FAITHFUL’S ENCOUNTER WITH SHAME: FROM A PILGRIM’S PROGRESS BY JOHN BUNYAN

William Blake: Christian Reading in His Book (Plate 2, 1824–27) (from here)
William Blake: Christian Reading in His Book (Plate 2, 1824–27) (from here)

I am in the process of reading The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. What is the book about?

As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a den; and I layed me down in the place to sleep: and as I slept, I dreamed a dream.

This great and simple opening of The Pilgrim’s Progress may remind us that in 1678 Bunyan’s dream was delivered to a reading public ready to receive it. For not only the British but Europeans generally had become all too familiar with the moral complexity of the natural world and the hardness of its going; their every path was a perplexity, their wandering footsteps stumbled in a maze, a labyrinth, a wilderness. (from here)

What about the author? Here is how Wikipedia’s article begins.

The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come; Delivered under the Similitude of a Dream is a 1678 Christian allegory written by John Bunyan. It is regarded as one of the most significant works of religious English literature, has been translated into more than 200 languages, and has never been out of print.

Bunyan began his work while in the Bedfordshire county prison for violations of the Conventicle Act, which prohibited the holding of religious services outside the auspices of the established Church of England. Early Bunyan scholars such as John Brown believed The Pilgrim’s Progress was begun in Bunyan’s second, shorter imprisonment for six months in 1675, but more recent scholars such as Roger Sharrock believe that it was begun during Bunyan’s initial, more lengthy imprisonment from 1660 to 1672 right after he had written his spiritual autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. (from here)

Bunyan knew about suffering for his faith. Here is a sample that deals with a bold villain named Shame. He still walks among us today.

Chris. Met you with nothing else in that valley?

SHAME A BOLD VILLAIN

Faith. Yes, I met with Shame; but, of all the men that I met with in my pilgrimage, he I think,[97] bears the wrong name. The others would take “No” for an answer, at least after some words of denial; but this bold-faced Shame would never have done.

Chris. Why, what did he say to you?

Faith. What? why, he objected against religion itself. He said it was a pitiful, low, sneaking business for a man to mind religion. He said that a tender conscience was an unmanly thing; and that for a man to watch over his words and ways, so as to tie up himself from that liberty that the brave spirits of the times accustom themselves unto, would make him the ridicule of all the people in our time. He objected also, that but a few of the mighty, rich, or wise were ever of my opinion; nor any of them neither, before they were persuaded to be fools, to venture the loss of all for nobody else knows what. He, moreover, objected the base and low estate and condition of those that were chiefly the pilgrims of the times in which they lived; also their ignorance, and want of understanding in all worldly knowledge. Yea, he did hold me to it at that rate also, about a great many more things than here I relate; as, that it was a shame to sit whining and mourning under a sermon, and a shame to come sighing and groaning home; that it was a shame to ask my neighbor forgiveness for petty faults, or to give back what I had taken from any. He said also that religion made a man grow strange to the great, because of a few vices (which he called by[98] finer names), and because religion made him own and respect the base, who were of the same religious company; “and is not this,” said he, “a shame?”

Chris. And what did you say to him?

Faith. Say? I could not tell what to say at first. Yea, he put me so to it that my blood came up in my face; even this Shame fetched it up, and had almost beat me quite off. But at last I began to consider that that which is highly esteemed among men is had in abomination with God. And I thought again, This Shame tells me what men are, but it tells me nothing what God, or the Word of God is. And I thought, moreover, that at the day of doom we shall not be doomed to death or life according to the spirits of the world, but according to the wisdom and law of the Highest. Therefore, thought I, what God says is best—is best, though all the men in the world are against it. Seeing, then, that God prefers His religion; seeing God prefers a tender conscience; seeing they that make themselves fools for the kingdom of heaven are wisest, and that the poor man that loveth Christ is richer than the greatest man in the world that hates Him; Shame, depart! thou art an enemy to my salvation. Shall I listen to thee against my sovereign Lord? how, then, shall I look Him in the face at His coming? Should I now be ashamed of His way and servants how can I expect the blessing? But, indeed, this Shame was a bold villain: I could scarce shake[99] him out of my company; yea, he would be haunting of me, and continually whispering me in the ear with some one or other of the weak things that attend religion. But at last I told him it was in vain to attempt further in this business; for those things that he despised, in those did I see most glory; and so, at last, I got past this persistent one. And when I had shaken him off, then I began to sing,

The trials that those men do meet withal,
That are obedient to the heavenly call,
Are manifold, and suited to the flesh,
And come, and come, and come again afresh;
That now, or sometime else, we by them may
Be taken, overcome, and cast away.
Oh, let the pilgrims, let the pilgrims, then
Be vigilant, and quit themselves like men.

Chris. I am glad, my brother, that thou didst withstand this villain so bravely: for of all, as thou sayest, I think he has the wrong name; for he is so bold as to follow us in the streets, and to attempt to put us to shame before all men; that is, to make us ashamed of that which is good. But, if he was not himself bold, he would never attempt to do as he does. But let us still resist him; for, notwithstanding all his bold words, he promoteth the fool, and none else. “The wise shall inherit glory,” said Solomon; “but shame shall be the promotion of fools.”

Faith. I think we must cry to Him for help against Shame who would have us to be valiant for truth upon the earth. (from here)

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