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But in the whole spirit of his argument our Laureate is wrong ; and to such an extent as to render him a very unfit biographer of a man like Bunyan.
Let us look at the facts. Dr. Southey seems to think that Bunyan's account of himself is "to be received with distrust;" for, first, he exaggerates as to his actual offences; and then, he had false notions of human corruption, which caused him to feel burdened beyond the necessities of the case.
Now, with regard to the actual facts of Bunyan's early life, we can readily conceive, that, so tender was his conscience after " grace had abounded to him," that in estimating his former habits he might use stronger language of himself than another would have used of him. To the renewed mind (Dr. Southey must forgive our "Puritanizing," if he should so account it), sin appears so exceeding sinful, that the penitent views his transgressions with every aggravation; and more especially when he looks from them to his Saviour, who expiated them by his own sufferings upon the cross. But even if Bunyan have over-stated facts, it is still far from true that his former life was destitute of many flagrant "habitual sins;" and that he was merely a "blackguard" in habits, and not an offender in morals. The "actual sin," which Dr. Southey says was his "only " one, was of a character that implied many others ; and in point of fact it was in Bunyan's case accompanied by many others; so that he says of himself, in the very passage epitomized in the above extract, and which must therefore have met Dr. Southey's eye, " I was the very ringleader in all manner of vice and ungodliness." Surely vice and ungodliness were worse than mere blackguardism: though blackguardism, we presume, is usually accompanied by them, notwithstanding they often exist where there is every blandishment of refinement and elegance. In his one only vice he was such a proficient, that he tells us that a woman, " though herself a very loose and ungodly wretch, yet protested that I swore and cursed at that most fearful rate that she used to tremble to hear me; and told me farther, that I was the ungodliest fellow for swearing that she ever heard in all her life; and that I by thus doing was able to spoil all the youth in the whole town." We might go through Bunyan's confessions at large; but the foregoing may suffice to shew that there was no great need to say much in the way of palliation, even as to actual overt and flagrant sins.
But when Bunyan speaks as he does of his transgressions, he does not allude merely to gross external transgressions. Let us hear his own language, again selecting a brief sentence or two from the original passage abridged in the above extract. Thus he says : " As for my own natural life, for the time that I was without God in the world, it was indeed according to the course of this world, and the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience. It was my delight to be taken captive by the devil at bis will, being filled with all unrighteousness; the which did also so strongly work, both in my heart and life, that I had but few equals, both for cursing, swearing, lying, and blaspheming the holy name of God. Yea, so settled and rooted was I in these things, that they became as a second nature to me." Now if Dr. Southey had glanced at this passage, he would have seen that Bunyan did not consider his "only actual sin" (though, by the way, it was more than one sin) merely in its aspect as an overt offence, but as resulting from his being " filled with all unrighteousness," which "strongly worked," not only his life, but his heart. He is deeply humbled, not only for his swearing and lying, but for having lived without God, and followed the course of the present world. And here, with all respect for Dr. Southey, we must say that he appears to us incompetent as a biographer, either of the converted moral John Wesley, or the converted immoral John Bunyan: incompetent on the very ground of a defectiveness of view in relation to that doctrine of the " corruption of our nature," which he thinks it so "perilous to exaggerate;" but to which peril we see little tendency, while we see strong tendencies to extenuate it, and infinite danger in so doing.
If Bunyan's general estimate (for we do not justify, either in point of taste or truth, every strong expression which a writer like Bunyan may chance to employ) of the doctrine of human corruption be indeed an exaggeration—that is, if it be contrary to Scripture and fact—then we must concur with Dr. Southey, that he was not quite so bad as he represents himself to have been, Bince that which constitutes the seat and source of the evil would have been absent. In this case, poor Christian's burden was as fantastical as Dr. Southey seems to suppose it; and the phrases before alluded to in our Liturgy, of the burden of our sins being " intolerable," would be contrary to all truth and experience. But here is the issue; and here, we must be allowed to say, is the point at which we so often feel compelled to diverge from writers whose talents we admire, and of whose virtuous and religious intentions we feel assured. The tendency of the opening pages of the Pilgrim's Progress, as of the auto-biography of its author, is to convince men of sin; to teach them to view themselves as living in a "city of destruction," and needing to arise and flee: which no sooner do they attempt to do, than they find themselves " sore let and hindered in running the race set before them;" so that they " groan, being burdened," and say, "Oh wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death!" If the tendency of Dr. Southey's memoir of Bunyan fall short of this, it sinks utility in amusement; if it oppose this, it thwarts one of the most solemn purposes for which religious biography should be written.
