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John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress A contemporary retelling



The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan Abridged and rendered into modern English by Canon J.John Copyright © 2012 J.John Published in 2012 by Philo Trust, Witton House, Lower Road, Chorleywood, Rickmansworth, WD3 5LB, United Kingdom The right of J.John to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library ISBN: 978-0-9573890-4-5 Scripture quotations marked ‘tniv’ are taken from from the HOLY BIBLE, TODAY’S NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 2001, 2005 by Biblica®. Used by permission of Biblica®. All rights reserved worldwide. Print Management by Verité CM Ltd Printed in England

commendations ‘When John Bunyan wrote the original Pilgrim’s Progress, he probably had little idea it would become the classic story it is, a challenging story of journey and redemption. I consider J.John a master story teller of the 21st century. It seems entirely fitting he should revisit this tale and retell it as only he can. It’s a remarkable, well-crafted book, one I heartily recommend.’ David Suchet – Actor

‘In his characteristically engaging style J.John invites us to journey with Bunyan’s pilgrim on a journey of discovery, overcoming obstacles internal and external, drawn by the love of God to the celestial city. In an age when many of us, for all kinds of reasons, have lost a sense of direction and purpose, here is a wake-up call. There may be new challenges round every corner, but life with God is a great adventure, and this raises the stakes on every choice we make. Read on, and like The Pilgrim, you will not be disappointed.’ Archbishop John Sentamu

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Part one


Part two


For Further Reading


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PREFACE For centuries, philosophers, theologians, scholars, artists and everyday people have pondered the meaning of life. ‘What is life all about? Why are we here on this earth? How am I supposed to spend my time and live out my days? Where am I going?’ And perhaps more than ever today – with the increase of wars, violence, poverty, natural disasters, disease, family strife, human brokenness and trials of every kind – many ask, ‘How can I cope and manage day in and day out?’ With every passing year, I am more aware of the brevity of life and the significance of each day. I want to live every moment of my life with purpose, as each moment is a gift. For I know that even for those who live a long life on earth, time passes quickly. As the Psalmist expressed, ‘As for mortals, their days are like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more’ (Psalm 103, tniv). Life is short for all of us and this makes the importance of our choices even more momentous. The old adage ‘This life is not a dress rehearsal’ could not be more true. Each day we face choices, some seemingly small and others vital to our future. Indeed, the roads we take in life, where we go, with whom we travel, our attitude along the • 7 •


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way, the goals and values we strive for, they all shape and direct the course of our lives. One of my favourite poets, Robert Frost, described the significance of choices in his poem ‘The Road Not Taken’: Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveller, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth; Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim Because it was grassy and wanted wear, Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same, And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I marked the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way I doubted if I should ever come back. I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less travelled by, And that has made all the difference.

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Indeed, the paths we take make all the difference. Some describe the journey we make on this earth as a pilgrimage. The Oxford English Dictionary defines pilgrimage as ‘life viewed as a journey’. We human beings who travel this road of life are called pilgrims. The Oxford English Dictionary describes a pilgrim as one who journeys to a sacred place. If we are all on a journey how do we traverse foreign lands and where is home? What is the final destination? How do we know which path to take? Many books and essays have been written about the human journey through life. However, few if any rival the brilliance and creativity of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. Written between 1677 and 1684, The Pilgrim’s Progress is considered one of the most significant works of religious literature. Translated into over 200 languages, it is perhaps the most well-known work of Christian allegory of all time. This book has captured the imagination of people from all walks of life for over 300 years, and has been made into films, sung about by modern rock bands and cited by many well-known authors such as e.e. cummings, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, C.S. Lewis and Charlotte Brontë. The Pilgrim’s Progress depicts the story of Christian, his wife Christiana and their four boys’ life voyage. Each travels from their birthplace, the ‘City of Destruction’ (this world), to their final destination, ‘The Celestial City’


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(heaven). Along the way, they encounter fellow pilgrims who are also on the road of life. The work is divided into two parts: Part One, depicting the expedition of a man named Christian and Part Two, the journey of Christian’s wife Christiana and their four sons. From the first scene onward, Bunyan affirms that human beings are not lonely captains of their destiny. Behind the lives of each character, another figure lovingly walks with them and is in fact the final destination itself. The Pilgrim’s Progress tells tales of individuals on the road of life and the story of how a loving God constantly teaches, loves and draws all people to himself. Every step of the way, God accompanies each person, revealing the way of salvation. According to one of the pilgrims, named Holy-Man, ‘There are two things needed by those who go on pilgrimage: courage and an unspotted life. If they don’t have courage, they can’t hold firm on their way; and if their lives are loose, they’ll make the very name of pilgrim stink.’ Herein lies one of the basic human quandaries illuminated in The Pilgrim’s Progress. We humans know full well that we struggle to muster up courage and every life in some area ‘stinks’. As the Apostle Paul wrote, all ‘fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). St John said it well, ‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us’ (1 John 1:8). And yet, ironically, it is this very knowledge of our own weakness and sinfulness that sets us on a good pilgrim’s

