NOTE TO THE READERS: This is the first in a series of articles that will focus on the Christian Classic – The Pilgrims Progress by John Bunyan. The content of these essays will explore the nature of this allegorical literature in a new understanding and context of Recovery and Restoration. Utilizing the scriptures for reference, this interpretation and understanding is based on the perspective of the writer of this content. You are invited to explore this form of literary expression and how it may relate to your recovery journey. After all, we are all pilgrims on a spiritual journey and progress toward an eternal reward.
O that ye would awake; awake from a deep sleep, yea, even from the sleep of hell, and shake off the awful chains by which ye are bound,
which are the chains that bind the children of men, that they are carried away captive down to the eternal gulf of misery and woe
~ 2 Nephi 1:13 ~
By way of introduction – the Pilgrims Progress – an Allegory of Spiritual Growth and Progression
The full title John Bunyan gave his work is The Pilgrims Progress: From This World to That Which Is to Come, Delivered Under the Similitude of a Dream. Today, many refer to it as The Pilgrims Progress or Pilgrims Progress. Next to the King James Bible, this work of fiction remained as one of the most beloved works that was kept in Evangelical and Protestant Christian homes. The main story focuses on Christian and his journey to the Celestial City, there is a secondary story of his wife and children and their journey. Both stories were published separately until 1728. The first part of this classic literature was written while Bunyan was in prison. Today, this allegorical classic may resonate with many people in recovery from substance use and past trauma.
It is a literary masterpiece of human expression, experience, and journey. It brings the reader into the world and life of Christian as he finds his way from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. The story is masterful in sharing with each of us our own plight and pilgrimage in this life. The story edifies those in recovery as it is their story and personal journey from obscurity toward a place of peace and tranquility. It resonates with how we interact with those individuals that come into our lives. The experiences that shape us as we make our way out of our own city of destruction. The guides and wisdom gained in our journey and quest toward healing. The Pilgrims Progress is our own personal story of moving out of tragedy and into spiritual growth and progression toward spiritual perfection.
Awake From a Deep Sleep and Shake off the Chains
The scripture reference here is based on Isaiah 63:6 and shares this insight regarding the present human condition:
But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away
There is an awakening that occurs in the heart and minds of every person who is suffering and perishing. Those who awaken to their awful condition and state of being see the destruction for what it really is. We see ourselves as unclean. Filthy. And, a great burden is on our back that weighs us down. As much as we do not want to face this truth – we must face it or continue to suffer and perish. This is where we find Christian. Faced with the reality of a coming destruction. The reality of the burden he bears. According to Psalm 38:4, King David laments:
For mine iniquities are gone over mine head: as an heavy burden they are too heavy for me.
Weighted down by our own transgressions, the losses we have experienced, the suffering we may have endured by those who engaged in abusive behavior. All of it seems quite unbearable. Yet, as we come to know the truth of God’s love and grace through Jesus Christ, we come to realize that when we surrender – we completely lay down those burdens at His feet, never to pick them up again.
…whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my discipleLuke 14:33, KJV
This comes when we have a real authentic spiritual awakening and realize the purpose of Christ’s infinite atonement:
…Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved…Acts 16:31, KJV
This is where Christian’s story begins. And, it is the beginning of our story and spiritual journey of redemption and restoration. A personal pilgrimage and journey that we make in order to reach the Celestial City.
As with any spiritual journey and pilgrimage, it begins when we are brought low and humbled by the realization of our present condition. We lament and mourn our own depravity and weaknesses.
State of Lamentations and Mourning
It is natural for us to enter into a state of lamentations and mourning. Doing so allows us to come to terms with where we find ourselves. Destitute, broken, and perishing in our own suffering and misery. This is no ordinary expression of sadness. To lament and mourn our present state of being – we enter into a sacred and holy grieving process. It is a spiritual turning point that we come to face the Divine and Sovereignty of God. It is through our personal lamentations and mourning that we enter into a sacred and covenanted relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It is our cry of mercy and grace. A cry for forgiveness of the wrongs we’ve committed. The transgressions that weigh us down. Our lamentations and mourning is the loss of who we thought we were. It is the place of emptying ourselves out before God. This moment of lamentation and mourning occurs when we enter into our own personal garden of Gethsemane. It is our progression from despair to hope.
