book of this little church, which is still in existence, quaintly gives us the names of those who were at its first formation, among whom were these good women whom Bunyan saw, and for whose sake we may give the passage as it stands : "At length twelve of the holy brethren and sisters began this holy worke, viz., Mr. John Grew and his wife, Mr. John Eston the elder, Anthony Harrington and his wife, Mr. John Gifford, sister Coventon, sister Munnes, sister Fenne, sister Norton, and sister Spencer; all antient and grave Christians well knowne one to another, sister Norton being the youngest." Some of these, then, were the good women Bunyan happened upon, and having by this time become a brisk talker himself on religious matters, he drew near with intent to take part in the conversation. But he soon found that they were far above him, out of his reach. He heard, but he understood not. They spake of the new birth, of the work of God in their hearts, and of how He had visited their souls with His love in the Lord Jesus, and had with His words and promises refreshed, comforted, and supported them in the midst of their temptations. They spake as if joy did make them speak; with such pleasantness of Scripture language, and with such appearance of grace in all they said, that they were to him as if they had found a new world, a people that dwelt alone, and not to be reckoned amongst their neighbours.

His self-righteous satisfaction was shattered at a blow. He went away, but their talk went with him, and though he went away his heart would tarry with them, for he was greatly affected with their words. He was smitten to his very soul, and yet the truth which had smitten him had fascinated him. He made it his business to be going again and again into the company of these poor people. He could not stay away, yet the more he went, the more he did question his condition. Oh! if he were only as they, how blessed were he. They seemed to him as if they were on the sunny side of some high mountain, refreshing themselves with the pleasant beams of the sun, while he was shivering and shrinking in the cold. He was provoked to a vehement hunger and desire to be one of that number that did sit in the sunshine, and wherever he was, at home or abroad, in house or field, his heart went out in prayer, and David's great psalm of penitence rose to his lips.

 

BUNYAN STUDYING LUTHER

So for a long time, sorely tempted and troubled in soul, he made his way through storm and tempest towards the haven of peace. Was he elected ? Had he over-stood the time of mercy? Oh, that he had turned sooner, that he had turned seven years ago! It was impossible to express with what longings and breakings of soul he cried to Christ to call him. Converted men and women seemed to him then like people that carried the broad seal of heaven about them - would that he might have a share in their glory. Gold! could it have been gotten for gold, what would he not have given for it. Had he had a whole world, it had all gone ten thousand times over for this. Mr. Gifford, to whom these godly women had introduced him, tried to help him, and other good people sought to comfort, but they might as well, he said, have told him to reach the sun with his finger, as to take to himself the promise and rest upon it. Yet, strangely enough, all this time that he was despairing of himself, as to the act of sinning he was never more tender than now. His conscience was sore, and would smart at every touch. " Oh, how gingerly did I then go in all I did or said! I found myself as in a miry bog that shook if I did but stir; and was as there left both of God, and Christ, and the Spirit, and all good things."

God makes great souls in the fire, and all these deep heart-wounding experiences were as the fires of God preparing Bunyan for the great life-work he had to do. He tarried long at Sinai to see the fire and the cloud and the darkness, that he might fear the Lord all the days of his life upon earth, and tell of His wondrous works to his children. We cannot now follow him into the yet fiercer temptations that remained behind, and the yet darker depths of despair. But God sent him helpers and guides as he fared forth through this Valley of the Shadow of Death. Like his own Christian, he heard the voice of another pilgrim before him in the darksome valley, and, hearing it, took heart again. " God, in whose hand are all our days and ways, did cast into my hand one day a book of Martin Luther; it was his 'Comment on the Galatians' - it was also so old that it was ready to fall piece from piece if I did but turn it over." To his surprise he found his own experience so largely and profoundly handled in these tattered pages, that it seemed to him as if this book of Luther's had been written out of his own heart. " This, methinks, I must let fall before all men; I do prefer this book of Martin Luther upon the Galatians (excepting the Holy Bible) before all the books that ever I have seen, as most fit for a wounded conscience."

The darkest night ends in daylight at last, and after long and weary struggles the chains fell from Bunyan's soul, and he entered into the deep peace which God gives to His own. If more than most men he struggled through mental darkness and storm, more than most men he entered into the secret place of the Most High, and did eat of the hidden manna. Speaking of the great struggle of soul through which he had gone in these dark days between 1651 and 1653, he says: " I never saw those heights and depths in grace and love and mercy as I saw after this temptation. Great sins do draw out great grace, and where guilt is most terrible and fierce, there the mercy of God in Christ, when showed to the soul, appears most high and mighty. I had two or three times, at or about my deliverance, such strange apprehensions of the grace of God, that I could hardly bear up under it, it was so out of measure amazing, when I thought it could reach me, that I do think if that sense of it had abode long upon me it would have made me incapable for business." Elsewhere also: " Now was I got on high; I saw myself within the arms of grace and mercy. . . . At this time, also, I saw more in those words Heirs of God, than ever I shall be able to express while I live in this world. Heirs of God! God Himself is the portion of the saints. This I saw and wondered at, but cannot tell you what I saw." Yet again of another time he writes: " That night was a good night to me; I never had but few better. I longed for the company of God's people, that I might have imparted unto them what God had showed me. Christ was a precious Christ to my soul that night; I could scarce lie in my bed for joy and peace and triumph through Christ."

About the year 1653 Bunyan joined the little Christian community at Bedford to which those godly women belonged whose talk had so greatly influenced his life. This Christian Church, founded in 1650 by John Gifford, after his remarkable conversion, at first consisted of only twelve persons, and "the principle upon which they entered into fellowship one with another, and upon which they did afterwards receive those that were added to their body and fellowship, was Faith in Christ and Holiness of Life, without respect to this or that circumstance or opinion in outward and circumstantiall things." The Church, thus broad and catholic in its basis, was as to its polity " of the Congregational way." Where they met during the first three years of their history is unknown to us; probably in each other's houses, or in some temporary room; but in 1653, the same year Bunyan joined them, they entered into possession of the parish church of St. John's, on the south side of the river. For it was the time when Cromwell's broader views as to a State Church prevailed, and when a Presbyterian, Congregational, or Baptist minister might be presented to a parish living provided he were a godly man, and in the opinion of the triers fit for the cure of souls. The Bedford Corporation were the patrons of the living, and on the sequestration of Theodore Crowley, the former rector, they presented John Gifford. For the next two years of his life, therefore, and till his death, Gifford lived in the old hospital close by, which was the rectory, and where for many generations, in pre-Reformation times, the masters in succession and their twelve brethren had prayed for the souls of the founder and his kindred. It was here - in the quaint old refectory still remaining, with its oaken cross-beams - that Bunyan and he had many an earnest talk - Gifford the Evangelist, and Bunyan the Christian, of this pilgrim story of real life. As the records of this little Church, founded under Gifford's ministry, only began to be kept in 1656, there is no account of Bunyan's admission to its fellowship in 1653. But in the roll of members his name stands nineteenth on the list, where it is followed by the names of William and Lettice Whitbread, several of whose descendants have represented Bunyan's town and county in Parliament.

In 1655, or about two years after he had joined the Bedford Church, Bunyan was asked by the brethren to speak a word of exhortation in their gatherings. This request of theirs, he says, did much " dash and abash" his spirit, still with much modesty and diffidence he "did discover his gift among them," and they, for their part, " did solemnly protest, as in the sight of the great God, that they were both affected and comforted, and gave thanks to the Father of Mercies for the grace bestowed " on him. After this first successful venture upon the prophet's vocation, he began to go out with the brethren, who went into the country to teach, and would sometimes add a word to what had been said by them. These added words were words of power, and more and more the call of God became plain both to himself and others. So plain, that on the earnest desire of the Church, and after some solemn prayer to the Lord, with fasting, he was more particularly called forth and appointed to a more ordinary and public preaching of the Word. His success was such as to surprise and at the same time to humble him. "Though of myself of all the saints the most unworthy, yet I, but with great fear and trembling at the sight of my own weakness, did set forth upon the work, I did according to my gift and the proportion of my faith preach that blessed Gospel that God had showed me." The work grew marvellously. When the country understood that he, the tinker, had turned preacher, " they came to hear the Word by hundreds, and that from all parts, though upon sundry and divers accounts."

