« PoprzedniaDalej »
ABRIDGMENT OF RELIGIOUS LIBERTY: BUNYAN'S
ARREST AND EXAMINATIONS.
BUNYAN continued freely to preach the gospel, without any serious interruption, for upward of four years, when a great change took place in the nation, in consequence of the death of Cromwell, and the restoration of the royal family.
Previously to Charles' being recalled to England, he was visited in Holland by some eminent divines, whom he deceived by an affectation of sanctity,* and encouraged by promises of liberality in ecclesiastical matters, so that the expectations of the people were highly raised in prospect of his return.
Sir Matthew Hale, who was then chief justice, had proposed, that before the king should be recalled, some restriction should be placed upon his authority, by which he should be prevented from infringing the civil or religious liberties of the people ; but the confidence of the parliament was such that this advice was overruled, and Charles was permitted to assume the government without any other restraints than
* While they were with him he went into a room ad. joining the one they were in, and there, as if engaged in his secret devotions, repeated some long prayers, suffi. ciently loud for them to hear him through the partition.
a few oaths, which he swallowed without scruple, and afterward broke without remorse."
After the king was settled on the throne he threw off the mask, and gave the lie to his former professions. The high-Churchmen soon had it all their own way. Episcopacy was again established by law, and no other form of religion tolerated ; and the old penal laws against dissenters were restored and enforced, and new ones enacted. In the persecution which followed, Bunyan had the honour of being one of the earliest victims.
All assemblies for religious worship, except such as were according to the forms of the established Church, being now forbidden under severe penalties, Bunyan and his followers, not from fear, but to avoid giving needless offence, thought it prudent to hold their meetings more privately than they had hitherto done. Sometimes they would meet in a stable, and sometimes in barns and other similar places; but these were not so secret but that prying eyes got an inlet, and at times they were disturbed by order of the justice, with threats that if they repeated their meetings they must expect no favour.
Bunyan had engaged, in compliance with a request he had received, to preach at a place called Samsell, in Bedfordshire, on the twelfth of November; and this being known, a justice, named Wingate, issued a warrant to apprehend him, and placed a strong watch about the house in which the meeting was to be held, as if,” says Bunyan, we that were to meet together did intend to do some fearful business, to the destruction of the country!”
Had he been disposed to “play the coward," he might, he tells us, have escaped ; for as soon as he reached the house his host informed him of what was in the wind, and, being somewhat timorous, suggested whether it would not be better for him to depart without holding the meeting; to which Bunyan replied, “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, it is so good a work, that we shall be well rewarded if we suffer for that.”
After he had received the warning from his friend, he walked out, and seriously considered
the whole matter, reasoning thus with himself: -_“I have shewed myself hearty and courageous in my preaching, and made it my business to encourage others; and therefore if I should now run and make an escape, it will be of a very ill favour in the country; for what will my weak and newly-converted brethren think of it, but that I was not so strong in deed as I was in word. Also I feared that if I should run now there was a warrant out for me, I might by so doing make them afraid to stand when great words only should be spoken to them. Besides, I thought, that seeing God of his mercy should choose me to go upon the forlorn hope in this country, that is, to be the first that should be opposed for the gospel-if I should fly it might be a discouragement to the whole body that might follow after. And further, I thought the world thereby would take occasion at my cowardliness to have blasphemed the gospel, and to have some grounds to suspect worse of me and my profession than I deserved.”
Influenced by these considerations, he return-, ed to the house “ with a full determination to hold the meeting, and not to go away; for I was resolved,” he says, " to see the utmost of what they could say or do unto me.” Accordingly, , the people assembled to the number of about
forty persons, and he commenced the exercises; but just as he did so the justice's man, with the constable, entered the room, and commanded him to come down from his stand. Bunyan mildly replied that he was about his Master's business, and must rather obey his voice than that of man. The constable being then ordered to fetch him down, went and laid hold on him for that purpose ; but no sooner did Bunyan, who at the time had the Bible open in his hand, fix his eyes steadfastly upon him, than he relinquished his grasp, grew pale, and retired; upon which the preacher, turning to his congregation, said, " See how this man trembles at the word of God.”
As it would have been useless to resist, Bunyan, after speaking a few words of counsel and encouragement to the people, dismissed them,* and went with the constable to the justice's house ; but the justice not being at home, he
* Speaking of his arrest, in the preface to his Confes. sion of Faith, he says, “ The subject I should have preached upon, even then when the constable came, was, • Dost thou believe on the Son of God?' from whence I intended to show the absolute need of faith in Jesus Christ; and that it was also a thing of the highest concern for men to inquire into, and to ask their own hearts whether they had it or no."