Artwork by Douglas Ramsey
For those of you that know me, you’ll know that I have an intense newfound love of classic Reformed Puritan works. One of these timeless books include John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. The Pilgrim’s Progress is essentially an allegory to the Christian walk as he (or she) is on a pilgrimage to the Celestial city (ie. Mount Zion, Heavenly Jerusalem – ie Heaven) where the King (Jesus) is.
Charles Spurgeon, my all time favorite pastor and preacher also read it annually from boyhood to his final years. Furthermore, at one point in the history of the Church, this book was supposedly the most read book by Christians in the world apart from the Scriptures. Bunyan also intentionally drenched this tale with gospel theme and scriptural references so that the reader might increase in knowledge of the Word.
If you have yet to read it, I would encourage you to do so as my own words wouldn’t do it enough justice. There were many parts in the book that I’ll now treasure in my memory as Gospel-saturated reminders. Without attempting to spoil the book, I do want to share one of my absolute favorite parts as I reflect back.
For context, the main character’s name is Christian (he’s a Christian) and is accompanied by his friend Hopeful, both are pilgrims journeying from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. This is an allegory to journeying from the wrath of God upon the earth and onward to Heaven (hence Pilgrim’s Progress). They both encounter many trials and obstacles along the way which present other allegories.
Eventually the pilgrims make it toward the end of their journey (Philippians 1:6). Just as they’re approaching the city, they’re told by men (Angels) at the bank of a river (River of Death) that they must cross over or perish. Depending on how much faith they have determines the depth of the river, where as for Hopeful it is a shallow stride, however Christian remembers the sin from his former life, thus he begins to sink. As Christian begins to sink, Hopeful reminds him of the Gospel again, helping bear him through the waters.
Christian is then reminded of the scripture in Isaiah 43:2;
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”
As I read that, I couldn’t help but try to fight back tears of a future joy. Isaiah 43:2, although I’ve read countless times before, ministered to my heart by God’s incredible timing. The Word of God in that moment bursted from the page and wrecked my heart at Epoch Coffee in West Austin. I was reminded of Emmanuel, God with us – even in my apathy, my struggle, my unbelief – the Lord reminded me in page 211 that He was with me.
It was a bizarre, charismatic, and climactic experience of exploding worship. I sang no words, I lifted no hands, nor was I distracted by any thoughts of my own welfare. I even thought that if death were to come at that moment, how sweetly I would may have embraced it.
Too much have I thought of the present life – “what is God going to do next?” – “will I be married?” – “will I pastor a church one day?” – “what if that person doesn’t approve of me?” – “there is still much toiling for today.”
Yet, the Word of God reminded me of Romans 8:18;
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
That’s my story. If you’re in Christ Jesus today. That’s yours as well. If you’re not – receive Him. Whoever comes to Him, He will never cast out (John 6:37).
Finally, as I continued to read, the pilgrims having crossed the River of Death- are received by the shining ones (more Angels). The King having sent the angels to fetch them gives them this final instruction and where I will conclude;
“You are going now to the Paradise of God wherein you shall see the Tree of Life, and eat of the never-fading fruits there of: and when you come there, you shall have white robes given you, and your walk and talk shall be every day with the King, even all the days of eternity (Revelation 2:7, 3:4-5, 22:5).”
– Page 213, The Pilgrim’s Progress “The Happiness of Heaven Described”
I reflected by worshiping in song with the following tracks (all on repeat):
– “All Because of Christ” – Austin Stone Worship
– “Wild and Crazy” – Upper Room Music (*Heaven is gonna be a freakin’ Party of Parties*)
– “Praise You Forever” – Upper Room Music
TL;DR – This is an incredible Christ-centered book. Read it. It’ll make you long for Heaven to be with Jesus.