“So Christian turned out of his way, to go to Mr. Legality’s house for help: But behold, when he was got now hard by the Hill, it seemed so high, and also that side of it that was next the Wayside, did hang so much over, that Christian was afraid to venture further, lest the Hill should fall on his head; wherefore there he stood still, and he wot not what to do. Also his Burden now seemed heavier to him than while he was in his way”
This is from the section when Christian has followed Mr. Worldly Wiseman's advice and strayed from his prescribed path to the Wicket Gate. As he is going down this alternate path to Mr. Legality's house in the town of Morality, he finds that his journey has more difficult and his burden much heavier than it had been on the Evangelist's recommended route. Hawkes notes that the increase in the weight of Christian's burden indicates Bunyan's opinion that "the purpose of the law is to increase our sense of sin" (25). This increase seems rather unnecessary, as Bunyan believed that justification was by faith alone, and not by one's good works. Thus, not only has Christian strayed from the path set for him by the Gospel (via the Evangelist), the detour has increased his sense of sin. Readers should note that Christian's true path is not free from a sense of sin, at least at first, and Christian is still weighed down by a sizable burden (his sin) even after getting back on the right path. His burden doesn't fall off until he has a vision of the Cross, at which point a Shining One comes and gives him the certificate of election (45).
“I espied a little before me a Cave, where two giants, Pope and Pagan, dwelt in old Time; by whose power and tyranny the men, whose bones, blood, ashes, lay there, were cruelly put to death. But by this place, Christian went without much danger, whereat I somewhat wondered: But I have learnt since, that Pagan has been dead many a day; and as for the other, though he be yet alive, he is, by reason of age, and also many shrewd brushes that he met with in his younger days, grown so crazy and stiff in his joints, that he can now do little more than sit in his Cave’s mouth, grinning at Pilgrims as they go by, and biting his nails, because he cannot come at them”
This excerpt offers a poignant moment in Bunyan's commentary on the Catholic Church and Pagan religions. Bunyan himself is directly experiencing and reporting on the impotence of both those institutions in his world. Pagan, he writes, "has been dead many a day," which indicates the long waning power of folk religion amongst the people of England. Bunyan's assessment of the Pope's power is perhaps more thought-provoking. He suggests that, because of the Reformation ('shrewd brushes,' see Hawkes, 79), the Roman Catholic Church has become a powerless and ridiculous institution, unable to attract new members. Bunyan suggests that the message of the Catholic Church has ceased to resonate in the world. At this point in time in England, Bunyan's scathing analysis was not far off from the truth. The main religious conflict in Restoration England was between the Church of England and various non-conformists, like Bunyan.
“[Saying and doing] are two things indeed, and are as diverse, as are the Soul and the Body; for as the Body without the Soul is but a dead carcass, so saying, if it be alone, is but a dead carcass also. The Soul of Religion is the Practick part: Pure Religion and undefiled, before God and the Father, is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the World. This Talkative is not aware of; he thinks that hearing and saying will make a good Christian; and thus he deceiveth his own soul”
By stating his viewpoint on the nature of true religion, and why Talkative falls short, Christian highlights Bunyan's theology of the body/soul duality and the nature of humanity. He says, "the body without the soul is but a dead carcass," indicating that not only are the two completely separate entities, but that the soul is the key to salvation. He then asserts that similarly, a "soul of religion" matters more than the outward aspects of religious practice. It is one's sincere faith in God, and not one's acts of charity or pious professions and displays of faith, that indicate election and the presence of God's grace. Christian makes these statements while describing Talkative, allowing Bunyan to take specific aim at the Ranters (see Hawkes p. 362). However, the sentiment can be easily extrapolated to all those whom Bunyan believes have an erroneous understanding of religion. It is also interesting to note that the definition Christian offers for "Pure Religion" is taken from James 1:27. Therefore, Christian's definition of religion comes from the word of God, making it rather hard for anyone at the time to argue with.
