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THE PILGRIM’S PROGRESS ~ AN APPRECIATION
Of John Bunyan’s 59 books and pamphlets, one has outstripped the others in terms of popularity and usefulness. Many have appreciated The Pilgrim’s Progress since first published 1678. Immediate bestseller. Three editions in first year. Bunyan died 1688, by which time gone through 13 editions; at least 100,000 copies. During 1690s two booksellers ordered about 10,000 copies each. There were other large orders in that decade. The Great Awakening in the following century produced many more eager readers. Like those of 17th century, these came mostly from the common people. (Stats from Barry E. Horner, Themes and Issues – An Evangelical Commentary on The Pilgrim’s Progress). Has been translated into over 200 languages.
In more recent times, others have appreciated the book for its literary and historical interest, regarding its theology as outmoded. My appreciation is an echo of those who have gone before and who have seen the theology as its central core and greatest strength; the reason for its lasting value.
Men like John Newton: “Soon after I returned from Yorkshire, I began to expound the Pilgrim’s Progress in our meetings on Tuesday evenings; and, though we have been almost seven months travelling with the pilgrim, we have not yet left the house Beautiful; but I believe shall set off for the Valley of Humiliation in about three weeks. I find this book so full of matter, that I can seldom go through more than a page, or half a page at a time. I hope the attempt has been greatly blessed among us; and for myself, it has perhaps given me a deeper insight into John Bunyan’s knowledge, judgment, and experience in the Christian life, than I should ever have had without it.”
Toplady: “The Pilgrim’s Progress is the finest allegorical work extant; describing every stage of a Christian’s experience, from conversion to glorification, in the most artless simplicity of language; yet peculiarly rich with spiritual unction, and glowing with the most vivid, just, and well-conducted machinery throughout. It is, in short, a masterpiece of piety and genius; and will, we doubt not, be of standing use to the people of God, so long as the sun and moon endure.”
William Cowper: Oh thou, whom, born on fancy’s eager wing
Back to the season of life’s happy spring,
I pleased remember, and, while memory yet
Holds fast her office here, can ne’er forget.
Ingenious Dreamer! in whose well-told tale
Sweet fiction and sweet truth prevail;
Whose humorous vein, strong sense, and simple style,
May teach the gayest, make the gravest smile;
Witty, and well employed, and like thy Lord,
Speaking in parables his slighted Word.
I name thee not, lest so despised a name
Should move a sneer at thy deserved fame.
Yet e’en in transitory life’s late day,
That mingles all my brown with sober gray,
Revere the man, whose PILGRIM marks the road,
And guides the PROGRESS of the soul to God.
‘Twere well with most, if books that could engage
Their childhood, pleased them at a riper age;
The man, approving what had charmed the boy,
Would die at last in comfort, peace, and joy.
Gresham Machen: The Pilgrim’s Progress is “that tenderest and most theological of books,…pulsating with life in every word.”
C. H. Spurgeon’s son, Thomas, records that Bunyan was his father’s favourite author and that the Progress had been read at least 100 times.
Allow me to set out seven reasons why we should appreciate The Pilgrim’s Progress. The first two have to do with its background; the rest with its content.
WE SHOULD APPRECIATE IT BECAUSE…
1. …IT AS AN EXAMPLE OF GOD’S ENABLING AN ORDINARY MAN TO DO A GREAT WORK.
This is not to despise learning. Many leaders of Reformation and 18th century revival were university men. Don’t know what Bunyan might have achieved if he had had university education. Fact is he didn’t. God willing to use humble instruments for His glory. First apostles not learned. John Owen – give up learning to preach like Bunyan. The Pilgrim’s Progress far more widely read than Owen’s works. Encouragement to workers with few talents.
2. …IT ILLUSTRATES WHAT GOD CAN DO THROUGH THE TRIALS OF HIS PEOPLE.
From 1660 to 1672 Bunyan was in prison for leading an unlawful religious assembly. He supported his family by making shoelaces, preached to his fellow prisoners, and spent much time writing. It was probably between 1667 and his release that The Pilgrim’s Progress was written.