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way. What seems a horrific self-understanding actually launches one into reality and inevitably into the arms of a loving God – the very relationship we were made for. As St Augustine said, ‘Our hearts are restless until they find rest in thee.’ This is true for the central character of Part One, Christian of Pilgrim’s Progress. Indeed, what sets Christian on his path to truth and life is reading a book (the Bible) and realising that he has a ‘great burden on his back’. Shattered by his own immorality, sin and human confines he cries out, ‘What shall I do?… I’m wretched because of a heavy burden. I’m also certain that this city will be burnt with fire from heaven and that all of us will be ruined unless we can find some way of escape… What shall I do to be saved?’ This quest to be saved and free of the burden on his back propels Christian on the pilgrim’s way. And God is right there with him in every step. God works through human beings, places and circumstances to assist the way to salvation. Soon after Christian cries out for help he meets Evangelist, who points him to the way of the ‘wicket-gate’ and the ‘shining light’. On hearing this news from Evangelist, Christian runs towards this gate – following the light – and the journey begins. Soon, his wife and children follow. This life voyage, though, is not without hardship: the ‘wicket-gate’ is not easily opened and sometimes it is hard to find.


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Trials arise along the path, embodied by people such as Obstinate, Beelzebub, Mr By-Ends, Ignorance, Mr Fearing and Mr Despondency, and places such as Hill Difficulty, Valley of Humiliation and Doubting Castle. As Honest said about the human expedition, ‘It happens to us as it happens to all travelling people: sometimes our way is clean, sometimes dirty; sometimes uphill, sometimes downhill; we don’t often have any certainty. The wind’s not always at our backs, nor is everyone we meet on the way a friend… Mostly, we find it true that, “A good man must suffer trouble.”’ In the midst of these challenges, God offers the pilgrims helpers, messengers of the Holy Spirit. They meet Goodwill, the Shining Ones, The Interpreter (Holy Spirit), Prudence, Piety, Faithful, Hopeful, Mr Sagacity, Mr GreatHeart, Old Honest, Mr Valiant-for-Truth and Mr Standfast, who show them the way to the Celestial City through the way of the wicket-gate. The wicket-gate inevitably leads them to the Cross and tomb where their burdens are lifted off their backs. Even in the metaphorical coming to Christ on earth, they still have more road to travel before reaching the Celestial City. Coming to the Cross and tomb (a metaphor for Jesus’ death at Calvary) begins their sanctification process on earth. The expedition culminates for all of the pilgrims in a final struggle in the River of Death and then arrival at the Celestial City. The Pilgrim’s Progress vividly depicts

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humanity’s life’s passage. From birth to death to new birth to death to eternal life, Bunyan’s allegory soothes the soul and reminds us that we are not alone as we travel the pilgrim’s way. And soon we will meet the Lord, who has carried us on earth and saved us for the Celestial City. As Mr Standfast proclaimed, ‘I see myself now at the end of my journey; my tiring days are over. I’m going to see that head which was crowned with thorns, and that face which was spit upon for me. In the past I lived by hearsay and faith; but now I go where I shall live by sight… I have loved to hear my Lord spoken about and wherever I’ve seen the print of his shoe in the earth, I’ve wanted to set my foot as well. His name has been sweeter than all perfume to me. His voice has been very sweet, and I’ve wanted to see his face more than anything.’ The Pilgrim’s Progress aids us pilgrims in this day and time, not only to survive this life but to thrive here and then rest in abundant, eternal life with the God who loves us. The Pilgrim’s Progress teaches us how to travel here on earth and reminds us of our mighty, loving, forgiving, patient, life-giving God who never leaves us or forsakes us. Fellow pilgrim, enjoy the journey! Join Christian and many others by way of the wicket-gate to the Celestial City. It will not always be easy but it will be worth it. God is with you! J.John (Canon)

PART ONE As I walked through the wild places of the world, I came to a den and lay down to sleep. As I slept, I dreamed I saw a man dressed in rags, walking away from his house, with a book in his hand and a great burden on his back. I saw him open the book and read and, as he read, he wept and trembled. He cried out sadly, ‘What shall I do?’ In this state, he went home. He tried to hide his distress from his wife and children but he couldn’t stay silent long, because he felt more and more troubled. So in the end he spoke to them. Christian: Dear wife and children, I’m wretched because of a heavy burden. I’m also certain that this city will be burnt with fire from heaven and that all of us will be ruined unless we can find some way of escape. His family were amazed, not because they believed that what he’d said was true, but because they thought that he was disturbed. So, as it was almost night, and hoping that sleep might settle his mind, they got him to bed. But instead of sleeping, he spent the night sighing and crying. In the morning, they asked how he was. He told them that he was worse. He began to stay in his room, praying for them and, to try and cope with his misery, he walked alone in the fields, sometimes reading and sometimes praying. • 15 •


