The Life of John Bunyan HTML version

Chapter 2
It cannot have been more than two or three years after Bunyan's return home
from his short experience of a soldier's life, that he took the step which, more
than any other, influences a man's future career for good or for evil. The young
tinker married. With his characteristic disregard of all facts or dates but such as
concern his spiritual history, Bunyan tells us nothing about the orphan girl he
made his wife. Where he found her, who her parents were, where they were
married, even her christian name, were all deemed so many irrelevant details.
Indeed the fact of his marriage would probably have been passed over altogether
but for the important bearing it hid on his inner life. His "mercy," as he calls it,
"was to light upon a wife whose father was counted godly," and who, though she
brought him no marriage portion, so that they "came together as poor as poor
might be," as "poor as howlets," to adopt his own simile, "without so much
household stuff as a dish or a spoon betwixt" them, yet brought with her to the
Elstow cottage two religious books, which had belonged to her father, and which
he "had left her when he died."
These books were "The Plain Man's Pathway to Heaven," the work of Arthur
Dent, the puritan incumbent of Shoebury, in Essex - "wearisomely heavy and
theologically narrow," writes Dr. Brown - and "The Practise of Piety," by Dr. Lewis
Bayley, Bishop of Bangor, and previously chaplain to Prince Henry, which
enjoyed a wide reputation with puritans as well as with churchmen. Together with
these books, the young wife brought the still more powerful influence of a
religious training, and the memory of a holy example, often telling her young
graceless husband "what a godly man her father was, and how he would reprove
and correct vice both in his house and amongst his neighbours, and what a strict
and holy life he lived in his days both in word and deed." Much as Bunyan tells us
he had lost of the "little he had learnt" at school, he had not lost it "utterly." He
was still able to read intelligently. His wife's gentle influence prevailed on him to
begin "sometimes to read" her father's legacy "with her." This must have been
entirely new reading for Bunyan, and certainly at first not much to his taste.
What his favourite reading had been up to this time, his own nervous words tell
us, "Give me a ballad, a news-book, George on Horseback, or Bevis of
Southampton; give me some book that teaches curious arts, that tells of old
fables." But as he and his young wife read these books together at their fireside,
a higher taste was gradually awakened in Bunyan's mind; "some things" in them
he "found somewhat pleasing" to him, and they "begot" within him "some desires
to religion," producing a degree of outward reformation. The spiritual instinct was
aroused. He would be a godly man like his wife's father. He began to "go to
church twice a day, and that too with the foremost." Nor was it a mere formal
attendance, for when there he tells us he took his part with all outward devotion
in the service, "both singing and saying as others did; yet," as he penitently
confesses, "retaining his wicked life," the wickedness of which, however, did not