by John Bunyan
HIS COMING INTO THE WORLD; HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS, DEATH, RESURRECTION, ASCENSION, INTERCESSION, AND SECOND COMING TO JUDGMENT, PLAINLY DEMONSTRATED AND PROVED
This was the first work published by the indefatigable servant of Christ, John Bunyan; and he modestly sought the patronage of his brethren in the ministry, and Messrs. Burton, Spencly and Child wrote prefatory recommendations. The latter of these, Mr. John Child, for some temporal advantages afterwards conformed; and became notorious for having, in a fit of despair, destroyed himself.
Well might Bunyan in this treatise, call the early period of his ministry 'distracted and dangerous times,' in which many a poor sincere inquirer stood 'tottering and shaking,' bewildered with the new din of sectaries, each boldly declaring his divine authority. In the midst of this storm of contending opinions, Bunyan stood forth conspicuously to declare 'Gospel Truths'; and to open and vindicate them these discourses were written. To enable the reader to understand and appreciate them, it will be needful to take a rapid glance at the state of society which then prevailed. The frivolities of dress and laxity of morals introduced by James the First, increased by the mixture of French fashions under the popish wife of Charles the First, had spread their debauching influence throughout the kingdom. George Fox, the founder of the Society of Friends, in an address 'To such as follow the world's fashions,' gives an almost incredible description of the tomfooleries of dress which prevailed. 'How doth the devil garnish himself, and the people are carried away with vanity—women plaiting their hair—men and women powdering it, making their backs like bags of meal. The men having store of ribbands of divers colours about their waists, and at their knees, and in their hats. The women with their spots on their noses, cheeks, and foreheads—rings on their fingers—cuffs double, like a butcher in his white sleeves—ribbands about their arms, hands, back, waists, knees—and hats like unto fidlers' bags—is not this the devil's adorning?'
At this period the iron hand of tyranny and oppression over the worship of God had been suddenly paralyzed. The ruinous penalties, and even capital punishments, which had enforced attendance on a form of common prayer, and a pretence to believe articles, creeds, and catechisms, ordained by Acts of Parliament, were removed. Man, by nature averse to religious inquiries, was now stimulated, under a threat of eternal ruin, personally and individually, to seek for truth and salvation. At this time a little persecuted band of puritans had directed every inquirer after salvation to the sacred Scriptures, which alone were able to make wise unto salvation, by the aid of the Holy Spirit enlightening their minds to understand, and subduing their wills to receive those eternal truths. But a new light was now discovered—that which lighteneth every man that cometh into the world; and which, it was alleged, would alone, if cherished and followed, lead the honest inquirer into all truth. National religion, so called, had been propagated at an incredible expense of treasure, and by the sacrifice of the best blood in the country, to the shrine of infallibility—called uniformity. A hireling priesthood had limited to themselves the right to teach men how to be Christians. The result of all this was clearly seen, when the people were driven to think and choose for themselves. Their minds were in darkness and confusion, which quickly produced the most whimsical, mischievous, and even ludicrous opinions, mixed with truth.
National establishments, whether Pagan, Mohamedan, or Christian—be this latter either Greek, Roman, or Protestant—have a direct and natural tendency to repress and prevent personal inquiries, lest they should interfere with uniformity in faith and worship; which is a presumed incapability of error on the part of those who impose them. Systems, which IN FACT, although not in words, claim infallibility, by requiring implicit and absolute submission, must have had a direct tendency to hoodwink and blind the people; nor can we be surprised, that when their eyes were first opened, they saw indistinctly; or, to use a scripture phrase, 'men as trees walking.' They utterly failed in preparing the mind to receive divine truth, or in furnishing an antidote to extravagant speculations in religion.
The state of the millions can hardly be conceived; they had paid a priest to think on religion for them—to read the Bible for them—and to pray for them. They had paid the church to make them Christians—to confirm them—to forgive their sins—and to bury their bodies in sure and certain hope of heaven. From this fatal sleep of ignorance and error, they were aroused by itinerant preachers; many of whom were men of education, of irreproachable morals, and most benevolent habits. They went forth upon their mission at a fearful sacrifice of comfort, property, health, and even of life; calling all to repentance, and to obey the light within—to follow on to perfection in this life—and, at the same time, denouncing all hireling ministers. They were called in derision, Familists, Ranters, Quakers, New Lights, &c. The old leaven, which had led the people without inquiry to follow the priests, now operated on multitudes to follow those ardent and self-denying leaders. The Familists, or family of love, were consistent in their lives;—considered every day a sabbath, and baptized none under thirty years of age. The Ranters mingled a little truth with much error—abused their Christian liberty—and lived licentiously, and were a scandal to religion. The Quakers—so called from their trembling agitation when under a powerful sense of eternal realities, and because, in preaching, they admonished their hearers to tremble and quake at the word of God—considered the sacraments as mere ceremonies, inconsistent with spiritual worship—lived and dressed with the utmost simplicity, and took the lead in attacking error at all risks.
These itinerants went through the whole length and breadth of the land, and in every place of public resort they made proclamation. In fairs, markets, meetings, assizes, and steeple-houses, their voice was heard denouncing evil and exhorting to righteousness. Short weights and deceit were declared an abomination to the Lord, in fairs and markets. Every religious delusion was exposed in meetings and parish churches. The journals of George Fox, and others, are exceedingly interesting in recounting their hazardous adventures, zeal, and no ordinary degree of ready wit and talent. Some of these itinerants came to Bedford, and in the parish church, called 'the steeple-house,' in Bedford town, on the 23d of May, 1656, they met John Bunyan, probably after he had been ministering there. With him they held a public disputation or controversy, to which allusions are made by both parties, and in Bunyan they met a master spirit who confounded them. The subjects in dispute were of the deepest importance—the work of the Holy Spirit in conversion—the authority of the Bible—the perfection of holiness in this life—and whether it was lawful to perform the work of the ministry for hire.
