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Plymouth Rock Foundation’s E-News – February, 2012
by Dr. Paul Jehle, Executive Director
(www.plymrock.org)
The Publication of Pilgrim’s Progress – 1678

“As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a den, and laid me down in that place to sleep; and as I slept, I dreamed a dream…” So begins the second best-selling book of all time, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim Progress. It was published in February of 1678, 334 years ago.

Bunyan was born in 1628 in Elstow, England. In the same year the Petition of Right, part of England’s Constitution, was affirmed. The common Englishman was to have a right to petition the government for grievances. But alas, since that right was still thought by many to be grounded in “the crown”, the King exercised his “prerogative” and would not allow the petition to operate. All these events were watched closely by the Pilgrims and Puritans settling in New England.

As Bunyan grew up attending the State Established Parish Church, he became bored with religion. It turned bitter when his mother died. Then, his father’s quick remarriage gave him an excuse in his mind to be angry and rebellious. Bunyan, like many, thought his rebellion was aimed at his father, but it was not – for all sin is ultimately aimed at our Heavenly Father – God Himself. This is what Bunyan would soon come to see – that his anger was really toward God. When he was sixteen, he was converted to Christ, and he gave up the worldly dancing and vain music so popular in his day. He then joined Oliver Cromwell’s army and participated in the Puritan Revolution.

Bunyan married a poor orphan when he was 20 years old. After having four daughters, one of them blind, they moved to Bedford, where his wife soon died. Bunyan was 27. Bunyan became a preacher, and five years later, in 1660, when Charles II came to the throne, it became against the law to preach outside the Established Church or in the open air. Bunyan’s church encouraged him to ignore this law since it violated the laws of God. He was soon indicted, then arrested at a home church meeting and thrown in jail. His second wife was pregnant and soon gave birth, but the child soon died.

John Bunyan spent most of the next twelve years in prison. His blind daughter (illustrated above) would visit him, bringing him food. But when he was released for short periods of time, he would be re-arrested when found preaching, and those who dared to listen to his open air sermons had their businesses ransacked, animals taken and furniture confiscated. It was in one of these prison terms, about the year 1675, that John Bunyan began writing what we now know as the Pilgrim’s Progress.

The first part of the story illustrates a man, deeply burdened because of his sin, being led out of the City of Destruction toward the Celestial City by Evangelist. Every character in the story, along with the various trials and temptations encountered, illustrate the path of the Christian life and why it is imperative that we stay on the straight and narrow path that leads to a life of overcoming sin. The lessons are powerful as Pliable and Worldly Wiseman attempt to take Pilgrim off the pathway of life to detours of despair. The lessons are vivid and still applicable today, such as Pilgrim’s falling into the Slough of Despond, or the graphic illustrations of the true relationship between law and grace and how the character named Interpreter clearly articulates the gospel.

But who could possibly forget the dramatic illustration of Pilgrim’s conversion! Climbing up the hill toward the Cross, Pilgrim gazes at Christ, the substitute for his sin, and all of a sudden, as faith arises, the burden on his back falls off! But this is not the end of the story. It only ascends in greater heights as Pilgrim passes through Vanity Fair, where his companion dies a martyr’s death, being unwilling to deny his Lord. Though Faithful is now gone, Hopeful is converted by the example of enduring a fiery trial. What a lesson of how our testimony can be used by God to lift another! The lessons are further illustrated in his warfare with Apollyon, the devil. Here he learns to use his sword – the Bible, and call on the strength that God has already given him!

Of course, even after Pilgrim finally arrives at the Celestial City, the story is not done. Though Pilgrim has worried about his wife and children who would not leave the City of Destruction when he did, they are now ready, and Evangelist leads them forth on a journey of their own. Though the journey is unique, and distinct, it contains the same principles in such a way as to demonstrate there is one God, one enemy, yet various trials that often come to each individual uniquely. The lesson is obvious, we are not God, and thus we must trust God alone and Christ must be our source and guide. God is faithful, and He will work out providentially His perfect will in due time. You might be saying, of what significance is this to my life or what is going in our nation right now? The Progress of the Christian life creates a pathway of teaching by example of how we can overcome trials and difficulties from day to day.

John Bunyan wrote more than 60 books and tracts, most of them written in prison. But his Pilgrim’s Progress would find its way, along with the Bible, into the heart and soul of every nation, especially America. As the second best-selling book of all time next to the Bible, it has been translated into hundreds of languages, and has encouraged individuals, statesmen and national leaders. Regardless of how dark the culture is around us, let us be reminded who is in control. The bestselling books of all time are not horror stories that emulate the devil (like Harry Potter), but wholesome illustrations of spiritual warfare that illustrate the power of Christ in overcoming sin and evil. Let us pray, like Pilgrim, that God would lead us out of Doubting Castle with the key of promise!


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