A Guide to John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress

Notes and Commentary

by Ken Puls

on John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress

Burdened Pilgrim

1. Burden and Distress

The Pilgrim's Progress
in the Similitude of a Dream
Part I.

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.

I dreamed, and, behold, I saw a man clothed with rags, standing in a certain place, with his face from his own house, a book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back. I looked, and saw him open the book, and read therein; and, as he read, he wept and trembled; and not being able to contain, he brake out with a lamentable cry, saying, "What shall I do?"

In this plight therefore he went home, and refrained himself as long as he could, that his wife and children should not perceive his distress; but he could not be silent long, because that his trouble increased. Wherefore at length he brake his mind to his wife and children; and thus he began to talk to them: O my dear wife, said he, and you the children of my bowels, I, your dear friend, am myself undone, by reason of a burden that lieth hard upon me; moreover, I am for certain informed that this our city will be burnt with fire from heaven; in which fearful overthrow, both myself, with thee my wife, and you my sweet babes, shall miserably come to ruin, except (the which yet I see not) some way of escape can be found, whereby we may be delivered.

At this his relations were sore amazed; not for that they believed that what he had said to them was true, but because they thought that some frenzy distemper had got into his head; therefore it drawing towards night, and they hoping that sleep might settle his brains, with all haste they got him to bed.

But the night was as troublesome to him as the day; wherefore, instead of sleeping, he spent it in sighs and tears. So when the morning was come, they would know how he did; he told them worse and worse; he also set to talking to them again, but they began to be hardened. They thought to drive away his distemper by harsh and surly carriages to him. Sometimes they would deride, sometimes they would chide, and sometimes they would quite neglect him. Wherefore he began to retire himself to his chamber, to pray for and pity them; and also to condole his own misery. He would also walk solitarily in the fields, sometimes reading and sometimes praying; and thus for some days he spent his time.


Notes and Commentary

Since it was first published in 1678, John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress has encouraged believers and pointed them to the Scriptures. C.H. Spurgeon said of this work:

Next to the Bible, the book that I value most is John Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress." I believe I have read it through at least a hundred times. It is a volume of which I never seem to tire; and the secret of its freshness is that it is so largely compiled from the Scriptures. It is really Biblical teaching put into the form of a simple yet very striking allegory.

The book tells the story of man who is clothed in rags who begins reading a Book, the Word of God, and is awakened to the realities of sin and judgment. As his distress and conviction grows, it is represented by a great burden that weighs heavy on his back. He realizes the fearful consequences of sin and knows that he, his family and his city will be condemned unless "some way of escape can be found, whereby we may be delivered."

Bunyan wrote his allegory during the time he spent in the Bedford jail, referred to in his day as "the den." After the Restoration in 1660, Bunyan was arrested for preaching the gospel in a non-conformist church and spent most of the next twelve years in prison. During this imprisonment Bunyan wrote an autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, which told how God had graciously brought him from death unto life. He then began to shape his experiences of coming to faith in Christ and suffering for the gospel into an allegory which he entitled The Pilgrim's Progress.

In 1672 Charles II granted a Declaration of Indulgence for Dissenters and Bunyan was released. He began pastoring a group of believers meeting in Bedford. His freedom did not last long, however. In 1675 the king was pressured to recant his declaration. Bunyan was again arrested and thrown in the "den" where he was able to complete his book. The Pilgrim's Progress was finally published in 1678 after Bunyan was again released.

I invite you to read through the book with me as I offer my thoughts and commentary along the way. Many riches and insights are contained in Bunyan's work. These posts will seek to draw out a small portion and hopefully encourage you to search after more.

Continue Reading 2. Met by Evangelist


The text for The Pilgrim's Progress
and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©1997 Ken Puls

"A Guide to John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress"
was originally published from January 1993 to December 1997
in "The Voice of Heritage," a monthly newsletter
of Heritage Baptist Church in Mansfield, Texas

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