 

BUNYAN PREACHING IN THE OPEN AIR

At that time the Quakers had obtained a footing in Bedfordshire, and carried out their mission with an aggressiveness and force more akin to the spirit of their founder, George Fox, than to the tranquil proceedings of the Society of Friends as known to us to-day. Bunyan thought their teaching as to the inward light came perilously near to a disparagement of the written Word. He was of opinion, also, that they were in danger of spiritualising away altogether those outward historic facts of Christ's life on which Christianity is based. To confute these supposed errors of theirs, he made his first venture into authorship in a little duodecimo volume of two hundred pages, entitled " Some Gospel Truths Opened, by that unworthy servant of Christ, John Bunyan of Bedford, by the Grace of God, Preacher of the Gospel of His dear Son." This little book of his was ushered into the world under the auspices of a bookseller whose acquaintance he had probably made in his soldiering days at Newport Pagnell. The rest of the title-page runs thus: " London, printed for J. W., and are to be sold by Mathias Cowley, Bookseller, in Newport Pagnell, 1656." This first book of his, evidently written off somewhat quickly, is-a remarkable production for a labouring man whose education had been of the scantiest, and whose years of toil and wandering occupation since his school life must have been unfriendly to the acquirement of literary skill. It is orderly, logical, and vigorous in expression, and takes rank not unworthily with some of his later works.

This first book of his brought down upon Bunyan the thunder of Edward Burrough, a fervent, faithful soul among the Quakers, who sent forth a reply, entitled " The True Faith of the Gospel of Peace contended for in the spirit of meekness ..... against the secret opposition of John Bunyan, a professed minister in Bedfordshire." Bunyan swiftly returned the shot. Within a few weeks there came from his pen " A Vindication of Gospel Truths Opened," in which he tells Friend Burrough that he is very censorious, and utters many words without knowledge. But it was not in controversial writing that Bunyan was to win his brightest laurels, nor was it the work most in harmony with his own taste. Henceforth, for the next four years, till his arrest in 1660, he gave himself, with all the earnestness of his soul, to the preaching of the Word. This he was not permitted to do without some molestation. In 1658 he sent forth his third book, entitled " Sighs from Hell." Prefixed to this there is a recommendatory preface, signed J. G., not John Gifford, as has been supposed, for he by this time had been dead nearly three years, but probably John Gibb, the parish minister of Newport Pagnell. In this address the writer says that Bunyan, because of his fidelity, had been sorely shot at by the archers. Known as a tinker, his orders and his right to preach were always being questioned. "When I went first to preach the Word abroad, the doctors and priests of the country did open wide against me." Once at least, even in Commonwealth days, the arm of the law was invoked against what was regarded as this irregular ministry of his. In the month of March, 1658, we find the Church at Bedford praying " for counsaile what to doe with respect to the indictment against Brother Bunyan at the Assizes for preaching at Eaton." As we hear nothing more of this probably nothing more came of it. Indeed, he seems about this time to have preached in several of the parish churches without molestation. There is a tradition that he did so at Ridgmount, and other places in Bedfordshire. The author of the little sketch of his life, published in 1700, also tells us that he "being to preach in a country village in Cambridgeshire " - probably Melbourn - " and the people being gathered together in the churchyard, a Cambridge scholar, and none of the soberest of them neither, inquired what was the meaning of that concourse of people (it being upon a weekday), and being told that one Bunyan, a tinker, was to preach there, he gave a boy twopence to hold his horse, saying ' he was resolved to hear the tinker prate,' and so he went into the church to hear him." The writer goes on to say that he had this story from the man himself, who out of that service also became a preacher of the truth. To these years before the Restoration belongs also the story of Bunyan's encounter, on the road near Cambridge, with the University man, who asked him how he not having the original Scriptures dared to preach. To this he gave answer by asking this scholar in turn if he himself had the originals, the actual copies written by prophets and apostles ? No, but he had what he knew to be true copies of the originals. "And I," said Bunyan, "believe the English Bible to be a true copy also;" upon which the University man went his way.

Perhaps Bunyan's most memorable encounter of this sort was not with ordinary gownsmen, but with Thomas Smith, who was University Librarian, Professor of Arabic, Reader in Rhetoric, and at the same time Rector of Gawcat. It appears that a friend of his, Daniel Angier, occasionally invited Bunyan to come over and preach in his barn at Toft, in Cambridgeshire. It so happened that he was holding a service there in the month of May, 1659, when Smith came in, and at the close of the service publicly rebuked Bunyan for something he had said. To this Bunyan gave reply in such wise as left his assailant not much to rejoice over. His friend Daniel Angier also defended him, and gave back to the librarian rebuke for rebuke, the latter making rejoinder by denying a layman's right to preach. The parley in the barn not having ended to the satisfaction of Smith, he subsequently sent forth a pamphlet, addressed in the form of a letter to a Mr. E., who was one of Bunyan's congregation on the day in question, and remonstrating with him for encouraging this tinker to assume the office of the minister. " 'Tis a dangerous sin in him," says he, "to preach (as he did so publickly), and in the people to hear him." Having gone over the old ground with the usual result, he concludes with these portentous words: "And now, sir, let me beseech you for Christ's sake, for the Church's sake, for your reputation's sake, for your children's sake, for your country's sake, for your own immortal soul's sake, to consider these things sadly and seriously, not to think a. tinker more infallible than the pure spouse of Christ, and to foresee what will be the sad consequences both to the souls and bodies and estates of you and your children in following such strangers."

Fortunately all University men were not of the mind of Thomas Smith, as we find from a petition recently brought to light among the manuscripts of the House of Lords. It was a petition sent up by some of the parishioners of Yelden, in Bedfordshire, against their rector, William Dell, who had been chaplain to Fairfax's Army, Preacher to the House of Commons, and at the time to which the petition refers, was Master of Gonville and Caius College, as well as Rector of Yelden. Under date June 2Oth, 1660, these parishioners complain against Dell that he had " declared in the public congregation that he had rather hear a plain countryman speak in the church that came from the plough than the best orthodox minister that was in the country. Upon Christmas Day last, one Bunyon of Bedford, a tinker, was countenanced and suffered to speak in his pulpit to the congregation, and no orthodox minister did officiate in the church that day."

In the midst of these preaching experiences, Bunyan brought out from the press his fourth book, in the month of May, 1659. It was entitled " The Doctrine of the Law and Grace Unfolded," and was destined to be his last production before the long and weary days of his prison life. The seven years between 1653, when he joined the Bedford Church, and 1660, when he was sent to Bedford Gaol, were years of deep and chequered experiences. His blind child, as we have seen, was born in 1650; his daughter Elizabeth, as the Elstow Register informs us, was born on the 14th of April, 1654. Two other children were born to him during these years, his sons John and Thomas, but as they were probably born after his removal from Elstow to Bedford, and as John Gifford seems to have kept no parish register, or if he did, it is lost, we have no further particulars as to the time of their birth. It was in these years, also, when he was passing through such deep experiences of soul as a preacher of truth, that he went through the great sorrow of losing the wife of his youth. He makes no reference to this event himself, but his second wife, Elizabeth, told Sir Matthew Hale that she became step-mother to his four motherless children in 1659. But while dark sorrows were behind him, stern experiences of another sort lay before him, and into these experiences we must follow him now.

