Quaker Heritage Press > Online Texts > Bunyan-Burrough Debate > Kuenning dissertation, chapter 1

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     John Bunyan's first published work, an attack on Quakerism, initiated an exchange with the Quaker itinerant preacher Edward Burrough that lasted through two publications by each author in 1656-57. The debate was acrimonious, as religious debates at the time tended to be. Unlike some other debates of the time, it involved a marked lack of understanding between the two sides. This study attempts to explore the meanings of both sides and their interaction.


     John Bunyan (1628-1688), later to become famous as author of The Pilgrim's Progress, was at this time 27 or 28 years old, a tinker by trade, and a recent convert to a gathered church in Bedford. His long and traumatic conversion had brought him from a notoriously dissolute way of life to an evangelical style of Christianity focused on the inwardly experienced forgiveness of sins through faith in the atonement. In the process he had wrestled with inner voices that prompted him alternately to hope and despair through a vivid sense of the applicability of one or another scripture text as a diagnosis of his spiritual condition.

     The Bedford congregation, variously categorized as Baptist and Independent, was led by John Gifford until his death in 1655, and then by John Burton. From 1653 to 1660 first Gifford and then Burton served also as parish ministers in Bedford under the Cromwellian state church, thus creating a structural overlap between the voluntary congregation with self-selected membership and the official church responsible for everyone within its territory.

     Soon after his conversion Bunyan's preaching gifts were noticed by his new church, and with their encouragement he began an unpaid ministry, particularly to the less religious in his neighborhood, or those whom he and the congregation saw as the unconverted. It was about this time that the rival mission of the Quakers came to Bedfordshire.

     Quakerism was at this time in its initial period of rapid expansion, which had begun in 1652 when George Fox (1624-1691), commonly accounted the founder of Quakerism, encountered the Seeker fellowships of Westmorland and Lancashire and found them a ready source of converts. One of the many to become Quakers at that juncture was Edward Burrough (1634-1662), who was to become Bunyan's antagonist in the pamphlet debate. Rejected by his parents for his new religion at the age of 18, Burrough soon became one of Quakerism's itinerant preachers, along with his older traveling companion Francis Howgill. Beginning in 1654 Burrough and Howgill were usually the chief Quaker evangelists in London; their occasional absences included about half a year of preaching in Ireland in 1655-56. Not long after their return to London, they received news that Bedfordshire Quakers' controversy with Bunyan and his church, having begun in a series of oral debates and personal confrontations, had led to Bunyan's written attack on Quakerism. Burrough was asked to write a response.

     Quaker evangelistic preaching had in common with Bunyan's an attempt to awaken a sense of sin in the hearers; but unlike Bunyan, the Quakers also openly attacked the sins of the parish clergy, especially the sin of receiving compulsory maintenance, which was viewed as oppression of the poor and as a departure from the biblical standards of true ministry. Bunyan's pastor John Burton came in for his share of this attack because of his position in the official church. In the heat of controversy, Quaker critics of Burton apparently acquired the erroneous belief that Bunyan too was supported by compulsory tithes, and passed on this misinformation to Burrough in their reports about the oral debates.

     Quaker strategy in the 1650s was to use their attack on the clergy as an entry point for directing their hearers away from such corrupt teachers, in favor of the immediate teaching of Christ experienced within and its reinforcement by preachers with a true prophetic commission (i.e. Quaker preachers). Doctrines of the established church were thus called into question, and defenders of Protestant orthodoxy were often at a loss to know exactly which points were under attack and what the Quakers meant to substitute for them. It was often assumed, by Bunyan as by others, that Quaker doctrine was much like that of the Ranters, a loose collection of radicals similarly reputed to direct people to an inward teaching, who had attained notoriety as amoralists about 1650. Bunyan took it for granted that the Quaker preaching of "Christ within" was meant as a cover for effectively denying the saving efficacy of "Christ without."

     The Quaker attack on the clergy often took the form of direct personal confrontation in public, for instance by interrupting sermons or other parts of worship services in the established church. On other occasions debates were arranged by mutual agreement, following the custom of the times, and were attended both for edification and for entertainment. Under these chaotic circumstances, charges and countercharges were hurled and afterwards remembered differently by the opposing sides in a debate. It was probably on some such occasion that Anne Blaykling, one of Fox's early converts, heckled Bunyan with an accusation of witchcraft in words that can no longer be accurately reconstructed.1 Numerous events such as these formed the immediate background when Bunyan wrote his first treatise.

