PRISON MEDITATIONS DIRECTED TO THE HEART OF SUFFERING SAINTS AND REIGNING SINNERS
By John Bunyan, in Prison, 1665
ADVERTISEMENT BY THE EDITOR
These verses, like those called "A Caution to watch against Sin," were first printed on a half sheet, and passed through several editions. The Editor possesses a copy published by the author, a short time before his decease; it is in an exceedingly rare little volume, including his poems of "One thing needful" and his "Ebal and Gerizzim"; with "a catlogue of all his other books." London: printed for Nath, Ponder, at the Peacock in the Poultry, 1688. On the reverse of the title is a singular advertisement; "This author having published many books, which have gone off very well, there are certain ballad sellers about Newgate, and on London Bridge, who have put the two first letters of this author's name, and his effigies, to their rhymes and ridiculous books, suggesting to the world as if they were his. Now know that this author publisheth his name at large to all his books, and what you shall see otherwise he disowns."
Bunyan was imprisoned for teaching the gospel in its purity to the poor, and for refusing conformity to national creeds and ceremonies. This was as absurd as it would be, to imprison such of the inhabitants of a country who refused to swear that all mankind were of one standard in height; sending those who had consciences to prison, until they pretended that they had grown taller or shorter, and were willing to take the oath. Mental decision must be formed on evidence. God can enlighten the mind to see that he alone can guide us to spiritual worship—that his will must be personally consulted, and unreservedly obeyed. Such a man feels that his soul's salvation depends upon obedience to God, and not to man. If human laws send him to jail for refusing to disobey God, he will write upon the prison wall as William Prynne did upon that in the Tower, "The Lord heareth the poor, and despiseth not HIS prisoners."
'Christ's presence hath my prison turn'd into A blessed heaven; what then will it do In heaven hereafter, when it now creates Heav'n in a dungeon; goals to courts translates?'
'He is not bound whom Christ makes free; he, Though shut close prisoner, chained, remains still free: A godly man's at large in every place, Still cheerful, well content, in blessed case, Unconquered; he a sacred heaven still bears About within his breast.'...
These were the feelings of all Christ's prisoners. Indomitable was the heroic spirit of Bunyan. He tells his persecutors their folly and their sin, even while suffering under their lash; and after more than twelve years' incarceration, his free spirit is unsubdued. Again for sixteen years he enjoyed the sweets of liberty, and then re-published at all risks his proofs of the wickedness of persecution for conscience' sake. There was no craft, nor guile, nor hypocrisy about his character, but a fearless devotion to the will of his God; and he became one of the most honoured of his saints.
1. Friend, I salute thee in the Lord, And wish thou may'st abound In faith, and have a good regard To keep on holy ground.
2. Thou dost encourage me to hold My head above the flood, Thy counsel better is than gold, In need thereof I stood.
3. Good counsel's good at any time, The wise will it receive, Though fools count he commits a crime Who doth good counsel give.
4. I take it kindly at thy hand Thou didst unto me write, My feet upon Mount Zion stand, In that take thou delight.
5. I am, indeed, in prison now In body, but my mind Is free to study Christ, and how Unto me he is kind.
6. For though men keep my outward man Within their locks and bars, Yet by the faith of Christ I can Mount higher than the stars.
7. Their fetters cannot spirits tame, Nor tie up God from me; My faith and hope they cannot lame, Above them I shall be.
8. I here am very much refreshed To think when I was out, I preached life, and peace, and rest To sinners round about.
9. My business then was souls to save, By preaching grace and faith; Of which the comfort now I have, And have it shall till death.
10. They were no fables that I taught, Devised by cunning men, But God's own Word, by which were caught Some sinners now and then.
11. Whose souls by it were made to see The evil of their sin; And need of Christ to make them free From death which they were in.
12. And now those very hearts that then Were foes unto the Lord, Embrace his Christ and truth, like men Conquered by his word.
13. I hear them sigh and groan, and cry For grace, to God above; They loathe their sin, and to it die, 'Tis holiness they love.
14. This was the work I was about When hands on me they laid, 'Twas this from which they pluck'd me out, And vilely to me said,
15. You heretic, deceiver, come, To prison you must go; You preach abroad, and keep not home, You are the church's foe.
16. But having peace within my soul, And truth on every side, I could with comfort them control, And at their charge deride.
17. Wherefore to prison they me sent, Where to this day I lie, And can with very much content For my profession die.
18. The prison very sweet to me Hath been since I came here, And so would also hanging be, If God would there appear.
19. Here dwells good conscience, also peace Here be my garments white; Here, though in bonds, I have release From guilt, which else would bite.
20. When they do talk of banishment, Of death, or such-like things; Then to me God sends heart's content, That like a fountain springs.
21. Alas! they little think what peace They help me to, for by Their rage my comforts do increase; Bless God therefore do I.
22. If they do give me gall to drink, Then God doth sweetn'ning cast So much thereto, that they can't think How bravely it doth taste.
