Doctrinal and Devotional Thoughts
on John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
“As I walk’d through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place, where was a Denn;[i] And I laid me down in that place to sleep: And as I slept I dreamed a Dream.”
John Bunyan (1628-1688) was Baptist, and in seventeenth century England, Baptists were known as Dissenters or Non-conformists. The Church of England (the Anglicans) was the official church of the British Empire.
Because of his popularity and favor among the people, jealous Anglican ministers presented any and every charge they could conceive against John Bunyan in order to have him arrested, as well as to keep him incarcerated. The Clarendon Code was instituted during the reign of King Charles II, consisting of four major acts, the first one enacted and enforced in 1661, several months after Mr. Bunyan’s imprisonment.
Using figurative language, John Bunyan tells us that he was imprisoned at the Bedford Jail (a Denn), which gave him a great deal of time to meditate upon the Word of God (I dreamed a Dream).
William Mason’s[ii] “Explanatory Notes” provides a humorous anecdote for Mr. Bunyan’s incarceration: “A Quaker came to the jail; and thus addressed him— ‘Friend Bunyan, the Lord sent me to seek for thee, and I have been through several counties in search of thee; and now I am glad I found thee.’ To which Mr. Bunyan replied: ‘Friend, thou dost not speak truth in saying the Lord sent thee to seek me; for the Lord well knows that I have been in this jail some years; and if he had sent thee, he would have sent thee here directly.’”
A Wilderness Walk
“And I have led you forty years in the wilderness: your clothes are not waxen old upon you, and thy shoe is not waxen old upon thy foot.” —Deuteronomy 29:5
The life and behavior of a Christian is that of a pilgrim and sojourner in a land filled with peril and problems. Though he is saved by God’s grace, justified by God through trusting faith in Christ Jesus, and regenerated as a new creature in Christ, he is not physically transported to the Celestial City of God immediately. He remains still upon this planet, a wilderness, wherein there are dangers from devouring beasts, many sorrows from trials and tribulations, and much labor from terrain that is grown over with the thistles and thorns of sinful mankind’s thoughts, deeds and lusts.
Although there is danger all around in the wilderness, the Christian walks in his journey. He walks because Christ’s rod and staff comfort him (Psa. 23:4). He walks because the Christian has been delivered from death and is evermore in the presence of God in the light of the living (Psa. 56:13). He walks because he knows the joyful sound and walks in the light of God’s countenance. He walks because his feet are shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace (Eph. 6:15).
“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; “ —2 Corinthians 4:17
As a bee lights upon a flower only long enough to harvest the pollen to carry back to the hive, so also are the situations and circumstances that come to the Christian in his wilderness journey. The situation may be before the Christian at present, yet, it will not remain; it will surely come to pass. The end of the Christian’s pilgrimage is Christ himself, and although Christ’s eternal presence is with the Christian even in the most barren and isolated place, it is not the fullness of joy from Christ’s actual presence in the fullness of his glory. In God’s providential places each pause along the way, the Christian harvests the holy pollen lessons that conform him to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:28-29) until the day when his flight has ended and he lands in that sweet Celestial City by and by.
“But I will sing of thy power; yea, I will sing aloud of thy mercy in the morning: for thou hast been my defence and refuge in the day of my trouble.” —Psalms 59:16
The Christian surrenders to every instance in Christ as a sovereign blessing. It is an opportunity to worship God by resting in Christ and trusting the Lord completely. The Christian does not see something like the peril of imprisonment as a curse or calamity; but rather, as a den of safety and security because Jesus Christ is his Rock and Refuge. Persecution becomes a den because Christ is the Christian’s sufficiency. Sickness becomes a harbor because Christ is the Christian’s peace.
The brightness of God’s glory in the revelation of God’s grace and reality of his tender mercies shines upon the Christian’s soul in the midst of darkness. When the Christian looks upon Christ and not his circumstance, a song of joy rises up in the Christian heart because the power of Christ cannot be confounded by the cavils of men, neither the corruptions of this world, nor the calamities of circumstance. The Christian in his pilgrimage has a song in his heart so that neither hobgoblin nor foul fiend can daunt his spirit.
If you do not have a copy of The Pilgrim’s Progress, you can get a free PDF download from ChapelLibrary.org.
[i] Or, den— referring to the Bedford Jail where Mr. Bunyan was imprisoned in November 1660, in violation of preaching without a license issued from the Church of England.
[ii] William Mason, Esq. (1719-1791), was a Calvinistic businessman in the Church of England. After retiring from business in 1783, he became an acting magistrate. He is most well known for his popular book, A Spiritual Treasury for the Children of God, The Believer’s Pocket Companion, and his Explanatory Notes on the Pilgrim’s Progress.