I’m starting out a program for this year that I am calling the “great book by a dead guy of the month club.” Every month this year I will pick a different dead guy and read and review one of his books. Upcoming classics may include The Mortification of Sin by John Owen, Holiness by J. C. Ryle, The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter, The Cost of Discipleship by Bonhoeffer, possibly something by Edwards, maybe Fenelon as well. I’m also open to nominations and suggestions!
To start the year, what better book than what is widely considered the single most significant Christian book in the English language, The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. To recap the backstory, John Bunyan was a seventeenth century English pastor who was jailed for twelve years for preaching without an official license from the state at that time. While in jail he wrote this book, which has probably been translated into more languages than any other work except the Bible.
I hadn’t read this book in a long time, and when I first started it I thought, “Gee, I’m going to have to like it—how can I publish a negative review of the most famous book in history?” Fortunately, my fears were indeed unfounded. Pilgrim’s Progress, despite its age, remains a book that makes you think, makes you laugh, makes you love God more.
The book is an allegory: it tells the imaginary story of a man named Pilgrim, from the time he realizes he is in the city of Destruction, and follows his and his companions’ journeys through good times and bad to the Celestial City which he seeks. In it are many insights about life as a Christian and life outside of Christ. One of the beauties of the book is that Bunyan draws on so many different themes—fear, dark times, temptation, despair, hope, friendship, slander, greed, mercy, just to name a few—and then shows us the right & wrong way to respond to each of these through the characters and events of the book. Therefore everyone will appreciate the lessons of the book in a unique way, according to what he is experiencing in his own walk with God.
I was most impressed with the passion and singlemindedness of Christian–in the first few pages of the book, once he is convicted of his sin, he starts to run away from the city of Destruction, “but his Wife and Children perceiving it, began to cry after him to return; but the Man put his fingers in his ears, and ran on crying, “Life! Life! Eternal Life!”" How often I lack the passion to just get up early for prayer, and this man runs, desperately blocking out all else but the one great prize that he knows he must win.
The other theme that most spoke to me was that of the pilgrims’ constant focus on their destination, their hope of heaven, which provided them the strength and courage to face any trial. More on the preciousness of our hope tomorrow.