The Pilgrims Progress is an allegorical narrative written by John Bunyan about the Christian’s formative walk to heaven through this life. There are many experiences that the main character “Christian” is forced to undertake. Each experience is providential, purposeful, and molds him in his sanctifying journey. Two experiences that are written about are of clear importance and lead the way for the rest of Bunyan’s message: “Christian Sets Out for the Celestial City” and “The Slough of Despond (96-97)”. These scenes are the bulwark of Christian’s conversion and the spring that pushes him onward in his journey.
In Steven Greenblatt’s The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century, the scene “Christian Sets Out for the Celestial City” appropriately relays these words, “I looked then, and saw a man named Evangelist coming to him, who asked, Wherefore dost thou cry? (Job xxxiii23). He answered, Sir, I perceive by the book in my hand that I am condemned to die, and after that to come to judgment (Hebrew ix.27), and I find that I am not willing to do the first (Job xvi21), nor able to do the second (Ezekiel xxii.14)….(97).” Christian is speaking of the conviction that follows God’s prodding the sinner’s heart unto repentance. Christian knew a change needed to occur, but how and through what means?
This is where the Evangelist steps in with the gospel truth. This truth proclaims that all fall short of the glory of God, which leads to just judgement. Although God, in his perfect love made a way for those who believe and trust in Him to be snatched out of this impending judgement in hell, by providing His Son to be the sacrifice needed to atone, give restoration between God and man, and eternal life in heaven. Christian continues speaking and seeking the counsel of Evangelist, who graciously lends an ear and adds his wisdom. This exchange between the two goes on as such:
“Then says Evangelist, If this be thy condition, why standest thou still? He answered, Because I know not whither to go. Then he gave him a parchment roll, and there was written within, “Fly from the wrath to come” (Matthew iii.7)…So I saw in my dream that the man began to run. Now, he had not run far from his own door, but his wife and children perceiving it, began to cry after him to return; but the man put his fingers in his ears, and ran on, crying, Life! Life! eternal life! (Luke xix.26 (Greenblatt 97)).”
This is the exciting gospel message taking root in Christian’s heart. He has now repented and believed and must follow the call of Christ. Note that Bunyan was not speaking of a man converting to Christianity and (then in literal language) leaving his family. Since this is an allegory, Bunyan is more likely stating that Christian’s family was concerned about his conversion, begging him not to go on. Yet, the converted man did not listen and persisted in this new change of belief and mission.
This joyous moment for Christian is followed by a more solemn scene. This is the scene of “The Slough of Despond (Greenblatt 99)”. At this point, Christian is going on his way with a friend named Pliable (99). Their journey is interrupted by a very muddy patch in front of them, which they both fearfully fell into (99). Pliable immediately bent under the pressure, hence his characteristic name. Once Pliable was out of the Slough of Despond, he turned around and headed back to where he came from (99). Christian was left alone in the slough to persevere until Help came to his aid (99). This illustration is used widely throughout the culture as an exhortation and encouragement to Christians. Bunyan was certainly talking about the periods of drudgery that come along with the Christian walk, especially in the beginning periods of their belief. This may be struggles of unbelief, There are two reactions present within this excerpt: the urge to turn around and falter in faith and the God-sustaining power to push on through the despond.
Christian goes onto other triumphs and challenges within the book. All the while leading up to the ultimate celebration- the joyous entry to the Celestial City (symbolizing heaven).
Within the writing of John Bunyan, explored within Steven Greenblatt’s The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century there are important theological lessons and practical applications that modern-day Christians must hold fast to. The Christian walk must not be a luke-warm existence, yet an ever-deepening exploration of our journey unto the Celestial City. This requires the utmost dedication, dependence, and counter-cultural love for God, who saved them from their deserved judgment.
Greenblatt, Stephen. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century. New York, N.Y: W.W. Norton & Co, 2012. Print.
This is in essay written for my University of the Cumberlands “English Literature” class a few months ago. My father always delighted in the book Pilgrim’s Progress, so I happily wrote this essay for my teacher. Since then, I’ve added a line or two, mostly to tie in its concluding theme.