John Bunyan: Five Motives to Read The Pilgrim's Progress - Today!

I'll start with a confession; I love John Bunyan's, The Pilgrim's Progress.  I have read it frequently since the late 90s.  But I'm afraid that not everyone shares my love.  For some, the allegory is a turnoff.  Bunyan does justify his method in his apologetic poem at the beginning - but who reads the opening poem?  Ahem.  Now, I hope that I am wrong, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Bunyan shares the same status as many others deserving to be heard.  Let me be plain and pointed, I am afraid that Bunyan is much admired and little read. 

So, my aim is plain.  It is my desire to encourage folks who admire Bunyan's Progress to begin reading it.  How do I propose to persuade you?  Though I could give many, I will tender five motives.

First, anyone concerned about God's covenant faithfulness within families must read The Pilgrim's Progress - in both its parts.  Yes, the Progress has two parts.  The first and most well-known half deals with Christian's pilgrimage from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City.  However, only in the latter half do we learn what becomes of Christian's wife and four boys.  And what do we learn?  Christiana says of her departed husband, "[his] Lord and ours did gather up his tears, and put them in his bottle; and now both I, and thou, and these sweet babes, are reaping the fruit and benefit of them."[1]  What happens to them after their initial awakening?  Will they be clothed in righteous garments?  What will become of the boys after having eaten from the enemies tree?  Will they receive catechetical instruction?  Do they cross the River in the end?  Well, to find out you must read and read both parts!

Second, anyone concerned about the recent counseling craze among believers must read The Pilgrim's Progress.  Now, let me be plain again; I have nothing against counseling - especially Biblical counseling.  I just think that many who run to counselors probably wouldn't need to if they had read Bunyan's Progress.  Why?  The Progress functions like a spiritual map telling us about the Valley of Humiliation, Doubting Castle, and Giant Despair.  Let me give you an example, The Progress tells us about the onset of depression, the difficulty of how to deal with it, and the painful scars left in its wake.   Bunyan's Progress is a map that must be studied by every believer.

Third, The Progress teaches us how to live godly lives.  This book is crammed with counsel about godly behavior.  I've already mentioned the counsel it provides concerning depression but there is so much more.  For example, what does a godly man do when he is tired of watching?  What does godly conversation look like?  How does a Christian handle discontent or ease?  How are we to think about the preaching of the Word in the Christian life?  All of these things and more are in The Progress

Fourth, Bunyan's allegory teaches us what salvation looks like experientially.  In other words, Bunyan is teaching us what salvation looks like lived out, which is why Christian continues to carry his burden even after he has entered the Wicket Gate.  However, and here is what makes Bunyan such a wise pastor, he does not codify his own experience so as to impose it upon every other pilgrim.  For example, when Christian meets Faithful and they discuss their past journey through the Valley of Shadow we discover that they had two different experiences.  Christian's experience was dark and difficult but Faithful says, "I had sun-shine all the rest of the way, through that, and also through the Valley of the Shadow of Death."  Bunyan's allegory teaches us the valuable truth of form and freedom in the Christian life.

Fifth, and this motive will be a bit different from the rest, The Pilgrim's Progress is a good read.  It is good literature, which is why it is still read in schools and colleges today.  So, let me encourage you to purchase a children's version (Dangerous Journey or Crossway's new illustrated edition) for the family and the Banner of Truth's edition for yourself.  You will not be disappointed.  In fact, why not pick it up and start reading today!

Jeffrey A. Stivason has been serving the Lord as a minister of the gospel since 1995.  He was church planter and now pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.  Jeff is the Managing Editor for Place for Truth.


[1] John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress (England: Penguin Classics, 2008), 189.


Jeffrey Stivason