The Pilgrim's Progress By John Bunyan Summary and Analysis Part 1: Section 3 - The Cross and Difficulty Hill

Summary

Proceeding from Interpreter's House, Christian comes to higher ground on which stands a Cross. Below it, down the slope, is an open sepulcher. Just as Christian reaches the Cross, the heavy bundle on his back slips from his shoulders, rolls down the slope, and falls into the sepulcher, to be seen no more. As Christian stands weeping with joy, three "Shining Ones" (angels) appear. One tells him that all of his sins are now forgiven. Another strips him of his rags, and clothes him in bright new raiment. The third puts a mark on his forehead and hands him a parchment, "a Roll with a seal upon it," This Roll he should read as he journeys along and when he gets to the Celestial Gate, he should present it as his credentials, as his passport to Heaven so to speak.

Giving three leaps for joy, Christian goes along singing until he comes upon three men lying asleep on the ground — Simple, Sloth, and Presumption. He feels duty-bound to wake them up and warn them of the great danger they are in if they do not get up and be on their way.

A lion might come by and eat them up. Saying that they can see no danger, the three turn over and go to sleep again, which leaves Christian "troubled to think that men in that danger should so little esteem the kindness of him that so freely offered to help them."

Still musing about such ingratitude, Christian is proceeding along the Holy Way when he sees two men come tumbling over one of the high walls that line the narrow way. The walls had been built to prevent any from entering the Holy Way except through the Wicket Gate. The wall-jumpers — Formalist and Hypocrisy — identify themselves by saying that they come from "the land of Vain-glory and are going for praise to Mount Zion." But why had they not come in by the Wicket Gate, which was the proper way? asks Christian. Surely they must know "that he that cometh not in by the door, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber" (John 10:1).

It was too far around to the Wicket Gate, they reply, so they had followed their usual course in taking a shortcut. When Christian raises a doubt about their reception at the Celestial Gate, they tell him not to bother his head about that; their reception would be as good as his. Not very pleased with his company, Christian proceeds with Hypocrisy and Formalist to the foot of Difficulty Hill, where there are three paths and they must make a choice. One path goes straight ahead, right up the steep face of the hill; another goes around the base to the left; the third around the other way. Recalling Good-will's instructions, Christian knows that the right path is that going straight ahead up the hill. Not liking that prospect, Formalist and Hypocrisy decide to take the level paths going around the hill. Both get lost and perish.

Clambering up the hill, in places so steep that he has to crawl on hands and knees, Christian comes to a pleasant arbor, "made by the Lord of the hill for the refreshing of weary travelers." Sitting down to rest, he takes out his Roll to read, which comforts him. But reading makes him drowsy, and he falls into a fast sleep, from which he is awakened after a time by someone saying: "Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise" (Prov. 6:6).

Jumping up, Christian speeds as fast as he can to the top of the hill, where he meets two returning Pilgrims, Timorous and Mistrust. What's the matter that you run the wrong way? asks Christian. Because there are lions ahead, they reply, adding that "the further we go, the more danger we meet with," so they were turning back and returning home.

They advise Christian to come with them, but the latter decides to venture on. There might be death ahead, but death was certain if he went back to the City of Destruction, which was being "prepared for fire and brimstone." Still, the reports of Timorous and Mistrust were disturbing. To find solace and encouragement in reading it, Christian reaches into his blouse for his Roll, but it is not there.

Shocked, moaning and groaning, loudly bewailing his carelessness in having lost his "pass into the Celestial City," Christian recalls that he had last had his Roll in the arbor and retraces his steps there. Not finding his treasure immediately, he is in utter despair and sits weeping when, suddenly, he spies the Roll, which had fallen from his lap during his "sinful sleep." Offering "thanks to God for directing his eye to the place where it lay," Christian tucks the Roll securely in his blouse and painfully climbs back to the top of the hill. From there he sees a stately palace not too far away. As it is getting on toward dark he hastens there.

Analysis

The symbolism of the Cross and the open sepulcher, and of Christian's release from the heavy burden of sin he has been carrying, is obvious, as is the appearance of the three Shining Ones who give him new raiment and the Roll that identifies him as one of the chosen, one of the Elect. Christian is very proud of the embroidered white coat he has been given. It is not only beautiful in itself, but is another tangible token of God's favor. When he meets them, Hypocrisy and Formalist scoff at this, saying that the coat was given to him by neighbors to hide the shame of his nakedness, and laugh when Christian tells them that the Roll in his hand will open the gates of Heaven to him.

The significance of Difficulty Hill is also plain. Though it runs straight, the path to Heaven has its ups and downs, and the ups must be surmounted. They cannot safely be avoided. There is no easy way around them, as Formalist and Hypocrisy learn to their cost. Nothing much happens on Difficulty Hill. It stands there, it almost seems, merely to be climbed as a test of faith and endurance. Attaining the summit offers no new revelation. Christian's only difficulty comes halfway up the hill when he falls asleep in the pleasant arbor there and loses his precious Roll. Going on, he discovers his loss and has to retrace his steps to the arbor. To point a lesson, Bunyan has Christian reproach himself severely and at length "for being so foolish as to fall asleep in that place." He now sees that God had provided the arbor not for "sinful sleep" but only for "a little refreshing" for weary travelers along the Holy Way.

"O wretched man that I am, that I should sleep in the daytime! [Rev. 2:5; 1 Thess. 5:7-8] That I should sleep in the midst of difficulty! That I should so indulge the flesh as to use that rest for ease of my flesh which the Lord of the hill had erected only for the relief of the spirits of Pilgrims! How many steps have I took in vain!" God forgives him and directs his eye to where the missing Roll is lying. Gathering it up, Christian toils laboriously back to the top of the hill, still having the "evil of sleeping" in mind.

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