Dr. Southey goes on to epitomize Bunyan's narrative. Bunyan married a young woman who had been trained up religiously; but, to use his own words, " we came together as poor as poor might be, not having so much household stuff as a dish or spoon betwixt us both." She had, however, two books, "The Plain Man's Pathway to Heaven," and "The Practice of Piety," which her father had left her when he died. The latter book, now out of date, was written by Bishop Bayly; and Dr. Southey adds, has been translated into Welsh, Polish, and Hungarian, and passed through more than fifty editions. Bunyan read these books; and though, he says in his Grace Abounding, " they did not reach my heart, to awaken it about my sad and sinful state, yet they did beget within, me some desires to reform my vicious life, and fall in very eagerly with the religion of the times; to wit, to go to church twice a day; and there very devoutly both say and sing, as others did, yet retaining my wicked life; but withal was so overrun 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, and especially the priest and clerk most happy, and without doubt greatly blessed, because they were the servants, as I then thought, of God, and were principal in the holy temple, to do his work therein. This conceit grew so strong upon my spirit, that had I but seen a priest (though never so sordid and debauched in his life), I should find my spirit fall under him, reverence him, and knit unto him; yea, I thought, for the love I did bear unto them (supposing they were the ministers of God), I could have laid down at their feet, and have been trampled upon by them; their name, their garb, and work, did so intoxicate and bewitch me."
It is curious to read passages of this sort in the writings of men like Bunyan; and there is, we remember, a passage of a similar kind somewhere in the writings of the late William Huntington. Here, then, were two men, of the description which the Laureate, by poetical licence, calls "blackguards," looking up, amidst their vices, to the clergy, with much the same feelings of superstitious reverence as characterize the Irish peasantry towards the Roman Catholic priesthood at this moment; and both of them afterwards reverting to the opposite extreme. And what was the cause, in either case, of the revulsion? On the answer to that inquiry hang some questions of serious moment, relative to the hopes and prospects of the Established Church. The blind reverence described by Bunyan is fast passing away, though we by no means believe it to be extinct. If, then, the clergy adorn their profession, this superstitious awe will be exchanged, as the people become intelligently educated, for wellgrounded veneration and affection to them, as faithful servants of Jesus Christ watching for the souls of their people; if otherwise, it will be succeeded by disgust and contempt. The perilous part of the anomaly is, that it is while the man remains in his vices that he thus deifies his priest; and then, when he forsakes them, and turns to God, he is sometimes led to exchange one evil for another; a merciful Providence having made him religious, and a bad clergyman made him a Dissenter; and then, judging of all from one, and of the Church of England from a faulty sample of its ministers, he declaims as loudly against the clergy as he once blindly idolized them. Either is bad, and neither is Christian. Dr. Southey, however, historically reminds us, that it was not the Liturgy of the Church of England, but the Directory of the Puritans, which, judging by the dates, Bunyan must have referred to, as so much exciting Ins vague reverence.