“Now according to the strength or weakness of his faith in his Saviour, so is his Joy and Peace, so is his love to Holiness, so are his desires to know him more, and also to serve him in this world. But though, I say, it discovereth itself thus unto him, yet it is but seldom that he is able to conclude, that this is a Work of Grace, because his Corruptions now, and his abused Reason, make his mind to misjudge in this matter; therefore in him that hath this Work, there is required a very sound judgment, before he can with steadiness conclude that this is a Work of Grace”
The fallibility of the fallen human condition is prominent in this passage. Faithful is keen to point out that even if a work of grace is present, humans are often unable to correctly identify it. Both the individual and the onlookers require "a very sound judgment" in order to correctly identify a work of grace. Faithful also underscores the relationship between grace and faith and peace, saying that joy and peace increase with faith, which are generally wrought by the grace of God. The central role of grace in reformed theology is brought to bear in Bunyan's text, and this is one of many instances in which the reader understands the that God can bestow his grace upon fallen creatures mired in sin.
“Then I saw in my dream, that when they were got out of the Wilderness, they presently saw a Town before them, and the name of that Town is Vanity, and at the Town there is a Fair kept, called Vanity-Fair: It is kept all the year long; it beareth the name of Vanity-Fair, because the Town where it is kept, is lighter than Vanity; and also, because all that is there sold, or that cometh thither, is Vanity. As is the saying of the Wise, All that cometh is Vanity. This fair is no new erected business, but a thing of ancient standing: I will show you the original of it”
The events at Vanity-Fair are among the most poignant in the whole text. Many scholars note that this scene is particularly inspired by Bunyan's own experience with the judicial system and in prison, and it includes some of Bunyan's most scathing criticisms of the current social and political order. Hawkes notes that scholars disagree on what exactly Bunyan meant the town of Vanity and its fair to represent; some say the market in the world, others believe it signifies the Catholic Church (351). Still, others suggest that Bunyan meant Vanity to be understood as London, and Beelzebub as King Charles II (Keeble 312). The saying of the wise, to which the Narrator refers, is a reference to Ecclesiastes 2:11. We can understand this as an assessment of the town, meaning that everything that happens in Vanity comes from its citizens' self-absorption and is ultimately worthless (in vain). It is a direct attack on the system that tried and imprisoned Bunyan. Finally, Bunyan wishes to warn his readers that the excesses and absurdities of this Vanity are not isolated by writing, "this fair is no new erected business, but a thing of ancient standing." After reading this warning, Bunyan's readers would have been alerted to watch for examples of 'Vanity-Fairs' that might exist in their own communities.
“Now, a little before it was Day, good Christian, as one half amazed, brake out in this passionate speech; What a Fool, quoth he, am I, thus to lie in a stinking dungeon, when I may as well walk at liberty? I have a key in my bosom, called Promise, that will I am persuaded open any lock in Doubting-Castle. The said Hopeful, That’s good news, good brother, pluck it out of thy bosom and try”
When Christian and Hopeful have been trapped in Giant Despair's dungeon for long enough, Christian realizes that he has had the key to liberation within him all along. The key is called "Promise", which is an allusion to the promise of God's grace and eternal life. Bunyan highlights the important role of the Christian himself in the process of liberation. The individual has agency to internalize and act on the good news of the gospel. God bestows his grace freely, but a true Christian must be willing to play his or her own part in salvation. God's grace is not enough if recipient is too blind or unwilling to accept it. However, on the flip side, one cannot attain salvation without God's grace. The Christian is justified by his faith, which requires an effort on his part. This fact, which Hopeful identifies as "good news" must have been of great assurance to Christians living in the turbulent times of the Restoration. Finally, the reader should note the time at which this realization happens for Christian, which is just before daybreak. With Christian's realization, which Bunyan insinuates occurs but for the grace of God, the darkness of night ceases and the light of day (and God) takes over.
“Then she blushed and trembled, also her heart began to wax warm with desires to know whence he came, and what his errand was to her. So he said unto her, My name is Secret….Christiana, the Merciful One has sent me to tell thee, That he is a God ready to forgive, and that he taketh Delight to multiply the pardon of offences. He also would have thee know, that he inviteth thee to come into his Presence, to his Table, and that he will feed thee with the fat of his house, and with the heritage of Jacob thy father”
In this excerpt, Bunyan describes Christiana's conversion experience. Notably, she describes a warmth that overcame her from the inside. Interiority is important throughout the text, as the entire pilgrimage is about an internal and spiritual journey, not just the temporal one. Christiana has a dream and is visited by Secret, who comes directly from heaven. Bunyan highlights the fact that God is merciful and forgives, and that once a person has committed to the pilgrimage and to Christ, past hesitations or misgivings become irrelevant. Finally, in the last sentence of the excerpt, Bunyan highlights the fact that his God is a deeply personal one, issuing an intimate invitation to Christiana individually. This personal God, one who "inviteth thee to come into his Presence" is a hallmark of Reformation theology, particularly of Luther, who was a profound influence on Bunyan's thought.
