Pilgrim's Progress | Study Guide

John Bunyan

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Pilgrim's Progress | Quotes


Dark clouds bring waters, when the bright bring none.

John Bunyan, The Author's Apology for His Book

In the opening poem of The Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyan is eager to defend his decision to write and publish a religious allegory. Here, he offers a metaphor to explain why a "dark" (i.e., obscure) way of writing may nonetheless be fruitful for the reader. Sometimes, he asserts, good things—like rainwater—come from a source that does not appear outwardly promising—like dark clouds.


What shall I do to be saved?

Christian, Part 1, Chapter 1

Christian begins The Pilgrim's Progress in a state of great distress because he has learned that his hometown, the City of Destruction, will be destroyed by fire. Within the context of the book, Christian's outcry, "What shall I do to be saved?" is a response to the looming physical threat of a fiery death. The line is originally a verse from the Acts of the Apostles, where it refers to salvation of the soul rather than of the body. The answer given there is to believe in Jesus (Acts 16:31). Cultivating this faith and answering its demands is the main challenge of Christian's subsequent pilgrimage.


Knock and it shall be opened unto you.

John Bunyan, Part 1, Chapter 2

This phrase, inscribed on the Wicket-Gate, comes from the Sermon on the Mount, the longest single discourse given by Jesus in the Bible. The verse immediately following reads: "For everyone that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened" (Matthew 7:8). Bunyan follows the mainstream interpretation of these verses as metaphors for persistent prayer. Christian, and later his wife, Christiana, knock repeatedly at the gate (i.e., pray fervently to God) and are admitted (i.e., saved).


Though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.

Unidentified voice, Part 1, Chapter 4

As Christian walks through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, he hears a voice ahead of him uttering a prayer of trust in God's protection. The prayer, like the whole concept of the "Valley of the Shadow of Death," is taken from Psalm 23, one of the best-known passages in the Hebrew Bible. The psalm, read in full, expresses a blissful confidence that God will provide and protect; there, the valley is a single dark spot (Verse 4) in an otherwise brightly reassuring poem.


For there is a knowledge that is not attended with doing: "He that knoweth his Master's will, and doeth it not."

Faithful, Part 1, Chapter 6

Here, Faithful chides Talkative by pointing out the distinction made in the Bible between knowledge of what is good and actual obedience to God's will. This paves the way for a larger discussion of the role of faith and good works, both of which Bunyan construes as necessary for salvation.


Let us be wise as serpents.

Mr. Hold-the-world, Part 1, Chapter 7

This advice is, in itself, not as sinister as it might sound; in fact, it has a biblical precedent. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus enjoins his disciples to be "wise as serpents, and harmless as doves" (Matt 10:16) in the face of the coming persecution. What makes Mr. Hold-the-world's advice poisonous is that he takes Jesus's injunction out of context and applies it in a self-serving manner. He is happy to be "wise as serpents" in saving himself from hardship, but he is unwilling to embrace the other, more self-sacrificial aspects of Christian living.


He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool.

Christian, Part 1, Chapter 9

Here, Christian is quoting from the Book of Proverbs (28:26). The immediate context of his remark is a debate with Ignorance, who trusts that he has done enough to secure a place in the Celestial City. To Christian, this is dubious reasoning because people are quite capable of deluding themselves with false reassurances.


Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.

Chorus of Saints, Part 1, Chapter 10

This text comes from Chapter 5 of the Book of Revelation, the biblical prophetic narrative of the apocalypse and final judgment. There, the phrase is uttered by the multitude of saints saved by God from the wrath of the final days. Here, it underscores the Celestial City's status as a representation of heaven. Populated by the faithful, it is a place protected by God's power from the evils encountered on earth.

Christiana hears this phrase from the visitor who brings her an invitation to the Celestial City. She repeats it to her doubting neighbors as a defense against their attempts to dissuade her from her pilgrimage. It may be true, she reasons, that a pilgrim's path is a bitter one, but the bitterness is, for Bunyan, a necessary prelude to future joys.


God speaks once, yea, twice, yet man perceiveth it not.

Christiana, Part 2, Chapter 4

Here, Christiana is attempting to reassure Mercy, who continues to harbor some doubts about her salvation. Mercy has had a wonderful dream in which she was welcomed into the Celestial City, and she shares it with Christiana, evidently unsure of whether it should be seen as a sign. Christiana quotes Scripture—specifically, the Book of Job—to argue that God does "speak" to people in their dreams.


He that is down, needs fear no fall; he that is low, no pride.

Shepherd boy, Part 2, Chapter 5

This comes from one of the many spontaneous songs into which the characters of The Pilgrim's Progress tend to break. The singer, a humble shepherd boy, is extolling the virtues of a simple life. Those who have little, he declares, have little to fear.


The heart knoweth its own bitterness; and a stranger intermeddleth not with its joy.

Christiana, Part 2, Chapter 5

This is another quotation from the biblical book of Proverbs (14:10). Here, Christiana is reflecting on the fact that she only now can understand the suffering her husband went through on his pilgrimage. There are limits to human empathy, she affirms, to the ability of one "heart" to appreciate the joys and sorrows of another.


This I have resolved on ... to run when I can, to go when I cannot run, and to creep when I cannot go.

Feeble-mind, Part 2, Chapter 6

Feeble-mind's resolution here is essentially to keep moving forward on his pilgrimage as fast as he is able. (To "go," in this 17th-century sense, is to "walk.") Bunyan adds a marginal note—"Mark this"—in the original text to show that he thinks Feeble-mind's example is especially noteworthy.


He that watereth, shall be watered himself.

Shepherds, Part 2, Chapter 7

In the Delectable Mountains, the shepherds show Christiana and her party several wonders with spiritual meaning. One of these is a man who cuts garments for the poor out of a magically endless roll of cloth. The moral: God will provide for those who give to the poor.


For he that goeth away in a sleep, begins that journey with desire and pleasure.

Standfast, Part 2, Chapter 8

In this quotation, Standfast explains the meaning of the Enchanted Ground, which makes those passing through extremely drowsy. The Ground, as he explains it, represents all those worldly temptations that are not outwardly evil, but pleasant and innocent seeming. One can drift off into such temptations, to the detriment of one's soul, without even realizing that one is going to "sleep."

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