In the reign of James II of England, popular Protestant preacher John Bunyan (1628-1688), was arrested for "holding unlawful assemblies and not conforming to the national worship of the church of England." Because he refused to conform, he was cast into Bedford Jail in 1660 where he remained twelve years.
Content to suffer for his belief, he spent his time in the study of the Word of God, which began to shine with greater glory than ever. Parting from his wife and children was for him "like pulling the flesh from the bones," and the knowledge that they were suffering hardships "nearly broke his heart." Still he determined to "venture them all with God."
While he lingered in what he called "this lions' den," he longed after his congregation who were his children in the Lord. In hope of strengthening their faith, he took his pen, and while writing,
Fell suddenly into an allegory,
About their journey and the way to glory,
In more than twenty things which I set down.
This done, I twenty more had in my crown;
And they again began to multiply,
Like sparks that from the coals of fire do fly.
The result was The Pilgrim's Progress, now known as the world's most famous allegory. In this book the old story is recast into pictorial forms for the instruction and pleasure of both young and old.
As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I came upon a place where there was a Den. There I lay down to sleep; as I slept I dreamed a dream.
I saw a man clothed in rags, his face turned away from his home, a Book in his hand, and a great burden on his back (Isa. 64:6). I looked and saw him open the Book and read; as he read he wept and trembled. Unable to contain his grief, he broke out in a lamentable cry, "What shall I do?" (Acts 2:37).
In this plight he went home and tried to conceal his grief, not wanting his wife and children to see his distress. But he could not be silent. Finally he poured out his heart to them: "O my dear wife and beloved children. I am in great trouble because of a heavy load pressing down on me. I am told that this city in which we live will be burned by fire from Heaven. If we are caught in that disaster we shall all perish, unless we first find some way of escape."
His wife and children were amazed and frightened, not that they believed him, but because they thought he was losing his mind. Since it was toward evening, they urged him to go to bed, hoping that a good night's sleep might settle his mind.
The night was as troublesome as the day. He was so restless he couldn't sleep, but spent the whole night in sighs and tears.
In the morning when his wife and children came in to ask how he felt, he answered, "Worse and worse." Then he repeated his fears of the previous day, but they refused to listen.
They ridiculed him and rebuked him. Sometimes they ignored him completely.
Having endured this cruel treatment for some time, he went back to his room. Lamenting his own misery and grieving at his family's behavior, he prayed God to have compassion on them.
For several days he walked in the fields, sometimes reading his Book, sometimes praying, but always greatly distressed. As he read he cried aloud, "What must I do to be saved?" He looked this way and that as if he wanted to run; yet he stood still, because he could not decide which way to go.
I saw a man named Evangelist come to him and ask, "Why do you cry?"
He answered, "Sir, I read in this book that I must die, and after death come to judgment. I do not want to die, and I dare not face the judgment."
"Since life is so full of trouble, why are you not willing to die?" asked Evangelist.
"Because I fear that this burden on my back will sink me lower than the grave and I shall fall into Hell."
"If you are in such trouble, why do you stay here?" asked Evangelist.
"Because I know not where to go."
Then Evangelist gave him a parchment scroll on which were the words, "Flee from the wrath to come" (Matt. 8:7). When he saw the words he turned to Evangelist and asked, "Whither shall I flee?"
Evangelist stretched out his hand and pointed beyond the plain, saying, "Do you see that narrow gate?"
"No," he replied.
"Do you see that shining light?"
"I do seem to see a light," he answered.
Then said Evangelist, "Fix your eyes on the light, go straight toward it, and you will find the gate. When you knock on the gate, you will be told what to do next."
* The compiler uses Narrow Gate because the word wicket means small gate, and is not generally used today.
In my dream I saw that the man, obedient to Evangelist's words, began to run. Before he had gone very far, his wife and children began calling after him to return. But the man put his fingers in his ears and ran on, crying, "Life! Life! Eternal life!" He looked not behind, but fled out of the city toward the middle of the plain.
The neighbors also came out to see him run; and as he ran, some laughed at him, others tried to frighten him, and still others called him to come back. Among them were two that resolved to bring him back by force. The name of the one was Obstinate; the other, Pliable.
Christian, for that was the man's name, asked them, "Good neighbors, why have you followed me?"
"We came to urge you to return with us."
"That can never be," he replied. "You live in the City of Destruction, and I know that that city will be destroyed with fire. If you remain there you will be destroyed with it. My good neighbors, come along with me."
"And leave our friends and comforts behind?" said Obstinate.
