The Pilgrim’s Progress – Part I: The Tenth Stage, Conclusion of Part I

Christian asks Hopeful if he knows of a fellow named Temporary, who
was religious and who resolved to go on a pilgrimage as they are
doing now. Hopeful knows of the man. Christian says that Temporary’s
resolve only lasted a short time, until he met someone named Saveself
and stopped talking to Christian. Temporary’s example leads Hopeful
to ask that they discuss the causes of spiritual backsliding in
general. Hopeful explains that fear, shame, and guilt are all causes
for the devout to lose sight of their salvation. He lists some key
symptoms of backsliders, including the abandonment of duties, association
with loose people, and the shunning of Christian friends.
Christian and Hopeful are told they face more difficulties.
Two of the three Shining Ones encourage them onward. One difficulty soon
appears before them: a river flowing between them and the city gate.
There is no bridge, so when they try to cross, Christian feels himself
start to sink, despairing of reaching his goal. He tells Hopeful
he fears he will never see the land of milk and honey. Hopeful urges
him on, but Christian tells him to go on without him. Then Hopeful
mentions Jesus Christ, who wishes Christian well. The vision of
Christ gives Christian new hope, and they emerge from the river.
The Shining Ones lead them up to the gate of the City
on a tall hill, where trumpeters greet them. Christian and Hopeful
realize they have lost their mortal garments in the river. The Shining
Ones beseech the king of the City to open the gate. The king announces that
anyone who keeps God’s truth may enter and commands that the gate
open for Christian and Hopeful. They enter and are clothed in garments
of gold.
After watching Christian and Hopeful enter through the
gate, the narrator wishes he were with them. Ignorance is shut out
of the City because he is without a certificate of entry and is
sent to hell. The narrator wakes up from his dream.
In the conclusion, the narrator says that he has told
his dream and invites the reader to interpret it. Though he warns
of the dangers of interpreting his dream wrongly, the narrator also
cautions against playing around with the obvious surface content
of the tale, being entertained by it rather than instructed. He
says that, just as no one throws away an apple to save the core,
so too must no one throw away the essence of his story to save its
inessential parts.
Christian’s discussion of Temporary displays his spiritual
confidence near the end of his journey. Like his earlier tale about
Little-Faith, his story about Temporary demonstrates that Christian
possesses the certitude necessary to analyze cases of pilgrims who
fail. In earlier chapters, he was not sure enough of his own success
to make such judgments. After all, Temporary’s story reveals the
risk of Christian’s own position, since Temporary also felt saved
until he failed to follow through on his spiritual achievement.
Christian could backslide also, at least theoretically. Temporary’s
fate could be his own. But he understands himself and his progress
enough to trust that he will succeed where Temporary failed.
The scene of Christian’s near drowning emphasizes the
importance of knowledge gained through travel. Throughout The
Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian has encountered many difficulties, including
falling into the Slough of Despond at the beginning of the journey.
In the Slough, another pilgrim rescued Christian, but now Christian
is forced to think of his own way out of the river. By learning
from the mistakes of the pilgrims he’s met on the journey, Christian
stays on the right path toward salvation. Christian’s strong faith
and belief that the Celestial City exists pulls him out of the river.
If Christian chose to accompany Ignorance on an easier path, he
would have been cast out of the Celestial City. Earlier on his journey,
Christian made the mistake of listening to Worldly Wiseman, but
now he does not make the same error. Instead, Christian immediately
recognizes Ignorance as a fool. The knowledge Christian gains on
the journey aids him in his final task when crossing the river.

The Pilgrim’s Progress sometimes switches
back and forth between novel and allegory. Strictly speaking, the
despair that Christian feels in the river is a spiritual danger
that he surpassed long ago. After all, he escaped the threat of
Giant Despair and his Doubting Castle. According to the rules of
allegory, Christian should never have to feel despair again. Yet
a character that does not feel despair when nearly drowning would
not be convincing or sympathetic. Here the author makes a decision
that goes again the rules of his allegory. In this scene, Christian
is portrayed as a realistic human who becomes desperate at the brink
of death. This is not a failure on Bunyan’s part because the scene
helps make the work a living artistic experience.
The land of Beulah and the Celestial City display a richness
of sensual detail hardly seen elsewhere in The Pilgrim’s
Progress. The presence of birds and flowers and the orchards
and vineyards emphasize a vividness that the landscape rarely had
before. Similarly, the Celestial City appears in all its grandeur
through physical descriptions of its pearls and gems and its streets
paved with gold. The details of the Celestial City exist simply
to exist, in heavenly simplicity.
The narrator’s conclusion gives a final emphasis of interpretation running
throughout The Pilgrim’s Progress. The Interpreter
warned Christian at the outset about the importance of interpreting
signs and events correctly and spoke darkly about the dangers of
misinterpreting. The narrator delivers a similar warning here. He
says that one must not play with the surface details of his story
but look behind the surface to the essential meaning. The difference
is that now the one who must interpret is no longer Christian, but
the reader. The reader takes on the role of a reader of meanings
that Christian once held. Christian’s quest for understanding is
the reader’s hands now.