“God speaks once, yea twice, yet Man perceiveth it not, in a Dream, in a Vision of the night, when deep Sleep falleth upon men, in slumbering upon the bed. We need not, when abed, to lie awake to talk with God, he can visit us while we sleep, and cause us then to hear his Voice. Our heart oft-times wakes when we sleep, and God can speak to that, either by words, by proverbs, by signs and similitudes, as well as if one was awake”
Christiana speaks here of two of the most important themes in The Pilgrim's Progress: the dream and the power of metaphor. Bunyan frames whole text is framed as his own dream, which ultimately serves to liberate him. The idea that God can communicate with his people while they sleep is deeply entrenched in the Christian tradition. God called the prophet Samuel while he was sleeping, and Daniel and Joseph of Nazareth both received visions in their sleep. Similarly, the first sentence of this excerpt is a paraphrase of Job 33:14-15. Bunyan, through Christiana, reminds his readers of the legitimacy of his project. When God does communicate with people in their sleep, that communication may come "by words, by proverbs, by signs and similitudes," Christiana tells Mercy. For Bunyan, it seems, the fact that God communicates by metaphors and signs, as well as verbally, is reason enough for him to employ the metaphor readily in his text. Because Bunyan's dream is God-given, readers of his time probably assumed that the metaphors and symbols that appear in his text are themselves the God-given metaphors that Christiana describes.
James: “No fears, no Grace, said James; though there is not always Grace where there is fear of Hell, yet to be sure there is no Grace where there is no fear of God.”
Great-Heart: “Well said, James, thou hast hit the mark; for the fear of God is the beginning of Wisdom; and to be sure, they that want the beginning, have neither middle nor end”
This is the second time in the text that Bunyan uses these words: "fear of God is the beginning of Wisdom" (see also p. 168). Christian spoke those words to Hopeful in the first part. That Bunyan sees fit to repeat the sentiment speaks to its theological significance and prominent place in the Puritan paradigm. The phrase itself is scriptural (Proverbs 1:7), and not Bunyan's own creation. As Bunyan's readers were often well-versed in scripture, this allusion would likely not have been lost on them. There are some thoughtful connections in the idea that fear is the beginning of wisdom, because fear is a personal emotion. Therefore, the phrase highlights the possibility of a believer to have a personal relationship with God, who is wisdom. The idea of personal relationship with God and of personal salvation was a new idea that became popular during the Reformation. James points out in the first bit, though, that the fear must be properly directed and experienced. Great-Heart agrees, and highlights the sequential nature of conversion, showing readers that a pilgrim cannot skip steps on the way to salvation.
“This River has been a terror to many, yea, the thoughts of it also have often frighted me; but now methinks I stand easy, my foot is fixed upon that upon which the feet of the Priests that bare the Ark of the Covenant stood, while Israel went over this Jordan. The waters indeed are to the palate bitter, and to the stomach cold; yet thoughts of what I am going to, and of the conduct that waits for me on the other side, doth lie as a glowing coal at my heart”
This excerpt represents Bunyan's final opportunity to reassure his reader about the inevitability of death. The river stands for the boundary between life and death, or rather, between a person's current life and the next. It is a boundary that everyone must ultimately cross, a fact that Bunyan highlights with the allusion to the ancient Israelites. Geographically, in the world of the book, the River sits on the boundary between Beulah and the Celestial City. It is the final obstacle that a believer must cross before becoming united with Christ. As obstacles go, the River is not the most terrifying in the pages of The Pilgrim's Progress (Apollyon and the tyrant in Vanity-Fair come to mind),but it is the most significant obstacle the pilgrims face, as it is the final frontier before salvation. Bunyan confesses that he, too, has been terrified by death, by the pain and darkness of it ("the waters are indeed to the palate bitter, and to the stomach cold"). However, faith makes the fear easier to bear, a fact that Bunyan emphasizes several times over in this text. In this passage, he remarks that the promise of eternal life "doth lie as a glowing coal at my heart," and prior to that, the pilgrims find that the depth and danger of the river varies according to the depth of their faith. Therefore, this passage indicates that Faith in God and the promise of the world to come makes the entire endeavor of death easier.
Pilgrim’s Progress Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Pilgrim’s Progress is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.