 

ARREST OF BUNYAN

It was on the 12th of November, 1660, that he went by request of some friends to preach to them in the little hamlet of Lower Samsell by Harlington, about thirteen miles from Bedford, to the south. It was, as Bunyan well knew, a changed world since that Christmas Day, less than a twelvemonth ago, when he had been set up by the rector himself to preach in Yelden Church. For in the following May King Charles had come back, and with the restoration of royalty had come the restoration of the episcopal church. Only about three weeks before Bunyan had set out for Samsell, a new bishop had been consecrated to Lincoln diocese, which had been practically vacant for eighteen years, a bishop who was shortly to make public entry into the town of Bedford, the trained bands giving him a "handsome volley," and then " a second salute with their muskets." The county magistrates, also, in quarter session recently held, had issued an order " for the publick reading of the Liturgy of the Church of England;" and there were many of them longing for an opportunity of showing their zeal in the now triumphant cause. It was a November day, as we have said, when Bunyan reached the place of meeting at Samsell. This was a farmhouse in the midst of a field surrounded by elm-trees, and like many of the farmhouses of that time in lonely places, surrounded by a moat, over which there was a drawbridge. On his arrival, he found, from the whispering of his friends, that Mr. Francis Wingate, the magistrate at Harlington, had issued a warrant against him should he hold the service, and had ordered a strong watch to be kept in the neighbourhood of the house. His friend, at whose invitation he had come, thought under the circumstances it would be more prudent not to hold the service, and that it would be better for Bunyan quietly to withdraw, lest he should be arrested. Bunyan generously says: " As for my friend, I think he was more afraid of me than of himself," but as to the suggestion that he should flee to save himself, he quietly and firmly said: " No! by no means. 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. To preach God's Word is so good a work that we shall be well rewarded if we suffer for that."

The dauntless soul had no idea of securing his safety by flight, but proceeded to hold the service. He had not long begun, however, before in came the constable and Mr. Wingate's man with the warrant for Bunyan's arrest, and would scarce allow him a few parting words to his friends before they had him away. That night Mr. Wingate was absent from home, and it was arranged, therefore, that a friend of his should engage to take Bunyan to the constable on the following day. " Otherwise," says he, with a smile, " the constable must have charged a watch with me, or have secured me some other ways, my crime was so great." So the next day he and his friend went as arranged to the constable, and all three to the justice. Mr. Wingate's house - a quaint, old-fashioned building, some parts of which had been erected as early as 1396 - Stood at the north-west corner of the four cross-roads, just below Harlington Church. On their coming into the great hall, Mr. Wingate first asked the constable what the people were doing together when he arrested his prisoner, and what they had with them. " I trow," says Bunyan, " he meant whether we had armour or not." When the constable replied that they were merely holding a religious service, and that there was no sign of anything else, Wingate seemed a little nonplussed. Turning then to Bunyan, he asked him petulantly what he was doing, and why he did not mind his own business. To which Bunyan replied that he had come with no other intent than to instruct the people, to counsel them to forsake their sins and close in with Christ, and that he thought he could both follow his calling and preach the Word without confusion. At this Wingate was in a chafe, and said he would break the neck of their meetings, to which Bunyan quietly replied, "It may be so."

Bondsmen were then called for and provided, but when Bunyan found that if he preached before he appeared at the sessions these men would have forfeited their bond, he would not hear of their being bound with him, for preach he would, and suffer they should not on his behalf. " I should not leave speaking the Word of God. I thought this to be a work that had no hurt in it, but was rather worthy of commendation than blame." While Wingate went into an inner room to draw up the mittimus, in came Dr. Lindale, the Vicar of Harlington, who was Wingate's father-in-law. He at once fell to taunting Bunyan with many reviling terms. Bunyan, with quiet dignity, drew himself up, and told him that he was not there to speak with him, but with the justice. In the course of further talk, Lindale asked him how he could prove it lawful for him to preach. " By Peter's words," he replied, when he saith, ' As every man hath received the gift, even so let him minister the same.' " Lindale, not having an argument ready to hand, betook himself to a sneer, and said he remembered that he had read of one Alexander, a coppersmith, who did much oppose and disturb the Apostles - " Aiming, 'tis like, at me," says Bunyan, "because I was a tinker." But tinker as he was, he was not to be outdone by the vicar in pungency of reply. He too remembered something from his reading, he said, to the effect that very many priests and Pharisees had had their hands in the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was inclined to come closer home even still, but that Scripture coming into his mind, " Answer not a fool according to his folly," he was as sparing of his speech as he could be without prejudice to truth.

By this time his mittimus was made out, and constable and he started for Bedford. They had not gone far on the road towards Ampthill when two of Bunyan's brethren came up and desired the constable to stay, thinking they could, through the favour of a friend, prevail upon the justice to set him at liberty. So they waited while these friends went to Wingate. Presently they returned, saying that if Bunyan would go back to Wingate and say some certain words to him he should be released. He replied that if they were such words as might be said with a good conscience he would, otherwise he would not. He had not much faith in the thing, but as his friends were importunate, he went back, lifting up his heart to God as he went for light and strength, and praying that he might be kept from doing anything that would either dishonour him and wrong his own soul, or be a grief or discouragement to any that were inclining after the Lord Jesus.

It was as he supposed. There was further parley, and much going round and round the old arguments about who should preach and who should not. But they ended as they began. "They saw that I was at a point, and would not be moved or persuaded," To prison therefore he must go. "Thus," says he, "we parted. And verily, as I was going forth of the doors, I had much ado to forbear saying to them that I carried the peace of God along with me. But I held my peace, and, blessed be the Lord, went away to prison with God's comfort in my poor soul."

The prison to which Bunyan thus went away was the county gaol, which then stood at the corner of the High Street and Silver Street, in the middle of the town. The news of his arrest was received with consternation by his family and his brethren in the Church. His wife, to whom he had been married a little over a year, and who was about to become a mother, in her dismay fell into the pangs of childbirth, in which she continued for eight days, and was then delivered of a dead child. Animated by their sympathy for the stricken wife, his friends, at the end of five or six days, did what they could to obtain his release on bail until the sessions, which would not be held for six or seven weeks to come. He was permitted to go with them to Justice Crompton, of Elstow, who, however, on slenderest grounds, declined to act in the matter, and bail was refused. On his return to gaol, Bunyan says he was not at all daunted, for before he went down to the justice he had asked of God that if he might do more good by being at liberty than in prison, that then he might be set at liberty; but if not, His will be done, for he was not altogether without hope that his imprisonment might be an awaking to the saints in the country. In noble strain he tells us: "I in that manner did commit the thing to God. And verily, at my return, I did meet my God sweetly in the prison again, comforting of me and satisfying of me that it was His will and mind that I should be there. ... I lie waiting the good will of God, to do with me as He pleaseth, knowing that not one hair of my head can fall to the ground without the will of my Father which is in heaven. Let the rage and malice of men be never so great, they can do no more, nor go no farther, than God permits them. But when they have done their worst, we know all things shall work together for good. to them that love God."

The quarter sessions came on in January, when Bunyan had been already about seven weeks in prison. They were held in an old ecclesiastical building called the Chapel of Herne - the chapel in the herne, or corner - which did double duty as a court of law during the sessions and assizes, and as a store-room during the rest of the year. The presiding justice on the occasion of Bunyan's trial was Sir John Kelynge, a private country gentleman at the time, but who had been trained for the bar, and was quickly afterwards made serjeant-at-law, two years later a Judge of King's Bench, and two years later still Lord Chief Justice. He, was one of the counsel for the Crown against the regicides, and also conducted the prosecution of Sir Harry Vane, towards whom his bearing was unfeelingly harsh and insolent, It was clear that Bunyan had not much to hope for from this Chairman of the Sessions, whom he probably had in his mind when he drew the character of Lord Hategood in the trial of Faithful at Vanity Fair. As little also from the other magistrates on the bench along with Kelynge, who were Sir Henry Chester of Tilsworth, Sir William Beecher of Howbury, Sir George Blundell of Cardington, and Thomas Snagg of Millbrook, who was afterwards High Sheriff.

