Skip over navigation

The Pilgrim’s Progress

John Bunyan

Part I: The Third Stage, the Fourth Stage

Part I: Author’s Apology, the First Stage, and the Second Stage

Part I: The Fifth Stage, the Sixth Stage, the Seventh Stage

Summary

Continuing on his journey, Christian comes to a wall that the narrator identifies as Salvation. The wall fences in a field of rising land containing a cross and a sepulcher, or tomb. Passing by the wall, Christian feels his burden spontaneously drop to the ground. Amazed and relieved that the sight of the cross has eased his burden, Christian stands and cries for a while. The three Shining Ones appear and hand Christian a rolled-up certificate he will need one day to enter the Celestial City.

Proceeding onward along the “strait and narrow” path of the wall of Salvation, Christian notices three figures—Simple, Sloth, and Presumption—asleep and bound with iron chains. He warns these figures that they must go on their way, but they want only to go back to sleep. Christian then sees two figures scrambling over the wall instead of following the narrow path as he did. Their names are Formalist and Hypocrisy, and they come from the town of Vain-Glory; they are headed to Mount Zion for praise. Christian accuses them of cheating by climbing over the wall, calling them thieves in the eyes of God, but they disagree.

Christian ascends a hill called Difficulty. There he finds a pleasant arbor where he decides to rest. He takes his rolled certificate from his chest pocket and falls asleep. Two men awaken him, warning of lions in the area. Christian is unsure what to do. He cannot go back where he came from, but he is scared of the lions. When Christian reaches for his certificate, he finds it missing. Reproaching himself for sleeping in the daytime and being careless, he calls sleep sinful. After retracing his steps, Christian finds his certificate and vows always to remain watchful. He catches a glimpse of the pilgrims’ hostel where he will take shelter, called the Palace Beautiful (House Beautiful in some editions).

Arriving late at the pilgrims’ hotel, Christian has lost much time sleeping. The porter is skeptical about letting him in, and one of the lodge owner’s four daughters, Discretion, asks who he is. After Christian identifies himself, Discretion allows him inside. The three other daughters, Piety, Prudence, and Charity, ask about Christian’s journey. They also ask about Christian’s family and why he left them behind. He weeps when talking about his wife and sons. Finally they eat, and the four women take Christian on a tour of the lodge, showing him mementos from the history of Christianity, including the slingshot with which David killed Goliath. They give Christian weapons for protection. Christian learns that a fellow townsman named Faithful has passed by in the meantime.

The four mistresses of the Palace Beautiful accompany Christian to the end of their property and give him food for his journey. They warn him of the slippery ground he will enter, called the Valley of Humiliation. Walking through the valley, Christian sees a foul monster approaching, a human form with dragon wings and bear feet, covered in fish scales. Christian is scared but does not flee. The monster’s name is Apollyon, and he claims Christian as his subject, since Christian is on his land. Christian refutes him, saying he is already subject to a different prince, meaning Christ. Apollyon flies into a rage, voicing hatred for the rival prince. They fight with swords, and Apollyon nearly kills Christian, but Christian at the last minute saves himself and strikes Apollyon, who flies away.

Continuing onward, Christian finds himself in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, a hot desert full of pits. The narrator comments that this is where the mouth of hell is located. Christian realizes there is more danger for him here than his fight with Apollyon and hears the demons clamoring for him. He is deeply afraid but takes solace in the thought that Christ is protecting him like a candle in the dark. At the end of the valley, Christian sees the bones, ashes, and mangled remains of other pilgrims. The area is lorded over by two giants, Pope and Pagan, who devoured earlier pilgrims. Christian is not afraid, since they are both decrepit and unthreatening.

Analysis

Faith is given a deeper meaning when Christian’s burden spontaneously falls from the sight of the cross in the Third Stage. This removal of the burden marks a new perspective on his progress. Clearly faith depends on striving. Christian has undertaken many risks already to get where he is, and his way is far from easy. Yet faith also involves changes that require no effort at all, like the miraculous relief from the burden. Christian does not even have to remove the burden, since it removes itself. In Christian doctrine, these two parts of the pilgrim’s experience are known as will and grace. Will is the exertion required to find faith and master oneself. Grace is what comes without trying to get it, a pure gift from heaven. Christian experiences both will and grace when passing the cross, and he is rewarded for his strong individual faith when the burden falls.

