An Introduction to The Pilgrim’s Progress
Many people have never read one of the greatest English Classics of all time, The Pilgrim’s Progress, which was, until the later decades of the twentieth century, still an all-time best seller. It was once so well-known that it was assumed that any literate person was familiar with it. Its character and incidents were used for the illustration of sermons. In short, it was a common element of the culture of the English-speaking world.
It is a great pity that the modern idea of education does not mandate, or even allow for, the reading of great books. Nor does the popular culture of practical atheism give any encouragement to the reading of Christian books — even those that have value simply considered as literature. It is even worse than that: the reading of books itself is no longer a normal part of modern life.
I am guessing that most of you have never read it. It is a shame that so many of you have missed this enjoyable and edifying work. That is why I am offering you this introduction to Bunyan’s immortal classic.
The author was a poor preacher by the name of John Bunyan. Bunyan was a genius, but what they called in that time, a “tinker’ — one who repaired pots and pans for a living. He was held back from a better vocation by his lack of formal education and breeding. He was however quite literate, and when he became a Christian, he quickly learned not only the the doctrines of the Bible; but much of the text by heart.
Having been convicted of preaching without a license, and being unrepentant, he lay a long time in jail, during which he wrote this marvelous book to occupy his mind. It had probably never been published, had not John Owen (that most learned Separatist theologian and chaplain to Oliver Cromwell) been made aware of his case. Owen thought him unjustly treated, and visited him in his cell.
He became aware of the story Bunyan had written, and thought that it had value. He personally saw to it that it was published, and John Bunyan became famous overnight. The book was popular with all classes of people and all denominations of Christians. It depicts with vivid images and simple language the life of a Christian as a journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City — a journey filled with “danger, toils and snares” (to borrow a phrase from John Newton). The readers of his day appreciated simple entertainments. The Pilgrim’s Progress was a story that could be read to children, as well as an adventure story for adults; and in editions with proof-texts and comments in the margin, a small handbook of the Christian life, worthy to be studied.
Bunyan’s theology was a high Calvinism, which yet laid great stress on experience; which is a rare thing today. There are many who hold intellectually to a Calvinistic theology who show little or no evidence that they have experienced true conversion. They have never had any pangs of conscience, nor terror of God, nor great relief following the exercise of faith.
Some Reformed theologians are suspicious of personal experiences of deep emotions in conversion, of divine guidance, miracles, etc. To them, the Christian life is rational, not experiential. They regard with suspicion any accounts of emotional experiences of God, or anything that seems to them “mystical”. At least, these things are incidental, and probably the result of a superstitious mind. Even love, we often hear, is not a feeling, but an action — an action that is pleasing to God, even if done without feeling! There is no place for feelings — only obedience to the Word. Anything else is fanaticism.
Bunyan was zealous to expose such persons, and to bring them under conviction that they might be saved. You will see episodes in the book in which Christian and others engage those whose religion is not real; because lacking in true experience.
He also believed in the “perseverance of the saints”; not merely the “preservation of the saints”. In Bunyan’s view, it was necessary for a Christian to persevere in faith and holiness of life to the end to be saved; but also that God would give persevering grace to all the elect.
Finally, he believed that worldliness and Christianity were incompatible. A worldly man could not be at the same time a true Christian — a saint. Holiness was not an option – it was the essential character of a regenerate man. Growth in holiness was as much demanded as growth in knowledge. This meant that we ought to be visibly different from the worldly people around us. We should not fit in with unholy people, we should shun their parties and amusements; and we are to order our lives in a disciplined way, giving first place to the Bible, prayer, Christian witness, and good works.
For these reasons, some of the passages in this book are poorly understood by many modern Christians. The book, as it is usually published, by photocopy, unfortunately preserves the poor punctuation and inconsistent formatting that suggests an undue haste, with which some printers may have worked to meet the demand. This, with the obsolete idiom and archaic words make the book difficult to read at times. Who knows what “by-ends” means today or “pickthank”? A part of the meaning is lost if one does not know the slang Bunyan used. (Thanks to the internet search engines, this is no longer a problem.) I have renamed Mr. Pickthank, Mr. Sycophant for this reason in the excerpt below.
