The Pilgrim's Progress By John Bunyan Summary and Analysis Part 1: Section 4 - Palace Beautiful

Summary

The palace stands a little off the Holy Way, being approached by a narrow lane leading to a lodge, or gatehouse. Starting up the lane, Christian has not gone far when he sees two lions in front of him. He stops and turns as if to go back. The porter at the lodge has been observing him and calls out: "Is thy strength so small? Fear not the lions, for they are chained, and are placed there for trial of faith where it is, and for discovery of those that have none. Keep in the midst of the path, and no hurt shall come to thee."

Taking heart, but still trembling, Christian advances warily, taking good care to walk exactly in the middle of the path as directed. Straining at their chains, the lions roar at him but cannot reach him. Clapping his hands at having safely passed between them, Christian arrives at the lodge, where he asks Watchful, the porter, "What house is this?" He is told that it was built by the Lord of the hill for the relief and security of Pilgrims. He then asks if he might spend the night. Watchful says that he will find out by summoning one of the virgins in charge of the establishment. "A grave and beautiful damsel" named Discretion appears, soon followed by three other virgins — Prudence, Piety, and Charity. Satisfied with Christian's answers to their queries, they invite him to come into Palace Beautiful, introduce him to the rest of the family, give him drink, and sit him down to supper at a table "furnished with fat things and with wine well refined."

In a lengthy conversation the virgins question Christian about himself: Why did he set out on his pilgrimage; what has he seen and encountered on his journey? (Bunyan once again, for the third time, tells the reader what he has already been told about Christian's adventures and misadventures.) Has he a family? Charity inquires. When Christian replies that he has a wife and four children, Charity then asks why he had not brought them with him. Because they would not come, says Christian, and he begins to weep. He had tried time and again to persuade them, but to no avail. His wife was afraid to give up this world on the chance of finding a better one. As for his children, they were "given to the foolish delights of youth; so what by one thing, and what by another, they left me to wander in this manner alone."

Next day, the virgins show their guest the "rarities" of the place, first taking him to the study, which is filled with ancient documents dating back to the beginning of time. One is a unique document (never seen before or since), "the pedigree of the Lord of the hill, that he was the son of the Ancient of Days and came by an eternal generation." They read aloud about "some of the worthy acts that some of his servants had done: as how they had subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword; out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, and turned to flight the armies of the aliens."

Christian is then taken to the armory and shown things the Lord provides for Pilgrims, such as "sword, shield, helmet, breastplate, All-prayer, and shoes that would not wear out," and all these items in quantity sufficient to equip "as many men for the service of the Lord as there be stars in the Heaven." The armory is something of a historical museum, too, and Christian is shown some really remarkable things that deeply impress him: Moses' rod, the jawbone with which Samson wrought such havoc among the Philistines, the slingshot and the very stone with which David slew Goliath of Gath, and the sword "with which the Lord will kill the man of sin in the day that he shall rise up to the prey."

Escorting Christian to the palace roof, the virgins point to mountains in the distance. Those are the Delectable Mountains, they tell him, and his path will take him there, where he will find great comfort among the shepherds of the Lord. But the path is difficult, and the next stretch is particularly dangerous, they warn him and, as he is leaving, take him to the armory again and give him a sword, a helmet, a shield, and a breastplate for his protection along the way.

Analysis

Palace Beautiful, the virgins, and the family living here represent the church and church-fellowship, and emphasize the important role that women played in founding and sustaining the Bedford nonconformist congregation which Bunyan joined when his religious doubts were resolved. In his day the church was not only the religious center, but also the social center in the village, the place where the faithful met regularly to renew bonds of fellowship. The church was a refreshing oasis in a world of care and woe in which man too often felt isolated and alone in facing his troubles. He needed not only divine guidance but the human warmth to be found in close association with his fellows in pursuit of a common goal.

Enjoying the company and "heavenly discourse" at Palace Beautiful, Christian stays several days, longer than at any other stop on his pilgrimage. He sleeps comfortably and contentedly in a large upper chamber named Peace, which has a wide window opening toward the sunrise. In the morning Christian is up at daybreak, singing joyously:

Where am I now? Is this the love and care
Of Jesus for the men that Pilgrims are
Thus to provide! That I should be forgiven!
And dwell already the next door to Heaven!

Bunyan is never at his best when he turns to verse; his is always rough and ragged.

The two lions along the path leading to Palace Beautiful were used by Bunyan to represent the civil and ecclesiastical authorities who had been enjoined by law to suppress all nonconformist congregations. Bunyan himself had run foul of that law and been jailed for twelve years for his beliefs. But at the time he was writing Pilgrim's Progress, enforcement of the penal code against the Nonconformists had been somewhat relaxed. The power of the authorities had been temporarily curbed. The "lions" had been put in chains. They could still roar at Nonconformists, but if the latter watched their step in walking a straight line along the middle of the path, they could pass safely between the lions.

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