Welcome to the online home of Tim Challies, blogger, author, and book reviewer.

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter

Reading Classics Together

May 10, 2012

Reading Classics Together
Today we come to the final chapter of John Bunyan’s classic work The Pilgrim’s Progress. Last week Christian and Hopeful endured an encounter with Athiest and a journey across the Enchanted Ground. This week they finally arrive at their destination, but not without some drama.


The tenth and final stage of Christian’s journey combines dramatic narrative with some rather dense didactic components. We have seen throughout the book, and especially in the later stages, that when Bunyan wants to teach truth but finds no easy means of fitting it into the narrative, he simply squeezes it in by having Christian and Hopeful engage in dialog. It’s quite ordered dialog too, where the men are able to form well-ordered lists of information. For example, Christian lists three marks of true or right fear of the Lord. Then he comes up with a list of four ways that the ignorant stifle godly conviction (or fear). These are worth pausing to read once more:

1. They think that those fears are wrought by the devil, (though indeed they are wrought of God,) and thinking so, they resist them, as things that directly tend to their overthrow. 2. They also think that these fears tend to the spoiling of their faith; when, alas for them, poor men that they are, they have none at all; and therefore they harden their hearts against them. 3. They presume they ought not to fear, and therefore, in despite of them, wax presumptuously confident. 4. They see that those fears tend to take away from them their pitiful old self-holiness, and therefore they resist them with all their might.

It may not be the smoothest dialog we’ve ever encountered in a work of fiction, but it’s at least clear and orderly! Hopeful goes on to present a list of four reasons that men may backslide to which Christian responds with nine of the ways in which men do this. It’s all very neat and clean and helpful, even if it doesn’t do a whole lot to advance the narrative.

When this discussion finally comes to a close, the chapter is half gone and the men come to Beulah, a land of peace and tranquility where they are beyond the danger of the Enchanted Grounds and Giant Despair. Here he presents his vision of godly maturity, where the initial doubts and concerns have been put to rest.

But one great challenge remains. As the men come to the end of their pilgrimage, they find that they must still cross the River of Death. This is probably the most powerful and dramatic element of the final stage. There is no way to the Celestial City except through this, the last enemy. As Christian faces the inevitability of death he begins to be overwhelmed by fear. 

May 03, 2012

Reading Classics Together
Today we continue to read through John Bunyan’s classic work The Pilgrim’s Progress, and we come to the ninth stage of Christian’s journey. You may remember that in the last stage Christian and his friend Hopeful encountered the shepherds at the Delectable Mountains. And now they journey on.


A lot happened in this week’s rather long reading—far too much to summarize in any substantial way—so I will pick just a couple of the things I found most interesting and helpful.

One of the things that struck me was that the arguments and attitude of atheists has apparently remained largely unchanged since Bunyan’s day (though I suspect that in that day the outspoken atheists were a little harder to come by). Here is a small piece of the dialog between Christian and Atheist.

Christian: We are going to Mount Zion.
Then Atheist fell into a very great laughter.
Christian: What’s the meaning of your laughter?
Atheist: I laugh to see what ignorant persons you are, to take upon you so tedious a journey, and yet are like to have nothing but your travel for your pains.
Christian: Why, man, do you think we shall not be received?
Atheist: Received! There is not such a place as you dream of in all this world.

When Christian tells Atheist that they are journeying toward the Celestial City, he breaks out into laughter. He catches himself and after he is finished mocking, he insists that he has sincerely sought that city and not been able to find it. It is his supposed sincerity that stood out to me. Though he can’t refrain from his laughter, he quickly reigns in the mockery and then shows this false and condescending sympathy. “I was like you once, but I did the work, I did the research, and I can tell you that you are misguided.” Atheists have not changed a whole lot. So many continue to act as if they have had a long and sincere spiritual journey in which they truly sought God only to find that he did not exist. Of course the Bible teaches us otherwise.

Another thing that stood out to me is the value of spiritual friendship. Bunyan portrays a deep and meaningful friendship between Christian and Hopeful. It is not a friendship revolving around nachos and football games, but a friendship based on co-laboring, on true spiritual companionship through life’s joys and trials. Time and again one man catches the other and prevents him from falling away or wandering astray; they continually exhort, encourage and rebuke one another.

April 26, 2012

Reading Classics Together
Today we continue to read through John Bunyan’s classic work The Pilgrim’s Progress, and we arrive at the eighth stage of his journey. This week Christian and Hopeful journey on and come to the Delectable Mountains. This is a chapter that required me to re-read it (or really to listen to it and then to read it).


