A Guide to John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress


Notes and Commentary on
The Pilgrim's Progress

by Ken Puls

Frightening Dream

29. A Frightening Dream

So he took Christian by the hand again, and led him into a chamber, where there was one rising out of bed; and as he put on his raiment, he shook and trembled. Then said Christian, Why does this man thus tremble? The Interpreter then bid him tell to Christian the reason of his so doing: So he began and said, This night as I was in my sleep, I dreamed, and behold the Heavens grew exceedingly black; Also it thundered and lightened in most fearful wise, that it put me into an agony. So I looked up in my dream, and saw the clouds rack at an unusual rate, upon which I heard a great sound of a trumpet. and saw also a Man sit upon a cloud, attended with the thousands of heaven: They were all in flaming fire, also the heavens were in a burning flame.

I heard then a Voice, saying, "Arise you dead, and come to judgment." And with that the rocks rent, the graves opened, and the dead, that were therein, came forth. Some of them were exceeding glad, and looked upward; and some sought to hide themselves under the mountains. Then I saw the Man that sat upon the cloud, open the Book, and bid the world draw near. Yet there was, by reason of a fierce flame which issued out and came before him a convenient distance between him and them, as between the Judge and the prisoners at the bar.

I heard it also proclaimed to them that attended on the Man that sat on the cloud, "Gather together the tares, the chaff and stubble, and cast them into the burning lake." And with that the bottomless pit opened, just about where I stood; out of the mouth of which there came, in an abundant manner, smoke, and coals of fire with hideous noises.

It was also said to the same persons, "Gather my wheat into the garner." And with that I saw many caught up and carried away into the clouds, but I was left behind. I also sought to hide myself, but I could not, for the Man that sat upon the Cloud still kept his eye upon me: My sins also came into my mind; and my conscience did accuse me on every side. Upon this I awoke from my sleep.

Christian: But what was it that made you so afraid of this sight?

Man: Why, I thought that the Day of Judgment was come, and that I was not ready for it. But this frightened me most, that the angels gathered up several, and left me behind; also the pit of hell opened her mouth just where I stood. My conscience too afflicted me; and, as I thought, the Judge had always his eye upon me, showing Indignation in his countenance.

Then said the Interpreter to Christian, Have you considered all these things?

Christian: Yes, and they put me in hope and fear.

Interpreter: Well, keep all things so in your mind, that they may be as a goad in your sides, to prick you forward in the Way you must go.

Then Christian began to gird up his loins, and to address himself to his Journey.


Notes and Commentary

In the final lesson that Christian receives at the House of the Interpreter, he is told of the certainty of the coming Day of Judgment and the great necessity of being prepared to face it. Christian sees a man rising out of bed who had just had a fearful dream. This man awakes in his chamber shaking and trembling. The Day of Judgment had come and the man was found still in his sins.

Christian must have identified with this man's agony. The impending judgment of God was what had caused Christian such great distress at the beginning of the allegory. While he walked in the fields reading his Book (the Bible), he was troubled and cried out: "What shall I do to be saved?" When Evangelist came to answer his cry, Christian explained: "Sir, I perceive by the Book in my hand that I am condemned to die, and after that to come to Judgment; and I found that I am not willing to do the first, nor able to do the second." Christian knew that he lived in a place sure to be destroyed by God's fierce wrath, a town given the name Destruction. He knew as well that the Burden upon his back made him unfit to face the Great Judge. His sin would sink him lower than the grave into hell itself. He saw the necessity of seeking relief and following the command written on the parchment roll to "fly from the wrath to come." So Christian heeded the instruction of Evangelist and was even now pursuing the Shining Light.

The dream that the man in the chamber relates is a compilation of several passages of Scripture that teach of the coming judgment. The man hears a trumpet and sees One coming in the clouds:

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

He describes the heavens on fire:

… when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10).

He hears a Voice and the graves are opened:

Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation (John 5:28-29).

The books are opened in judgment:

Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15).

In Matthew 13:24-30 Jesus relates the parable of the wheat and tares. He concludes in verse 30:

Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, "First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn."

John the Baptist said of Christ:

His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:12).

These and many other passages in Scripture warn us that the Day of Judgment is certain to come. Our situation is dire. If we remain outside of Jesus Christ and still in our sins, we will have no hope to face that Day. Our sins will condemn us and we will be cast into the burning flames of hell as chaff and stubble. But if we are found in Christ, if He is our Savior and Refuge, we will be glad in that Day and "look up." The reference to looking up in the dream is taken from Psalm 5:3 where David speaks of his longing for fellowship and communion with God as he begins each day. Our greatest need is to turn from our sin and look up to Jesus as our only hope of salvation.

Both the Book and House of the Interpreter represent in the allegory the true and certain Word of God. God in His Word gives us both warning that we may avoid danger to our souls, and promise that we may find peace and hope in the Gospel. Both teachings from the Book are necessary. God will certainly accomplish all He has told us in His Word. He will save all who come to Him by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. And He will judge and condemn all who are still in their sins.

The clear warning that concludes Christian's instruction in the House of the Interpreter, a warning that the Interpreter felt was important enough to restrain Christian from proceeding on his journey until he had heard it, has sadly vanished from many pulpits in our day. People are eager to hear messages that address immediate concerns—how to raise children, how to solve social ills, how to succeed in business and relationships—but to confront them with the certainty of death and then afterward the judgment—this is much too uncomfortable. Though the world hates to hear it, those who would find true peace and entrance into heaven must hear! Our eternal souls at stake. Jonathan Edwards reminds us: "We are in a perishing necessity of seeking God's Kingdom; without it we are utterly and eternally lost." This life is but a vapor compared to eternity. The fleeting pleasures and enticements of this life hold no value compared to the state of the soul in the next life.

The biblical perspective of eternity that produces a proper proportion of fear and hope in the hearts of God's people is essential to our sanctification. Thomas Scott comments on this lesson in Pilgrim's Progress: "Our safety consists in due proportion of hope and fear. When devoid of hope, we resemble a ship without an anchor; when unrestrained by fear, we are like the same vessel under full sail without ballast."

We need to recapture the eternal perspective that is foremost in Christian's mind as he departs the House of the Interpreter. Then we will be prepared to continue on our journey, anchored in the hope of the Gospel and ballasted in the fear of God, which is the beginning of wisdom.

Continue reading 30. A Wall Called Salvation
Return to 28. A Man in An Iron Cage


The text for The Pilgrim's Progress
and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©1997 Ken Puls
"A Guide to John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress"
was originally published from January 1993 to December 1997
in "The Voice of Heritage," a monthly newsletter
of Heritage Baptist Church in Mansfield, Texas
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from
the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.
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