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Book Review: “The Pilgrim’s Progress” by John Bunyan
If we went for a coffee today, maybe we could talk about “Pilgrim’s Progress” Part 1 AND Part 2.
How did I get this book?
I don’t remember! LOL. More than likely, I scored it from the Upper Room in Ottawa about 3 years ago. We had organized a “Book Lover’s Sale” where Christians from all over the city donated their used Christian books, we organized them by types and then offered them to the public for a couple of dollars each. It was a lot of fun. CHRI came out and did a live broadcast from there, we met a lot of people, we received and distributed a lot of books. I probably got it from there.
This edition is very interesting. It’s a hardback, but the paper sleeve is still in relatively good shape. It has a handful of full color illustrations. It was published in 1966 by “Lutterworth Press” in London. I love old books!
What is it about?
It’s an allegory of the Christian life. In the opening paragraphs we met “Christian” who is setting out on a pilgrimage. He’s convinced that his hometown, the “city of Destruction” has come under judgment and will be destroyed soon. He sets out alone, his wife and children refuse to accompany him. He goes through all kinds of interesting situations, like the “Slough of Despond,” “the castle of Giant Despair,” the “Valley of the Shadow of Death,” and meets all kinds of characters like “Mr. Worldly Wiseman,” “Pliable,” “Faithful,” “Evangelist” and so forth on his journey to the Celestial City.
It’s a direct parallel to the life of a Christian and continually references to names and places and situations and quips from the Bible.
This edition had “Part 2” where Christian’s wife, “Christiana” sets out with the four boys to follow Christian in his pilgrimage to the Celestial City. The news of Christian’s journey has become legendary, and she sets out with one of her neighbours named “Mercy” to meet him there. She has different experiences even though she goes by or through many of the same places that Christian did. Her pilgrimage shows the uniqueness of the female experience as a Christian.
There’s poetry all throughout the book.
Part 2 closes with this flourish. I believe it’s from John Bunyan’s own heart. It’s in the words of “Mr Standfast” as he prepares to cross the river into the Celestial City. It’s the allegory of the death of a Christian. He writes:
Then there came forth a summons for Mr. Standfast. This Mr. Standfast was he that the rest of the pilgrims found upon his knees in the Enchanted Ground. For the post brought it him open in his hands; the contents whereof were, that he must prepare for a change of life, for his Master was not willing that he should be so far from Him any longer. At this Mr. Standfast was put into muse. Nay, said the messenger, you need not doubt of the truth of my message; for here is a token of the truth thereof; The wheel is broken at the cistern. Then he called to him Mr. Great-heart, who was their guilde, and said unto him, Sir, although it was not my hap to be much in your good company in the days of my pilgrimage, yet, since the time I knew you, you have been profitable to me. When I came from home, I left behind me a wife and five small children; let me entreat you at your return (for I know that you will go and return to your Master’s house in hopes that you may yet be a conductor to more of the holy pilgrims) that you send to my family, and let them be acquainted with all that hath and shall happen unto me. Tell them moreover of my happy arrival to this place, and of the present late blessed condition that I am in. Tell them also of Christian and of Christiana his wife, and how she and her children came after her husband. Tell them also of what a happy end she made, and whither she is gone. I have little or nothing to send to my family, unless it be prayers and tears for them; of which it will suffice if thou acquaint them, if peradventure they may prevail. When Mr. Standfast had thus set things in order, and the time being come to haste him away, he also went down to the river. Now, there was a great calm at that time in the river; where for Mr. Standfast, when he was about half way in, stood a while, and talked to his companions that had waited upon him thither. And he said, This river has been a terror to many; yea, the thoughts of it also have frightened me; but now methinks I stand easy; my foot is fixed upon that upon which the feet of the priest that bare the ark of the covenant stood while Israel went over this Jordan. The waters indeed are to the palate bitter, and to the stomach cold; yet the thoughts of what I am going to, and of the conduct that waits for me on the other side, doth lie as a glowing coal at my heart. I see myself now at the end of my journey; my toilsome days are ended. I am going now to see that head that was crowned with thorns, and that face which was spit upon for me. I have formerly lived by hearsay and faith; but now I go where I shall live by sight, and shall be with Him in whose company I delight myself. I have loved to hear my Lord spoken of; and wherever I have seen the print of His shoe in the earth, there I have coveted to set my foot too. His name has been to me as a civet-box; yea, sweeter than all perfumes. His voice to me has been most sweet; and his countenance I have more desired than they that have most desired the light of the sun. His word I did use to gather for my food, and for antidotes against my fainting. He has held me, and I have kept me from mine iniquities; yea, my steps hath He strengthened in His way.
Now while he was thus in discourse his countenance changed; his strong men bowed under him; and after he had said, “Take me, for I come unto Thee” he ceased to be seen of them.
But glorious it was to see how the upper region was filled with horses and chariots, with trumpeters and pipers, with singers and players on stringed instruments, to welcome the pilgrims as they went up, and followed one another in at the beautiful gate of the city.
What did I think?
Fascinating. John Bunyan is brilliant. His understanding of the intricacies of the Christian life, the human psyche, the human heart, the human mind and the way we typically respond to the realities of life are incredible.
His insights are still very, very relevant today.
Part 2 that describes the journey of his wife and children is quite the accomplishment. He’s faced with the problem of the overwhelming success of Part 1. He has to reference it, but bring out new and interesting details which he does in spades.
My one wish is that he had an editor equal to the task. Is there a way to take these incredible insight and recast them in a way that they could shine? There’s no chapter divisions, it’s one long prose. There are some errors in sequence. There’s places that some foreshadowing could be inserted with dramatic effect. It’s incredible raw material.
In saying that, let me also say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading it aloud to one of my children. I feel like the book was made to be read aloud.
I think every Christian should slowly make his way through it.
This is a classic book of English literature. It was published with 11 different revisions from before 1678 to 1688. It was wildly popular. I remember being told as a kid that it was the second most popular book behind the Bible itself.
John Bunyan is still relevant today to the Christian. His insights and understanding speak presciently from 350 years ago. Some things are timeless truths. The view is worth the climb.
Have you read it? What did you think?