This is a review of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress

Let me tell you a story.

A certain sojourner sets out on a long journey. He leaves the relative comfort of his home, ups sticks, and goes to a strange place, not really knowing what to expect whenever he gets there. His journey is without cars or sat-navs. His journey will be from one great city to another. He will travel many miles—through the scorching heat of the wilderness and the freezing heights of the mountains—facing trials of many kinds along the way. His feet will undoubtably be covered in blisters, he will surely get thirsty, and given the company that he’s travelling with, probably quite frustrated at times too.

You would be forgiven for thinking that this is a tale of some wearisome traveller of old, wandering through the wilderness of sub-Saharan Africa or traversing the vast unknown of early colonial America: but in actual fact, this is a story about you. Yes, that’s right, you. Sitting there on your chair, reading the CEF Youth Challenge Blog, in anno Domini 2016. You.

The Journey

One of the images for the Christian life in the Scriptures is a ‘journey,’ or a ‘pilgrimage,’ towards the ‘city’ (e.g. Philippians 3:20, Hebrews 11:13, 1 Peter 2:11, Revelation 21-22).1 It’s this Biblical imagery that John Bunyan uses as the basis for his classic work, penned in the 17th century, Pilgrim’s Progress. Bunyan traces the ‘pilgrimage’ of a man, aptly named Christian, from his initial call of God to conversion, right through to receiving his eternal reward in the Celestial City.

It feels just a little silly that I, a nobody in his early twenties, need bother making any sort of comment on this book given the previous endorsements by some heavyweights of the evangelical world: Charles Spurgeon said that, next to the Bible, Pilgrim’s Progress was the book he valued most; J.I. Packer highly recommends reading it once a year; yours truly humbly agrees with the above sentiments…

Why read Pilgrim’s Progress?

Once upon a time in the evangelical world, Pilgrim’s Progress was the best-read book after the Bible—a ranking which has sadly since diminished. J.I. Packer argues why, in our current age, we urgently need to get to grips with the truths contained in Bunyan’s work:

…our rapport with fantasy writing, plus our lack of grip on the searching, humbling, edifying truths about spiritual life that the Puritans understood so well, surely mean that the time is ripe for us to dust off Pilgrim’s Progress and start reading it again…

Have you yourself, I wonder, read it yet?2

Certainly, there are many books flooding the shelves of your local Christian bookshop dealing with the Christian life—some of better quality than others—yet Pilgrim’s Progress, dare I say it, trumps them all. It is a tale of the Christian life we all experience—the ups and the downs, the joys and the sorrows, the comforts and the sufferings—and above all, it is grounded thoroughly on Scripture.3

The Pilgrimage won’t be easy

Reading Pilgrim’s Progress has two potential pitfalls: firstly, the language is archaic and difficult for the modern reader to understand; secondly, and more importantly, you may just get a more accurate picture of your own pilgrimage and discover that you can’t make this journey alone.

Addressing the archaic language, the preface of one modern reprint suggests the following:

If the reader is initially put off by the dated English of The Pilgrim’s Progress, we would encourage him simply to dive into the narrative without trying too hard to understand everything. It will soon be found to be as comprehensible as a modern book, and will be found to be a pleasure to read.4

Regarding the difficulty of the journey involved, it is essential to share the same hope that Christian has—the hope of eternal life with Christ, possible only through the cross: the cross where “his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back.”5

Do you too, want to embark on and faithfully continue the journey which Christ the Lord calls us to? Do you want to be encouraged as a ‘pilgrim’ towards the ‘holy city, new Jerusalem’? First: read, study and meditate upon God’s inspired, infallible and inerrant Word; second: read Pilgrim’s Progress.

I leave you with Bunyan’s own advice and encouragement for reading this book:

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.6

1. The Israelites, too, are frequently described in the Old Testament as being on a ‘journey’ towards the ‘promised land’ or the ‘holy city.’
2. Packer, J.I.. 2004. Pilgrim’s Progress, in The Devoted Life: An Invitation to the Puritan Classics, ed. Kapic and Gleason. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 198.
3. Depending on the edition, either footnotes or margin references point the reader to the many Scriptural allusions and quotations which Bunyan makes use of (over 400 in my edition).
4. Bunyan, John. 2010. The Pilgrim’s Progress: Preface. Aylesbury: Rickfords Hill Publishing, v.
5. Bunyan, 58.
6. Bunyan, 21.