Blue Peter’s Book of the Year
“Blue Peter” is the most famous and popular children’s TV programme in Great Britain. This Christmas it chose the best children’s book for 2000. Most of us expected it to be the latest Harry Potter yarn which has swept the globe, but to our delight the book it chose was a new edition of Pilgrim’s Progress.
Jim D. Gables of Oakland Baptist Church near Birmingham, Alabama, explains to us why this book is one which every Christian should possess and know.
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 travelling 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.
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 neighbour, the people with whom you work, and the people with whom you go to church.
The author of Pilgrim’s Progress is John Bunyan, a Baptist minister born in 1628 outside of Bedford. 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 brazier 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 prisons 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 our 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, Alabama. He also heads Grace Abounding Ministries in Birmingham, Alabama.
Banner of Truth has a superb edition of Pilgrim’s Progress.
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