Bunyan goes on to say, in his own narrative, that the first time he ever remembered "feeling what guilt was," was one day while " our parson was treating in his sermon of the Sabbath-day, and of the evil of breaking it, either with labour, sports, or otherwise." He had been a notorious Sabbath-breaker; but this, Dr. Southey does not, it seems, consider an "actual sin," otherwise he would not have forgotten it when he mentioned Bunyan's aforesaid unique transgression. This sermon greatly troubled his conscience; but the burden, he says, "lasted not; for before I had well dined, the trouble began to go off my mind, and my heart returned to its old course;" which Dr. Southey renders, "dinner removed that burden; his animal spirits recovered from their depression." We are not inclined to animadvert upon minute points and verbal variations; but this apparently slight alteration of the turn of Bunyan's expression may serve to illustrate what we have before remarked, respecting the effect of modernizing religious narratives, and throwing around them an air of literary good-breeding. The reader of Bunyan's own narrative sees the writer smitten in conscience under a faithful discourse on account of his transgression in Sabbath-breaking; but lamenting, that, such was the transient character of his conviction, though" it did for that instant embitter my former pleasures," yet within an hour or two, even before he had well dined after returning from church, the impression began to die away, and he went that very afternoon to his Sunday sports as usual. But Dr. Southey contrives to make the passage ludicrous, or worse. What Bunyan calls "trouble of mind," his poetical biographer calls " depression of animal spirits;" and then he tells us that "dinner removed that burden"—an inference of the Laureate's own, upon the approved logical model of post ergo propter; as if conviction of sin were nothing but a fit of nervousness and vapours, for which a good dinner, with an extra glass of grog or nappy, was the best cure. We do not mean gravely to charge Dr. Southey with such an intentional offence, but we complain, and we think justly, that the manner in which he occasionally treats a very serious subject lays him open to animadversion; as if he only wished to make a good story, and to sport with topics which Bunyan, "glorious dreamer as he was," never dreamt of being converted into literary playthings. If Dr. Southey is really treating of so solemn a matter as the way in which God is pleased, in his all-wise providence, to bring back a wanderer to his fold, he ought not to keep us perpetually on the edge of a smile, as if he meant the narrative to be more droll than edifying. We should not say so much upon the subject, but that he follows up the jest about the dinner and the sermon, unhappy as wit, and still more unhappy as moralizing, by adding, that
"Dinner had for a time prevailed over the morning's sermon; but it was only for a time; the dinner sat easy upon him, the sermon did not; and in the midst of a game of cat, as he was about to strike the cat from the hole, it seemed to him as if a voice from heaven suddenly darted into his soul and said, Wilt thou leave thy sins and go to heaven? or have thy sins, and go to hell? 'At this,' he continues, 'I was put to an exceeding nuuse; wherefore, leaving my cat upon the ground, I looked up to heaven, and was as if I had with the eyes of my understanding seen the Lord Jesus looking down upon me, as being very hotly displeased with me, and as if he did severely threaten me with some grievous punishment for these and other ungodly practices.'"
If our readers will forget the foolish jesting which opens this passage— and for which Bunyan affords no ground, as he writes with a good taste, worthy of his biographer, "when I had satisfied nature with my food, I shook the sermon out of my mind," the tinker leaving the vulgarism of the dinner and the sermon to the laureate—they will see in it a striking specimen of the workings of a rude, rough mind under the writhings of conscience, followed up by some of those fallacies of the deceitfulness of sin, which often lead men to despair of pardon, and then recklessly, instead of turning to God, to wander further from him, as was the resolve of Bunyan on this very occasion. "I stood," he says, " in the midst of my play, before all that were then present; but yet I told them nothing: but, I say, having made this conclusion, I returned desperately to my sport again; and I well remember, that presently this kind of despair did so possess my soul, that I was persuaded I could never attain to other comfort than what I should get in sin; for heaven was gone already, so that on that I must not think: wherefore I found within me great desire to take my fill of sin, that I might taste the sweetness of it; and I made as much haste as I could to fill my belly with its delicates, lest I should die before I had my desires; for that I feared greatly. In these things, I protest before God, I lie not, neither do I frame this sort of speech; these were really, strongly, and with all my heart, my desires: the good Lord, whose mercy is unsearchable, forgive my transgressions. And I am very confident, that this temptation of the devil is more usual among poor creatures than many are aware of, yet they continually have a secret conclusion within them, that there are no hopes for them; for they have loved sins, therefore after them they will go. Now therefore I went on in sin, still grudging that I could not be satisfied with it as I would."