Hidden Secrets Revealed
The more we attempt to keep hidden our distress and troubles, the more tormented and increased anguish and misery we may experience. Eventually, we are compelled to openly share those hidden secrets of our distress and discomfort. We confess our lamenting and mourning. Our loss, and the sufferings we are experiencing. Like Christian, he openly disclosed his pain to his family. Whether our family, closest friends, co-workers, and others within our sphere of influence is ready to receive such news and revelations.
However, despite his declarations of his suffering, anguish, misery, and pain. His family felt he was under some sense of delusion. They mistreated his lamentations. Ignored his cries, and held onto their disbelief of his suffering. Many times have we made attempts to share our pain with family, those close to us – only to be met with resistance, lack of support, and dismissive of our present condition. We recognize the destruction and suffering for what it truly is.
Is There No Escape?
What shall I do? This is the question Christian asked himself. What shall I do to be saved? How oft have we asked ourselves this question? How oft have we looked around us and hang our heads in shame and guilt. Our present state is one of distress. This is where Christian finds himself questioning whether or not there is some means of escape.
If we are honest with ourselves, the feeling of running seems to motivate us – yet we stand still. Almost frozen in fear. Not sure which way to go. This may be due to our lack of understanding of which direction we may need to go. When someone comes to question our present condition, our response appears to be one of condemnation and judgment.
In our state of vulnerability, weakness, and raw emotions we do not want to die – even though we feel like we are dying. Our willingness to live, to survive, and to live becomes a powerful motivating reason to run. Yet, where do we go?
While we are not yet ready to die to self, we still fear the condemnation and judgment that may come. This is the source of our distress. Our burden weighs us down. The burden of our transgressions sets in motion the need for judgment and execution. Neither of which are we willing to face – no matter how deep we may feel we are.
And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgmentHebrews 9:27, KJV
Is there, therefore, no escape or hope for us?
O that one might plead for a man with God, as a man pleadeth for his neighbour! When a few years are come, then I shall go the way whence I shall not returnJob 16:21-22, KJV
The desire to have someone plead for us. Advocate on our behalf so that we may not face death and judgment.
Can thine heart endure, or can thine hands be strong, in the days that I shall deal with thee? I the Lord have spoken it, and will do it.Ezekiel 22:14, KJV
Our burden consumes us. It is our suffering that burns seemingly unending.
For Tophet is ordained of old; yea, for the king it is prepared: he hath made it deep and large: the pile thereof is fire and much wood; the breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it.Isaiah 30:33, KJV
The conviction of our awful state further weighs us down as we are unsure of which way we may go. We are not willing to undergo Judgment and the Execution thereof. Hence, the question is before us. Why do we remain still in our present condition? Yet, we are not left without direction or hope. In our condition, we are giving instruction to look up and see our redemption and to keep our eye on that light.
Called out of Obscurity and Suffering
It is in this condition that we are called to flee the wrath to come (Matthew 3:7, KJV). This wrath is judgment and execution. Someone eventually calls us out of obscurity. Gives us guidance and direction. It is up to us to follow their counsel and guidance.
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my pathPsalm 119: 105, KJV
The words of wise counsel guides us daily. As we heed them our path is with intent and purpose.
We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.1 Peter 1:19, KJV
The solid foundation on Christ is where our faith is built upon. The parallel of this shows us the only way we are to enter into is through Jesus Christ. He is the light (see, John 8:12) that gives us peace (see, John 14:27). It is too Christ we turn and run.
Our Redemption Draws Nigh
The only viable response is for us to run toward that which brings us peace of mind. Others may call after us. Not understanding our desire. Upset and despondent over our move toward something worthwhile. Something that brings us new meaning and purpose. A new life we desire to taste. A new life we want to fully embrace. The cost to follow Christ means we leave behind those who may not fully embrace our new way of living.
If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my discipleLuke 14:25, KJV
For, if we remain in our awful condition we may be consumed.
And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that he said, Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain lest thou be consumed.Genesis 19:17, KJV
Redemption draws nigh as we move forward out of our suffering and embrace our new life. Born anew, we begin to live a more enriching and disciplined life. We flee from the destruction and suffering of our former lives. Yet, we still carry our burdens of transgression, shame, guilt, and other aspects of our previous life.
Despite this burden – we have awakened from our deep sleep and had shaken off the chains that bind.