The Pilgrims Progress is one of the most famous Christian novels of all time. The author, John Bunyan, began this work from his prison cell in the 1660’s at a time when he was also writing his autobiography Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. A little fun fact…the original publication date in 1678 makes this book the oldest one I have read (outside the Bible).
Christian, the books title character and everyman, hails from the City of Destruction. He has become aware of a great burden that he carries with him, “sin”. The allegorical nature of this book never calls it “sin” but always refers to it the “burden”. This awareness came from reading “the book in his hand”, the Bible. Christian realizes some changes need to be made and liberation from the burden needs to come. As he is walking in his fields, he meets Evangelist. The great thing about the allegory in this book, is that Bunyan doesn’t really hide any of the character’s personalities, their names are what they are. Evangelist points Christian to the Wicked Gate for deliverance. Before he makes it there he is met by a man representing works righteousness called Worldly Wiseman. Christian is enticed to follow him instead of continue to the gate. Evangelist shows up and puts him back on the path, where he passes through the wicked gate.
Once past the gate, Christian is put on the Kings Highway by a man called Good-will, whom later in the book we find to be Jesus. After a few brief stops, Christian makes it to the point of deliverance, i.e. the cross. It is here where the straps holding the burden too him break, he is given new clothes, and a scroll to get him into the Celestial City. Christian moves on, up the hill of difficulty, and is met by a house full of people, which Bunyan used as an allegory for the Church where he receives the full armor of God (Eph. 6) in order to help him on his journey. The armor comes in handy during his battle with Appollyn, which lasts most of the day, until Christian prevails using his sword (the Bible). After more traveling, an imprisonment in the Castle of Doubts, a trip through the valley of the shadow of death, and some time with the shepherds, and crossing the River death, Christian makes it to the gates of the Celestial city, where he is let in. The second part of the book is about his wife and kids making the same journey…I wont recount it again.
Some thoughts about this book:
(1) Bunyan seamlessly transitions between narrative and scripture. He will slide in a verse in the midst of a story without bringing attention to it. I would love to read an annotated copy with all the verse references.
(2) The two characters that stood out to me (other than Christian) were The Atheist and Ignorance. Atheist started on a journey of his own but has reached the conclusion that there is no Mt Zion, so he is returning to all the things that missed out on along the way. Ignorance, on the other hand, meets Christian, but is without the scroll to get him into Heaven. Though he is convinced that he will get in, he is refused at the gates. These are the two most common people I meet in evangelism…on who is convinced there is no God and the other who think their best friends.
(3) Don’t get the old English version!
(4) Reading this book helps to remind us that everyone is on some type of faith journey. Everyone on earth is on some kind of trail leading them towards or away from God. It was fascinating to think that though I am Christian in my own life, I am also, Evangelist, Hopeful and Faithful, three of Christian’s accomplices as well.
This was a fun read that I would encourage you to pick up and work your way through. I had to make character lists and a map to help me understand it a little better. It is great to reacquaint us with the journey that everyone is on right now. Ask the question, “how am I helping someone on that journey today?”