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It is not enough to be Pliable

Christian in trouble, seeks still to get further from his own house.

The Promises

Help lifts him out.

Psam 40:2

What makes the Slow of Dispond

Isa. 35:3,4.

The Promises of forgiveness and acceptance to life by Faith in Christ.

1 Sam. 12:23.

Plyable got home, and is visited of his neighbors.

His entertainment by them at his return.

Now I saw in my dream, that just as they had ended this talk, they drew nigh to a very miry slough that was in the midst of the plain: and they being heedless, did both fall suddenly into the bog. The name of the slough was Despond. Here, therefore, they wallowed for a time, being grievously bedaubed with the dirt; and Christian, because of the burden that was on his back, began to sink in the mire.

Pliable: Then said Pliable, Ah, neighbor Christian, where are you now?

Christian: Truly, said Christian, I do not know.

Pliable: At this Pliable began to be offended, and angrily said to his fellow, Is this the happiness you have told me all this while of? If we have such ill speed at our first setting out, what may we expect between this and our journey’s end? May I get out again with my life, you shall possess the brave country alone for me. And with that he gave a desperate struggle or two, and got out of the mire on that side of the slough which was next to his own house: so away he went, and Christian saw him no more.

Wherefore Christian was left to tumble in the Slough of Despond alone; but still he endeavored to struggle to that side of the slough that was farthest from his own house, and next to the wicket-gate; the which he did, but could not get out because of the burden that was upon his back: but I beheld in my dream, that a man came to him, whose name was Help, and asked him what he did there.

Christian: Sir, said Christian, I was bid to go this way by a man called Evangelist, who directed me also to yonder gate, that I might escape the wrath to come. And as I was going thither, I fell in here.

Help: But why did not you look for the steps?

Christian: Fear followed me so hard that I fled the next way, and fell in.

Help: Then, said he, Give me thine hand: so he gave him his hand, and he drew him out, Psalm 40:2, and he set him upon sound ground, and bid him go on his way.

Then I stepped to him that plucked him out, and said, “Sir, wherefore, since over this place is the way from the city of Destruction to yonder gate, is it, that this plat is not mended, that poor travellers might go thither with more security?” And he said unto me, “This miry slough is such a place as cannot be mended: it is the descent whither the scum and filth that attends conviction for sin doth continually run, and therefore it is called the Slough of Despond; for still, as the sinner is awakened about his lost condition, there arise in his soul many fears and doubts, and discouraging apprehensions, which all of them get together, and settle in this place: and this is the reason of the badness of this ground.

“It is not the pleasure of the King that this place should remain so bad. His laborers also have, by the direction of his Majesty’s surveyors, been for above this sixteen hundred years employed about this patch of ground, if perhaps it might have been mended: yea, and to my knowledge,” said he, “there have been swallowed up at least twenty thousand cart loads, yea, millions of wholesome instructions, that have at all seasons been brought from all places of the King’s dominions, (and they that can tell, say, they are the best materials to make good ground of the place,) if so be it might have been mended; but it is the Slough of Despond still, and so will be when they have done what they can.

“True, there are, by the direction of the Lawgiver, certain good and substantial steps, placed even through the very midst of this slough; but at such time as this place doth much spew out its filth, as it doth against change of weather, these steps are hardly seen; or if they be, men, through the dizziness of their heads, step beside, and then they are bemired to purpose, notwithstanding the steps be there: but the ground is good when they are once got in at the gate.”

Now I saw in my dream, that by this time Pliable was got home to his house. So his neighbors came to visit him; and some of them called him wise man for coming back, and some called him fool for hazarding himself with Christian: others again did mock at his cowardliness, saying, “Surely, since you began to venture, I would not have been so base as to have given out for a few difficulties:” so Pliable sat sneaking among them. But at last he got more confidence, and then they all turned their tales, and began to deride poor Christian behind his back. And thus much concerning Pliable.

Commentary and full references

They that fly from the wrath to come, are a Gazing Stock to the world. 


Jer. 20:10: 

For I heard the defaming of many, fear on every side. Report, say they, and we will report it. All my familiars watched for my halting, saying, Peradventure he will be enticed, and we shall prevail against him, and we shall take our revenge on him.

Obstinate and Pliable follow him.



2 Cor. 4:18

While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.

Luke 15:17

And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!

1 Peter 1:4

To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,

Heb. 11:16

But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.

Luke 9:62

And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.

Christian and Obstinate pull for Pliable's Soul

Heb. 13:20-21  / 9:17-21

Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,

Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.


