Today we come to the final chapter of John Bunyan’s classic work The Pilgrim’s Progress. Last week Christian and Hopeful endured an encounter with Athiest and a journey across the Enchanted Ground. This week they finally arrive at their destination, but not without some drama.
The tenth and final stage of Christian’s journey combines dramatic narrative with some rather dense didactic components. We have seen throughout the book, and especially in the later stages, that when Bunyan wants to teach truth but finds no easy means of fitting it into the narrative, he simply squeezes it in by having Christian and Hopeful engage in dialog. It’s quite ordered dialog too, where the men are able to form well-ordered lists of information. For example, Christian lists three marks of true or right fear of the Lord. Then he comes up with a list of four ways that the ignorant stifle godly conviction (or fear). These are worth pausing to read once more:
1. They think that those fears are wrought by the devil, (though indeed they are wrought of God,) and thinking so, they resist them, as things that directly tend to their overthrow. 2. They also think that these fears tend to the spoiling of their faith; when, alas for them, poor men that they are, they have none at all; and therefore they harden their hearts against them. 3. They presume they ought not to fear, and therefore, in despite of them, wax presumptuously confident. 4. They see that those fears tend to take away from them their pitiful old self-holiness, and therefore they resist them with all their might.
It may not be the smoothest dialog we’ve ever encountered in a work of fiction, but it’s at least clear and orderly! Hopeful goes on to present a list of four reasons that men may backslide to which Christian responds with nine of the ways in which men do this. It’s all very neat and clean and helpful, even if it doesn’t do a whole lot to advance the narrative.
When this discussion finally comes to a close, the chapter is half gone and the men come to Beulah, a land of peace and tranquility where they are beyond the danger of the Enchanted Grounds and Giant Despair. Here he presents his vision of godly maturity, where the initial doubts and concerns have been put to rest.
But one great challenge remains. As the men come to the end of their pilgrimage, they find that they must still cross the River of Death. This is probably the most powerful and dramatic element of the final stage. There is no way to the Celestial City except through this, the last enemy. As Christian faces the inevitability of death he begins to be overwhelmed by fear.