The English Civil War took place 1642 to 1651 between Royalist Anglican supporters of King Charles I and the Puritan Parliamentarian supporters led by Lord Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell. The Puritans won, and Oliver Cromwell had Charles I beheaded.
Anglican ministers were demoted, including Rev. Lawrence Washington, the great-great-grandfather of George Washington. This led Rev. Lawrence Washington’s son, John Washington, to become a merchant and sail to Virginia in 1657.
In 1658, Cromwell died, and a Royalist movement restored King Charles II to his father’s throne. Soon an intense period of retribution against the Puritans began.
John Bunyan was born in 1628. In 1644, at the age of 16, Bunyan joined the Puritan Parliamentary Army and fought under Cromwell during the English Civil War. After three years, having escaped death several times, Bunyan returned to his cottage in Elstow, where he learned from his father the trade of a tinker and got married. In 1657, at age 29, John Bunyan became a Baptist minister.
After Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, Puritans and other dissenters were arrested for having illegal religious meetings. John Bunyan was arrested for preaching without a license from the government.
Bunyan wrote in a “Relation of My Imprisonment”:
“Upon the 12th of … November 1660 … the justice … issued out his warrant to take me … as if we that were to meet together … to do some fearful business, to the destruction of the country; when alas! the constable, when he came in, found us only with our Bibles in our hands, ready to speak and hear the word of God. … So I was taken and forced to depart … But before I went away, I spake some few words of counsel and encouragement to the people, declaring to them … that they would not be discouraged, for it was a mercy to suffer upon so good account. … We suffer as Christians … better be the persecuted, than the persecutors.”
John Bunyan was imprisoned for 12 years, during which time he tried to support his wife and family by making shoelaces. While in prison, John Bunyan wrote “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” published Feb. 18, 1678. It was an allegory of a pilgrim, named Christian, who fled from the City of Destruction and was directed by Evangelist to follow the narrow path, overcoming ‘vanity fair’ temptations, depressions, deceptions, and persecutions till he reached the Celestial City of Zion.
“Pilgrim’s Progress” was translated into over 100 languages and, after the Bible, was the world’s best-seller for hundreds of years. It was found in nearly every colonial New England home, along with the Bible and Fox’s Book of Martyrs.
Benjamin Franklin wrote in his “Autobiography”: “My old favorite author, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress … has been translated into most of the languages of Europe, and suppose it has been more generally read than any other book, except perhaps the Bible.”
John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” inspired many subsequent novels, such as:
- Mark Twain’s “Innocents Abroad or the New Pilgrim’s Progress” (1869)
- C.S. Lewis’ “Pilgrim’s Regress” (1933)
- L. Frank Baum’s “Wizard of Oz” (1900)
Pilgrim’s Progress began:
As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a den, and I laid me down in that place to sleep: and, as I slept, I dreamed a dream. I dreamed, and behold, I saw a man clothed with rags, standing in a certain place, with his face from his own house, a book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back.
I looked, and saw him open the book, and read therein; and, as he read, he wept, and trembled; and, not being able longer to contain, he brake out with a lamentable cry, saying, What shall I do?
Later in the book, John Bunyan wrote:
Christian ran thus till he came at a place somewhat ascending, and upon that place stood a cross. … So I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back.
Then said Christian, You make me afraid, but whither shall I fly to be safe? … To go back is nothing but death; to go forward is fear of death, and life-everlasting beyond it. I will yet go forward. …
Frighted with the sight of the lions … Christian said to himself again, These beasts range in the night for their prey; and if they should meet with me in the dark … how should I escape being by them torn in pieces? …
He lift up his eyes, and behold there was a very stately palace before him … He entered into a very narrow passage … he espied two lions in the way. …
The porter at the lodge … perceiving that Christian made a halt as if he would go back, cried unto him, saying, ‘Is thy strength so small? Fear not the lions, for they are chained, and are placed there for trial of faith where it is, and for discovery of those that had none. Keep in the midst of the path, and no hurt shall come unto thee.’ …
He went on, trembling for fear of the lions, but taking good heed to the directions of the porter; he heard them roar, but they did him no harm. …
John Bunyan continued:
But now, in this Valley of Humiliation, poor Christian was hard put to it … a foul fiend coming over the field to meet him; his name is Apollyon. Then did Christian begin to be afraid, and to cast in his mind whether to go back or to stand his ground. But he considered again that he had no armor for his back; and therefore thought that to turn the back to him might give him the greater advantage with ease to pierce him with his darts. Therefore he resolved to venture and stand his ground. …
The monster was hideous to behold; he was clothed with scales … wings like a dragon, feet like a bear, and out of his belly came fire and smoke. … Apollyon straddled quite over the whole breadth of the way, and said … prepare thyself to die; for I swear by my infernal den, that thou shalt go no further; here will I spill thy soul.