     During the course of the written exchange between Bunyan and Burrough there occurred also a major event of early Quaker history: James Nayler's October 1656 reenactment at Bristol, as a prophetic sign, of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Though neither Bunyan nor Burrough refers to it, the event will be useful for chronology2 as well as to complete this initial sketch of the tensions of the times.

     James Nayler was another major apostle of early Quakerism, on some accounts rivaling Fox for prominence in the movement. He had filled in for Burrough and Howgill at the task of evangelizing London during their absence in Ireland. A sequence of factional problems led to his association with certain dissident Quakers dissatisfied with Burrough and Howgill's leadership of the London mission. Despite Fox's disapproval of this group's development, Nayler accompanied them on a procession into Bristol, himself seated on horseback while the others sang praises reminiscent of Jesus' arrival at Jerusalem. They were promptly arrested, and although Nayler denied any belief that he himself was Christ, an incriminating letter found in his clothing suggested that some of his companions did believe it. He was tried for blasphemy, not by an ordinary court but by Parliament itself, where a test case for the limits of religious toleration was wanted. Convicted, he was subjected to various tortures, branding, and imprisonment.

     Nayler eventually condemned his part in the affair and was reconciled with the main body of Quakers, dying in 1660 shortly after his release from prison. He was long featured by opponents of Quakerism as a horrible example of the movement's dangers. Among the Quakers themselves his actions and his temporary disunity with Fox and other leaders administered a profound shock to the sense of being infallibly and unitedly led by the immediate guidance of Christ. The year 1656 therefore represents the high water mark of the early Quakers' supreme confidence in speaking, writing and acting at the immediate motion of the Spirit, trusting that whatever was dictated to them must carry the prophetic power of God's words regardless of how socially deviant or incomprehensible their contemporaries might find it.

The Debate

     Bunyan's first tract was an orderly theological treatise in which criticisms of Quakerism were embedded at key points. Thereafter, however, the debate proceeded in the barely structured format of line-by-line rebuttals. A further contribution in the same mode was provided by George Fox in 1659 in the context of a collection of similar responses to over a hundred anti-Quaker publications.

     The documents are as follows:

     John Bunyan, Some Gospel-truths Opened According to the Scriptures, or, the Divine and Humane Nature of Christ Jesus, His Coming Into the World, His Righteousness, Death, Resurrection, Ascension, Intercession, and Second Comming to Judgment, Plainly Demonstrated and Proved (London: J. Wright the younger, 1656).

     Edward Burrough, The True Faith of the Gospel of Peace Contended for, in the Spirit of Meekness: And the Mystery of Salvation (Christ Within, the Hope of Glory) Vindicated in the Spirit of Love, Against the Secret Opposition of John Bunyan, a Professed Minister in Bedfordshire (London: Giles Calvert, 1656).

     John Bunyan, A Vindication of the Book Called, Some Gospel-truths Opened; According to the Scriptures, and the Opposition Made Against It by Edward Borrough, a Professed Quaker, (but Proved an Enemie to the Truth) Examined and Confuted by the Word of God (London: Matthias Cowley, 1657).

     Edward Burrough, Truth (the Strongest of All) Witnessed Forth in the Spirit of Truth, Against All Deceit: And Pleading in Righteousness Its Owne Cause, to the Understanding of the Simple, Against a Very Great Number of Lyes, Slanders, Perverting of the Scriptures, Contradictions and False Damnable Doctrines, Held Forth by the Independants (London: Giles Calvert, 1657).

     George Fox, The Great Mystery of the Great Whore Unfolded and Antichrist's Kingdom Revealed Unto Destruction (London: Thomas Simmons, 1659). Burrough wrote the Epistle to the Reader for this volume.


     The great number of cross-references among the documents makes the debate especially suitable for analysis by means of a computer hypertext. Such a format enables the reader to move quickly among related passages, generally by selecting linked text using a mouse or other pointing device. This obviates the need to leaf through multiple volumes finding passages by page number, or worse, by context only when the original pagination has not been preserved in a reprint. The ability to follow such links with a minimum of effort encourages much closer scholarly attention to the interrelations among documents.

