In 1620, the Mayflower carried English pilgrims across the Atlantic to America. Fleeing persecution from the Church of England, they came to the New World in hopes of finding religious freedom.
Their pilgrimage was successful but difficult. In addition to setbacks and shortages during the voyage, they suffered disease and freezing temperatures upon arrival. Yet they endured and paved the way for American settlement.
Another significant pilgrimage took place in the 1600s. It too was undertaken by an Englishman suffering at the hands of the Anglican Church. Rather than crossing an ocean, his entire journey took place in the confines of a jail cell.
John Bunyan (1628-1688) was a tinker turned preacher from Bedford. He spent twelve years in prison for preaching and conducting unlawful religious services. Many believe he used that time to write perhaps the greatest book in the English language, The Pilgrim’s Progress.
From This World to That Which Is to Come
Pilgrim’s Progress is about a man named Christian. He reads in a book that his hometown (City of Destruction) is destined for judgment. Burdened by this knowledge and his own personal guilt, he sets out for the Celestial City.
Like the English Pilgrims, Christian’s journey is successful but difficult. He encounters many people, places, and predicaments that threaten to turn him out of the King’s way. Yet in the end, he arrives safely at the Celestial City. And like the Pilgrims, his journey paves the way for his family to follow later.
Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegory, a story with a hidden meaning. It is no mere novel; rather, it is Bunyan’s presentation of the Christian life. Just as Christian strives to follow the King’s way, so we strive to follow Jesus on our pilgrimage from this life to the next.
Bunyan fictionalizes the spiritual dangers of his own day. Yet the book is still remarkably relevant. Since its publication in 1677, it has been translated into over 200 languages and has never been out of print! For nearly 350 years, Christians around the world have been encouraged by it to faithfully complete their own pilgrimage.
Embarking on a Pilgrimage
Yet chances are you have not read Pilgrim’s Progress. It seems most Christians today have never joined Christian on his quest to the Celestial City. Although I grew up in the church and graduated from Bible College, I only read it for the first time recently.
Our neglect of Bunyan’s work is tragic. Most modern devotional materials are shallow and unbeneficial. We need something that challenges us to think and grow in our faith. It would be inexcusable for our generation to hinder the progress of this book, or halt it altogether!
I’d like to invite you to join me on a pilgrimage through Pilgrim’s Progress. This series will proceed through the story one chapter at a time, examining each stage of Christian’s journey and emphasizing points of relevance. I’d also encourage you to buy a copy to read alongside this series.
Let us travel with Christian and see what we can learn from this most perennial of pilgrims!
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