Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

nature, so bowed down under a sense of guilt, unworthiness, and danger, that he can neither speak nor look up ; neither eat nor sleep! We need a sight of this kind, on many accounts.

We do not naturally suspect, and are not willing to believe, that conscience can thus bleed or burn, except when it is laden with unusual or unutterable crimes. We can hardly admit, in our own case, that we could be brought thus low, or be stretched on this rack. And, happily, it is not necessary that we should be either racked or bowed down as he was. It is, however, both necessary and desirable, that we should be fully aware of what an inflamed conscience can inflict upon mind and body. We do not understand the wrath to come," until we understand the power of conscience in some measure, either from feeling or observation. God has, therefore, exemplified, in a man universally known and admired, the gnawings of the worm which dieth not, and the heat of unquenchable fire, just that we may appreciate the mercy of more gentle awakenings, and not provoke him to make or let conscience do its worst;

for its worst could make any man a terror to himself, and to all around him!

This, I grant, seldom happens. The reason of its rareness is not, however, sufficiently acknowledged or noticed. It is because God has shown in the case of David, Paul, the Philippian jailor, the Pentecostal converts—and not less in Bunyan -how conscience can, like the Sinai trumpet, outspeak the thunder, and outburn the lightning, that he so seldom repeats the fearful experiment, or adopts this fiery line of moral disei. pline. Indeed, it is evidently a part of his plan to make as few public examples as possible : and, therefore, he has made the few signal; and in men who can neither be forgotten nor overlooked ; and in characters which no man of sense can suspect of weakness, or doubt their sincerity. WILBERFORCE was one of these signal examples, although not known as such until his sons told his secret. There is a Bunyan-like emphasis in some of his confessions.

" It was not,” he says, much the fear of punishment by which I was affected, sense of my great sinfulness in having so long neglected the unspeakable mercies of my God and Saviour : and such was the effect which this thought produced, that for months I was in a state of the deepest depression, from strong convictions of my guilt. Indeed, nothing which I had ever read in the accounts of others, exceeded what I then felt."-Life, vol. i. p. 89.

SO

as a

Pitt wondered even at the little he saw of this in Wilberforce ; but “ Old Newton ” did not, although he saw the whole of it.

God has thus placed in a very puzzling and mortifying dilemma, the men who deny that He either interferes with the conscience by His Spirit, or allows Satan to lodge “ fiery darts in the mind. For, to what can they refer the sharp agony of Paul at Damascus, or the frequent despair of David, or the anguish of Wilberforce, or the protracted horrors of Bunyan? It will not do to call these men weak. The world, as well as the church, feels and owns their strength! Not one of all the nicknames in the vocabulary of ridicule, can be applied to them. He stamps himself rogue in philosophy, who stigmatizes them as fools, fanatics, impostors, or dupes. And he is neither Philosopher nor Philanthropist, for the good of his species, who tells them that neither God nor Satan had any thing to do with the mental sufferings of John Bunyan : for if mind has a tendency to such fearful moods, or can take such dread turns, in spite of both its wish and will, even when its powers are strong, and its tastes pure, aad its aspirations sublime, what security has any man, who is not half an idiot, against becoming a terror or a burden to himself?

How benign is the philosophy of the New Testament, compared with this “ cruel mockery” of human nature. 6. THE SPIRIT SHALL CONVINCE OF SIN, AND OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, AND OF JUDG. MENT!”. This promise, although it set no certain limits to the degree of conviction, places both the length and power of it in the hands of one, who is emphatically and officially the Comforter, and thus sure not to “ contend for ever,” nor to inflict wounds which are unhealable, nor to impose burdens which are unbearable. Accordingly, although Bunyan suffered much and long, he was was not left to sink in the “deep waters allowed to become desperate.

In like manner, if there was much wisdom in making him an example of the power of conscience, there was not less in making him an example of the power of the Gospel to cheer and console. For as he was just the man in whom fear cannot be thought weakness, nor despair affectation, so was he just the man in whom hope cannot be deemed presumption, nor joy prea tence. He was humbled too deeply to presume, and he suffered too much to be consoled by fancies. He took, indeed, fanciful views, at first, of the real grounds of hope : but still, it was of the real grounds of hope ; and they are so peculiar and sublime, that a little confusion or rashness in stepping on to them can.

nor

not injure them, however it may show his weakness for a time. Besides, he soon became both strong and wise, when he understood them.