The incident below is in my opinion one of the choicest passages from the book. It sets forth the separation of a true Christian from the evil ways and thoughts of this world. There is an irreconcilable opposition between Christianity and that world system which is the realm of the wicked one. Often in history (as at this present time, in some parts of the world) Christians have been so hated that they were massacred by the thousands. We will not see massacres in this tale; but we will see that implacable hatred of a man who is not only innocent of any crime; but is abhorred because he is good! We will also be reminded that a martyr is a hero and a victor!
As our story begins, Christian and Faithful, having passed through many trials, are forced to pass through the place called Vanity Fair. It is a “fair”, in the old sense — usually a seasonal gathering of people, for trade and amusement. Only this one is different because it never ends — it is there all year. It is a city, with streets, districts, and permanent residents. It is, of course, a picture of the world, which all Christians must pass through, though unwillingly. Enjoy the story!
Then I saw in my dream, that when they were got out of the wilderness, they presently saw a town before them, and the name of that town is Vanity; and at the town there is a fair kept, called Vanity Fair: it is kept all the year long. It beareth the name of Vanity Fair because the town where it is kept is lighter than vanity; and, also because all that is there sold, or that cometh thither, is vanity. As is the saying of the wise, “all that cometh is vanity.” (Eccl. 1:2; 2:11,17; 11:8; Isa. 11:17)
This fair is no new-erected business, but a thing of ancient standing; I will show you the original of it:
Almost five thousand years agone, there were pilgrims walking to the Celestial City, as these two honest persons are: and Beelzebub, Apollyon, and Legion, with their companions, perceiving by the path that the pilgrims made, that their way to the city lay through this town of Vanity, they contrived here to set up a fair; a fair wherein, should be sold all sorts of vanity, and that it should last all the year long: therefore at this fair are all such merchandise sold, as houses, lands, trades, places, honours, preferments, titles, countries, kingdoms, lusts, pleasures, and delights of all sorts, as whores, bawds, wives, husbands, children, masters, servants, lives, blood, bodies, souls, silver, gold, pearls, precious stones, and what not.
And, moreover, at this fair there is at all times to be seen juggling cheats, games, plays, fools, apes, knaves, and rogues, and that of every kind. Here are to be seen, too, and that for nothing, thefts, murders, adulteries, false swearers, and that of a blood-red colour.
And as in other fairs of less moment, there are the several rows and streets, under their proper names, where such and such wares are vended; so here likewise you have the proper places, rows, streets, (viz. countries and kingdoms), where the wares of this fair are soonest to be found. Here is the Britain Row, the French Row, the Italian Row, the Spanish Row, the German Row, where several sorts of vanities are to be sold. But, as in other fairs, some one commodity is as the chief of all the fair, so the ware of Rome and her merchandise is greatly promoted in this fair; only our English nation, with some others, have taken a dislike thereat.
Now, as I said, the way to the Celestial City lies just through this town where this lusty fair is kept; and he that will go to the city, and yet not go through this town, must needs go out of the world. (1 Cor. 5:10) The Prince of princes himself, when here, went through this town to his own country, and that upon a fair day too; yea, and as I think, it was Beelzebub, the chief lord of this fair, that invited him to buy of his vanities; yea, would have made him lord of the fair, would he but have done him reverence as he went through the town (Matt. 4:8, Luke 4:5-7). Yea, because he was such a person of honour, Beelzebub had him from street to street, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a little time, that he might, if possible, allure the Blessed One to cheapen and buy some of his vanities; but he had no mind to the merchandise, and therefore left the town, without laying out so much as one farthing upon these vanities. This fair, therefore, is an ancient thing, of long standing, and a very great fair.
Now these pilgrims, as I said, must needs go through this fair. Well, so they did: but, behold, even as they entered into the fair, all the people in the fair were moved, and the town itself as it were in a hubbub about them; and that for several reasons: for–
First, The pilgrims were clothed with such kind of raiment as was diverse from the raiment of any that traded in that fair. The people, therefore, of the fair, made a great gazing upon them: some said they were fools, some they were bedlams, and some they are outlandish men. (1 Cor. 2:7-8)
Secondly, And as they wondered at their apparel, so they did likewise at their speech; for few could understand what they said; they naturally spoke the language of Canaan, but they that kept the fair were the men of this world; so that, from one end of the fair to the other, they seemed barbarians each to the other.