     This study was therefore begun by preparing a hypertext edition of the four documents of the Bunyan-Burrough debate plus the relevant sections of Fox's Great Mystery. The links were coded in Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), the current medium for the presentation of such material on the World Wide Web. After typing all the documents into a computer, the author worked through each document sequentially in search of passages referring to material in the other documents or elsewhere in the same document.

     In each case, links were created in both directions, marked in two different ways. In the referring passage, which nearly always contains some textual indication of the reference such as "he saith," "thy next thing," or "in page 10," the reference formula is highlighted in the standard HTML manner. (The exact method of display depends on the computer program used to read the documents; in currently popular programs it is most common for highlighting to be accomplished with underlining and color.) The link in the opposite direction, located in the passage referred to, requires a different style of marker. A graphic icon was used for this purpose, placed just before the text referred to. Over two thousand links were created.

     At the time of this writing, the hypertext edition may be seen on the author's website at http://www.voicenet.com/~kuenning/qhp/bunyan/. [It has been subsequently moved to http://www.qhpress.org/texts/bvb/ with multiple links between it and this online copy of the dissertation.]

     For the benefit of readers who prefer a printed text or who cannot consult the hypertext on the Internet, the same material has been converted into parallel columns and is included in an appendix to this study. The selections from Fox, which are rather sparse and are less used in the present study than Burrough's, have been omitted in order to reduce the number of columns. Since cross-references among the documents do not always occur in sequence, it was not always possible to place corresponding passages on the same page. In such cases bracketed page and column numbers have been supplied.

     For copyright reasons, since the documents have been fully reproduced, the text of Bunyan is from the 19th-century edition of Henry Stebbing.3 In a few cases the text has been corrected from the superior critical edition of T. L. Underwood in The Miscellaneous Works of John Bunyan (vol. 1, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980).4 In other cases of significant difference between the editions, a graphic based on the Oxford University Press logo appears in the hypertext edition, with a pop-up text indicating the page and line number in Underwood's edition. ("Significant" differences are those that involve more than capitalization, punctuation, spelling, fonts, and the placement, formatting, and occasional correction of scripture references.)

     The text of Burrough is from his posthumous Memorable Works.5 That of Fox is from the 1831 edition of his Works.6 Where necessary for accuracy these have been corrected from the original printings.7


     This study's chapter titles and many of its subordinate headings have been drawn from the wording of the debate materials. The following descriptive outline may clarify the arrangement.

     The rest of this introductory chapter investigates the chronology of the Bunyan and Burrough documents. (The title, chosen to suggest the method of study, is from one of Bunyan's complaints that Burrough has misquoted him.)

     The following chapter reviews the secondary literature on the Bunyan-Burrough debate. (Its title, "To Be Judged of by Honest Men," is from Burrough's recommendation of his cause to a hopefully impartial readership.)

     There follow three chapters on the format of the materials, an investigation necessary before looking at the theologies involved. Of these, chapter 3 investigates the distinctive vocabularies in the debate (particularly that of the Quakers) and in the process observes the educational backgrounds of the participants. (Its title, "Indeed Thy Words Are Dark," is from Bunyan's complaint that Burrough speaks obscurely.)

     Chapter 4 examines the contrasting writing and preaching styles used by Bunyan and Burrough and relates them to the styles of their religious communities. (Its title, "Much Railing and Secret Shooting," combines Bunyan's and Burrough's characterizations of each other's writing.)

     Chapter 5 looks at patterns of interaction between Bunyan and Burrough that develop during the debate. (Its title, "Corrupting My Words and Calling Me Liar," is from Bunyan's complaint against one of Burrough's tactics, though in fact Burrough makes much the same complaint against Bunyan as well.)

     In the next three chapters we get to the theological substance of the debate. Chapter 6 deals mainly with Bunyan, examining the close tie he tries to establish between his doctrines of salvation and the person of Christ. (Its title, "Gloriously Without the Gates," is from Bunyan's description of the completeness and definitiveness of Christ's sacrifice for sin.)

     Chapter 7 deals mainly with Burrough, whose doctrine of the heavenly flesh of Christ manifested within the saints, representative of 1650s Quakerism, remains too little understood. (Its title, "Some Four or Five Foot Long," is from Bunyan's argument as to why such an idea is impossible.)

