THE LIFE OF
His History Before His Conversion
Bunyan says, "In this my relation of the merciful working of God upon my soul, it will 'not be amiss if, in the first place, I do in a few words give you a hint of my pedigree and manner of bringing up; that thereby the goodness and bounty of God towards me may be the more advanced and magnified before the sons of men. For my descent, then, it was, as is well known by many, of a low, inconsiderable generation; my father's house being of that rank that is meanest and most despised of all the families in the land. Wherefore, I have not here, as others, to boast of noble blood or of any high-born state, according to the flesh; though, all things considered, I magnify the heavenly Majesty, for that by this door he brought me into this world, to partake of the grace and life that is in Christ by the gospel.
"But yet, notwithstanding the meanness and inconsiderableness of my parents, it pleased God to put it into their hearts to put me to school, to learn both to read and write: the which I also attained, according to the rate of other poor men's children, though to my shame I confess I did soon lose that little I learnt, - even almost utterly, -and that long before the Lord did work his gracious work of conversion upon my soul.
"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.' (Eph.2:2-3) It was my delight to be taken captive by the devil at his will ' (2 Tim. 2:26), being filled with all unrighteousness; the which did also so strongly work, and put forth itself, both in my heart and life - and that from a child, - that I had but few equals 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; the which, as I have also with soberness considered since, did so offend the Lord, that even in my childhood he did scare and frighten me with fearful dreams, and did terrify me with fearful visions. For often, after I have spent this and the other day in sin, I have in my bed been greatly afficted, while asleep, with the apprehensions of wicked spirits, who still, as I then thought, laboured to draw me away with them, of which I could never be rid.
"Also, I should at these years be greatly afflicted and troubled with the thoughts of the fearful torments of hell-fire; still fearing that it would be my lot to be found at last among those who are there bound down with the chains and bonds of darkness, unto the judgment of the great day.
"These things, I say, when I was but a child, but nine or ten years old, did so distress my soul, that then, in the midst of my many sports and childish vanities, amidst my vain companions, I was often much cast down, and afflicted in my mind therewith, yet could I not let go my sins.
"A while after, those terrible dreams did leave me, which also I soon forgot; for my pleasures did quickly cut off the remembrance of them, as if they had never been; wherefore with more greediness, according to the strength of nature, I did still let loose the reins of my lust, and delighted in all transgressions against the law of God; so that, until I came to the state of marriage, I was the very ringleader of all the youth that kept me company, in all manner of vice and ungodliness.
"Yea, such prevalency had the lusts and fruits of the flesh on this poor soul of mine, that had not a miracle of precious grace prevented, I had not only perished by the stroke of eternal justice, but had a1so laid myself open even to the stroke of those laws which bring some to disgrace and open shame before the face of the world.
"In these days the thoughts of religion were very grievous to me; I could neither endure it myself, nor that any other should; so that when I had seen some read in those books that concerned Christian piety, it would be as it were a prison to me. Then I said unto God, 'Depart from me, for I desire not the knowledge of thy ways.' (Job 21: 14,15.) I was now void of all good consideration; heaven and hell were both out of sight and mind: and as for saving and damning, they were least in my thoughts. O Lord, thou knowest my life, and my ways were not hid from thee.
"But God did not utterly leave me, but followed
me still, not with convictions, but judgments; yet such as were mixed with
mercy. For once I fell into a creek of the sea, and hardly escaped drowning.
Another time I fell out of a boat into
"This also I have taken notice of, with thanksgiving. When I was a soldier, I, with others, was drawn out to go to such a place * At the siege of Leicester, A.D. 1645 * to besiege it; but when I was just ready to go, one of the company desired to go in my room; to which when I had consented, he took my place, and, coming to the siege, as he stood sentinel, he was shot in the head with a musket bullet, and died.
" Here, as I said, were judgments and mercy, but neither of them did awaken my soul to righteousness; : wherefore I sinned still, and grew more and more rebellious against God, and careless of my own salvation.
