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“Let Truth Be Free”: John Bunyan and the Restoration Crisis of 1667–1673

  • Richard L. Greaves


In the mid-1980s Stuart historians began a major re-evaluation of the restoration era. Among the principal themes are the period's unsettledness, the continuing impact of the radical tenets that had been manifested so forcefully in the mid-century upheavals, the significance of religion and ideology, and renewed debate over the origin of political parties. As I have suggested elsewhere, the period is most accurately conceived as a time of recurring crises of varying magnitude and duration. The first extended from Oliver Cromwell's death in September 1658 to the passage of the Conventicle Act in 1664, the second from 1667 to the enactment of the Test Act in 1673, the third from the revelation of the spurious Popish Plot in 1678 to the repression of the Rye House schemers and the Monmouth/Russell/Essex cabal in 1683, the fourth the rebellions of the earl of Argyll and the duke of Monmouth in 1685, and the fifth the crisis that entailed the collapse of James II's regime and the constitutional settlement of 1689.

Bunyan lived through the first four periods of crisis and died amid the final one. It is appropriate to ask how this reinterpretation of the restoration period affects our interpretation of Bunyan. Elsewhere I have offered some suggestions, particularly with respect to the crisis of 1678–83 and our understanding of The Holy War, Of Antichrist and His Ruine, and Seasonable Counsel: or, Advice to Sufferers. This essay will focus on the crisis of 1667–73, the principal interpreter of which is Gary De Krey. For him this controversy at root entailed a crucial debate about liberty of conscience—a revival of the debate that in his judgment was central to the mid-century revolution. De Krey makes a compelling case for the significance of the debate in the period 1667–73 because it challenged many of the assumptions on which the restoration settlement was founded, including the limits of political authority, the relationship between church and Crown, and the rights and obligations of subjects. In their various assertions of the right of conscience, nonconformists rejected the restoration settlement by insisting on God's ultimate sovereignty in the spiritual realm and “the autonomy of the conscience as God's vicegerent in that sphere.” For them the issue was not parliamentary versus royal sovereignty—not least because the policy of persecution was parliamentary—but the sovereignty of the conscience against any persecutorial authority.



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1 Greaves, Richard L., “Great Scott! The Restoration in Turmoil, or, Restoration Crises and the Emergence of Party,” Albion 25, 4 (Winter 1993): 605–18.

2 De Krey, Gary S., “Rethinking the Restoration: Dissenting Cases for Conscience, 1667–1672,” Historical Journal 38 (1995): 7980; De Krey, , “The First Restoration Crisis: Conscience and Coercion in London, 1667–73,” Albion 25, 4 (Winter 1993): 565–80. Recent discussions of persecution in this period include White, Barrie, “John Bunyan and the Context of Persecution, 1660–1688,” in John Bunyan and His England, 1628–88, ed. Laurence, Anne, Owens, W. R., and Sim, Stuart (London, 1990), pp. 5162; Schochet, Gordon J., “From Persecution to ‘Toleration,’” in Liberty Secured? Britain Before and After 1688, ed. Jones, J. R. (Stanford, 1992), pp. 122–57. For the conformists' contention that coercion was defensible as a means to educate and persuade dissenters see Goldie, Mark, “The Theory of Religious Intolerance in Restoration England,” in From Persecution to Toleration: The Glorious Revolution and Religion in England, ed. Grell, Ole Peter, Israel, Jonathan I., and Tyacke, Nicholas (Oxford, 1991), pp. 331–68.

3 De Krey, , “Rethinking the Restoration,” pp. 5760; [Owen, John], Truth and Innocence Vindicated (London, 1669), pp. 101–108, 156–57, 166, 187–91, 243–19; Idem., A Peace-Offering in an Apology and Humble Plea for Indulgence and Liberty of Conscience (London, 1667), pp. 3, 15–18; Idem., Indulgence and Toleration Considered in a Letter unto a Person of Honour (London, 1667), pp. 9–10, 12; Nye, Philip, The King's Authority in Dispensing with Ecclesiastical Laws, Asserted and Vindicated (London, 1687), pp. 30–31, 45 (Nye died in 1672); Idem, The Lawfulnes of the Oath of Supremacy, and Power of the King in Ecclesiastical Affairs (London, 1683), pp. 19–23; [Humfrey, John], A Case of Conscience (London, 1669), pp. 45; Humfrey, , Two Points of Great Moment (1672); Idem., The Authority of the Magistrate, About Religion, Discussed (1672), pp. 41–14, 72.

