Friday, January 26, 2007

Book Review - The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan

The Pilgrim’s Progress
By John Bunyan
Barbour Publishing, 1988 (originally published in 1678)
Category: Puritan Fiction / Christian Living
ISBN: 1577489160
303 pages
$9.97 MSRP

In 1660 a young preacher burning with a passion for the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ was arrested and imprisoned in the “County Goal” in England. His crime? Non-conformity to the rules of the state religion. During the next twelve years of his sentence, John Bunyan wrote some of the greatest works of all time, and, having something more to articulate than to simply to get your best life now, many of these books are still being published over 340 years later! The Pilgrim’s Progress was officially published in 1678 and is continuing to minister to the hearts and minds of its readers – fellow Pilgrims along the path – and I am the latest Pilgrim to benefit.

The Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegorical tale of the Christian’s life following his conversion. For those unfamiliar, an allegory is “a literary, dramatic, or pictorial device in which each literal character, object, and event represent symbols illustrating an idea or moral or religious principle” (American Heritage Dictionary). This work is a masterwork because Bunyan masters the allegory as it relates to the Christian’s life. Every detail, every character, and every scene rings true with the Christian’s soul even today. Every character’s name represents his or her personality. We meet folks such as Evangelist, Faithful, Hopeful, Ignorance, Mr. Honesty, Mr. Great-Heart, and the main character of the first part, Christian. Christian is his name because that is what he is, a Christian. And the events circling his life are in every way the events that you and go through from time to time. Every location is named in association with the activity that occurs there. Christian (in the book and Christian’s in real life) meet with places such as The Slough of Despond [depression, dejection], Hill of Difficulty, Valley of Humiliation, and Doubting-Castle. I kept reading thinking, surely, at some point Bunyan would slip and fall out of his allegorical mystery, but as the master that he is, he staid the course until the very end.

Bunyan writes in his apology for the book before Part I begins, “This book will make a Traveller of thee, / If by its Counsel thou wilt ruled be; / It will direct thee to the Holy Land, / If thou wilt its Directions understand: / Yea, it will make the slothful, ,active be; / The Blind also delightful things to see” (13). I wrote in the margin of my book after this statement, “What a claim for a book!” Indeed, a high and lofty claim for one to make about his own book, that it will direct me to the Holy Land and it will cause me to see in ways that I had never thought possible. Having now arrived at the Celestial City at the end of his work, I gladly confess that Bunyan was dead on.

Pilgrim’s Progress is divided into two parts and the version that I read does not have chapters or any other divisions other than Part I and Part II. Part I chronicles the life of Christian, a man who sets out on his pilgrimage, leaving his wife and children because they would not have him in his new self. Part II illustrates the life of Christiana, Christian’s wife, along with there four children who, after hearing tale of Christian’s travels, set out the course to find this Celestial City for themselves. Being that this writing is now in public domain, countless publishers have included it with their repertoire. There are versions in “modern English” and others for children. I chose the version by Barbour because I wanted to read Bunyan in (what I think to be) the original tongue. This version is also helpful because there are some editorial comments made in the margins and even Scripture references when the need arises. The copy I read is a hardbound edition, but I must mention that if you are looking for a ultra-high quality piece of bookmanship, you should check the edition published by Banner of Truth. Plus, its never a bad idea to help my friend Steve Burlew eat. While you're there, ask how you might qualify for free shipping!

I will not attempt to make a vast summary of Bunyan’s work for I am convinced that I will not give its due justice, to say the least. Therefore, I have chosen to select a few passages and highlight them for you to give you a flavor if you have not read this wonderful work.

Christian had left his wife and children having “put his fingers in his ears, and ran on crying, Life! Life! Eternal Life! So he looked not behind him, but fled towards the middle of the Plain” (17). This occurred after Christian begun to read the Word of God and asked Evangelist, “What shall I do to be saved? (16). Many can identify with such a testimony that the Word of God is what has convicted men throughout the ages to come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. For, indeed, without the Word of Christ, no man will be saved, as Paul declares “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). And thus Christian sets out on his pilgrimage onward towards the Celestial City.

