Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Pilgrim's Progress

These last few weeks I've felt as if the Lord has opened up the floodgates of fellowship and I'm drinking it in as fast as I can. That doesn't mean that life is easy--but after a long spiritual winter of the soil lying fallow and waiting and trusting for spring to come, there is new life in prayers and devotions and reading his Word. I always hesitate to say that for fear it will immediately disappear after I've mentioned it. But in case any of you are going through a similar experience, then I hope it will be an encouragement to you that if you keep on seeking and knocking, and put your steadfast hope upon the Lord, he will "render unto you according to your work".

One of the gifts of fellowship he has given me has certainly been Pilgrim's Progress. I have lived twenty years without reading this book. Perhaps a few of them may be excused, as I haven't been reading for all twenty of them. But in the last few weeks, I've discovered just what it is that I've been missing out on.

The Book:
From the Dover Thrift Edition description: Often rated as important as the Bible as a Christian document, this famous story of man's progress through life in search of salvation remains one of the most entertaining allegories of faith ever written. Set against realistic backdrops of town and country, the powerful drama of the pilgrim's trials and temptations follows him in his harrowing journey to the Celestial City.
Along a road filled with monsters and spiritual terrors, Christian confronts such emblematic characters as Worldly Wiseman, Giant Despair, Talkative, Ignorance, and the demons of the Valley of the Shadow of Death. But he is also joined by Hopeful and Faithful.
An enormously influential 17th-century classic, universally known for its simplicity, vigor, and beauty of language, The Pilgrim's Progress remains one of the most widely read books in the English language.

My Thoughts
One editor at a writing conference admonished her students to be careful not to attempt to copy the Bible exactly in their writing. The Bible is complete and perfect, and it is foolish to try to copy it too closely; you'll only make a less powerful knock-off. 

Perhaps Pilgrim's Progress could be the one excusable exception. :)

The story is rich and true; it never dragged for me but once, and even that didn't take long to get through. Bunyan writes like a father to his children, or a shepherd to his little flock--mixing admonishment and comfort in good measure. I felt a deep love as I read this book, but that love never diminished the holiness of God or the gravity of our struggle against sin. 

The illustrations in the house of the Interpreter were some of my favorite scenes, both in Christian's journey and in Christiana's. They explained the gospel life of the Christian simply and clearly, from the man with truth upon his lips, to the robin with his crumbs, to the fire burning against the wall (my favorite). In the last scene, one man was pouring water on the fire to try to quench it, while another stood at the back of the fire secretly pouring oil upon it to make it grow:
The Interpreter answered, This is Christ, who continually, with the oil of His grace, maintains the work already begun in the heart; by the means of which, notwithstanding what the devil can do, the souls of His people prove gracious still. And in that thou sawest, that the man stood behind the wall to maintain the fire; this is to teach thee, that it is hard for the tempted to see how this work of grace is maintained in the soul. 
I loved Faithful for as long as he and Christian were together, but I loved Hopeful as well, for his bright and cheerful spirit. He tempered Christian's gravity as they drew closer to the Celestial City, and they were a comfort to one another in affliction. And Hopeful, though rather the lighter and flightier of the two, was the most confident in crossing the dark river, in spite of Christian's greater intellectual knowledge. 

Both Christian and Christiana's stories were equally good, but I loved how Christiana's half expanded to include people of weak names who persevered to the kingdom of God: Feeble-mind, and Ready-to-halt, and Much-afraid and Despondent. The passage about Fearful making it to the Celestial City in spite of his halting and worrying was particularly beautiful.

Particularly convicting in the last half was the passage where Christiana and Mercy were assaulted outside the Interpreter's house. After their rescue, they were told that they would have been given more help if they had been bold enough to ask. Christiana asked why they were not given a helper if the Lord knew they would need it, and the Reliever's reply was incredible:
Reliever: It is not always necessary to grant things not asked for, lest by so doing they become of little esteem; but when the want of a thing is felt, it then comes under, in the eyes of him that feels it, that estimate that properly is due, and so consequently will be thereafter used. Had my Lord granted you a conductor, you would not neither so have bewailed that oversight or yours, in not asking for one, as now you have occasion to do. So all things work for good, and tend to make you more wary. 
It was certainly a convicting reminder to be more bold in petitioning the Lord for grace and help in time of need.

I started to laugh in Christiana's half during the times when Great-heart violently and valiantly rid the giants of their heads :) His gusto and delight in making an end of them made me think of a certain young fellow that is soon to be released to the public. Bunyan does not make light work of the enemies of the gospel. He kills them by various violent means, and had more guts to condemn them then our modern all-inclusiveness. I appreciated how he always had the good characters plead with their enemies to accept the Lord's grace. If they joined the cause of Christ, well and good--if not, then there was no cause to regret them.

There is so much to learn and ponder and love in this book. I will leave you to discover it for yourself, and close with this final thought:

"'Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'" (John 7:38) And truly, that living water flowed out from the heart and pen of John Bunyan.



