Even the Fearful
I've done it! Finally! After too many years of eyeing it on my shelf, I have completed The Pilgrim's Progress and checked it off my mental TBR. Interestingly, having now read both Part I and Part II, I can say that both pilgrimages are profound works of spiritual allegory, but Part II—Christiana's journey—struck me most deeply.
The Pilgrim's Progress is the allegorical journey of a Christian on the road to Heaven, leaving all behind (including his family) to pursue the Celestial City. In Part II, Christian's wife, Christiana, is moved by the testimony of her husband's salvation, and sets out to follow him on the same journey along with his three sons. It features a new cast of characters, perils new and old, but the same single-minded goal: Heaven.
What I love most about Christiana's story is the new characters Bunyan introduces in Part II. While the pilgrims in Part I are mostly unwavering, spiritually knowledgeable, and really, operating in the upper levels of virtue and Godliness, Part II's ensemble is a far more . . . accessible cast. From Mr. Fearing and Mr. Ready-to-Halt to Mr. Feeble-mind, Mr. Despondency, and Miss Much-Afraid, suddenly our travelling companions aren't seasoned soldiers of the cross, but flawed people, burdened with questions and fears, who despite their fleshly weakness refuse to give up on the road to Heaven.
Take Mr. Fearing, for example. The man sets out from his worldly life to reach the Celestial City, and he moves at a snail's pace, afraid to fail, terrified by every brush with temptation or doubt, as brittle yet unbreakable as his faith, but is ultimately ushered across the river to the Celestial shore. Ultimately accepted by his Lord.
Mr. Feeble-mind, Mr. Despondency, and Miss Much-Afraid are similar. Found in various states of struggle or despair, they are brought into a company of firm, fortitudinous Christians and supported on their journey. They tend toward doubt or fear, grow weary where stronger Christians do not, and generally have a harder time of it than the others, but they never turn back. They are committed to their path, however long it takes them to get there, and Jesus shows them a special kind of consolation and tenderness that really touches me.
Then there's Mr. Ready-to-Halt. He's a solid guy, spiritually, but he makes the journey on crutches, a painful, laborious march down a road rife with trials. In a literal sense, he might represent the Christian with an illness or chronic tribulation, like the Apostle Paul—the Christian whose every spiritual step is marked by some kind of fleshly pain, but who keeps plugging on anyway, and ultimately, finds healing in the Celestial City.
And that's the thing that strikes me most—ALL the true pilgrims find their way to Heaven. Not just Mr. Greatheart, the gallant leader who never questions, and virtually never fails. Not just Christiana and her three Heavenly-minded sons. No, even the feeble, even the fearful, even the slow-moving, struggle-bent babes in Christ who set their eyes on Heaven and do not turn back find a home in the Celestial City with their Lord. That's what stays with me, even after turning the final page. That message of Christ's utter compassion for the weak and frail among his followers, for those who follow him in fragility of mind, but purity of heart and utter commitment of spirit.