Imágenes de páginas

the living God; the sun that shone thereon, the shining of his merciful face on them that were therein; the wall I thought was the world, that did make separation between the Christians and the world; and the gap which was in the wall, I thought was Jesus Christ, who is the way to God the Father. But as the passage was wonderful narrow, even so narrow that I could not but with great difficulty enter in thereat, it shewed me, that none could enter into life, but those that were in downright earnest, and left the wicked world behind them; for here was only room for body and soul, but not for body and soul, and sin. This resemblance abode upon my spirit many days; all which time I saw myself in a forlorn and sad condition, but yet was provoked to vehement hunger and desire to be one of that number that did sit in the sunshine. Now also would I pray wherever I was; whether at home or abroad, in house or field; and would also often, with lifting up of heart, sing that of the fifty-first psalm, 'O Lord, consider my distress;' for as yet I knew not where I was. Neither as yet could I attain to any comfortable persuasion that I had faith in Christ; but instead, I began to find my soul to be assaulted with fresh doubts about my future happiness; especially with such as these,' Whether I was elected: But how if the day of grace should now be past and gone?' By these two temptations I was very much afflicted and disquieted."

It were too long, though neither tedious nor unedifying, to trace all his subsequent hopes and discouragements, his joys and sorrows; or what Dr. Southey, too lightly for such a subject, calls " the hot and cold fits of his spiritual ague;" a remark which our Laureate would not venture to apply to the Psalms of David, or the language of St. Paul and other sacred writers, where it would be to the full as appropriate. If what the page of Inspiration denominates the light and the hidings of God's countenance, be not absurdity and enthusiasm, it is not befitting to describe by a phrase of ridicule the alternations of trial and repose, of depression and elevation, which characterize, more or less, the interior movements of every Christian mind; and more particularly when the conscience is rendered peculiarly tender, and the heart more than ordinarily susceptible. Few persons have told us, as freely as Bunyan has done, their mental anxieties, otherwise we might chance to find that strange anomalies and vicissitudes of feeling are not confined to tinkers and alleged religious enthusiasts. It is the lot of the wicked, that they have " no changes," no " cold and hot stages of a religious ague ;" and their character is, that " they forget God." Better, infinitely better, that afflictions, even severe as Bunyan's, should reverse this carelessness, than that men should live in the dark and perish in their slumbers.

Dr. Southey give us a very interesting, and not unfair, abridged account of some of these "ups and downs," and of the alternate comfort and alarm which Bunyan felt. His hopes and fears were often caused by detached passages of Scripture, which he applied to his own case, in a manner not always the most logical, and with not a little of imaginative interpretation. He was at present but a young student of the Sacred Oracles, and he lived in an age when texts were as often caught by the jingle of the words as the weight of the sense ; and Bunyan's own allegorical mind was, perhaps, not the best adapted for correcting this habit of misinterpretation. He, however, under that secret but effectual teaching which is never withheld when it is sincerely implored, gradually came to a knowledge of the Scriptures, in the amplitude of their promises to the faithful in Christ Jesus; and he was enabled at times to rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.

