By Michael Davies, University of Liverpool
The purpose of this edition (currently in preparation, and forthcoming from Oxford University Press in 2015) is to provide literary scholars and historians, as well as students and general readers, with a scholarly yet accessible annotated edition of A Booke Containing a Record of the Acts of a Congregation of Christ in and about Bedford: the manuscript record of the Bedford congregation’s life during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Who the congregation’s members were, how they were received and disciplined, how they survived strife and harassment, and what defined their ecclesiological principles and practices are all revealed in fascinating detail by this remarkable document. This edition will include the Church Book’s record of meetings from 1656, when they begin to be noted, to 1710, when an off-shoot congregation was formed out of the Bedford church and established – on good terms – at Gamlingay, Cambridgeshire. During this period, John Bunyan famously served as the congregation’s preacher and pastor, witnessing significant crises and developments both within the Bedford church and for Restoration Nonconformity more generally.
This period also records the first two decades of life for the church following Bunyan’s death and the passing of the Toleration Act, under the pastorship of his successor, Ebenezer Chandler. Providing a detailed introduction alongside textual and explanatory notes, this edition intends to place the Church Book firmly within its various contexts: literary and epistolary, biographical and historical, doctrinal and ecclesiological. As such, The Bunyan Church Book aims to make more readily available a record that singularly ‘brings us up against the raw material’, as Roger Sharrock put it in his ‘General Editor’s Preface’ to Bunyan’s Miscellaneous Works, upon which is founded ‘the spirit of English Puritanism which we breathe in The Pilgrim’s Progress’.