If my understanding is correct, Bunyan uses the Delectable Mountains to point to the place and the power of the local church in the life of the Christian. It is a place of rest, a place of feeding and a place to be warned of error, all under the care and oversight of loving shepherds. In this case the shepherds are called Knowledge, Experience, Watchful, and Sincere.

You can see the care Bunyan used in welcoming people into his own church. He was obviously a man who highly valued church membership and sought to extend it only to those who were truly converted.

I saw also in my dream, that when the shepherds perceived that they were wayfaring men, they also put questions to them, (to which they made answer as in other places,) as, Whence came you? and, How got you into the way? and, By what means have you so persevered therein? for but few of them that begin to come hither, do show their face on these mountains. But when the shepherds heard their answers, being pleased therewith, they looked very lovingly upon them, and said, Welcome to the Delectable Mountains.

You can also see a plurality of elders here, with different character qualities of an elder displayed in each of these men. Having concluded that Christian and Hopeful are genuine in their pilgrimage, they now act in unity: “Then said the shepherds one to another, Shall we show these pilgrims some wonders? So when they had concluded to do it, they had them first to the top of a hill called Error, which was very steep on the farthest side, and bid them look down to the bottom.” They proceed to teach them about error, to caution them about going astray, to give them a glance into hell, and to provide them with a glimpse of the Celestial City. 

April 19, 2012

Reading Classics Together
Today we continue reading John Bunyan’s classic work The Pilgrim’s Progress, and we arrive at the seventh stage of his journey. Last week Christian’s friend Faithful was martyred while passing through Vanity Fair. This week he meets up with Hopeful and the two journey on.


This portion of the book was quite a bit longer than those that came before. It roughly divides into three parts; first Christian and Hopeful encounter a man named By-Ends and then his friends Mr. Hold-the-world, Mr. Money-love, and Mr. Save-all. I will leave it to someone else to explain what this is all about as I found it kind of confusing. I can say, though, that this is one of those places where you can see the depth of Bunyan’s theology as he presents a back-and-forth argument where Christian argues against using religion for pragmatic purposes. By-Ends and his friends are suggesting that it is wise to be religious for the sake of worldly gain. Part of Christian’s response includes these words:

[T]hat man who takes up religion for the world, will throw away religion for the world; for so surely as Judas designed the world in becoming religious, so surely did he also sell religion and his Master for the same. To answer the question, therefore, affirmatively, as I perceive you have done, and to accept of, as authentic, such answer, is heathenish, hypocritical, and devilish; and your reward will be according to your works.

Having moved on from that conversation, Christian and Hopeful come across a man named Demas, obviously a reference to the Demas mentioned by the Apostle Paul, a man once involved in ministry but who forsook it all because he loved the things of this world. In this story Demas tries to woo the pilgrims off the narrow path with the promise of riches. Or maybe it isn’t the promise as much as the hint or suggestion. “Won’t you just come and take a look?” But those who come and look stumble and fall as the ground around is shaky and unstable.

April 12, 2012

Reading Classics Together
Today we continue reading John Bunyan’s classic work The Pilgrim’s Progress, and we arrive at the sixth stage of his journey. Last week Christian dialogued with Faithful, discussing the role of the law. The two men also encountered Shame.


The sixth stage of Christian’s journey is one of martydom as Christian’s friend Faithful loses his life for the Lord. After being warned by Evangelist of the struggles they must face and the necessity of faithfulness through it, Christian and Faithful find that they must pass through Vanity Fair.

Almost five thousand years ago there were pilgrims walking to the Celestial City, as these two honest persons are: and Beelzebub, Apollyon, and Legion, with their companions, perceiving by the path that the pilgrims made, that their way to the city lay through this town of Vanity, they contrived here to set up a fair; a fair wherein should be sold all sorts of vanity, and that it should last all the year long. Therefore, at this fair are all such merchandise sold as houses, lands, trades, places, honors, preferments, titles, countries, kingdoms, lusts, pleasures; and delights of all sorts, as harlots, wives, husbands, children, masters, servants, lives, blood, bodies, souls, silver, gold, pearls, precious stones, and what not.

Vanity Fair is a place of distraction, a place where pilgrims are led away from their journey, enticed by the joys of this world. These joys can be just about anything as shown by the sheer diversity of Bunyan’s list of enticements. He even shows that each nation has their own row which represents the particular distraction or obsession of that people.

Which makes me wonder: What is our vanity? What is the thing that tends to distract us from the way. Notice that the things Bunyan lists tend to be good things—houses, honors, husbands, silver, gold. Yet these are the very things that lead us off the way. What are our things?

April 05, 2012

Reading Classics Together
Today we continue reading John Bunyan’s classic work The Pilgrim’s Progress, and we arrive at the fifth stage of his journey. Last week Christian’s journey took him through two valleys—Humiliation and the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Though he faced fierce trials, he made it through both of them alive and now he continues on his pilgrimage.