And with that he threw a flaming dart at his breast; but Christian had a shield in his hand, with which he caught it. … Apollyon as fast made at him, throwing darts as thick as hail; by the which, notwithstanding all that Christian could do to avoid it, Apollyon wounded him in his head, his hand, and foot. …
This sore combat lasted for above half a day, even till Christian was almost quite spent; for you must know that Christian, by reason of his wounds, must needs grow weaker and weaker. … Christian’s sword flew out of his hand. Then said Apollyon, ‘I am sure of thee now.’ And with that he had almost pressed him to death, so that Christian began to despair of life; but as God would have it, while Apollyon was fetching of his last blow, thereby to make a full end of this good man, Christian nimbly stretched out his hand for his sword, and caught it, saying, ‘Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy; when I fall I shall arise’; and with that gave him a deadly thrust, which made him give back. …
And with that Apollyon spread forth his dragon’s wings, and sped him away, that Christian for a season saw him no more …
A more unequal match
can hardly be,–
Christian must fight an angel;
but you see,
The valiant man
by handling Sword and Shield,
Doth make him, though a Dragon,
quit the field.
“From a child I was fond of reading, and all the little money that came into my hands was ever laid out in books. Pleased with the Pilgrim’s Progress, my first collection was of John Bunyan’s works in separate little volumes.”
President Grover Cleveland had memorized “Pilgrim’s Progress” as a youth, and commented:
“I have always felt that my training as a minister’s son has been more valuable to me as a strengthening influence than any other incident in life.”
President Ronald Reagan greeted Australia’s Prime Minister, June 30, 1981, referring to John Bunyan:
“Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, ‘We are all travelers in what John Bunyan calls the wilderness of this world. And the best that we find in our travels is an honest friend – they keep us worthy of ourselves.’”
President Theodore Roosevelt stated while laying the cornerstone of the office building of the House of Representatives, April 14, 1906:
“In Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ you may recall the description of the man with the muck-rake, the man who could look no way but downward, with the muck-rake in his hand, who was offered a celestial crown for his muck-rake, but who would neither look up nor regard the crown he was offered, but continued to rake to himself the filth of the floor.”
President Franklin Roosevelt referred to John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” on Jan. 19, 1936:
“When Theodore Roosevelt died, the Secretary of his class at Harvard, in sending classmates a notice of his passing, added this quotation from ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’: ‘My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get it. My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought His battles who now will be my rewarder.’”
Though it’s been in print for over 300 years, the elements of Bunyan’s classic masterpiece—a pilgrim, a treacherous road, dishonest and truthful guides—haven’t lost their relevance. Journey along with Christian as he faces many trials on his way to the Celestial City—and you’ll be amazed how much his encounters parallel your own! 336 pages, softcover from Signet Classics.
Often rated as important as the Bible as a Christian document, this famous story of man’s progress through life in search of salvation remains one of the most entertaining allegories of faith ever written. Set against realistic backdrops of town and country, the powerful drama of the pilgrim’s trials and temptations follows him in his harrowing journey to the Celestial City.
Along a road filled with monsters and spiritual terrors, Christian confronts such emblematic characters as Worldly Wiseman, Giant Despair, Talkative, Ignorance, and the demons of the Valley of the Shadow of Death. But he is also joined by Hopeful and Faithful.
An enormously influential 17th-century classic, universally known for its simplicity, vigor, and beauty of language, The Pilgrim’s Progress remains one of the most widely read books in the English language.