The Life of John Bunyan HTML version

Chapter 9
We have, in this concluding chapter, to take a review of Bunyan's merits as a
writer, with especial reference to the works on which his fame mainly rests, and,
above all, to that which has given him his chief title to be included in a series of
Great Writers, "The Pilgrim's Progress." Bunyan, as we have seen, was a very
copious author. His works, as collected by the late industrious Mr. Offor, fill three
bulky quarto volumes, each of nearly eight hundred double-columned pages in
small type. And this copiousness of production is combined with a general
excellence in the matter produced. While few of his books approach the high
standard of "The Pilgrim's Progress" or "Holy War," none, it may be truly said,
sink very far below that standard. It may indeed be affirmed that it was
impossible for Bunyan to write badly. His genius was a native genius. As soon as
he began to write at all, he wrote well. Without any training, is he says, in the
school of Aristotle or Plato, or any study of the great masters of literature, at one
bound he leapt to a high level of thought and composition. His earliest book,
"Some Gospel Truths Opened," "thrown off," writes Dr. Brown, "at a heat,"
displays the same ease of style and directness of speech and absence of stilted
phraseology which he maintained to the end. The great charm which pervades all
Bunyan's writings is their naturalness. You never feel that he is writing for effect,
still less to perform an uncongenial piece of task- work. He writes because he
had something to say which was worth saying, a message to deliver on which the
highest interests of others were at stake, which demanded nothing more than a
straightforward earnestness and plainness of speech, such as coming from the
heart might best reach the hearts of others. He wrote as he spoke, because a
necessity was laid upon him which he dared not evade. As he says in a passage
quoted in a former chapter, he might have stepped into a much higher style, and
have employed more literary ornament. But to attempt this would be, to one of
his intense earnestness, to degrade his calling. He dared not do it. Like the great
Apostle, "his speech and preaching was not with enticing words of man's
wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and in power." God had not played
with him, and he dared not play with others. His errand was much too serious,
and their need and danger too urgent to waste time in tricking out his words with
human skill. And it is just this which, with all their rudeness, their occasional bad
grammar, and homely colloquialisms, gives to Bunyan's writings a power of
riveting the attention and stirring the affections which few writers have attained
to. The pent-up fire glows in every line, and kindles the hearts of his readers.
"Beautiful images, vivid expressions, forcible arguments all aglow with passion,
tender pleadings, solemn warnings, make those who read him all eye, all ear, all
soul." This native vigour is attributable, in no small degree, to the manner in
which for the most part Bunyan's works came into being. He did not set himself to
compose theological treatises upon stated subjects, but after he had preached
with satisfaction to himself and acceptance with his audience, he usually wrote
out the substance of his discourse from memory, with the enlargements and