During his time in the Valley of Humiliation, Christian meets with one who is known as Apollyon, his first enemy:

“Now the monster was hideous to behold: He was cloathed with scales like a fish; (and they are his Pride) he had wings like a dragon, feet like a bear, and out of his belly came fire and smoke, and his mouth was as the mouth of a lion. When he was come up to Christian, he beheld him with a disdainful countenance, and thus began to question with him.
Apollyon. Whence come you? And whither are you bound?
Christian. I am come from the City of Destruction, which is the Place of all Evil, and am going to the City of Zion.
Apol. By this I perceive thou art one of my subjects; for all that country is mine, and I am the Prince and God of it. How is it then that thou has run away from thy King? Were it not that I hope thou mayest do me more service, I would strike thee now at one blow to the ground.
Chr. I was born indeed in your Dominions, but your Service was hard, and your wages such as a man could not live on; for the Wages of Sin is Death; therefore, when I was come to years, I did as other considerate persons do, look out, if perhaps, I might mend myself. […]
Apol. …But it is ordinary for those that have professed themselves his Servants, after a while to give him the slip, and return again to me: Do thou so too, and all shall be well […]
Chr. What I promised thee was in my non-age; and besides, I count that the Prince under whose Banner now I stand, is able to absolve me; yea, and to pardon also what I did as to my Compliance with thee: And besides, (O thou destroying Apollyon) to speak Truth, I like his Service, his Wages, his Servants, his Government, his Company, and Country, better than thine; and therefore leave off to persuade me further, I am his servant, and I will follow him” (59-60).

Apollyon obviously represents Satan, or at least one of his minions and his prime duty is to detract pilgrim’s from the way, bring guilt and shame upon them, and inflict as many wounds as they possibly can. I love how Christian chooses to respond to Apollyon, calling him by name, as though he were calling all truth into light. And he gives Apollyon the understanding that Christian has so far of his new relationship with Christ. He likes the Service (serving Christ), his Wages (eternal life), his Servants (the Lord’s Church), his Government (willing to live under the Lordship of Christ as He rules in a spirit of grace), his Company (the pleasantness of being with Christ and being known by Christ), and his Country (the general state of knowing that the Lord is sovereign).

Apollyon is none too thrilled that he has run upon a defector. Here is a portion of their battle:

Apollyon fast made at [Christian], throwing Darts as thick as hail; by the which, notwithstanding all that Christian could do to avoid it, Apollyon wounded him in his head, his hand, and foot. This made Christian give a little back…But, as God would have it, while Apollyon was fetching his last blow, thereby to make full end of this good man, Christian nimbly reached out his hand for his Sword, and caught it, saying, Rejoyce not against me, O mine Enemy! when I fall I shall arise; and with that gave him a deadly thrust, which made him give back, as one that had received his mortal wound. Christian perceiving that, made at him again; saying, Nay, in all these things we are more than Conquerors, through him that loved us” (62).

Again, when under the attacks of Satan, it initially seems as though we are powerless. He afflicts blows to our head (our minds, our understanding, and our assurance), our hand (our effectiveness for ministry), and our foot (limiting the fruitfulness of our spiritual walk with Christ). But the growing Christian will understand that he has the ability to fight back with the Sword of the Spirit – the Word of God. Christian quotes from Micah 7:8 and Romans 8:37 in his final defeat of Apollyon. Christian escaped this battle alive, but it was a battle that he would never forget again.

