John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, A Study Guide, Lesson 1

I will be uploading the eleven lessons on Pilgrim’s Progress our church covered last year. Our Wednesday night class read the book out loud and discussed the questions as we slowly marched through the book. This little manual or study guide lists the characters in the book so that interested readers could all participate. The narrator, of course, will read the most. Since the book retains some of the older spelling, punctuation, paragraph divisions, etc. it is difficult to know when a new character is speaking. However, it will become clear within moments after the sentence is read.

The pages are keyed to the following edition: John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress, ed. W. R. Owens (Oxford: OUP, 2003). It is readily available.

Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress [1]

Brief History & Introduction

John Bunyan (1628-1688) was the son of a “Tinker” (one who works with metal, pots and pans). He wrote this book in Jail (Gaol). Bunyan began this book after March of 1668 and it was first published in 1678. The second edition came out before the end of 1678 in which he added many new passages. The most significant passages are listed on p. xl. The third edition included a few more additions. He saw twelve editions of this work before he died in 1688. It is an allegory written to describe the pilgrimage of a believer. The second part of the book (which recounts Christiana’s travel) was published in 1684 and the second edition two years after.

The editor suggests that Bunyan wrote this to be heard and not silently read (xli). The punctuations seem to reflect the rhythm in the reading as opposed to the syntax. The illustrations first appeared in the third edition and the later editions included more; the total in the book is fifteen. The second part includes only two illustrations.

John Bunyan was a non-conformist, which means, he did not conform to the liturgy and theology of the Church of England. Many publishers were fined and harassed for publishing non-conformist books but many either for truth sake or for profit, published them. Bunyan went through a deep spiritual struggle before being converted (his account in Grace Abounding…). He was jailed for illegally preaching (needed the State’s permission to preach as well as to use certain facilities in which they could gather to hear sermons). Bunyan married Elizabeth (three children).[2] While in jail, he made shoelaces to make money for the family. He was in and out of jail several times.

Charles Spurgeon said this of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress: “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.”[3]

“Daggers (†) are used to indicate the presence of Explanatory Notes provided at the end of the text.” (xxxix) These notes are found on pp. 291-319.

 

STUDY SESSION 1

Readers

Dagger Reader – give quick answers to the dagger during the reading

Several Narrators

The Man (before he became a Christian), pp. 10ff.

Evangelist (11, 22)

Christian (13)

Obstinate (13)

Pliable (13, esp. 14)

Help (16)

Mr. Worldly-Wiseman (18)

Legality (in the city of Morality, 19)

 

Vocabulary

Gaol = jail (10; “Denn”)

surly carriage = bad or unfriendly behavior (11)

physick = medicine (11)

dedaubed = to smear or daub with a sticky substance (16)

Plat = a plot of land (17)

beshrow = blame or curse (19)

wotted = knew [wit — have knowledge] (20)

simpering = a gesture in an affectedly coy or ingratiating manner (24)

sottish = stupid (24)

vouchsafe = grant graciously (25)

 

Questions (pp. 10-27)[4]

Page #

10        What do the “Raggs” and “burden” represent on this man?

10        Is it correct to view this world as a “city of destruction”? Why? Why do so few believe it?

10        Why do some people think people who suddenly become interested in the Christian faith may be mentally sick (“some frenzy distemper had got into his head”)?

11        What did the Evangelist tell him to do?

11        What is “Wicket-gate”? (see note on Wicket-gate)

13        Why is Obstinate’s first response such a common and seemingly persuasive response?

14        What does Christian’s statements mean when he says he can’t go back because he laid his hand on the plow? (see Luke 9:62) Are there people that do that? Why?

16        How long must a young believer carry his burden?

16        What is the “Slow of Dispond” (slough of despond)? What benefit (if any) is there in going through it? (see †, p. 294) (see note on Slow of Dispond)

16        Many people expected the same thing as Pliable. What was his expectation? What should we expect in the Christian walk? (see note on Pliable)

17        The man “Help” explains what the “Slow of Dispond” means. Explain in your own words what he is saying. Must all Christians go through this?

18-19   Christ meets Mr. Worldly-Wise. Who is he? (see †, p. 294) Explain what he would look like in our times?

