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

Spider in a Web

26. A Spider on the Wall

When the Interpreter had showed them this, he has them into the very best room in the house (a very brave room it was); so he bade them look round about, and see if they could find anything profitable there. Then they looked round and round; for there was nothing there to be seen but a very great spider on the wall, and that they overlooked.

Mercy: Then said Mercy, “Sir, I see nothing.” But Christiana held her peace.

Interpreter: But said the Interpreter, “Look again.” She therefore looked again, and said, “Here is not anything but an ugly spider, who hangs by her hands upon the wall.” Then said he, “Is there but one spider in all this spacious room?” Then the water stood in Christiana’s eyes, for she was a woman quick of apprehension, and she said, “Yes, Lord, there is here more than one; yea, and spiders whose venom is far more destructive than that which is in her.” The Interpreter then looked pleasantly upon her, and said, “You have said the truth.” This made Mercy blush, and the boys to cover their faces; for they all began now to understand the riddle.

Then said the Interpreter again, “The spider takes hold with her hands, as you see, and is in kings' palaces. And wherefore is this recorded, but to show you, that how full of the venom of sin soever you be, yet you may, by the hand of faith, lay hold of, and dwell in the best room that belongs to the King’s house above?”

Christiana: “I thought,” said Christiana, “of something of this; but I could not imagine it all. I thought that we were like spiders, and that we looked like ugly creatures, in what fine room soever we were; but that by this spider, this venomous and ill-favored creature, we were to learn how to act faith, that came not into my mind. And yet she has taken hold with her hands, as I see, and dwells in the best room in the house. God has made nothing in vain.”

Then they seemed all to be glad; but the water stood in their eyes. Yet they looked one upon another, and also bowed before the Interpreter.


Notes and Commentary

The Interpreter now takes the pilgrims into the best room in house. It is described as “a very brave room,” meaning it was most splendid and magnificent. The pilgrims survey the room and their reaction is telling. The room is wonderfully arrayed, yet they see nothing extraordinary. The only thing that is obviously out of place is “a very great spider on the wall” and at first the pilgrims don’t see it (or choose not to see it). Mercy tells the Interpreter, “Sir, I see nothing.” Christiana notices the spider but hesitates to say anything.

The Interpreter, then, has them take a harder look. Mercy notices the spider and exclaims, “Here is not anything but an ugly spider, who hangs by her hands upon the wall.” She acknowledges the spider, yet she has still not fully grasped the lesson. The Interpreter presses further: “Is there but one spider in all this spacious room?”

Now Christiana realizes the Interpreter’s point. She responds: “Yes, Lord, there is here more than one.” In truth we are all spiders on the wall. Our sin makes us far more loathsome than the spider. Our wicked thoughts are far uglier. The venom of our sin is far more lethal and destructive. Our vile scheming and evil intentions spin webs that are far more ensnaring. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah compares the people of God to spiders as he laments the sins of Judah:

But your iniquities have separated you from your God;
And your sins have hidden His face from you,
So that He will not hear.
For your hands are defiled with blood,
And your fingers with iniquity;
Your lips have spoken lies,
Your tongue has muttered perversity.
No one calls for justice,
Nor does any plead for truth.
They trust in empty words and speak lies;
They conceive evil and bring forth iniquity.
They hatch vipers’ eggs and weave the spider’s web;
He who eats of their eggs dies,
And from that which is crushed a viper breaks out.
Their webs will not become garments,
Nor will they cover themselves with their works;
Their works are works of iniquity,
And the act of violence is in their hands.
(Isaiah 59:2–6)

In the New Testament, James describes the tongue as “an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8).

In Romans, Paul aptly describes the state of mankind fallen into sin:

As it is written:
“There is none righteous, no, not one;
There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.
They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable;
There is none who does good, no, not one.”
“Their throat is an open tomb;
With their tongues they have practiced deceit”;
“The poison of asps is under their lips”;
“Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
Destruction and misery are in their ways;
And the way of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
(Romans 3:10–18)

The entanglements of sin, like the webs of spiders, are all around us: hidden in dark places, lying in wait in high places, and even spun in beautiful, sacred places where we would never expect to find them.

It is telling that the pilgrims at first were reluctant to acknowledge the spider. This is how we often regard sin, especially when we see it in unexpected and pristine places. Sin is disturbing, vile, and often obvious, yet we choose to ignore it and pretend that it isn’t there. We downplay it or disregard it, thinking that maybe it will just go away.

