As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a den, and laid me down in that place to sleep; and as I slept, I dreamed a dream. I dreamed, and behold, I saw a man clothed with rags, standing in a certain place, with his face from his own house, a book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back. I looked and saw him open the book, and read therein; and as he read, he wept and trembled; and not being able longer to contain, he brake out with a lamentable cry, saying, “What shall I do?”
Isa. 64.6. Luke 14:33. Ps 38.4. Hab. 2.2 Acts 16.31
His outcry. Acts 2.27
AS I: the dreaming narrator of the Pilgrim's Progress is simply John Bunyan, who by the time of the first edition's publication in 1678 is well-known as a writer of religious polemic, his own spiritual autobiography (Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666)), and published sermons. This is his first foray into 'fiction' or the use of 'metaphors'. There is an element of scriptural borrowing from the self-presentation of the Apostle John at the opening of the book of Revelation, or the prophet Jeremiah, in the first person 'I'. In any case, an association with the prophetic and even apocalyptic fits Bunyan's goal and destination in his allegory, as well as the times in which he lives where fascination with the AntiChrist and commentary on Revelation, in particular, enthuse the godly. The continued theological debt to the Apostle Paul, as in his autobiographical title from Romans 5:20 and 1 Timothy 1:15, is also indicated in this first person mode, befitting his pastoral intent.
WALKED: walking is simple progress, requiring neither riches nor mechanical aid. We know Bunyan is familiar with riding horseback (see the curious incident testified to by Agnes Beaumont, and his final rain soaked journey from which he takes ill and eventually dies.) As a door-to-door tinker walking would be part of his low level artisan profession, although also associated with vagrancy brought about by enclosures, economic distress, and civil war. More significant is the place walking has biblically. Walking is dignified by Jesus' own earthly ministry, describing himself as the Way, as well as that of his followers, who constitute the Way, and are understood to walk spiritually and metaphorically in his steps (Genesis 6:9, Deuteronomy 8:6, Psalm 119:1, Matthew 15:29, John 14:6, Acts 9:2, Ephesians 2:10, 5:1, 1 Peter 2:21, 1 John 1:6-7).
THROUGH THE WILDERNESS: Unlike our conservationist instincts to think of wilderness as pristine nature to be treasured, wilderness, biblically, is the place of testing and trial, and sin (Exodus 13:18, Deuteronomy 8:2, Numbers 14, Psalm 95:8). It is not the place of promise and of rest. Yet it can be the place of revelation (Exodus 3, Isaiah 40:3) and transformation (Isaiah 32:15-16). Wilderness is the place where sin is borne by the scapegoat (Leviticus 16), the place of Christ's temptation and, implicitly, crucifixion (Matthew 4:1, Hebrews 13:12-13). Bunyan's fellow dissenting believers may have felt themselves to be in this wilderness through experiences of persecution and social isolation or derision.
OF THIS WORLD: contrasted with the world to come in Bunyan's title (Hebrews 2:5), world here takes on the connotations found in John's epistles: the realm of spiritual opposition to Christ and hostility to his followers, as voiced by Jesus in his high priestly prayer of John 17.
CERTAIN PLACE: quoted from Genesis 28:11. see note DOWN IN THAT PLACE TO SLEEP
DEN: Bunyan's own marginal note indicates that the Den is his jail in Bedford from which he wrote the bulk of the text. The biblical allusion is primarily to Hebrews 11:38 as those under persecution for their faith wander (compare walk above) through deserts, and 'in dens and caves'. From the 3rd edition of 1679 the book was accompanied by the now famous frontispiece featuring a sleeping Bunyan depicted over a cave with a portcullis gate raised at the entrance wherein sits a lion. The image also then adds other key biblical incident of persecution suffered by Daniel (Daniel 6). Isaiah 32:14 links wilderness and abandonment to dens.
DOWN IN THAT PLACE TO SLEEP: exact quotation from Genesis 28:11 when Jacob, in 'a certain place' receives a vision of ascent to heaven, re-affirming the LORD God's promised covenant salvation, in a place then named the 'gate of heaven', where a gate will be significant for Bunyan's narrative of progress to the heavenly city (Genesis 28:17).
I DREAMED A DREAM: consistent with Genesis 28:12, as above, but more closely a quotation of KJV's wording for Joseph's providential experience of divine vindication through imprisonment set out in a narrative sequence of dreams (Genesis 37:5 , and 37-41). Also recalls Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2:1,3) as Bunyan arguably invites his readers to adopt Daniel-like interpretation of his allegory (see his Author's Apology and Conclusion). The New Testament offers believers the prospect of Holy Spirit-led dreams (Acts 2:17) and implicitly in Paul's night visions (Acts 16:9-10, 18:9). Dream visions are a popular mode of literature through earlier English literature, notably Piers Plowman.
