Despite its age people still read “The Pilgrim’s Progress”.

At first, people think I’m talking about the lumberjack fellow with the blue ox. “No,” I wearily explain, “not Paul Bunyan—John Bunyan.” Blank stares. “You know, the one who wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress.” Then, slowly, people remember that book. Yes, they’ve heard of it, but haven’t read it, and isn’t that the story where a man sets off on a journey.…

Ordinarily, I would be disappointed. Books that people know of, but don’t read, are usually the type that have been made into outrageous movies; people know that the book exists from the movie ads: “based on the novel by so-and-so.” But The Pilgrim’s Progress is quite a different matter, if only because, this month, it is three hundred years old. Something remarkable has happened when a three-hundred-year-old book is still part of the common currency. Despite its age, its countless imitators, the excesses of critics, and the even worse excesses of its admirers, we still cannot seem to have enough of it. And no Christian, especially, should want to have enough of what is, everything considered, the greatest piece of Christian devotional literature ever written.

John Bunyan was fifty years old in 1678 when The Pilgrim’s Progress first appeared. He was a man “Tall of stature, strong-boned, though not corpulent, somewhat of a Ruddy Face, with sparkling eyes … his Hair Reddish” (Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, Oxford University Press, 1972, p. 175). He had begun a career of preaching among English Baptists in 1656 while Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans still ruled England. ...

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