Before these men Bunyan was indicted in ponderous terms for "devilishly and perniciously abstaining from coming to church to hear divine service, and for being a common upholder of several unlawful meetings and conventicles, to the great disturbance and distraction of the good subjects of this kingdom, contrary to the laws of our sovereign lord the King." On this high-sounding indictment being read over, Paul Cobb, the Clerk of the Sessions, asked him what he had to say to it. Bunyan replied that as to the first part, he was a common frequenter of the Church of God, and was by grace a member with the people over whom Christ was the Head. Upon this, Kelynge asked him straight out: " Do you come to church - you know what I mean, to the parish church - to hear divine service?" Upon this they fell into a lengthened argument about the use of forms of prayer, Bunyan contending that that only was real prayer which was stirred up in a man's soul by the Spirit of God; adding, however, that they that have a mind to use the Book of Common Prayer have their liberty - " that is, I would not keep them from it; but, for our parts, we can pray to God without it. Blessed be His Name!" He went on to say that in their meetings for prayer, they had had the comfortable presence of God with them. Kelynge called this kind of talk " pedlar's French," and told him he must leave off canting. Bunyan defended his preaching by quoting the words of the Apostle Peter he had quoted to the Vicar of Harlington about every man ministering as he had received the gift. Upon this Kelynge, with a facetious smile, said: " Let me a little open that Scripture to you. ' As every man hath received the gift' - that is, as every man hath received a trade - ' so let him follow it.' If any man have received a gift of tinkering, as thou hast, let him follow his tinkering, and so other men their trades, and the divine his calling." There was further derisive talk from the Bench, with further serious argument from the prisoner at the bar, and the end of it all was that Kelynge said to Bunyan : " Hear your judgment. You must be had back to prison, and there lie for three months following; and if then you do not submit to go to church and leave off preaching, you must be banished the realm." He was further told that if after such banishment he was found in the country without special licence from the King, he should stretch by the neck for it. On the gaoler being ordered to remove his prisoner, Bunyan turned to Kelynge and calmly said: " There I am at a point with you, for if I were out of prison to-day I would preach the Gospel again to-morrow, by the help of God,"

The three months' imprisonment having come to an end, the Clerk of the Peace came to the gaol to talk with Bunyan, and try to persuade him to submit himself and leave off preaching. But it was all in vain. " Sir," said Bunyan, by way of concluding the discussion, " the law hath provided two ways of obeying: the one to do that which I in my conscience do believe that I am bound to do actively; and where I cannot obey actively, then I am willing to lie down and suffer what they shall do unto me." There was nothing for it, therefore, but to tarry in gaol; for though nominally he was sentenced only to three months' imprisonment, his conviction was under the old statute of 35 Eliz. cap. i., which provided that any person who should frequent conventicles, or persuade others to do so, should be committed to prison, and there remain till he should conform and make submission. It was therefore imprisonment for an indefinite period, and might, as in fact it did, last for years.

A few weeks after this interview with the Clerk of the Peace the King's coronation came on, on the 23rd of April, 1661, when Bunyan hoped that he might, as other prisoners did, receive release at the hands of the King in honour of the event. In this he was doomed to disappointment. The following August the assizes came round again, when Bunyan's wife made earnest pleading with Sir Matthew Hale, who was one of the Judges of Assize, to obtain release for her husband. He spoke kindly to her, but pointed out that there were legal difficulties in the way of his helping her. Twice she saw him, once in private and once on the bench. As she was giving up in despair, the High Sheriff urged her to come to the Swan Chamber before the judges left the town, and try yet again to move his compassion. She did so. There were the two judges, with many of the gentry of the county, as Elizabeth Bunyan came into the chamber, with abashed face and trembling heart, and, turning to Sir Matthew, said: " My Lord, I make bold to come once again to your Lordship to know what may be done with my husband?" She pleaded that he had not been lawfully convicted. Justice Chester, who was present, and who was on the bench at the time of his trial, maintained that he had been. He was angry with her, and told the judges that her husband was a pestilent fellow, the like of whom there was not in the country. Judge Twisden asked her if her husband would leave off preaching. If he would, then send for him. With a spirit worthy of him whose cause she so eloquently pleaded, she replied : "My Lord, he dares not leave preaching, as long as he can speak," " Then," said Twisden, "what is the use of talking any more about such a fellow." Elizabeth pleaded the needs of the four small children at home, one of whom was blind, and all having nothing to live upon but the charity of good people. Twisden told her she made poverty her cloak, and said that he understood her husband made a better living by running about preaching than by following his calling. "What is his calling?" inquired Judge Hale. "A tinker, my Lord," cried several voices at once. " Yes," said Elizabeth, " and because he is a tinker and a poor man, therefore he is despised, and cannot have justice." Sir Matthew began to talk quietly to her, when Chester, angry at this good feeling, said: " My Lord, he will preach and do what he lists." " But," said Elizabeth, "he preacheth nothing but the Word of God." "He preach the Word of God! " said Twisden, angrily - (Bunyan's wife told him afterwards that she thought at the time that this man would have struck her) - " he runneth up and down and doeth harm." " No, my Lord," said she; " it is not so. God hath owned him, and done much good by him." " God!" said he; " his doctrine Is the doctrine of the devil." " My Lord," was the queenly reply of this English peasant woman, " when the Righteous Judge shall appear it will be known that his doctrine is not the doctrine of the devil." With that she left, and as she left, " I could not," she says, "but break forth into tears - not so much because they were so hard-hearted against me and my husband, but at the thought of the account these great ones of the earth would have to give when the Lord shall come." So ended this memorable interview - this scene which has become classic in the fair annals of Puritan womanhood. Elizabeth Bunyan's appeal on behalf of her imprisoned husband was fruitless as to its immediate object, but in its wider range it was fruitful for all time, fruitful as all golden deeds and words are fruitful, reproducing themselves after their kind, as they surely do, in the souls of the generations that follow.

 

BUNYAN IN PRISON

The county gaol at Bedford, in which Bunyan spent the next twelve years of his life, was perhaps not one of the worst of the prisons of England in the seventeenth century. But it may truly be said of them that bad was the best. And indeed this was miserable enough. When John Howard visited the place a century later, the day-rooms in winter were without fireplaces or means of warmth, and the prisoners slept on straw. There were times also, when the gaol-fever swept off many of the prisoners," and even spread to the townspeople outside. At the very time Bunyan was a prisoner, one who was confined in the gaol with him sent up a pitiful plea to the Crown, which is still preserved among the State papers, asking for release. At the end of only a twelvemonths' experience this man pleads that " he hath suffered as much misery as soe dismall a place could be capable to inflict." We may reasonably suppose that Bunyan's case was not much better than that of his neighbour. One gaoler might be lax and indulgent, and another stringent and severe. In any case, the confinement for so long of a man in the prime of life was sure to have been irksome, and his anxiety on behalf of his family must many a time have cut him to the heart. If I found myself," says he, "a man, and compassed with infirmities. The parting with my wife and poor children hath often been to me in this place as the pulling of the flesh from my bones; and that not only because I am somewhat too fond of these great mercies, but also because I should have often brought to my mind the many hardships, miseries, and wants that my poor family was like to meet with, especially my poor blind child, who lay nearer my heart than all I had besides. . . . Oh, I saw in this condition I was as a man who was pulling down his house upon the heads of his wife and children. Yet, thought I, I must do it, I must do it."

The work of the hands is one of God's best cures for the sorrows of the heart; and Bunyan found occupation that had the double advantage of taking off his mind from his own troubles, and at the same time ministering to the necessities of his family. A friend who paid him a visit in prison tells us that he spent not his time in supine and careless manner, nor did he eat the bread of idleness, for that he made many hundred gross of tagged laces, as worn at the time, a useful if monotonous occupation, which he had taken, up after his confinement in gaol. During these days also, especially during the first six years of his imprisonment, his pen was a wonderful solace to him, sometimes striking out a new line of thought, and sometimes amplifying a sermon which he had preached to his brethren. For though a prisoner, he was a preacher still, his audience prisoners with him. At that time there were many other godly men and women in Bedford Gaol for conscience' sake - John Donne, the ejected Rector of Pertenhall; Samuel Fenn, co-pastor with Bunyan in after years, and John Fenn, his brother, at whose house the brethren met for worship, in the High Street of Bedford; John Wright, the pious saddler of Blunham, the Rushes of Kempston, the Wheelers of Cranfield, the Laundys of Bolnhurst, and many more. As many as sixty Nonconformists were taken prisoners at one time, while worshipping in Keysoe Wood, and brought in a body to Bedford Gaol. Godly confessors, companions in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, they held services together in the common day-room, and strengthened each other's hands in God. We are not surprised to be told that Bunyan was one of the preachers in turn, and that some of these gaol sermons afterwards grew into permanent books. Other works also, of a more general kind, came from his pen during these years of waiting, the most noticeable being his " Grace Abounding," in which, as with pen of fire, he describes the dealings of God with his soul. In all, ten of his works were written during his twelve years' imprisonment. Eight of the ten came from his hand during the first six years, the remaining two were controversial works, and were written off rapidly in the short space of six weeks, just before his release, in 1672. "The Pilgrim's Progress," usually thought to belong to this time, must certainly be assigned to a later imprisonment, of which we shall have to speak hereafter. We may sum up this part of Bunyan's history by saying that it had an important place in the preparation for his great life-work. It was not without its trials, keen and heart-piercing, neither was it without its heaven-sent consolation. For there are always divine compensations for the man who will be true to God and true to himself. It was of the years that slowly came and went in Bedford Gaol Bunyan was speaking, when he said: " I never had in all my life so great an inlet into the Word of God as now. The Scriptures, that I saw nothing in before, are made in this place to shine upon me. Jesus Christ also was never more real and apparent than now. Here I have seen Him and felt Him indeed. I have seen that here that I am persuaded I shall never while in this world be able to express."

