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As Bunyan had been tried again for Nonconformity by Dr. Southey, and brought in guilty-of being at that time, no preacher of good will, nor of Christian charity ;” and but “lit. tle reasonable or tolerant" toward the Prayer-Book,-- it is necessary to examine the grounds of this conclusion. And, happily, the question, Why, and how far, he disliked the Prayer Book, can be answered without putting that Book upon its trial. I have no inclination to sit in judgment upon that ven. erable volume, as a whole. I have already said, that Bunyan was unduly prejudiced against it: for I neither question, nor wonder, that the Liturgy is found to be a Bethel Ladder, by which devotional minds can ascend from earth to heaven with angel-like alacrity, and weak minds are "mightily helped.” Still the more true this is, the more criminal it was to enforce liturgical worship by the sword. Besides, Bunyan could both worship, and conduct worship well, without it. He felt no more need of it than Jacob did on Peniel, or the Apostles in Jerusalem. The Prayer Book would, I think, have been very useful to his village-flocks, when he could not meet them, if they had been allowed to use it just as they wanted it. But they were not. They were commanded to hear it at Church, whatever the Reader of it might be in creed or character. They must pray by it, even if he preached doctrines at variance with both the letter of its Articles, and the spirit of its Confessions. Besides, submission to it involved submission to other things, which had none of its redeeming qualities to commend them.
This, Bunyan would neither do nor teach : and if he was not right, the Toleration Act is wrong : for he did nothing then, but what every man may do lawfully now. The entire nation (with the exception of the Sovereign) are at perfect liberty to do all that John Bunyan did. Let it not be supposed, however, that he found no fault with extempore prayer because he rejected the Prayer Book. He both said and wrote as severe things against the faults of the former, as against the defects of the latter. “ I think,” he
prayer of the Pharisee in the temple was no stinted form, but a prayer extempore, made on a sudden, according to what he felt, thought, or understood of himself. We may therefore see that even prayer, as well other acts of religious worship, may be per. formed in great hypocrisy. I am not against extempore prayer; for I believe it to be the best kind of praying : but yet I am jealous, that there be a great many such prayers made, especially in pulpits and meetings, without the breathing of the Holy Ghost.”- Works, p. 993.
In the same spirit he says, (after exposing Trencher-Chaplains,) others seek repute and applause for their eloquent terms. They eye only their auditory in their expressions. They look for returns—but it is for the windy applause of men. When their mouths are done going, their prayers are ended. They love not their chambers, but among company. Works, p. 2142. Bunyan did not conceal even his own deficiencies in
prayer, when he wrote against forms. 6 Were I to tell you my own experience,” he says, " the difficulty (I feel at times) in pray. ing, would make you have strange thoughts of me. Oh, the starting holes that the heart hath in the time of prayer! None knows how many by-ways and back-lanes the heart hath to slip away from the presence of God. How much pride also, if enabled with expressions! How much hypocrisy, if before others! And how little conscience there is made of prayer in secret, unless the spirit of supplieation be there to help !"Works, p. 2134.
Thus, if the church could not gag Bunyan, neither could the meeting. But was he unreasonable or intolerant, in thus exposing the faults of extempore prayer ? Would the Presby. terians of that day have been excusable, if they had persecuted him for these attacks upon their prayers ? Dr. Chalmers has surely as much right to complain as Dr. Southey. But he is silent.
I know of nothing Bunyan has said against forms, severer than what I have quoted against parade and heartlessness without them. In his “Instructions to the Ignorant," a work widely circulated then, he says nothing against the Prayer Book, but much against prayerlessness. Even in his Treatise on Prayer--the first work he wrote in prison, whilst smarting for his nonconformity-he repeats what he said to his judges, that he would have no one hindered from using the Common Prayer.
He did, however, “exhort the people of God to take heed that they touched not the Common Prayer.” This was in bad taste, certainly. It was not, however, such disobedience to the laws, as it seems at first sight: for the advice was given, not to the people of the realm, but to “ the people of God:”in other words, to Bunyan's own people, and to those who thought with him. He did not intrude himself, nor his advice, upon Episcopalian congregations or families; and he was too poor to distribute his Treatise on Prayer amongst them. The question, therefore, comes to this—had he a right to call upon the people of his own communion to abide by their own principles? The laws said, no, then. They say, yes, now.
