The Pilgrim’s Progress

Summary

Part I: The Third Stage, the Fourth Stage

Summary Part I: The Third Stage, the Fourth Stage

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 ThePilgrim’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.