The Fifth Monarchy Movement
Early in his Christian life Bunyan had contact with, and perhaps sympathies for, the Fifth Monarchy Movement. This was a millenarian religious group which had its greatest influence in the mid-seventeenth century. The Fifth Monarchists were convinced of Christ’s imminent return to establish his Kingdom (the Fifth Monarchy), and were sure that it would be to England that he came. Discussions raged around the prophecies of Daniel 2. The execution of Charles I in 1649 was seen as the end of the fourth monarchy spoken of in the book of Daniel. It was only, some believed, a matter of months, a year or two at most, before Christ came to reign.
The summoning of the Parliament of the Saints in 1653 bode well for the venture. The nation was to be governed by the godly alone. Imagine the reaction when Cromwell dismissed this group, and eventually agreed to receive the title Lord Protector. It was flying in the face of Christ’s return: clearly it was the act of Antichrist. Until this point Cromwell (who was a committed Puritan) had seemed to be on the side of King Jesus. No wonder that Vavasor Powell sent his congregation home to pray over whether they would have the Protector or Jesus to reign over them. What action should believers take? Many called for intervention and the overthrow of Cromwell to help bring in the Millennium.
The Fifth Monarchists spread their millenarian views in sermons and pamphlets, and planned insurrections against the established rulers. In January 1661 an attempt to overthrow Charles II, under the leadership of Thomas Venner, caused a riot in London, resulting in a number of deaths. Magistrate Paul Cobb appealed to that insurrection in his argument against Bunyan when he was imprisoned.
Copyright © 1986 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian History magazine.
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