This serves to show that times of hardship for Christians, even persecution, need not be barren. In Bunyan’s case, it was the occasion out of which came what many would call his greatest work. As we discern darkening clouds of trials, and even persecution gathering over God’s people today, this book should encourage us to look for the good that God is able to bring out of those trials.
3. …OF ITS EMPHASIS ON THE BIBLE.
The opening sentences describe a man with a book in his hand which he opened and read. Its contents made him weep and tremble. The Bible.
Says George Cheever: “You will observe what honour, from his Pilgrim’s first setting out, Bunyan puts upon the Word of God. He would give to no inferior instrumentality, not even to one of God’s providences, the business of awakening his Pilgrim to a sense of his danger; but he places him before us reading his book, awakened by the Word. And he makes the first efficacious motive in the mind of this Pilgrim a salutary fear of the terrors of that Word, a sense of the wrath to come, beneath the burden of sin upon his soul.”
Bunyan’s convictions further attested in Christian’s words to Obstinate: “I seek an ‘inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away,’ (1 Pet.1:4), and it is laid up in heaven, (Heb. 11:16), and safe there, to be bestowed, at the time appointed, on them that diligently seek it. Read it so, if you will, in my book.”
Then: “Nay, but do thou come with thy neighbour Pliable: there are such things to be had which I spoke of, and many more glories besides; if you believe not me, read here in this book, and for the truth of what is expressed therein, behold, all is confirmed by the blood of him that made it. (Heb. 13:20f; 9:17-21.)
Later: PLIABLE. “Come, neighbour Christian, since there is none but us two here, tell me now further, what things are, and how to be enjoyed, whither we are going.”
CHRISTIAN. “I can better conceive of them with my mind, than speak of them with my tongue; but yet since you are desirous to know, I will read of them in my book.”
PLIABLE. “And do you think that the words of your book are certainly true?”
CHRISTIAN. “Yes, verily, for it was made by him that cannot lie.” (Ti.1:2)
C. H. Spurgeon says: “Read anything of his (Bunyan’s), and you will see that it is almost like reading the Bible itself. He had read it till his very soul was saturated with Scripture; and, though his writings are charmingly full of poetry, yet he cannot give us his Pilgrim’s Progress – that sweetest of all prose poems – without continually making us feel and say, ‘Why, this man is a living Bible!’ Prick him anywhere; his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his very soul is full of the Word of God.”
We need not only to uphold the Bible as the sole authority and guide, but also to get the Bible into our veins so that it produces spiritual health, strength and growth. Be not ashamed of the Bible. Have confidence in its power to convict.
4. …IT ASSERTS THE NECESSITY OF COMING TO CHRIST FOR SALVATION.
Jesus said “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved” (Jn.10:9) Later he was to say “No man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (14:6). Towards the end of the sermon on the mount he urges people to “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Mt.7:13f).
No other Saviour. No other way into then presence of God but by coming to Christ.
In The Pilgrim’s Progress we find this emphasis depicted as the Wicket Gate – the narrow gate which leads into the narrow way is Christ. Goodwill, the keeper of the Wicket Gate is Christ. To the Wicket Gate Evangelist pointed burdened Christian saying, “Do you see yonder wicket-gate?” Christian said “No”. “Do you see yonder shining light?” asked Evangelist, indicating that the Scriptures lead us to Christ. “I think I do” said Christian. Evangelist told him to keep his eye on that light and go straight to it, and he would see the gate. When he arrived at the gate he was to knock and he would be told what to do.
Christian eventually arrived at the Wicket Gate via the Slough of Despond and Mount Sinai, and he was welcomed in by Goodwill. The straight and narrow way was pointed out to him and he was urged to keep to it.
Along the way Christian meets other travellers. Two such were Formalist and Hypocrisy. They entered the narrow way by climbing over the wall. Christian asked them why they had not come in at the gate which stands at the beginning of the way. “Don’t you know” he said “that it is written, that he that comes not in by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber?” Formalist, Hypocrisy and all who lived in their home town thought it far too long a distance to go that way, so they devised a short cut.
Christian asked if this was not a violation of the revealed will of the Lord of the Celestial City, but they argued that they had tradition on their side. They further argued pragmatically, “If we get into the way, what does it matter how we get in? If we are in, we are in. You are in the way, having come in by the gate; and we are also in the way that came tumbling over the wall. In what way is your condition better than ours?”
