Spurgeon’s favorite book was The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan.
It’s the story of a man named Christian who woke up one morning to find a burden on his back.
He reads in a book his city would be destroyed, so he sets out on a pilgrimage. The road is seldom smooth. He falls into a mud-pit of despond, climbs a hill called Difficulty, fights a dragon, meets friends like Faithful and Hopeful, crosses a river called Jordan, and eventually arrives at his destination – the Celestial City.
Spurgeon first encountered this allegory of the Christian life as a child in his grandfather’s attic in Stambourne. Even before he could read, the pictures of Christian’s pilgrimage impressed the narrative into his young mind.
“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” (Pictures from Pilgrim’s Progress, 11).
“Read anything [by John Bunyan], and you will see that it is almost like reading the Bible itself. . . . Why, the man is a living Bible! Prick him anywhere; and you will find that his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him” (Autobiography 4:268).
Spurgeon quoted Bunyan’s allegory often in his sermons. It was the first gift he presented to Susannah, his bride-to-be. Spurgeon frequently visited Bunyan’s tomb in Bunhill Fields and even preached the installation service for its refurbishment on May 21, 1860.
Beyond the Bible, The Pilgrim’s Progress is the most published book in English. Any Victorian family worth their Christian salt owned a copy (and usually displayed it). Ever since Bunyan wrote it in the late seventeenth century, evangelicals have seen themselves in this story. Each of us knows the feeling of falling into despair, facing imposing obstacles, choosing paths less popular, walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, losing our way. Each of us knows the weight and the grate of burdens.
The turning point in the story is when Christian finds the cross. Suddenly, his burden falls from his shoulders and rolls into a tomb. The pilgrim leaps for joy. With new legs, he skips and sprints for the first time.
Yet problems still potholed Christian’s path. Long after his salvation at the cross, Christian found himself shackled in the dungeon of Doubting Castle.
Here are seven quotes taken from a preacher and pilgrim who experienced both the heights of holiness and the depths of depravity.
1. “Each burden we have to carry, has once been laid on the shoulders of Immanuel.”
“He hath been before thee; he hath smoothed the way; he hath entered the grave, that he might make the tomb the royal bedchamber of the ransomed race, the closet where they lay aside the garments of labor, to put on the vestments of eternal rest. In all places withersoever we go, the angel of the covenant has been our forerunner; each burden we have to carry, has once been laid on the shoulders of Immanuel” (MTP 1:82).
2. “The daily troubles we have are meant to drive us to God.”
“The daily troubles we have are meant to drive us to God, to drive us to the promise, and also to show us where our weak points are, in order that we may contend with all our might against them. I believe, my dear friends, that the most hard-hearted, cross-grained, and most unlovely Christians in all the world are those who never have had much trouble, and those who are the most sympathizing, loving, and Christ-like, are generally those that have the most affliction” (MTP 12:70).
3. “Jesus is in the tempest.”
“The night of affliction is as much under the arrangement and control of the Lord of Love as the bright summer days when all is bliss. Jesus is in the tempest. His love wraps the night about itself as a mantle, but to the eye of faith the sable robe is scarce a disguise” (Evening by Evening, December 23).
4. “One of the greatest blessings that the Lord ever gave us was a cross.”
“The worst thing that can happen to any of us is to have our path made too smooth, and one of the greatest blessings that the Lord ever gave us was a cross” (MTP 12:70-71).
5. “[God] hates the rod as much as thou dost.”
“No father chastens always; he hates the rod as much as thou dost; he only cares to use it for that reason which should make thee willing to receive it, namely that it works thy lasting good” (MTP 11:570).
6. “You will never know the fullness of Christ until you know the emptiness of everything else.”
“Now, remember, you will never know the fullness of Christ until you know the emptiness of everything else but Christ. All that was ever woven by man, God shall unravel; all the sticks and stones that human energy can build, in the matter of eternal salvation, must be plucked down by Jehovah’s hand, for it is Christ alone who must build that house; unless he shall do so, they will labour in vain that build it” (MTP 54:2-3).
7. “God’s smile and a dungeon are enough for a true heart.”
“God’s smile and a dungeon are enough for a true heart. His frown and a palace would be hell to a gracious spirit. Let the worst come to the worst, let all the talents go, we have not lost our treasure, for that is above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God” (Morning and Evening, November 30, A.M.)