23. For, as the devil sets before Me heaviness and grief, So God sets Christ and grace much more, Whereby I take relief.
24. Though they say then that we are fools Because we here do lie, I answer, goals are Christ his schools, In them we learn to die.
25. 'Tis not the baseness of this state Doth hide us from God's face, He frequently, both soon and late, Doth visit us with grace.
26. Here come the angels, here come saints, Here comes the Spirit of God, To comfort us in our restraints Under the wicked's rod.
27. God sometimes visits prisons more Than lordly palaces, He often knocketh at our door, When he their houses miss.
28. The truth and life of heavenly things Lift up our hearts on high, And carry us on eagles' wings, Beyond carnality.
29. It take away those clogs that hold The hearts of other men, And makes us lively, strong and bold Thus to oppose their sin.
30. By which means God doth frustrate That which our foes expect; Namely, our turning th' Apostate, Like those of Judas' sect.
31. Here comes to our rememberance The troubles good men had Of old, and for our furtherance, Their joys when they were sad.
32. To them that here for evil lie The place is comfortless, But not to me, because that I Lie here for righteousness.
33. The truth and I were both here cast Together, and we do Lie arm in arm, and so hold fast Each other; this is true.
34. This goal to us is as a hill, From whence we plainly see Beyond this world, and take our fill Of things that lasting be.
35. From hence we see the emptiness Of all this world contains; And here we feel the blessedness That for us yet remains.
36. Here we can see how all men play Their parts, as on a stage, How good men suffer for God's way, And bad men at them rage.
37. Here we can see who holds that ground Which they in Scripture find; Here we see also who turns round Like weathercocks with wind.
38. We can also from hence behold How seeming friends appear But hypocrites, as we are told In Scripture every where.
39. When we did walk at liberty, We were deceiv'd by them, Who we from hence do clearly see Are vile deceitful men.
40. These politicians that profest For base and worldly ends, Do now appear to us at best But Machiavellian friends.
41. Though men do say, we do disgrace Ourselves by lying here Among the rogues, yet Christ our face From all such filth will clear.
42. We know there's neither flout nor frown That we now for him bear, But will add to our heavenly crown, When he comes in the air.
43. When he our righteousness forth brings Bright shining as the day, And wipeth off those sland'rous things That scorners on us lay.
44. We sell our earthly happiness For heavenly house and home; We leave this world because 'tis less, And worse than that to come.
45. We change our drossy dust for gold, From death to life we fly: We let go shadows, and take hold Of immortality.
46. We trade for that which lasting is, And nothing for it give, But that which is already his By whom we breath and live.
47. That liberty we lose for him, Sickness might take away: Our goods might also for our sin By fire or thieves decay.
48. Again, we see what glory 'tis Freely to bear our cross For him, who for us took up his, When he our servant was.
49. I am most free that men should see A hole cut thro' mine ear; If others will ascertain me, They'll hang a jewel there.
50. Just thus it is we suffer here For him a little pain, Who, when he doth again appear, Will with him let us reign.
51. If all must either die for sin A death that's natural; Or else for Christ, 'tis beset with him Who for the last doth fall.
52. Who now dare say we throw away Our goods or liberty, When God's most holy Word doth say We gain thus much thereby?
53. Hark yet again, you carnal men, And hear what I shall say In your own dialect, and then I'll you no longer stay.
54. You talk sometimes of valour much, And count such bravely mann'd, That will not stick to have a touch With any in the land.
55. If these be worth commending then, That vainly show their might, How dare you blame those holy men That in God's quarrel fight?
56. Though you dare crack a coward's crown, Or quarrel for a pin, You dare not on the wicked frown, Nor speak against their sin.
57. For all your spirits are so stout, For matters that are vain; Yet sin besets you round about, You are in Satan's chain.
58. You dare not for the truth engage, You quake at prisonment; You dare not make the tree your stage For Christ, that King, potent.
59. Know then, true valour there doth dwell Where men engage for God, Against the devil, death, and hell, And bear the wicked's rod.
60. These be the men that God doth count Of high and noble mind; These be the men that do surmount What you in nature find.
61. First they do conquer their own hearts, All worldly fears, and then Also the devil's fiery darts, And persecuting men.
62. They conquer when they thus do fall, They kill when they do die: They overcome then most of all, And get the victory.
63. The worldling understands not this, 'Tis clear out of his sight; Therefore he counts this world his bliss, And doth our glory slight.
64. The lubber knows not how to spring The nimble footman's stage; Neither can owls or jackdaws sing If they were in the cage.
65. The swine doth not the pearls regard, But them doth slight for grains, Though the wise merchant labours hard For them with greatest pains.
66. Consdier man what I have said, And judge of things aright; When all men's cards are fully played, Whose will abide the light?
67. Will those, who have us hither cast? Or they who do us scorn? Or those who do our houses waste? Or us, who this have borne?
68. And let us count those things the best That best will prove at last; And count such men the only blest, That do such things hold fast.
69. And what though they us dear do cost, Yet let us buy them so; We shall not count our labour lost When we see others' woe.
70. And let saints be no longer blam'd By carnal policy; But let the wicked be asham'd Of their malignity.