Thirdly, But that which did not a little amuse the merchandisers was, that these pilgrims set very light by all their wares; they cared not so much as to look upon them; and if they called upon them to buy, they would put their fingers in their ears, and cry, “Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity”, and look upwards, signifying that their trade and traffic was in heaven (Ps. 119:37, Phil. 3:19-20).
One chanced mockingly, beholding the carriage of the men, to say unto them, “What will ye buy?” But they, looking gravely upon him, answered, “We buy the truth.” (Prov. 23:23) At that there was an occasion taken to despise the men the more; some mocking, some taunting, some speaking reproachfully, and some calling upon others to smite them. At last things came to a hubbub and great stir in the fair, insomuch that all order was confounded.
Now was word presently brought to the great one of the fair, who quickly came down, and deputed some of his most trusty friends to take these men into examination, about whom the fair was almost overturned. So the men were brought to examination; and they that sat upon them, asked them whence they came, whither they went, and what they did there, in such an unusual garb?
The men told them that they were pilgrims and strangers in the world, and that they were going to their own country, which was the heavenly Jerusalem, (Heb. 11:13-16) and that they had given no occasion to the men of the town, nor yet to the merchandisers, thus to abuse them, and to let them in their journey, except it was for that, when one asked them what they would buy, they said they would buy the truth.
But they that were appointed to examine them did not believe them to be any other than bedlams and mad, or else such as came to put all things into a confusion in the fair. Therefore they took them and beat them, and besmeared them with dirt, and then put them into the cage, that they might be made a spectacle to all the men of the fair.
There, therefore, they lay for some time, and were made the objects of any man’s sport, or malice, or revenge, the great one of the fair laughing still at all that befell them. But the men being patient, and not rendering railing for railing, but contrariwise, blessing, and good words for bad, and kindness for injuries done, some men in the fair that were more observing, and less prejudiced than the rest, began to check and blame the baser sort for their continual abuses done by them to the men; they, therefore, in angry manner, let fly at them again, counting them as bad as the men in the cage, and telling them that they seemed confederates, and should be made partakers of their misfortunes. The other replied that, for aught they could see, the men were quiet, and sober, and intended nobody any harm; and that there were many that traded in their fair that were more worthy to be put into the cage, yea, and pillory too, than were the men they had abused. Thus, after divers words had passed on both sides, the men behaving themselves all the while very wisely and soberly before them, they fell to some blows among themselves, and did harm one to another.
Then were these two poor men brought before their examiners again, and there charged as being guilty of the late hubbub that had been in the fair. So they beat them pitifully, and hanged irons upon them, and led them in chains up and down the fair, for an example and a terror to others, lest any should speak in their behalf, or join themselves unto them.
But Christian and Faithful behaved themselves yet more wisely, and received the ignominy and shame that was cast upon them, with so much meekness and patience, that it won to their side, though but few in comparison of the rest, several of the men in the fair. This put the other party yet into greater rage, insomuch that they concluded the death of these two men. Wherefore they threatened, that the cage nor irons should serve their turn, but that they should die, for the abuse they had done, and for deluding the men of the fair. Then were they remanded to the cage again, until further order should be taken with them. So they put them in, and made their feet fast in the stocks.
Here, therefore, they called again to mind what they had heard from their faithful friend Evangelist, and were the more confirmed in their way and sufferings by what he told them would happen to them. They also now comforted each other, that whose lot it was to suffer, even he should have the best of it; therefore each man secretly wished that he might have that preferment: but committing themselves to the all-wise disposal of Him that ruleth all things, with much content, they abode in the condition in which they were, until they should be otherwise disposed of.
Then a convenient time being appointed, they brought them forth to their trial, in order to their condemnation. When the time was come, they were brought before their enemies and arraigned. The judge’s name was Lord Hate-good. Their indictment was one and the same in substance, though somewhat varying in form, the contents whereof were this:–
“That they were enemies to and disturbers of their trade; that they had made commotions and divisions in the town, and had won a party to their own most dangerous opinions, in contempt of the law of their prince.”
