FROM HOPELESSNESS WHEN INSTITUTIONS CRUMBLE TO THE CELESTRIAL CITY: The principles of Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) have great universal application to life today. (13 AUG ’16) John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is written in Christian terms, yet it has a great correspondence to successful treatments of modern adjustment therapy. Since it was published it has helped many people; for instance, the Chinese translation (c. 1850) has helped many new Chinese Christians in their lives. Only one English author, Shakespeare, can rival the author of Pilgrim’s Progress for long term popularity. Pilgrim’s Progress has been translated into over 200 languages. Today, there are a variety of Youtube versions…for those readers who have children you might enjoy a 9 part cartoon version done by Yorkshire Television, which begins with part 1 Dangerous Journey. Those who are experienced readers may be edified by the book which is easy to read, but deep in its application to life. The goal of this post is to make readers aware of a classic that might encourage them in the world we face. “Pilgrim’s Progress” is the inner experience of a man named Christian who goes from a city called Destruction to the city of redemption, the Celestial City (New Jerusalem).
SIN CHOKES A PERSON’S LIFE. Secular therapists prefer to call sins “behavior problems”… When you learn what causes things in one’s personal life, confusion progresses to confidence. In today’s language, this process is called self-actualization, self-expression, self-healing, & self-realization. To quote a psychology book, “What makes self-acceptance possible is that the person with a positive self-concept has an extremely thorough knowledge of himself.” (A) In adjustment therapy, psychologists recognize that there are many aspects to the self. In Pilgrim’s Progress these are personified as Pliable, Obstinate, Patience, Sloth, Much-Afraid, and others. The problems a person faces are turned into places of difficulty such as the Hill of Difficulty, Doubting Castle, and the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Christian begins with guilt & concern that he must leave a doomed world and travel to the Celestial City (personal salvation, the presence of God). When he tells his family that this World is facing destruction, they think he’s crazy. Can you relate to that??
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN INSTITUTIONS CRUMBLE? In psychology, when a person leaves the security of groups & faces life as an individual, they say that a person’s unconscious gains importance. Finding oneself in a situation ungoverned by norms, the individual creates his own.(A again, p. 38) As today’s institutions crumble, the message/story line of Pilgrim’s Progress gains in importance. The book speaks to the mental processes people go through to find personal salvation. Jung, one of the fathers of psychology, described the mental process during chaotic societal upheavals where “archetypes” become exemplified in the mind of individuals, & lead them to become prophets & reformers. While this post’s readership is mostly Christian, the point is that Bunyan’s story of a man named Christian parallels such things as Jung’s Auseinandersetzung. So not only does the book’s story line provide us a Christian moral allegory, it also describes many of the things (albeit using Christian terms) that secular adjustment therapists do for people. So Christians have no need to feel apologetic for this classic. How many people today find themselves in “a wilderness of this world” like Christian. Today’s high suicide rate shows that many people are not finding their path to personal salvation.
BUNYAN’S BOOK IS A BOOK OF GROWTH & HOPE. It is written in plain language devoid of intellectualism. Although Christian often had companions, his big battles are fought alone, like so many of us. Christian only sees the dangers he has gone through in the Valley of the Shadow of Death after the sun rises. We often realize the danger of our ordeals, after we have passed through the ordeal. A number of the book’s characters work their fears out to happy conclusions. Mr. Dispondencie finds his lifetime fears are ghosts of no consequence, and his daughter Much-afraid goes through the final river singing. One can’t repress one’s negative ego parts, and Christian’s journey shows how these parts need to be dealt with. One needs to come face to face with one’s own weaknesses.
FACING ONE’S CHARACTER FLAWS & CLEANSING THE SOUL. As a final review of the book, it will be worth quoting the part where Christian learns to clean his soul.(B) “Then he took him by the hand and led him into a very large parlour that was full of dust, because it was never swept; …which…the Interpreter called for a man to sweep. Now when he began to sweep the dust began so abundantly to fly about, that Christian had almost therewith been choked….Then said Christian, What means this, the Interpreter answered, this parlour is the heart of man that was never sanctified by the sweet grace of the gospel; the dust is his original sin and inward corruption, that have defiled the whole man. He that begins to sweep at first, is the Law but she that brought the water, and did sprinkle it is the Gospel. Now whereas thou sawest, that so soon as the first began to sweep, the dust did so fly about that the room by him could not be cleansed, but thou wast almost chocked therewith; this is to show thee, that the Law, instead of cleansing the heart (by its working) from sin, doth revive, put strength into, and increase it in the soul,…for it doth not give power to subdue.
“Again, as thou sawest the damsel sprinkle the room with water upon which it was cleansed with pleasure, this is to show thee, that when the gospel comes in the sweet and precious influences thereof to the heart, then, I say, even as thou sawest the damsel lay the dust by sprinkling the floor with water, so in sin vanquished and subdued, and the soul make clean through faith of it, and consequently fit for the King of Glory to inhabit.”(B) To recap the gospel of grace cleans our hearts for the King to live in.
In Pilgrim’s Progress we have a book that vividly pictures the inner struggles that each of us who want to grow as a person faces. His greatest hindrance throughout the journey is Sloth (lack of motivation). The goal of reaching the Celestial City (personal salvation) and escaping the doomed world keeps him on track. For all of us who want personal salvation, the battle we must face is described in detail in Pilgrim’s Progress. As one scientist admitted, science has nothing to offer us…only “insecurity”! (C) and the treatment plans of adjustment psychology are presented in Christian terms centuries before psychology attempted to discover them. May God bless you my friend.
(A) Calhoun. Psychology of Adjustment and Human Relationships, p. 67 (B) Pilgrim’s Progress, p. 29 (C) Asinov, Isaac. “The Perennial Fringe,” The Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 10.