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- The Works of John Bunyan Volume 1 - 1/419 -


THE WORKS OF JOHN BUNYAN

WITH AN

INTRODUCTION TO EACH TREATISE, NOTES,

AND A

SKETCH OF HIS LIFE, TIMES, AND CONTEMPORARIES.

VOLUME FIRST.

EXPERIMENTAL, DOCTRINAL, AND PRACTICAL.

EDITED BY

GEORGE OFFOR, ESQ.

MEMOIR OF JOHN BUNYAN

THE FIRST PERIOD.

THIS GREAT MAN DESCENDED FROM IGNOBLE PARENTS--BORN IN POVERTY--HIS EDUCATION AND EVIL HABITS--FOLLOWS HIS FATHER'S BUSINESS AS A BRAZIER--ENLISTS FOR A SOLDIER--RETURNS FROM THE WARS AND OBTAINS AN AMIABLE, RELIGIOUS WIFE--HER DOWER.

'We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.'--2 Cor 4:7

'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.'--Isaiah 55:8.

'Though ye have lien among the pots, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold.'--Psalm 68:13.

When the Philistine giant, Goliath, mocked the host of Israel, and challenged any of their stern warriors to single combat, what human being could have imagined that the gigantic heathen would be successfully met in the mortal struggle by a youth 'ruddy and of a fair countenance?' who unarmed, except with a sling and a stone, gave the carcases of the hosts of the Philistines to the fouls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth.'

Who, upon seeing an infant born in a stable, and laid in a manger, or beholding him when a youth working with his father as a carpenter, could have conceived that he was the manifestation of the Deity in human form, before whom every knee should bow, and every tongue confess Him to be THE ETERNAL?

Father Michael, a Franciscan friar, on a journey to Ancona, having lost his way, sought direction from a wretched lad keeping hogs--deserted, forlorn, his back smarting with severe stripes, and his eyes suffused with tears. The poor ragged boy not only went cheerfully with him to point out his road, but besought the monk to take him into his convent, volunteering to fulfill the most degrading services, in the hope of procuring a little learning, and escaping from 'those filthy hogs.' How incredulously would the friar have listened to anyone who could have suggested that this desolate, tattered, dirty boy, might and would fill a greater than an imperial throne! Yet, eventually that swine-herd was clothed in purple and fine linen, and, under the title of Pope Sixtus V., became one of those mighty magicians who are described in Rogers Italy, as

'Setting their feet upon the necks of kings, And through the worlds subduing, chaining down The free, immortal spirit--theirs a wondrous spell.' [1]

A woman that was 'a loose and ungodly wretch' hearing a tinker lad most awfully cursing and swearing, protested to him that 'he swore and cursed at that most fearful rate that it made her tremble to hear him,' 'that he was the ungodliest fellow for swearing that ever she heard in all her life,' and 'that he was able to spoil all the youth in a whole town, if they came in his company.' This blow at the young reprobate made that indelible impression which all the sermons yet he had heard had failed to make. Satan, by one of his own slaves, wounded a conscience which had resisted all the overtures of mercy. The youth pondered her words in his heart; they were good seed strangely sown, and their working formed one of those mysterious steps which led the foul-mouthed blasphemer to bitter repentance; who, when he had received mercy and pardon, felt impelled to bless and magnify the Divine grace with shining, burning thoughts and words. The poor profligate, swearing tinker became transformed into the most ardent preacher of the love of Christ--the well-trained author of The Jerusalem Sinner Saved, or Good News to the Vilest of Men.

How often have the Saints of God been made a most unexpected blessing to others. The good seed of Divine truth has been many times sown by those who did not go out to sow, but who were profitably engaged in cultivating their own graces, enjoying the communion of Saints, and advancing their own personal happiness! Think of a few poor, but pious happy women, sitting in the sun one beautiful summer's day, before one of their cottages, probably each one with her pillow on her lap, dexterously twisting the bobbins to make lace, the profits of which helped to maintain their children. While they are communing on the things of God, a traveling tinker draws near, and, over-hearing their talk, takes up a position where he might listen to their converse while he pursued his avocation. Their words distil into his soul; they speak the language of Canaan; they talk of holy enjoyments, the result of being born again, acknowledging their miserable state by nature, and how freely and undeservedly God had visited their hearts with pardoning mercy, and supported them while suffering the assaults and suggestions of Satan; how they had been borne up in every dark, cloudy, stormy day; and how they contemned, slighted, and abhorred their own righteousness as filthy and insufficient to do them any good. The learned discourses our tinker had heard at church had casually passed over his mind like evanescent clouds, and left little or no lasting impression. But these poor women, 'methought they spake as actually did make them speak; they speak with such pleasant as of Scripture language, and with such appearance of grace in all they said, that they were to me as if they had found a new world, as if they were people that dwelt alone, and were not to be reckoned among their neighbors' (Num 23:9).