"Yes," Christian replied, "that is just what I ask you to do. The friends and pleasures of which you speak cannot compare with the joys which I seek. And if you are willing to go along with me and remain steadfast, you will receive all that I do."
Obstinate asked, "What are the things you seek, since you are willing to leave all the world to find them?"
"I seek an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, that fadeth not away," said Christian (I Peter 1:4). "It is safely laid up in Heaven, and any man who diligently seeks it will receive it. Read this book and you will understand."
"Tush!" said Obstinate. "Away with your Book! Will you go back with us or not?"
"No," answered Christian. "I have already laid my hand to the plough, and I will not turn back."
"Come, neighbor Pliable," Obstinate urged, "let us go home without him. This crazy person is full of empty words. He thinks he is clever, and no one is his equal."
But Pliable answered, "Don't make fun of him. Christian is a good man. If what he says is true, I think I shall go with him."
"What! More fools still?" exclaimed Obstinate in disgust. "You had better come along with me. Who knows where this crazy fellow will take you? Come back! Don't be a fool!"
Christian pleaded with Obstinate, "Don't tell him to go back! Both of you come along with me. The happiness and glory I spoke of are real. If you don't believe me, just read what is written in this Book. Every word is true. The writer of the Book shed His blood for a token."
Then Pliable said to Obstinate, "Friend, I think I will go along with this good man and endure hardship with him." Turning to Christian, he said, "Friend, do you know the way to the place you seek?"
"Evangelist showed me that beyond this plain there is a narrow gate," Christian replied. "When we get there someone will tell us what road to take next."
"Good!" said Pliable. "Let us both be on our way."
"I will not be companion to such crazy, ignorant people," said Obstinate. "I'm going home."
In my dream I saw Christian and Pliable slowly proceed over the plain, walking and talking together.
Christian: Neighbor Pliable, I am so glad you listened to me and came along. If Obstinate had felt the powers and terrors of the unseen as I have, he would not so lightly have turned back.
Pliable: Now that you and I are alone, neighbor Christian, tell me more about the place where we are going. What kind of pleasures are there and how are they to be enjoyed?
Christian: This matter I can feel better with my heart than explain with my lips. But since you wish to understand, I will read you he words of the Book.
Pliable: Do you think the words of the Book are true?
Christian: Certainly, for it was written by Him who cannot lie.
Pliable: Tell me, what does it say?
Christian: There is an eternal kingdom where death cannot enter and where we shall live forever.
Pliable: And what else?
Christian: Crowns of glory will be given us, and garments that will make us shine like the sun.
Pliable: That is wonderful! And what else?
Christian: In that place there is no sorrow nor crying. The Lord of that land will wipe away all tears from our eyes (Rev. 21:4).
Pliable: Who will be our companions?
Christian: Heavenly creatures whose brightness will dazzle our eyes. Also thousands and ten thousands who have gone before us. Everyone there is pure in heart, loving and holy.
Christian: Many of the saints in that kingdom have suffered at the hands of the world because of their love and obedience to the Lord. Some had been cut to pieces, some had been burned in the fire, some had been drowned, and others eaten by beasts. But now they are all clothed with immortality as with a garment.
Pliable: What you say thrills me, but how are these things to be enjoyed? How are we to share them?
Christian: The Lord has written in the Book that if we are willing to ask Him He will freely give them to us.
Pliable: I am glad to hear all this. Come on, let us make haste to get there.
Christian: I cannot go so fast because of the burden on my back. Then in my dream I saw that they drew near to the Slough of Despond, a very miry bog in the middle of the plain.
Busily talking and heedless of the way, they both fell suddenly into the bog. In this mire they wallowed around till their clothes were covered with mud. Because of the burden on his back, Christian began to sink.
"How did we get into this mess?" asked Pliable.
Christian replied, "Truly, I do not know."
Beginning to be offended, Pliable said angrily, "Is this the happiness of which you spoke?"
Pliable: If we have had such a bad beginning, who knows what dangers we shall run into before the journey is over? If I get out of this with my life, you may possess that brave land alone for all I care.
At this he turned back. Struggling desperately, he climbed out of the mire on the side where they had fallen in and returned to his home. Christian saw him no more.
Left to struggle in the Slough of Despond alone, poor Christian dragged himself through to the side which was nearest the narrow gate. But he could not climb out because of the burden on his back, and he began to sink again. Then I saw in my dream that a man named Help came along.
"What are you doing here?" Help asked Christian.
He replied, "A man named Evangelist directed me to yonder narrow gate that I might escape the wrath to come. As I was on my way I fell into the mud."
