Quaker Heritage Press > Online Texts > Bunyan-Burrough Debate > Kuenning dissertation, chapter 5

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Then Thy Next Thing

     The most prominent structural feature of the debate is the point-by-point response method, introduced by Burrough in The True Faith and thereafter used by both sides. Burrough had used the same method in earlier replies to anti-Quaker pamphlets, sometimes to better effect than he achieves in his replies to Bunyan. His 1654 The Walls of Jericho Razed to the Ground, replying to Enoch Howet's The Quaking Principles Dashed in Pieces, takes up, in Howet's numbered order, seven specific errors which he attributes to the Quakers, "and what we own is vindicated, and what he hath belyed the Truth in, is turned upon his own head."1 Also in 1654, Burrough's Answers to Several Queries replies sequentially to twenty numbered questions from Philip Bennett and fifteen from John Reeve.2 Such enumerated questions or propositions invite a reply that follows the format of the challenge.

     But Some Gospel Truths Opened is not organized around its attack on Quaker principles. To produce a truly organized reply, Burrough would have needed to distill Bunyan's anti-Quaker arguments out of his soteriological treatise and group them by topic before proceeding to his rebuttal. Lacking either the time or the skill (or both) for such a procedure, Burrough expresses his frustration with Bunyan's "tedious travel":

And for the sake of the Simple I have taken in hand to return a few words in answer to you, in those things (at least) wherein you mention the Quakers . . . I shall not transcribe your whole matter, only the heads of some particulars I shall draw into a sum, and write a few words thereunto, not in a large manner.3

Burrough does not in fact draw the heads of Bunyan's particulars into a sum; instead he launches in somewhat incoherently: "And in the first Epistle have spoken something," quotes a selection from Burton's epistle, and proceeds to his "1 Answ." Only after another selection from Burton and a "2 Answ." does Burrough give up the irrelevant numbering of his answers; he never does give up the sequential method.

     His method forces Burrough to deal with the opening epistles before he gets to the body of Bunyan's treatise. He cannot simply ignore the epistles, for they contain slurs against the Quakers which are not repeated in quite the same terms anywhere in the main text.4 Yet it is in the nature of this prefatory material to provide mere hints of what is coming, postponing detailed exposition for the treatise itself. As a result, when Bunyan adopts the sequential method in his Vindication and Burrough continues it in Truth the Strongest, all the pamphlets become heavily front-loaded with wrangling over vague smears.

     The matter is compounded when Bunyan, early in the Vindication, attempts to defend Burton's association of Quakers with Ranters. To do so he resorts first to a list of five agreements between the two groups, and then to the argument, "Why should you be so angry with my brother, for joining of a sinner and a liar together?" This of course immediately requires a proof "that the Quakers are liars" and so leads Bunyan to produce a list of four ways in which Burrough has misrepresented him, gathered from various places in The True Faith.5 Finally, having finished defending Burton's epistle, Bunyan finds that the first point at which he must defend his own epistle is to substantiate his own casual reference to the Quakers as deceivers. This could have been done by referring the reader to what he has proved at large throughout his book, but instead Bunyan compiles yet another catalog of six (numbered as five) Quaker heresies.6

     Two vague smears have thus mushroomed into a miscellaneous catalog of fifteen accusations. Burrough, in turn, at the beginning of Truth the Strongest, must reply to each of these charges sequentially7 (with one exception, which he postpones with the remark that "the Reader may expect it in its place").8 The debate thus becomes highly disorganized and cluttered with futile retorts such as "thou hast not yet proved one Lye against me in the sight of God nor men; thou art the Lyer if thou say thou hast."9 It is no wonder that it has been an uninviting topic for detailed scholarship.

Subtil Queries to Insnare the Innocent

     Much misunderstanding of the debate has been occasioned by Burrough's refusal to give straight answers to what he considers crooked questions. Burrough was not alone in this approach; a question from John Reeve shows that it was commonly perceived to be a trait of Quakers in general:

     Are they not deceived Persons, and utterly ignorant of the true God, who judge men and women in darkness, if they ask them Questions about the needfull things of Eternity? is it not because they went before they were sent, and so are of a bitter spirit for want of spiritual Light to satisfie the tender Christian Querier.10

Burrough's reply to Reeve shows that this behavior was deliberate, and explains the principle involved:

Christ and his Disciples answered and judged that spirit which would have had a sign; and called them Adulterers, which Spirit we witness to the praise of God . . . all who queries from that nature that would know, but never come to obedience, that is to be judged. . . . But as for them who have a desire to know the way to the Father, we are ready to give an answer, and to impart of the gift we have received, and doth not break a bruised reed, but the fat we feed with judgement, and there thou art answered.11