     Chapter 8 deals with the competing explanations of the Quakers' light and the role of conviction of sin in the conversion process. (Its title, "Close on a Sudden with Something Within," is from Bunyan's description of the hazards of Quaker spirituality.)

     A final chapter summarizes the conclusions of the study and makes suggestions for further work. (Its title, "While We Are Both Silent," is from Burrough's suggestion that both sides have said enough and it is time for readers to make up their own minds.)


     The task of dating the pamphlets more closely than by year must begin with four specific dates mentioned by Burrough. These are the dates of personal encounters of various unnamed Quakers (not including Burrough) with Bunyan, Burton, and others of their congregation. Burrough states them as April 12, May 23, 8th Month 23, and 11th Month 30, 1656,8 the change from named to numbered months probably marking a stage in the adoption of Quaker practices by Burrough's Bedfordshire informants. Converting the numbered dates from old style, they are equivalent to October 23, 1656 and January 30, 1657. The October date is coincidentally that of James Nayler's entry into Bristol.

     Of the alleged quotations from Bunyan, Burton, and others which Burrough dates to these occasions, only those of April 12 and May 23 are mentioned in The True Faith;9 these reappear, along with the later quotations, in Truth the Strongest, where the dates are given. On the assumption that The True Faith contains all the useful quotations available to Burrough when he wrote it, it must be dated sometime between late May and late October.

     This terminus ad quem for The True Faith is confirmed by Thomas Collier's A Looking-Glasse for the Quakers, which quotes it.10 The main body of this pamphlet appears to have reached its originally intended conclusion when Collier writes: "I say no more, but leave them to the Lord, who I earnestly desire in mercy to look upon them, and recover them out of their snares, and keep all his people from them."11 This is followed by a page break, a division graphic, and a major heading, "A Relation of Naylor's Exaltation in the West," introducing a brief account of Nayler's passage through Wells, where Collier lived, en route to Bristol, and Collier's further remarks about the errors of Quakerism.12 If, as seems likely from the original closing formula, the main body of the pamphlet was complete before the occasion for this appendix arose, Collier must have had a copy of Burrough's The True Faith well before October 23.

     Bunyan's Some Gospel Truths Opened should be dated a few weeks before Burrough's reply to it, for as he begins the main body of his Vindication Bunyan writes, "I did some few weeks past put forth a small book, called, Some Gospel Truths opened. . . . Now . . . one Edward Burrough . . . hath published a book, called The true Faith of the Gospel of Peace contended for."13

     Burrough's Epistle to the Reader in Truth the Strongest is dated 12th Month, 1656, i.e. February 1657.14 The title page carries the date of 1657, which means that unless the printer used a new style date or postdated the pamphlet, it appeared no sooner than March 25.

     It is at first sight confusing that Bunyan's Vindication also shows 1657 on the title page. Unless this is a new style date, it means that Burrough was writing the introductory epistle for his reply to the Vindication before the Vindication itself appeared in print. But this is in fact consistent with the text of Burrough's Truth the Strongest. Both of Burrough's replies to Bunyan are arranged sequentially, replying to selected sentences in their order of appearance, and in his first reply this means he begins with the two introductory epistles by Burton and Bunyan. But Truth the Strongest begins replying at the opening of the main text of the Vindication, skipping the opening epistle. Burrough cites Bunyan's epistle only once, in his concluding summary of Bunyan's errors.15 (Fox, replying in 1659 to Bunyan's printed text, finds proportionately as much to reply to in this section as in the rest of the document, and puts this material first.) This feature of Burrough's reply is most consistent with the hypothesis that he began working from an advance copy of Bunyan's work, lacking the epistle which as was customary would be written last. Further confirmation that Burrough wrote without a final printed copy of the Vindication comes from the fact that Truth the Strongest never cites it by page number, and once resorts to the expression "in another page,"16 though it cites fourteen page numbers of The True Faith and one of Some Gospel Truths Opened. How Burrough obtained an advance copy is not known, but it appears he was motivated to get his reply into print as quickly as possible after Bunyan's Vindication appeared. This is certainly consistent with the early Quaker penchant for leaving no criticism unanswered.

