|by John Bunyan|
|The Pilgrimís Progress by John Bunyan was once the most widely read and translated book in the English language apart from the Bible. Protestant missionaries translated it first thing after the Bible. In the days of westward expansion in the United States, early settlers often owned only two books: the Bible and The Pilgrimís Progress. While these days it mostly appears only on lists of top Christian books to read, I grew up with a copy in my Childrenís Illustrated Classic series. Moreover, while many of my childhood favorites are no longer available, today I can still easily buy or borrow a copy of The Pilgrimís Progress. If you are not already familiar with The Pilgrimís Progress, that I keep mentioning it along with the Bible tells you it is Christian in nature. It is an allegory about the Christian journey. Given that, what explains the endurance of The Pilgrimís Progress?
At its core is a thrilling story. The first part of The Pilgrimís Progress is about Christian, who undertakes a dangerous journey. Carrying a burden of sin, Christian leaves behind his family and friends to seek deliverance from an impending judgment on his city. Christian meets Evangelist (characters are helpfully named after their traits) who advises Christian to follow the yonder light until he comes to the wicket gate. There, Christian will receive further instructions. While the beacon of a lighthouse might guide a ship through a storm and into the harbor, this doesnít mean the journey is without strife. The same holds true for Christian. Despite a light to guide his way to the wicket gate, he faces interference from neighbors, a miry slough, and a hill so high that it seems insurmountable. Our hero eventually does reach the wicket gate, but it is like the first leg in a race. Christian must overcome many more dangers if he is to reach his final destination. Some seem simple enough, such as rainstorms. Others are more life-threatening such as the battle in the Valley of Humiliation with the dragon Apollyon, imprisonment by the Giant Despair in the Doubting Castle, a trek though the Enchanted Ground where Christian faces the temptation of eternal sleep, and the River of Death where Christian flounders in the water.
This first part of The Pilgrimís Progress was written in 1678. The second part appeared in 1684 and is about Christianís wife and sons. They undertake a similar journey to Christian after a visitor delivers a note from the Lord, written in letters of gold, inviting Christina to come to the Celestial City. Regretting that she hadnít accompanied her husband, Christina sets off with her sons and a neighbor named Mercy. With this second part, John Bunyan doesnít simply recreate his original tale, but imagines new adventures that might happen to other pilgrims. For example, after the women gain entrance at the wicket gate, they are accosted by two villains who attempt to rape them. At a later time, Christinaís sons (who are mentioned so infrequently that sometimes I forget about them) eat fruit from Beelzebubís garden and one gets deathly sick. The two women also receive help on their journey from Great-Heart, who fights off and even kills giants and monsters for them. Okay, this part sounds similar to our aforementioned heroís journey. By now, you might also be thinking that both parts are simply one danger after another, when that is simply not true. Christinaís sons and Mercy find marriage. We also meet some new types of pilgrims, with whom many of us probably readily identify, such as Mr. Fearing who is weak in faith. There is also Mr. Feeble Mind and Mr. Right Halt, who represent the weak in mind and weak in body.
Besides being a thrilling tale, The Pilgrimís Progress is also an allegory about the Christian journey. Christian and his family live in the City of Destruction, a place which symbolizes our sinful world that has no hope of salvation. To be relieved of his burden of sin and woe, Christian seeks out the wicket gate and knocks on it. Christian is sent on a journey, throughout which he must stay on the straight and narrow path, towards the Celestial City. If Christian reaches it, he will enjoy eternal life with God and heavenly beings. Yet along the way there are many temptations even from seemingly-innocent people. For example there are those who live by the Ten Commandments but unfortunately encourage Christian to settle in their Town of Morality. Individuals like Evangelist, who talks like a spiritual tract, come to his rescue and keep Christian on the straight and narrow. Not everything on a pilgrimís journey is dark. Just outside the Interpreterís House is the Cross. Here, Christianís burden of sin and woe is removed from him. He receives instead new raiment and a parchment roll which will serve kind of as a passport into heaven when he reaches the pearly gates. There are also places of excellent sights and rest such as Palace Beautiful, the Delectable Mountains, and Country of Beulah. Too often for my taste, there are the moral passages. For example, when Christina and her sons meet Prudence, she catechizes them for four pages. Sometimes this Christian classic felt like being in at everlasting church service, which is the main fault I find in this otherwise epic tale.
As such, I wrestled with what recommendation to give. John Bunyan wrote The Pilgrimís Progress for Christians. In reading about Bunyan's life story , it also seems as if The Pilgrimís Progress is a reflection of Bunyanís own realization that the Christian life is a journey that can be fraught with strife while also having moments of joy. For this reason, despite the old English, I think that it is an important and encouraging book for Christians to read.
|Sunday, September 07, 2014 10:23:18 PM ahunter|