This of course assumes that the Quaker giving a rough answer was competent to judge the questioner's spirit. Burrough shows no doubts on this score: "but the spiritual man judgeth all things, and he is judged of none; and all Judgement is committed to the Son, and where he is made manifest he speaketh, and judgeth righteously. . . ."12 To Bunyan Burrough states this principle more briefly: "I shall not answer them to satisfie thee, nor I may not feed thy Serpents wisdom, nor subtilty, which cannot receive of the things of God, nor understand a reason of the Hope of Christ in us, if we declare to thee";13 "the darkness of my words is to blind the eye of subtilty, and not to deceive the hearts of the simple."14

     Burrough's answers to the second and fourth of Bunyan's "Questions to the Quakers" well illustrate this strategy. In answering the fourth question Burrough shows his opinion of Bunyan's spirit:

Yea, he is the very Christ of God, which was before the World was, by whom the World was made, who was made manifest from Mary's womb, and was persecuted to death by the Scribes and Pharisees, in whose steps thou treadst, in asking subtil Queries to insnare the Innocent, as they did; read thy Example, and thy self to be an Enemy to the Christ of God.15

It is in the light of this judgment, that Bunyan is in the steps of those who persecuted Christ to death, that we must read Burrough's answer to Bunyan's second question. As part of this complex question, Bunyan seeks to pin the Quakers down on the historical basis of salvation:

Why did the man Christ Jesus hang upon the cross on Mount Calvary, without the gates of Jersualem, for the sins of the people?16

To this part of the question Burrough replies:

And the man Christ Jesus was hanged upon the Cross on Mount Calvery, because they wickedly judged him to be a Blasphemer, and through their envy persecuted him to death, because he bore witness against them; and as in their account he died, and hanged upon the Cross for an Evil-doer, and this is one ground (at least) why he hanged upon the Cross. . . .17

The words "one ground (at least)" show that Burrough is not trying to give a theologically complete answer to Bunyan's question. Indeed he wishes to leave Bunyan in doubt as to whether, in his mind, there were any other reasons for Jesus' death on the cross, and if so, what they were. To give Bunyan such information in his present condition would be harmful, for Bunyan would only misuse it. What Bunyan needs to hear, Burrough is certain, is that Jesus died at the hands of people who, like Bunyan, judged the true witnesses of God to be blasphemers.

     Burrough's intent in this answer makes it invalid to use this text as evidence of his complete theological views on the death of Jesus. If we wish to learn what Burrough thinks about this we must look elsewhere. Bunyan, of course, is not deterred:

Ha! Friend. I had thought thou hadst not been so much hardened; art thou not ashamed thus to slight the death of the man Christ Jesus on the cross; and reckon it not effectually for salvation, but sayest, the church is redeemed by Christ Jesus which is revealed within? . . . thou deniest that redemption was wrought out for sinners by the man Christ Jesus on the cross, or tree, on Mount Calvary; when the Scripture saith plainly, that when he did hang on the tree then did he bear all our sins there in his own body.18

Bunyan says "thou deniest" because to him it is obvious that if Burrough believed as he does he would affirm it. But it is not only Bunyan who reads Burrough as giving a theological answer; the same pitfall is open to scholars. Mullett gives a more moderate version of the same misreading:

Burrough's suggestion of a purely human, indeed, almost incidental causality for the Crucifixion - 'Christ Jesus was hanged . . . because they wickedly judged him to be a blasphemer' - may have threatened his consensual image by endangering the Anselmian model which explained the Cross according to a majestic divine plan. . . .19

     One class of questions which Burrough thinks especially undeserving of answers consists of those which Bunyan asks in order to prove accusations he has already made. An example is found in one of Bunyan's five points of similarity between Quakers and Ranters:

5. The Ranters would not own the resurrection of the bodies of the saints after they were laid in the graves; and how say you . . . Do you believe the resurrection of these very bodies again, which were buried so long since; or do you hold, as the Ranters do, nothing but the resurrection from a sinful to a holy state in this life?20

Rather than answer the question, Burrough retorts:

Friend, this is far short of proving these things upon us, by querying them to us, let the Reader consider. . . . Is this sufficient proof of evil against us, to ask us whether it be so? . . . this is absurdity, and wickedness in thee, falsly to charge us, and to bring no better evidence, but thy bare words. . . .21

With the word "falsly" Burrough implicitly denies the charge, but he refuses to give Bunyan the satisfaction of a direct statement of Quaker belief as long as Bunyan insists on upholding a charge made in ignorance. Bunyan should substantiate his charge from evidence already in his possession, or admit that he overreached himself.

