THE CHURCH AT BEDFORD.
THE three or four godly women whom Bunyan heard talking together in the summer sunshine about their experiences of a diviner life, introduced him, he tells us, to their minister, Mr. Gifford, and to the little Christian community of which they were members. This simple brotherhood of believers is interesting to us for its own sake, as furnishing one of the phases of religious life during the English Commonwealth; and interesting also for the sake of Bunyan himself, who for the next five-andthirty years of his life was closely associated with its history, first as a private member, and afterwards as its pastor. It may be worth while, therefore, to go back over the years between 1640 and 1650, and see how this Church at Bedford came to be founded, and how it took the shape it did.
The Long Parliament having, in the early part of 1641, received the address of the two thousand petitioners from Bedfordshire, of which we have spoken, and similar addresses from other parts of the country, set forth in earnest on the work of ecclesiastical reform. Commissioners were ordered to be sent into the various counties for "the defacing, demolishing, and quite taking away of all images, altars, or tables turned altarwise, crucifixes, superstitious pictures, monuments, and relics of idolatry out of all churches and chapels." This raid upon what was regarded as popery in disguise, though determined on then, was not actually carried out till a year or two later, and was simply intended as preliminary to a still more searching reform of the entire constitution of the Church of England. As to what that reform should be, the House was by no means as yet agreed. Some were for retaining Episcopacy, first purifying it of its evils. Others, known as the Root-and-Branch party, were for its abolition, for the annihilation of all dignities in the Church above that of simple presbyter or parish minister, and for the appro-