Familiar arguments today. But not according to God’s Word:
Christian: “I work by the rule of my Master; you walk by the rude working of your fancies. You are counted thieves already, by the Lord of the way; therefore, I doubt you will not be found true men at the end of the way. You come in by yourselves, without his direction; and you shall go out by yourselves, without his mercy.”
Later on Christian and Hopeful met Ignorance, and Christian challenged him similarly, “But you did not come in at the wicket gate that is at the head of this way; you came in here through a crooked lane, and therefore I fear, however you may think of yourself, when the reckoning day comes, you will have laid to your charge that you are a thief and a robber, instead of getting admittance into the Celestial city.” Sure enough, when Ignorance tried to enter the City he was taken by two angels, bound hand a foot, and carried to a door in the side of a hill near the city, and there they put him in. Bunyan comments “Then I saw that there was a way to hell, even from the gates of heaven, as well as from the City of Destruction!”
No door to life but Christ. Have you come to him?
The other necessity is the cross of Christ. Christian’s encounter with Mr. Worldly-Wiseman taught him painfully that an appeal to the law would only increase his burden and misery. There was to be no release from his sin until he came to the cross of Christ. When Christian’s burden rolled away into a sepulchre to be seen no more, the pilgrim understood the penal substitutionary nature of Christ’s death “and said with a merry heart, ‘He hath given me rest by his sorrow, and life by his death.’” Christian was reduced to tears as he gazed at the cross. Then three Shining ones appeared, one of whom “stripped him of his rags, and clothed him ‘with a change of raiment’ (Zech.3:4)”, signifying the imputed righteousness of Christ through faith. Christian went on his way singing:
Thus far I did come laden with my sin;
Nor could aught ease the grief that I was in
Till I came hither: What a place is this!
Must here be the beginning of my bliss?
Must here the burden fall from off my back?
Must here the strings that bound it to me crack?
Blest cross! blest Sepulchre! blest rather be
The man that there was put to shame for me!
Yet the book does not stereotype Christian experience. Christian and Hopeful differed. Christian and Christiana differed.
5. …IT DEPICTS THE CHRISTIAN LIFE AS A PILGRIMAGE.
About one tenth deals with Christian’s experience up to the Wicket Gate. Nine tenths from Gate to Celestial City. With us emphasise conversion, point of commitment. With Bunyan that is only the (indispensable) beginning.
Not literature/history. Emphasis revealed in title: a) PILGRIM. On a journey.
i) Some regard a pilgrimage as for limited time. Religious motive. Devotion. Gain merit. Healing, egs: Muslims to Mecca. Hindus to many sacred sites. RCs to Lourdes etc.
ii) For others it is their view of life as a whole. Journey life on earth to life beyond. The Pilgrim’s Progress FROM THIS WORLD TO THAT WHICH IS TO COME. This clearly Bunyan’s meaning.
Title sets tone. Spiritual journey. Matter of greatest importance. Pre-eminently about a man and his God. Opens with a man having been made aware that he is under the wrath of God. Deeply concerned. Tells how he sets out on a journey in pursuit of relief; (pp15f). Eventually arrives at and accepted into Celestial city.
b) PROGRESS. Journey not a journey if go nowhere. Moving on towards goal. Learning/growing as go. Perseverance. Glory. In Bunyan’s own words:
This book, it chalketh out before thine eyes
The man that seeks the everlasting prize;
It shows you whence he comes, whither he goes,
What he leaves undone; also, what he does;
It also shows you how he runs and runs,
‘Til he unto the gate of glory comes.
Having come through the Wicket Gate (Christ), Christian arrives eventually at the House of the Interpreter where he said to the Master of the House “I am a man that am come FROM the City of Destruction, and am going TO the Mount Zion; and I was told by the man that stands at the gate, at the head of this way, that if I called here, you would show me excellent things, such as would be a help to me in my journey.” Shown seven things necessary for a new Christian. 1. The Picture – The only authorized guide. 2. Parlour/dust – Sin can only be subdued by the gospel not by law. 3. Passion and Patience – Glory is worth waiting for. 4. Fire – Grace given by Christ is maintained by him. 5. Palace/valiant man – Only through much tribulation is kingdom of God entered. 6. Man in iron cage – Warning against sin. 7. Man rising from bed/trembling – Let not life of this world cause you to be unprepared for the next.