For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth.

Whereupon neither the first testament was dedicated without blood.

For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people,

Saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you.

Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry.

Pliable contented to go with Christian.

Obstinate goes railing back.


SOME MOCKED, SOME THREATENED - Bunyan's marginal note and reference to Jeremiah 20 are offered alongside this neighborly rejection of the running Man. To be a gazing stock to the world is to be a spectacle, as well as evoking the pillorying of someone held in the stocks, a common punishment and badge of shame. The phrasing echoes Paul's observation that the apostles in facing death as fools for Christ 'are made a spectacle unto the world' (1 Cor 4:9). Jeremiah encounters opposition among his own people for his prophetic witness. Jer 20:2 sees the prophet held overnight in the stocks, and the verses Bunyan adduces in his reference indicate the mockery and insults he bore.

OBSTINATE - We don't yet know the Man's name, even as he represents an Everyman figure, and Evangelist is named by his ministry. Here, and with his companion, we have the more obviously allegorical names for those who the pilgrim encounters. Allegory personifies in these instances the character trait that is being commended or reproved. Even so, we see that Bunyan gives his characters realistic and earthy dialogue and genuine action apart from their name enacting. So, Obstinate, is the stubborn person who will not be persuaded by good news and clings to all that he holds dear without entertaining change or transformation or travel.

PLIABLE - sets of to bring the Man back home, but is then persuadable, exhibiting a flexibility of disposition and opinion.

CITY OF DESTRUCTION - This is the first time the Man's city is named. This name appears on the city above the right and shoulder of the sleeping Bunyan made famous in the frontispiece to the third edition in 1679. Curiously there is one extant copy of that edition where the name of the city is given as Vanity (from a later episode in the book). This could have been a type setting error, but might indicate something theologically apt in conflating the city and town that are of this world.

I WAS BORN - being a native son of Destruction points to the theological affirmation of total depravity, that all humans are in and subject to Adam's sin

FIRE AND BRIMSTONE - although the paring of 'fire and brimstone' endures in contemporary imagination as a caricature of angry evangelism, the reference is to the common enough description of the punishment of divine wrath. Notably this is so in the destruction of Sodom (Gen 19:24, Luke 17:29), and the repetition of 'lower than the grave' in reference to Tophet (Isaiah 30:33) which we have already encountered; see also Psalm 11:6, and Revelation 9:17-18, 14:10, 19:10 , 20:10, 21:8.

LEAVE OUR FRIENDS AND COMFORTS BEHIND US! - a clear recognition that fleeing wrath as the Man is doing is seen by his neighbors as giving up goods to held onto dearly. Such is the call to discipleship, see ALL WHICH YOU FORSAKE below.

SAID CHRISTIAN (FOR THAT WAS HIS NAME) - Although not obviously the Man's given name, we later find out he was named Graceless, it is significant that the narrator recognizes his name as Christian right at the beginning of his journey. In many ways the difference between becoming and being Christian in one's journey is not of interest to Bunyan in the way that it is to many interpreters. This seems to be a disposition learned from Luther's influence through the Galatians commentary. This is a significant pastoral gain over the insecurities Bunyan shares over his own salvation in Grace Abounding. There is still instruction and assurance to be gained ahead but Evangelist's call might be understood along with Calvin as effectual.

ALL WHICH YOU FORSAKE - Matthew 19:37-39 (also Luke 14:33) in which Jesus speaks of forsaking all for this name's sake to inherit everlasting life. 

IS NOT WORTHY TO BE COMPARED WITH -The reference Bunyan gives is to 1 Cor 18 pointing to the permanence of things eternal rather than that which fades. The wording 'not worthy to be compared with' also exactly echoes Romans 8:18 contrasting present sufferings to the glory to be revealed.

I SEEK TO ENJOY - if Puritanism is often characterized, even in a reading of The Pilgrim's Progress as shunning worldly enjoyment in the 'flesh', it is still part of the attraction of the Christian life that it promises enjoyment. 

AND HOLD IT - it is not immediately clear what Christian is commending his neighbors to hold onto. It seems this is the promise of future enjoyment.

PROVE MY WORDS - both taste and test my words, see how they will come true. 

LEAVE ALL THE WORLD TO FIND IT - finding is an instructive verb in the logic of loss and reward, self-denial and following Christ, seeking the Kingdom of God in the gospels, Matthew 7:14, 10:39, 16:25, 18:13, and  Luke  11:9-10, 15:4, 8.

