In John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, the author eliminates the notions that fiction literature is entirely distinct from Christianity and is entirely unhelpful to the Christian, by creating an incredibly fictitious tale that conveys some eternally important realities. Bunyan leads his readers on a journey with the main character, Christian, who was concocted in the mind of the narrator. Throughout this journey, Bunyan develops many themes, all of which could be addressed. The overarching theme in The Pilgrim’s Progress is the journey itself.
After receiving a visit from a spiritual guide named Evangelist, Christian is convinced to leave his hometown of the City of Desolation to journey toward the Celestial City or Mount Zion. The first part of this work chronicles Christian’s journey and along the way there is one theme that takes prominence. This theme is the necessity of the Bible in the salvation of man. God’s revealed word to man is crucial to man’s only hope in Christ. It is clear that Bunyan believes this and affirms the supremacy of the Bible through the unfolding of this theme.
Salvation and eternal joy are found in Christ alone and what we know of Christ comes to us through the Bible. Understandably, then, the Word of God is crucial, even necessary for our salvation—and for the consummation of Christian’s journey.
Bunyan works this theme of the supremacy of the Bible into his allegory by explaining how crucial Christian’s understanding of it is to his journey. After caring for and guiding Christian, Goodwill sends him to the house of Interpreter because Interpreter has some “excellent things” to show Christian. There is a connection even between some of Goodwill’s last words and the importance of the Bible to his journey. Goodwill tells Christian that in his journey there is a narrow way that is in line with the Patriarchs, Prophets, Christ, and his Apostles and “it is as straight as a rule can get” (32). Bunyan clearly shows that in order for a Christian to remain on the narrow path that leads to eternal life, they must be firmly rooted in the Word of God. The reading of and believing in the Bible are crucial for the Christian’s life, just as they are for Christian in this allegory.
Another example of this is found in the substantial amount of time Christian spends in Interpreter’s home. Christian spends more time in Interpreter’s house than he does anywhere else on his journey. While there, the Interpreter teaches him the most crucial elements of Christianity, including learning who Jesus is and what he has done (33). In the description of Jesus, Interpreter teaches Christian that the book Jesus holds in the picture is “the best of Books” (33). The messages of both the Old and New Testaments are articulated in multiple symbols. He learns of salvation and grace, Satan and Christ, sin and temptation, and multiple other doctrinal truths by staying with Interpreter. It is clear that the Bible and the truths of Scripture are crucial to Christian’s journey and Bunyan’s thinking.
On the negative side of things, characters like Ignorant ignore God’s Word and deny its usefulness. The works-salvation Ignorant proposes is refuted by Christian based on his understanding of Scripture. “Thou believest with a fantastical Faith, for this Faith is nowhere described in the Word” (152). Ignorant is indeed ignorant of all matters relating to the faith, salvation, life, and God because he relies on his own knowledge rather than the divine revelation of the Bible.
An imperfect comparison in the world of law and government is in the confidence and dependency the United States government has (or should have) in the Constitution. The Constitution essentially establishes our laws and places our nation’s leaders within certain bounds. It is the standard by which our nation runs and it is the guide by which it governs. And so the importance that our leaders give to this document and its significance is similar to Bunyan’s insistence on the vitality and importance of the Word of God in the lives of believers.
Bunyan’s exaltation of the Word of God is a major theme in The Pilgrim’s Progress and teaches modern believers that in their Christian journey, the Bible is crucial to their faith, life, and joy in God.
Mathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies, Dec. ’14). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY. with his wife Erica.