But sin, wherever it occurs must be dealt with. If left to fester, it will always end in destruction and divine judgment. Bunyan adds more commentary on this lesson in his A for Boys and Girls: Divine Emblems or Temporal Things Spiritualized. In section 18, “The Sinner and the Spider,” he elaborates:


Do but hold still, and I will let thee see
Yet in my ways more mysteries there be.
Shall not I do thee good, if I thee tell,
I show to thee a four-fold way to hell;
For, since I set my web in sundry places,
I show men go to hell in divers traces.
One I set in the window, that I might
Show some go down to hell with gospel light.
One I set in a corner, as you see,
To show how some in secret snared be.
Gross webs great store I set in darksome places,
To show how many sin with brazen faces;
Another web I set aloft on high,
To show there’s some professing men must die.
Thus in my ways God wisdom doth conceal,
And by my ways that wisdom doth reveal.

from “The Sinner and the Spider” in A Book for Boys and Girls: Divine Emblems or Temporal Things Spiritualized, 1686

The lesson of the spider is a warning. Its web warns us of the danger of sin—it is ensnaring. Its venom points to the deadliness of sin. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a). We must heed this lesson and repent of our sin—turn away from it and flee from it, lest it overtake us and kill us.

But the lesson of the spider offers hope as well. The Interpreter comforts the pilgrims by quoting from Proverbs:

The spider skillfully grasps with its hands,
And it is in kings’ palaces.
(Proverbs 30:28)

The spider’s presence in the king’s palace encourages us to have faith. Though we are sinners deserving God’s wrath and judgement, Christ died for us.

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

Though we are sinners deserving death, we can have life. “But the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord” Romans 6:23b). Because of the Way opened to us by Christ we can “come boldly to the throne of grace” and “obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). As we flee from sin, we must flee to Christ.

Again, Bunyan explains in “The Sinner and Spider.”


I am a spider, yet I can possess
The palace of a king, where happiness
So much abounds. Nor when I do go thither,
Do they ask what, or whence I come, or whither
I make my hasty travels; no, not they;
They let me pass, and I go on my way.
I seize the palace, do with hands take hold
Of doors, of locks, or bolts; yea, I am bold,
When in, to clamber up unto the throne,
And to possess it, as if ‘twere mine own.
Nor is there any law forbidding me
Here to abide, or in this palace be.
Yea, if I please, I do the highest stories
Ascend, there sit, and so behold the glories
Myself is compassed with, as if I were
One of the chiefest courtiers that be there.
Here lords and ladies do come round about me,
With grave demeanor, nor do any flout me
For this, my brave adventure, no, not they;
They come, they go, but leave me there to stay.
Now, my reproacher, I do by all this
Show how thou may’st possess thyself of bliss:
Thou art worse than a spider, but take hold
On Christ the door, thou shalt not be controll’d.
By him do thou the heavenly palace enter;
None chide thee will for this thy brave adventure;
Approach thou then unto the very throne,
There speak thy mind, fear not, the day’s thine own;
Nor saint, nor angel, will thee stop or stay,
But rather tumble blocks out of the way.
My venom stops not me; let not thy vice
Stop thee; possess thyself of paradise.
Go on, I say, although thou be a sinner,
Learn to be bold in faith, of me a spinner.
This is the way the glories to possess,
And to enjoy what no man can express.

from “The Sinner and the Spider” in A Book for Boys and Girls: Divine Emblems or Temporal Things Spiritualized, 1686

Though we are sinners, our sinfulness should not hinder us from coming to God for forgiveness, nor shame us into not seeking the grace we need. The “very best room” in the house of the Interpreter is the throne room of the King, and it represents the nearness of our great and glorious God and our ready access to His throne of grace. Like the spider we can enter with boldness and lay hold of paradise. God promises:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

We must acknowledge our sin and believe God’s promise. But failure to acknowledge sin can blind our eyes and dull our understanding. When we ignore sin, get used to it, or try to overlook it, we invariably underestimate its deceitfulness. It doesn’t look so vile or destructive. And when we underestimate its vileness, we will likewise not see the true wonder and glory of the salvation the God has provided in Christ. In the Interpreter’s House, it wasn’t just the spider that the pilgrims overlooked in “the very best room,” it was the splendor of the room itself—a royal splendor that should have awed them. They looked around and failed at first to see anything profitable. When we fail to regard the ugliness of sin, we are unable to regard the splendor of grace. Yet when we confess our sins, we will see that God’s grace is truly amazing. Ours is a King who loves and welcomes sinners.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I’m found,
Was blind but now I see.
(John Newton, 1772)

Continue Reading 27. A Hen and Her Chicks

Return to 25. The Man with the Muck Rake


The text for The Pilgrim's Progress
and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary for Part II ©2014, 2021–2023 Ken Puls

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

Above image created from Unsplash

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