19-20   Mr. Worldly-Wise recommended the City of Morality. Why is it located on a ‘high hill’ (20)? Explain the theological point Bunyan is making. Also, give some examples of what that might look like today?

22-23   Can Christian be faulted for trying to get relief from his burdens? Why or why not?

24        Explain Evangelist’s point on this page.

25        The “man at the Gate” will receive Christian. Why must believers be persuaded of the favor and good will of their Savior after they stumble?

25        Who or what is “Good-will” here? (see †, p. 295)

 

Observations & Notes

Slow of Dispond

Maureen Bradley cites Bunyan’s Grace Abounding to depict Bunyan’s own experience of the slough of despond:

“My original and inward pollution, that, that was my plague and my affliction; that, I say, at a dreadful rate was always putting itself forth within me; that I had the guilt of to amazement; by reason of that I was more loathsome in my own eyes than a toad; and I thought I was so in God’s eyes also. Sin and corruption would bubble up out of my heart as naturally as water bubbles up out of a fountain. I thought now that every one had a better heart than I had. I could have changed hearts with anybody. I thought none but the devil himself could equalize me for inward wickedness and pollution of mind. I fell, therefore, at the sight of my own vileness, deeply in despair, for I concluded that this condition in which I was in could not stand with a life of grace. Sure, thought I, I am forsaken of God; sure I am given up to the devil, and to a reprobate mind.” (cited in Bradley’s work)

Mrs. Bradley also adds these helpful words: “Distress of conscience when a true assessment of ourselves is made causes us to become discouraged in such a manner as Bunyan has described. If we do not have a good grasp of the gospel (Christ’s passive and active obedience) to enable us to obtain our right standing with God, then we will fall into the slough and become despondent. We must constantly use the ‘steps’ (the great and precious promises of God, contained in the Bible) to keep ourselves form this miry fate.”[5]

Alexander Whyte describes the sloughs that people fall into: “sloughs of all kinds of vice, open and secret; sloughs of poverty, sloughs of youthful ignorance, temptation, and transgression; sloughs of inward gloom, family disquiet and dispute; lonely grief; all manner of sloughs, deep and miry, where no man would suspect them. And how good, how like Christ Himself, and how sell-pleasing to Him to lay down steps for such sliding feet, and to lift out another and another human soul upon sound and solid ground.” [6]

 

Help (17)

He probably represents the good and godly men and women God puts into our paths to give us a good word in season or to grant us the most appropriate aid for the occasion. (cf. Spurgeon, Pictures From Pilgrim’s Progress, 35-50)

 

Pliable[7]

“The conversation between Christian and Pliable marks the difference in their characters, as well as the measures of the new convert’s attainments. — The want of a due apprehension of eternal things is evidently the primary defect of all those who oppose or neglect religion; but more maturity of judgment and experience are requisite to discover, that many professors are equally strangers to a realizing view ‘of the powers and terrors of what is yet unseen.’”

 

Wicket-gate [8]

The gate is none other that the “strait gate” spoken of by our Lord in Mt. 7:13-14 (Lk. 13:24), “Enter by the narrow gate…” The editor says that the “entry thus represents the beginning of the process of conversion for Christ.” (see p. 293) Bunyan published a sermon entitled, The Strait Gate, or, Great Difficulty of Going to Heaven (1676) from Lk. 13:24. It seems that the “wicket-gate” is the path of carrying the cross in discipleship. To enter into a path of life filled with difficulty (see p. 23; finally at the gate on p. 25). Below also is an extract from Spurgeon which has been quoted by many:

By the way, let me tell you a little story about Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. I am a great lover of John Bunyan, but I do not believe him infallible; and the other day I met with a story about him which I think a very good one. There was a young, man, in Edinburgh, who wished to be a missionary. He was a wise young man; so he thought, “If I am to be a missionary, there is no need for me to transport myself far away from home; I may as well be a missionary in Edinburgh.” There’s a hint to some of you ladies, who give away tracts in your district, and never give your servant Mary one. Well, this young man started, and determined to speak to the first person he met. He met one of those old fishwives; those of us who have seen them can never forget them, they are extraordinary women indeed. So, stepping up to her, he said, “Here you are, coming along with your burden on your back; let me ask you if you have got another burden, a spiritual burden.” What!” she asked; “do you mean that burden in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress? Because, if you do, young man, I got rid of that many years ago, probably before you were born. But I went a better way to work than the pilgrim did. The evangelist that John Bunyan talks about was one of your parsons that do not preach the gospel; for he said,’ Keep that light in thine eye, and run to the wicket-gate.’ Why, man alive! that was not the place for him to run to. He should have said, ‘Do you see that cross? Run there at once!’ But, instead of that, he sent the poor pilgrim to the wicket-gate first; and much good he got by going there! He got tumbling into the slough, and was like to have been killed by it.” “But did not you,” the young man asked, “go through any Slough of Despond?” “Yes, I did; but I found it a great deal easier going through with my burden off than with it on my back.” The old woman was quite right. John Bunyan put the getting rid of the burden too far off from the commencement of the pilgrimage. If he meant to show what usually happens, he was right; but if he meant to show what ought to have happened, he was wrong. We must not say to the sinner, “Now, sinner, if thou wilt be saved, go to the baptismal pool; go to the wicket-gate; go to the church; do this or that.” No, the cross should be right in front of the wicket-gate; and we should say to the sinner, “Throw thyself down there, and thou art safe; but thou are not safe till thou canst cast off thy burden, and lie at the foot of the cross, and find peace in Jesus.”


[1] The edition we will be using is John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress, ed. W. R. Owens (Oxford: OUP, 2003). This edition is one of the most accurate since it builds on the Oxford English Texts series (now out of print). Some children have been exposed to various abridged versions but the original is preferable because its theology remains unchanged. For a good simple overview and criticism of some abridged versions, see David Calhoun, Grace Abounding: The Life, Books and Influence of John Bunyan (Fearn, Ross-shire: CFP, 2005), 217-223. He says, “Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is not beyond many older children. It would be a mistake for them to settle for an abridged form of the story, missing the fullness of the original.” (217) A more extensive overview can be found in Barry Horner, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress: Themes and Issues (Auburn, MA: Evangelical Press, 2003), 415-428. In the end, he said that it is not worth using an abridged version.

[2] First baby dies through premature birth while Bunyan was in jail.

[3] Pictures from Pilgrim’s Progress (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications), 11.

[4] Three full pages are simply illustrations. We are reading 14 pages.

[5] Maureen Bradley, The Pilgrim’s Progress Study Guide (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1994), 13.

[6] Cited in David B. Calhoun, Grace Abounding: The Life, Books & Influence of John Bunyan (Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus, 2005), 50.

[7] Note from Thomas Scott, John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress, ed. Thomas Scott (Hartford: Silas Andrus, 1830), 25.

[8] Spurgeon, MTP, 46:211-212. The same can be found in his Pictures from Pilgrim’s Progress (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications), 23-25; Barry E. Horner, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress: Themes and Issues (Auburn, MA: Evangelical Press, 2003), 131-132.

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2 Responses to John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, A Study Guide, Lesson 1

  1. steve davis says:

    Hi, I’m looking for the “Pilgrim’s Progress” study guide(s) in book(s) form. What is confusing is, I don’t know if the “guide(s)” “book(s)” are in volumes, and if so how many volumes are their? Can you please help me? All I know is Maureen L. Bradley has been recomended to me as the author. I don’t have a good computer so book form is best for me. The ISBN numbers (HARD BACK) I prefer. Paper backs will be fine. Thank you once again, please contact me a.s.a.p. steve davis

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  2. markherzer says:

    Hi Steve,

    Maureen Bradley published The Pilgrim’s Progress Study Guide [P&R] (ISBN: 9780875521084) – see fn. #5 in my notes above. It is in paper back. That is the only one I know of that has been published and it is keyed to several different editions. I will upload a pdf version of my study guide keyed to The Pilgrim’s Progress, ed. W. R. Owens (Oxford: OUP, 2003). I am slowly uploading the guide piece by piece after re-reading and editing it. Hope that helps!

    Mark Herzer

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