The fifth stage of Christian’s journey is far more about the conversation than the setting. He immediately meets Faithful and the two of them begin to converse, sharing their accounts of their pilgrimage. Here they model Christian fellowship and conversation.

There were a few things that stood out to me and the first of them was Faithful’s recounting of getting himself pummeled by Moses.

March 29, 2012

Reading Classics Together
Today we continue reading John Bunyan’s classic work The Pilgrim’s Progress, and we arrive at the fourth stage of his journey. Last week Christian looked to the cross and had his burden fall from his back. And now his journey begins anew; the difficulties have only just begun.


The fourth stage of Christian’s journey is a tale of two valleys. As he journeys toward the Celestial City, he needs to pass through the valley of Humiliation. It is here that Christian meets Apollyon, the first great enemy he will face. Apollyon is the accuser who reminds Christian of all the sin he has committed and who tries to convince him that he cannot be forgiven for such sin. I love how Christian replies. After being reminded of all his sin he essentially says to Apollyon, “You don’t know the half of it! I am far worse than that.” And then he pleads the grace of God.

All this is true, and much more which thou hast left out; but the Prince whom I serve and honor is merciful, and ready to forgive. But besides, these infirmities possessed me in thy country, for there I sucked them in, and I have groaned under them, been sorry for them, and have obtained pardon of my Prince.

Christian’s dependence on the grace of God enrages Apollyon who responds by attacking him. The battle is long and fierce, but Christian uses the spiritual armor God provides to protect himself and to do battle. I have recently preached through Ephesians 6 so appreciated this part of Bunyan’s book in a new way.

March 22, 2012

Reading Classics Together
Today we continue with reading John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress and we have come to the third stage of Christian’s journey. Just to do something a little bit different, I decided to listen to it while reading it, and quite enjoyed doing it that way. It seemed to help with my overall comprehension. Plus, the person reading is really, really good at her job.


This stage of the journey gets off to a great start with the account of Christian finally losing his burden.

He ran thus till he came at a place somewhat ascending; and upon that place stood a cross, and a little below, in the bottom, a sepulchre. 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, and began to tumble, and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.

I guess that is an experience every Christian knows, of looking to the cross and feeling that burden fall. There was no more to it than that; he simply looked to Christ and was transformed. But, of course, this does not mark the end of the journey—not by a long shot. Christian is immediately given certain items to take with him on his journey—assurance that his sins are forgiven, new clothing, a mark on his forehead, and a scroll—and then he travels on.

I loved to read of Christian sleeping in the daytime and the trouble that it brought him. Somehow there was comfort there in seeing him sleep and hurry on and have to travel back. And I love reading of his distress, that he had had to repeat so much of his journey because of falling asleep. That all sounded strangely and uncomfortably familiar. 

March 15, 2012

Reading Classics Together
This morning we come to our second reading in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Those of you who are reading along with me should now have read “The Second Stage” of the journey. If you haven’t been reading along but would like to, it’s easy to do; just find a copy of the book and get reading!


Every week I like to just say something about what we’ve read. This week I’ll cheat a little bit and rely on Charles Spurgeon to say it for me. It comes from his sermon “Christ Crucified” and it talks about one weakness in this book (that Spurgeon read over and over again).

…let me tell you a little story about Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. 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; so 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.”

Spurgeon addresses the confusion I was feeling. If a man comes to me with a great burden I point him to the cross, not to a wicket gate!

March 08, 2012

Reading Classics Together
A few weeks ago I announced that the next Reading Classics Together project would take on John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Reading Classics Together is a simple program: We (that’s me and anyone else who cares to join in) read books in parallel and meet up here to discuss them. If you’d like to participate, you’re not too late. Just start reading!

This week’s assignment was to read the first “stage” of Bunyan’s classic. We’ll be reading it according to the classic chapter (or “stage”) breakdown you can see in the CCEL version of the book.

Now I am going to be perfectly honest with you and admit that I have read Pilgrim’s Progress a few times and have never much enjoyed it. I don’t exactly know why this is. I’ve always wanted to enjoy it, but just haven’t been able to. So when I decided that we would do it as our next classic, I also decided to try reading it differently. Actually, I decided to listen to it. I have to say, so far it’s made all the difference.

The version I have been listening to is narrated by Nadia May and she does a wonderful job of it; the way she reads the text helps explain the text. So far it’s making all the difference. My friends at ChristianAudio have discounted it to just $4.98 in case you’d like to give it a listen as well (add it to your cart and use the discount code Challiesrtc). 

Now, on to a discussion of this week’s reading.