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This went on for some days. When he was walking in the fields, I saw that he was reading his book, and was very distressed. As he read, he burst out crying. Christian: What shall I do to be saved? I saw also that he looked this way and that, as if about to run. But he stood still because he didn’t know which way to go. Then I saw a man named Evangelist come up to him, and ask him why he was crying. Christian: Sir, I see from the book in my hand that I’m condemned to die, and then to come to judgement, and I find that I’m not willing to do the first or able to do the second. Evangelist: Why aren’t you willing to die, when this life’s full of so many evils? Christian: Because I’m afraid that this burden on my back will sink me lower than the grave, and I’ll fall into hell. And, if I’m not fit to go to prison, I’m not fit to go to judgement, and from there to execution. Thinking about these things makes me cry. Evangelist: In that case, why are you standing still? Christian: Because I don’t know where to go. Then Evangelist gave Christian a parchment roll, and written on it were the words, ‘Fly from the wrath to come.’

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Christian read it and, looking at Evangelist very carefully, said, Christian: Where must I fly to? Then Evangelist said (pointing with his finger over a very wide field), Evangelist: Do you see that wicket-gate? Christian: No. Evangelist: Do you see that shining light? Christian: I think I do. Evangelist: Keep looking at that light, and go straight towards it, then you’ll see the gate. When you knock on it, you’ll be told what to do. So I saw in my dream that he began to run. He hadn’t run far from his home when his wife and children began to call after him to come back. But the man put his fingers in his ears and ran on, crying, Christian: Life! Life! Eternal life! He didn’t look behind him, but fled towards the middle of the plain. The neighbours came out to see him run; some mocked, others threatened and some shouted after him to come back. Among them, two were determined to fetch him back by force. One was called Obstinate and


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the other Pliable. By now the man was quite a distance from them but they were determined to pursue him and after a while they caught up with him. Then the man said, Christian: Neighbours, why have you come? Obstinate and Pliable: To persuade you to go back with us. Christian: I can’t do that. You live in the City of Destruction, where I was born. Dying there, sooner or later, you’ll sink lower than the grave, into a place that burns with fire and brimstone. Good neighbours, why don’t you come along with me? Obstinate: What, and leave our friends and our comforts behind us! Christian: Yes, because all that you leave behind isn’t worthy to be compared with a little of what I’m seeking to enjoy. If you come with me, you’ll do as well as I will. Come, and prove that what I say is true. Obstinate: What are you looking for, because you’re leaving all the world to find it? Christian: I’m looking for an incorruptible inheritance, one that’s undefiled and won’t fade away; and it’s laid up in heaven, and safe there, ready to be given, at the appointed time, to those who diligently seek it. You can read it, if you want, in my book.

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Obstinate: Away with your book. Will you go back with us or not? Christian: No, because I’ve laid my hand to the plough. Obstinate: Come on then, neighbour Pliable, let’s go back home without him. There are a whole load of these lunatics, who, when they get an idea in their heads, think they’re wiser than everyone else. Pliable: There’s no need to be insulting. If what the good Christian says is true, then what he’s looking for is better than what we have. I’m inclined to go with my neighbour. Obstinate: What a fool! Do as I say, and go back; who knows where such a sick man will lead you? Go back, and be wise. Christian: No, why don’t you come with your neighbour Pliable? There are such things to be had, and many other good things as well. If you don’t believe me, read it here in this book. For the truth of what’s written in it is confirmed by the blood of him who made it. Pliable: Well, neighbour Obstinate, I’ve decided. I intend to go along with this good man, and to cast in my lot with him. But, good companion, do you know the way to this place? Christian: I was told, by a man whose name is Evangelist, to go to a little gate in front of us, where we’ll receive instructions about the way.


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Pliable: Come on then, good neighbour, let’s be going. Then they both went together. Obstinate: And I’ll go back to my place. I won’t go along with such misguided people. Now I saw in my dream, that when Obstinate had turned back, Christian and Pliable went across the plain. As they went, they talked. Christian: Come, neighbour Pliable, how are you? I’m glad you decided to go with me. Pliable: Come, neighbour Christian, as there’s no one except us here, tell me more about the things that we’re going to see. Christian: I can think about them more easily than speak about them but, as you want to know, I’ll read about them from my book. Pliable: And do you think that the words in your book are really true? Christian: Yes, definitely; because it was made by someone who cannot lie. Pliable: Well said. What things are they? Christian: There’s an endless kingdom to be inhabited, and everlasting life to be given to us, so that we can live in that kingdom for ever.