"The first comfort which he received," says Dr. Southey, " was from a strange text strangely handled." The passage, besides its relation to Bunyan, furnishes so curious an illustration of the admired style of preaching of that day, that we shall quote it from Bunyan's own narrative. Notwithstanding the " strange sermon," the latter part of the passage, in which Bunyan describes his own sensations of joy, will abundantly repay any reader of taste and sensibility for the perusal. "In this condition I went a great while; but when the comforting time was come, I heard one preach a sermon on these words in the Song (Song iv. 1), 'Behold, thou art fair, my love ; behold, thou art fair :' but at that time, he made these two words, my love, his chief and subject matter ; from which, after he had a little opened the text, he observed these several conclusions: 1. That the church, and so every saved soul, is Christ's love, when loveless. 2. Christ's love without a cause. 3. Christ's love, which hath been hated of the world. 4. Christ's love, when under temptation and under destruction. 5. Christ's love from first to last. But I got nothing by what he said at present; only when he came to the application of the fourth particular, this was the word he said: If it be so, that the saved soul is Christ's love, when under temptation and destruction; then, poor tempted soul, when thou art assaulted and afflicted with temptations, and the hidings of face, yet think on these two words, my love, still. So, as I was going home, these words came again into my thoughts; and I well remember, as they came in, I said thus in my heart, What shall I get by thinking on these two words? This thought had no sooner passed through my heart, but these words began thus to kindle in my spirit: 'Thou art my love, thou art my love,' twenty times together; and still as they ran in my mind, they waxed stronger and warmer, and began to make me look up; but being as yet between hope and fear, I still replied in my heart, ' But is it true? But is it true?' At which that sentence fell upon me, ' He wist not that it was true which was done unto him of the angel,' Acts xii. 9. Then I began to give place to the word, which with power did over and over make this joyful sound within my soul, ' Thou art my love, and nothing shall separate thee from my love.' And with that my heart was filled full of comfort and hope; and now I could believe that my sins would be forgiven me; yea, I was now so taken with the love and mercy of God, that I remember I could not tell how to contain till I got home: I thought I could have spoken of his love, and have told of his mercy to me, even to the very crows that sat upon the ploughed lands before me, had they been capable to have understood me: wherefore I said in my soul, with much gladness, Well, would I had a pen and ink here! I would write this down before I go any farther; for surely I will not forget this forty years hence. But, alas! within less than forty days I began to question all again."

Dr. Southey remarks, that, "had there not been a mist before Bunyan's understanding," he might have found " in every page of the Gospel " the comfort which came to him in this sermon, "upon a strange text strangely handled." And yet, in point of fact, whether it be on account of a mist before the understanding, or for whatever other cause, the records of religious biography abound with similar facts. If Dr. Southey were a clergyman intimately conversant with the feelings of religious persons, more especially among the poor, he would find his spiritual clients often informing him, in stating the memorials of their religious life, that it was on such and such an occasion, or while reading a particular chapter, or listening to a certain sermon, that they first received spiritual peace after a lengthened period of despondency and apprehension. Now it cannot be doubted, as Dr. Southey remarks, that in many another chapter and many another sermon the elements of the same comfort were to be gathered; and why, then, is so much attached by Bunyan to that particular occasion? Dr. Southey says there must have been a mist before his understanding; Bunyan himself would probably have said, that God's set time to favour Zion had not come: in other words, Dr. Southey would say that Bunyan did not see because his mind was dark; and Bunyan would reply, that his mind was dark because the sun did not shine to enlighten it. We should perhaps arrive nearly at the truth, if we were to admit to Dr. Southey that there has been too great a tendency in some theological circles to reduce every thing in religion to a fixed process; to limit the Holy One of Israel; to wait for certain supposed epochas of grace, which are to advance in a given order; and that texts are to be applied to the mind in a manner which sometimes borders upon mysticism. But having made these large concessions to our philosophical author, we would ask, in return, whether there is any thing unreasonable or unscriptural in the belief that God is pleased to work upon the human mind in the various processes of repentance, faith, and sanctification; educating, as it were, the soul for high and heavenly things, and adjusting the several parts of moral and spiritual discipline according to the peculiar exigencies of each case. Suppose, for instance, that Infinite Wisdom saw it fit, for the religious discipline of a mind like Bunyan's, that he should, in Scripture language, "go through great waters;" or that the benefits to be derived by many devout but depressed minds from his writings, made it requisite that he should himself be well instructed in the painful chapter of religious vicissitudes ; or that his penitence required to be deepened, his faith to be exalted, his humility to be proved, his vigilance to be stimulated, and his joys to be enhanced; would it, under such circumstances, be improper—that is, unscriptural—to suppose that God might not at once, and by an immature proficiency, bring him into the wished-for enjoyment of spiritual repose; but might allow him to find his weakness, his ignorance, and his inability " to draw water out of the wells of salvation," even when the copious streams were overflowing apparently within his reach? Might not this be a salutary discipline, a lesson well worth learning? And, even speaking philosophically, is it not a known fact that a man may read even a passage of poetry or history with very different feelings to-day, to what he will enjoy to-morrow; not so much because there is a mist before his understanding, as because his mind is in a different frame, or his affections otherwise engaged? We might also, speaking theologically and truly, add, that God is a Sovereign; and that, for infinitely wise purposes, He dispenses his comforts when and where and how he pleases; and that it is not the mere letter of Scripture that is " quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword," but the application of that letter to the heart, as well as its abstract comprehension by the understanding. Besides, though Bunyan had read those very words, or any others, a thousand times, they might never have been impressed upon him in such a variety of lights, and with such specific application to his own circumstances, as under that " strange" and fanciful sermon;—a sermon evidently abounding in quibbling, quaintness, nay, worse faults of the age; but still honestly designed to set forth the love of God to man, and to encourage the timid and dejected Christian to repair to Him, in filial confidence, for the fulfilment of his merciful promises. Bunyan was a man of warm affections; and it might well be, that what the exhibition of the terrors of God had not effected, was accomplished by an affecting display of his mercies, even though not in language the most judicious. God is pleased to speak of himself as drawing the penitent with love, and the cords of a man ; with all that is tender and persuasive; and a heart like Bunyan's was rendered peculiarly susceptible of this species of argument, more especially after the severe mental discipline which he Christ. Observ. No. 369. 4 K

