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

Notes and Commentary

by Ken Puls

on John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress

Part Two

Christian praising with the harp in heaven

6. Christiana's Dreams

The next night Christiana had a dream; and behold, she saw as if a broad parchment was opened before her, in which were recorded the sum of her ways; and the times, as she thought, looked very black upon her. Then she cried out aloud in her sleep, “Lord, have mercy upon me, a sinner!”

And the little children heard her.

After this she thought she saw two very ill favored ones standing by her bedside, and saying, “What shall we do with this woman; for she cries out for mercy waking and sleeping? If she be suffered to go on as she begins, we shall lose her as we have lost her husband. Wherefore we must, by one way or other, seek to take her off from the thoughts of what shall be hereafter; else all the world cannot help it but she will become a pilgrim.”

Now she awoke in a great sweat, also a trembling was upon her; but after awhile she fell to sleeping again. And then she thought she saw Christian her husband in a place of bliss, among many immortals, with a harp in his hand, standing and playing upon it before One that sat on a throne, with a rainbow about his head. She saw also as if he bowed his head with his face to the paved work that was under the Prince's feet, saying, “I heartily thank my Lord and King for bringing of me into this place.” Then shouted a company of them that stood around about, and harped with their harps; but no man living could tell what they said but Christian and his companions.


Notes and Commentary

Bunyan relates the entirety of The Pilgrim’s Progress, both Part 1 and Part 2, “under the similitude of a dream.” But now he uses dreams within his story to give us more insight into Christiana’s distress. As she lies down to sleep, her thoughts are unsettled. Though grace has begun to stir in her heart, she is still troubled with guilt and fears.

Her first dream anticipates the coming Day of Judgment. Christiana sees her sinful life set before her “as if a broad parchment was opened.” Written on the page she sees certain condemnation.

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).

Christiana cries out in repentance with words that echos the tax collector’s prayer in Luke 18:

And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” (Luke 18:13).

Bunyan then makes a brief but significant observation: “And the little children heard her.” Her cry of repentance was directed to God, but also heard by her children.

Our children see us and watch us. Our lives are ever a testimony before them. They see our successes and struggles, our consistencies and inconsistencies, our beliefs and our doubts. It is important that we live honestly before our children. We should not hide or deny the reality of sin, sorrow, trouble, and trials—in the world in which we live as well as in our own hearts and lives. And we should not hide our need for God’s grace and mercy. They should see us looking to God for strength and help in times of trouble. They should see us confessing our sinfulness and rejoicing in God’s forgiveness. And they should see us giving thanks to God for His goodness and faithfulness. Our repentance and faith lived out before our children can bear lasting fruit in their lives. In Christiana’s family, seeing their mother confessing her sin and crying out for God’s mercy has a profound effect, even on “the little children” as we shall see.

Christiana’s second dream highlights the present spiritual battle. We have an adversary who is seeking to destroy us. Peter warns us:

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).

Christiana sees in her dream two ill-favored ones (demons) having a conversation about her. They too have seen the stirrings of grace in her and now scheme to distract her thoughts from seeking eternal life.Though Christiana has yet to leave on her journey to the Celestial City, the battle for her soul has already begun.

Her third dream anticipates the final Reward. Though the ill-favored ones would harass and distract her, grace prevails to quiet her fears. Beyond our present battle against sin and darkness is the promise of peace and rest. Christiana’s gaze is now lifted toward heaven where she sees “One that sat on a throne, with a rainbow about his head.”

Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads. And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices. Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God (Revelation 4:2–5).

In Christiana’s dream, standing before the throne, “among many immortals,” is her husband. Christian has gone before her and now she sees him praising God with a harp, and giving thanks for bringing him to a place of such joy and bliss.

Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints (Revelation 5:8).

Like Christian, Christiana is determined to be a pilgrim. Yet her dreams highlight the turmoil of her thoughts. What will be the consequences of her decision? How will it impact her life and the lives of her children? She knows she must leave the City of Destruction. She is a justly condemned sinner in need of mercy. But the journey looks to be treacherous. The danger is great! She has an enemy who aims to dissuade her and prevent her from reaching her goal. Yet, in the end, the journey will be well worth the hazards. She knows her husband has found eternal joy and bliss. She now must also set out for the Celestial City.

Continue reading 07. Visited by Secret

Return to 05. Stirrings of Grace in a Time of Sorrow


The text for The Pilgrim's Progress
and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary for Part II ©2014, 2021 Ken Puls

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from
the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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