If We Should Diligently Search

     Bunyan is not the only one guilty of making accusations in ignorance: the same must be said of Burrough's charge that Bunyan receives money for preaching. In order to evaluate the subsequent dispute we must observe Burrough's exact wording:

those false Prophets which Christ spake of, came in, in the dayes of John . . . And if we should diligently search, we should find thee in their steps, through feigned words, through covetousness, making Merchandise of Souls, loving the wages of unrighteousness, and such were the Scoffers, which Peter speaks of, among which thou art found, in thy practice, among them who are preaching for hire. . . .22

     Just as Bunyan's uncertain information on the Quakers' belief in the general resurrection comes through in his words "how say you," a similar lack of firm data appears in Burrough's "if we should diligently search." He has not searched, nor have his Quaker informants in Bedfordshire, at least not as diligently as he knows the case would require. Nevertheless he risks an assertion about what such a search would find.

     Bunyan is just as indignant as Burrough about a false accusation made in ignorance. But he shares none of Burrough's reluctance to state the actual facts in rebuttal:

Friend, dost thou speak this as from thy own knowledge, or did any other tell thee so? However, that spirit that led thee out of this way is a lying spirit. For though I be poor, and of no repute in the world as to outward things, yet through grace I have learned by the example of the Apostle to preach the truth; and also to work with my hands, both for mine own living, and for those that are with me, when I have opportunity. . . . And hereafter have a care of receiving any thing by hearsay only, lest you be found a publisher of those lies which are brought to you by others, and so render yourself the less credible; but be it so.23

     Burrough tries to evade Bunyan's criticism by pedantically parsing his own earlier words:

Again thou sayst it is an untruth of thee, to say thou art one of those that do preach for Hire, through Covetousness making merchandize of Souls; my words are not so laid down, thou hast wrested them for thy purpose, though it availes nothing: but I said, thou art in their steps, that through covetousness, with fained words, makes merchandize of Souls, and thou art found among them that preaches for Hire; and I have spoken the truth herein . . . I might instance that thou art in their steps, and among them that act such things, as further may be proved, and the wisdom of God so fore-saw, to keep me clear, and my words to be defended. . . .24

His pedantry cannot be counted a success. The first clause was not "in their steps, that . . . makes merchandize of Souls" but "in their steps . . . making Merchandise of Souls," which is hard to read in any sense but that Bunyan himself does so. Further, "among them who are preaching for hire" was the continuation of the clause "among which thou art found, in thy practice," so that even here the more natural reading is that Bunyan himself is one of those who preach for hire.

     Burrough's appeal to divine providence is especially telling. To say that "the wisdom of God so fore-saw, to keep me clear" is to admit that he himself did not foresee and could just as easily have run out into more extravagant accusations. He was prevented from doing so not by his own care to tell the truth but by God's guidance of his pen. Indeed even the ill-considered word "foresaw" (God did not have to foresee what Bunyan's practice already was) is a telltale sign of Burrough's own lack of foresight. His insufficient care may be occasioned, not to say caused, by his strong confidence in the guidance he experiences as he speaks and writes; this is a man many of whose works are peppered with "thus says the Lord" and "this is the word of the Lord to you."

If Thou Wilt Be Further Answered

     Despite their serious purpose, both sides sometimes engage in humor to make their points. Perhaps the most obvious instance of this is Burrough's handling of Bunyan's concluding list of questions. Pointing out that Bunyan has entitled this "Some Questions to the Quakers, or a few Queries to those Possessed with a Spirit of Delusion in this Generation," Burrough proceeds as if Bunyan's subtitle referred to some other group, such as the Ranters, with whom Bunyan has persistently linked the Quakers. Six of his seven answers thus end with some variant of the refrain, "And thus far I answer: If thou wilt have more, seek it from them who are led with a spirit of Delusion."25

     Burrough's humor is entirely lost on at least one contemporary reader. Thomas Collier's A Looking-Glass for the Quakers, primarily an answer to Nayler, cites one of Burrough's answers to Bunyan in full, drawing an entirely unwarranted conclusion from a misunderstanding of the refrain:

Next, that they disown the coming of Christ from Heaven; for proof of this, see one E. B. in his Book called The true faith of the Gospel, being an answer to John Bunyan. . . . If the very Christ of God be within them; he cannot come from Heaven; and thus he gets off as for his being in and coming from Heaven, let such as are led by a spirit of delusion answer; by which he gives to understand, that those that own the being in, and coming of Christ from Heaven, and look for him, are led by a spirit of delusion. . . .26