Again, it is almost magical the way that Bunyan causes the narrative to flow along the lines of the Pilgrim’s path. His theology shines through the characters that he brings in and there is always the element of truth that cannot be escaped. While Christian was on the road with his friend, Faithful, they run along another traveler named Talkative. Talkative lives up to his name in that he is simply one who likes to talk of matters of truth, but when it comes to applying them and living them, he does not see the benefit. Here is a portion of their discourse together:

Talkative. For to speak the truth, there are but few that care thus to spend their time (as they are in their Travels) but choose much rather to be speaking of things to no profit; and this hath been a Trouble to me…If a man doth delight to talk of the History, or the Mystery of things; or if a man doth love to talk of Miracles, Wonders, or Signs, where shall he find things recorded so delightful, and so sweetly penned, as in the Holy Scripture?
Faithful. That’s true; but to be profited by such things in our talk, should be that which we design.
Talk. That is what I said; for to talk of such things is most profitable; for by so doing, a man may get Knowledge of many things; as of the vanity of Earthly things, and the benefit of things Above…the necessity of the New birth; the insufficiency of our Works; the need of Christ’s righteousness, etc. Besides, by this a man may learn what it is to repent, to believe, to pray, to suffer, or the like…” (77).

The conversation starts out well, but as Faithful turns to Christian it is revealed, “This man, with whom you are so taken, will beguile, with this Tongue of his, twenty of them that know him not” (78). Christian then explains to Faithful that this man, Talkative, is all talk and no action. Therefore, Faithful engages Talkative in conversation that is intended to induce action, but the actions never come. Christian quips,

“Hearing is but as sowing of the seed: Talking is not sufficient to prove that fruit is indeed in the Heart and life; and let us assure ourselves, that at the day of Doom, men shall be judged according to their Fruit: It will not be said of then, Did you believe? But were you Doers or Talkers only? And accordingly they shall be judged…
Faithful. This brings to mind that of Moses, by which he described the beast that us clean. He is such an one that parteth the hoof, and cheweth the cud; not that parteth the hoof only, or that cheweth the cud only. The hare cheweth the cud, but yet is unclean; because he parteth not the hoof. And this truly resembleth Talkative; he cheweth the cud, he seeketh Knowledge, he cheweth upon the Word; but he divideth not the hoof, he parteth not with the Way of Sinners; but as the hare, he retaineth the foot of a dog or bear, and therefore is unclean” (81).

This was indeed something that I had never thought before. I am not sure if Bunyan is making this allusion simply to fit his narrative, or if this indeed was the thrust behins the provisions Moses was given as to the cleanness and uncleanness of animals. Wow.

To sum up, Christian finally makes it to the Celestial City (Heaven). Part II begins with his wife and children setting out on their pilgrimage for they have decided that life in the City of Destruction is not profitable and will end in sure death. Christiana seems to have a much better trip as she does not go this alone. She takes her friend Mercy with her, as well as her four sons. Also, she enlists the help of a man, Great-Heart, who will accompany her and protect her throughout the entire journey. What a great picture that this gives us as to how the fellowship of the Body of Christ should be lived together in community. We are all part of one another and should “live life together”, fighting battles and blazing this trail that is set before us.

I will share only one lengthy passage regarding Christiana’s pilgrimage to the Celsetial City as she crossed over the same ground as her husband did before, but without as much difficulty as he had while there. Christiana’s friend Prudence (whom was met along the way) was given leave by Christiana to catechise her four sons to “see how Christiana had brought up her children” (217). What follows is truly great teaching and theology all wrapped up in a succinct conversation. I hope my children will be able to fair as well as these four did:

