Then I saw in my dream, that Christian was as in a muse a while. To whom also Hopeful added this word, Be of good cheer, Jesus Christ makes you whole; and with that Christian broke out with a loud voice, Oh, I see him again! and he tells me, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.” Then they both took courage, and the enemy was after that as still as a stone, until they were gone over. Christian therefore presently found ground to stand upon, and so it followed that the rest of the river was but shallow. Thus they got over.
Now, upon the bank of the river, on the other side, they saw the two shining men again, who there waited for them; wherefore, being come out of the river, they saluted them, saying, We are ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for those that shall be heirs of salvation. Thus they went along towards the gate.
Now you must note that the city stood upon a mighty hill, but the Pilgrims went up that hill with ease, because they had these two men to lead them up by the arms; also, they had left their mortal garments behind them in the river, for though they went in with them, they came out without them. They, therefore, went up here with much agility and speed, though the foundation upon which the city was framed was higher than the clouds. They therefore went up through the regions of the air, sweetly talking as they went, being comforted, because they safely got over the river, and had such glorious companions to attend them.
Now, now, look how the holy pilgrims ride,
Clouds are their chariots, angels are their guide:
Who would not here for him all hazards run,
That thus provides for his when this world’s done?
As Christian struggles to cross the River, he is “in a muse.” Facing death causes him deep concern and consternation. He ponders his life and his thoughts are troubled with fears, regrets, doubts, and dismay. But Christian is calmed by two valuable comforts:
- He is encouraged by Hopeful, who stays near him, cheers his soul, and points him to Christ.
- He remembers the Word of God. It is hidden in his heart (Psalm 119:11) and now shines forth to clear and cleanse his thinking. He recalls the promise in Isaiah 43:
But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name;
You are Mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you.”
O that God would grant us such comforts! Remembrance of His Word and godly friends who will keep that Word before our eyes and in our ears—these can help keep our head above the fearful tide. These can be ours—in times of trouble and trial, even in our final moments of life on earth, but we must cultivate and cherish these comforts. Don’t take them for granted or assume you will have them in your hour of need. Invest time in studying, understanding, and memorizing Scripture. And invest time in cultivating Christian friendships—brothers and sisters who will pray for you, hold you accountable, and speak God’s Word into your life.
One of the most significant themes in The Pilgrim’s Progress is the preeminence of God’s Word. Too often we fail to realize its worth! On our journey from the City of Destruction (this present sinful world) to the Celestial City (the glorious world to come), it is our invaluable guide and indispensable comfort. Over and over Bunyan highlights just how essential Scripture is to our spiritual life and well-being.
- It is the book Christian is reading at the beginning of the story that warns him to flee the wrath to come.
- It is the Shining Light to which Evangelist points Christian that leads him to the Gate.
- It is the book Christian uses to try to persuade Obstinate and Pliable to go with him.
- It is the admonition of Evangelist when Christian strays from the Way.
- It is the House of the Interpreter that teaches Christian “excellent things” he will need on his journey.
- It is the instruction Christian receives at Palace Beautiful.
- It the Sword from the Armory that Christian wields against Apollyon in the Valley of Humiliation.
- It is the sunlight that warms Christian’s heart and lights his way through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
- It is Faithful’s defense when he is tried in the town of Vanity.
- It is the instruction of the Shepherds that Christian and Hopeful receive in the Delectable Mountains.
- It is the true measure of the heart, as Christian instructs Ignorance.
- It is the glorious light, the sun that shines “night and day” in the land of Beulah, that offers Christian and Hopeful “a more perfect view” of the Celestial City.
And now, as Christian experiences death, God’s Word is his comfort that instills courage and causes the enemy to be “still as a stone.”
Fear and dread will fall on them;
By the greatness of Your arm
They will be as still as a stone,
Till Your people pass over, O Lord,
Till the people pass over
Whom You have purchased.
Scripture again, as it did in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, warms Christian’s heart and lights his way. He is able to find ground to stand on. He and Hopeful make it safely over the river.
On the bank of the River the two pilgrims are greeted again and welcomed by the Shining Ones. The Shining Ones identify themselves as “ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14). Christian and Hopeful are now ushered by angels to their final destination—the City whose foundation sits “higher than the clouds.”
But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:16).
They shed the final remnants of corruption and put on immortality, having conquered death through the power of Christ Jesus.
For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O Death, where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory?”
The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:53–57).
A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary
The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2019 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.