Christian asks Hopeful if he knows of a fellow named Temporary, who was religious and who resolved to go on a pilgrimage as they are doing now. Hopeful knows of the man. Christian says that Temporary’s resolve only lasted a short time, until he met someone named Saveself and stopped talking to Christian. Temporary’s example leads Hopeful to ask that they discuss the causes of spiritual backsliding in general. Hopeful explains that fear, shame, and guilt are all causes for the devout to lose sight of their salvation. He lists some key symptoms of backsliders, including the abandonment of duties, association with loose people, and the shunning of Christian friends.
Christian and Hopeful are told they face more difficulties. Two of the three Shining Ones encourage them onward. One difficulty soon appears before them: a river flowing between them and the city gate. There is no bridge, so when they try to cross, Christian feels himself start to sink, despairing of reaching his goal. He tells Hopeful he fears he will never see the land of milk and honey. Hopeful urges him on, but Christian tells him to go on without him. Then Hopeful mentions Jesus Christ, who wishes Christian well. The vision of Christ gives Christian new hope, and they emerge from the river.
The Shining Ones lead them up to the gate of the City on a tall hill, where trumpeters greet them. Christian and Hopeful realize they have lost their mortal garments in the river. The Shining Ones beseech the king of the City to open the gate. The king announces that anyone who keeps God’s truth may enter and commands that the gate open for Christian and Hopeful. They enter and are clothed in garments of gold.
After watching Christian and Hopeful enter through the gate, the narrator wishes he were with them. Ignorance is shut out of the City because he is without a certificate of entry and is sent to hell. The narrator wakes up from his dream.
In the conclusion, the narrator says that he has told his dream and invites the reader to interpret it. Though he warns of the dangers of interpreting his dream wrongly, the narrator also cautions against playing around with the obvious surface content of the tale, being entertained by it rather than instructed. He says that, just as no one throws away an apple to save the core, so too must no one throw away the essence of his story to save its inessential parts.
Christian’s discussion of Temporary displays his spiritual confidence near the end of his journey. Like his earlier tale about Little-Faith, his story about Temporary demonstrates that Christian possesses the certitude necessary to analyze cases of pilgrims who fail. In earlier chapters, he was not sure enough of his own success to make such judgments. After all, Temporary’s story reveals the risk of Christian’s own position, since Temporary also felt saved until he failed to follow through on his spiritual achievement. Christian could backslide also, at least theoretically. Temporary’s fate could be his own. But he understands himself and his progress enough to trust that he will succeed where Temporary failed.
The scene of Christian’s near drowning emphasizes the importance of knowledge gained through travel. Throughout The Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian has encountered many difficulties, including falling into the Slough of Despond at the beginning of the journey. In the Slough, another pilgrim rescued Christian, but now Christian is forced to think of his own way out of the river. By learning from the mistakes of the pilgrims he’s met on the journey, Christian stays on the right path toward salvation. Christian’s strong faith and belief that the Celestial City exists pulls him out of the river. If Christian chose to accompany Ignorance on an easier path, he would have been cast out of the Celestial City. Earlier on his journey, Christian made the mistake of listening to Worldly Wiseman, but now he does not make the same error. Instead, Christian immediately recognizes Ignorance as a fool. The knowledge Christian gains on the journey aids him in his final task when crossing the river.
The Pilgrim’s Progress sometimes switches back and forth between novel and allegory. Strictly speaking, the despair that Christian feels in the river is a spiritual danger that he surpassed long ago. After all, he escaped the threat of Giant Despair and his Doubting Castle. According to the rules of allegory, Christian should never have to feel despair again. Yet a character that does not feel despair when nearly drowning would not be convincing or sympathetic. Here the author makes a decision that goes again the rules of his allegory. In this scene, Christian is portrayed as a realistic human who becomes desperate at the brink of death. This is not a failure on Bunyan’s part because the scene helps make the work a living artistic experience.
The land of Beulah and the Celestial City display a richness of sensual detail hardly seen elsewhere in The Pilgrim’s Progress. The presence of birds and flowers and the orchards and vineyards emphasize a vividness that the landscape rarely had before. Similarly, the Celestial City appears in all its grandeur through physical descriptions of its pearls and gems and its streets paved with gold. The details of the Celestial City exist simply to exist, in heavenly simplicity.
The narrator’s conclusion gives a final emphasis of interpretation running throughout The Pilgrim’s Progress. The Interpreter warned Christian at the outset about the importance of interpreting signs and events correctly and spoke darkly about the dangers of misinterpreting. The narrator delivers a similar warning here. He says that one must not play with the surface details of his story but look behind the surface to the essential meaning. The difference is that now the one who must interpret is no longer Christian, but the reader. The reader takes on the role of a reader of meanings that Christian once held. Christian’s quest for understanding is the reader’s hands now.
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
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