Bunyan being entirely unknown to the world, his first literary venture was introduced by a commendatory "Epistle" written by Gifford's successor, John Burton. In this Burton speaks of the young author - Bunyan was only in his twenty-ninth year - as one who had "neither the greatness nor the wisdom of the world to commend him," "not being chosen out of an earthly but out of a heavenly university, the Church of Christ," where "through grace he had taken three heavenly degrees, to wit, union with Christ, the anointing of the Spirit, and experience of the temptations of Satan," and as one of whose "soundness in the faith, godly conversation, and his ability to preach the Gospel, not by human aid, but by the Spirit of the Lord," he "with many other saints had had experience." This book must be pronounced a very remarkable production for a young travelling tinker, under thirty, and without any literary or theological training but such as he had gained for himself after attaining to manhood. Its arrangement is excellent, the arguments are ably marshalled, the style is clear, the language pure and well chosen. It is, in the main, a well-reasoned defence of the historical truth of the Articles of the Creed relating to the Second Person of the Trinity, against the mystical teaching of the followers of George Fox, who, by a false spiritualism, sublimated the whole Gospel narrative into a vehicle for the representation of truths relating to the inner life of the believer. No one ever had a firmer grasp than Bunyan of the spiritual bearing of the facts of the recorded life of Christ on the souls of men. But he would not suffer their "subjectivity" - to adopt modern terms - to destroy their "objectivity." If the Son of God was not actually born of the Virgin Mary, if He did not live in a real human body, and in that body die, lie in the grave, rise again, and ascend up into heaven, whence He would return - and that Bunyan believed shortly - in the same Body He took of His mortal mother, His preaching was vain; their faith was vain; they were yet in their sins. Those who "cried up a Christ within, IN OPPOSITION to a Christ without," who asserted that Christ had no other Body but the Church, that the only Crucifixion, rising again, and ascension of Christ was that WITHIN the believer, and that every man had, as an inner light, a measure of Christ's Spirit within him sufficient to guide him to salvation, he asserted were "possessed with a spirit of delusion;" deceived themselves, they were deceiving others to their eternal ruin. To the refutation of such fundamental errors, substituting a mystical for an historical faith, Bunyan's little treatise is addressed; and it may be truly said the work is done effectually. To adopt Coleridge's expression concerning Bunyan's greater and world-famous work, it is an admirable "SUMMA THEOLOIAE EVANGELICAE," which, notwithstanding its obsolete style and old- fashioned arrangement, may be read even now with advantage.
Bunyan's denunciation of the tenets of the Quakers speedily elicited a reply. This was written by a certain Edward Burrough, a young man of three and twenty, fearless, devoted, and ardent in the propagation of the tenets of his sect. Being subsequently thrown into Newgate with hundreds of his co-religionists, at the same time that his former antagonist was imprisoned in Bedford Gaol, Burrough met the fate Bunyan's stronger constitution enabled him to escape; and in the language of the times, "rotted in prison," a victim to the loathsome foulness of his place of incarceration, in the year of the "Bartholomew Act," 1662.
Burrough entitled his reply, "The Gospel of Peace, contended for in the Spirit of Meekness and Love against the secret opposition of John Bunyan, a professed minister in Bedfordshire." His opening words, too characteristic of the entire treatise, display but little of the meekness professed. "How long, ye crafty fowlers, will ye prey upon the innocent? How long shall the righteous be a prey to your teeth, ye subtle foxes! Your dens are in darkness, and your mischief is hatched upon your beds of secret whoredoms?" Of John Burton and the others who recommended Bunyan's treatise, he says, "They have joined themselves with the broken army of Magog, and have showed themselves in the defence of the dragon against the Lamb in the day of war betwixt them." We may well echo Dr. Brown's wish that "these two good men could have had a little free and friendly talk face to face. There would probably have been better understanding, and fewer hard words, for they were really not so far apart as they thought. Bunyan believed in the inward light, and Burrough surely accepted an objective Christ. But failing to see each other's exact point of view, Burrough thunders at Bunyan, and Bunyan swiftly returns the shot."
The rapidity of Bunyan's literary work is amazing, especially when we take his antecedents into account. Within a few weeks he published his rejoinder to Friend Burrough, under the title of "A Vindication of Gospel Truths Opened." In this work, which appeared in 1667, Bunyan repays Burrough in his own coin, styling him "a proved enemy to the truth," a "grossly railing Rabshakeh, who breaks out with a taunt and a jeer," is very "censorious and utters many words without knowledge." In vigorous, nervous language, which does not spare his opponent, he defends himself from Burrough's charges, and proves that the Quakers are "deceivers." "As for you thinking that to drink water, and wear no hatbands is not walking after your own lusts, I say that whatsoever man do make a religion out of, having no warrant for it in Scripture, is but walking after their own lusts, and not after the Spirit of God." Burrough had most unwarrantably stigmatized Bunyan as one of "the false prophets, who love the wages of unrighteousness, and through covetousness make merchandise of souls." Bunyan calmly replies, "Friend, dost thou speak this as from thy own knowledge, or did any other tell thee so? However that spirit that led thee out 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 I trust that the Lord Jesus who bath helped me to reject the wages of unrighteousness hitherto, will also help me still so that I shall distribute that which God hath given me freely, and not for filthy lucre's sake." The fruitfulness of his ministry which Burrough had called in question, charging him with having "run before he was sent," he refuses to discuss. Bunyan says, "I shall leave it to be taken notice of by the people of God and the country where I dwell, who will testify the contrary for me, setting aside the carnal ministry with their retinue who are so mad against me as thyself."