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Pliable: Well said. And what else? Christian: There are crowns of glory to be given to us and clothes that will make us shine like the sun in heaven. Pliable: That’s very pleasant; and what else? Christian: There’ll be no more crying, or sorrow; for the owner of the place will wipe all tears from our eyes. Pliable: And who else will be there? Christian: There’ll be angels, creatures that will dazzle your eyes to look at them. You’ll also meet thousands and thousands who’ve gone there before us; none of them are hurtful, but loving and holy, all walking in the sight of God and standing in his presence with acceptance for ever. We’ll see the elders with their golden crowns, the holy virgins with their golden harps, men who on earth were cut to pieces, burnt in flames, eaten by beasts or drowned, for love of the Lord. They’ll all be well, and clothed with immortality. Pliable: But can we enjoy these things? How can we get to share it? Christian: The Lord, the governor of the country, has written in this book that, if we’re truly willing to have it, he’ll give it to us freely. Pliable: Well, my good companion, I’m glad to hear of these things. Come on, let’s go faster.


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Christian: I can’t go as fast as I’d like, because of this burden on my back. Now I saw in my dream, that as they finished talking, they came close to a very muddy ditch in the middle of the plain. Not noticing, they both fell into it. The name of the bog was Despond. They wallowed for a while, covered with dirt, and Christian, because of the burden on his back, began to sink. Pliable: Ah, neighbour Christian, now where are we? Christian: I really don’t know. Pliable began to get cross, and said angrily, Pliable: Is this the happiness you’ve been telling me about? If we’re getting on so badly now, what’s it going to be like further on? And with that he gave a desperate struggle or two and got out of the mud on the side of the ditch nearest his house. So away he went, and Christian didn’t see him again. Christian was left in the Slough of Despond alone but he still tried to struggle to the side of it farthest away from his house, and nearer to the wicket-gate. But he couldn’t get out because of the burden on his back. In my dream I saw a man come up to him, whose name was Help, and he asked him what he was doing there.

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Christian: Sir, I was told to go this way by a man called Evangelist, who directed me towards that gate, so I might escape the wrath to come. And on my way, I fell in here. Help: But why didn’t you look for the steps? Christian: I was so afraid that I ran the other way, and fell in. Help: Then give me your hand. So he gave him his hand, and Help drew him out and set him on solid ground, and told him to go on his way. Then I went up to the man who had pulled him out, and said, ‘Sir, why, as this is the way from the City of Destruction to the gate over there, isn’t this place safe for travellers?’ Help: This muddy place can’t be mended: it’s where the scum and filth that goes with conviction for sin runs down, and so it’s called the Slough of Despond. As the sinner wakes up to his lost condition, fears and doubts arise in their soul, and they get together and settle here: this is why this ground is so bad. There are some substantial steps placed through the middle of it but when this place spews out its filth these steps are hardly seen. But the ground is good once they get past the gate. Now as Christian was walking by himself, he spotted someone crossing over the field to meet him. The man’s name was Mr Worldly Wiseman: he lived in the town of Carnal Policy, a large town near where Christian came from. Meeting Christian and having an idea who he was

OTHER BOOKS BY J.JOHN Ten Imagine a world where love guides every action. A community where people place others before themselves. A place where God is recognised and respected. Thousands of years ago, God revealed the framework for life as it should be. Simple values for daily living that provide the foundations of our laws and principles. Yet society is slowly moving from this essential guide, as these absolute truths give way to a subjective culture. How can we reclaim these timeless truths for living and apply them in a modern world?

The Happiness Secret It’s something we all want, but what is happiness, and where can we find it? In this thoughtful and uplifting book J.John takes a look at the most famous teachings of Jesus – the Beatitudes – finding clues to help us embrace a life of joy and fulfilment. He unpacks each of Jesus’ great sayings, placing them in their first-century context and also reveals how they are applicable in our lives today. Ultimately, he suggests that if we seek happiness directly we may never find it; but if instead we seek a life of fulfilment we will find true and lasting happiness.

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The Life There is no denying the importance of Jesus Christ in the history of humankind. He has walked through the last two thousand years of history, of empires, governments, political systems and philosophies and has remained as a dominant, challenging, yet mysterious presence. In The Life: A Portrait of Jesus J.John and Chris Walley achieve an uncommon blend – a serious book for popular use and a popular book for serious reading.

The Return Everyone knows the story of the prodigal son – or do they? In this fascinating book, skilled communicators J.John and Chris Walley give a new twist to an old story. The Return is a three-part exploration of this most loved parable, combining fiction, Bible study and real-life testimony to open up this timeless story and its themes of grace and reconciliation.

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John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress was first published in 1678. It has never been out of print and has been translated into more than 200...