Now I saw upon a time, when he was walking in the Fields, that he was (as he was wont) reading in his Book, and greatly distressed in his mind; and as he read, he burst out, as he had done before, crying, “What shall I do to be saved?”
I saw also that he looked this way, and that way, as if he would run; yet he stood still, because, as I perceived, he could not tell which way to go. I looked then, and saw a man named Evangelist coming to him, and asked, “Wherefore dost thou cry?”
He answered, Sir, I perceive, by the Book in my hand, that I am Condemned to die, and after that to come to Judgment; and I find that I am not willing* to do the first, nor able* to do the second.
Then said Evangelist, Why not willing to die, since this life is attended with so many evils? The Man answered, Because I fear that this burden that is upon my back, will sink me lower than the Grave; and I shall fall into *Tophet. And, Sir, if I be not fit to go to Prison, I am not fit, I am sure, to go to Judgment, and from thence to Execution; and the thoughts of these things make me cry.
Commentary and full references
NOW, I SAW...a textual reminder that the narratorial voice is still that of the dreamer, having lapsed into realist description in the previous section
AS HE WAS WONT, READING IN HIS BOOK...Bunyan is keen to convey the good of habitual disciplined Bible reading, even as one compelled by his spiritual burden.
AS HE READ, HE BURST OUT...the implication is that it is the text that he is reading that drives the Man's outburst. The Bible for Bunyan has living power, and his personal disposition and larger Puritan setting would expect a reader's response to be forthrightly affective or emotional, and not just rational.
WHAT SHALL I DO TO BE SAVED?... repeating and expanding on his earlier lamentable cry, this time Acts 16:30 is fully quoted. Notably Bunyan does not just point his reader to the Philippian Jailer's exclamation upon finding that Paul and Silas have not fled the prison shaken by an earthquake. He also adds the following verse's 'altar call' to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
LOOKED THIS WAY AND THAT, AS IF HE WOULD RUN, YET HE STOOD STILL...this description of frustrated action wonderfully captures the terrible quandary the person convicted of sin yet unfamiliar with the grace of salvation feels.
MAN NAMED EVANGELIST...referring to the role of Christian ministry (Ephesians 4:11), rather than writer of a canonical gospel, Bunyan may have the pastoral figure of John Gifford of Bedford in his mind, whose own accompanying of Bunyan supported his own conversion, as described in Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners.
COMING TO HIM, AND ASKED...it is significant that this Evangelist does not wait in a church or parish setting to receive inquiring souls, but is out on the by-ways through the fields, approaching the Man. Scriptural echoes are immediately of evangelist Philip approaching the Scripture-reading Ethiopian eunuch, Acts 8:30. This is also a picture of the freedom for ministry in the Spirit enjoyed by nonconformists, as well as recalling the reality that dissenters would often meet in fields out of doors to avoid disapproving neighbors, government spies or persecuting magistrates.
I PERCEIVE, BY THE BOOK IN MY HAND...the Man's affections are oriented by his understanding as perception. Another emphasis on the practice of reading reaching its goal.
CONDEMNED TO DIE...Hebrews 9:27, see below, does not account for the use of 'condemned' here, while observing the commonplace of death. There is a general Christian cultural belief in life after death in seventeenth century England. Bunyan is leaning on the core teaching of the gospel, such as John 3:18 'He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.' This would fit the inclusion of Act 16:31 in The marginal note commented on above (WHAT SHALL I DO TO BE SAVED?)
AFTER THAT TO COME TO JUDGMENT...HEBREWS 9:27, rather than death itself being the great terror, it is the issuing of death into judgment that causes the Man's consternation. Contrast this to the great efforts in our own day to stave off death and mitigate its harshness, with little regard to divine judgment.
NOT WILLING TO DO THE FIRST...Bunyan adduces Job 16:21-22, where the rhetorically impossible task of contending with God as with a neighbor as Job would want, is couched by the jaded recognition concession that going, equally involuntarily, whence I will not return, that is, to death, however unsought and years hence, is in any case inevitable.
NOR ABLE TO DO THE SECOND...Ezekiel 22:14 showcases the inability of Israel, or an individual, whatever their strength, to withstand the spoken and dealt out judgment of the Lord.
LOWER THAN THE GRAVE,...INTO TOPHET...lower than indicates the conviction that burial of the body is but a stage in the experience of death in sin. Tophet, from Isaiah 30:33, is a place of burning, literally, for the condemnation, stoked by the breath of the Lord, for the enemies of God's people, in that instance the Assyrians. The verse fits a context of Isaiah 30:18-33 where God's grace is bestowed in overcoming their idolatry and teaching them to walk in his path, establishing his people in the the land, Zion, Jerusalem, and coming in wrath to sift the nations as a devouring fire.
PRISON...this could be a reference to hell as prison, in keeping with interpretation of 1 Peter 3:19, also Revelation 20:1-3, 7 where the pit is described as Satan's prison. It might, in the sequence of Bunyan's thought here, be his own discomfort, and that of his fellow nonconformists, at actual imprisonment, such that godly readers are aware of the privations of imprisonment, and can therefore recognize that faring ill in prison is a good indication that the greater trials of death and judgment ought not be entertained lightly.
EXECUTION...initially threatened with banishment if refusing to conform by ceasing to preach without a license, Bunyan may have conflated his own plight with the penalty for unauthorized return to the realms from banishment which would be the death penalty.
And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?
And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.
And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:
O that one might plead for a man with God, as a man pleadeth for his neighbour!
When a few years are come, then I shall go the way whence I shall not return.
Ezekiel 22:14 (not Exodus 22:14 as given in some editions)
Can thine heart endure, or can thine hands be strong, in the days that I shall deal with thee? I the Lord have spoken it, and will do it.
For Tophet is ordained of old; yea, for the king it is prepared; he hath made it deep and large: the pile thereof is fire and much wood; the breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it.