4 De Krey, , “Rethinking the Restoration,” pp. 6063; [Bethel, Slingsby], The Present Interest of England Stated (London, 1671), pp. 13–20, 2327; [SirWolseley, Charles], Liberty of Conscience, the Magistrates Interest (London, 1668), pp. 322; Owen, , Indulgence and Toleration Considered, pp. 7–8, 1721; Owen, , Truth and Innocence Vindicated, pp. 7481; Owen, , A Peace-Offering, pp. 13, 19, 3133; Owen, , “An Account of the Grounds and Reasons on Which Protestant Dissenters Desire Their Liberty” (1670), in The Works of John Owen, ed. Goold, William H., 16 vols. (Edinburgh, 1967), 13: 576, 583–86; Nye, , The Lawfulnes of the Oath of Supremacy, p. 69.

5 Krey, De, “Rethinking the Restoration,” pp. 6365; Penn, William, The Great Case of Liberty of Conscience (1670), pp. 3, 19–31, 3744; [Wolseley, ], Liberty of Conscience upon Its True Proper Grounds Asserted & Vindicated (London, 1668), pp. 3–6, 2650; [Lockyer, Nicholas], Some Seasonable and Serious Queries upon the Late Act Against Conventicles (1670), pp. 810.

6 Krey, De, “Rethinking the Restoration,” pp. 6567; anon., The Saints Freedom from Tyranny Vindicated (London, 1667), pp. 9–11, 17–18, 22–23, 25.

7 Krey, De, “Rethinking the Restoration,” pp. 8182.

8 Profitable Meditations (1661), Prison Meditations (1663), One Thing Is Needful (1665), and Ebal and Gerizzim (1665?).

9 Bunyan, John, “A Relation of the Imprisonment of Mr. John Bunyan,” ad cal. Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, ed. Sharrock, Roger (Oxford, 1962), pp. 105108 (p. 106 quoted).

10 Ibid., p. 109.

11 ibid., pp. 117–18.

12 Ibid., pp. 116–17, 119–22, 124 (pp. 120, 124 quoted).

13 The Miscellaneous Works of John Bunyan, vol. 6, ed. Midgley, Graham (Oxford, 1980), pp. 26, 42, 46, 50 (hereafter cited as MW).

14 MW, 6:50.

15 MW, 6:42.

16 Ibid.

17 “A Relation of the Imprisonment,” pp. 129–30.

18 Greaves, , Deliver Us from Evil: The Radical Underground in Britain, 1660–1663 (Oxford, 1986), pp. 112–34; Marshall, Alan, Intelligence and Espionage in the Reign of Charles II, 1660–1685 (Cambridge, 1994), pp. 142–50; Greaves, , John Bunyan and English Nonconformity (London, 1992), pp. 141–53.

19 Hill, Christopher, The English Bible and the Seventeenth-Century Revolution (London, 1993), p. 78.

20 “A Relation of the Imprisonment,” p. 130.

21 Seaward, Paul, The Cavalier Parliament and the Reconstruction of the Old Regime, 1661–1667 (Cambridge, 1989), pp. 181–83, 190–91.

22 The Minutes of the First Independent Church (now Bunyan Meeting) at Bedford 1656–1766, ed. Tibbutt, H. G., Publications of the Bedfordshire Historical Record Society, vol. 55 (1976), pp. 3739; Greaves, , Deliver Us from Evil, pp. 183–92.

22 The Works of John Bunyan, ed. Offor, George, 3 vols. (Glasgow, 1861), 3: between 374–75. Cf. Swaim, Kathleen M., Pilgrim's Progress, Puritan Progress: Discourses and Contexts (Urbana, 1993), pp. 5051.

24 MW, vol. 3, ed. McGee, J. Sears (Oxford, 1987), p. 69.

25 Ibid.

26 MW, 3:96 (quoted), 169 (quoted), 174–75.

27 MW, 3: 205 (quoted), 237–38, 268–69 (quoted), 278, 287.

28 MW, 6:108, 118.

29 Greaves, , John Bunyan and English Nonconformity, pp. 37–41, 194.

30 Keeble, N. H., The Literary Culture of Nonconformity in Later Seventeenth-Century England (Athens, Ga. 1987), p. 89. Cf. Roger Pooley's comment that the purpose of Grace Abounding was “to vindicate the cause for which Bunyan was in prison.” “Grace Abounding and the New Sense of Self,” in John Bunyan and His England, 1628–88, p. 110.

31 “A Relation of the Imprisonment,” p. 122; Grace Abounding, §§ 129–31.

32 Grace Abounding, §§ 44–45, 210 (quoted).

33 Minutes, p. 39.

34 Harris, Tim, London Crowds in the Reign of Charles II: Propaganda and Politics from the Restoration until the Exclusion Crisis (Cambridge, 1987), pp. 8291.

35 Greaves, , Enemies Under His Feet: Radicals and Nonconformists in Britain, 1664–1677 (Stanford, 1990), pp. 195–97.

36 Bunyan, , The Pilgrim's Progress, ed. Wharey, James Blanton and Sharrock, Roger, 2nd ed. (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1960), p. 88.

