But what seems to have struck Bunyan the most forcibly was the happiness which their religion shed in the hearts of these poor women. Religion up to this time had been to him a system of rules and restrictions. Heaven was to be won by doing certain things and not doing certain other things. Of religion as a Divine life kindled in the soul, and flooding it with a joy which creates a heaven on earth, he had no conception. Joy in believing was a new thing to him. "They spake as if joy did make them speak; they spake with such pleasantness of Scripture language, and with such appearance of grace in all they said, that they were to me as if they had found a new world," a veritable "El Dorado," stored with the true riches. Bunyan, as he says, after he had listened awhile and wondered at their words, left them and went about his work again. But their words went with him. He could not get rid of them. He saw that though he thought himself a godly man, and his neighbours thought so too, he wanted the true tokens of godliness. He was convinced that godliness was the only true happiness, and he could not rest till he had attained it. So he made it his business to be going again and again into the company of these good women. He could not stay away, and the more he talked with them the more uneasy he became - "the more I questioned my own condition." The salvation of his soul became all in all to him. His mind "lay fixed on eternity like a horse-leech at the vein." The Bible became precious to him. He read it with new eyes, "as I never did before." "I was indeed then never out of the Bible, either by reading or meditation." The Epistles of St. Paul, which before he "could not away with," were now "sweet and pleasant" to him. He was still "crying out to God that he might know the truth and the way to Heaven and glory." Having no one to guide him in his study of the most difficult of all books, it is no wonder that he misinterpreted and misapplied its words in a manner which went far to unsettle his brain. He read that without faith he could not be saved, and though he did not clearly know what faith was, it became a question of supreme anxiety to him to determine whether he had it or not. If not, he was a castaway indeed, doomed to perish for ever. So he determined to put it to the test. The Bible told him that faith, "even as a grain of mustard seed," would enable its possessor to work miracles. So, as Mr. Froude says, "not understanding Oriental metaphors," he thought he had here a simple test which would at once solve the question. One day as he was walking along the miry road between Elstow and Bedford, which he had so often paced as a schoolboy, "the temptation came hot upon him" to put the matter to the proof, by saying to the puddles that were in the horse-pads "be dry," and to the dry places, "be ye puddles." He was just about to utter the words when a sudden thought stopped him. Would it not be better just to go under the hedge and pray that God would enable him? This pause saved him from a rash venture, which might have landed him in despair. For he concluded that if he tried after praying and nothing came of it, it would prove that he had no faith, but was a castaway. "Nay, thought I, if it be so, I will never try yet, but will stay a little longer." "Then," he continues, "I was so tossed betwixt the Devil and my own ignorance, and so perplexed, especially at sometimes, that I could not tell what to do." At another time his mind, as the minds of thousands have been and will be to the end, was greatly harassed by the insoluble problems of predestination and election. The question was not now whether he had faith, but "whether he was one of the elect or not, and if not, what then?" "He might as well leave off and strive no further." And then the strange fancy occurred to him, that the good people at Bedford whose acquaintance he had recently made, were all that God meant to save in that part of the country, and that the day of grace was past and gone for him; that he had overstood the time of mercy. "Oh that he had turned sooner!" was then his cry. "Oh that he had turned seven years before! What a fool he had been to trifle away his time till his soul and heaven were lost!" The text, "compel them to come in, and yet there is room," came to his rescue when he was so harassed and faint that he was "scarce able to take one step more." He found them "sweet words," for they showed him that there was "place enough in heaven for him," and he verily believed that when Christ spoke them He was thinking of him, and had them recorded to help him to overcome the vile fear that there was no place left for him in His bosom. But soon another fear succeeded the former. Was he truly called of Christ? "He called to them when He would, and they came to Him." But they could not come unless He called them. Had He called him? Would He call him? If He did how gladly would he run after Him. But oh, he feared that He had no liking to him; that He would not call him. True conversion was what he longed for. "Could it have been gotten for gold," he said, "what could I have given for it! Had I a whole world, it had all gone ten thousand times over for this, that my soul might have been in a converted state." All those whom he thought to be truly converted were now lovely in his eyes. "They shone, they walked like people that carried the broad seal of heaven about them. Oh that he were like them, and shared in their goodly heritage!"
About this time Bunyan was greatly troubled, though at the same time encouraged in his endeavours after the blessedness he longed for so earnestly but could not yet attain to, by "a dream or vision" which presented itself to him, whether in his waking or sleeping hours he does not tell us. He fancied he saw his four Bedford friends refreshing themselves on the sunny side of a high mountain while he was shivering with dark and cold on the other side, parted from them by a high wall with only one small gap in it, and that not found but after long searching, and so strait and narrow withal that it needed long and desperate efforts to force his way through. At last he succeeded. "Then," he says, "I was exceeding glad, and went and sat down in the midst of them, and so was comforted with the light and heat of their sun."
But this sunshine shone but in illusion, and soon gave place to the old sad questioning, which filled his soul with darkness. Was he already called, or should he be called some day? He would give worlds to know. Who could assure him? At last some words of the prophet Joel (chap. iii, 21) encouraged him to hope that if not converted already, the time might come when he should be converted to Christ. Despair began to give way to hopefulness.
At this crisis Bunyan took the step which he would have been wise if he had taken long before. He sought the sympathy and counsel of others. He began to speak his mind to the poor people in Bedford whose words of religious experiences had first revealed to him his true condition. By them he was introduced to their pastor, "the godly Mr. Gifford," who invited him to his house and gave him spiritual counsel. He began to attend the meetings of his disciples.