Now, Faithful, play the man, speak for thy God:
Fear not the wicked’s malice; nor their rod:
Speak boldly, man, the truth is on thy side:
Die for it, and to life in triumph ride.
Then Faithful began to answer, that he had only set himself against that which hath set itself against Him that is higher than the highest. “And”, said he, “as for disturbance, I make none, being myself a man of peace; the parties that were won to us, were won by beholding our truth and innocence, and they are only turned from the worse to the better. And as to the king you talk of, since he is Beelzebub, the enemy of our Lord, I defy him and all his angels.”
Then proclamation was made, that they that had aught to say for their lord the king against the prisoner at the bar, should forthwith appear and give in their evidence. So there came in three witnesses, to wit, Envy, Superstition, and sycophant. They were then asked if they knew the prisoner at the bar; and what they had to say for their lord the king against him.
Then stood forth Envy, and said to this effect: “My Lord, I have known this man a long time, and will attest upon my oath before this honourable bench, that he is–”
JUDGE “Hold! Give him his oath.” (So they sware him.) Then he said–
“My Lord, this man, notwithstanding his plausible name, is one of the vilest men in our country. He neither regardeth prince nor people, law nor custom; but doth all that he can to possess all men with certain of his disloyal notions, which he in the general calls principles of faith and holiness. And, in particular, I heard him once myself affirm that Christianity and the customs of our town of Vanity were diametrically opposite, and could not be reconciled. By which saying, my Lord, he doth at once not only condemn all our laudable doings, but us in the doing of them.”
Then did the Judge say to him, “Hast thou any more to say?”
ENVY “My Lord, I could say much more, only I would not be tedious to the court. Yet, if need be, when the other gentlemen have given in their evidence, rather than anything shall be wanting that will despatch him, I will enlarge my testimony against him.” So he was bid to stand by. Then they called Superstition, and bid him look upon the prisoner. They also asked, what he could say for their lord the king against him. Then they sware him; so he began.
SUPERSTITION “My Lord, I have no great acquaintance with this man, nor do I desire to have further knowledge of him; however, this I know, that he is a very pestilent fellow, from some discourse that, the other day, I had with him in this town; for then, talking with him, I heard him say, that our religion was naught, and such by which a man could by no means please God. Which sayings of his, my Lord, your Lordship very well knows, what necessarily thence will follow, to wit, that we do still worship in vain, are yet in our sins, and finally shall be damned; and this is that which I have to say.”
Then was Sycophant sworn, and bid say what he knew, in behalf of their lord the king, against the prisoner at the bar.
SYCOPHANT “My Lord, and you gentlemen all, This fellow I have known of a long time, and have heard him speak things that ought not to be spoke; for he hath railed on our noble prince Beelzebub, and hath spoken contemptibly of his honourable friends, whose names are the Lord Old Man, the Lord Carnal Delight, the Lord Luxurious, the Lord Desire of Vain Glory, my old Lord Lechery, Sir Having Greedy, with all the rest of our nobility; and he hath said, moreover, That if all men were of his mind, if possible, there is not one of these noblemen should have any longer a being in this town. Besides, he hath not been afraid to rail on you, my Lord, who are now appointed to be his judge, calling you an ungodly villain, with many other such like vilifying terms, with which he hath bespattered most of the gentry of our town.”
When this Sycophant had told his tale, the Judge directed his speech to the prisoner at the bar, saying, “Thou runagate, heretic, and traitor, hast thou heard what these honest gentlemen have witnessed against thee?”
FAITHFUL “May I speak a few words in my own defence?”
JUDGE “Sirrah! sirrah! thou deservest to live no longer, but to be slain immediately upon the place; yet, that all men may see our gentleness towards thee, let us hear what thou, vile runagate, hast to say.”
“I say, then, in answer to what Mr. Envy hath spoken, I never said aught but this, that what rule, or laws, or customs, or people, were flat against the Word of God, are diametrically opposite to Christianity. If I have said amiss in this, convince me of my error, and I am ready here before you to make my recantation.
As to the second, to wit, Mr. Superstition, and his charge against me, I said only this, That in the worship of God there is required a Divine faith; but there can be no Divine faith without a Divine revelation of the will of God. Therefore, whatever is thrust into the worship of God that is not agreeable to Divine revelation, cannot be done but by a human faith, which faith will not be profitable to eternal life.
