THEOLOGICAL STUDIES

Pilgrim's Progress
(Part One: The Beginning to the Wicket Gate)

INTRODUCTION

When you come to Pilgrim's Progress, you come to one of the great literary phenomenon of all time. Although the book may seem quaint for today, the truth is that as of 1979 it was the second most widely-read book of all time, second only to the Bible itself. That stat has probably not changed. When the pilgrims went to the new world, at first they took along with them the King James Version of the Bible and the works of William Shakespeare. Later after it was written, they took Pilgrim's Progress (according to Winston Churchill, History of the English Speaking Peoples. When missionary fervor hit England and America, the missionaries would take along with them--the King James Version of the Bible and Pilgrim's Progress. It has been translated into more than 200 languages and has never been out of print since its first publication.


NATURE OF PILGRIM'S PROGRESS

Probably the easiest thing to recognize about Pilgrim's Progress is that it is an allegory. By calling it an allegory, we mean that nearly every person, event, and place in the book represents something else. For example, the main person in the book (Pilgrim who is also called Christian) represents the person who has chosen to follow the right path to heaven. The book naturally represents the Bible, while Appollon represents the forces of darkness, if not Satan himself. Sometimes the allegory is quite obvious, such as, Judge Hategood; sometimes it is not, the slough of despond. As much as possible though, try to discover the "hidden" meaning of each person, place, and event in the book/movie.

Something may go a little unnoticed about Pilgrim's Progress: the fact that it is very Christian in its outlook. Some of its Christian perspective is readily noticeable, such as, the cross is the place where Christian loses his burden (the weight and guilt of sin). Although not in the movie but in the book, the character of Moses receives a "Christian" treatment. Moses and the Law are not viewed as the way to experience the Christian life but rather as the way to find certain spiritual death and destruction. If the NT is correct in the way it treats certain areas of life, then John Bunyan has gotten it right too.


MAJOR THEMES IN PILGRIM'S PROGRESS

Pilgrimage

The first major theme of the book is pilgrimage. Few of us realize that we are on a journey, headed for a destination. The Bible touches on this theme when it calls us "strangers" or aliens" here on earth: "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ to those who reside as aliens" (1 Pet. 1:1) and "By faith he [Abraham] lived as an alien in the land of promise" (Heb. 11:9). We are aliens/pilgrims because this world is NOT our home; instead we are just passing through to a better home: "For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own, and indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return; but, as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God because He has prepared a city for them" (Heb. 11:14-16).

A pilgrimage differs from an adventure in that whereas in an adventure the hero isn't really changed by what he experiences, in a pilgrimage the pilgrim is changed.

For example, probably the greatest movie adventurer of the past 27 years has been Indiana Jones. I sat through a sneak preview of Raiders of the Lost Ark at the Wynnewood Theater in Dallas. Now after 27 years and 4 movies, Indy hasn't changed one bit. He's gotten older, but that is all the change he's undergone.

On the other hand, (in honor of Dr. Price's Monday noon group) we mention one of the great pilgrims of recent times, Frodo Baggins from Lord of the Rings. If you compare Frodo at the beginning of the book to the Frodo at the end, you will see somebody transformed by the events he's experienced. In fact, he is so changed by the end of the book that he can no longer live in Hobbiton, his home town. He tells his best friend Sam that he had gone on the great journey to save the shire even for himself. Then he says: "But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up. lose them so that others may keep them." Pilgrim's Progress falls into this latter category, the pilgrim who is changed by the events he experiences.


Events and Choices in Life Matter

The second point that Bunyan is making is that the choices and decisions we make in life really do matter. Throughout the book we see that whenever Christian makes a decision, the decision he makes either keeps him on the straight and narrow path or takes him off the right path. We can argue about whether or not every decision in life matters; however, Bunyan is definitely on safe ground biblically when he claims that decisions in this life have eternal consequences and significance.


The Path/The Way

The third theme of the book is that we are ALL walking along some path. This too has its foundations in the Bible: "How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners" (Psalm 1:1) and Enter through the narrow gate for the gate is wide and the way is broad which leads to destruction and there are many who enter through it, but the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life and there are few who find it" (Matt. 7:13-14). This last reference from Jesus is particularly important because it comes at the end of the SErmon on the Mount which for 2+ chapters tells us how to live the Christian life, that is, how to walk the straight and narrow path. (Now if Jesus is not serious about this path, then why did He take the trouble to tell us about it? If He is not serious, then it seems like it was an awful waste of His and our time.)

Christian chooses to walk the straight and narrow path which leads to heaven, the Celestial City. Others in the story choose to walk different paths; the results in these latter cases are disastrous. The path I take is determined by the choices I make in my life.

Every path we take ends up somewhere. I believe that we are on a "train" headed somewhere. One day the train is going to stop. When it does stop, what will be the name of the place where we get off the train? Are we going to be happy with the destination, or not? The decisions I am making right now will determine whether or not I will rejoice at the place where I end up in life. (This is not specifically referring to salvation; however, many Christians end up in places at the end of their lives, they ended up not liking.)

Just how serious were the early Christians about walking the right path, about following Jesus the Way? They were so serious about it that the first name they actually gave to Christianity was "The Way."


Other Christians are Important for Success in the Christian Life

Bunyan correctly stresses that an individual's relationship with Christ is paramount; however, throughout the book Bunyan also stresses that Christian would have never made it to the celestial city alone. Jesus pronounces a special blessing upon Christian relationships: "For where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst" (Matt. 18:20). (See also Ecclesiastes 4:9, 10--"For two are better than one . . . For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.")

Christian needed the friends that Christ sent his way: Evangelist, Faithful, Hope, and a host of side characters along the way. Whereas it is true that I and I alone must individually choose to get on that right path, it is also true that I need others to help me get down that path all the way to the end.

Christian men need other Christian men in their lives. One Christian author claimed that David would have never fallen into such depth of sin with Bathsheba if his best friend Jonathan would have been alive at the time. Whereas that claim can't be proved conclusively, it is nevertheless still a legitimate claim. Christian men need other Christian men in their lives if they are going to succeed in their walk with Jesus.


Other Themes

THEME BIBLICAL SUPPORT EXPLANATION
The Call to Abandon All (Even Family) Luke 14:26 Love for Christ is paramount. It supercedes ALL human relationships.
Pliable and Obstinate Matt. 13:3-6; 19-21 The hard heart and the shallow soil
The Slough of Despond 2 Cor. 7:9-10 Although we should grieve over the sins in our lives, we always need to remember that the grace Jesus gave us at the cross is greater than any sin we could ever commit, except for the sin of rejecting Him.
The Wicket Gate Matt. 7:13; John 10:7 Christ is the door, in the sense that He is the ONLY way to get to God.