Charles Spurgeon loved John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. He first read the book as a young boy, and he began his commentary on the classic with these words: “Next to the Bible, the book 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.” As Spurgeon said elsewhere, he loved Bunyan because Bunyan bled Bible.
But he did have one qualm with the great book:
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; 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.” . . .
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.”
Sermon: “The Dumb Become Singers”
HT: Tony Reinke