John Bunyan, the Bedford tinker, author of the immortal allegory, "Pilgrim's Progress," was awakened through a conversation which he heard among three women. Here are his words:
"This morning as I went through Bedford, intent upon my calling, it was my lot that I should pass through one of the streets that are nigh the High Street. There sat three poor women in the sun, and as they talked in the doorway I heard some of their speech. I drew nigh to listen; but alas! 'twas such talk as I never dreamed of ever before! They spoke of a new birth, of how God had worked in their hearts to show them their lost state, of how they were once under the curse of God for their guilt and iniquity; and then they spoke comfortably of the loving-kindness of God in giving His dear Son to die for them, and how they had been led to trust Christ, and found in Him peace and rest for their souls. Methought that is what I much want, yet how to obtain it I knew not.
Then they talked of how God had visited them and refreshed them; and said one (Mary Fenne, by name), 'I mind how now once when I was sore grieved and vexed, for that the Sheriff's man seized my kettle and lace-pillow for a church rate, I walked in darkness by the river bank, and, as I watched the dark waters that swept under the bridge nigh the black prison, I remembered the river that Ezekiel saw, and methought its healing waters came even to my marshy and barren heart. It rose upon me, the sweet mercy and comfort of Jesus, until I felt that it mattered little what men took from me, so that they left me Christ and His Divine grace and mercy. Oh, but I was strong in Him, and I felt His sweet comfort down in my poor heart, and I felt as if I must shout to the clouds and trees of the gladness that burned like fire in my bones. Talk of mirth! there was never such light-heartedness round the Maypole as filled me then.'
"'Aye,' said a wrinkled and worn ancient woman they termed Norton, ''tis even so. I have known depths of sorrow, but they have been times of deep delight to my soul. When my husband died of the wounds he received in battle, my soul was stayed upon God, and I felt my faith grasp His sweet, strong promise; and look ye, gossips, though I have but a penny per week to call my own, I would not give it up with the love of God to be the great Earl of Bedford himself!
"It seemed to me as if they were in another world far above me; but when they talked about their temptations, methought I knew what they meant, at least in some degree. Yet they declared that they had oftentimes gotten the victory and all through the Word of God. Methought this is indeed news to me.
"I was struck all a-dumb at their wisdom, yet it was sweet to me, like the droppings of the honeycomb. And when I opened my mind to them they made no mock of my distress, nor did they make light of it, but bade me come the next day to talk to their teacher, one Dr. Gifford, and by God's grace I went to him."
Bunyan procured a Bible, but read only the historical books, avoiding with a strange perversity the Epistles of Paul. He set the Commandments before him as his way to Heaven, and for a year lived a reformed life externally. He was looked upon as a prodigy of piety. His neighbours, who had been shocked by his daring wickedness, were much pleased with the change, and Bunyan, ever eager for the sympathy of others, rejoiced greatly in their esteem and commendations; yet was inwardly conscious that they were not fully deserved; "for" he writes, "had I then died, my state had been most fearful."
"Wife," said Bunyan one day in course of conversation at home, "is there such a Scripture as 'I must go to Jesus?'" She replied, "I cannot tell;" therefore he stood musing to see if he could remember it. In the course of a few minutes he recalled what is written in the twelfth chapter of Hebrews: "Ye are come unto Mount Sion ... to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling." Then with joy he told his wife, "Oh, now I know, I know!"
He writes, "That night was a good night to me; I have had but few better; I longed for the company of some of God's people, that I might have imparted unto them what God had showed to me. I could scarcely lie in my bed for joy, and peace, and triumph through Christ. All my former darkness had fled away, and the blessed things of Heaven were set in my view. These words have oft since that time been great refreshment to my spirit. Blessed be God for having had mercy on me!"
From Twice-Born Men: True Conversion Records of 100 Well-Known Men in All Ranks of Life compiled by Hy. Pickering. London: Pickering & Inglis, [193-?]
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