Modern abridgements and adaptations of Pilgrim’s Progress for the stage or television omit most of the ninth stage. As this consists of a dialogue between Hopeful and Christian, with contributions from Ignorance, this is unsurprising. There is no dramatic action here, and the theological details are probably beyond those doing the abridging. This is a shame, because the whole point of the pilgrimage is that you can’t just turn up at Heaven’s Gate and say ‘I’ve done my best God, let me in.’ It is a common enough mistake. But those groups which gather themselves together and see themselves as ‘called out’, actually have firm reasons for doing so. Some of these are explored by Bunyan here.
Hopeful, like so many who have ‘reformed’, was conscious of two difficulties: his former sins still weighed on him; and even though he tried to be good, he still committed sinful acts and had sinful thoughts. Even when Faithful had told him to place his faith in the redeeming blood of Jesus and to turn to Him, Hopeful had not been able to find Christ. His prayers and supplications seemed not to have been answered. Then at his lowest point, Christ came and told him to turn to Him:
I gathered, that I must look for righteousness in his person, and for satisfaction for my sins by his blood: that what he did in obedience to his Father’s law, and in submitting to the penalty thereof, was not for himself, but for him that will accept it for his salvation, and be thankful. And now was my heart full of joy, mine eyes full of tears, and mine affections running over with love to the name, people, and ways of Jesus Christ.
By way of contrast, Ignorance is confident that his ‘good’ thoughts and good intentions will suffice; there is in him no consciousness of personal sin and repentance.
As they come to the river which divides them from the Celestial City, the Pilgrims learn that they have to cross it themselves – there is neither bridge nor boat; as he cannot swim, Christian was sore afraid. His own fears drag him down, and even though Hopeful helps him stay above the waters, Christian fears he will never get to shore – but calling on the name above all names bears him there at the last.
On the shore, two ‘Shining Ones’ lead them to the city, where all the promises made to the faithful will be fulfilled and where they will see God face to face and serve Him in eternal felicity.
Now I saw in my dream, that these two men went in at the gate; and lo, as they entered, they were transfigured; and they had raiment put on that shone like gold. There were also that met them with harps and crowns, and gave them to them; the harps to praise withal, and the crowns in token of honor. Then I heard in my dream, that all the bells in the city rang again for joy, and that it was said unto them, “enter ye into the joy of your lord.”
I also heard the men themselves, that they sang with a loud voice, saying,
“blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the lamb, for ever and ever.”
Ignorance – who has come the easy way, is turned away at the last.
At that point, Bunyan wakes from his dream – and leaves us with a timeless classic.
The lessons he taught there are as valid then as they are now. If we would be saved, be must call on the Grace of God and the Name of the Lord Jesus – there is no other way to the Father save through the Son. The road is hard, the way is narrow. Not all shall enter, and who follows Christ must bear His cross. The Pilgrim must be as valiant now as then.