Before Christian leaves, Interpreter says “(K)eep all things so in thy mind that they may be as a goad in thy sides, to prick thee forward in the way thou must go. Then Christian began to gird up his loins, and to address himself to his journey. Then said the Interpreter, ‘The Comforter be always with thee, good Christian, to guide thee in the way that leads to the City.’
So Christian went on his way, saying:
Here I have seen things rare and profitable;
Things pleasant, dreadful, things to make me stable
In what I have begun to take in hand;
Then let me think on them, and understand
Wherefore they showed me were, and let me be
Thankful, O good Interpreter, to thee.”
Bunyan would have us know that becoming a Christian not merely a matter of making a profession, being baptised, joining a church, signing a card, going to a penitent form, attending an Alpha course, being “baptised in the Spirit”.
Becoming a Christian is embarking on a journey. The way is as long as life on earth lasts. Requires perseverance and progression. Many difficulties and snares. It is more than worth it in the end.
We must have this vision that we are travelling to a better world. Hold loosely to this world.
6. …OF THE IMPORTANCE IT GIVES TO THE LOCAL CHURCH.
First thing Christian is shown in the House of the Interpreter is a picture – “of a very grave person hung up against the wall… His eyes were lifted up to heaven, the best of books in his hand, the law of truth was written on his lips, the world was behind his back. He stood as if he pleaded with men, and a crown of gold hung over his head. When Christian asked what the picture meant the Interpreter replied, “The man whose picture this is, is one of a thousand, he can beget children (1 Co.4:15), travail in birth with children (Gal.4:19), and nurse them himself when they are born. And whereas you see him with his eyes lifted to heaven, the best of books in his hand, and the law of truth written on his lips, it is to show you that his work is to know and unfold dark things to sinners; even as also you see him stand as if he pleaded with men; and whereas you see the world as cast behind him, and that a crown hangs over his head, that is to show you that slighting and despising the things that are present, for the love that he has to his Master’s service, he is sure in the world that comes next to have glory for his reward. Now, I have showed you this picture first, because the man whose picture this is, is the only man whom the Lord of the place where you are going has authorised to be your guide in all difficult places you may meet with in the way. Wherefore take good heed to what I have showed you, and bear well in your mind what you have seen, lest in your journey you meet with some that pretend to lead you right, but their way goes down to death.”
First thing a new believer needs – a local church with a godly pastor, (p.38f). Not an entertainer or even an entertaining preacher. A man who will provide pastoral care. Evangelist did the work of an evangelist, but was much more than an evangelist in modern sense. Followed up with pastoral care. When Christian went out of the way through listening to Mr. Wordly-Wiseman, and went towards the village of Morality where he hoped Mr. Legality would rid him of his burden of sin, he got no further than Mt Sinai where he became terrified. Here Evangelist reappeared to rebuke him and guide him back into the right way.
The shepherds at the Delectable Mountains also portray pastoral care in the local church, but in their case with an emphasis on a plurality of elders.
Another vital role of the pastor is to teach sound doctrine. Conversations in The Pilgrim’s Progress bring out the depth of Bunyan’s understanding of doctrine, and also its importance in terms of exposing sham Christianity in those who have not had a true experience of conversion. For example, the conversation between Christian, Hopeful and Ignorance illustrates the difference between the imputed and the infused righteousness of Christ, and the true doctrine of justification.
Yet another function of the pastor/elders is church discipline. This aspect of local church life is not neglected by Bunyan either. To begin with, only those who make a credible profession of faith are admitted to membership, as evidenced by the questions put to Christian by the porter watchful at the Palace Beautiful, followed by the ladies Discretion, Prudence, Piety and Charity.
Once having been admitted to membership, pastoral care involved the discipline of errant members. When Christian and Hopeful were led astray by Flatterer they were chastened by a Shining One with a whip.
In addition to all this, Bunyan illustrates the sharing of the Lord’s Supper at the Palace Beautiful, and the refreshment to be enjoyed by Christian pilgrims through fellowship amongst the Lord’s people at the Palace and with the shepherds in the Delectable Mountains.