Religious joy, like religious fear, needs a wise representative: for it too is deemed enthusiasm, if not weakness by many. Hence the importance of a few specimens, and of one promi. nent specimen, of holy joy, in which the keenest eye cannot trace imbecility, nor detect extravagance. Hence the neces. sity, in a world like ours, for lodging the joy of salvation, like the perfection of Light, in a mind, which, like the diamond, can enshrine it without being consumed by it, and reflect it without discoloring its brilliancy. That joy ought, indeed, to be respected and admired in any mind. It is one of its chief glories, that it can dwell with the poor, and accommodate itself to the weak, and combine itself with little knowledge, and with less talent. Like the sun, it can gild a dew drop, as well as enshrine a mountain, or flush an ocean. Still, it is desirable to see this joy reigning supreme in mighty minds, where other joys have a place, or can be duly appreciated. This keeps in check the senseless and unfeeling cry of the multitude who say of the godly, they can enjoy nothing else.' I call that an unfeeling cry, because many of the pious have nothing else to enjoy. It is, therefore, both cruel and mean, when men of talents, taste, and education, sneer at the religious joys of those who, if they had no comfort in religion, would be of all men the most miserable.” A well-judging, even a well-disposed mind, would rejoice in the fact, that the joy of salvation can lighten the toil of the labourer, and sweeten the crumbs of the poor, and soften the couch of the afflicted. God has not, how. ever, left all the vindication of spiritual joy, to the good it does to the poor and the afflicted. It is to be eternal joy to them who fear Him; and as the weakest of them witl one day know even as they are known, and be for ever like angels in both talents and taste, He shows now to the world, some of the master-spirits of the world rejoicing in His Salvation with joy unspeakable, and full of glory, whilst enjoying with high zest the beauties and sublimities of Nature, and giving full play to a hallowed curiosity and a sanctified imagination. Bunyan is but one exemplification of the truth of this. Newton's eye was not less keen to discover, nor his wing less quick to track, the motions of stars and comets, when he studied alternately the Universe and the Bible, than whilst the former wholly absorbed him. Milton tore no string from his harp, nor struck

its strings with less boldness, when he made Mount Zion his Parnassus, and “Siloa's brook” his Helicon. Wilberforce only amused princes and senators whilst his joy was like their own; “ of the earth, earthy ;" but he both fascinated and awed them, and won the homage of the world, when he made salvation his chief good, and the glory of God, in the welfare of man, his supreme end. Robert Hall lost none of the purity of Plato, and laid aside none of the majesty of Cicero, in his style, when he wrote on the glory of the Atonement and the grace of the Holy Spirit, as the grounds of his own hope and joy. And in the case of Bunyan, that joy was the strength of his imagination, as well as “ of his heart,” when he conducted the Holy War like a Wellington, and his Pilgrim's Progress like a Moses. And this was done, be it remembered, in Bedford Jail. Bunyan's joy not only sustained him there inflexible in all his principles, but also uncramped in all his powers. The prison of his body became the palace of his mind, and made the world his kingdom, and Time the length of his reign. Christians can thus afford to smile in public,—although they prefer to “ weep in secret places,”—when the men of the world call the joy of Salvation a weak fancy, or a warm dream. It made Bunyan happy, and gave that turn to his genius which has added to the happiness of myriads. It made Bunyan acquainted with himself, and thus threw open to him the secrets of the world and the Church, and unveiled to him no small portion of the things which are unseen and eternal.”

He was, also, just the man in whom the sanctification of the Spirit, through belief of the Truth,” could be exemplified with commanding effect. Never was a rougher diamond polished into the beauty of Holiness. He became a gentleman too, when he became a Christian. I have heard men of fine tact apply to him, playfully, the expression," he having not the law (of good breeding) was a law unto himself; thus showing the work of that law written on his heart." There is more truth in this, than was intended by the compliment. The law of good breeding was written upon his heart, by his veneration for God. That principle towards God, became an instinct towards man, which seldom erred by word, look, or deed, even when provocation was great.

But courtesy was the least part of his conformity to the Divine image. Even his zeal is not the chief beauty of his holiness : for he could do nothing by halves; and, therefore, he took the lead in reforming others, just as he had done in

[ocr errors]

corrupting them, and was as zealous in preaching as he had been in blaspheming. Accordingly, he cared no more for the yelp of downy Doctors, or the yell of rash Magistrates, when he became an itinerant, than he formerly did for the sermons of “our Parson,” against dancing and bell-ringing on the Sabbath. It was, however, in holy consistency, that Bunyan excelled, when he avowed himself to be a Christian. This will be both illustrated and confirmed as we proceed. It is asserted here, that proof may be expected.

His example, at this time, is sketched here, in order to account for his wide influence as a preacher, and for the warm sympathy which followed him to “bonds and imprisonment. It had made thoughtful men think more deeply, and thoughtless men meditative, before he was immured from their sight in Bedford jail. He knew this,—and nobly sustained the impres. sion he had made upon them. The prisoner sacrificed none of the influence which the Preacher had won by his experience and example : and he had won more at this time, than has hitherto been shown or imagined. He was “ Bishop Bunyan," in reality, though not in name, when he was arrested. We shall see this in the next chapter ;-which, although rambling, because sketchy , is yet the key to the heroism of his spirit, and to the motives of his conduct. It will also throw some true light on Dr. Southey's “extreme disingenuousness," as Mr. Conder justly brands the assertion, that “ Bunyan has been most wrongfully represented as having been the victim of intolerant laws, and prelatical oppression."

« PoprzedniaDalej »