Pilgrim's Progress

Theodore Cuyler
 

"A Christian" Acts 26:28

Among character painters, Bunyan deserves a place in the highest rank. Shakespeare had to do with living men, and Bunyan with personifications, yet in the wonderful Tinker's hands, these personifications become living men. To all who read the "Pilgrim's Progress," old and young, learned and unlearned the multitude of characters that throng its pages, are actual persons. We take but a short walk with Mr. Ignorance, who came out of the town of Conceit, but we see enough of him to know that he is the perfect counterpart of a dozen good-for-nothing fellows in our neighborhood. Mr. By-ends and my Lord Time-server, we have often in our legislative halls; and sometimes, if we mistake not, have beheld their smooth faces, and heard their fair speeches in the assemblies of the Church. Mr. Talkative has "pestered" us a thousand times. Mr. Self-will has long been an annoyance to us; and we never meet a faint-hearted brother with his head bowed down like a bulrush, without thinking of poor Mr. Fearing, who lay moaning so long beside the Slough of Despond, and who went down with trembling steps at last into the deep water.

The places described by Bunyan are as familiar to us as the places among which we spent our childhood and among all the living tenors of the nursery there were none for whom we felt a more unaffected horror, than for old Giant Grim, or that other monster with crab tree cudgel, whose courtyard was paved with the skulls of ill-fated pilgrims.

The hero of the allegory is not only finely portrayed, but is himself a portraiture of the highest style of manhood. We know of no hero among all the creations of fiction who is equal to Christian. Bunyan's mind seems to have been fully equal to the conception of the truly great man. In Christian, the hand of a Bible-taught master has drawn everything that is brave, and honest, and true; everything that is genial and simple; everything that is lovely and of good report. He fights like a lion in the Valley of Humiliation; he sings like a lark in the Chamber of Peace; when he beholds the miseries of Giant Despair's captives he "gushes out with tears;" nor does he restrain a wholesome natural laugh at the expense of brave Mr. Talkative who came out of Prating row.

In narrating the personal adventures of his hero, Bunyan kept ever before his mind his own marvelous experience. The long road over which he brings his Pilgrim, is the same path in which the Lord had ever led him on; a path full of difficulties and dangers, of dark valleys and pitfalls but a path on which God's sunshine sometimes fell, beside which living fountains of water gushed forth and at the end of which rose the city not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

The City of Destruction, in the mind of Bunyan, was connected with his own early life in the village of Elstow, among a crew of abandoned profligates, who united the license of the higher classes to the ignorance and vulgarity of their own. From such scenes and companionships, the voice of the Spirit of God had called him forth with a loud and terrible warning. He had been mocked, he had been threatened, but the voice had waxed louder and louder. Onward he had gone, driven by the most agonizing pains and fears until he fell into that miry "Slough" where the sins, and doubts, and terrors of the convicted sinner had all settled; and here he had lain for a long time bemoaning his doleful estate.

Then had come an interval of joy and triumph. But this was of short duration, for he soon encountered the deceiver, who sent him to the law for relief; and while he was laboring to establish a righteousness of his own he had seen the anger of God to glow, and the flashes of fire had burst forth from the Sinai above him. While he was in this painful state, a good "Evangelist," in the shape of the minister of Bedford, had come to him, and with many rebukes, mingled with pity had set him once more upon the right path.

Long was the road over which he had gone before he reached the Wicket Gate, and many and sharp were the arrows which Beelzebub had poured in upon his harassed soul. Even after he had entered upon the narrow path, his journey had been painful and protracted before he arrived at the gladsome spot where the burden fell from his shoulders, and while the tears coursed down his cheeks he heard a voice whisper sweetly to him "Peace be to Your soul!" Then, like Christian, he had leaped for joy, and went singing on his way.

Thrice-blessed Dreamer! You have lain for more than a century and a half in Bunhill Fields, but no lapse of years can destroy the spell which you hold over the strongest minds! Your audience grows with the advance of time. In a country which you knew only as a trifling colony, your immortal allegory lies on the table of ten thousand drawing-rooms, arrayed in crimson and in gold, and lives too in the inner heart of God's struggling Church!