Tonight we discuss Pilgrim's Progress during round two of our venture to read through great classics chronologically, starting with the novels genre. We are using Bauer's The Well-Educated Mind.
When I first started reading Pilgrim's Progress I just wasn't sure if I would see it as anything other than applicable allegory. I felt like it was kind of choppy--quickly introducing new characters and having them exit stage before there could be any development. In fact, Pilgrim's Progress reminded me somewhat of another classic I had recently finished: Don Quixote. Here was yet another passionate male, preparing to set off on a journey with unknown and dangerous adventures, and interesting characters to meet along the way. I thought, "Here we go again!" (And having also recently read The Hobbit I just didn't know if I could take any more of this genre!)
Of course Christian in Pilgrim's Progress has slightly different motives than Don Quixote in making his trek. Don Quixote sought after glory and romance. Christian sought after the cross. Quixote had his head full of fanciful fiction. Christian had that ultimate source of truth, the Word of God, as his anchor and guide. Quixote was compelled to become a knight errant by his own delusions. Christian felt the very real and forceful weight of sin on his back which made his journey one of true urgency.
As I journeyed alongside Christian his story became more real and engaging to me. Not only were there both subtle and blunt truths in the allegory at every turn, there were also moments when the beauty of the literature itself engulfed me.
The culmination of the story comes at the end of Christian's life when he prepares to cross the great river (death), over which there is no bridge. Christian becomes despondent as he descends into the flow of that inevitable river. But then Christian recalls the King's promise to be with him. ("When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee.") At that point, Christian takes courage to battle through his fears and comes to Celestial City escorted by shining ones. God will never leave us or forsake us. He is our guide through life and also through death.
I loved Fearful's story. He was weak and flawed and full of fear, but nonetheless a child of the King. We don't have to be perfect to be saved. In fact, that is the whole point--we are unable to be perfect because of our sin. Christ is perfect in our stead.
When it was Fearful's turn to cross the great river, he could not handle the river being so deep. So for him, it was a shallow crossing. God's grace is always sufficient for us. He never gives us more than we can handle, in life or in death.
Pilgrim's Progress is a book about real human struggles along the journey of life and it is a book about victory.