     Bunyan's sense of humor comes out in short echoes of Burrough's wording which the reader will miss unless he has both texts before him. In each of the following passages the sole function of the last clause (here italicized) is to mock a similar clause in Burrough:

How say you; do you really believe that at that time when Jesus did hang on the cross without Jerusalem's gate, even at that time he did give the justice of God a full and complete satisfaction for all the sins of all believers that have been formerly, or are now, or hereafter shall be? Or do you look upon Jesus at that time to be but a shadow, or type of somewhat that was afterwards to be done within? Answer plainly, yea, or no; that the simple may understand you.27
And yet thou sayest, it cannot be said, here is the place where the Son is not. I answer: As the Son of God is also very man, so it may be said, here is the place where he is not, and there is the place where he hath not been, though as he is God it is otherwise: let him that reads understand.28

     Whatever one thinks of the quality of such humor, it indicates that both sides are conscious of the potential entertainment value of their work. There may be other instances of such humor which modern readers can no longer detect, resulting in passages that now wrongly appear foolish, petty, or hypocritical.

Most Horribly Wrest That Scripture

     We conclude this chapter on patterns of interaction by looking at an example of the exegetical disputes between Bunyan and Burrough.

     In one rather interesting passage Bunyan astutely analyzes a fallacious interpretation, only to commit exactly the same fallacy himself later on. Burrough completely fails to understand Bunyan's enunciation of the exegetical principle, yet recognizes and rebuts the fallacy when Bunyan commits it.

     While proving the ascension, Bunyan encounters this objection (not from Burrough but from a hypothetical reader) based on Eph 4:10:

     Object. But you will say, The scripture saith, he that descended is the same that ascended, which to me, say you, implies, none but the Spirit's ascending.

Though we shall see in chapter 7 that Burrough in fact reasons in the opposite direction (to prove that Christ was already man when he descended), what matters for the present purpose is that Bunyan's reply is equally valid whichever way the objection runs:

     Ans. For answer, we do not say, as I said before, that it is another that ascended, but the very same; that is, the very same Christ that was with the Father from everlasting did come down from heaven. That same Christ also that came down from heaven did ascend up thither again; only, he descended without a body from heaven, and took flesh and blood upon him from the Virgin. And though he descended without a body, yet he, the very same Christ that descended without a body, the same did ascend again with a body, even that very body that he took of the Virgin Mary. (See Luke xxiv.39-51. Acts ii.30,31.)29

     Bunyan's argument here is that Christ's personal identity over time does not preclude a change in condition from being God to being God and man, and a personal pronoun that happens to refer to him in one of these conditions does not therefore refer to the condition but to the person. Of course we must not expect him to use the word "person" for this purpose, since we saw in chapter 3 that he takes this word in the uneducated sense of "body," but in the absence of such abstract terminology Bunyan makes his point clear to his popular audience with an analogy:

Now let me give you a similitude, for it is warrantable, for both Christ and his apostles did sometimes use them, to the end, souls might be better informed. (John xv.1. 1 Cor. ix.24,25.) The similitude is this: Suppose there come into thine house a man that is naked, and without clothing, though he go out of thy house again well clothed, yet the same man that came in without clothing is the same man also that goes out of thy house, though very well clothed. Even so it is in this case; the Lord Jesus came into the womb of the Virgin, Spirit, (Matt. i.18;) but he came out of the womb clothed with a body, and went up into heaven again clothed with a body. Compare Luke xxiv.39, with Acts i.11, and ii.30,31.30

     In all this Burrough manages to see no substance at all:

Then thou hast raised a Query from Ephes. 4.10. but hast not answered it; though many words thou hast uttered, yet little to the purpose; and I return thee the same query again to answer. . . .31

Even when Bunyan challenges him to give a better answer himself, or to refute Bunyan's answer,32 Burrough completely ignores the problem about the meaning of the personal pronoun which Bunyan has addressed.33 (Instead he unfairly picks on Bunyan's expression "ascended . . . in our nature" by interpreting "nature" as "moral character" and restricting Bunyan's "our" to mean "thy Nature, and your Nature, who are one with thee," thus arriving at a "sinful wicked divillish Nature" for Bunyan to attribute to the ascended Christ.)34

     But it is Bunyan who loses sight of the hermeneutical principle he has explained in the case of Eph 4:10 when he seeks to refute Burrough's identification of "the Light of Christ Jesus, wherewith he hath lightned every man that comes into the world" (John 1:9) with the light which Christ says he himself is in John 8:12.35 Bunyan asks:

I pray where was Christ when he spake those words? Was he, I say, within his disciples, or without them, when he said, "I am the light of the world?" He was without them, and walked up and down in the world with them from place to place, a very man. Therefore, he did not mean at that time any light within, but himself, who was without.36

Bunyan would of course have to admit that as God Christ was everywhere. When he argues here that Christ "spake those words" as "a very man," he implicitly makes Christ's "I" refer to himself as man only, for only so can his argument arrive at his desired conclusion. He apparently fails to see that this is the same logical structure whose fallacy he has demonstrated earlier.

