Tag Archives: allegory

Behold It Was a Dream

Conclusion to Part 1 of the Pilgrim’s Progress

So I awoke, and behold it was a dream.

Now, Reader, I have told my dream to thee;
See if thou canst interpret it to me,
Or to thyself, or neighbor; but take heed
Of misinterpreting; for that, instead
Of doing good, will but thyself abuse:
By misinterpreting, evil ensues.

Take heed, also, that thou be not extreme,
In playing with the outside of my dream:
Nor let my figure or similitude
Put thee into a laughter or a feud.
Leave this for boys and fools; but as for thee,
Do thou the substance of my matter see.

Put by the curtains, look within my veil,
Turn up my metaphors, and do not fail,
There, if thou seekest them, such things to find,
As will be helpful to an honest mind.

What of my dross thou findest there, be bold
To throw away, but yet preserve the gold;
What if my gold be wrapped up in ore?
None throws away the apple for the core.
But if thou shalt cast all away as vain,
I know not but ’twill make me dream again.

Behold it was a dream

Bunyan opened The Pilgrim’s Progress by describing his book as a dream: “As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a den, and I laid me down in that place to sleep; and as I slept, I dreamed a dream.” He closes his story by saying: “So I awoke, and behold it was a dream.”

Bunyan wrote his masterful work as an allegory. As we have seen, in Bunyan’s dream all the characters and events have meaning. Some are easy to interpret; others take more thought and consideration. Bunyan concludes The Pilgrim’s Progress with a poem inviting his readers to “put by the curtains, look within my veil” and challenging them to use discernment. He cautions against “playing with the outside of my dream” by pressing his analogies too far or reading too much into his plot lines. And he warns of regarding it too lightly—thinking of it simply as an entertainment. His story is endearing and enjoyable, but his substance is weighty. He speaks of matters of eternal consequence and he wants he readers to sense the gravity of his message.

Bunyan understands the challenge of writing about such glorious themes and he readily owns his limitations as an author. He encourages his readers to cast away any dross they find, “but yet preserve the gold.”

Many novels and stories can be compared to a change purse. They have only a little value, and with one or two readings, they are emptied out. But great books are like deep mines. Each time you return and put forth more effort to read and understand them, they yield more riches. The Pilgrim’s Progress is such a treasure. It is indeed filled with much gold. Those who accept Bunyan’s challenge to read and interpret his book will find their efforts richly rewarded. It should be read over and over. As you read the book at different stages in your own journey, you will gain more insight and more readily understand different characters and places.

God has used Bunyan’s writings in amazing ways. In 1660 he was imprisoned for preaching the gospel in a non-conformist church. This turn of events could have discouraged him and deterred his ministry. But Bunyan was determined to continue serving the church. He cared for his congregation and sought for ways to teach and encourage them. During the 12 years he was in prison (from 1660 to 1672) he published five books and numerous pamphlets, including his auto-biography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, where he shared his own story of how God had rescued him from his sin and eventually called him to gospel ministry. He also began shaping his experience into an allegory that would later develop into The Pilgrims Progress.

These books not only allowed Bunyan to continue serving his own congregation, they extended his ministry far beyond his town of Bedford. Through his writings, he became very well known, especially in his willingness to suffer for the cause of Christ.

When Bunyan was released in 1672, he set aside his writing to resume his responsibilities as pastor in his church. But in God’s providence, his freedom was short-lived. He was imprisoned again from 1675 to 1678 in a prison known in Bedford as the Den where he completed The Pilgrims Progress (Part 1).

The book was published the year Bunyan was released (1678). He had become a popular author and The Pilgrims Progress was an immediate success. A second edition was published the same year. A third edition followed in 1679, two more in 1680. At the time of Bunyan’s death the book has gone through 13 editions, over 100,000 copies. Over time it became the most widely read book in the English language apart from the Bible.

Bunyan hints at a sequel in his concluding poem, saying that he might “dream again.” His hint suggests that his sequel will focus on those who turn away from the gospel:

But if thou shalt cast all away as vain,
I know not but ’twill make me dream again.

His first idea for a sequel was published in 1680. It was called: The Life and Death of Mr. Badman; Presented to the World in a Familiar Dialogue Between Mr. Wiseman and Mr. Attentive. It was written as a companion book to The Pilgrim’s Progress to show the end of those who remained in their sin at death.

The book was good, but it was never received as “the sequel.” It went a different direction and left some important questions unanswered. The questions that Bunyan’s readers wanted him to address were: What happened to Christian’s family? What about his wife and his four sons that stayed behind in the City of Destruction? Did they perish? Did they escape! Tell us more!

So Bunyan was compelled to write the real sequel to the story. The Pilgrim’s Progress (Part 2) was later published in 1684. It tells the story of Christiana and her children as they set out on their own journey to the Celestial City. Part 2 emphasizes the importance of the family and bringing the gospel to our children. And it emphasizes the church and how the family serves and benefits from the ministry of the church. If you enjoyed Part 1 of the story, Part 2 offers more of Bunyan’s gold.

Accept Bunyan’s challenge. Read and reread his books. But as you enjoy the endearing characters and following the exciting adventures, don’t miss the main message. Bunyan is pointing us to the Word of God that we might seek and find the Savior. Don’t miss Christ! He is the One who can take away our burden. He is the One who gives light on our path. And He is our joy at our journey’s end. He and He alone can save!

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2019 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.