Growing up in a Christian family there are a few rites of passage that a child will go through- the Church’s Christmas pageant, Vacation Bible School, and reading “The Pilgrim’s Progress.”
While all of those events leave a lasting impression, the layered meaning of John Bunyan’s captivating novel gives the young and old insight into the life of the Scriptures.
Often the imprints of our childhood give us but a mere shadow of the extraordinary detail of event in full, which is why refreshing our mind and spirit with the book that has influenced generations- and most likely generations to come- is of the utmost importance.
Awhile back, Christianity Today asked evangelicals who were well-known for their ministry what books made the greatest impact on their lives, helping them to become achievers, and almost every one of them had a common denominator in addition to the Bible.
You guessed it! “The Pilgrim’s Progress”.
The CS Lewis Institute highlighted Leland Ryken’s quote, professor emeritus of English at Wheaton College, stating:
“For more than two centuries after its first publication, The Pilgrim’s Progress ranked just behind the King James Bible as the most important book in evangelical Protestant households.”
That should tell you something! Maybe it’s the extreme circumstances that the book was written under that gives it such a powerful voice, or maybe it’s because Bunyan speaks from under the weight of undue burden that relates to the reader’s desire to be freed from the angst of the world?
Bunyan was a Baptist minister in a time when preaching was not only chastised, but often punishable by law. This was exactly how the preacher landed in Bedford where “The Pilgrim’s Progress” took its eloquent form in 1675.
It was the Restoration period when Charles II returned to give the monarchy power once more, and make the official religion Anglican as he thought proper.
Under Charles II’s rule, Puritans were considered a threat, and improper in the wake of the accepted religious decorum. Many Puritans, or non-conformists as they were called, were facing persecution at the time, being prevented from meeting to worship and promote their doctrine.
Bunyan spent 12 years in the gaol, in which he was given multiple opportunities to be released if he would only stop preaching. He famously replied to this trade, “If you release me today, I will preach tomorrow,” according to Christianity.com.
During these dark times, where he was separated from his family and followers, he came up with the character Christian, and from there was spun an intricate tale.
“The Pilgrim’s Progress” is a well-known allegory, depicting people and scenarios that clearly reflect Biblical principles.
The story goes that a man named Christian realizes he has a heavy burden on his back, meant to symbolize his sins. Not being able to bear it any longer, he follows the direction of an Evangelist to leave the City of Destruction, towards the Wicket Gate.
Upon reaching this destination, Christian is to find the “straight and narrow” path that leads to the Celestial City. Along the way, he faces many obstacles and dangerous scenarios, but seeks solace in his companions Faithful and Hopeful.
The first edition of Bunyan’s proudest work was in 1678, reports Britannica, but it didn’t take long for a Part II to grace the public. In 1684 the second part of the book looks at the journey of Christian’s wife, Christiana, and her children.
By the end of the first century of publication, Part I of “Pilgrim’s Progress” went through thirty-three editions, and Part II went through fifty-nine.
The book rapidly took captive the minds of those abroad in Scotland, Ireland, and the colonies, making it an even bigger success outside its native home. Publishers in New England, who were comprised largely in part by non-conformists, held the book in high regard and would bind the perfectly blended book of fact and fiction with elegant craftsmanship.
Six years after Part I was published, Bunyan wrote about how those of New England admired his book, because it spoke to their very same trials after escaping England for freedom of religion.
The Reformed Reader tells us his words:
“’Tis in New England under such advance,
Receives there so much loving countenance,
As to be trimm’d, new cloth’d, and deck’d with gems
That it may show its features and its limbs,
Yet more; so comely doth my Pilgrim walk,
That of him thousands do sing and talk.”
“The Pilgrim’s Progress” has since become a staple in many Christian homes, amusing children with its broad strokes of allegory, while instilling timeless values brought out from the Word of God.
It would be wise for our generation, and those to come, to perpetuate the reading of Bunyan’s book, making the essence of the Bible rise up from the pages, speaking the message of grace and salvation found in Jesus Christ.
John Bunyan was a man of faith, commitment, and bravery, showing us that our situation doesn’t limit the impact we can have on others when we follow the will of our Father.
Please let us know in the comments section if you have read “The Pilgrim’s Progress”, and what it meant to you.