     Burrough immediately sees the problem. If Jesus' word "I" must mean "I myself in my present state" rather than simply "I myself," then "Before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58) becomes nonsense:

and thou sayst, when he said, I am the Light of the World, he was without, he did not mean any light within, and thou presumptuously bids me deny this if I can; to which I say, the same Christ, which said, I am the Light of the World, was he which was before Abraham, who was a Light to the Gentiles, and lighteth every man in the World. . . .37

     Apparently, then, both authors are capable of applying sound exegetical logic when it suits their purposes - and of ignoring it when it does not, or when their attention is otherwise occupied.

     We now turn, in the next three chapters, to the differing theological agendas that Bunyan and Burrough bring to their conflict.


     1. Burrough, Memorable Works, 18-28.

     2. Burrough, Memorable Works, 29-44. The pairing of these two opponents must have been annoying to both of them; no one could have been suitably paired with John Reeve but his co-prophet Ludowick Muggleton, the other of the two witnesses of Rev 11.

     3. Burrough, The True Faith, 3-4 (appendix, 242-243, col. 2).

     4. E.g., Burton, "To the Reader," in Bunyan, Some Gospel Truths Opened, 7 (appendix, 244, col. 1).

     5. Bunyan, Vindication, 139 (appendix, 246, col. 3).

     6. Ibid., 143 (appendix, 255, col. 3).

     7. Burrough, Truth the Strongest, 8-17 (appendix, 245-257, col. 4).

     8. Ibid., 11 (appendix, 251, col. 4).

     9. Ibid., 9 (appendix, 246, col. 4).

     10. Quoted in Burrough, Answers to Several Queries, in Memorable Works, 40.

     11. Ibid.

     12. Ibid.

     13. Burrough, The True Faith, 28-29 (appendix, 360, col. 2).

     14. Burrough, Truth the Strongest, 22 (appendix, 264, col. 4).

     15. Burrough, The True Faith, 27 (appendix, 357, col. 2).

     16. Bunyan, Some Gospel Truths Opened, 114 (appendix, 355, col. 1).

     17. Burrough, The True Faith, 26 (appendix, 355, col. 2). The words "in their account he died" probably allude to Wisdom of Solomon 3:2, "In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die."

     18. Bunyan, Vindication, 188-189 (appendix, 355, col. 3).

     19. Mullett, John Bunyan in Context, 134-135. Ellipsis in Burrough quotation is Mullett's.

     20. Bunyan, Vindication, 138 (appendix, 245-246, col. 3).

     21. Burrough, Truth the Strongest, 9 (appendix, 245-246, col. 4).

     22. Burrough, The True Faith, 23-24 (appendix, 336, col. 2).

     23. Bunyan, Vindication, 184-185 (appendix, 336-337, col. 3).

     24. Burrough, Truth the Strongest, 11 (appendix, 251, col. 4).

     25. Burrough, The True Faith, 27 (appendix, 356, col. 2).

     26. Thomas Collier, A Looking-Glass for the Quakers, wherein they may behold themselves (London: Thomas Brewster, 1657), 4. Christopher Hill states that Collier "joined in on Bunyan's side against Burrough in 1657" (Hill, A Tinker and a Poor Man, 82), but Collier mines only this one passage from Burrough in his quest for material to use against Nayler, and has apparently not read Bunyan, since he quotes "the question it seems of John Bunyan" from its page number in Burrough.

     27. Bunyan, Vindication, 154 (appendix, 284, col. 3).

     28. Ibid., 162 (appendix, 293, col. 3).

     29. Bunyan, Some Gospel Truths Opened, 75 (appendix, 330, col. 1).

     30. Ibid., 75-76 (appendix, 330, col. 1).

     31. Burrough, The True Faith, 23 (appendix, 329, col. 2).

     32. Bunyan, Vindication, 183 (appendix, 329, col. 3).

     33. Burrough, Truth the Strongest, 47 (appendix, 329, col. 4)

     34. Ibid. (appendix, 329, col. 4).

     35. Burrough, The True Faith, 9-10 (appendix, 260-261, col. 2).

     36. Bunyan, Vindication, 147 (appendix, 261, col. 3).

     37. Burrough, Truth the Strongest, 20 (appendix, 261, col. 4).

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