THE PILGRIM’S PROGRESS
“I saw a man clothed with rags
a book in his hand and
a great burden upon his back”
John Bunyan published The Pilgrim’s Progress, the world’s best-selling book (apart from the Bible) on this day, February 18th in 1678. It has never been out of print. The book’s success is quite remarkable given the modest background and little formal education of its author.
The journey motif seems to have always resonated with audiences. From the Odyssey, to Don Quixote’s quest and The Pilgrim’s Progress, we quickly identify with characters whose lives are allegorical to our own. Each of these stories are the journey of Everyman and in them we gain perspective if not vicarious education.
Jesus understood this power and devoted much of His teaching technique to parables. His teaching employed a full arsenal of resources of interpersonal communication, such as word, silence, metaphor, image and many diverse signs which were always physical allegories of spiritual truth.. Jesus conveyed a significant amount of content in his teaching, but His aim was never to create a warehouse of knowledge, but rather a transformed life.
Jesus sought to draw out the deepest introspective considerations, and His teaching calls us to our truest self. He taught us about the journey.
He taught us to follow Him.
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”
Art: Print from 1813 Edition of The Pilgrim’s Progress, British Museum
Christian’s route through a landscape along the winding path from “The City of Destruction” to the “Celestial City” via the “Slough of Despond”, the “Wicket Gate” which bears a sign, “Knock and it shall be opened unto you”, “The Valley of the Shadow of Death”, “Vanity Fair” and so on, and encounters with “Mr Worldly-wiseman”, “The Three Shining Ones”, “Giant Despair” at “Doubting Castle” and others. 1813 Hand-coloured etching
Literature & Liturgy: The Pilgrim’s Progress
The First Part of the masterpiece of J. *Bunyan (q.v.), written either during his long imprisonment in Bedford gaol (1660–72) or during a second six months’ imprisonment in 1676–7, was published in February 1678 (NS); a fresh edition, with many additions, appeared later in the same year; while the Second Part, depicting ‘the manner of setting out of Christian’s wife and children’, did not appear until 1684. Attempts to identify an underlying medieval or Renaissance model have failed. Bunyan had but the most meagre historical knowledge and interests; and it is far more probable that the work owes everything to his own originality.
Its unrivalled place in the world’s religious literature rests on its artless directness, its imaginative power, the homeliness and rusticity of its method and its plainness of style, which give it its universal appeal, even to the most simple-minded. The persons and incidents encountered by Christian on his journey from the ‘City of Destruction’ to the ‘Heavenly City’—‘Evangelist’, ‘Mr Worldly-Wiseman’, ‘Mr Legality’ and his son ‘Civility’, Mr ‘Talkative, the son of one Saywell, who dwelt in Prating Row’, ‘Mr Facing-both-ways’, and ‘Greatheart’, and, of places, the ‘Slough of Despond’, the ‘Hill Difficulty’, the ‘House Beautiful’ (supposed to have been modelled on an actual house in Houghton Park), the ‘Valley of the Shadow of Death’, and ‘Vanity Fair’—have become part and parcel of the language of religion in England.
The book, which circulated at first mainly in uneducated circles and whose supreme qualities were only gradually recognized, has appeared in a vast number of editions, and been translated into well over 100 languages. It has also been the subject of many adaptations (issued under similar titles), for the most part wholly without independent merit. The well-known hymn, ‘He who would valiant be’, is a modification of some lines sung by the pilgrims on the way to the ‘Enchanted Ground’.
The Miscellaneous Works of John Bunyan New York: Oxford University Press, 1976. Thirteen volumes projected.
Sharrock, Roger, ed. Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners and The Pilgrims Progress. London: Oxford University Press, 1966.
Beal, Rebecca. “Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners: John Bunyan’s Pauline Epistle” Studies in English Literature 21 (1981), pp. 148–60.
Sharrock, Roger. John Bunyan. London: Hutchinson House, 1954.