Bunyan's Grave Message

I paid homage to John Bunyan’s grave this week. He was the author of The Pilgrim’s Progress among other works, and spent many years imprisoned for his refusal to compromise with the prevailing culture and religious establishment. Two scenes from his most famous work are depicted on either side of his monument- the pilgrim heavily burdened, weighed down by his guilty conscience, and then, having reached the cross, being relieved of it.

I think Bunyan would not recognise much of what passes for evangelism today. His salvation was a relief from guilt, an acceptance that Christ’s atoning work could alone ease the pangs of a wrong-doer. Today, we package the gospel as a way of feeling fulfilled, as an expression of hope in an uncertain world, as a means of feeling contented and at getting peace. Yet precious few unbelievers have any sense of guilt at all- we think ourselves good instead of the corrupted creatures we truly are. In the modern Progress, the pilgrim’s burden is his anxiety, social awkwardness, unfulfilled ambitions and emptiness, which he desires roll off his back and down the hill, but what of his guilt for having broken God’s unbending moral law? Shallow gospels offer shallow hope. False gospels offer false hope.