John Bunyan wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress in 1678. From that time until now it has never been out of print and has been translated into over 200 languages. Generations of believers have been challenged and encouraged by the story of Christian’s journey from the World of Destruction (this present world) to the Celestial City (which symbolizes heaven).
Along the way Christian encounters many who help him on his journey, such as Evangelist and Faithful. He also meets with several who would hinder him, such as Mr. Wordly Wiseman or the Giant Despair. Many portions of his journey are fraught with danger, and every page carries a weighty message for the believer as they consider their own journey of faith.
Because it is an allegory, all of the people and events that are depicted stand for symbolize important spiritual truths that the believer encounters from the time of their salvation until the time they enter into God’s presence.
As Christian states, “To go back is nothing but death; to go forward is fear of death, and life everlasting beyond it. I will yet go forward.”
The second part, which tells of the journey that Christian’s wife and children experienced, was published in 1684. While they encounter many of the same people and places that Christian did, part two of The Pilgrim’s Progress contains many new lessons and events and is also worth your time.
From a purely literary standpoint, this is considered one of the greatest works of English literature. From a spiritual standpoint, you’d be hard pressed to find a book outside of the Bible that has positively impacted the faith of more Christians than this.
Why You Should Read The Pilgrim’s Progress
We don’t need to pretend that The Pilgrim’s Progress is an easy read. It’s not. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t read it!
There are many reasons that Christians should read this classic work. I’ll give you three:
1. This book will cause you to reflect on your own spiritual journey in new and helpful ways. Bunyan’s skillful use of Biblical themes and passages will help awaken your sense and understanding of the spiritual battle that you are in and encourage you to press forward on the straight and narrow path.
2. This book connects you to the richness of church history. Christians have benefited from Bunyan’s allegory for centuries. Taking the time to read through it yourself helps connect you to rich truths as experienced and told in the 1600’s, which serves as a reminder to the timeless truths of our faith and the common difficulties that all believers of all eras encounter.
3. This book will drive you to THE Book. As Spurgeon said of Bunyan, “Why, this man is a living Bible! Prick him anywhere—his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him.” Reading through Pilgrim’s Progress will bring to mind various passages of Scripture and drive you to learn more about what the Bible has to say on journeying well towards the “Celestial City.”
Different Options for Reading The Pilgrim’s Progress
Original & Unabridged
This is the first and best option. Once you get going, you’ll find the language isn’t as difficult as it seemed at first. Reading the unabridged original is well worth any extra effort on the part of the reader.
There are many, many options for reading the full original story. You can get a fancy collector’s edition, a beautifully illustrated hardcover edition, or a simple paperback edition. There are many eBook editions available also and, since this work is in the public domain, many are free (like this one).
Whichever you choose, you’ll be glad that you spent time reading through this classic work.
Modern Language Editions
My first recommendation is to read Bunyan’s original, unabridged story. However, some modern readers have difficulty getting past the archaic language. Thankfully, there are many different modern language versions available. Be sure that you are still getting an unabridged version, but reading the story with updated language is far better than not reading it at all.
There are also many children’s books based on Bunyan’s story. The beautifully illustrated Dangerous Journey is an abridged version of the original and is very well done. Justin Taylor recommends this as one of the best ways to introduce this classic to children, saying “The language of the original is retained, and the illustrations are plentiful and imaginative—accurate enough that this book is probably not best for the youngest kids.”
The first time I went through Pilgrim’s Progress was via an audiobook. This is a great way to introduce yourself to the book, and I found it helpful to have listened to the story in its entirety prior to reading it.
My preferred version is narrated by David Shaw-Parker and is available on ChristianAudio and Audible. (Here’s a free trial of Audible that includes two free audiobooks).
Free audio versions from various narrators are available from Librivox.org.
As we’ve already seen, Pilgrim’s Progress is much more than simply a work of fiction. There is much to be gained by a careful, thoughtful reading of this allegory. Here are several resources that can enrich your time joining Christian on his journey:
Pictures from Pilgrim’s Progress by CH Spurgeon
Spurgeon writes: “Next to the Bible, the book I value most is John Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress.’ I believe I have read it through at least a hundred times. It is a volume of which I never seem to tire; and the secret of its freshness is that it is so largely compiled from the Scriptures. It is really Biblical teaching put into the form of a simple yet very striking allegory.”
Pilgrim’s Progress: A Guided Tour
This Ligonier teaching series taught by Derek Thomas is exactly as the title says. Thomas serves as your expert guide through all the major points of Christian’s journey, revealing the Biblical backdrop of each scene and helping you to understand how to apply its lessons in your own life.
From the series description: “The Pilgrim’s Progress, written by John Bunyan over 300 years ago, is one of the most widely-circulated books ever to be published in the English language. In spite of its popularity in the past, many people today are not familiar with this masterpiece. Join respected pastor and theologian Dr. Derek Thomas as he takes readers along this allegorical journey, showing that Christians have as much to gain from this book today as they did hundreds of years ago.”
Bunyan’s own story is interesting in its own right. I’ve recommended Professor Ryan Reeves’ church history videos before, and this one on John Bunyan is also worthwhile. In this short video, you’ll gain insight into Bunyan’s life and learn how it came to be that he was in jail when he wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress.
It is my sincere hope that you will add Pilgrim’s Progress to the top of your reading list. If you take the time to read through this classic work you will quickly see why so many believers for so many years have counted it as their favorite book outside of the Bible.
The church only stands to gain from a resurgence in reading The Pilgrim’s Progress. Start reading it this week and you’ll no doubt agree with
Already Love Pilgrim’s Progress?
You may want to check out this beautifully illustrated map of Pilgrim’s Progress in our store. Each scene is depicted in this beautiful vintage map from 1813. This makes a wonderful gift for pastors, Christian educators, lovers of classic literature, or anyone who enjoys Pilgrim’s Progress.
This digital file is ready to print at any office supply store and hang up in your personal study.
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