Glimpses of Glory: John Bunyan and English Dissent

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Glimpses of Glory: John Bunyan and English Dissent. By Richard L. Greaves. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2002. xix + 693 pp. $75.00 (cloth).

The Pilgrim's Progress may be the most influential piece of anti-Anglican literature ever written. It brilliantly and savagely parodies a menagerie of Anglican characters: Mr. Two-Tongues, the parson of Fair-Speech; Mr. Worldly Wiseman, the latitudinarian, moralistic churchgoer; By-ends, who loves to walk with Religion "if the Sun shines, and the people applaud it"; and Mr. Money-Love, who argues that it is providence which has given the clergy their desire for ever more lucrative benefices. And it takes us to Vanity Fair, the spiritually vapid beau monde of Restoration Anglicanism.

This great classic is the most famous of about a hundred publications by John Bunyan (1628-1688), almost all of them suffused with his profound distaste for the Church of England. For he despised its "Antichristian Rubbish" of traditions, titles, and decorations. He detested its set liturgy, which decreed "how many syllables must be said" in every prayer, every day of the year, "by generations yet unbum." He hated its snobbish class consciousness, its persecuting mentality, its intellectual pretentiousness. He found little to distinguish the Christian establishment in England from the Islamic establishment in Turkey.

Bunyan's feelings towards the Church of England were fully reciprocated. At the dawn of the Restoration, an Anglican judge very much like Lord Hategood threw him in the Bedford jail for recusancy, and there he stayed for twelve years while Anglican writers ridiculed him for being an uneducated tinker. Then he was released and returned to his wife and children for a few years, only to be excommunicated and thrown back into jail. To unlock the doors and walk free, all that Bunyan had to do was say, "I will worship in my parish church and stop preaching." He would rather have died.

Ironically, Bunyan in jail did far more damage to Tory Anglicanism than he could have done ministering to his tiny congregation. His prison masterpieces energized dissent, and conferred on him the celebrity by which, in his last years, he drew crowds of several thousands.

Delightfully, the Church of England later gave Bunyan his own memorial window in Westminster Abbey. …