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Bunyan Before the Courts

 

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Sentenced to banishment or hanging

Examination before the quarter sessions. Sentence of banishment or hanging.

Here is the sum of my Examination before Justice Keelin, Justice Chester, Justice Blundale, Justice Beecher, and Justice Snagg, &c.

AFTER I had lain in prison above seven weeks the quarter sessions were to be kept in Bedford for the county thereof, unto which place I was to be brought; and when my jailer had set me before those justices, there was a bill of indictment preferred against me. The extent thereof was as followeth: That John Bunyan, of the town of Bedford, labourer, being a person of such and such conditions, he hath (since such a time) devilishly and perniciously abstained from coming to church to hear divine service, and is a common upholder of several unlawful meetings and conventicles, to the great disturbance and distraction of the good subjects of this kingdom, contrary to the laws of our sovereign lord the king, &c.

The Clerk. When this was read, the clerk of the sessions said unto me, What say you to this?

Bunyan. I said that, as to the first part of it, I was a common frequenter of the Church of God, and was also, by grace, a member with those people over whom Christ is the Head.

Keelin. But saith Justice Keelin, (who was the judge in that court,) Do you come to church, (you know what I mean,) to the parish church, to hear divine service?

Bunyan. I answered, No, I did not.

Keelin. He asked me, Why?

Bunyan. I said, Because I did not find it commanded in the word of God.

Keelin. He said, We were commanded to pray.

Bunyan. I said, But not by the common prayer-book.

Keelin. He said, How then?

Bunyan. I said, With the Spirit. As the apostle saith, "I will pray with the Spirit, with understanding."17 1 Corinthians 14:15

Keelin. He said, We might pray with the Spirit, with understanding and with the common prayer-book also.

Bunyan. I said that those prayers in the common prayer-book were such as were made by other men, and not by the motions of the Holy Ghost within our hearts; and, as I said, the apostle saith he will pray with the Spirit and with understanding, not with the Spirit and the common prayer-book.

Another Justice. What do you count prayer? Do you think it is to say a few words over before or among a people?

Bunyan. I said, No, not so; for men might have many elegant or excellent words, and yet not pray at all; but when a man prayeth he doth through a sense of those things which he wants (which sense is begotten by the Spirit) pour out his heart before God through Christ, though his words be not so many and so excellent as others are.

Justices. They said that was true.

Bunyan. I said, This might be done without the common prayer-book.

Another. One of them said, (I think it was Justice Blundale or Justice Snagg,) How should we know that you do not write out your prayers first, and then read them afterwards to the people? This he spake in a laughing way.

Bunyan. I said, It is not our use to take a pen and paper and write a few words thereon, and then go and read it over to a company of people.

Another. But how should we know it? said he.

Bunyan. Sir, it is none of our custom, said I.

Keelin. But, said Justice Keelin, it is lawful to use common prayer, and such like forms, for Christ taught his disciples to pray, as John also taught his disciples. And further, said he, cannot one man teach another to pray? Faith comes by hearing; and one man may convince another of sin, and therefore prayers made by men and read over are good to teach and help men to pray.

While he was speaking these words, God brought that word into my mind in the eighth of the Romans, at the 26th verse - I say God brought it, for I thought not on it before; but as he was speaking it came so fresh into my mind, and was set so evidently before me, as if the Scripture had said, Take me, take me; so when he had done speaking,

Bunyan. I said, Sir, the Scripture saith that "it is the Spirit that helpeth our infirmities;" for we know not what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us, with sighs and groanings which cannot be uttered. Mark, said I, it doth not say the common prayer-book teaches us how to pray, but the Spirit. "And it is the Spirit that helpeth our infirmities," saith the apostle; he doth not say it is the common prayer-book.

And as to the Lord's Prayer, although it be an easy thing to say, Our Father, &c., with the mouth, yet there are very few that can, in the Spirit, say the two first words of that prayer - that is, that can call God their Father - as knowing what it is to be born again, and as having experience that they are begotten of the Spirit of God, which if they do not all is but babbling, &c.

Keelin. Justice Keelin said that that was a truth.

Bunyan. And I say further, as to your saying that one man may convince another of sin, and that faith comes by hearing, and that one man may tell another how he should pray, &c. - I say men may tell each other of their sins, but it is the Spirit that must convince them. (If any say now that God useth means, I answer, but not the common prayer-book, for that is none of his institution; it is the Spirit in the word that is God's ordinance.)

And though it be said that faith comes by hearing, yet it is the Spirit that worketh faith in the heart through hearing, or else "they are not profited by hearing."18 Hebrew 4:12

And that though one man may tell another how he should pray, yet, as I said before, he cannot pray, nor make his condition known to God, except the Spirit help. It is not the common prayer-book that can do this. It is the "Spirit that showeth us our sins,"19 John 16:16 and the "Spirit that showeth us a Saviour,"20 Matthew 11:27 and the Spirit that stirreth up in our hearts desire to come to God for such things as we stand in need of, even sighing out our souls unto him for them with groans which cannot be uttered.21 Roman 8:26 With other words to the same purpose. At this they were set.

Keelin. But, says Justice Keelin, what have you against the common prayer-book?

