The Progress of a Pilgrim:
The Worldview of John Bunyan as seen in Pilgrim’s Progress
John Bunyan’s worldview is eloquently depicted through his written works. The Pilgrim’s Progress tells the story of a man in search of spiritual redemption and eternal life. During his travels the protagonist, Christian, shares with others the Word of God, and invites them to accompany him to the Celestial City. Similarly John Bunyan became a minister, the Bishop Bunyan, and he too did his best to spread the Word. This is a brief insight into the worldview of Bunyan, and his belief about God, the universe, man, ethics and morality, the cause of evil and suffering, and of course, death and how to achieve the life thereafter.
Bunyan did not believe in predestination, as evidenced by Christian’s ability to transform himself. The journey of Christian, the pilgrim begins with the realization of a burden that weighed heavily upon him; the knowledge that his hometown was to be destroyed by fire from Heaven. He was deeply distressed by the knowledge that all who stayed in the City of Destruction would perish. Soon after this discovery he met a man named Evangelist, whom it is widely believed represents Bunyan’s local minister, John Gifford. Evangelist directed Christian towards the only one who could remove his burden, and thus Christian departs towards the light. This shows that although Christian, along with everyone who lived in the City of Destruction, were sinful. By leaving this behind and traveling to the Celestial City they were forgiven, for God is merciful and patient.
Soon after Christian departs on his journey he falls into The Slough of Despond, which he escapes only to be misled by one, Mr. Worldly Wiseman. He journeys through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and to Vanity Fair, then is held captive by the giant Despair in Doubting Castle. Throughout all of these adversities he faces, he looks to the grace of God and is given the answer. This shows that God not only created the world, but that he governs and maintains it as well.
Bunyan’s view of mankind is clearly seen through the names of his characters in Pilgrim’s Progress. Such people as Mr. Malice, Mr. Deception, and of course, Judge Hategood, should be avoided at all costs, while friends may be found in the likes of Faithful, Hopeful, Mercy, and Mr. Greatheart. These names are direct representations of the characters in this tale, but not a inevitable sentence. The protagonist Christian, explains to the Porter of the House Beautiful that his name had previously been Graceless, but that he was now Christian, showing that everyone has a chance to change themselves.
In the house of the Interpreter, Christian saw a defeated looking man in an iron cage and asked the Interpreter who the man was. The man replied that his name was Hopeless, and that once he too had been a pilgrim. To which Christian asked what he was now, and Hopeless replied that he was a man of despair, unable to escape his cage. Christian then asked how he came to be in this condition, and Hopeless answered “I ceased to watch and be sober. I allowed myself to doubt the Word of Life, and gave way to my passions. I sinned against the light of the Word and the goodness of God. I yielded to Satan’s arguments and he took possession of my soul. I have provoked God to anger, and He has left me. I have grieved the Spirit, and He has gone. I have hardened my heart, and now I cannot repent.” He continued to tell them that God has denied him repentance and shut him away in a cage of his own sin and disbelief. This shows us that there is time to repent for our sins, but that time is finite.
Also during his encounter with the Interpreter, Christian saw a fire burning against a wall and a man continually pouring water over it in an fruitless attempt to quench it. When Christian asked, the Interpreter told him that the fire was the grace of God in the heart, and he who cast the water was the devil. Then he was led to the other side of the wall where Christian saw another man secretly pouring oil onto the fire. He asked again what this meant, to which the Interpreter answered “This is Christ who continually, with the oils of His grace, maintains the work already begun in the heart; by the means of which, notwithstanding what the devil can do, the souls of His people prove gracious still.” Just as Christ continually maintains His grace in our hearts that it may never be extinguished by either circumstances or by our adversaries.
Throughout the journey of Christian from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City, he is accompanied by several others seeking forgiveness. One of these companions, Faithful, joined Christian on his venture soon after Christian emerged from The Valley of the Shadow of Death, staying beside him until they reach the City of Vanity. There the two of them were put on trial by Judge Hategood for “disturbing the peace” and “persuading good, honest persons to embrace their poisonous and most dangerous doctrine.” To which Faithful openly opposed Judge Hategood, was found guilty by the jury, and was put to death. However Christian was only imprisoned, then released where he continued on his way, singing of Faithful’s ascent into the Celestial City.
At the conclusion of our tale Christian, his wife, children, and many of his companions reached the Celestial City, where they were welcomed. John Bunyan teaches us through this allegorical tale that God mercifully governs the world with patience and love. Continually igniting our hearts with His grace, but allowing us free will and the option to return to the path that leads to the light. In the words of the Interpreter “Well, keep [this] always in mind that they may warn you against the evil and goad you forward in the way you must go; and may the Comforter always be with you, to guide you in the way that leads to the Celestial City.”