The certificate that Christian receives from the three Shining Ones emphasizes the first appearance of the written word in The Pilgrim’s Progress since the very beginning when Christian was seen crying with a book in his hand. This written document has great value, since it is the entry ticket to the Celestial City. Readers are reminded that however action-packed Christian’s tale is, the action only draws its meaning from the written word, which reveals divine truth. Symbolically it is key that Christian loses his burden at the same moment he is handed his certificate of entry. The physical burden is in a way transformed into printed words, and the heavy impediment is transformed into a promise of progress and achievement.

The moment when Christian wakes up and learns of his lost certificate is one of the subtlest and most important scenes in The Pilgrim’s Progress, for it shows Christian’s dawning awareness that he could be his own worst enemy. Christian’s accepting of the certificate also marks a new phase in his mission, one that demands a higher level of watchful care and self-control than he needed before. Earlier, he could not shake his burden because it was attached to his back. He now knows the certificate can be lost, as he learns when he falls asleep. Christian also realizes that losing the certificate could lead to spiritual disaster, and this explains why he calls sleep sinful. External enemies like Apollyon abound in the book, but Christian’s own inattention and laziness are dangers just as great. No one stole Christian’s certificate from him; he lost it himself, which is even more alarming for a pilgrim who must be master of his own fate.

The appearance of Hypocrisy and Formalist emphasize the religious nature of Christian’s journey. Formalist, whose name refers to anyone who sees the outward form or appearance of faith as being more important than the inward experience, feels that getting to a destination is all that matters. So Formalist cheats and climbs over the wall of Salvation. To him, the only important thing is that he has arrived at the same place Christian is standing. Hypocrisy believes in saying the “right” thing but doing otherwise. Christian’s harsh words to both of these fake pilgrims are enlightening. Christian understands his journey as far more of an inward progress than a geographical one. He knows truth matters more to his progress than mere motion does.

Christian’s stay in the Palace Beautiful offers a glimpse of comfort and rest for the first time on the journey. Even when Christian was back at home with his family, he was neither comforted nor rested, since he was torn by spiritual crisis. The four beautiful daughters of the palace’s owner make the refuge a female space. They are the first women characters in the book, not counting the brief reference to Christian’s wife early on, and they are associated with peace, calm, nourishment, and safety. Yet they are not passive figures. On the contrary, their astute conversation with Christian the first evening displays their active and engaged intelligence. Their gift of protective military gear also shows that they understand the perils of faith-related battle.

Though Apollyon’s presence is brief in The Pilgrims’ Progress, the monster’s appearance is both dominant and unforgettable. He is one of the best-known characters and is often referred to in later English literature. Indeed, Bunyan here almost approaches science fiction with this beast covered in scales and with bear feet and dragon wings. Apollyon has medieval overtones. When Apollyon claims Christian as his own, he acts like a feudal baron. The sword combat with Christian harkens back to medieval dragon-slaying tales. When Christian defeats him, the combat portion of his progress is complete. Christian never fights anyone again in the book. Leaving behind the old tales of physical combat, Christian is free to go on to face more spiritual hardships.

More Help

Previous Next
The man in the iron cage

by Ewan_Wattameye, July 14, 2013

I would take a certain issue with the observation that Bunyan invokes his own imprisonment when he writes about the man in the iron cage. Certainly Bunyan would have been sensitive to the idea of imprisonment, and this sensitivity could very well have emboldened his passion to warn others of the unwanted consequences of certain behaviors, but I believe there the similarity ends. Bunyan had been imprisoned for preaching the gospel without an official sanction from the religious establishment of the day; the unjust result of extreme obedienc

0 Comments

5 out of 7 people found this helpful

Follow Us