Recently I had the great pleasure of buying an 1816 copy of the Puritan John Bunyan’s classic Pilgrim’s Progress. A fragile and well worn book, held together now by the one remaining piece of bi-centenial string! I intend to read it slowly and carefully sometime in the coming days, to feel the weight of years that it has existed, the burden it carries, and the heart of a prison-bound man who simply loved God and saw Him, despite his chains. Pilgrim’s Progress is one of the most popular and reprinted books ever written.
Essentially, it is an allegorical story of a man, named Christian, and his journey through life, a kind of spiritual warfare lived out and experienced as he travels from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. It is a call to Christians everywhere to persevere, but more than that, to wage war against the forces of evil. It is a story that highlights mankind’s desperate plight in the world and God’s redeeming grace. Regeneration, faith, repentance, justification, sanctification, perseverance are all revealed in graphic allegorical detail.
It is worth noting the impact of this book: It sold more than 100,000 copies in its first decade in print and has since been reprinted in at least 1,500 editions and translated into more than 200 languages, including Dutch, French and Welsh in Bunyan’s own lifetime. Some experts claim that, with the exception of the Bible and possibly Thomas a Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ, Pilgrim’s Progress has sold more copies than any other book ever written.
John Bunyan was a reluctant convert. He was a foul-mouthed and rebellious soldier in Cromwell’s New Model Army. He came to see his own filthy rags compared to the glory and beauty of the righteousness of Christ one day when walking in a field, “…I saw with the eyes of my soul, Jesus Christ, at God’s right hand….I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor my bad frame that made my righteousness worse; for my righteousness was Jesus Christ Himself, the same yesterday, today, and forever. Now did my chains fall off…”
In 1660, Bunyan was preaching in Lower Samsell when he was arrested on the charge of preaching without official rights from the king. When told that he would be freed if he no longer preached, he replied, “If I am freed today, I will preach tomorrow.” He was thrown into prison, and then again after a few years of freedom. It was in this second stretch that he wrote Pilgrim’s Progress, among many other works.
The poem entitled The Pilgrim is the very last page in my new old book, and is copied below for your joy in the Lord:
“Jesus, at thy command, I launch into the deep, And leave my native land, Where sin lulls all asleep; For thee I fein would all resign, And sail to heav’n with thee and thine.
What though the seas are broad, What though the waves are strong, What though tempestuous winds distress me all along; Yet what are seas or stormy wind, Compared to Christ the sinner’s friend!
Christ is my Pilot wise, my compass is his word; My soul each storm defies while I have such a Lord; I trust his faithfulness and pow’r, To save me in the trying hour.
Though rocks and quicksands deep, Through all my passage lie, Yet Christ shall safely keep, And guide me with his eye. How can I sink with such a prop, As bears the world and all things up?
By faith I see the land, The Hav’n of endless rest; My soul, thy wings expand, And fly to Jesu’s breast. O may I reach the heav’nly shore, where winds and seas distress no more!
Whene’er becalm’d I lie, and all my storms subside, Then to my succour fly, And keep me near thy side; For more the treach’rous calm I dread, Than tempests bursting o’er my head.
Come, heav’nly wind, and blow, A prosp’rous gale of grace, To waft from all below, To heav’n my destin’d place; Then in full sail my port I’ll find, And leave the world and sin behind.”