His release came in the early part of 1672, through the Declaration of Indulgence, his name being inserted in the general pardon granted by the King to the Quakers. Even before his release, he was chosen by the church at Bedford to be their pastor, in succession to John Whiteman, a yeoman of Cardington, who had filled the office since 1660, and who, after the twelve years of storm, seems to have resigned his position. The entry in the Act-Book of the church is one of unusual interest, and runs as follows: " At a full assembly of the church at Bedford the 21st of the l0th month, [1671-2] - After much seeking God by prayer and sober conference formerly had the congregation did at this meeting with joynt consent (signifyed by solemne lifting up of their hands) call forth and appoint our brother John Bunyan, to the pastorall office or eldership. And he accepting thereof, gave up himself to serve Christ and His Church in that charge; and received of the elders the right hand of fellowship." Bunyan's release shortly afterwards inspired the little community with fresh life. They had been homeless wanderers in woods and farmhouses, so far as a place of prayer was concerned, during all the twelve years he had been behind the bolts and bars of Bedford Gaol. They now took heart and bought for 50 ponds, a sum equal to about 200 pounds of present value, part of an orchard with a barn upon it, for a place of worship. This new place of meeting was licensed by the Government on the 9th of May, 1672, and from that day to this the church of which Bunyan was the newly-appointed pastor has worshipped on the piece of land thus purchased in those anxious days by these storm-driven and persecuted men.

Bunyan's own licence as a preacher was granted by the Government on the 9th of May, the same day as the barn was licensed in which he preached. But full of zeal under the gladness of his newly-found liberty, he did not confine his ministrations or his interest to Bedford town. There is in the Record Office among the State Papers a document in folio in his own handwriting, in which he applies to the Government for licences for some twenty-eight places of meeting besides his own, and for some five-and-twenty preachers. The greater part of the places named were in Bedfordshire, but two were in Huntingdonshire, three in Northamptonshire, two in Cambridgeshire, one in Hertfordshire, and three in Buckinghamshire. Wide as this range was, his parish seems to have been wider still. Among the Hall Papers of the Corporation of Leicester there is a document stating that John Bunyan showed his licence to teach as a Congregational parson to Mr. Mayor and others on the 6th day of October, being Sunday. The old house in which, according to tradition, he preached on that occasion, still stands, nearly opposite St. Nicholas' Church, and is the house in which also John Wesley a century later slept for a night on one of his preaching journeys.

While Bunyan thus went as far north as Leicester, he journeyed also to the east and south, earning the title of Bishop Bunyan, which from this time, partly in jest and partly in earnest, began to be applied to him. Traditions of the man linger in places about which he himself is silent. At Sandridge, near St. Albans, there is an old ivy-covered chimney on which there is the following inscription: "John Bunyan is said by tradition to have preached and occasionally to have lodged in the cottage of which this chimney was a part." In the old Dallow Farm, near Luton, also, there is an apartment in the roof, admittance to which was by a trap-door, and in that chamber it is said that Bunyan often preached to the Nonconformists gathered there. To the south-east also, in the direction of Hitchin, the traditions concerning this preaching Evangelist are more widely spread and more numerous. At Edworth, and Ashwell, and Baldock, we come upon his traces. About three miles from the town of Hitchin there is in Wainwood a natural amphitheatre admirably adapted for secret worship, which is still known as Bunyan's Dell. It is capable of holding several hundreds grouped round the preacher, and here, in the days when there was a famine of the Word of God, Bunyan often came and spoke to the people the message of life.

So earnest was he in the diligent use of his liberty between 1672 and 1675, that he seemed to have a premonition that that liberty might not be long continued. Neither was it. The Declaration of Indulgence under which it was granted was never looked on with much favour even by the Nonconformists themselves. For that declaration was not made under statute law, but by an undue stretch of the royal prerogative, and it was rightly felt that if the King could at his own mere pleasure set aside one Act of Parliament, he might set aside twenty, and where then would be the safeguard of the nation's liberties? Moreover, there was an uneasy feeling that the King, by this policy of his, mainly intended the relief not of Nonconformists, but of Roman Catholics. After vehement debate the House of Commons resolved that penal statutes in matters ecclesiastical cannot be suspended but by Act of Parliament; and four days later presented an address to that effect to the King. With petulant feeling, Charles with his own hand tore off the great seal from the Declaration of Indulgence; the Ministry was broken up, and the reins of power passed at once into the hands of Lord Danby.

Thus it came to pass that in 1675 the reign of intolerance had set in again with as much violence as at any time since the Restoration. The note of storm was sounded, the licences of the Nonconformist preachers were recalled by proclamation, and now, for the first time since 1672, Bunyan was defenceless against informers, and was once more sent to gaol. This, till lately, was only matter of inference. It was always known that besides his long imprisonment of twelve years he was in gaol again for the shorter period of six months. But when this took place there was no evidence to show. The present writer ventured, in 1885, to put forth the supposition that, looking at all the circumstances of the time, there was a strong probability that this second imprisonment took place in 1675, that on this occasion he was confined in the gaol on Bedford Bridge, and that it was then, and not during his twelve years' imprisonment, that he wrote the first part of "The Pilgrim's Progress." Curiously enough, within less than two years this theory received confirmation by the unexpected discovery of the warrant for his arrest in the very year that had been suggested. In the summer of 1887 the Chauncy Collection was brought to the hammer, and among the MSS. which had been long preserved by the family, and collected early in the last century by Dr. Charles Chauncy and his brother Nathaniel, was the warrant in question. The proclamation recalling the licences of the Nonconformist preachers was issued on the 4th of February, 1675, and exactly a month later, on the 4th of March, this warrant was issued " To the Constables of Bedford, and to every of them," stating that notwithstanding the King's Majesty's gracious, general, and free pardon for past misdemeanours, " one John Bunnyon of your said towne, tynker, hath divers times within one month last past, in contempt of his Majestie's good Lawes, preached or teached at a conventicle meeteing or assembly under colour or pretence of exercise of religion in other manner than according to the Liturgie or practise of the Church of England: These are therefore in his Majestie's name to command you forthwith to apprehend and bring the Body of the said John Bunnion before us or any of us, or other his Majestie's Justice of Peace within the said county to answer the premisses."

This interesting document, "thus brought to light after more than two centuries, is signed by no fewer than thirteen Bedfordshire magistrates, as though these persecutors of Bunyan were bent on making quite sure of their man. Two out of the thirteen, Beecher and Blundell, sat on the bench with Kelynge when Bunyan was sentenced to prison fourteen years before; and ten out of the thirteen added their seals to the document as well as their signatures. Arrested under the authority of this warrant, Bunyan was tried at the next quarter sessions held some time in the summer, and sent to prison for six months. The prison to which this time he would be sent was that on Bedford Bridge. The tradition to this effect was unbroken, and reached back to days when not merely Bunyan's grandchildren, but his eldest son, was living. His offence being probably that of preaching to his own people in his own place of meeting, he would come this time not under county but borough jurisdiction - the jurisdiction which had control of the prison on the bridge.

This prison was connected with the picturesque gate-house on the old narrow bridge, which, had spanned the stream ever since the Wars of the Barons in 1224, the stone of Bedford Castle, when dismantled, being used for the construction of the bridge. The gate-house keeper had the double duty of looking after the prisoners in the out-jutting chamber over the stream, and at the same time attending to the chain across the bridge, and receiving tolls of the passers-by, in days when tolls of grain and other products were paid on entering the town. The prison chamber projecting on the eastern side of the bridge was a small apartment, and was situated over a stone staircase leading down to a small island in the stream, on which in those days, when the river was not dammed up for mills, were small shrubs and greenery.