Well, if the latter be the true answer, our Legis.. lature have to thank John Bunyan for enabling them to abro.. gate unjust laws. He did, single-handed, what the joint wisdom of successive Parliaments has well nigh perfected—fling. Stuart-law to the winds.
Besides, it was not so much what is in the Prayer Book, as what the promiscuous use of it led to, that Bunyan condemned. It was the very excellence of certain forms, that made him denounce the formal use of them. He says, indeed, that there are “ absurdities” in the book : but he singles out no petition nor confession of it for reprehension. (How could he ?). It was not the Lord's Prayer itself he objected to; but the laws which compelled every whoremonger, drunkard, and swearer, to say to God, “Our Father which art in heaven.” “ Must all the rabble in the world,” he asks, “ be made to say, Our Father,' because the saints are commanded to say so ?" In the same spirit, he contends, that it was blasphemy to " compel men to say so, who were cursing and persecuting the children of God.” They may be bold men, but they are not wise men, who differ from Bunyan in this matter. It was no opinion of his, however, that only the pious should pray. In answer to the question—“Would you ve none pray but those that know they are disciples of Christ ? ”—he says, “ Let every soul that would be saved pour out itself to God, though it cannot conclude itself a child of God. Prayer is one of the first things that discover a man to be a Christian.”-Works, p. 2140.
Bunyan's chief objection to the Prayer Book was, that it
was both “ exalted above the spirit of prayer,” and employed to “ quench that spirit;" inasmuch as all other prayers were prohibited then, in church. This “ muzzling up to a form,” he denounced, without ceremony or circumlocution. It was not, however, until that form was set in open rivalry to the spirit of supplication, and the prisons were filled with prayerful men, and the ale-houses ringing with jibes and curses on all who prayed without book,” that he called it a “ cursed superstition.”
And this name, although not at all deserved by it, was richly deserved by the purpose for which it was employed against the Nonconformists—when they, however peaceable and exemplary, were treated as factious, seditious, and heretical, because they would not bow the knee by it. I am no apologist for Bunyan's severe invectives. I have no sympa. thy with him, when he says, that the Prayer Book is a work of “ scraps and fragments, devised by Popes and Friars :" but were it again bristled with instruments of cruelty, and enact. ed to prevent free prayer in the pulpit, I would say, that a great blessing was turned into a heavy curse ; and tens of thousands, not Dissenters, would say the same. Why; we should never have had the Liturgy we possess, had not its authors been at liberty to pray as the Holy Spirit helped their infirmities. It was, therefore, a poor compliment, and a base return, to its devotional authors, to “ muzzle up” to their forms, equally devotional men. The Bunyans and Baxters of these times were as mighty in prayer as any of the Greek or Latin Fathers. There are also in Jeremy Taylor's Life of Christ, and in Milton's Prose Works, prayers equal to any uninspired forms in existence.
It ought not to be utterly useless, nor at all offensive, to glance thus at the question of forms, in connexion with Bunyan. No Dissenter would speak of the Prayer Book now-so far as it is a book of prayers
-as Bunyan did : and no Churchman would wish it to be such a Shibboleth as Clarendon and Sheldon made it. Might not both parties try, therefore, how kindly they could think and speak of their respective modes of worship? Dissenters have not the provocation to rail or reason against the Liturgy, which Bunyan had; and Churchmen have not the power to bring free prayer into disrepute. Besides, it is impossible to make either mode supplant the other, now that the adherents of each are so equally balanced, and the admirers of each so competent to judge for themselves. Surely, there. fore, it is high time for Nonconformists to allow that a minister, who has but slender gifts in prayer, would do well to enrich his worship from the Liturgy; and for Conformists to admit that a clergyman, who cannot pray at all without a form, is unfit to minister at the altar of God, except when the inability is nervous. Such coneessions might be safely and honourably made on both sides; and the devotional character of the ministry at large would be improved by them.
It is not meant by these remarks, to commend, or approve the adoption of the Liturgy, by Dissenting Congregations. This cannot be done now with honour. It was done with
perfect honour, during the last century; but now it is called a trick to catch Churchmen. There seems some truth in this ; for, of late, such experiments have failed. They deserved to fail, if their object was to entrap the unwary; and especially, when they have opposed an evangelical clergyman. The Rector of the principal town in the Kingdom said to me—“ It is mean to oppose our Church by her own prayers.'
I quite agree
with him, as to all towns and parishes where the Gospel is preached. Wherever it is not preached, any means are: legitimate, which can fairly introduce it!