Pilgrim's Progress | Study Guide

John Bunyan

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Pilgrim's Progress | Part 2, Chapter 8 | Summary

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Summary

Leaving the Delectable Mountains, the pilgrims meet a man with his sword drawn and his face bloodied. This is Valiant-for-truth, who was assaulted by a trio of robbers but managed to hold them off until they were forced to flee. The party tend to Valiant's wounds and invite him to join them. He accepts, and, as they continue walking, he tells them of his upbringing in Dark-land and of his eventual calling to go on pilgrimage. No tale of woe or threat of danger, he says, could dissuade him from setting out for the Celestial City.

Next, the pilgrims reach the Enchanted Ground, "where the air naturally [tends] to make one drowsy." Despite the arduousness of the path, none of them give in to the temptation to lie down, knowing they may not wake up if they do. They pass by two sleeping men, one of whom is Too-bold, who were less careful and who now appear doomed to sleep forever. As they are about to leave the ground and enter the Land of Beulah, they encounter another pilgrim praying upon his knees. This is Standfast, who moments before was delivered from the allurements of a dangerous temptress called Madam Bubble. He is on his knees because he was offering thanks to God.

Now free of the Enchanted Ground, the pilgrims arrive in the Land of Beulah, where they are welcomed as Christian was before them. Waiting for their appointed time, they one by one receive summons to cross over the River of Life to the Celestial City. Christiana goes first, after bequeathing her earthly possessions to her fellow pilgrims and saying goodbye to her children. Ready-to-halt is summoned next, then Feeble-mind, then Despondency and Much-Afraid at the same time. Honest follows, then Valiant-for-truth, and finally Standfast, leaving Christiana's sons to follow someday.

Analysis

The name Beulah, here used for a land of abundance and ease, originally appears as a synonym for Jerusalem in the biblical Book of Isaiah. This prophetic book has a broad narrative arc of exile and redemption, similar in some respects to the journeys described in The Pilgrim's Progress. The book of the prophet Isaiah in the Hebrew Bible speaks primarily of the fate of the Israelites during the Babylonian captivity, construed as a punishment for straying from God. About midway through the book, however, the tone of lament and recrimination gives way to hope for a renewal of God's favor.

In Isaiah 62:4, where the name Beulah is used, the prophet predicts a radical reversal of fortunes for the then-captive Israelites. Once called Forsaken, they shall now be called Hephzibah ("My Delight Is in Her"), and their land, once called Desolate, will be renamed Beulah ("Married"). The marital imagery continues a longstanding trope in which God presents himself as a bridegroom who is loving and faithful toward his people. Present throughout the Hebrew Bible, not just in Isaiah, this conceit of God's betrothal or marriage to his people recurs in the New Testament as well.

All of this, in turn, fits with the way Beulah is used in The Pilgrim's Progress, both at the end of Part 1 and here at the end of Part 2. In both parts of Bunyan's work, Beulah is depicted as the land nearest to the Celestial City, that is, the closest one can get to heaven in this earthly life. It is thus a fitting place for God's chosen people—a label Bunyan, like many of his time, attaches to the Christian elect. Like the Israelites of old, Bunyan seems to say here that the Christians have a special relationship to God: a betrothal, accompanied by abundant blessings.

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