In this not unpicturesque chamber, looking towards the east, over the old familiar Ouse, Bunyan wrote his pilgrim dream. It is true that in assuming this memorable book to have been written during his later imprisonment we go against the general impression that it was the outcome of his twelve years in gaol; but we are in full accord with the old tradition that it was written in the prison on the bridge, and the acceptance of the later date does away with the difficulty, always felt, that while Bunyan was released from his longer imprisonment in 1672, the book he is supposed to have written then was not published till six years later, in 1678.

 

THE TOWN GAOL ON BEDFORD BRIDGE

This world-renowned book, which gave Bunyan his place among the immortals, and which has been well described as " homely without being vulgar, devout without being fanatical, and which points to other worlds without ceasing to be human in this," was the result not of prolonged preparation, but of sudden inspiration. The conception came entirely unbidden while its writer was engaged upon quite other work. Indeed, for a time, he tried to put back the thick-crowding fancies, and to keep to the more sober work he had in hand. But come they would, and coming, did multiply " like sparks that from the coals of fire do fly." And when at last he let them come, he had no thought of possible reviewers, or even readers. " No, not I; I did it mine own self to gratify."

The book was thus born out of the fulness of the bounding life of genius, and bears all the marks of its parentage. While it has free spontaneous life, it is marked by dramatic unity, and we are carried on from point to point without distraction and without weariness. Its characters, also, are rapidly drawn, multitudinously varied, and yet perfectly life-like. They are not mere abstractions, but almost as real to you as the people you meet. They come, amuse or instruct you, and then, without lingering too long, they go, becoming familiar names to you for the rest of your life. The book also is a book of great humanness and deep knowledge of life. Many of its people are of the plain burgher type of a Midland town, yet what a world of passion glows behind their quiet exterior! It is humanity apart from all social distinctions, with its deeper experiences, its universal sympathies and sorrows, and its possible destinies on which you are looking. And as it is thus universal in its sympathies, so is it also in its influence. It meets us all on that field of life's battle, where we all have to meet and toil and suffer, and it wins our hearts - the hearts of gentle and simple alike, by lifting our thoughts above the dust of the strife and the din of the conflict to the City of God, serene and calm, and to that divine society which, when we have seen, "we wish ourselves among them."

" The Pilgrim's Progress," though most certainly a prison book, for its writer himself tells us so, probably received completion and finishing touches after his release. There is a break in the story after the pilgrims have parted with the shepherds on the Delectable Mountains, where Bunyan says: " So I awoke from my dream." Then in the next paragraph he adds: " And I slept and dreamed again, and saw the same two pilgrims going down the mountains." Was it that up to this break Bunyan wrote the book in prison, and the rest of it after his release? Be that as it may, he came out of prison early in 1676, and some months afterwards the manuscript was in the hands of Nathanael Ponder, the publisher at the Peacock, in the Poultry, near Cornhill. The book, when printed, was entered on the registers at Stationers' Hall, on the 22nd of December, 1677, "by vertue of a licence under the hand of Mr. Turner, and which is subscribed by Mr. Warden Vere," the sum of sixpence being paid as registration fee. From a " General Catalogue of Books printed and published at London in Hilary Term, 1677-8," we find that it was licensed February 18th, 1678, and that it was announced as " price bound Is. 6d."

As in the case of that other powerful book of his, the " Grace Abounding," this still greater work grew upon Bunyan's hands after it had first seen the light. Such important additions as the character of Mr. Worldly-wiseman; the discourse with Charity in the Palace Beautiful; the further account of Mr. Byend's rich relations; the sight of Lot's wife turned to a pillar of salt, with the conversation ensuing; and the whole account of Diffidence, the wife of Giant Despair, only found their way into the book in the second and third editions, which appeared, the one the same year as the first edition, and the other the year following. In all, ten editions were published during Bunyan's lifetime, and in several others of these he added little touches here and there, by way of heightening the effect and giving finish to the picture.

This book, thus sent forth in 1678, sprang into fame at once, no one being more surprised at its success than the modest author himself. During the ten years he lived after its first appearance, it is said by Charles Doe that a hundred thousand copies were sold, to say nothing of the many pirated editions, of which Nathanael Ponder complains - editions rudely printed on rough paper for the common people. Besides the English copies sold, the book was reprinted at Boston, in New England, in 1681. It was also translated into Dutch in 1682, and published at Amsterdam by Johannes Boekholt. This edition was well printed, bound in vellum, and embellished with several small but elegant copperplate engravings. In 1685 the same publisher sent forth a superior edition also in Flemish French, for the Walloons. He also sent forth other editions in Dutch, illustrated by new engravings by Dutch artists, at that time the leading engravers in Europe. Besides these Dutch and Flemish editions, " The Pilgrim's Progress " was also translated into Welsh in 1688; into German from the Dutch, in 1703; into Polish in 1728, and into Swedish in 1743. These early translations were the precursors of the still greater number which followed in the wake of the great missionary movement at the end of last century and the beginning of this. "The Pilgrim's Progress" is now issued in between eighty and ninety different languages. In Northern Europe it is found in Danish, Icelandic, Norwegian, Lithuanian, Finnish, Lettish, Esthonian, and Russ; in Eastern Europe, in Servian, Bulgarian, Bohemian, and Hungarian; in Southern Europe, in French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Modern Greek. In Asia it may be met with in Hebrew, Arabic, Modern Syriac, Armeno-Turkish, Greco-Turkish, and Armenian. Farther to the south also, it is seen in Pushtu or Afghani, and in the great Empire of India it has been translated into Hindustani, Bengali, Uriya, Hindhi, Sindhi, Punjabi, Telugu, Canarese, Tamil, Malayalim, Marathi-Balbodh, Gujarati, and Singhalese. In Indo-Chinese countries there are versions of it in Assamese, Khasi, Burmese, and Sgau-Karen. It has been given to the Dyaks of Borneo, to the Malays, to the Malagasy, to the Japanese, and to the Chinese in their various dialects, both classical and colloquial. It has found its way into Western Africa, in Efik, Ashanti, Otyiherero, Yoruba, and Dualla; and in the Southern region of that continent in Kaffir, Sechuana, and Sesuto. Among the Pacific Islands it has been translated into Raratongan, Samoan, Tahitian, Maori, Fijian, Hawaiian, and Aneityumese. And, finally, if we pass to the American continent, we find it printed in a new form: among the Mexicans of the South, and given to the Cree Indians, and to those also of Dakota in the North. Among the foreign versions of most recent interest are the one in the Canton vernacular and the one in Japanese, both of these being illustrated by native artists. The drawings are for the most part very characteristic and vigorous, and naturally appeal to the people for whom, they are intended as our European illustrations can hardly be expected to do. Those in the Japanese version, especially, are drawn with a good deal of spirit. Among others, we have Mr. Worldly-wiseman with his self-complacent, keen-eyed, hard-featured countenance; the Three Shining Ones saluting Christian at the Cross, and dressed in the latest fashions of the ladies of Yokohama; and we have also Vanity Fair as a gay Feast of Lanterns, with its crowds of people fanning themselves, with its booths, its inscriptions and banners, its games and follies, dear to the hearts of the Japanese.

Returning to Bunyan himself, we find that about the time of his release from his second imprisonment, and therefore before his memorable book had seen the light, the old man his father reached the end of his pilgrimage, and was laid to rest in Elstow Churchyard. It would appear that by his later marriage he had three other children, Thomas, Mary, and Elizabeth, whom he mentions in the will he made on the 22nd of January, 1676, a few days before his death, and In which he piously bequeaths his soul "into the hands of Almighty God my Maker, hoping that through the meritorious death and passion of Jesus Christ, my only Saviour and Redeemer, to receive pardon for my sins." He left a shilling each to his four children, John included, and the rest of his possessions to Anne, his widow, who survived him some four years, being "buried in Woolen, September 25th, 1680."

