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Print Version Main Index : Biographies : Life of John Bunyan Index : Page 19
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The Life of John Bunyan
by Edmund Venables, M.A.

CHAPTER IV. - continued

The justice who had issued the warrant, Mr. Wingate, not being at home that day, a friend of Bunyan's residing on the spot offered to house him for the night, undertaking that he should be forthcoming the next day. The following morning this friend took him to the constable's house, and they then proceeded together to Mr. Wingate's. A few inquiries showed the magistrate that he had entirely mistaken the character of the Samsell meeting and its object. Instead of a gathering of "Fifth Monarchy men," or other turbulent fanatics as he had supposed, for the disturbance of the public peace, he learnt from the constable that they were only a few peaceable, harmless people, met together "to preach and hear the word," without any political meaning. Wingate was now at a nonplus, and "could not well tell what to say." For the credit of his magisterial character, however, he must do something to show that he had not made a mistake in issuing the warrant. So he asked Bunyan what business he had there, and why it was not enough for him to follow his own calling instead of breaking the law by preaching. Bunyan replied that his only object in coming there was to exhort his hearers for their souls' sake to forsake their sinful courses and close in with Christ, and this he could do and follow his calling as well. Wingate, now feeling himself in the wrong, lost his temper, and declared angrily that he would "break the neck of these unlawful meetings," and that Bunyan must find securities for his good behaviour or go to gaol. There was no difficulty in obtaining the security. Bail was at once forthcoming. The real difficulty lay with Bunyan himself. No bond was strong enough to keep him from preaching. If his friends gave them, their bonds would be forfeited, for he "would not leave speaking the word of God." Wingate told him that this being so, he must be sent to gaol to be tried at the next Quarter Sessions, and left the room to make out his mittimus. While the committal was preparing, one whom Bunyan bitterly styles "an old enemy to the truth," Dr. Lindall, Vicar of Harlington, Wingate's father-in-law, came in and began "taunting at him with many reviling terms," demanding what right he had to preach and meddle with that for which he had no warrant, charging him with making long prayers to devour widows houses, and likening him to "one Alexander the Coppersmith he had read of," "aiming, 'tis like," says Bunyan, "at me because I was a tinker." The mittimus was now made out, and Bunyan in the constable's charge was on his way to Bedford, when he was met by two of his friends, who begged the constable to wait a little while that they might use their interest with the magistrate to get Bunyan released. After a somewhat lengthened interview with Wingate, they returned with the message that if Bunyan would wait on the magistrate and "say certain words" to him, he might go free. To satisfy his friends, Bunyan returned with them, though not with any expectation that the engagement proposed to him would be such as he could lawfully take. "If the words were such as he could say with a good conscience he would say them, or else he would not."

After all this coming and going, by the time Bunyan and his friends got back to Harlington House, night had come on. As he entered the hall, one, he tells us, came out of an inner room with a lighted candle in his hand, whom Bunyan recognized as one William Foster, a lawyer of Bedford, Wingate's brother-in-law, afterwards a fierce persecutor of the Nonconformists of the district. With a simulated affection, "as if he would have leapt on my neck and kissed me," which put Bunyan on his guard, as he had ever known him for "a close opposer of the ways of God," he adopted the tone of one who had Bunyan's interest at heart, and begged him as a friend to yield a little from his stubbornness. His brother-in-law, he said, was very loath to send him to gaol. All he had to do was only to promise that he would not call people together, and he should be set at liberty and might go back to his home. Such meetings were plainly unlawful and must be stopped. Bunyan had better follow his calling and leave off preaching, especially on week-days, which made other people neglect their calling too. God commanded men to work six days and serve Him on the seventh. It was vain for Bunyan to reply that he never summoned people to hear him, but that if they came he could not but use the best of his skill and wisdom to counsel them for their soul's salvation; that he could preach and the people could come to hear without neglecting their callings, and that men were bound to look out for their souls' welfare on week-days as well as Sundays. Neither could convince the other. Bunyan's stubbornness was not a little provoking to Foster, and was equally disappointing to Wingate. They both evidently wished to dismiss the case, and intentionally provided a loophole for Bunyan's escape. The promise put into his mouth - "that he would not call the people together" - was purposely devised to meet his scrupulous conscience. But even if he could keep the promise in the letter, Bunyan knew that he was fully purposed to violate its spirit. He was the last man to forfeit self-respect by playing fast and loose with his conscience. All evasion was foreign to his nature. The long interview came to an end at last. Once again Wingate and Foster endeavoured to break down Bunyan's resolution; but when they saw he was "at a point, and would not be moved or persuaded," the mittimus was again put into the constable's hands, and he and his prisoner were started on the walk to Bedford gaol. It was dark, as we have seen, when this protracted interview began. It must have now been deep in the night. Bunyan gives no hint whether the walk was taken in the dark or in the daylight. There was however no need for haste. Bedford was thirteen miles away, and the constable would probably wait till the morning to set out for the prison which was to be Bunyan's home for twelve long years, to which he went carrying, he says, the "peace of God along with me, and His comfort in my poor soul."

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