Psalm 119:105; 2 Pet. 1:19
Commentary and full references
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
2 Pet. 1:19
We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts:
Christ and the way to him cannot be found without the Word.
If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that he said, Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed.
THY CONDITION Bunyan draws on language more common to the English of the Geneva Bible, both in its notes and translation. It indicates an affecting reality emotional as has been seen of the Man, as well as an objective determination. Bunyan uses such language about station in life when in Grace Abounding he refers to entering the condition of marriage.
WHY STANDEST THOU STILL? The question is a pastoral rebuke, prompting the man from indecision into action. Given the motif of pilgrimage in the book's title, progressing is called for rather than standing still as if paralyzed by his plight.
I KNOW NOT Ignorance is the reason the Man gives for his lack of movement. He does not know which way to go, although convinced that go he must. This is his present agonized state. Bunyan emphasizes that the guidance for the pilgrim does not come from custom or natural knowledge.
HE GAVE HIM A PARCHMENT ROLL Freely given to the man, the parchment roll is a brief and fiery delivery of the same message that the Man has been perceiving from his Book. Again, the act of giving shows the divine grace entailed in this human ministry. It should not be supposed that Bunyan is looking for a revelation beyond Scripture. The Roll, along with the Book, and the later Scroll have the same function of directing the reader's attention to reading as the route to saving wisdom, wholly consistent with a Protestant insistence on Scripture Alone (Sola scriptura).
FLY FROM THE WRATH TO COME The Marginal Reference is to Matthew 3:7, words spoken by John the Baptist, suggesting to his detractors that the coming of the Lord and attendant judgment in wrath against sin and unrighteousness was at hand. That John is the forerunner of the Christ, crying in the wilderness 'Prepare a way for the Lord', and pointing to the one who is to come after him of whom he is unworthy, fits the ministerial character of the Evangelist. The Roll's message is shorthand pointing in anticipation to the one in whom rescue from wrath can be found.
WHITHER MUST I FLY? Again the Man's question indicates that the experience whereby he has come to awareness of sin and guilt before God has not yet brought him to a recognition of the divine offer of liberation from his burden and from the condemnation under which he stands. Throughout the reader will be aware of an experiential journey shaped by Puritan expectations substantially different from the immediate conversions of evangelistic 'decisions' for Jesus.
VERY WIDE FIELD Although the geography of the book is not strictly realist, despite some attempts to locate events from the narrative in Bunyan's surrounding Bedfordshire topography, details like this do convey a realist element. The Man is out of the city, already significant, and in a very wide and open space, such that he struggles to see to the further extent of the field. The size of the plot is indicative for plotting the Man's spiritual discernment as physical sight below.
YONDER WICKET GATE Bunyan points the reader to Mathew 7:13-14. The 'wicket-gate' is a small gate for single pedestrian travelers, sometimes set within a larger set of gates for coach and horses (think the gated village of Bree in The Lord of the Rings movies...). The small, narrow, or 'strait' gate is the one that leads to life. The promise of life then stands as an answer to the Man's fears of death.
NO But the Man cannot see the gate so as to go towards it. This is indicative of a continuing spiritual lack of vision. We could consider the lack of faith and understanding of Jesus disciples framed by Mark by the two-stage healing of the blind man (Mark 8) amid a failure to understand Jesus's sign of multiplication of food and Peter's wrong-footed recognition of Jesus as the Christ.
YONDER SHINING LIGHT Not only does Bunyan offer Psalm 119:105 in relation to the shining light referring again to the Word of God inscripturated, but he then doubles down with 1 Peter 1:19. The latter reference makes clear that the light in the heart is of spiritual transformation, from the darkness place in the face of the dawning day [of the Lord]. Although certainly congruous to see the light in terms of Jesus' own self-description as the Light of teh World (John 8??) Bunyan still want to keep the readers attentive to Scripture.
KEEP THAT LIGHT IN YOUR EYE This is a simple navigational instruction but also a piece of spiritual advice. The eye is the source and recipient of good or ill according to its attention and orientation. The Evangelist literally suggests that the light should be in the Man's eye, befitting Matthew 6:21-23 ('For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!) Eye and heart are synonymous for the place of treasuring, in contrast to the dangers of the 'evil eye', still in the Seventeenth century believed to curse and afflict others, as evidence by its invocation at New England's Salem witch trials.
SO SHALT THOU SEE THE GATE to this phrase Bunyan appends his asterisk pointing to the Marginal comment: Christ and the way to him cannot be found without the Word. This seems to be a summary of the whole exchange giving the Man direction, and again, deflects attention from Evangelist as the messenger to the upper case Word of Scripture. That this Word is not primarily here the incarnate Word of John's gospel is evident in that this Word is the way to the (other) one who is Christ. Not only is this typically bibliocentric, but is also further bolsters Bunyan's godly readers who have the Bible to hand, and are, of course, committed themselves to reading.
WHEN THOU KNOCKEST echoes here of Matthew 7:8 where knocking receives answers to requests as gifts.
IT SHALL BE TOLD THEE an indication that reaching the light and the gate will be but the first stages of the journey of escape.
BEGAN TO RUN Bunyan's continued imaginative debt to Hebrews might see an echo here of Hebrews 12:1 and the encouragement to 'run with patience the race that is set before us' as well as possibly 1 Cor 9:24 'So run that ye may obtain' (them verse of the sermon treatise 'The Heavenly Footman' that Bunyan is thought to have been writing when he fell into his allegory in prison.)
HIS WIFE AND CHILDREN adducing Luke 14:26, Bunyan calls on Jesus' hard saying that coming to him means discipleship even to the loss of dearest relatives and one's own life. We should note again, that although Jesus is nowhere named here within the text of the allegory, his presence in Bunyan's marginal notation is prominent.
PUT HIS FINGERS IN HIS EARS For all the seriousness of our commentary - notice the Man's desperate determination not be swayed - it is also visually pretty funny, almost childish.
CRYING, LIFE, LIFE, ETERNAL LIFE! Picking up on the gate/ path that leads to life, the Man proclaims his hope as he runs. This functions as an indicator in the text of the reward to which he runs, as well as more humorously blocking out the sound of his own Wife and children.
LOOKED NOT BEHIND HIM, BUT FLED TOWARDS THE MIDDLE OF THE PLAIN Bunyan makes clear the continual dependence of the whole initial scene involving the Man's flight from the City of Destruction on the destruction of Sodom narrative. He gives Genesis 19:17 as the marginal reference, which includes angelic injunction not to look back (see also Lot's wife later in the storyline -see later Commentary #), as well as the detail about the plain, even though earlier we were told it was a field. 'Plain' makes the scriptural allusion apposite, and might even echo the location of idolatry from which humanity is graciously dispersed at Babel in Genesis 11:2, 9.
Then said Evangelist, “If this be thy condition, why standest thou still?” He answered, “Because I know not whither to go.” Then he gave him a parchment roll, and there was written within, “Fly from the wrath to come.”
The man therefore read it, and looking upon Evangelist very carefully, said, “Whither must I fly?” Then said Evangelist, (pointing with his finger over a very wide field,) “Do you see yonder wicket-gate?” The man said, “No.” Then said the other, “Do you see yonder shining light?” He said, “I think I do.” Then said Evangelist, “Keep that light in your eye, and go up directly thereto, so shalt thou see the gate; at which, when thou knockest, it shall be told thee what thou shalt do.” So I saw in my dream that the man began to run. Now he had not run far from his own door when his wife and children, perceiving it, began to cry after him to return; but the man put his fingers in his ears, and ran on crying, Life! life! eternal life! So he looked not behind him, but fled towards the middle of the plain.