Prudence. And she said, Come, James, canst thou tell me who made thee?
James. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.
Prud. Good boy. And canst thou tell me who saves thee?
James. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.
Prud. Good boy still. But how doth God the Father save thee?
Jam. By his Grace.
Prud. How doth God the Son save thee?
Jam. By his Righteousness, Death, and Blood, and Life.
Prud. And how doth God the Holy Ghost save thee?
Jam. By his Illumination, by his Renovation, and by his Preservation.
Then said Prudence to Christiana, You are to be commended for thus bringing up your children. I suppose I need not ask the rest these Questions, since the youngest of them can answer them so well. I will therefore now apply myself to the youngest next.
Prud. Then she said, Come, Joseph, (for his name was Joseph) will you let me catechise you?
Joseph. With all my heart.
Prud. What is Man?
Jos. A reasonable Creature, made so by God, as my brother said.
Prud. What is supposed by thie word Saved?
Jos. That Man, by Sin, has brought himself into a state of Cpativity and Misery.
Prud. What is supposed by his being saved by the Trinity?
Jos. That Sin is so great and mighty a Tyrant, that none can pull us out of its clutches, but God; and that God is so good and loving to Man, as to pull him indeed out of this miserable state.
Prud. What is God’s design in saving of poor men?
Jos. The glorifying of his Name, of his Grace, and Justice, etc. and the everlasting Happiness of his Creature.
Prud. Who are they that must be saved?
Jos. Those that accept of his Salvation.
Prud. Good boy, Joseph, thy mother has taught thee well, and thou hast hearkened to what she has said unto thee.
Then said Prudence to Samuel, who was he eldest but one:
Prud. Come, Samuel, are you willing that I should catechise you also?
Samuel. Yes, forsooth, if you please.
Prud. What is Heaven?
Sam. A Place and State most blessed, because God dwelleth there.
Prud. What is Hell?
Sam. A Place and State most woful, because it is the dwelling-place of Sin, the Devil, and Death.
Prud. Why wouldst thou go to Heaven?
Sam. That I may see God, and serve Him without weariness; that I may see Chrust, and love him everlastingly; that I may have that fullness of the Holy Spirit in men, that I can by no means here enjoy.
Prud. A very good boy also, and one that has learned well.
Then she addressed herself to the eldest, whose name was Matthew; and she said to him, Come, Matthew, shall I also catechise you?
Matthew. With a very good will.
Prud. I ask then, if there was ever any thing that had Being antecedent to, or before God?
Matt. No, for God is Eternal; nor is there any thing, excepting Himself, that had a being, until the beginning of the first day. For in six days the Lord made Heaven and Earth, the Sea, and all that in them is.
Prud. What do you think of the Bible?
Matt. It is the Holy Word of God.
Prud. Is there nothing written therein, but what you understand?
Matt. Yes, a great deal.
Prud. What do you do when you meet with places therein that you do not understand?
Matt. I think God is wiser than I. I pray also that he will please to let me know all therein that he knows will be for my good.
Prud. How believe you as touching the Resurrection of the Dead?
Matt. I belive they shall rise, the same that was buried; the same in Nature, tho’ not in Corruption. And I believe this upon a double account. First, Because God has promised it. Secondly, because he is able to perform it.
Then said Prudence to the boys, You must still hearken to your Mother, for she can learn you more. You must also diligently give ear to what good talk you shall hear from others; for your sakes do they speak good things. Observe also, and that with carefulness, what the Heavens and the Earth do teach you; but especially be much in he meditation of that Book that was the cause of your Father’s becoming a Pilgrim. I, for my part, my children, will teach you what I can while you are here, and shall be glad if you will ask me questions that ten to Godly edifying” (217-219).

Absolutely incredible. My heart leaps for joy as these truths are repeated as I see the Lord’s truth coming through a man who has long since passed into the Celestial City. This is a marvelous book that can not be described, it must be experienced. For, as you read through the progress of another Pilgrim, you will indeed see similarities to your own pilgrimage and have new ways of defining the invisible war that exists between the Darkness and the Light. May we always be progressing, Pilgrims.

Also, for a great series of sermons, using the Pilgrim’s Progress as a guide, refer to Jackson First Presbyterian where Dr. Derek Thomas will take you through the Pilgrim’s journey and, in his words, “point you to the Scriptures from whence Bunyan draws those truths.” In addition, while you are there, you will be edified by listening to or reading just about anything that he or Dr. J. Ligon Duncan have to offer!

For more on John Bunyan, click here, here or the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, where you can read or listen to some of Bunyan’s works or many other great theologians of yesteryear.

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