The recent discussion about the rhetorical nature of language about heaven and hell leads me to reflect some on a classic, John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progess. Our BTS Dept at NPU is writing a monthly column in The Covenant Companion and mine (on Bunyan) is schedule to appear in August or September. (I just know the deadline.)
Let me put Bunyan’s theory of the Christian life as this: it is rigorous life of life-as-life-before-God. That is, every moment of every day is lived in light of final accountability — whether rhetorical or not!
A rigorous life undertaken in light of final accountability awakens piety, enlivens holiness, and wards off temptations. Pilgrim’s Progress is full of suggestions about each of these themes.
What it is also full of is “characters” and none of them difficult to recognize. Bunyan, who in many ways sets the stage for the writing of novels, has no capacity for subtlety. So, he gives his allegorical characters the names of the virtues and vices he wishes to praise or denounce: Obstinate, Pliable, Despond, Help, Mr. Worldly Wiseman, Legality, Civility, Goodwill, Passion, Patience, and the list goes on and on. He names places too: Slough of Despond, Carnal Policy, Vanity Fair, Morality, the City of Destruction and the Celestial City. The simplicity of it all is one of its appeals.
When life is seen as a journey from earth to heaven, when the purpose of life is to latch onto God’s grace and to live in his mercy and forgiveness, and when the world is a place where one meet temptations around every corner, then life has been simplified – and perhaps this is one of Bunyan’s enduring contributions to the Church. Life now as life-before-God is a noble simplicity.
One of the marks of the spiritual classics is that they lead us to focus, as Jesus did with Mary, on the “one needful thing.”