The Pilgrim’s Progress – Part I: The Third Stage, the Fourth Stage

Summary
Continuing on his journey, Christian comes to a wall that
the narrator identifies as Salvation. The wall fences in a field
of rising land containing a cross and a sepulcher, or tomb. Passing
by the wall, Christian feels his burden spontaneously drop to the
ground. Amazed and relieved that the sight of the cross has eased
his burden, Christian stands and cries for a while. The three Shining
Ones appear and hand Christian a rolled-up certificate he will need
one day to enter the Celestial City.
Proceeding onward along the “strait and narrow” path of
the wall of Salvation, Christian notices three figures—Simple, Sloth, and
Presumption—asleep and bound with iron chains. He warns these figures
that they must go on their way, but they want only to go back to
sleep. Christian then sees two figures scrambling over the wall
instead of following the narrow path as he did. Their names are Formalist
and Hypocrisy, and they come from the town of Vain-Glory; they are
headed to Mount Zion for praise. Christian accuses them of cheating
by climbing over the wall, calling them thieves in the eyes of God,
but they disagree.
Christian ascends a hill called Difficulty. There he finds
a pleasant arbor where he decides to rest. He takes his rolled certificate from
his chest pocket and falls asleep. Two men awaken him, warning of
lions in the area. Christian is unsure what to do. He cannot go back
where he came from, but he is scared of the lions. When Christian
reaches for his certificate, he finds it missing. Reproaching himself
for sleeping in the daytime and being careless, he calls sleep sinful.
After retracing his steps, Christian finds his certificate and vows
always to remain watchful. He catches a glimpse of the pilgrims’
hostel where he will take shelter, called the Palace Beautiful (House
Beautiful in some editions).
Arriving late at the pilgrims’ hotel, Christian has lost
much time sleeping. The porter is skeptical about letting him in,
and one of the lodge owner’s four daughters, Discretion, asks who
he is. After Christian identifies himself, Discretion allows him
inside. The three other daughters, Piety, Prudence, and Charity,
ask about Christian’s journey. They also ask about Christian’s family
and why he left them behind. He weeps when talking about his wife
and sons. Finally they eat, and the four women take Christian on
a tour of the lodge, showing him mementos from the history of Christianity,
including the slingshot with which David killed Goliath. They give
Christian weapons for protection. Christian learns that a fellow
townsman named Faithful has passed by in the meantime.
The four mistresses of the Palace Beautiful accompany
Christian to the end of their property and give him food for his
journey. They warn him of the slippery ground he will enter, called
the Valley of Humiliation. Walking through the valley, Christian
sees a foul monster approaching, a human form with dragon wings
and bear feet, covered in fish scales. Christian is scared but does
not flee. The monster’s name is Apollyon, and he claims Christian
as his subject, since Christian is on his land. Christian refutes
him, saying he is already subject to a different prince, meaning
Christ. Apollyon flies into a rage, voicing hatred for the rival
prince. They fight with swords, and Apollyon nearly kills Christian,
but Christian at the last minute saves himself and strikes Apollyon,
who flies away.
Continuing onward, Christian finds himself in the Valley
of the Shadow of Death, a hot desert full of pits. The narrator
comments that this is where the mouth of hell is located. Christian
realizes there is more danger for him here than his fight with Apollyon
and hears the demons clamoring for him. He is deeply afraid but
takes solace in the thought that Christ is protecting him like a
candle in the dark. At the end of the valley, Christian sees the
bones, ashes, and mangled remains of other pilgrims. The area is
lorded over by two giants, Pope and Pagan, who devoured earlier
pilgrims. Christian is not afraid, since they are both decrepit
and unthreatening.
Analysis
Faith is given a deeper meaning when Christian’s burden
spontaneously falls from the sight of the cross in the Third Stage.
This removal of the burden marks a new perspective on his progress. Clearly
faith depends on striving. Christian has undertaken many risks already
to get where he is, and his way is far from easy. Yet faith also
involves changes that require no effort at all, like the miraculous
relief from the burden. Christian does not even have to remove the
burden, since it removes itself. In Christian doctrine, these two parts
of the pilgrim’s experience are known as will and grace. Will is the
exertion required to find faith and master oneself. Grace is what comes
without trying to get it, a pure gift from heaven. Christian experiences
both will and grace when passing the cross, and he is rewarded for
his strong individual faith when the burden falls.
The certificate that Christian receives from the three
Shining Ones emphasizes the first appearance of the written word
in ThePilgrim’s Progress since
the very beginning when Christian was seen crying with a book in
his hand. This written document has great value, since it is the
entry ticket to the Celestial City. Readers are reminded that however
action-packed Christian’s tale is, the action only draws its meaning
from the written word, which reveals divine truth. Symbolically
it is key that Christian loses his burden at the same moment he
is handed his certificate of entry. The physical burden is in a
way transformed into printed words, and the heavy impediment is
transformed into a promise of progress and achievement.
The moment when Christian wakes up and learns of his lost
certificate is one of the subtlest and most important scenes in The
Pilgrim’s Progress, for it shows Christian’s dawning awareness
that he could be his own worst enemy. Christian’s accepting of the
certificate also marks a new phase in his mission, one that demands
a higher level of watchful care and self-control than he needed
before. Earlier, he could not shake his burden because it was attached
to his back. He now knows the certificate can be lost, as he learns
when he falls asleep. Christian also realizes that losing the certificate
could lead to spiritual disaster, and this explains why he calls
sleep sinful. External enemies like Apollyon abound in the book,
but Christian’s own inattention and laziness are dangers just as
great. No one stole Christian’s certificate from him; he lost it
himself, which is even more alarming for a pilgrim who must be master
of his own fate.
The appearance of Hypocrisy and Formalist emphasize the
religious nature of Christian’s journey. Formalist, whose name refers
to anyone who sees the outward form or appearance of faith as being more
important than the inward experience, feels that getting to a destination
is all that matters. So Formalist cheats and climbs over the wall
of Salvation. To him, the only important thing is that he has arrived
at the same place Christian is standing. Hypocrisy believes in saying
the “right” thing but doing otherwise. Christian’s harsh words to
both of these fake pilgrims are enlightening. Christian understands
his journey as far more of an inward progress than a geographical
one. He knows truth matters more to his progress than mere motion
does.
Christian’s stay in the Palace Beautiful offers a glimpse
of comfort and rest for the first time on the journey. Even when
Christian was back at home with his family, he was neither comforted
nor rested, since he was torn by spiritual crisis. The four beautiful daughters
of the palace’s owner make the refuge a female space. They are the
first women characters in the book, not counting the brief reference
to Christian’s wife early on, and they are associated with peace,
calm, nourishment, and safety. Yet they are not passive figures.
On the contrary, their astute conversation with Christian the first
evening displays their active and engaged intelligence. Their gift
of protective military gear also shows that they understand the perils
of faith-related battle.
Though Apollyon’s presence is brief in The Pilgrims’
Progress, the monster’s appearance is both dominant and
unforgettable. He is one of the best-known characters and is often
referred to in later English literature. Indeed, Bunyan here almost
approaches science fiction with this beast covered in scales and
with bear feet and dragon wings. Apollyon has medieval overtones.
When Apollyon claims Christian as his own, he acts like a feudal
baron. The sword combat with Christian harkens back to medieval
dragon-slaying tales. When Christian defeats him, the combat portion
of his progress is complete. Christian never fights anyone again
in the book. Leaving behind the old tales of physical combat, Christian
is free to go on to face more spiritual hardships.