Pilgrim's Progress | Study Guide

John Bunyan

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Pilgrim's Progress | Part 1, Chapter 3 | Summary

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Summary

Continuing along the highway, Christian encounters a cross. As he beholds it, his burden falls from his back and rolls into a tomb at the foot of the hill. Three "shining ones" appear and give Christian new clothing along with a sealed "roll" (scroll) to serve as a kind of passport at the Celestial Gate. He sings a song of rejoicing and resumes his journey, encountering three sleeping men "a little out of the way," with their feet bound in irons. He calls to the men—whose names are Simple, Sloth, and Presumption—but they fail to recognize that they are in any danger and lie back down to sleep.

Next, Christian encounters Formalist and Hypocrisy, two men who snuck over the wall rather than going through the Wicket-Gate. Christian accuses them of trespassing, but they assure him that their way of reaching the highway is as legitimate as his. When the three encounter a hill called Difficulty, Christian begins to climb over it, while the other two attempt to go around and are never heard from again. Partway up the hill, when Christian pauses for a nap, the "roll" slips out of his pocket and is lost. He proceeds up to the hilltop unaware and meets Mistrust and Timorous, who are fleeing from a pair of lions. Realizing he has misplaced his roll, Christian goes back down the hill and searches for it. By the time he finds it, night is coming on, and he fears he will be eaten by wild beasts.

Fortunately, however, Christian happens upon a palace called Beautiful. He attempts to enter and seek a place to sleep but is deterred when he sees two lions near the entryway. The gatekeeper chides Christian for his cowardice and tells him the lions are chained. Christian takes Watchful at his word and enters the palace, where he meets four damsels named Discretion, Prudence, Piety, and Charity. They offer him food and lodging and converse with him about his travels. In the morning Christian's hostesses show him the "rarities" of the house, including the library, the armory, and a collection of biblical artifacts. The next day they point out to him in the distance the Delectable Mountains, a "most pleasant mountainous country" that lies between the palace and the Celestial City. By the time he reaches these mountains, they say, he will be able to see the city for himself.

Analysis

The scene with the cross and the burden may require a little unpacking. The burden Christian has been carrying because he can't get rid of it by himself is sin, which metaphorically weighs a person down. Christian cannot remove this burden without help, or even with merely human help because only God's grace is capable of freeing humankind from the ill effects of sin. This is why Christian's detour to the village of Morality is not only pointless but also dangerous: Legality and Civility, the supposed specialists in burden removal, cannot truly "unburden" a person from sin. They can, however, delude a person into postponing the effort and cultivating the humility required to reach and pass through the Wicket-Gate—a narrow opening in a larger barrier that will admit only one person at a time so that a group of pilgrims entering a cathedral through its wicket gate must be patient and generous to one another. Concentrating on merely being a good person is, for Bunyan, a kind of spiritual procrastination.

Given the role of the cross in Christian theology, it is not all that surprising that Bunyan chooses this moment to free Christian from his burden. In so doing, Bunyan follows an almost universally accepted tenet of Christian thought, which is that Jesus's sacrifice on the cross redeemed humanity from its fallen state. The traditional explanation, still current across many modern Christian denominations, is that humanity had, through sin, fallen short of the demands of God's law. Part 1, Chapter 2 includes the lesson from Interpreter's house that this law is, by itself, strict rather than lenient. No burnt offering, act of atonement, or other sacrifice would be sufficient for humans to redeem themselves; the debt, to use a common analogy, was too great to be repaid.

But God did not simply pardon the sin or forgive the debt. The usual reasoning here is that to do so would be merciful but not just, and God in the Christian tradition is both infinitely just and infinitely merciful. To reconcile the demands of divine justice with those of divine mercy, God took human form (the Incarnation) and atoned for humanity's sins himself by accepting death on the cross. Because of the blamelessness of the victim—after all, how could God offend against himself?—this was a perfect sacrifice, capable of redeeming humanity's sins. Christian, at the mere sight of the cross, is reminded of this sacrifice, and the burden falls off seemingly of its own accord.

The "three shining ones" who give Christian new clothes and a roll as a certification or "passport" invoke the gift of new clothes to converts who have just been baptized to symbolize the new life into which they have been reborn. Travelers in Bunyan's time who went from one town to the next as itinerant professionals, such as both Bunyan and his father, as metalworkers, were required to carry a roll with an official seal to be presented to the town magistrate. This would verify that the stranger is on an errand of legitimate business rather than for criminal purposes. Only thieves and other miscreants would, like Formalist and Hypocrisy, try to avoid detection by climbing over the wall instead of knocking, presenting a roll to be examined, and then going one by one through the narrow wicket gate. This requirement of being vouched for to enter a city is all the more important to understand why the loss of his "roll" is as much a trouble to Christian as if he'd lost a key.

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