When, by the good hand of my God, I had for five or six years together, without any interruption, freely preached the blessed gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; and had also, through His blessed grace, some encouragement by His blessing thereupon; the devil, that old enemy of man's salvation, took his opportunity to inflame the hearts of his vassals against me, insomuch that at the last, I was laid out for by the warrant of a justice, and was taken and committed to prison. The relation thereof is as followeth:-
Upon the 12th of this instant, November 1660, I was desired by some of the friends in the country to come to teach at Samsell, by Harlington, in Bedfordshire. To whom I made a promise, if the Lord permitted, to be with them on the time aforesaid. The justice hearing thereof (whose name is Mr Francis Wingate), forthwith issued out his warrant to take me, and bring me before him, and in the meantime to keep a very strong watch about the house where the meeting should be kept, as if we that were to meet together in that place did intend to do some fearful business, to the destruction of the country; when alas! the constable, when he came in, found us only with our Bibles in our hands, ready to speak and hear the word of God; for we were just about to begin our exercise. Nay, we had begun in prayer for the blessing of God upon our opportunity, intending to have preached the word of the Lord unto them there present: but the constable coming in prevented us. So I was taken and forced to depart the room. But had I been minded to have played the coward, I could have escaped and kept out of his hands. For when I was come to my friend's house, there was whispering that that day I should be taken, for there was a warrant out to take me; which when my friend heard, he being somewhat timorous, questioned whether we had best have our meeting or not; and whether it might not be better for me to depart, lest they should take me and have me before the justice, and after that send me to prison (for he knew better than I what spirit they were of, living by them): to whom I said, No, by no means, I will not stir, neither will I have the meeting dismissed for this. Come, be of good cheer; let us not be daunted; our cause is good, we need not be ashamed of it; to preach God's Word, is so good a work, that we shall be well rewarded, if we suffer for that; or to this purpose -- (But as for my friend, I think he was more afraid of me, than of himself.) After this I walked into the close, where I somewhat seriously considering the matter, this came into my mind, That I had showed myself hearty and courageous in my preaching, and had, blessed be grace, made it my business to encourage others; therefore thought I, if I should now run, and make an escape, it will be of a very ill savour in the country. For what will my weak and newly- converted brethren think of it, but that I was not so strong in deed as I was in word? Also I feared that if I should run now there was a warrant out for me, I might by so doing make them afraid to stand, when great words only should be spoken to them. Besides I thought, that seeing God of His mercy should choose me to go upon the forlorn hope in this country; that is, to be the first, that should be opposed, for the gospel; if I should fly, it might be a discouragement to the whole body that might follow after. And further, I thought the world thereby would take occasion at my cowardliness, to have blasphemed the gospel, and to have had some ground to suspect worse of me and my profession, than I deserved. These things with others considered by me, I came in again to the house, with a full resolution to keep the meeting, and not to go away, though I could have been gone about an hour before the officer apprehended me; but I would not; for I was resolved to see the utmost of what they could say or do unto me. For blessed be the Lord, I knew of no evil that I had said or done. And so, as aforesaid, I begun the meeting. But being prevented by the constable's coming in with his warrant to take me, I could not proceed. But before I went away, I spake some few words of counsel and encouragement to the people, declaring to them, that they saw we were prevented of our opportunity to speak and hear the Word of God, and were like to suffer for the same; desiring them that they would not be discouraged, for it was a mercy to suffer upon so good account. For we might have been apprehended as thieves or murderers, or for other wickedness; but blessed be God it was not so, but we suffer as Christians for well doing: and we had better be the persecuted, than the persecutors, etc. But the constable and the justice's man waiting on us, would not be at quiet till they had me away and that we departed the house. But because the justice was not at home that day, there was a friend of mine engaged for me to bring me to the constable on the morrow morning. Otherwise the constable must have charged a watch with me, or have secured me some other way, my crime was so great. So on the next morning we went to the constable, and so to the justice. He asked the constable what we did, where we was met together, and what we had with us? I trow, he meant whether we had armour or not; but when the constable told him that there were only met a few of us together to preach and hear the Word, and no sign of anything else, he could not well tell what to say: yet because he had sent for me, he did adventure to put out a few proposals to me, which were to this effect, namely, What I did there? And why I did not content myself with following my calling? for it was against the law, that such as I should be admitted to do as I did.
John Bunyan. To which I answered, That the intent of my coming thither, and to other places, was to instruct, and counsel people to forsake their sins, and close in with Christ, lest they did miserably perish; and that I could do both these without confusion (to wit), follow my calling, and preach the Word also.
At which words, he was in a chafe, as it appeared; for he said that he would break the neck of our meetings.
Bun. I said, It may be so. Then he wished me to get sureties to be bound for me, or else he would send me to the jail.
My sureties being ready, I called them in, and when the bond for my appearance was made, he told them, that they was bound to keep me from preaching; and that if I did preach, their bonds would be forfeited. To which I answered, that then I should break them; for I should not leave speaking the Word of God: even to counsel, comfort, exhort, and teach the people among whom I came; and I thought this to be a work that had no hurt in it: but was rather worthy of commendation, than blame.
