Soon, Christian crosses paths with a gentleman named Mr. Worldly Wiseman, who is from the nearby town of Carnal Policy. Mr. Worldly Wiseman asks Christian where he’s headed, and Christian explains that he’s going to the Wicket-gate in order to be rid of his burden, as per Evangelist’s advice. Mr. Worldly Wiseman condemns Evangelist’s counsel. The Slough of Despond, he warns Christian, is only the beginning of the troubles he’ll meet if he heeds Evangelist.
“Carnal Policy” roughly means “the way the world thinks,” so Worldly Wiseman is a representative of worldly thinking. Unsurprisingly, then, he flatly rejects Evangelist’s recommendation for how Christian should deal with his burden—mainly because Evangelist’s way will involve danger and discomfort.
Mr. Worldly Wiseman says he is older than Christian. If Christian heedlessly follows Evangelist’s advice, stories testify that he will encounter weariness, pain, peril, and even death. Christian argues that, no matter what, none of these things are worse than his burden.
Worldly Wiseman also argues that since he’s older, he understands the ways of the world better than Christian does. With this, though, the book is suggesting that a Christian shouldn’t automatically equate age with wisdom. Also, note that Wiseman advises Christian on the basis of “stories”—basically hearsay—not firsthand knowledge. Christian is so focused on getting rid of his burden that the very worst that the “world” fears—death—cannot deter him.
Mr. Worldly Wiseman asks Christian how he got this burden. Christian explains that he got it by reading the Book he carries. Mr. Worldly Wiseman says that Christian has fallen into the trap of other weak men, meddling in things he doesn’t understand. He adds that he can direct Christian onto a safer, friendlier path to get his burden relieved—he should go to the nearby village of Morality and visit an honest man named Legality. Legality is skilled at removing the burdens of men like Christian. If Legality isn’t there, his son Civility can help Christian just as well.
Worldly Wiseman tries to undercut Christian’s conviction of sin. He does so by arguing that weak people read the Bible and get in over their heads, needlessly worrying about things they don’t understand. He argues that it’s better to just live a moral life and be a good citizen instead of worrying about sin. In other words, the world discredits the Bible’s view of sin and sees good behavior as the right solution.
Christian decides to follow Mr. Worldly Wiseman’s advice. He walks past the high hill that Mr. Worldly Wiseman had indicated, but Christian becomes frightened that the overhanging hill will fall on his head and crush him. His burden only grows heavier. Just as Christian is growing distressed, Evangelist finds him again.
The hill symbolizes Mount Sinai, the place where Moses is believed to have received the Ten Commandments from God, as recounted in the biblical Book of Exodus. Christian’s path to the town of Morality involves adhering closely to the burdens imposed by those Commandments. But this only intensifies Christian’s burden, because efforts to obey the Commandments only further expose a person’s sinfulness.
Evangelist looks at Christian sternly and asks how he got diverted from his path so quickly. Christian shamefully recounts his conversation with Mr. Worldly Wiseman. Evangelist recites Bible verses about those who have turned aside from the path to Heaven, causing Christian to collapse in despair. But Evangelist pulls Christian to his feet, urging him to believe instead of despair.
Evangelist recalls Christian from Worldly Wiseman’s advice and back to the Bible. This early diversion suggests that a person just setting out on the path to Heaven is easily tricked and turned aside. However, this isn’t reason to despair.
Evangelist reveals Mr. Worldly Wiseman’s true nature. Mr. Worldly Wiseman, he explains, loves worldly doctrines because these allow him to avoid the Cross. Christian must reject Mr. Worldly Wiseman’s efforts to get him to reject God’s counsel; instead, Christian should treasure the Cross above all things. In reality, Legality is “the Son of the Bond-woman,” or Mount Sinai, who, along with her children, is in bondage herself. How can those in bondage free Christian from his burden? After Evangelist finishes speaking, Mt. Sinai erupts with fire and a curse.
Evangelist explains that the world wants nothing to do with the Cross—that is, human beings naturally look for ways to justify their behavior instead of facing their sin. The “Son of the Bond-woman” refers to an allegorical passage in the Epistle to the Galatians. In short, it means that the Old Testament law (symbolized by Mount Sinai) cannot free a person from sin. Since Legality himself is in bondage, he can be of no benefit to burdened Christian, the Wiseman’s claim notwithstanding. Mt. Sinai’s curse refers to the curse that falls on all those who fail to keep the law flawlessly.
Grieving his foolishness, Christian is certain that he will die and asks Evangelist if there is any hope for him. Evangelist says that Christian’s sin is twofold: forsaking the good path and following a forbidden one. Yet the man at the Wicket-gate will forgive him. He kisses and smiles at Christian, urging him on his way.
Christian fears that his distraction by Worldly Wiseman will condemn him, but Evangelist assures him that this sin is forgivable. The episode suggests that newly converted Christians are prone to such mistakes, but that these need not destroy their faith.