It pleased God, however, to visit him with occasional relentings of conscience. At the reproof of the woman before alluded to, he left off swearing, though he had hitherto been so accustomed to it that, he says, "I knew not how to speak unless I put an oath before and another behind to make my words have authority." He also fell, he says, "into some outward reformation," and "set the commandments of God before him as his way to heaven;" going about ignorantly to establish his own righteousness, and not knowing or submitting himself to the righteousness of God. He thus describes his condition:—" Which commandments I also did strive to keep, and, as I thought, did keep them pretty well sometimes, and then I should have comfort; yet now and then should break one, and so afflict my conscience: but, then I should repent, and say, I was sorry for it, and promised God to do better next time, and there got help again; for then I thought I pleased God as well as any man in England. Thus I continued about a year; all which time our neighbours did take me to be a very godly and religious man, and did marvel much to see such great alteration in my life and manners; and indeed so it was, though I knew not Christ, nor grace, nor faith, nor hope; for, as I have since seen, had I then died, my state had been most fearful. But, I say, my neighbours were amazed at this my great conversion, from prodigious profaneness, to something like a moral life, and sober man. Now therefore they began to praise, to commend, and to speak well of me, both to my face and behind my back. Now I was, as they said, become godly; now I was become a right honest man. But oh! when I understood those were their words and opinions of me, it pleased me mighty well; for though as yet I was nothing but a poor painted hypocrite, yet I loved to be talked of as one that was truly godly. I was proud of my godliness ; and indeed, I did all I did, either to be seen of, or well spoken of, by men: and thus I continued for about a twelvemonth or more."
We have quoted entire this passage, from which Dr. Southey gives some sentences, because it exhibits a state of mind not by any means uncommon, especially in the case of persons like Bunyan, where there is poignant conviction of conscience, combined with much ignorance respecting the character of the Christian economy and the only way of obtaining pardon and peace with God. The first natural feeling of the human mind is, so far to reform the life as to be able to approach our Creator with some degree of confidence, instead of coming from first to last with " Lord be merciful to me, a sinner ;" not indeed neglecting any known duty, but not relying, as a claim to justification, in whole or in part, upon our weak and sinful performance of it. The spiritual pride which Bunyan describes, alternating with seasons of alarm and despondency, was the natural result of this legal and Pharisaical system; and it is not till a man comes to understand the character of the Gospel, both as a dispensation of grace and of holiness, and is enabled to embrace it in each of these respects, that he walks both happily and circumspectly; abounding in faith, and love, and joy, yet not less abounding in prayer, and vigilance, and humility; reposing on the free grace of the Saviour, and exhibiting the blessed fruits of righteousness implanted by his Holy Spirit.
We are quite aware that such narratives as the above may be, and have been, abused; and if we were reviewing Bunyan's own account of himself, instead of Dr. Southey's version of it, we should be fain to interpose some very strong and necessary cautions. We might endeavour, for example, to point out the very palpable distinction between grace abounding to the chief of sinners, and the Antinomian inference, if any man is really so absurd as to draw it—certainly Bunyan did not—of sinning that grace may abound ; or opening the floodgates to licentiousness, as if of necessity "the greater the sinner the greater the saint." We should also take some exceptions at what was really superstitious in Bunyan—for there is something of that sort in certain parts of his narrative—which we impute to the remains of his former ignorance, and the unfavourable circumstances under which he was placed. We may add, that he does not appear to us sufficiently to magnify the grace of God striving with him in the earlier periods of his life; for though there was a grievous medley of pride, ignorance, and pharisaism, in the circumstances noticed in the last quoted passage, yet, amidst all, we cannot but discern the hand of God; and whether it be the breaking up of the fallow ground, or the sowing of the seed of eternal life after it is broken up, or causing it to vegetate when sown, the whole is to be traced to the same merciful interposition. Bunyan doubtless speaks truly when he says, " All this while 1 knew not Jesus Christ;" but these
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