had undergone. Much was forgiven him, and he loved much: the hope of forgiveness expanded his heart into gratitude; and he loved God, because God had first loved him. Bunyan's joy however in this alleged "strange text " did not prevent his searching the Scriptures at large, to find whether these things were so. "I was greatly encouraged in my soul; for thus, at that very instant, it was expounded to me: 'Begin at the beginning of Genesis, and read to the end of the Revelations, and see if you can find that there was ever any that trusted in the Lord, and was confounded.' So, coming home, I presently went to my Bible." Thus by little and little, from extreme ignorance and religious barbarism, he was enabled to grope his way to light; often mistaking and mixing up some singular or superstitious notions with his researches, but in the end, by the mercy of God, finding what he was in search of. If no other inference were derivable from this narrative, we should see in it the unspeakable value of a well-ordered Christian education; for the want of which Bunyan was obliged to toil step by step through great difficulties, before he came to a clear understanding of some of the first elements of the Gospel; which the child of a pious and judicious parent learns at an early age, at least as a system, and has in readiness in the stores of his understanding and memory, till by the blessing of God they are rendered spiritually productive by being engrafted in his heart.

Bunyan, like many other remarkable men who have left upon record the account of their religious feelings, was at times much assaulted with infidel and blasphemous thoughts, which caused in him inexpressible anguish of spirit; but it pleased God to sustain him by his promises, and at length to deliver him from this grievous temptation, and to fill his heart with peace and joy in believing. During these painful overwhelmings of his spirit he occasionally felt some comfort in the reflection, that these evil thoughts, far from being cherished in his mind, were hateful to him; that there was that in him which " refused to embrace them " and repelled them with disgust; and this led him to view them as the suggestions of Satan, a solution alluded to by Dr. Southey with somewhat of a sceptical air; but, in truth, if the existence and devices of our spiritual enemy be not altogether a fable, blasphemous thoughts passing through the mind—repelled, yet recurring; hateful, and striven against, yet not easily vanquished—may surely as much as most things be called a Satanic temptation. These things, far from being congenial to his feelings, '* sunk him," he says, "into very deep despair ;" for he concluded "that such things could not possibly be found amongst them that loved God;" and he adds, "I often did compare myself to the case of a child whom some gipsey hath by force took up in her arms, and is carrying from friend and country." He goes on: "Now I counted the estate of every thing that God had made far better than this dreadful state of mine was: yea, gladly would I have been in the condition of a dog or a horse; for I knew they had no souls to perish under the everlasting weight of hell, or sin, as mine was like to do. My heart was, at times, exceeding hard: if I would have given a thousand pounds for a tear I could not shed one; no, nor sometimes scarce desire to shed one. I saw some could mourn and lament their sin; and others, again, could rejoice and bless God for Christ; and others, again, could quietly talk of, and with gladness remember, the word of God; while I only was in the storm or tempest. This much sunk me; I thought my condition was alone; but get out of,or get rid of these things, I could not." "But I thankChrist Jesus, these things didnotmake slack my crying.but rather did put me more upon it."

