John Bunyan’s classic allegory Pilgrim’s Progress has long been on my to-read list, and so what better time to get stuck into it that with Tim Challies’ Reading the Classics Together series? I have, in fact, seen Vaughan William’s opera of the story in Brisbane and in London.
The First Stage
Bunyan pretty much invented the genre of allegory with this work, and it can sometimes feel pretty heavy handed in the sense of it’s obviousness, but it was, in his time, rather inventive and original.
The thing that struck me with this initial narrative about Christian is that while the language is very antiquated, the allegory still reflects the world we see today. Characters like Obstinate, Pliable and Mr Worldlywise are no strangers, and the false lure of Morality and Legality are as real as ever.
It’s easy to think that Bunyan’s day was one of more abundant Christianity, but even this first scene shows that it was easy to get waylaid by those who denigrated the message of ‘the book’ and the Evangelist.
The lure of Mr Worldlywiseman is that he too lauds the removal of Christian’s burden, but he is a wolf. He claims that this burden can be removed, and God’s blessing received through legality and moralism.
Christian, despairing of the even heavier burden and peril of this departure from the path set before him is rebuked by the Evangelist, of whom he asks:
Sir, what think you? Is there any hope? May I now go back, and go up to the wicket-gate? Shall I not be abandoned for this, and sent back from thence ashamed? I am sorry I have hearkened to this man’s counsel; but may my sin be forgiven?
Wih Evangelist reassuring that he gate-keeper is of ‘good-will’ and will recieve him still, he warns of the lethal peril of diverting again from the path.
The despair of Christian reminds me of the account of Luther and his despair before discovering the truth of justification, and also of the famous vision of Isaiah meeting the Lord. The gospel is good news that the gate-keeper is of good-will!