Wingate. Whereat he told me, that if they would not be so bound, my mittimus must be made, and I sent to the jail, there to lie to the quarter sessions.
Now while my mittimus was making, the justice was withdrawn; and in comes an old enemy to the truth, Dr Lindale, who, when he was come in, fell to taunting at me with many reviling terms.
Bun. To whom I answered, that I did not come thither to talk with him, but with the justice. Whereat he supposed that I had nothing to say for myself, and triumphed as if he had got the victory; charging and condemning me for meddling with that for which I could show no warrant; and asked me, if I had taken the oaths? and if I had not, it was pity but that I should be sent to prison, etc.
I told him, that if I was minded, I could answer to any sober question that he should put to me. He then urged me again, how I could prove it lawful for me to preach, with a great deal of confidence of the victory.
But at last, because he should see that I could answer him if I listed, I cited to him that verse in Peter, which saith, every man hath received the gift, even so let him minister the same, etc.
Lind. Aye, saith he, to whom is that spoken?
Bun. To whom, said I, why to every man that hath received a gift from God. Mark, saith the apostle, As every man that hath received a gift from God, etc.; and again, You may all prophesy one by one. Whereat the man was a little stopt, and went a softlier pace: but not being willing to lose the day, he began again, and said:-
Lind. Indeed, I do remember that I have read of one Alexander a coppersmith, who did much oppose, and disturb the apostles; -- (aiming it is like at me, because I was a tinker).
Bun. To which I answered, that I also had read of very many priests and pharisees, that had their hands in the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Lind. Aye, saith he, and you are one of those scribes and pharisees: for you, with a pretence, make long prayers to devour widows' houses.
Bun. I answered, that if he had got no more by preaching and praying than I had done, he would not be so rich as now he was. But that scripture coming into my mind, Answer not a fool according to his folly, I was as sparing of my speech as I could, without prejudice to truth.
Now by this time my mittimus was made, and I committed to the constable, to be sent to the jail in Bedford, etc.
But as I was going, two of my brethren met with me by the way, and desired the constable to stay, supposing that they should prevail with the justice, through the favour of a pretended friend, to let me go at liberty. So we did stay, while they went to the justice; and after much discourse with him, it came to this: that if I would come to him again, and say some certain words to him, I should be released. Which when they told me, I said if the words was such that might be said with a good conscience, I should or else I should not. So through their importunity went back again, but not believing that I should be delivered: for I feared their spirit was too full of opposition to the truth to let me go, unless I should, in something or other, dishonour my God and wound my conscience. Wherefore, as I went, I lifted up my heart to God, for light and strength to be kept, that I might not do any thing that might either dishonour Him, or wrong my own soul, or be a grief or discouragement to any that was inclining after the Lord Jesus Christ.
Well, when I came to the justice again, there was Mr Foster of Bedford, who, coming out of another room, and seeing me by the light of the candle (for it was dark night when I went thither), he said unto me, Who is there? John Bunyan? with such seeming affection, as if he would have leaped on my neck and kissed me, which made me somewhat wonder, that such a man as he, with whom I had so little acquaintance, and, besides, that had ever been a close opposer of the ways of God, should carry himself so full of love to me; but, afterwards, when I saw what he did, it caused me to remember those sayings, Their tongues are smoother than oil, but their words are drawn swords. And again, Beware of men, etc. When I had answered him, that blessed be God, I was well; he said, What is the occasion of your being here? or to that purpose. To whom I answered, that I was at a meeting of people a little way off, intending to speak a word of exhortation to them; the justice hearing thereof, said I, was pleased to send his warrant to fetch me before him, etc.
Fost. So (said he), I understand: but well, if you will promise to call the people no more together, you shall have your liberty to go home; for my brother is very loath to send you to prison, if you will be but ruled.
Bun. Sir (said I), pray what do you mean by calling the people together? my business is not anything among them, when they are come together, but to exhort them to look after the salvation of their souls, that they may be saved, etc.
Fost. Saith he, We must not enter into explication, or dispute now; but if you will say you will call the people no more together, you may have your liberty; if not, you must be sent away to prison.
Bun. Sir, said I, I shall not force or compel any man to hear me; but yet, if I come into any place where there is a people met together, I should, according to the best of my skill and wisdom, exhort and counsel them to seek out after the Lord Jesus Christ, for the salvation of their souls.
Fost. He said, That was none of my work; I must follow my calling; and if I would but leave off preaching, and follow my calling, I should have the justice's favour, and be acquitted presently.
Bun. To whom I said, that I could follow my calling, and that too, namely, preaching the Word: and I did look upon it as my duty to do them both, as I had an opportunity.
Fost. He said, To have any such meetings was against the law; and, therefore, he would have me leave off, and say, I would call the people no more together.