After a very careful perusal of E. Burrough's answers to Bunyan, it is gratifying to find that the whole truth is set forth in the following pages;—some of the facts are worthy of a careful notice. The Baptists and Independents had long existed in this country, and had published confessions of faith. The Ranters and Familists existed not as sects but in name, and soon disappeared. The Quakers, who were confounded with the Ranters and Familists, were not at this time formed into a society; nor had they published any book of discipline. The Society of Friends were some years after united, and have been one of the most useful as well as the brightest ornaments to this kingdom. The works of Fox, Penn, Barclay, and others, with their books of discipline, and yearly epistles, shew that they, to a very great extent, agree with Bunyan in his sentiments; and it is well worthy of notice that, in the latter part of his life, when he wrote his admirable treatise on the resurrection of the dead, he does not accuse the Society of Friends with holding any false opinions. Bunyan is clear and scriptural upon the 'Light within,' or that conscience of right and wrong which all possess to their condemnation—as distinguished from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the gift of God to his people, revealing in them the pardon of sin and hope of glory, by opening their understandings to receive the truths of the Bible. When Ann Blakeley bid Bunyan 'throw away the Scriptures,' he replied, 'No, for then the devil would be too hard for me.' And when accused of being a hireling priest, how triumphant was the reply—it ought to be printed in letters of gold. He was charged with making merchandize of souls, and he answered—'Friend, dost thou speak this from thy own knowledge, or did any other tell thee so? However, that spirit that led thee out this way is a lying spirit. For though I be poor, and of no repute in the world, as to outward things; yet through grace I have learned by the example of the apostle, to preach the truth; and also to work with my hands, both for my own living, and for those that are with me, when I have opportunity. And I trust that the Lord Jesus, who hath helped me to reject the wages of unrighteousness hitherto, will also help me still, so that I shall distribute that which God hath given me FREELY, and not for filthy lucre's sake.'4 How does this contrast with the description of the state clergy, before the triers were appointed.
Favoured by the kind assistance of Charles Bowden, the secretary to the Society of Friends, access was afforded me to the extensive library in Devonshire House, and upon collation of Bunyan's quotations with the original editions of Burrough's exceedingly rare tracts, my gratification was great to find that every extract made by John Bunyan was perfectly faithful.
Edward Burrough, called a son of thunder and of consolation, answered both these treatises of Bunyan's,—denying, on the part of the Quakers, many of the charges made against them, as connected with the Ranters. He was a man of great talent—fearless, devoted, and pious. He became extensively useful; and like thousands of most excellent men, was sacrificed at the shrine of that fanatical church over which the profligate and debauched Charles the Second was the supreme head. He died in the prime of life, receiving the crown of martyrdom, when his happy spirit ascended from Newgate in 1662: aged 28 years.
No sect was so severely tormented as the Quakers. A fanatical clergyman, Edward Lane, in a book called 'Look unto Jesus,' 1663, thus pours forth his soul, breathing out cruelty—'I hope and pray the Lord to incline the heart of his majesty our religious King, to suppress the Quakers, that none of them may be suffered to abide in the land.' A prayer as full of cruelty against a most peaceful and valuable part of the community, as it was hypocritical in calling a debauched and profligate man [Charles the Second] 'our religious king.'
Controversy was carried on in those days with extreme virulence; learned and unlettered men alike used violent language, which, in this enlightened and comparatively happy age, is read with wonder. Burrough called his answer 'The Gospel of Peace contended for in the spirit of meekness and of love.' He meekly commences with—'How long, ye crafty fowlers, will ye prey upon the innocent; how long shall the righteous be a prey to your teeth, ye subtle foxes; your dens are in darkness, and your mischief is hatched upon your beds of secret whoredoms.' He says, 'I own the words but I deny thy voice.' Such was the unhallowed spirit of controversy in that age. A harsh epithet was called faithful dealing: thus, a learned clergyman, writing upon Baptism, entitled his work—'The Anabaptists ducked and plunged over head and ears—washed and shrunk in the washing'; to which an equally learned Baptist replied, in his 'Baby Baptism mere Babyism.' All this unseemly violence has passed away, and with it much of the virulence of persecution; soon may it pass away altogether, only to be pointed at as the evidence of a barbarous age. We now look back to cruelties perpetrated in the times of Bunyan by the national religion, as a stigma upon human nature. 'What a church is this of yours, to be defended by gaols, and prisons, and whips, and stocks, and violent dealing.' 'Let us fairly try our spiritual weapons, and not carnal cruel tortures.' 'Let us not hurt or imprison each other, nor put in the stocks, nor cruelly whip and lacerate each others' bodies; but let us thrash deceit, whip and beat that and all false doctrines': these were the breathings of our pilgrim forefathers,—it is the language of common sense and of real religion. May such sentiments spread, and soon cover the earth!—
Table of Contents
THE AUTHOR TO THE READER
THE EPISTLE WRIT BY MR. BURTON, MINISTER AT BEDFORD
SOME GOSPEL TRUTHS OPENED
SOME QUESTIONS TO THE QUAKERS