     If Burrough had an advance copy of Bunyan's work he may also have had inside information about Bunyan's progress in writing it; in any case he knew how long it had been since the appearance of his The True Faith. In the conclusion of Truth the Strongest Burrough says Bunyan's "several months travel in grief and pain is a fruitless Birth." This refers specifically to the time Bunyan spent in writing the Vindication (and not, for instance, to Bunyan's long-drawn-out conversion), since Burrough also refers to the outcome of this travail as Bunyan's "formed weapons."17 Burrough probably wrote these words in February 1657, just before the opening epistle for Truth the Strongest, and a figure of "several months" is about right for a task that began just after the appearance of The True Faith, no later than October 1656.

     This chronology, with the first two pamphlets appearing a few weeks apart probably in the summer of 1656 and the last two even closer together around March 1657, gives us an initial sketch of Bunyan taking the time to write carefully and of Burrough dashing off copy in order to get quickly into print. It also indicates that the Nayler affair and its resulting embarrassment for Quakerism occurred between the two pairs of publications, so that any effect it may have had (such as making Bunyan more confident or Burrough more cautious) must be found in the last two documents rather than the first two.


     1. Below, 95.

     2. Below, 15.

     3. John Bunyan, The Entire Works of John Bunyan, ed. Henry Stebbing (4 vols., London: Virtue & Co., 1860). Some Gospel Truths Opened is at 1:44-86 and the Vindication at 1:87-123.

     4. John Bunyan, The Miscellaneous Works of John Bunyan, ed. Roger Sharrock, vol. 1: Some Gospel-truths Opened; A Vindication of Some Gospel-truths Opened; A Few Sighs from Hell, ed. T. L. Underwood with assistance of Roger Sharrock (Oxford: Clarendon, 1980). Some Gospel Truths Opened is at 1-115 and the Vindication at 117-220.

     5. Edward Burrough, The Memorable Works of a Son of Thunder and Consolation, ed. Ellis Hookes (London, 1672). The True Faith is at 136-152 and Truth the Strongest at 275-309.

     6. George Fox, The Works of George Fox (8 vols., Philadelphia and New York, 1831; reprint, New York: AMS Press, ca. 1975; reprint, New Foundation Fellowship, 1991). The Great Mystery occupies nearly the whole of vol. 3.

     7. E[dward] B[urrough], The True Faith of the Gospel of Peace Contended for, in the Spirit of Meekness: and the Mystery of Salvation (Christ within, the Hope of Glory) Vindicated in the Spirit of Love, against the Secret Opposition of John Bunyan, a Professed Minister in Bedfordshire (London: Giles Calvert, 1656); Edward Burrough, Truth (the Strongest of All) Witnessed Forth in the Spirit of Truth, against All Deceit: and Pleading in Righteousnesse its Owne Cause, to the Understanding of the Simple, against a Very Great Number of Lyes, Slanders, Perverting of the Scriptures, Contradictions and False Damnable Doctrines, Held Forth by the Independants; and in Particular by one John Bunion (one of Gogs Army) in Two Severall Bookes Put Forth by him, against the Despised Scattered People Called Quakers (London: Giles Calvert, 1657); George Fox, The Great Mistery of the Great Whore Unfolded: and Antichrists Kingdom Revealed unto Destruction (London: Thomas Simmons, 1659).

     8. Burrough, Truth the Strongest, 53-55 (appendix, 368-372, col. 4).

     9. Burrough, The True Faith, 30 (appendix, 368-370, col. 2).

     10. Thomas Collier, A Looking-Glasse for the Quakers (London: Thomas Brewster, 1657), 4.

     11. Ibid., 15.

     12. Ibid., 16-20.

     13. Bunyan, Vindication, 134 (appendix, 239, col. 3). Underwood's note to this sentence in Bunyan's Miscellaneous Works, 1:394, wrongly takes it as indicating "the speed of Bunyan's writing." It indicates the speed of Burrough's.

     14. Burrough, Truth the Strongest, unnumbered page immediately before 1 (appendix, 232, col. 4).

     15. Ibid., 56 (appendix, 372, col. 4), citing Bunyan, Vindication, 128 (appendix, 235, col. 3).

     16. Ibid., 20 (appendix, 262, col. 4).

     17. Ibid., 62 (appendix, 378, col. 4).

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