Teaching Children to Read Pilgrim’s Progress

Rev. A. Vergunst in his foreword to the "Spiritual Pilgrim" says that Pilgrim’s Progress is a book that each one of us should have read. Yet I am afraid that most of our young people have never read more than the Pictorial Pilgrim’s Progress. If they have read it, how much do they understand of the experiences that Bunyan describes?

We live in a time when many of us and our children have never heard one real life experience of how God converts a sinner or how the Lord leads His people. As a result each generation grows up more spiritually ignorant and apathetic. How important it is then that we teach our children to read the Old Writers such a Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress to thereby reinforce the doctrines taught in church and school.

There Bunyan so clearly and vividly describes the experiences of three of God’s children in Christian, Faithful and Hopeful. He relates how all three follow that common path through the straight gate to the celestial city. Although all three experience the same parts of misery, deliverance and gratitude in conversion and throughout their life, each one has his own personal instructions and experiences. Just to mention a few: we see how Christian must struggle through the Slough of Despond, while Faithful does not meet with it; or how Christian so clearly found deliverance at the foot of the cross, and still had to experience the attack of Apollyon and go through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, while Faithful, when he met Christian, had not experienced these trials, but was still fleeing from the avenger of blood; how Christian, an established child of God, feared lest he perish crossing the river of death, while Hopeful could cross it by faith without terror. Besides these and others too numerous to mention Bunyan also includes how that God’s people must continually strive with their old human nature and are prone to sin or go astray. Think only of Christian and Hopeful going into By Path Meadows to seek a inore pleasant path, and falling into the hands of Great Despair in Doubting Castle, and how they had to strive with unbelief before they found the key called Promise, while previously they had both seen Faithful being faithful unto death.

As parents we must confess that we lack the knowledge

or the experience to apply or explain what we read in the Bible as it is experience in the heart and life of God’s church. Even if, by the grace of God, we may have some knowledge and experience of it in our own life we may not have the freedom to express it. Then we may find it easier or better to relate to the experience of one of God’s people in times past. I find that studying a book such as Pilgrim’s Progress provides numerous examples to support or explain what is taught in the Bible. Just to mention a few, we think of how Bunyan in several instances explains how that "He that cometh not in by the door, but climbed up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber," or how in the attack of Apollyon he so beautifully describes the spiritual armor of a Christian as found in Ephesians 6. And so we may use Pilgrim’s Progress as well as so many other old writers to teach our children how God leads and works in the heart of His people. We must work and pray. Work in teaching them how to read God’s Word as well as the Old Writers, and pray that it may be to an eternal blessing.

The question that remains, naturally, is how do we teach our children to read Pilgrim’s Progress or other old writers. Then there are two methods that I would recommend: by example and practice. As to the first one, let your children see you reading such books often, with diligence and interest. Share some of the points that you have read with them. As for practice, start reading these books to your children at an early age. They may not understand everything but do not underestimate what they can understand or think about.

In conclusion let me quote two portions of what Thomas Boston writes in "The Beauties of Boston:" "Ye that have children, as ye tender their immortal souls, cause them to learn to read the Bible. Remember therefore the vows taken upon you at their baptism, and the duty laid upon you by the Lord himself," (Eph. 6.4). "Consider the many helps there are to understand the Scriptures beyond what there were formerly. What will we be able to answer to the Lord if this great privilege be slighted?"