Pilgrim’s Progress, page 1 – read carefully:
In this plight therefore he went home, and refrained himself as long as he could, that his Wife and Childen should not perceive his distress, but he could not be silent long, because that his trouble increased: Wherefore at length he brake his mind to his Wife and Children; and thus he began to talk to them: “O my dear Wife,” said he, “and you children of my bowels, I your dear Friend, am in myself undone by reason of a Burden that lieth hard upon me; moreover, I am for certain informed that this our City will be burned with fire from Heaven; in which fearful overthrow, both myself, with thee my Wife, and you my sweet Babes, shall miserably come to ruin, except (the which yet I see not) some way of escape may be found, whereby we may be delivered.”
Where to start. As I alluded to in the last post, one of the reasons I find this book so interesting is the huge difference between its gospel & its experience of the gospel – and what we hear in church today. Even if you are religious, try to read this with a fresh eye, and ask yourself whether it rings true with your experience – or whether, if someone you know began to behave like this, you would respond with as little understanding as this man’s family did.
We read that the man “refrained himself as long as he could,” which is immediately understood by anyone who has been in his position. It is bad enough to be confronted with great danger to yourself, but even worse to see that those nearest to you, who will also be destroyed, cannot see the danger and will probably only think you crazy. When you read it, you are likely to share his family’s opinion of him.
Well, let us hear the man try to explain himself. He gave two reasons for his trouble. The first was the burden on his back. This burden represents his sins, which were too numerous to count. Even the good things he had done were so infused by sinful motives as to render them worse than worthless. The burden was so great that the weight of the whole mess of all his actions was too great for him to bear.
The burden was strapped on so tightly that (as will be seen) neither he nor anyone else was able to get it off. This shows that his sins were inextricably linked with his very personality. One way of putting it: a person who is a murderer or a pedophile becomes linked with their sin in our minds, so we can hardly think of one without the other; but of the two, we are less horrified by the sin than by the kind of person who could do such a thing and be casual about it afterwards. The problem was not just that the man had sinned, it was that he was a sinner – it was his nature to sin. This man’s burden would not have been so bad if he could get rid of it somehow (by going to church, for example) but he found it so tightly connected to his body that there was no separating the two.
It is worth noting that he had to tell his family of his burden – they couldn’t see it. This shows how the awareness of sinfulness is intensely personal, and not only invisible to others, but strange. No other character in the whole book is directly described as having borne such a burden, though it is plainly inferred in certain specific passages.