As to what Mr. Sycophant hath said, I say (avoiding terms, as that I am said to rail, and the like) that the prince of this town, with all the rabblement, his attendants, by this gentleman named, are more fit for a being in hell, than in this town and country: and so, the Lord have mercy upon me!”
Then the Judge called to the jury (who all this while stood by, to hear and observe):
“Gentlemen of the jury, you see this man about whom so great an uproar hath been made in this town. You have also heard what these worthy gentlemen have witnessed against him. Also you have heard his reply and confession. It lieth now in your breasts to hang him or save his life; but yet I think meet to instruct you into our law:
There was an Act made in the days of Pharaoh the Great, servant to our prince, that lest those of a contrary religion should multiply and grow too strong for him, their males should be thrown into the river (Exo. 1:22). There was also an Act made in the days of Nebuchadnezzar the Great, another of his servants, that whosoever would not fall down and worship his golden image, should be thrown into a fiery furnace (Dan. 3:6). There was also an Act made in the days of Darius, that whoso, for some time, called upon any god but him, should be cast into the lions’ den (Dan. 6). Now the substance of these laws this rebel has broken, not only in thought, (which is not to be borne), but also in word and deed; which must therefore needs be intolerable.
For that of Pharaoh, his law was made upon a supposition, to prevent mischief, no crime being yet apparent; but here is a crime apparent. For the second and third, you see he disputeth against our religion; and for the treason he hath confessed, he deserveth to die the death.”
Then went the jury out, whose names were, Mr. Blind-man, Mr. No-good, Mr. Malice, Mr. Love-lust, Mr. Live-loose, Mr. Heady, Mr. High-mind, Mr. Enmity, Mr. Liar, Mr. Cruelty, Mr. Hate-light, and Mr. Implacable; who every one gave in his private verdict against him among themselves, and afterwards unanimously concluded to bring him in guilty before the Judge.
And first, among themselves, Mr. Blind-man, the foreman, said, “I see clearly that this man is a heretic.” Then said Mr. No-good, “Away with such a fellow from the earth!” “Ay”, said Mr. Malice, “for I hate the very looks of him.” Then said Mr. Love-lust, “I could never endure him”. “Nor I”, said Mr. Live-loose, “for he would always be condemning my way”. “Hang him, hang him”, said Mr. Heady. “A sorry scrub”, said Mr. High-mind. “My heart riseth against him”, said Mr. Enmity. “He is a rogue”, said Mr. Liar. “Hanging is too good for him”, said Mr. Cruelty. “Let us despatch him out of the way”, said Mr. Hate-light. Then said Mr. Implacable, “Might I have all the world given me, I could not be reconciled to him; therefore, let us forthwith bring him in guilty of death”. And so they did; therefore he was presently condemned to be had from the place where he was, to the place from whence he came, and there to be put to the most cruel death that could be invented.
They therefore brought him out, to do with him according to their law; and, first, they scourged him, then they buffeted him, then they lanced his flesh with knives; after that, they stoned him with stones, then pricked him with their swords; and, last of all, they burned him to ashes at the stake. Thus came Faithful to his end.
Now I saw that there stood behind the multitude a chariot and a couple of horses, waiting for Faithful, who (so soon as his adversaries had despatched him) was taken up into it, and straightway was carried up through the clouds, with sound of trumpet, the nearest way to the Celestial Gate.
Brave Faithful, bravely done in word and deed;
judge, witnesses, and jury have, instead
of overcoming thee, but shown their rage:
when they are dead, thou’lt live from age to age*.
But as for Christian, he had some respite, and was remanded back to prison. So he there remained for a space; but He that overrules all things, having the power of their rage in his own hand, so wrought it about, that Christian for that time escaped them, and went his way. And as he went, he sang, saying–
Well, Faithful, thou hast faithfully profest
Unto thy Lord; with whom thou shalt be blest,
When faithless ones, with all their vain delights,
Are crying out under their hellish plights:
Sing, Faithful, sing, and let thy name survive;
For though they kill’d thee, thou art yet alive!