One of the best-selling and most widely circulated books of all time, behind the Bible, is Pilgrim’s Progress.
Though it was written over 300 years ago, it is just as relevant today as ever.
The famous preacher Charles Spurgeon read it over 100 times! It was required reading for one of my classes this semester; however, the first two times I read it, it was not required and I plan to read it many more times in the future.
If you have read it before, you know of the gold contained within its pages. John Bunyan, not to be confused with Paul and his blue ox named Babe (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, look it up!), was skilled with words and crafted a story that is truly the story of every Christian. Through narrative, Bunyan provides adventure, intrigue, theology, philosophy, mystery, and ultimately… hope.
For those of you who have not read it, I will attempt to avoid too many spoilers, though it is indeed difficult to spoil a book with so many deep truths. For even upon knowing the story, each time I read it, something new presents itself. Part of the reason for this is that Pilgrim’s Progress is bathed in Scripture. Either the narrative presents a biblical idea directly, or it makes reference to a Bible passage.
“What God says is best, is best, though all the men in the world are against it.”
The story centers around the adventures and misadventures of a man named Christian. He is informed by Evangelist that his home city, the City of Destruction, is going to burn and all of its people perish. The only way to find safety is to flee to the Celestial City.
Along the way, Christian is met with terrors, temptations, and tragedies which do seek to keep him from his quest and from reaching his destination.
He is also met with encouragers and helps along the way as well. Each character’s name represents their attributes. Mr. Worldly wise-man, the Giant Despair, Faithful, Interpreter, etc. And each character has a part to play and choices to make.
“To go back is nothing but death; to go forward is fear of death, and life everlasting beyond it. I will yet go forward.”
Every human life is reflected in this book.
Are you more like Sloth? He kept the company of Simple and Presumption. He is the one who can’t seem to wake from his slumber, he sleeps the day away and can’t be bothered to do anything which takes great effort.
Often, we resemble multiple characters, we strive for the Kingdom of God yet fall short. Those who hate God and seek secret paths to Him may seem to be heading toward the Celestial City yet are not let in upon arriving.
One character, who has arrived at the Celestial City by a means other than by way of the cross of Christ tries to enter and is instead thrown from the entrance. Bunyan responds to this event he “sees” by stating the sobering truth along the lines of, “Even from the gates of heaven, there is a path to hell.”
Should you think this is merely a book for religious intellectuals, think again! In fact, Bunyan’s goal was to make the truths of Scripture plain for anyone to read. If you should find the English too difficult, there are plenty of great abridged versions and even audio books to read and hear the story.
One of my favorite, if not my favorite quotes from the book centers on the reality that learning things about God is not a substitute for knowing God Himself.
“For knowledge, great knowledge, may be obtained in the mysteries of the gospel, without any work of grace in the soul. You see, even if a man has all knowledge, he may still be nothing, and so, consequently, not be a child of God.”
Christians are pilgrims. We are called to be in the world, not of it. May we make our progress in such a way that we call those out of the City of Destruction to find eternal joy in Christ and in His Celestial City.
Note: There are even more riches past the “end” of the book. Christian’s family, who wouldn’t follow when he left, come to a saving knowledge of the truth and part 2 of Bunyan’s work follows their journey. If that wasn’t in a version you read, find one that includes it and continue the adventure!