  1. Yay! You finally read it! :D Good for you.
    I, too, loved Pilgrim's Progress; your review is a nice little refresher--I need to read it again soon. ;)
    I found it neat how the sections about Christian and then about Christiana complement each other. If I remember correctly, Christiana & Company stay longer at places like the Interpreter's house and Doubting Castle; Bunyan gets to explain in more detail about events/places, which is nice.
    It's been awhile, but I think some of my favorite characters include Hopeful, Mercy, and the Shepherds. :)
    The audio drama of this is really good too. We have the one by "Hark! Audio".

    Great review! I hope you're having a good week. :)

    1. I loved the extra detail in the second half. It was not so much that it was better than Christian's journey, but just that it was further developed. They both go so well together.

      I love those characters, too. :) We have an audio reading/drama from Answers in Genesis, but I'm not sure who did it. My mom listened to it and liked it. :)

      Schuyler <3

  2. Bunyan is absolutely terriffic. I do love how utterly gumptious and simultaneously perfectly sweet his characters are.

    ROFLing at who Mr Great-heart reminds you of. What fun!

    1. I'd be interested to know what birth-order Bunyan was. It is generally reflected in writing.

      In the gumption they were a perfect match! Though I think Mr. G. has a little more general steadiness. XD

  3. I really enjoyed Christian, and I'm going through Christiana right now. :) It's so funny when you read Pilgrim's Progress how much Bunyan actually captures different personality types. "How much farther do we have left?" "Why, are you tired of this discourse?" :D

    I liked Hopeful--he was such a cheerful, down-to-earth sort of fellow and he was just the right person to journey with Christian. But Christian, I think, is one of my favorites.

    Thanks for posting this! :D


    1. Christian and Hopeful were so funny sometimes. I think I loved them even more because of all the times you quoted them. I'm glad you're reading Christiana! I can't wait to talk to you about it. <3


  4. Ohhh...you finally read it. I remember going through this book in our teen Sunday school, and it was fun going around the circle and just reading paragraphs together. I should read it again this year. My favorite character was Faithful...I wish he had stayed with Christian until the very end. But such is not to be, even in the real Christian life sometimes. So glad you read it. :)


    1. That's a great Sunday School idea. It would be wonderful in Bright Lights, too. Faithful was so dear and sad...I remember his death in the modern movie re-telling of Pilgrim's Progress. It was very sobering and powerful.


  5. I don't think I've ever read the full unadapted version of The Pilgrim's Progress, but I have seen the modern film version, and it is truly a wonderful story. I love the simplicity and power of the symbolism. I need to pick up the book sometime.


    1. I enjoyed the film version very much, and would like to watch it again sometime. :) I think you would enjoy the book! Let me know if you read it.


  6. Oh, I am so glad you enjoyed reading The Pilgrim's Progress and Christiana, Schuyler! I always find Bunyan's writings to be such an encouragement and spiritual edification to me. It has been inspired me many times over the years, since when I first read it at ten or twelves year old, for school; so many truths and lessons and words of comfort (as well as admonition)! Some of my favourite bits have always been at the foot of the Cross when Christian's burden falls down, and Palace Beautiful, and their crossing the River to the Celestial City. But I also loved the Interpreter's House. . . weren't some of the parables told so beautiful and uplifting? I often tear-up a bit, when the burden falls off Christian's back then Christian gave three leaps for joy, and went on singing:

    "Thus far did I come laden with my sin,
    Nor could aught ease the grief that I was in,
    Till I came hither. What a place is this!
    Must here be the beginning of my bliss!
    Must here the burden fall from off my back!
    Must here the strings that bound it to me crack!
    Blest cross! blest sepulchre! blest rather be
    The Man that there was put to shame for me!"

    I love Hopeful very much, though the character of Faithful always sends a little lump to my throat. <3 :')
    Some of the conversations on the way between the characters are so enjoyable as well though, story-wise, and the different personalities. My favourite 'bad' person is Ignorance, I think ^_^. Christiana is beautiful, though as well. Aw, don't you just love Great-Heart? <3

    We often used to let Gracie listen to an audio drama of "Pilgrim's Progress" over the years, and she got several parts memorized even =), it definitely is an enduring and beautiful Christian classic. I think you will also enjoy reading Bunyan's 'Holy War', Schuyler! It is rich, and profound, and has a great story as well =). Love Prince Emmanuel!

    1. I loved how Christian and Hopeful helped each other over the River. And the Palace Beautiful was so peaceful as well. ^_^

      That poem of Christian's is beautiful! I think it is something Christians experience again and again as we struggle with temptation and stand firm, and God rolls our burdens off our backs. Of course the great burden of eternal punishment is forever done away with, but we experience echoes of that glorious feeling throughout the Christian life as we gain victory over sin.

      I'd like to read The Holy War! Thanks for the suggestion. <3


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