37 For the suffering of the Beford congregation at this time see A True and Impartial Narrative of Some Illegal and Arbitrary Proceedings by Certain Justices of the Peace and Others, Against Several Innocent and Peaceable Nonconformists in or near the Town of Bedford (1670).

38 Minutes, pp. 39–71. The first Conventicle Act had lapsed in March 1669.

39 MW, vol. 4, ed. Underwood, T. L. (Oxford, 1989), p. 135.

40 Ibid., 4: 136.

41 Ibid., 4: 193.

42 Ashcraft, Richard, Revolutionary Politics & Locke's Two Treatises of Government (Princeton, 1986), pp. 9294; Baker, J. Wayne, “Church, State, and Toleration: John Locke and Calvin's Heirs in England, 1644–1689,” in Later Calvinism: International Perspectives, ed. Graham, W. Fred, vol. 22, Sixteenth Century Essays and Studies (1994), p. 535.

43 MW, vol. 5, ed. Midgley, Graham (Oxford, 1986), pp. 159, 167–68, 178.

44 ibid., 5: xvi–xxii.

45 Greaves, , John Bunyan and English Nonconformity, pp. 6162.

46 Sharrock, Roger, John Bunyan (London, 1968), p. 46.

47 De Krey, , “The First Restoration Crisis,” p. 572.

48 Pilgrim's Progress, pp. 92–93.

49 Ibid., p. 1.

50 Campbell, Gordon, “Fishing in Other Men's Waters: Bunyan and the Theologians,” in John Bunyan: Conventicle and Parnassus, ed. Keeble, N. H. (Oxford, 1988), p. 140.

51 Pilgrim's Progress, p. 2.

52 British Library, Add. MSS 25,124, fols. 33r, 38r; Stowe MSS 209, fol. 237v; Public Record Office, State Papers 29/369/182; 29/383/54; Calendar of State Papers, Domestic, 1675–76, pp. 9–10, 61; Calendar of State Papers, Domestic, 1676–77, pp. 46, 132, 308, 407, 454, 547; Calendar of State Papers, Domestic, 1677–78, p. 53.

53 Toon, Peter, God's Statesman: The Life and Work of John Owen, Pastor, Educator, Theologian (Exeter, 1971), pp. 161–62; Ferguson, Robert, The Impact and Use of Scripture-Metaphors (1675), p. 278. See Johnson, Barbara A., “Falling into Allegory: The ‘Apology’ to The Pilgrim's Progress and Bunyan's Scriptural Methodology,” in Bunyan in Our Time, ed. Collmer, Robert G. (Kent, Oh., 1989), pp. 134–36.

54 Tindall, William York, John Bunyan: Mechanick Preacher (New York, 1934), p. 43; cf. pp. 58–67.

55 Nellist, Brian, “The Pilgrim's Progress and Allegory,” in The Pilgrim's Progress: Critical and Historical Views, ed. Newey, Vincent (Totowa, N.J., 1980), p. 148; Nick Shrimpton, “Bunyan's Military Metaphor,” in ibid., pp. 205–23.

56 Knott, John R. Jr., The Sword of the Spirit: Puritan Responses to the Bible (Chicago, 1980), p. 145.

57 Hammond, Brean S., “The Pilgrim's Progress: Satire and Social Comment,” in The Pilgrim's Progress, ed. Newey, , p. 120.

58 The Pilgrim's Progress, pp. 95–96; “A Relation of the Imprisonment,” pp. 121–22.

59 The Pilgrim's Progress, p. 92; “A Relation of the Imprisonment,” pp. 113, 127, 130.

60 The Pilgrim's Progress, p. 93; “A Relation of the Imprisonment,” p. 120.

61 The Pilgrim's Progress, p. 93; “A Relationship of the Imprisonment,” pp. 110, 113, 124.

62 The Pilgrim's Progress, p. 92; “A Relationship of the Imprisonment,” p. 110.

63 The Pilgrim's Progress, p. 95.

64 “A Relation of the Imprisonment,” pp. 114, 116.

65 “A Relation of the Imprisonment,” p. 117; The Pilgrim's Progress, pp. 94–95.

66 Hammond, , “The Pilgrim's Progress: Satire and Social Comment,” p. 129.

67 The Pilgrim's Progress, pp. 94–95. See the excellent discussion in Hill, Christopher, A Tinker and a Poor Man: John Bunyan and His Church (New York, 1989), pp. 215, 224–26. Hill interprets Vanity Fair as an attack on the Catholic Church and “the money power”; it is also an attack on the persecuting state.

68 [Underhill, Cave], Vox Lachrymae (Frankfurt, 1681; repr., London, 1682), pp. 67.

69 The Pilgrim's Progress, p. 97.

70 Frye, Roland Mushat, God, Man, and Satan: Patterns of Christian Thought and Life in Paradise Lost, The Pilgrim's Progress, and the Great Theologians (Princeton, 1960), p. 120.


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