Bunyan. I said, sir, if you will hear me, I shall lay down my reasons against it.

Keelin. He said I should have liberty. But first, said he, let me give you one caution: take heed of speaking irreverently of the common prayer-book, for if you do so you will bring great damage upon yourself.

Bunyan. So I proceeded and said, My first reason was, because it was not commanded in the word of God, and therefore I could not do it.

Another. One of them said, Where do you find it commanded in the Scripture that you should go to Elstow or Bedford, and yet it is lawful to go to either of them, is it not?

Bunyan. I said, To go to Elstow or Bedford was a civil thing, and not material, though not commanded, and yet God's word allowed me to go about my calling, and therefore if it lay there then to go thither, &c. But to pray was a great part of the divine worship of God, and therefore it ought to be done according to the rule of God's word.

Another. One of them said, He will do harm; let him speak no further.

Justice Keelin. Justice Keelin said, No, no, never fear him; we are better established than so; he can do no harm; we know the common prayer-book has been ever since the apostle's time, and is lawful to be used in the church.

Bunyan. I said, Show me the place in the epistles where the common prayer-book is written, or one text of Scripture that commands me to read it, and I will use it. But yet notwithstanding, said I, they that have a mind to use it, they have their liberty - that is, (It is not the spirit of a Christian to persecute any for their religion, but to pity them, and, if they will turn, to instruct them.) I would not keep them from it - but for our parts, we can pray to God without it. Blessed be his name!

With that one of them said, Who is your God - Beelzebub? Moreover, they often said that I was possessed with the spirit of delusion and of the devil. All which sayings I passed over. The Lord forgive them! And further I said, Blessed be the Lord for it! we are encouraged to meet together and to pray, and exhort one another; for we have had the comfortable presence of God among us, for ever blessed be his holy name!

Keelin. Justice Keelin called this pedlar's French, saying that I must leave off my canting. The Lord open his eyes!

Bunyan. I said that we ought to exhort one another daily while it is called to-day,22 Hebrews 3:13 &c.

Keelin. Justice Keelin said that I ought not to preach, and asked me where I had my authority; with many other such like words.

Bunyan. I said that I would prove that it was lawful for me, and such as I am, to preach the word of God.

Keelin. He said unto me, By what Scripture?

Bunyan. I said, By that in the first Epistle of Peter, the 4th chapter, the 11th verse, and Acts xviii., with other Scriptures, which he would not suffer me to mention.

Keelin. But hold! said he, not so many: which is the first?

Bunyan. I said, This: "As every man hath received the gift, even so let him minister the same unto another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God; if any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God,"23 1 Peter 4:11 &c.

Keelin. He said, Let me a little open that Scripture to you. As every man hath received the gift - that is, said he, as every man hath received a trade - so let him follow it. If any man hath received a gift of tinkering, as thou hast done, let him follow his tinkering. And so other men their trades. And the divine his calling, &c.

Bunyan. Nay, sir, said I, but it is most clear that the apostle speaks here of preaching the word; if you do but compare both the verses together, the next verse explains this gift, what it is, saying, "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God;"24 1 Peter 4:11 so that it is plain that the Holy Ghost doth not so much in this place exhort to civil callings as to the exercising of those gifts that we have received from God. I would have gone on, but he would not give me leave.

Keelin. He said we might do it in our families, but not otherways.

Bunyan. I said, If it was lawful to do good to some, it was lawful to do good to more. It was a good duty to exhort our families, it is good to exhort others; but if they held it a sin to meet together to seek the face of God and exhort one another to follow Christ, I should sin still, for so we should do.

Keelin. He said he was not so well versed in Scripture as to dispute, or words to that purpose. And said, moreover, that they could not wait upon me any longer; but said to me, Then you confess the indictment, do you not? Now, and not till now, I saw I was indicted.

Bunyan. I said, This I confess: we have had many meetings together, both to pray to God and to exhort one another, and that we had the sweet, comforting presence of the Lord among us for our encouragement, blessed be his name therefor! I confess myself guilty no otherwise.

Keelin. Then said he, Hear your judgement: You must be had back again to prison, and there lie for three months following; and at three months' end, if you do not submit to go to church to hear divine service, and leave your preaching, you must be banished the realm; and if, after such a day as shall be appointed you to be gone, you shall be found in this realm, &c., or be found to come over again without special license from the King, &c., you must stretch by the neck for it, I tell you plainly; and so he bid my jailer have me away.

Bunyan. I told him, As to this matter, I was at a point with him, for if I was out of prison to-day I would preach the Gospel again to-morrow, by the help of God.

Another. To which one made me some answer, but my jailer pulling me away to be gone, I could not tell what he said.

Thus I departed from them; and I can truly say, I bless the Lord Jesus Christ for it that my heart was sweetly refreshed in the time of my examination, and also afterwards at my returning to the prison; so that I found Christ's words more than bare trifles where he saith, "he will give a mouth and wisdom, even such as all the adversaries shall not resist or gainsay,"25 Luke 21:15 and that his peace no man can take from us.

Thus have I given you the substance of my examination. The Lord make these profitable to all that shall read or hear them! Farewell.

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