I read Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan recently, and it was perhaps the best piece of literature I have ever read. I love reading these types of books because they are engaging and the narration genre makes it like reading a great story, yet they are allegorical, which means they are meant to tell a story in which it causes reflection and affects change in you as you read it. Pilgrim’s Progress is certainly all of that. There are several encouraging things in Pilgrim’s Progress I wish to share with you, but this list is certainly not exhaustive. I hope to encourage you to get a copy and read it in full for yourself.
To summarize extremely quickly, Christian is the main character in part 1. He is set on a journey by Evangelist, who tells him to go to the wicket gate (a wicket gate is a smaller, more narrow gate within a larger gate). The wicket gate represents Christian’s conversion. Once he goes through the gate, he is converted. Think of Matthew 7:13 when Jesus says “enter by the narrow gate”. Once through the gate, Christian comes in contact with several helpful people, including his friend Faithful, the Interpreter’s house (which represents the Holy Spirit), The Castle Beautiful (which represents the Church), and Hopeful, who goes with him until the end.
Along the way, Christian meets several challenges, such as the Slough of Despond, the demon Apollyon, Doubting Castle and the giant Despair, the wicked town Vanity Fair, and the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Christian and his friends meet with these different challenges and persecutions, but he and Hopeful eventually make it to the Celestial City, where they are met by the King of the Land, which is God Himself.
In part 2 of Pilgrim’s Progress, Christiana (Christian’s wife) and her sons, along with Mercy follow in the footsteps of Christian. They are helped tremendously along the way with Mr. Great Heart, and their journey is much easier and they walk much more confidently towards Celestial City. With ease they are able to defeat the different enemies of the Pilgrim’s along the way that gave Christian such a hard way.
This summary in no way does it justice. Just go get the book and read it. Seriously. Stop what you are doing (after you read the rest of this review, of course 😉 ), and go get this book and read it. Next I will give 4 reasons why I love Pilgrim’s Progress.
1. I love Pilgrim’s Progress because I love how it creates a picture of the life of a Christian
We (especially Western, American Christians) often have very “on the surface” Christianity. Pilgrim’s Progress is written as an allegory, yet it comes from Bunyan’s own personal experience and life. In Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinner’s, Bunyan’s autobiography, he writes of similar struggles and doubts that Christian experiences in Pilgrim’s Progress. Here’s the thing: the Puritan’s were so concerned with holiness and things of Jesus and God’s Word that it infected every single aspect of what they did on a day to day basis. There was nothing that they did that was outside the realm of Christianity or outside the realm of mattering to God. This is evidenced in Pilgrim’s Progress in that Christian struggles immensely on his way to the Celestial City. My point? The deeper we go into God, the less “on the surface” we become.
The Christian life is never meant to be easy. In fact, we as believer’s are all but guaranteed suffering and persecution. Christian certainly wasn’t concerned with the ease of his journey as much as he was concerned with being faithful on his journey in the midst of his trials and sufferings. When He experienced extreme doubt and sadness in Doubting Castle, Christian remembered he had the key which opened all the doors there. The name of the key was Promise. Bunyan’s point here is that it is God’s promises which drive us into deeper and deeper trust in God, even and especially in the midst of suffering and trials. This doesn’t mean that we necessarily pursue suffering, but it does mean that we have created an idol out of ease of life and comfortableness and pleasure. Oh that we would be people who were so concerned with pleasing God that our minds and lives would be tormented in even the seemingly small things until we were walking in holiness and glorifying God through obedience and faithfulness!
2. I love Pilgrim’s Progress because of the way Christian keeps his heart fixed on the goal – the Celestial City
This reminds me so much of Hebrews 12:2, which says “fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith”. Christian never let his circumstance grasp his heart. Though he struggled and often needed reminders, he persevered until the end because of the greatness of the Celestial City and who was there – the King (Jesus, God). What is it that sustains us in life? God. What keeps us going and ensures we will persevere until the end? God the Holy Spirit. There is a scene in the book where Christian comes in contact with the Interpreter’s House. The Interpreter represents the Holy Spirit. He takes Christian into several different rooms where different situations in life are displayed. The Interpreter explains to Christian the meaning, and Christian is able to refer back to this time when he is encountering a difficult time.
Similarly, the Holy Spirit illuminates the Word of God to us, so that when we face different challenges of life, we are equipped and ready to faithfully walk through these life-stages. This aspect of the journey is crucial for Christian. It’s what he reminds himself of over and over – the Celestial City and what has been revealed to him about it. What keeps us going as believer’s in Jesus? Jesus Himself as revealed by the Holy Spirit in the Holy Scriptures.
3. I love Pilgrim’s Progress because of Mr. Great Heart as a guide for Christiana
Mr. Great Heart represents a Pastor who is ushering Christiana, her sons, and Mercy along the way. He is the one who reveals different truths to them, encourages them with different things, and fights off and wards off different enemies. As a pastor, it reminds me of the severity of the calling and the necessity of the calling.
Another aspect of this point is the submission and the trust that Christiana and her companions have for Mr. Great Heart. I have encountered such skepticism from church goers in the past (and sometimes present) towards pastors. Some of this may be warranted, but overall, I have witness a general lack of trust and respect towards the office of the pastor. Christiana knew that Mr. Great Heart was responsible for her journey and her soul, and she gladly followed and thought well of him. After all, the office of the pastor in Pilgrim’s Progress is Mr. Great Heart. This names encompasses the courage, the boldness, the tenderness, the care, and the devotion (and so much more!) that is required of being a pastor, and it encourages me to be that type of pastor in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ.
4. I love Pilgrim’s Progress because of the way it makes you think deeply while captivating your attention in the great narrative of the story
This is an aspect that is found in literature of old. I am not against reading modern fiction, but too much of it is simply “pleasure reading” and is not true literature. True literature is written for the purpose of making the reader think deeply while remaining engaging on the level of the story. Pilgrim’s Progress is a theological book with out being a Systematic, Biblical, or Historical Theology book. I love reading “theology books”, and have several and I want more. But there’s something about reading Pilgrim’s Progress which draws me in and engages me on an even deeper level in theology than “just” a theology book.
When you encounter a great piece of literature like Pilgrim’s Progress which does what I have attempted to explain in the above paragraph, it is a jewel and a gem. Perhaps that style is so great because it is most like the piece of work that God has communicated to us in the Bible, which is the best book of all to read.
My list could go on and on of why I love Pilgrim’s Progress. I look forward to reading it to my children and having them experience the joys of this truly great book. Maybe you don’t read much, or maybe you don’t have time to. Maybe you love to read. Maybe you wish you could read better. Pilgrim’s Progress will satisfy you, no matter what your current reading habits are. I couldn’t put it down, and if you approach it seriously, I promise that you will not be able to put it down either.