" Presently after this, I changed my condition
into a married state, and my mercy was to light upon a wife whose father was
counted godly. This woman and I, though we came together as poor as poor might
be, not having so much household stuff as a.dish or spoon betwixt us both, yet
this she had for her part, 'The Plain Man's Pathway to Heaven,' * By Arthur
Dent *. and 'The Practice of Piety ;' * work
published in 1619, by Lewis Bayly, bishop of
"Wherefore these books, with the relation, though 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 that too with the foremost; and there should very devoutly both say and sing as others did, yet retained my wicked life. But withal, I 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.
"But all this while I was not sensible of the danger and evil of
sin. I was kept from considering that sin would damn me - what religion soever
I followed - unless I was found in Christ: nay, I never thought of him, nor
whether there was such a one or no. Thus man, while blind, doth wander, but
wearieth himself with vanity, for he knoweth not the way to the city of
"But one day, amongst all the sermons our parson made, his subject was to treat of the sabbath day, and of the evil of breaking that, either with labour, sports, or otherwise. Now I was, notwithstanding my religion, one that took much delight in all manner of vice, and especially that was the day that I did solace myself therewith. Wherefore I fell in my conscience under this sermon, thinking and believing that he made that sermon on purpose to show me my evil doing. And at that time I felt what guilt was, though never before, that I can remember; but then I was, for the present, greatly laden therewith, and so went home, when the sermon was ended, with a great burden upon my spirit.
"This, for that instant, did benumb the sinews of my best delights, and did embitter my former pleasures to me; but it lasted not, for before I had well dined, the trouble began to go off my mind, and my heart returned to its old course. But oh! how glad was I that this trouble was gone from me, and that the fire was put out, that I might sin again without control! Wherefore, when I had satisfied nature with my food, I shook the sermon out of my mind, and to my old custom of sports and gaming I returned with great delight.
"But the same day, as I was in the midst of a game of cat, * A play, in which a. piece of wood, called a cat, is placed on a standard and struck. * and having struck it one blow from the hole, just as I was about to strike it a second time, a voice did suddenly dart from heaven into my soul, which said, 'Wilt thou leave thy sins, and go to heaven? or have thy sins, and go to hell?' At this I was put to an exceeding maze; 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.
"I had no sooner thus conceived in my mind, but suddenly this conclusion was fastened on my spirit (for the former hint did set my sins again before my face), that I had been a great and grievous sinner, and that it was now too late for me to look after heaven; for Christ would not forgive me, nor pardon my transgressions. Then I fell to musing on this also; and while I was thinking of it, and fearing lest it should be so, I felt my heart sink in despair, concluding it was too late, and therefore I resolved in my mind to go on in sin; for, thought I, if the case be thus, my state is surely miserable, - miserable if I leave my sins, and but miserable if I follow them. I can but be damned; and if I must be so, I had as good be damned for many sins as be damned for few. .
"Thus I stood in the midst of my play, before all that then were 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, still studying what sin was yet to be committed, that I might taste the sweetness of it; and I made as much haste as I could to fill my belly with its delicacies, 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, even to overrun the spirits with a seared frame of heart, and benumbing of conscience, which frame he stilly and slyly supplieth with such despair, that, though not much guilt attendeth such, yet they continually have a secret conclusion within them, that there is no hope for them; for they have loved sins, therefore after them they will go.
But thou saidst, There is no hope: no; for I have loved strangers, and after them will I go. And they said, There is no hope: but we will walk after our own devices, and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart.' (Jer. , and .)
"Now, therefore, I went on in sin with great greediness of mind, still grudging that I could not be satisfied with it as I would. This did continue with me about a month, or more. But one day, as I was standing at a neighbour's shop-window, and there cursing and swearing, and playing the madman, after my wonted manner, there sat within the woman of the house, and heard me; who, though she was a very loose and ungodly wretch, yet protested I swore and cursed at that most fearful rate, that she was made to tremble to hear me; and told me further, 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, if they came but in my company.