A MAN: the individual man as representative of human persons broadly (without gender exclusivity), is a key biblical motif (Psalm 1, Psalm 34:8, Proverbs' instructions to a son, 1-8) which then sees focus on the Son of Man (Daniel, Gospels),a second Adam, who brings redemption from the plight of the first man, Adam (Romans 5:12-21). Unidentified persons populate Jesus' parables for their symbolic power. It is significant then that the narrator sees an unidentified man, consistent with an old Everyman tradition in literature and traditional morality plays.
(Bunyan's further marginal references are all tied to an asterisk marker at the word 'man' in the text, but will be picked up as they refer to specific text in detail.)
CLOTHED IN RAGS: Superficially indicating poverty and distress, Bunyan supplies his own marginal reference to Isaiah 64:6 indicating that these rags stand for the attempted works of human righteousness that fall short of divine glory, as read through Romans 1-3, or Galatians and Luther's interpretation of 'works of the law'.
FACE FROM HIS OWN HOUSE: Bunyan references Luke 14:33 to indicate the readiness to leave home in following Jesus as a disciple.
A BOOK IN HIS HAND: The book is formally unidentified, but is clearly the Bible, later identified in marginal comments when the man, also by then identified, meets Mr Worldly Wiseman. Bunyan's consistent use of very visible marginal Bible references alongside his text (rather than under in the less significant footnote style, or even folded into the text as produced in some renditions of The Pilgrim's Progress) underlines the identity of the book for his readers, many of whom would own few other books than the Bible.
GREAT BURDEN UPON HIS BACK: With Psalm 38:4 this burden is shown to be the burden of sin or iniquity. The wider context of the Psalm fleshes out Bunyan's opening with reference to God's wrath (Psalm 38:1), under which threat the sufferer sighs (v9), causing separation from friends and family (v11), even the blocking of ears in become as deaf to the words of opponents (vv12-14). Biblically burden language reminds readers of the burden of slavery in Egypt from which the LORD delivers and forms Israel (Exodus 6:6), with prophetic hope of burdens lifted (Isaiah 10:27, 14:25, 58:6) fulfilled in Jesus (Matthew 11:30). As a minor note, the impact of receiving the word of the LORD is reported as a burden for godly hearers (Jeremiah 23, Nahum 1:1, Habbakuk 1:1) allusively connecting the impact of reading the book with the burden in what follows, where Jeremiah 17:33-40 reports false speech about God as a burden that is cast away in judgment. Bunyan is at pains to expose false professing or hypocritical Christianity, as he sees it, indirectly relating to the sorrowful and at times imprisoned prophet Jeremiah.
OPEN THE BOOK AND READ THEREIN: The act of reading is central to Christianity's authorization by the Bible as God's revealed Word. An explosion of availability of the Bible in English over the preceding few generations for a Reforming Protestant nation was further emphasized by Puritans who feared reform was not sufficiently biblical in rejecting former traditions. Literacy and skills in interpretation is emphasized when later in the allegory the pilgrims come to a monument with written text and Christian is asked to read it.
AS HE READ, HE WEPT: reminiscent of the response of the inhabitants of Jerusalem upon hearing the word of the Law read after exile, Nehemiah 8:9, as also, similarly, King Josiah's response to the discovery of the lost Book of the Law in declining Judah before exile (2 Kings 22:8-20).
LAMENTABLE CRY: not only does Bunyan succinctly capture the reading man's emotional and spiritual anguish, but the cry is described in terms of lament and lamentation familiar to readers of the prophets, and especially Jeremiah and Lamentations, linking the reader back to the one sense of burden mentioned in the comment above (BURDEN). That the destruction of a city is in view from the words of the book read indicates other ways that Lamentations is allusively in view in this language.
WHAT SHALL I DO?: The man's cry is one of distress with a view to change - repentance. Acts 16:31 is noted in the margins, even as the words more exactly match Acts 22:10 - Paul's response to the Lord appearing to him at Damascus, or as the margin also offers (mis-citing Acts 2:27), this is singular form of the plural first person exclamation of the crowd upon hearing Peter's preaching at Pentecost (Acts 2:37).
JAIL: Bunyan indicates that the Den is the Jail, referring his readers to his writing the book during his 12 year period of imprisonment in Bedford, for refusing to give up preaching without a license as a dissenter or nonconformist. See also comment opposite on 'DEN'.
ISAIAH 64.6: But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.
LUKE 14:33: So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.
PSALM 38:4: For mine iniquities are gone over mine head: as an heavy burden they are too heavy for me.
HABBAKUK 2:2 And the Lord answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it.
ACTS 16:31: And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.
ACTS 2:27: (Should read 2:37):Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?