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Print Version Main Index : Biographies : Life of John Bunyan Index : Page 38
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The Life of John Bunyan
by Edmund Venables, M.A.

CHAPTER VIII. - continued

By his first wife, whose Christian name is nowhere recorded, Bunyan had four children - two sons and two daughters; and by his second wife, the heroic Elizabeth, one son and one daughter. All of these survived him except his eldest daughter Mary, his tenderly-loved blind child, who died before him. His wife only survived him for a brief period, "following her faithful pilgrim from this world to the other whither he was gone before her" either in 1691 or 1692. Forgetful of the "deed of gift," or ignorant of its bearing, Bunyan's widow took out letters of administration of her late husband's estate, which appears from the Register Book to have amounted to no more than, 42 pounds 19s. On this, and the proceeds of his books, she supported herself till she rejoined him.

Bunyan's character and person are thus described by Charles Doe: "He appeared in countenance to be of a stern and rough temper. But in his conversation he was mild and affable, not given to loquacity or much discourse in company, unless some urgent occasion required it. Observing never to boast of himself or his parts, but rather to seem low in his own eyes and submit himself to the judgment of others. Abhorring lying and swearing, being just, in all that lay in his power, to his word. Not seeming to revenge injuries; loving to reconcile differences and make friendship with all. He had a sharp, quick eye, with an excellent discerning of persons, being of good judgment and quick wit. He was tall of stature, strong-boned, though not corpulent; somewhat of a ruddy face, with sparkling eyes, wearing his hair on his upper lip after the old British fashion. His hair reddish, but in his later days time had sprinkled it with grey. His nose well set, but not declining or bending. His mouth moderately large, his forehead something high, and his habit always plain and modest. Not puffed up in prosperity, nor shaken in adversity, always holding the golden mean."

We may add the portrait drawn by one who had been his companion and fellow-sufferer for many years, John Nelson: "His countenance was grave and sedate, and did so to the life discover the inward frame of his heart, that it was convincing to the beholders and did strike something of awe into them that had nothing of the fear of God."

The same friend speaks thus of Bunyan's preaching: "As a minister of Christ he was laborious in his work of preaching, diligent in his preparation for it, and faithful in dispensing the Word, not sparing reproof whether in the pulpit or no, yet ready to succour the tempted; a son of consolation to the broken-hearted, yet a son of thunder to secure and dead sinners. His memory was tenacious, it being customary with him to commit his sermons to writing after he had preached them. A rich anointing of the Spirit was upon him, yet this great saint was always in his own eyes the chiefest of sinners and the least of saints."

An anecdote is told which, Southey says, "authenticates itself," that one day when he had preached "with peculiar warmth and enlargement," one of his hearers remarked "what a sweet sermon he had delivered." "Ay," was Bunyan's reply, "you have no need to tell me that, for the devil whispered it to me before I was well out of the pulpit." As an evidence of the estimation in which Bunyan was held by the highly-educated, it is recorded that Charles the Second expressed his surprise to Dr. Owen that "a learned man such as he could sit and listen to an illiterate tinker." "May it please your Majesty," Owen replied. "I would gladly give up all my learning if I could preach like that tinker."

Although much of Bunyan's literary activity was devoted to controversy, he had none of the narrowness or bitter spirit of a controversialist. It is true that his zeal for what he deemed to be truth led him into vehemence of language in dealing with those whom he regarded as its perverters. But this intensity of speech was coupled with the utmost charity of spirit towards those who differed from him. Few ever had less of the sectarian temper which lays greater stress on the infinitely small points on which all true Christians differ than on the infinitely great truths on which they are agreed. Bunyan inherited from his spiritual father, John Gifford, a truly catholic spirit. External differences he regarded as insignificant where he found real Christian faith and love. "I would be," he writes, "as I hope I am, a Christian. But for those factious titles of Anabaptist, Independent, Presbyterian, and the like, I conclude that they come neither from Jerusalem nor from Antioch, but from Hell or from Babylon." "He was," writes one of his early biographers, "a true lover of all that love our Lord Jesus, and did often bewail the different and distinguishing appellations that are among the godly, saying he did believe a time would come when they should be all buried." The only persons he scrupled to hold communion with were those whose lives were openly immoral. "Divisions about non-essentials," he said, "were to churches what wars were to countries. Those who talked most about religion cared least for it; and controversies about doubtful things and things of little moment, ate up all zeal for things which were practical and indisputable." His last sermon breathed the same catholic spirit, free from the trammels of narrow sectarianism. "If you are the children of God live together lovingly. If the world quarrel with you it is no matter; but it is sad if you quarrel together. If this be among you it is a sign of ill-breeding. Dost thou see a soul that has the image of God in him? Love him, love him. Say, 'This man and I must go to heaven one day.' Serve one another. Do good for one another. If any wrong you pray to God to right you, and love the brotherhood." The closing words of this his final testimony are such as deserve to be written in letters of gold as the sum of all true Christian teaching: "Be ye holy in all manner of conversation: Consider that the holy God is your Father, and let this oblige you to live like the children of God, that you may look your Father in the face with comfort another day." "There is," writes Dean Stanley, "no compromise in his words, no faltering in his convictions; but his love and admiration are reserved on the whole for that which all good men love, and his detestation on the whole is reserved for that which all good men detest." By the catholic spirit which breathes through his writings, especially through "The Pilgrim's Progress," the tinker of Elstow "has become the teacher not of any particular sect, but of the Universal Church."

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