Silver Slippers & Rags

The Pilgrim’s Progress is a small book written over 400 years ago by a British tinker, John Bunyan, while he was in jail for preaching, yet it has had an enduring influence.

“From the moment of its publication, The Pilgrim’s Progress has appealed to an extra­ordinarily large and varied readership. No other work in English, except the Bible, has been so widely read over such a long period. First published in 1678, with a second part added in 1684, the book has never been out of print. It has been published in innumerable editions, and has been translated into over two hundred languages…Images, names, and phrases from it are part of the common currency of the English language. Even those who have not read the book recognize ‘the wilderness of this world’, ‘Vanity Fair’, ‘the Slough of Despond’, ‘Doubting Castle’, the Delectable Mountains’, ‘Great-heart’, ‘Valiant-for-truth’, ‘So he passed over, and the trumpets sounded for him on the other side’. A set of verses included in Part Two, ‘Who would true valour see, | Let him come hither’, is among the best-known hymns in English. If ever a book deserved to be described as one of the ‘world’s classics’, it is The Pilgrim’s Progress.”1

I was introduced to the book as a young girl when I read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Many of the chapter titles in Part One were taken from The Pilgrim’s Progress, although I didn’t realize it at the time. Even today within secular sources there are references to The Pilgrim’s Progress, although they may not realize it either! How many know Vanity Fair magazine is named for a location of a hedonistic mob that goes after Pilgrim and Faithful?

Christian writers, of course, are where you’ll find many references to John Bunyan’s small book. Charles Spurgeon is know for his love of The Pilgrim’s Progress. Derek Kidner, as a British commentary author, was also well-versed in the book. After writing about Jeremiah yesterday, I wanted to share something he wrote in the preface to The Message of Jeremiah: Against wind and tide. His love for The Pilgrim’s Progress is evident:

“…a preface also gives me room to put the subtitle, ‘Against wind and tide’, into its context. It comes, of course, from The Pilgrim’s Progress, at the point where Christian overtakes Mr. By-ends. That easygoing character admits his difference in ‘two small points’ from ‘those of the stricter sort’ — those who ‘are for hazarding all for God at a clap’. ‘First’, he says, ‘we never strive against wind and tide. Secondly, we are always most zealous when Religion goes in his silver slippers…’ To this Christian replies, ‘If you will go with us, you must go against wind and tide; …You must also own Religion in all his rags, as well as when in his silver slippers; and stand by him, too, when bound in irons…

“Such — initially under bitter protest, but with no turning back — was the hard pilgrimage that Jeremiah accepted, lending its own depth to his message. To study that life and message we can well be invited in John Bunyan’s words:

“Who would true valour see,
Let him com hither.
One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather.”
2

The poem is about Mr Valiant-for-truth. The next lines are:

There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.”

When we are discouraged, may we remember our Lord Jesus. He was rich; we were in rags. For our sake, He became a man.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.
2 Corinthians 8:9

The silver slippers of this world are only a passing moment. May we never relent from following Him.


Title page of The Pilgrim’s Progress, 1678: Public domain.
British evening slippers, 1845–65: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. (CC0 1.0)
The young rag-gather: Charles Guillaume Brun. Public domain. Cropped.
1John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress, W.R. Owens, ed., Oxford World’s Classics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), xiii.
2Derek Kidner, The Message of Jeremiah: Against wind and tide (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1987) 7.
There are no events scheduled right now, but when we lived in New England 1994–2003, we were able to see Celestial City by the New Life Fine Arts of Concord MA several times. I cannot tell you how encouraging this musical adaptation of The Pilgrim’s Progress was to me.

Copyright ©2021 Iwana Carpenter

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