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The Pilgrim's Progress

by Rev. Peter McIntyre - Clogher Valley Free Presbyterian Church
16
July
From This World to That Which is to Come
The Pilgrims Progress
The life of Martin Luther is one of the great testimonies of Church History. Like Christian, the pilgrim, in John Bunyan's most famous allegory, he experienced many pitfalls and much danger on his route to the Celestial City.

As with Christian, Martin Luther was the pilgrim who set off on his journey by leaving his family in the City of Destruction. On the 2nd July 1505, he became gravely alarmed when caught outdoors in a fearful thunderstorm. In his primitive superstitious mind, he probably thought that God was raging against him because of his sin and was preparing to cast him into the deepest darkest Hell. With thunder reverberating as the voice of the Almighty and with His lightening bows being unleashed from His bow of judgement, the terrified young man vowed to Saint Anne, the legendary mother of the blessed Virgin who watched over his Father's mines, "I will become a monk!". Vowing poverty and obedience to the Church, the talented young law student entered the privations of the Augustinian Cloister, much to the disgust of his father Hans. In search of peace with God, young Luther left behind the wishes and acceptance of his parents in order that he might begin his pilgrimage, seeking after God.

Early in Christian's journey, he descended into the mire called "The Slough of Despond". Before Luther, too, experienced peace on his journey, he also entered a similar place of spiritual depression. Feeling as if God, the Devil, and the entire supernatural world were arrayed against him as he struggled to find peace he commented:

"I was a good monk and I kept the rule of my order so strictly that I may say that if ever a monk got to heaven by his monk-ery, it was I...If I had kept on any longer, I should have killed myself with vigils, prayers, reading and other work."

He returned constantly to his Confessor, spending as much as six hours at a time, examining every word, deed and thought so as to find peace in divine forgiveness:

"I went to confession daily, but it profited me not..."

Christian, however, found his way to God, through two places in John Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress". The first was the "Wicket Gate", leading to the path pointing to the Celestial City. The Wicket Gate was a small door corresponding to the "strait gate" in the teachings of Jesus Christ. The lesson is clear - the way to peace is a narrow space through which the sinner must pass. Beyond the Wicket Gate, however, Christian reached another place of monumental importance:

"...he came at a place somewhat ascending, and upon that place stood a cross, and a little below, in the bottom, a sepulchre...his burden loosed from off his back and began to tumble, and so continued to do, till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell and I saw it no more."

Martin Luther, like Christian in John Bunyan's tale, was carrying an oppressive burden, not upon his back, but upon his soul. The weight of guilt pressed against his heart and mind, causing him many times to cry as Saint Paul did, "Oh wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me...". He too found the narrow gate and the one way that would permit him entrance; "Sola Fide" - "FAITH ALONE". Yet this faith must be connected with the Cross of Christ, resting upon the shed blood and the atoning sacrifice.

Christian was originally awakened by the little book that he held in his hand that caused him to weep and tremble and to cry out "What shall I do". Martin Luther, our 16th Century Pilgrim, was brought to the place of Faith in Christ Alone by the Book, The Word of the Living God. His studies and lectures on the Psalms and Saint Paul's Epistles to the Romans and Galatians pointed him away from his works and his religion to Christ, Christ alone. Writing in his commentary on Galatians 2:20, he expounded the necessity of Sola Fide and Sola Christus (Faith Alone and Christ Alone).

"Wherefore we must learn in such conflicts and terrors of conscience (forgetting ourselves and setting the law, our life past, and all our works apart, which drive us to the consideration of ourselves only) to turn our eyes wholly to the brazen serpent Jesus Christ crucified, and assuredly believe that he is our righteousness and life, not fearing the threatenings and terrors of the law, sin, death, and the judgment of God. For Christ, on whom our eyes are fixed, in whom we live, who also liveth in us, is Lord and conqueror of the law, sin, death, and all evils: in whom most certain and sure consolation is set forth unto us, and victory given."

John Bunyan's, "The Pilgrim's Progress from This World to That Which is to Come", first published in 1677, has been the greatest and most influential piece of Christian literature, ever written, with the exception of the Bible. Within 200 years, the work had been printed in Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Hindi, Greek, Portugese, Russian, Hungarian and Swedish and a host of other languages. By the beginning of this century, it is calculated that it was found in 80 African languages. The enduring attraction of the work is that it depicts most wonderfully the struggles and trials of the Christian Life with the blessed encouragement that one day we shall reach the city of light.

The comparison with Luther's life, however, is no mere general observation. John Bunyan undoubtedly drew upon his own spiritual experiences as he penned his greatest and most enduring work in the Bedford County Gaol. Martin Luther, although he had died almost a century earlier in distant Germany, had played a key role in John Bunyan's spiritual pilgrimage. As a young man seeking peace with God, he derived the greatest of help from Luther's Commentary to the Galatians. Faith Cook, in her wonderful account of Bunyan's life, described the volume as being "gold in the trunk" of the young tinker as he travelled from home to home repairing kitchen utensils. The dedication of Luther's English edition caught his gaze as he looked opened the old and worn volume:

"To all afflicted souls which groan for salvation..."

Such was the impact that Luther's comments upon Galatians made upon the young Bunyan, regarding faith in Christ alone, that he would later testify:

"I do prefer this book of Martin Luther upon the Galatians, excepting the Holy Bible, before all the books that ever I have seen, as most fit for a wounded conscience."

In the life and testimony of Martin Luther, we observe the power and impact of a life lived for God not merely in one generation but in the subsequent centuries. From the Augustinian Cloister, to the Wittenberg study, to 17th Century Puritan England, to the Tinker's trunk, to the Bedford Gaol, to the fertile sanctified imagination of the imprisoned preacher, from the paper, to the printer, into many editions and translations Pilgrim's Progress has inspired and blessed millions.

This is but one example of the blessing that Martin Luther's ministry has been to the world.

How we need to celebrate and praise God that He called this man Martin Luther out of darkness to bless millions through the work that he under God spawned - The Protestant Reformation!

References:
Peter Stanton - "The Catholic Dissident"
Faith Cook - "The Fearless Pilgrim"
Martin Luther - "Commentary on Paul's Epistle to the Galatians"
John Bunyan - "The Pilgrim's Progress"
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