Pilgrim's Progress | Study Guide

John Bunyan

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Pilgrim's Progress | Part 1, Chapter 10 | Summary



Closer than ever to the Celestial City, Christian and Hopeful discuss various theological topics, including the fear of God and the danger of backsliding in one's faith. Christian illustrates the latter with the cautionary tale of a would-be pilgrim named Temporary. At last the two arrive in the beautiful Land of Beulah, their last stopping point before the city. They rest here for a time but then grow eager to resume their journey. Their last and greatest obstacle is the deep, broad River of Life, which surrounds the city on all sides and over which there is no bridge. Wading in, Christian falters and seems nearly to drown, but Hopeful rescues and encourages him multiple times.

When the pilgrims finally make it ashore, they are immediately welcomed into the Celestial City. There, they are adorned with robes and crowns and are given harps to play in praise of the king. They greet, and are greeted by, their fellow citizens: the saints and martyrs who have loved God throughout the ages. Ignorance, meanwhile, is ferried over the river but is rejected by the king because he does not have a certificate proving his right to enter. He is therefore bound hand and foot before being thrown into hell. After this frightening epilogue, Bunyan offers some reflections in rhyme, asking the reader to seek out the "substance" beneath the allegorical exterior of his work.


The River of Life is likely in reference to the symbolic drowning of baptism, a submersion often conducted in a river to echo the baptism of Jesus in the Bible as conducted by his cousin, St. John the Baptist, in the Gospels. Different Christian denominations have argued for either infant baptism or adult baptism, but the idea is the same. A person is first born into the world and then is "reborn" as a member of the Christian faith. A complete submersion of the body into the waters of a river can be terrifying, especially if the person doesn't know how to swim. Hopeful, then, is a trustworthy aide to Christian in his effort to reach the Celestial City.

The details of this final chapter are taken wholesale from the Book of Revelation, where the second coming of Christ in glory is prophetically described. The closest and most important parallels come in Revelation 7:10, which describes a great, white-robed multitude assembled before God and praising him in "a loud voice." When John, the prophet witnessing this vision, asks who the multitude are, he learns they are the souls who survived the final trial and have "washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Rev 7:14). In other words, these are the elect, the saints and martyrs who have suffered for their faith and have been purified by Jesus's sacrifice—"the blood of the Lamb." Bunyan updates the imagery somewhat by comparing the Celestial City to the court of an early modern European monarch, but the underlying idea of this final chapter is solidly biblical.

Other details, such as the binding and casting away of Ignorance, recall Jesus's teachings about hell and judgment. Perhaps the closest analogy to Ignorance's situation comes in the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus likens the kingdom of heaven to a royal wedding banquet. In the first part of this parable (Matt 22:1–10), Jesus describes the king's search for guests to come and partake of the feast. When those invited reject his invitation and mistreat his servants, the king punishes them and then summons everyone, "both bad and good," to the feast. At the banquet, however, the king sees a man who is not wearing "a wedding garment" (Matt 22:11)—that is, who is not appropriately dressed for such a celebration. This man, like Ignorance, is seized by the king's servants, bound hand and foot, and "cast ... into outer darkness," where "there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matt 22:13).

This punishment may seem shockingly severe, given that the crime is essentially a dress code violation. The guest's fate, however, anticipates and underscores Bunyan's point about the necessity of responding to God's call and of preparing oneself. Ignorance's lack of a "certificate" he can show at the gate, like the guest's lack of a "wedding garment," shows a failure to prepare properly. For Bunyan, merely being invited—or even accepting the invitation—is not enough. One must respond to God's call in the proper time and manner, and even seemingly minor failures are enough to jeopardize one's soul.

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