After laying the old man to rest, Bunyan set about his work as preacher and author with the same earnestness as before. Liberty was dear to him, not only for its own sake, but for its possibilities of service. It was about this time that he sent forth his " Instructions for the Ignorant," which has been translated into French; his " Saved by Grace," which has been translated into Welsh; his " Strait Gate," which has been translated into Dutch; his " Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ," which has been translated into Dutch, German, Welsh, Gaelic, and Norsk; and his " Treatise on the Fear of God," which has been translated into Dutch. It was in 1680 that there appeared " The Life and Death of Mr. Badman," a book not in the first rank of his productions, but of more power than those just mentioned. It would seem that he intended it as a sort of foil to his pilgrim story - the picture of a life basely bad to be set over against that of a life nobly good. It was thrown all the way through into dialogue form, and has something in common with Arthur Dent's " Plain Man's Pathway to Heaven," one of the two books his first wife brought him in his far-off Elstow days. This life of a typical scoundrel has not been often reprinted of recent years, but after its first appearance it was translated into Dutch, German, Welsh, and Gaelic. It was soon eclipsed by a still greater book from Bunyan's pen, a work not unworthy to stand by the side of his " Pilgrim."

It was in 1682 that "The Holy War" appeared, an allegory of very different form to Bunyan's greater work, but of almost equal genius. Macaulay has said of it that it would have been our greatest religious allegory if " The Pilgrim's Progress" had never been written. This later work was largely influenced by Bunyan's own military experiences in. his soldiering days. It was a man who had seen Cromwell's Ironsides, who tells us that Shaddai's captains were very stout and rough-hewn men - men that were fit to break the ice and to make their way by dint of sword - and those under them were like themselves. It was a man who had seen active service who describes how the mounts were cast up against Mansoul, how the Prince lay in league without the walls, and how the march was made up to Ear-gate with trumpets sounding, colours flying, and with shoutings for the battle. Mansoul itself, with its walls, gates, stronghold, and sallyport, largely took shape in his mind from the garrison at Newport Pagnell, or the fortifications of the Newarke at Leicester. The army of Shaddai, with its captains clad in armour, its forces marching, countermarching, opening to the right and to the left, dividing and subdividing, closing, wheeling, making good their front and rear, with their right and left wings, the handling of their arms, the management of their weapons of war, which "were marvellous taking to Mansoul and me" - all these were reminiscences of Cromwell's army of the " new model," and of the military manoeuvres in which he himself had taken part under Sir Samuel Luke. So with other parts of the book. The new modelling of the town of Mansoul by Diabolus, setting up one and putting down another at pleasure; the changing of the Lord Mayor and the Recorder; the creation of new burgesses, aldermen, and common-councilmen; and the substitution of one set of bailiffs, sergeants, and constables for another,' "so that Mansoul was wholly at his beck and brought wholly to his bow," is a simple parallel to the course commenced by Charles I., in 1681, in the City of London, and subsequently extended to the rest of the municipalities of the country. The taking away of the town charter and the granting of another, which was carried to audience by the Recorder, that is, to the market-place, and there read to the townspeople, was a point in the allegory which would be readily understood by Bunyan's contemporaries, who were familiar with this kind of procedure, as part of the royal policy of the time.

The first edition of " The Holy War " was well printed, and was adorned with a portrait of Bunyan and a picture of Mansoul, both by Robert White. The picture, indeed, was a portrait also, full-length, of Bunyan himself - the only full-length portrait we have of him. Dressed in the doublet of the period, he himself is represented as the typical Mansoul; Heart-castle is his heart, seen in transparency, the walls and gates of the town ranging round - an allegorical picture, which was not continued after the first edition. The book itself was translated into Dutch in 1684, and published at Amsterdam by that Johannes Boekholt who had previously introduced Bunyan's " Pilgrim" to the people of Holland. This edition was illustrated by a new allegorical frontispiece and six original copperplate engravings in the best style of the Dutch art of the period. Since this " The Holy War " has received very little illustration worthy of notice till the appearance of these here given by H. C. Selous, Priolo, and Friston.

This second allegory of Bunyan's, though having nothing like the circulation of " The Pilgrim's Progress," has yet been frequently reprinted. Copies of no fewer than thirty-seven English editions are still in existence, and there may have been others which have not been preserved. Besides the Dutch version already mentioned, the book was subsequently translated into German, Welsh, French, Gaelic, Uriya, Portuguese, Bengali, Canarese, and Turkish. It has also been dramatised, versified, and also abridged and adapted for juvenile instruction. It has been parodied too, the parody being intended as a protest against Catholic emancipation, in days when this was one of the burning questions of the time.

After sending forth his " Holy War," Bunyan still plied a busy pen. Between the appearance of this work in 1682 and the death of King Charles II. in the early part of 1685, he sent forth a poetical broadside, entitled "A Caution to Watch against Sin," and no fewer than five books, one of these being the second part of " The Pilgrim's Progress," containing the story of Christiana and her sons, which appeared in 1684. " The Barren Fig-tree " was published in 1682; " The Greatness of the Soul" and "A Case of Conscience Resolved" in 1683; while "Seasonable Counsels" and " A Holy Life the Beauty of Christianity" came out with the broadside referred to, and the story of Christiana in 1684.

With the death of King Charles came the accession of King James, and with the coming in of James came in also for the Nonconformists the fiercest - but happily the last - of the long series of persecutions under the Stuart kings. The reign of terror in the west under Judge Jeffreys and Colonel Kirke was followed by such a crusade against religious liberty as not even that century had known till then. Fresh prisoners were continually being added to the hundreds already deprived of their liberty. With renewed diligence, in street and lane, in field and wood, spies and informers plied their odious trade. Magistrates and commissaries, clergy and churchwardens, were once more on the alert. The ecclesiastical courts were all day long fining and excommunicating those who refused attendance at church or frequented conventicles elsewhere. The Nonconformists still met for worship. It is not in the nature of Englishmen timidly to submit to tyranny; but they met under greater precautions than before. The places of meeting were only known to the initiated, and were frequently changed; sentinels were posted to give timely warning of the enemy's approach; hymns were no longer used in their services, and for the sake of greater security, the people worshipped again and again at the dead hour of night. This persecution of 1685 has been compared to the last suffered by the early Christians under Diocletian - the last and fiercest on the part of the persecutors, the last and noblest on the part of the sufferers.

As to how Bunyan fared during this time, when the furnace was made hotter than before, there is but little to show. But there is one distinct clue to his own state of feeling. He was evidently preparing to go to prison again, for on the 23rd of December in that year he drew up a deed of gift, making over all he had in the world to his " well-beloved wife, Elizabeth Bunyan." Suffer he may himself, but if he can he will shield her, who so long and so bravely had stood by his side. The deed, duly drawn up, with " one coyned peece of silver, commonly called twopence, fixed on the seall of these presents," and signed in the presence of four of his brethren in the church, who affixed their names as witnesses, was hidden away in his house, in a little recess near the fireplace, ready for emergencies. Happily, it was never needed, and therefore never used, and there it remained till this century, when, the house in which he had lived being taken down, this interesting document was once more brought to light. It is in admirable preservation, is - with the exception of the attesting signatures - wholly in Bunyan's handwriting, and is now before the present writer, on his desk, as he pens these lines.

 

JOHN BUNYAN ON HIS LAST ERRAND OF MERCY

In the early part of 1685, and therefore before executing this deed, Bunyan gave to the world his well-known book, entitled " The Pharisee and the Publican." After this it may be noted that we have only for three whole years one simple production from his pen, a little work quite out of his ordinary line. In 1686 he published " A Book for Boys and Girls; or, Country Rhymes for Children," a title which was afterwards changed to that of " Divine Emblems." But though publication during these years, when it was probably difficult and even perilous, was interrupted, preparation for publication would seem to have been steady and continuous. For in the one year 1688 no fewer than six of his books were given to the world: "The Jerusalem Sinner Saved," " The House of God," "Jesus Christ as an Advocate," " The Water of Life," " Solomon's Temple Spiritualised," and " The Acceptable Sacrifice."