"At this reproof I was silenced, and put to secret shame, and that too, as I thought before the God of heaven; wherefore, while I stood there, and hanging down my head, I wished with all my heart that I might be a little child again, that my father might teach me to speak without, this wicked way of swearing; for, thought I, I am so accustomed to it, that it is in vain for me to think of a reformation; for I thought that could never be.
"But, how it came to pass I know not, I did from this time forward so leave my swearing, that it was a great wonder to myself to observe it; and whereas before I knew not how to speak, unless I put an oath before and another behind, to make my words have authority, now I could, without it, speak better and with more pleasantness than ever I could before. All this while I knew not Jesus Christ, neither did leave my sports and plays.
"But quickly after this, I fell into company with one poor man that made profession of religion, who as I then thought, did talk pleasantly of the Scriptures, and of the matter of religion; wherefore, falling into some love and liking to what he said, I betook me to my Bible, and began to take great pleasure in reading, but especially with the historical part thereof; for as for Paul's Epistles, and such like Scriptures, I could not away with them, being as yet ignorant either of the corruptions of my nature, or of the want and worth of Jesus Christ to save us. .
"Wherefore I fell to some outward reformation, both in my words and life, and did set the commandments before me for my way to heaven; 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 promise 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 man, - a new and religious man, and did marvel much to see such great and famous 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 well 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 truly, so they well might; for this my conversion was as great as for Tom of Bedlam * A madman * to become a 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 be well spoken of by men; and thus I continued for about a twelvemonth, or more.
"Now you must know that, before this, I had taken much delight In ringing; but my conscience beginning to be tender, I thought such practice was but vain, and therefore forced myself to leave it. Yet my mind hankered; wherefore 1 would go to the steeplehouse, and look on, though I durst not ring. But I thought this did not become religion neither, yet I forced myself, and would look on still. But quickly after, I began to think, How if one of the bells should fall? Then I chose to stand under a main beam, that lay overthwart the steeple, from side to side, thinking here I might stand sure; but then I thought again, should the bell fall with a swing, it might first hit the wall, and then rebounding upon me, might kill me for all this beam. This made me stand in the steeple door. And now, thought I, I am safe enough; for if the bell should now fall, I can slip out behind these thick walls, and so be preserved notwithstanding.
"So after this I would yet go to see them ring, but would not go any farther than the steeple door. But then it came into my head, How if the steeple itself should fall? And this thought - 'It may, for aught I know,' - when I stood and looked on, did continually so shake my mind, that I durst not stand at the steeple door any longer, but was forced to flee, for fear the steeple should fall upon my head.
was, my dancing. I was a full year before I could quite leave that. But all
this while, when I thought I kept this or that commandment, or did, by word or
deed, anything that I thought was good, I had great peace in my conscience, and
would think with myself, ‘God cannot choose but be now pleased with me.' Yea,
to relate it in mine own way, I thought no man in
By this narrative of Bunyan's we are most forcibly taught that there is no real pleasure in the ways of sin. "There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked." "The way of transgressors is hard." Sin promises pleasures, but yields only pain: honour, but it leads to disgrace; happiness, but it tends to misery. This Bunyan found. He made himself crooked ways, and while he walked in them, he was getting farther and farther from God, from purity, from felicity, from heaven. So, also, convictions of sin may be felt by those who love it, and wish not to part with it; and though there may be a reformation of conduct, yet there may be no change of heart.
All who properly consider the character of Bunyan must be convinced of the necessity of a change in his heart and life, in order to his being made fit for heaven, and a suitable companion for the spirits of the just made perfect. The disparity is so great between purity and depravity, that we ask, "How can two walk together, except they be agreed?" And knowing that God is immutable in his nature, in his law, and also in his threatenings to enforce its penalties, we naturally infer that a change must take place in the sinner. That as he is dead in trespasses and sins, and walking according to the course of this world, being led captive by the devil at his will, if ever his mind be changed, and he pursues heavenly and divine objects, it must be through the power of the Holy Spirit, by whom he is created anew in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God had before ordained that he should walk in them. This gracious change Bunyan did at length experience. The manner in which it was accomplished, and the effects produced by it, he himself relates.