John Bunyan is the man who gave us Pilgrim’s Progress. This wonderful book was planned during Bunyan’s prison experience and written when he was released. The trial of John Bunyan took place on October 3, 1660. John Bunyan spent twelve years in jail for his convictions about individual soul liberty, failure to attend the Church of England, and for preaching the Word of God. John Bunyan refused to be licensed by the State to preach the gospel. During his trial, John stood before Judge Wingate who was interested in hearing John Bunyan state his case. Judge Wingate said, “In that case, then, this court would be profoundly interested in your response to them.”
Part of John Bunyan’s response follows:
Thank you, M’lord. And may I say that I am grateful for the opportunity to respond. Firstly, the depositions speak the truth. I have never attended services in the Church of England, nor do I intend ever to do so. Secondly, it is no secret that I preach the Word of God whenever, wherever, and to whomever He pleases to grant me opportunity to do so.
Having said that, M’lord, there is a weightier issue that I am constrained to address. I have no choice but to acknowledge my awareness of the law which I am accused of transgressing. Likewise, I have no choice but to confess my guilt in my transgression of it. As true as these things are, I must affirm that I neither regret breaking the law, nor repent of having broken it. Further, I must warn you that I have no intention in future of conforming to it. It is, on its face, an unjust law, a law against which honorable men cannot shrink from protesting. In truth, M’lord, it violates an infinitely higher law–the right of every man to seek God in his own way, unhindered by any temporal power. That, M’lord, is my response.
Remember that Bunyan was responding as to why he would not do all that he was doing for God within the confines of the Church of England. The transcription goes on to say:
Judge Wingate:This court would remind you, sir, that we are not here to debate the merits of the law. We are here to determine if you are, in fact, guilty of violating it.
John Bunyan:Perhaps, M’lord, that is why you are here, but it is most certainly not why I am here. I am here because you compel me to be here. All I ask is to be left alone to preach and to teach as God directs me. As, however, I must be here, I cannot fail to use these circumstances to speak against what I know to be an unjust and odious edict.
Judge Wingate:Let me understand you. You are arguing that every man has a right, given him by Almighty God, to seek the Deity in his own way, even if he chooses without the benefit of the English Church?
Bunyan:That is precisely what I am arguing, M’lord. Or without benefit of any church.
Judge Wingate:Do you know what you are saying? What of Papist and Quakers? What of pagan Mohammedans? Have these the right to seek God in their own misguided way?
Bunyan:Even these, M’lord.
Judge Wingate:May I ask if you are particularly sympathetic to the views of these or other such deviant religious societies?
Bunyan:I am not, M’lord.
Judge Wingate:Yet, you affirm a God-given right to hold any alien religious doctrine that appeals to the warped minds of men?
Bunyan: I do, M’lord.
Judge Wingate:I find your views impossible of belief. And what of those who, if left to their own devices, would have no interest in things heavenly? Have they the right to be allowed to continue unmolested in their error?
Bunyan:It is my fervent belief that they do, M’lord.
Judge Wingate:And on what basis, might I ask, can you make such rash affirmations?
Bunyan:On the basis, M’lord, that a man’s religious views–or lack of them–are matters between his conscience and his God, and are not the business of the Crown, the Parliament, or even, with all due respect, M’lord, of this court. However much I may be in disagreement with another man’s sincerely held religious beliefs, neither I nor any other may disallow his right to hold those beliefs. No man’s rights in these affairs are secure if every other man’s rights are not equally secure.
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