Thus busily did he ply his task, as though he had a sort of feeling that for him the shadows were drawing on of that night when no man can work. In truth, the end was nearer than those around him thought. In the summer of 1688, probably towards the end of July, he set out for Reading, where, according to tradition, he had often been before, meaning to go round by London before his return. He made this circuitous journey because at Reading there was a father angrily at variance with his son, and the son had sought Bunyan's good offices in bringing about a reconciliation. It turned out to be his last work in this world, and it was meet ending to a life that had always been marked by brotherly love and charity. So that in this one respect Bunyan's life ended as did Luther's, in plucking up roots of bitterness. Alike were these two great souls in many things - if one may digress for a moment to say so - this miner's son of Eisleben and this tinker's son of Elstow. They were both born from the heart of the people, and they could both speak to the people's heart; both were men of solid Saxon intellect and flaming soul; and both had hearts true and tender - Luther, with his little Magdalen, and Bunyan, with his blind child, dearer to him than all beside. Thus in life in so many things alike, in death, in one thing at least, they were not divided, as we have seen. Luther rode to Eisleben to reconcile the Counts of Mansfeld, and Bunyan to Reading to bring together an estranged father and son, and both succeeded beyond all expectation. Bunyan, we are told, " used such pressing arguments and reasons against anger and passion, as also for love and reconciliation, that the father was mollified, and his bowels yearned towards his returning son." Four days after he had reconciled the Counts of Mansfeld at Eisleben, Luther yielded up his life and went home to be with God. Bunyan lived more than four days beyond the time of the happy reconciliation he had been the means of effecting, but even with him life was now only to be measured by days. The forty miles' journey to London turned out to be a dreary ride through driving rain, at the end of which he found himself, drenched and weary, at the house of one whom Charles Doe describes as Bunyan's very loving friend John Strudwick, This loving friend, under whose roof the Dreamer had come to die, lived at a house on Snow Hill, and carried on business there under the sign of " The Star." He saw the plight in which his guest had arrived, but the full mischief wrought by that long ride through driving rain did not show itself at first. Bunyan himself had as yet no misgiving, for on the Sunday he undertook to preach at Whitechapel what proved to be his last sermon. This sermon, founded on John i. 13, contained passages which might well close up the ministry on earth of one so catholic and large-hearted. For among other things we find him saying, " Dost thou see a soul that has the image of God in him? Love him, love him; say, ' This man and I must go to heaven one day'; serve one another, do good for one another; and if any wrong you, pray to God to right you, and love the brotherhood." These next words closed his ministry on earth - what fitter words could there be ? - " Be ye holy in all manner of conversation. Consider that the Holy God is your Father, and let this oblige you to live like the children of God, that you may look your Father in the face with comfort another day."

This last sermon of his was preached on Sunday, the 19th of August. On the following Tuesday he was seized with what has been variously described as a violent fever, and as the sweating distemper, which ran its course for ten days. Readers of the second part of "The Pilgrim's Progress" will remember that as Christiana waited by the river at the end of her pilgrimage, a post from the Celestial City brought her a letter, "the contents whereof was, 'Hail, good woman! I bring thee tidings that the Master calleth for thee, and expecteth that thou shouldst stand in His Presence in Cloaths of Immortality within this ten days' " It is curious that Bunyan should thus in his Dream fix upon the number of days for Christiana's summons, and that he should fix upon ten days, for within just ten days of that Tuesday when he was stricken down he himself crossed the bridgeless river, and had entered the City of God.

 

BUNYAN’S TOMB IN BUNHILL FIELDS

His death was a sudden blow to the stricken church over which he had been minister now for sixteen years. Slowly in those days did news travel along the rough country roads, and the sorrowful tidings would reach Bedford about the time the people were gathering for their Sabbath worship. There are several entries in the church book which throw light of pathetic sort over their feeling at the time. Bunyan died at John Strudwick's house on Friday, 31st August, and soon after we come upon these sorrowful entries in the record: "Wednesday, 4th of September, was kept in prayre and humilyation for this Heavy Stroak upon us, ye Death of deare Brother Bunyan. Apoynted also that Wednesday next be kept in praire and humiliation on the same Account." At this second meeting it was " Apoynted that all ye Brethren meet together on the 18th of this month, Septr., to Humble themselves for this Heavy hand of God upon us." And again: " Tuesday ye 18th was the whole congregation mett to Humble themselves before God by ffasting and prayre, for his Hevy and Sevear Stroak upon us in takeing away our Honoured Brother Bunyan by death,"

There were sorrowful hearts in London as well as in Bedford, for during his many visits to the city the good man had made many friends, some of whom carried him to his burial in Bunhill Fields, and made great lamentation over him. He was buried in John Strudwick's grave by John Strudwick's pastor, who was also Bunyan's old Bedfordshire friend, George Cokayn, and who tells us that this great Nonconformist preacher and confessor had been removed of the Lord, " to the great loss and unexpressible grief of many precious souls." There in the burial-place, where so many distinguished men of that and of a later time lie sleeping, all that was mortal of Bunyan awaits the resurrection morn. A simple tombstone marked the spot till 1862, when the carved effigy of Bunyan depicted by our artist was by public subscription erected in its place.

His sorrowing widow did not long survive him. Either she did not know of the Deed of Gift made in her favour, and secreted in the recess of their house five years before, or she had forgotten its existence. In the Book of Administrations preserved in the registry of the Archdeaconry is the following entry, which shows how modest was his estate, and how it was administered to as that of an intestate person:- " Bedd: 17 Oct. 1688. Administration of the goods of John Bunyan of the said Town, deceased, was granted to Elizabeth Bunyan, relict of the said deceased, and to Tho. Woodward, of Bedford, Maulster, and Wm. Nicholls of the same place, Draper, being under 100 pounds. By order of the Commissary of the Court. Sum of Inventory 42 ponds: 19s. od." This amount would be equal to about 150 pounds of present value. Upon this, and the yearly income from his publications, Elizabeth Bunyan lived, during the year and a half which was all that she survived her husband. She died in the early part of 1691, "following her faithful pilgrim from this world to the other, whither he was gone before her."

With the exception of his blind daughter Mary, all Bunyan's children survived him. His eldest son John, as a tradesman in Bedford, carried on his father's business of brazier, till his death in 1728, when he left the whole of his property to his granddaughter, Hannah Bunyan, whom he had brought up from childhood, and who died unmarried in 1770, at the age of seventy-six. Bunyan's second daughter, Elizabeth, was married to Gilbert Ashley, a miller, in the neighbouring village of Goldington. Of his two sons, Thomas and Joseph, we know almost nothing with certainty. His daughter Sarah was married in 1686 to William Browne, living in the same parish of St. Cuthbert with her father. A granddaughter of hers, Frances Bithrey, was the wife of a yeoman at Carlton, in Bedfordshire, and died as recently as 1803, at the age of eighty-one. It was through her that the trustees of the church at Bedford obtained John Bunyan's cabinet and staff. Other descendants of Sarah Bunyan are still to be found in the district where Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, and Northamptonshire border on each other.

Bunyan was, as we have seen already, a somewhat voluminous writer. He lived through all the eventful years, between the Petition of Right and the great Revolution of 1688, that is to say, he lived sixty years, during which he wrote sixty books, fifteen of these being published only after his death, twelve of them in a folio volume, which saw the light in 1692. His collected works were published for the first time in two folio volumes, in 1736-7, and since then have been several time republished. It is, however, by his three greatest works, " The Pilgrim's Progress," " The Holy War," and the " Grace Abounding," that he has been and ever will be most widely known, and by the first of these most of all. It is by " The Pilgrim's Progress' especially that he has secured the personal affection as well as the intellectual interest of his readers. Yet not by this alone. If his book was a great allegory, his life was a touching testimony. He stood stalwart and strong, fearing God rather than man. He suffered cruel wrongs, yet no bitter, uncharitable words against his persecutors ever escaped from his lips or dropped from his pen. His was one of those lives which if men find it difficult to imitate they feel the more constrained to love and venerate. By his large catholicity, his patient endurance, his broad and genial nature, added to his wonderful genius and knowledge of life, he has left a name behind him which men will not willingly let die, and which must always exercise an influence for good so long as it shall be remembered.

JOHN BROWN

 

 

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UPDATED: 02 January 2015

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