I SEEK AN INHERITANCE....LAID UP IN HEAVEN - Bunyan gives the reference for the direct quotation of 1 Peter 1:4, which passage indicates that this salvation is 'reserved' in heaven.  But Bunyan prefers to offer Hebrews 11:16 in relation to heaven in his text, supporting the logic of his narrative toward another city. That the Hebrews verse also tells readers that God will not ashamed to be called their God is significant in countering the social shame in following the narrow way that Bunyan is expounding in this episode. 

TO BE BESTOWED, AT THE TIME APPOINTED - history for Bunyan is providentially ordered, directed toward the last day of God's judgment. 'Appointed' echoes Hebrews (1:2, 3:2), in relation to Jesus as the agent of the great salvation that will be bestowed at the judgment (Hebrews 9:27, also Acts 17:31).

THEM THAT DILLIGENTLY SEEK IT - Diligence has been recently indicated as the stand out virtue on display in The Pilgrim's Progress (Karen Swallow Prior, On Reading Well (2019)). And although Bunyan has little to say expositionally about virtues, it is plausible that his allegorical study naturally opens up this aspect as characters personify their habitual virtues or vices.  Seeking language will always evoke Jesus's injunction to "Seek first the Kingdom of God", but this allusion is again most directly to Hebrews 11:6 "But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him."

READ IT SO...IN MY BOOK - Another emphatic deferral to the authority of Christian's book, the Bible, and the power of reading for discipleship, commending the very activity that Bunyan's writing is promoting to his Christian community.

TUSH - originally an exclamation of disapproval, disbelief or dismissal (see e.g. Shakespeare, Hamlet, (I.i.30 Horatio: "Tush, tush, 'twill not appear."). Not the current meaning in US English of a person's buttocks!

LAID MY HAND TO THE PLOUGH - supported by the marginal reference to Luke 9:62. The phrase becomes a proverb for persisting in what one has begun to do or committed to. The plow and the plowman had been significant typical commoner Christians in the Lollard appropriation of Langland's medieval allegorical dream vision Piers Plowman, and then Protestantized through William Tyndale's expressed desire that the Bible be made available through his translation efforts in vernacular English “If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy who drives a plough to know more of the scriptures than you do.”

CRAZY-HEADED COXCOMBS - Another fun earthy insult, coxcomb meaning fool, from the court jester's hat, both meanings are in Shakespeare, e.g. Henry V, IV.i.77, King Lear, I.iv.95ff.

TAKE A FANCY BY THE END-  indulge a fantastical notion to its end point. 'Fancy' indicates a whimsical rather than well deliberated desire.

WISER IN THEIR OWN EYES - Proverbs 26:16 "The sluggard is wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason."

MORE FOOLS STILL?...BRAIN-SICK FELLOW...BE WISE - Having just quoted from Proverbs, Bunyan piles up the allusions to the twin dynamic of wisdom and folly here from that book, as also from Jesus teaching (e.g. Matthew 7:24-27).

CONFIRMED BY THE BLOOD OF HIM THAT MADE IT - Bunyan makes clear in the accompanying marginal note that in this entreaty by Christian that both he and Obstinate are 'pulling for', that is, seeking to influence, persuade and direct the course of Pliable's soul. The conversation is about eternal spiritual destiny. The phrase that Christian uses to bolster the authority of his Book is interesting. Bunyan gives Hebrews 13, 20-21 as the reference, in later editions amended to Hebrews 9:17-21. While both speak of the shed blood of Jesus on the cross, the Heb 9 reference is to the blood of the covenant, which might analogously apply to the Bible as the written testament, such as that which the writer to the Hebrews, whom Bunyan would take to be Paul, mentions as his own writing. Still it could be that Bunyan later reflected that an even stronger resonance would be in Heb 9, where Moses sprinkles the book of the law with the mediating blood of sacrifice, in comparison to whom Jesus is a better mediator of a new convenant by his blood. In any case it is implied that the one whose blood is sprinkled is the maker of the book. This is picked up and asserted again in Hopeful's testimony later on in the story. The allusion to Jesus is still couched in allegory that does not name him. Again this is an instance where we see that the narrative universe of The Pilgrim's Progress is foundational biblical, such that the narrator and allegorist assume a lot of the readers i terms of recognition.

MISLED FANTASTICAL FELLOWS- the repeated emphasis is that Christian's torment has been a mental/psychological one in its spirituality, as also perceived in the criticism of his mockers and detractors thus far. This locates the seat of Christianity in the interior world of the heart or mind rather than in external action or ecclesiastical observance.

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