Home > C. H. Spurgeon, J. C. Ryle > Pilgrim’s Progress Update

Pilgrim’s Progress Update

September 8, 2010

I’ve been enjoying listening to Pilgrim’s Progress during my commute time.  Like other listening in the car, it’s usually short periods of time (30 to 40 minutes per day at most), but the story is easy to follow and remember from one session to the next, and now I’m over halfway through.  I’ve noticed that much of the story pauses, for Christian to re-tell the previous events: an illustration of our continuing need to remember past experiences, our testimony of how God has been faithful to us.  So much of the Old Testament includes the re-telling of God’s past dealings with Israel — several places in the Psalms (such as Psalms 105 and 106), as well as throughout the history books.  The New Testament also gives the example of Paul’s testimony (Acts 21 and 26) of his Damascus road experience.

Pilgrim’s Progress is also built on strong dialogue, and all the characters show great depth of thought — something which indeed makes “Pilgrim’s Progress” stand out above all other (human) literature.  J.C. Ryle noted that Pilgrim’s Progress was the one book that all Christians could agree on, and it was because John Bunyan only knew the one book, the Bible:

Oh, that believers in this country would learn to cleave more closely to the written Word! Oh, that they would see that the more the Bible, and the Bible only, is the substance of men’s religion, the more they agree! It is probable there never was an uninspired book more universally admired than Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress.” It is a book which all denominations of Christians delight to honor. It has won praise from all parties. Now what a striking fact it is, that the author was preeminently a man of one book! He had read hardly anything but the Bible.

Now to observations concerning specific parts of the story:
The Palace Beautiful section includes some good conversation with three women: Discretion, Prudence, and Charity.  As always, Christian shows great maturity in his answers, to a depth not common at least nowadays for new converts.  When he is questioned about how he dealt with his family — wife and four young children — before departing from them to go on his pilgrimage, he describes how he continually warned them and tried to explain everything to them.  It seems too mature in today’s world of Evangelical Christianity, especially since according to the story he was not then even saved, but only still learning, first reading God’s word — before he had even met Evangelist.

As an aside here, my memory from the previous reading was correct, that the book does not place a great deal of emphasis on his family, excepting a few scenes like this one; and even here he is much more focused on God than on unsaved family members.  By contrast, the recent movie version portrays a Christian much more attached to his wife and family, one frequently bringing up the subject and wanting someone to go save them and bring them along the journey.  Obviously some things had to change for a movie version appealing to 21st century family-focused Christians, yet the original treatment shows a clearer picture of the proper perspective that has been lost in our day.  How would today’s Christian movie-makers deal with some of the true stories from Church history, such as the martyr Perpetua — who not only gave her life as a martyr, but forsook close family relations, her father and an infant son?

Spurgeon’s commentary, Pictures from Pilgrim’s Progress, has also proved helpful, with greater explanation of some scenes such as the Palace Beautiful.  From Spurgeon I learned that this scene is like a meeting that a new believer has “with the elders” for consideration of church membership, as done in traditional baptist churches.  From Spurgeon:

These are the messengers of the church: — Prudence, who does not want to let any hypocrites in; Piety, who understands spiritual matters, and knows how to search the heart; and Charity, who judges kindly, yet justly, according to the love of Christ which is shed abroad in her heart.

Christian quickly goes from the “mountain top experience,” the high point at Palace Beautiful, to encounters with Apollyon and then the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  How true that is to experience, both as shown in various Bible accounts (such as David’s declension in 1 Samuel) and in our own lives.

  1. September 8, 2010 at 10:56 am

    Hi Lynda,

    I agree, there aren’t many other books of the calibre of Pilgrim’s Progress! When you’ve finished with the audio book you might enjoy the Pilgrim’s Progress animation on our website http://www.hopeanimation.com

    God bless,

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