The Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegory of a Christian’s journey (here represented by a character called ‘Christian’) from the “City of Destruction” to the “Celestial City”. Along the way he visits such locations as the Slough of Despond, Vanity Fair, the Doubting Castle, and the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Bunyan, the author, had very little formal education and a humble background. Nonetheless Pilgrim’s Progress is considered one of the masterpieces of English literature, and is required reading for Christians who are on the spiritual path in a world of temptations.
John Bunyan: Pilgrim’s Progress
by Jim D. Gables
pilgrim’s progress is a classic among classics. The scope of its influence is virtually unparalleled by any other religious publication. It has been translated into nearly every known language. If you have not read Pilgrim’s Progress, you haven’t read one of the greatest religious books in the world. It is the Bible with pictures for the eye of the imagination to see. As you open the book and begin reading, you will see the Bible in pictorial form and language. It is experimental Christianity in its nature. If you want to know the precise definitions of the doctrines of Scripture, go to the historical confessions of faith, but if you want to know how those doctrines work out in experience, read Pilgrim’s Progress.
Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegory describing the life of a person traveling between two worlds—this present world and the world to come. It is a description of the Christian experience beginning with a lost condition described by the author as the “City of Destruction,” and progressing onward until the journey ends in the “Celestial City” of heaven. It is the story of the salvation experience of a Christian who is brought from nature to grace, and from grace to glory.
Burden for Sin
“I saw a man clothed with rags standing in a certain place, with his face from his own house, a book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back. I looked, and saw him open the book, and read therein; and, as he read, he wept and trembled; and, not being able longer to contain, he brake out with a lamentable cry saying, ‘What shall I do!’ ”
The characters, places, and events you encounter in the book are real to life and true to Scripture. You will find yourself in the book time and time again because basic human nature remains the same throughout the ages. Though the book was written over four hundred years ago, you would think you were reading current affairs. There are real people in this book: your next door neighbor, the people with whom you work, and the people with whom you go to church.
The Celestial City
“Then I heard in my dream, that all the bells in the city rang again for joy, and that it was said unto them, ‘Enter ye into the joy of your Lord.’ … And after that they shut up the gates; which when I had seen, I wished myself among them.”
The author of Pilgrim’s Progress is John Bunyan, a Baptist minister born in 1628 outside of Bedford, England. He died in 1688. In this same era, the King James Bible was translated (1611), the Pilgrims came to America (1620), and William Shakespeare wrote his plays. He was born of poor parents and earned his living as a tinker, a brazer of pots and pans. Bunyan wrote this classic while imprisoned for preaching the Gospel without a license from the established church in England. He had no idea that out of his adverse circumstances would come a work that would transcend time, cultures, and denominational boundaries. While many in jail were consumed with self-pity, Bunyan was rejoicing in Christ. In his autobiography he says of his prison experience, “I would not trade it for anything. I would have never been given the great insights into Christ had I not enjoyed this experience.”
If this book were read and applied, it would lead to a new Reformation in the church. Practical lessons and ideas are found on every page. Bunyan has a tremendous insight into human nature. His theology is classified as that of evangelical Calvinism. He did not delve only into the intellectual aspects of religion but believed that religion was an experimental thing, something you could know and experience as real, and that it flowed from God. His book shows that sound practice can only flow out of sound doctrine, and that the two are not exclusive of each other as many claim.
Why has this book enjoyed such great success? Because it is true to the form and experience of the Bible. It reveals the heart of a true Christian, and Christians of all denominations enjoy it because it is their experience as well. Charles Spurgeon is reported to have said of Bunyan that you could just prick old Bunyan anywhere and out of his veins flows the Bible. As you read this book, you will be amazed at how skillfully Bunyan weaves the Scriptures into the totality of his writing style.
Pilgrim’s Progress not only teaches, informs, and encourages, it also reproves and exposes. Bunyan had a great sense of spiritual discernment to be able to distinguish the false from the real. The level of Christian experience and commitment in this book is so contrasted to the shallow, superficial Christianity that permeates American culture that it makes one wonder if they are even related. This book will also enlighten your understanding of the great Christian martyrs. Genuine Christianity is a rare and difficult thing to find today, and this book will challenge the reader to pursue after greater heights into the things of Jesus Christ. May God bless you, the reader, of Pilgrim’s Progress as, you press on the upward way and gain new heights every day until you enter into the joy of your Lord in the “Celestial City.” ▲
Jim D. Gables is pastor of Oakland Baptist Church. He also heads Grace Abounding Ministries in Birmingham, AL.
 Gables, J. D. (1993). John Bunyan: Pilgrim’s Progress. (R. C. Sproul Jr., Ed.)Tabletalk Magazine, January 1993: Christian Classics, 11–12.