"But why didn't you look?" Help asked. "There are stone steps set in the mire by which you could have crossed over safely"
"I was in a hurry to get to the narrow gate, so I took the nearest way," Christian explained. "That is why I fell in."
Then said Help, "Give me your hand. Taking Christian by the hand, he pulled him out and set him on solid ground.
Standing beside Help, Christian asked, "Since the road from the City of Destruction to the narrow gate leads this way, why is this bog not filled in, so that travelers might go over in safety?"
"This miry pit cannot be easily mended," Help replied. "As a man becomes aware of his sin, all the old dregs and filth from his heart flow down here. That is why it is called the Slough of Despond. When a sinner realizes he is lost, fears and doubts arise in his soul, all of which settle here and make it an evil ground. Still it is not the King's wish that this place remain bad. For more than 1900 years workmen have been trying to mend it."
Help also said to Christian, "By order of the King, good and solid steps have been placed evenly through the slough, but when it rains and the mire casts up its filth, these steps are barely visible. Even if they can be seen, men often become dizzy, lose their footing and slip into the mire. However, at the narrow gate the ground becomes solid again."
Then in my dream I saw that Pliable had already reached home, and his friends came to see him. Some said he showed wisdom in returning. Some called him a fool for venturing to go with Christian. Still others mocked his cowardice, saying, "Once you began the journey, why did you give up because of a few difficulties?" At first Pliable sat sneakingly among them, afraid to lift his head. But after a while he got back his confidence and started to make fun of poor Christian.
Then Christian went on his way, walking by himself, until he saw someone in the distance coming toward him through the fields. This man was a very learned gentleman named Worldly Wiseman who lived in the town of Carnal Policy (Worldly Wisdom), a very great town not far from Christian's own home.
Seeing Christian groaning and sighing under his heavy burden, Worldly Wiseman asked, "Where are you going in such a burdensome manner, my good fellow?"
Christian: A burdensome manner indeed! I don't think there is anyone in the whole world more burdensome than I. You ask where I am going? Over there to yonder narrow gate. I have heard that someone lives there who will tell me how to get rid of my burden.
Worldly Wiseman: Have you a wife and children?
Christian: Yes. But because of this heavy burden pressing me down, I cannot take pleasure in them as formerly, and I feel as if I had none.
Worldly Wiseman: I have some good advice for you. Do you want to listen?
Christian: I never refuse to listen to good advice.
Worldly Wiseman: Then I advise you to get rid of that burden quickly. Until you do so you will never be at ease in your mind or able to enjoy the blessings God has given you.
Christian: That is just what I am looking for — a way to get rid of this burden! But I cannot do it myself, nor is anyone in my town able to help me. I am going this way to find out where I can get rid of it.
Worldly Wiseman: Who told you you could get rid of it by going this road?
Christian: A man named Evangelist.
Worldly Wiseman: Pooh! That was very wicked advice to give you. There is no more dangerous road in all the world! You may not believe me now, but you will find out later.
Worldly Wiseman: I see you have already met with trouble. Your clothes are covered with the mud of the Slough of Despond and yet you are still going this way. That was only the beginning of trouble for you. Hear me, I am older than you. On this road you will meet with weariness, pain, hunger, cold, sword, wild beasts, darkness and death. Why listen to a stranger and throw away your life?
Worldly Wiseman: How did you come by this heavy burden at first?
Christian: By reading this Book in my hand.
Worldly Wiseman: I thought as much. Weak men like yourself who meddle with things too high for them become confused. They are filled with so many doubts and fears that they run around on desperate adventures without even knowing what they are after.
Christian: But I do know what I want. I want to get rid of this burden.
Worldly Wiseman: But this road you are taking is very dangerous. If you want to be at ease, why did you come here? If you will hear me patiently. I will not only tell you how to obtain what you seek and avoid this dangerous road, but how to get rid of your burden as well. My words will not only save you from distress, but will bring you safety, happiness and contentment.
Christian: Sir, I pray, reveal this secret to me.
Worldly Wiseman: Well now, that's better. In yonder village of Morality there is a very learned man named Legality. He is very clever, very well thought of, and has skill to help men get rid of such burdens as yours. He has done a great deal of good in this way. Besides, he can help those whose minds are upset because of their troubles. If he is not at home, he has a fine young son named Civility who is just as clever as the old gentleman himself. There you will be quite happy and free of your burden. If you do not want to return to your old home — (as indeed I would not advise) you can send for your wife and children to live in the village of Morality. There are many empty houses, the rent is reasonable, and the food is good and cheap. The neighbors are all honest, respectable and dependable, so your life will be safe and happy.