He mentions various passages of Scripture which partially eased his mind, till at length, as we have already stated, he obtained settled repose. Dr. Southey thus alludes to this part of his history :—

"At this time he 'sate (in puritanical language) under the ministry of holy Air. Gifford,' and to his doctrine he ascribed in some degree this mental convalescence. But that doctrine was of a most perilous kind; for the preacher exhorted his hearers not to be contented with taking any truth upon trust, nor to rest till they had received it with evidence from Heaven ;—that is, till their belief should be confirmed by a particular revelation! without this, he warned them, they would find themselves wanting in strength when temptation came. This was a doctrine which accorded well with Bunyan's ardent temperament; unless he had it with evidence from Heaven, let men say what they would, all was nothing to him, so apt was he ' to drink in the doctrine, and to pray,' he says, 'to God that in nothing which pertained to God's glory and his own eternal happiness he would suffer him to be without the confirmation thereof from Heaven.' That confirmation he believed was granted him; 'Oh ' he exclaims ' now, how was my soul led from truth to truth by God !—there was not any thing that I then cried unto God to make known and reveal unto me but He was pleased to do it for me!' He had now an evidence, as he thought, of his salvation from Heaven, with golden seals appendant, hanging in his sight: He who before had laid trembling at the month of hell, had now as it were, the gate of heaven in full view: 'Oh !' thought he ' that I were now fourscore years old, that I might die quickly,—that my soul might be gone to rest!' And his desire and longings were that the Last Day were come, after which he should eternally enjoy in beatific vision the presence of that Almighty and All merciful Saviour who had offered p Himself, an all sufficient sacrifice for sinners." pp. xxvii. xxviii.

There seems, throughout this apparently calm and fair-dealing passage, a tone which we cannot approve, and which does not do honour to Dr. Southey. We say nothing of the apparent sneer at Bunyan's Puritanical language; except that, first, it was hardly worth a Laureate's while to shew his own purity of taste at the expense of a poor illiterate, hut highly-endowed, tinker; and, secondly, that local technicalities ahound in every circle of life, which sound oddly out of it, and are certainly not desirable to be imitated; the House of Commons and the University of Oxford having their conventional terms, their peculiar phraseology—we may say, their slang—as much as the literature of Puritanism. We are not very stern with Bunyan because his language is not as classical as a Laureate's, or because it was while "sitting under the ministry of holy Mr. Gifford" that he received "his mental convalescence."

But the tone of the above extract is far more faulty in another respect, as it misrepresents—tee are sure quite unintentionally—both Bunyan and his religious instructor. According to Dr. Southey, " holy Mr. Gifford" taught, and Bunyan embraced, a " doctrine of a most perilous kind :" namely, that we are to receive no truth, however clearly revealed in the word of God, without its being " confirmed by a particular revelation;" that is, a special revelation to the individual, independent of the authority of Holy Writ. Now, that Bunyan's "temperament was ardent;" that he attached more weight to dreams, impulses, and inexplicable emotions, than is warrantable, we have already fully admitted ; and we are quite ready to allow that every thing which borders upon superstition, enthusiasm, and an overstraining of sacred truth, is " perilous." But we apprehend that Gifford and Bunyan did not intend what Dr. Southey means by " a particular revelation;" unless our Laureate goes so far as to consider what Bishop Horsley calls "the mysterious commerce of the human soul with the Divine Being," as a particular revelation, and to disclaim it accordingly. On turning to Bunyan's own words, we find them as follows :—" At this time I also sat under the ministry of holy Mr. Gifford, whose doctrine, by God's grace, was much for my stability. This man made much his business to deliver the people of God from all those false and unsound tests, that by nature we are prone to. He would bid us take special heed that we took not up any truth upon trust; but cry mightily to God, that he would convince us of the reality thereof, and set us down therein by his own Spirit in the holy word : for, said he, if you do otherwise, when temptation comes, if strongly upon you, you, not having received them with evidence from heaven, will

« AnteriorContinuar »