As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a den, and laid me down in that place to sleep; and as I slept, I dreamed a dream. …
The dreamer? John Bunyan. The dream? Pilgrim’s Progress, one of history’s bestsellers, published on February 18, 1678. Bunyan tells the story of a pilgrim named Christian who encounters many trials, toils, and triumphs while traveling from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City.
Princeton’s Dr. Emile Gaillet, who read this book 50 times, said, “Next to the Bible, The Pilgrim’s Progress rates highest among the classics. … The reason is that as I proceed along the appointed course, I need not only an authoritative book of instruction; I need a map. Bunyan’s masterpiece has provided us with the most excellent map found anywhere.”*
In one memorable scene, Christian, finding the pathway difficult, climbed over a stile to walk in a meadowy bypath. Eventually the ground grew soggy and was covered with poisonous vines. The sky became black, and Christian spent the night huddled at the foot of an oak tree, caught in a downpour. The next morning, Giant Despair came upon him, captured him, beat him, and imprisoned him in the dungeon of Doubting Castle with its grim battlements and thick, black walls. Christian tried to sing, but couldn’t. His mood was dungeon-dark. Giant Despair beat him mercilessly, and he grew weaker each day. At length he found in his cell a rope, a knife, and a bottle, the tools of suicide, and for a moment he was tempted to end his misery.
But one evening about midnight he began to pray, and …
… a little before day, good Christian, as one half amazed, brake out into this passionate speech: What a fool am I, thus to lie in a stinking dungeon, when I may as well walk at liberty! I have a key in my bosom, called Promise, that will, I am sure, open any lock in Doubting Castle.
Using the key of God’s promises, Christian escaped, never again to fall into the clutches of Giant Despair or Doubting Castle.
I patiently waited, Lord, for you to hear my prayer.
You listened and pulled me from a lonely pit
Full of mud and mire.
You let me stand on a rock with my feet firm,
And you gave me a new song,
A song of praise to you. (Psalm 40:1-3a)
* Quoted in “From the Publisher,” Christian History, Volume V, No. 3, p. 3.
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Feb. 18.