The Life of John Bunyan HTML version

Chapter 4
We cannot doubt that one in whom loyalty was so deep and fixed a principle as
Bunyan, would welcome with sincere thankfulness the termination of the
miserable interval of anarchy which followed the death of the Protector and the
abdication of his indolent and feeble son, by the restoration of monarchy in the
person of Charles the Second. Even if some forebodings might have arisen that
with the restoration of the old monarchy the old persecuting laws might be
revived, which made it criminal for a man to think for himself in the matters which
most nearly concerned his eternal interests, and to worship in the way which he
found most helpful to his spiritual life, they would have been silenced by the
promise, contained in Charles's "Declaration from Breda," of liberty to tender
consciences, and the assurance that no one should be disquieted for differences
of opinion in religion, so long as such differences did not endanger the peace and
well-being of the realm. If this declaration meant anything, it meant a breadth of
toleration larger and more liberal than had been ever granted by Cromwell. Any
fears of the renewal of persecution must be groundless.
But if such dreams of religious liberty were entertained they were speedily and
rudely dispelled, and Bunyan was one of the first to feel the shock of the
awakening. The promise was coupled with a reference to the "mature
deliberation of Parliament." With such a promise Charles's easy conscience was
relieved of all responsibility. Whatever he might promise, the nation, and
Parliament which was its mouthpiece, might set his promise aside. And if he
knew anything of the temper of the people he was returning to govern, he must
have felt assured that any scheme of comprehension was certain to be rejected
by them. As Mr. Froude has said, "before toleration is possible, men must have
learnt to tolerate toleration," and this was a lesson the English nation was very far
from having learnt; at no time, perhaps, were they further from it. Puritanism had
had its day, and had made itself generally detested. Deeply enshrined as it was
in many earnest and devout hearts, such as Bunyan's, it was necessarily the
religion not of the many, but of the few; it was the religion not of the common
herd, but of a spiritual aristocracy. Its stern condemnation of all mirth and
pastime, as things in their nature sinful, of which we have so many evidences in
Bunyan's own writings; its repression of all that makes life brighter and more
joyous, and the sour sanctimoniousness which frowned upon innocent relaxation,
had rendered its yoke unbearable to ordinary human nature, and men took the
earliest opportunity of throwing the yoke off and trampling it under foot. They
hailed with rude and boisterous rejoicings the restoration of the Monarchy which
they felt, with a true instinct, involved the restoration of the old Church of
England, the church of their fathers and of the older among themselves, with its
larger indulgence for the instincts of humanity, its wider comprehensiveness, and
its more dignified and decorous ritual.