Bun. To whom I said, that I durst not make any further promise; for my conscience would not suffer me to do it. And again, I did look upon it as my duty to do as much good as I could, not only in my trade, but also in communicating to all people wheresoever I came the best knowledge I had in the Word.
Fost. He told me that I was the nearest the Papists of any, and that he would convince me of immediately.
Bun. I asked him, Wherein?
Fost. He said, In that we understood the Scriptures literally.
Bun. I told him that those that were to be understood literally, we understood them so; but for those that was to be understood otherwise, we endeavoured so to understand them.
Fost. He said, Which of the Scriptures do you understand literally?
Bun. I said this, He that believes shall be saved. This was to be understood just as it is spoken; that whosoever believeth in Christ shall, according to the plain and simple words of the text, be saved.
Fost. He said that I was ignorant, and did not understand the Scriptures; for how, said he, can you understand them when you know not the original Greek? etc.
Bun. To whom I said, that if that was his opinion, that none could understand the Scriptures but those that had the original Greek, etc., then but a very few of the poorest sort should be saved (this is harsh); yet the Scripture saith, That God hides these things from the wise and prudent (that is, from the learned of the world), and reveals them to babes and sucklings.
Fost. He said there were none that heard me but a company of foolish people.
Bun. I told him that there was the wise as well as the foolish that do hear me; and again, those that were most commonly counted foolish by the world are the wisest before God; also, that God had rejected the wise, and mighty, and noble, and chosen the foolish, and the base.
Fost. He told me that I made people neglect their calling; and that God had commanded people to work six days, and serve Him on the seventh.
Bun. I told him that it was the duty of people, (both rich and poor), to look out for their souls on them days as well as for their bodies; and that God would have His people exhort one another daily, while it is called to-day.
Fost. He said again that there were none but a company of poor, simple, ignorant people that come to hear me.
Bun. I told him that the foolish and the ignorant had most need of teaching and information; and, therefore, it would be profitable for me to go on in that work.
Fost. Well, said he, to conclude, but will you promise that you will not call the people together any more? and then you may be released and go home.
Bun. I told him that I durst say no more than I had said; for I durst not leave off that work which God had called me to.
So he withdrew from me, and then came several of the justice's servants to me, and told me that I stood so much upon a nicety. Their master, they said, was willing to let me go; and if I would but say I would call the people no more together, I might have my liberty, etc.
Bun. I told them there were more ways than one in which a man might be said to call the people together. As for instance, if a man get upon the market-place, and there read a book, or the like, though he do not say to the people, Sirs, come hither and hear; yet if they come to him because he reads, he, by his very reading, may be said to call them together; because they would not have been there to hear if he had not been there to read. And seeing this might be termed a calling the people together; I durst not say, I would not call them together; for then, by the same argument, my preaching might be said to call them together.
Wing. and Fost. Then came the justice and Mr Foster to me again; (we had a little more discourse about preaching, but because the method of it is out of my mind, I pass it); and when they saw that I was at a point, and would not be moved nor persuaded, Mr Foster, the man that did at first express so much love to me, told the justice that then he must send me away to prison. And that he would do well, also, if he would present all those that were the cause of my coming among them to meetings. Thus we parted.
And, verily, as I was going forth of the doors, I had much ado to forbear saying to them that I carried the peace of God along with me; but I held my peace, and, blessed be the Lord, went away to prison, with God's comfort in my poor soul.
After I had lain in the jail five or six days, the brethren sought means, again, to get me out by bondsmen; (for so ran my mittimus, that I should lie there till I could find sureties). They went to a justice at Elstow, one Mr Crumpton, to desire him to take bond for my appearing at the quarter sessions. At the first he told them he would; but afterwards he made a demur at the business, and desired first to see my mittimus, which ran to this purpose: That I went about to several conventicles in the county, to the great disparagement of the government of the church of England, etc. When he had seen it, he said that there might be something more against me than was expressed in my mittimus; and that he was but a young man, therefore he durst not do it. This my jailor told me; and, whereat I was not at all daunted but rather glad, and saw evidently that the Lord had heard me; for before I went down to the justice, I begged of God that if I might do more good by being at liberty than in prison, that then I might be set at liberty; but if not, His will be done; for I was not altogether without hopes but that my imprisonment might be an awakening to the saints in the country, therefore I could not tell well which to choose; only I, in that manner, did commit the thing to God. And verily, at my return, I did meet my God sweetly in the prison again, comforting of me and satisfying of me that it was His will and mind that I should be there.
When I came back again to prison, as I was musing at the slender answer of the justice, this word dropt in upon my heart with some life, For He knew that for envy they had delivered Him.
Thus have I, in short, declared the manner and occasion of my being in prison; where I lie waiting the good will of God, to do with me as He pleaseth; knowing that not one hair of my head can fall to the ground without the will of my Father, which is in heaven. Let the rage and malice of men be never so great, they can do no more, nor go any further, than God permits them; but when they have done their worst, We know all things shall work together for good to them that love God.