Writing for Posterity: John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress

Isaiah 8:1
      Take thee a great roll, and write in it with a man’s pen.

 GEORGE OFFOR (1787-1864): The most important events have arisen out of circumstances very different to what reason could have expected…The Redeemer of the world was born in a stable. The sublime Revelations of John were written by an exile in a penal settlement. The universal guide to Christian pilgrims was the unaided work of an unlettered mechanic, while a prisoner for conscience sake. So unsearchable are the ways of God.

 C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): The Lord has reasons far beyond our ken, for opening a wide door, while he stops the mouth of a useful preacher. John Bunyan would not have done half the good he did, if he had remained preaching in Bedford, instead of being shut up in Bedford Prison.

 WILLIAM JAY (1769-1853): It was well Bunyan did not escape from the prison at Bedford, or we should not have had his Pilgrim’s Progress and his Holy War.

 JOHN RYLAND (1723-1792): As a popular practical writer on a great variety of important subjects, for the use of the bulk of common Christians, I will dare to affirm that he has few equals in the Christian world. I am persuaded there never has been a writer in the English language whose works have spread so wide, and have been read by so many millions of people as Mr. Bunyan’s.

 WILLIAM S. PLUMER (1802-1880): It may be said that there are two classes of authors. The first writes for generations to come. The other writes but for the present generation. The latter class is larger. The former is the more distinguished. But it is not possible for any mortal to say which class confers the greater blessings on mankind. Nor can it be commonly be told to which class a given man belongs until his thoughts are published, and often not till one or two generations have passed away. Milton’s Paradise Lost and Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress were despised by the mass of their countrymen for a long time after they were written.

 GEORGE OFFOR: Pilgrim’s Progress was written long before it was published…The reason why it was not published for several years after his release [from Bedford Jail] appears to have arisen from a difference of opinion expressed by his friends as to the propriety of printing a book which treated so familiarly the most solemn subjects.

 WILLIAM BRODIE GURNEY (1777-1855): Thomas Marsom was an ironmonger, and pastor of the Baptist church at Luton; he died in January 1726 at a very advanced age. This Thomas Marsom was a fellow-prisoner with John Bunyan; and my grandfather, who knew [Marsom] well, was in the habit of repeating to his son, my father, many interesting circumstances which he had heard from him, connected with his imprisonment. One of these was, that Bunyan read the manuscript of the Pilgrim’s Progress to his fellow prisoners, requesting their opinion upon it. Marsom gave his opinion against the publication. But, on reflection, he requested permission to take the manuscript to his own cell, that he might read it alone. Having done so, he returned it with an earnest recommendation that it should be published.

 JOHN BUNYAN (1628-1688): Some said, “John, print it;” others said, “Not so.” Some said, “it might do good;” others said, “No.” Now was I in a strait, and did not see which was the best thing to be done by me. At last I thought, since you are thus divided, I print it will; and so the case [was] decided.

 C. H. SPURGEON: 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.

 AUGUSTUS TOPLADY (1713-1778): Pilgrim’s Progress is the finest allegorical work extant; describing every stage of a Christian’s experience, from conversion to glorification, in the most artless simplicity of language; yet peculiarly rich with spiritual unction, and glowing with the most vivid, just, and well-conducted machinery throughout. It is, in short, a masterpiece of piety and genius; and will, we doubt not, be of standing use to the people of God, so long as the sun and moon endure.

 GEORGE OFFOR: Pilgrim’s Progress has proved an invaluable aid to the Sunday-school teacher, and to the Missionary…No book, the result of human labour and ingenuity, has been so eminently useful.

JOHN NEWTON (1725-1807): I find this book so full of matter, that I can seldom go through more than a page or half a page at a time.

 GEORGE OFFOR: In most cases, reading this volume has had a solemnizing effect upon the mind. Some have tried to read it, but have shut it up with fear, because it leads directly to the inquiry, Have I felt the burden of sin? Have I fled for refuge? Others have been deterred, because it has such home-thrusts at hypocrisy, and such cutting remarks upon those who profess godliness, but in secret are wanton and godless. The folly of reliance upon an imperfect obedience to the law for the pardon of sin, repeatedly and faithfully urged, is a hard and humbling lesson. It mercilessly exposes the worthlessness of all those things which are most prized by the worldling. No book has so continued and direct a tendency to solemn self-examination. Every character that is drawn makes a powerful appeal to the conscience, and leads almost irresistibly to the mental inquiry, “Lord, is it I?”

 C. H. SPURGEON: I know, when I first read The Pilgrim’s Progress, and saw in it the woodcut of Christian carrying the burden on his back, I felt so interested in the poor fellow, that I thought I should jump with joy when, after he had carried his load so long, he at last got rid of it; and that was how I felt when the burden of guilt, which I had borne so long, was for ever rolled away from my shoulders and my heart.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES (1899-1981): The great truth in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is not that Christian endured great hardships on his way to the eternal city, but that Christian thought it to be worth his while to endure those hardships.

 J. C. RYLE (1816-1900): The principal giants whom John Bunyan describes, in Pilgrim’s Progress, as dangerous to Christian pilgrims, were two―Pope and Pagan. If the good old Puritan had foreseen the times we live in, he would have said something about the giant Ignorance.

Editor’s Note: The first part of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress was published in 1678, with the second part following in 1684.  Since then it has never been out of print, and it has been translated into more than 200 languages.


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