O! how little did they imagine that their pious converse was to be the means employed by the Holy Spirit in the conversion of that poor tinker, and that, by their agency, he was to be transformed into one of the brightest luminaries of heaven; who, when he had entered into rest would leave his works to follow him as spiritual thunder to pierce the hearts of the impenitent, and as heavenly consolation to bind up the broken-hearted; liberating the prisoners of Giant Despair, and directing the pilgrims to the Celestial City. Thus were blessings in rich abundance showered down upon the church by the instrumentality, in the first instance, of a woman that was a sinner, but most eminently by the Christian converse of a few poor but pious women.

This poverty-stricken, ragged tinker was the son of a working mechanic at Elstow, near Bedford. So obscure was his origin that even the Christian name of his father is yet unknown:[2] he was born in 1628, a year memorable as that in which the Bill of Rights was passed. Then began the struggle against arbitrary power, which was overthrown in 1688, the year of Bunyan's death, by the accession of William III. Of Bunyan's parents, his infancy, and childhood, little is recorded. All that we know is from his own account, and that principally contained in his doctrine of the Law and Grace, and in his extraordinary development of his spiritual life, under the title of Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. His birth would have shed a luster on the wealthiest mansion, and have imparted additional grandeur to any lordly palace. Had royal or noble gossips, and a splendid entertainment attended his christening, it might have been pointed to with pride; but so obscure was his birth, that it has not been discovered that he was christened at all; while the fact of his new birth by the Holy Ghost is known over the whole world to the vast extent that his writings have been circulated. He entered this world in a labourer's cottage of the humblest class, at the village of Elstow, about a mile from Bedford.[3] His pedigree is thus narrated by himself:--'My descent was of a low and inconsiderable generation, my father's house being of that rank that is meanest and most despised of all the families in the land.'[4] Bunyan alludes to this very pointedly in the preface to A Few Sighs from Hell:--'I am thine, if thou be not ashamed to own me, because of my low and contemptible descent in the world.'[5] His poor and abject parentage was so notorious, that his pastor, John Burton, apologized for it in his recommendation to The Gospel Truths Opened:--'Be not offended because Christ holds forth the glorious treasure of the gospel to thee in a poor earthen vessel, by one who hath neither the greatness nor the wisdom of this world to commend him to thee.'[6] And in his most admirable treatise, on The Fear of God, Bunyan observes--'The poor Christian hath something to answer them that reproach him for his ignoble pedigree, and shortness of the glory of the wisdom of this world. True may that man say I am taken out of the dunghill. I was born in a base and low estate; but I fear God. This is the highest and most noble; he hath the honour, the life, and glory that is lasting.'[7] In his controversy with the Strict Baptists, he chides them for reviling his ignoble pedigree:--'You closely disdain my person because of my low descent among men, stigmatizing me as a person of THAT rank that need not be heeded or attended unto.'[8] He inquired of his father--'Whether we were of the Israelites or no? for, finding in the Scripture that they were once the peculiar people of God, thought I, if I were one of this race, my soul must needs be happy.'[9] This somewhat justifies the conclusion that his father was a Gipsy tinker, that occupation being then followed by the Gipsy tribe. In the life of Bunyan appended to the forged third part of the Pilgrim's Progress, his father is described as 'an honest poor labouring man, who, like Adam unparadised, had all the world before him to get his bread in; and was very careful and industrious to maintain his family.'[10]

Happily for Bunyan, he was born in a neighbourhood in which it was a disgrace to any parents not to have their children educated. With gratitude he records, that 'it pleased God to put it into their hearts to put me to school to learn both to read and to write.' In the neighbourhood of his birthplace, a noble charity diffused the blessings of lettered knowledge.[11] To this charity Bunyan was for a short period indebted for the rudiments of education; but, alas, evil associates made awful havoc of those slight unshapen


The Works of John Bunyan Volume 1 - 1/419

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