The Pilgrim’s Progress is the most widely read, published and translated book in the world after the Bible. If such statistics were attributed to any Christian book today, I would have every reason to be wary of it. As a thumb rule, the most popular books in today’s Christendom are the ones which contain what our ears itch to hear. However, that is not true of this classic. The Pilgrim’s Progress was written by John Bunyan (1628-1688) when in prison. He was imprisoned for having conducted religious services unauthorized by the Church of England, which was by-and-large following the Roman Catholic legacy.
The book is written in the form of an allegory (personification of attributes) and is about a person named ‘Christian’ embarking on a journey from the ‘City of Destruction’ to the ‘Celestial City’ immediately after his conversion (or regeneration to be more precise). The pages of the book then take us through the arduous yet exciting journey which characterizes the life of every true believer.
Christian, with a great burden on his back (sin) is guided by an Evangelist to a Wicket Gate but on the way he falls into the Slough of Despond (depression) and is then helped out of it. He is then misguided by one Worldly Wiseman to a village called Morality(self-righteousness). He loses his way but gets on to the right path and comes to the Place of Deliverance where he sees the Cross and the burden falls away automatically (Conversion, I think). Then he proceeds further in the journey with one named Faithful, meets a monster named Apollyon, goes through a place called Vanity Fair (where he loses Faithful), loses his way again and finds himself in a Doubting Castle and is mauled by its owner, Giant Despair, and after much struggle finally arrives to the last hurdle which is a river that separates him from the Celestial City. And you will read how he reaches the blissful destination finally.
Throughout the book Bunyan emphasizes the justice and the wrath of God as much as he emphasizes the love of God. He describes the fate of one Ignorant who is cast into hell. He speaks of the Valley of Shadow of Death where the Christian hears screams of those who are in ‘indescribable torment’. He also mentions of Demas and also Lot’s wife who became a pillar of salt. You will not find a lop-sided portrayal of the love of God in this book. This is the hallmark of Bunyan’s books and in general of all 17th Century English Puritan writers.
My favourite portion of the book is when Christian meets Interpreter who takes him to a room which has a dusty floor. One maid-servant comes and starts sweeping the dust and Christian almost chokes to death. After that she wipes the floor with water and it becomes clean. Interpreter then asks him what this means and Christian seems dumbfounded. The Interpreter then explains that the room is the human heart and the dust is the sin present in it. The broom with which the dust was swept is the Law, which instead of clearing the dust only makes it more ‘active’ thus choking the person to death. The water which is then poured is the Gospel which washes away the sin and makes the heart inclined to God. Outstanding!!! I have come across such profound wisdom in very few books.
Whichever books you read, don’t go through Christian life without reading the Pilgrim’s Progress. It is one of the best pieces of our Christian heritage. No wonder it is considered a classic.
I would highly recommend reading the unabridged and the old-English version since that captures the poetic genius of Bunyan. Howver, modern day versions will make a much easier read. The book is available in ELS and Landmark (modern-day version) and can be also ordered through Indiaplaza.in. Check out Google books too. Happy reading!