Before you jump to conclusions… I just finished Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan.
It took me pretty much a year, but I made it! Here are my reflections on the book.
Obviously it’s an allegory, so there’s some interesting things there. Thoughts about how literal is this telling? How directly is it related to life? Are these real people or more like character traits?
That last one is interesting because Christian is a person, but the rest of the characters seem to be ideas, concepts, and character traits.
In the second book, about Christian’s wife and children journeying to the Celestial City, this breaks down a bit. There is a whole group of characters who seem to portray actual people or at least types of people.
I really want to talk about the second half of the book, about Christian’s wife, Christiana, which I will just call the second book from here on.
The whole time I was reading the second book, I had one question: Why does Christiana have so much help, while Christian had just one companion? (My second question relates to a specific character, but I’ll get to that in a minute.)
I think Bunyan was pointing to the trend that the first person in a family, a city, or any kind of community who becomes a believer in Christ, is in a way blazing a new trail. There is no one for them to follow, there is no testimony of faithfulness showing them the way, walking along with them. So this make sense that in the first book, Christian was so incredibly dependent on the Bible, and on his fellow pilgrims, namely Faithful and Hopeful. However, he did not have any “older believers” to be imitating, seeking counsel from, or bringing to mind how they did this part of the path.
In the second book, a great amount of words are spent recalling what Christian did in the first book. The places he went are revisited, monuments are noted recounting the things he did, etc.
Christiana and her children seem to be the second and third generation of believers going through life remembering the one who went before, the faithfulness of God to him, the hope he had, and therefore the hope they have of heaven.
That brings me to my second question that I kept asking myself while I read the second book: Who is Great-heart?
I still don’t have an answer for this, but here are my guesses:
- He is the Word, the Bible.
- He is a pastor.
- He is an angel.
Let me break these down.
First, Great-heart is an allegory for the Bible. My main reason for this is that he is dressed all in armor, he is the literal armor of God. This reasoning falls apart a little bit at the end when we meet Valiant, because he is also dressed all in armor and clearly using it.
Second, Great-heart is an allegory for a Pastor. This one possibly makes the most sense. A good pastor leads God’s people (see the entire books of 1&2 Timothy and Titus, is responsible for God’s people (James 3:1), should be dressed in the armor of God (Ephesians 6:12-18), and skilled in using the Sword of the Spirit, the Bible (2 Timothy 4:2).
Third, Great-heart is an allegory for an Angel. Angel’s are literally ministering spirits. Just as they ministered to Jesus in the garden (Luke 22) it makes sense that angels minister to those whom Jesus redeemed, although mostly unseen. Looking into the Old Testament, angels were involved in much of God’s communication and leading of his people. What comes to my mind are the angels appearing to Abraham on several occasions (see Genesis, all over the place). Just recently I was reading in Exodus when the Israelites had just escaped Egypt, and are on the edge of the Red Sea, an angel is described as leading them. Here’s the passage.
Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them.Exodus 14:19
I still don’t know the answer to who or what Great-heart, and to a lesser extent Valiant, are representing in the book. Thinking over it, however, has been kind of fun, and really made me think deeply about the entire book and what points Bunyan was making with his allegory.
Allegories always point to reality, but because this book was written back in the 1600s, it is less clear.
Also, the language is an adventure. On that note, here is far and away my favorite quote from the book:
Bowels become pilgrimsPilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
Walk on, Pilgrim.
“…walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10)
Soli Deo Gloria!