Bunyan presents us with the character of a true local church, in such a way as to hold up to our view both the obligations and joys of membership which should rekindle our sense of appreciation for the privilege of church membership and our desire to see our local churches increasingly manifest these characteristics.
7. …OF ITS BLEND OF WARNING AND ENCOURAGEMENT.
The Pilgrim’s Progress gives us a very realistic view of the Christian life. The variety of people Christian meets on his journey illustrates real characteristics to be found in real people. Observations on human nature. Some of these people, like Mr. Worldly-Wiseman, Formalist, Hypocrisy, Demas, Talkative, Hold-the–world, Money-love, Save-all, Vain-confidence, Ignorance, Atheist, Flatterer are dangerous to the Christian. Others like Faithful and Hopeful are a tremendous help. Added to this are the delights of the Palace Beautiful contrasted with the ferocity of Satan’s animosity as seen in Apollyon’s attack on Christian in the Valley of Humiliation. Faithful’s mock trial and martyrdom at the town of Vanity illustrates the world’s prejudice and cruelty. The threat of giants Pope and Pagan are understandably played down given the book’s 17th century background, but their influence has revived in our day, and we should have no illusions about the danger they present. Then there are the dangers of the Slough of Despond and the Enchanted Ground, and the horrors of Doubting Castle, and the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and the fears of Christian at the River of Death. These are contrasted with the joy of glory in its anticipation and then in experience.
All this serves to remind us that the Christian pilgrimage is neither a heady mix of health, wealth and happiness, nor a depressing burden of gloom. Bunyan shows us the life of the Christian as it really is – showing us that there are real dangers to be faced – the dangers of subtle deviations from the truth, of plausible worldly arguments, of depression and suicide, of sexual seduction, of Satanic hostility. He warns us of the consequences of being taken in by these dangers – the man awaking from sleep unprepared for the day of judgement, the despairing man in the iron cage with no hope for eternity, Christian falling to the ground through pride, having overtaken Faithful, the pilgrims’ imprisonment in Doubting Castle through having gone into Bypath Meadow for love of ease, Lot’s wife illustrating the danger of covetousness, the pilgrims smashed to pieces at the foot of the hill called Error, the blind men wandering among the tombs because their eyes had been put out by Giant Despair, the terrible end of Ignorance.
Bunyan also encourages us with such things as the fire that cannot be quenched by Satan’s water because the oil of grace is continually poured upon it by Christ, the victory of the valiant men entering the palace though through much tribulation, the joys of Christian companionship and godly conversation, the provisions made for pilgrims in the fellowship of the local church, the foresight of the Celestial City given to the pilgrims by the shepherds through their telescope.
We need such a balanced and serious view of pilgrimage. Matter of eternal life and eternal death. Eternal destiny is at stake. What could be more serious? Brevity of earthly life. Endlessness of eternity. Bunyan calls us to face these issues with all seriousness. Shun superficiality of entertainment age. Count cost before begin.
Yet encouragement is great to persevere with hope ever fixed on the destination. FINAL TRIUMPH – Christian had said to Obstinate “I seek an ‘inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away,’ (1 Pet. 1:4), and it is laid up in heaven, (Heb. 11:16), and safe there, to be bestowed, at the time appointed, on them that diligently seek it.” Now, at last, Christian arrives and is welcomed in. (p.159-164) – “Now I saw in my dream that these two men (Christian and Hopeful) went in at the gate: and lo, as they entered, they were transfigured, and they had raiment put on that shone like gold. There was also that met them with harps and crowns, and gave them to them – the harps to praise withal, and the crowns in token of honour. Then I heard in my dream that all the bells in the city rang for joy, and that it was said unto them, ‘Enter ye into the joy of your Lord.’ I also heard the men themselves, that they sang with a loud voice, saying, ‘Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever’ (Rev.5:13).
Now just as the gates were opened to let in the men, I looked in after them, and, behold, the city shone like the sun; the streets also were paved with gold, and in them walked many men with crowns on their heads, palms in their hands, and golden harps to sing praises withal.
There were also of them that had wings, and they answered one another without intermission, saying, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord (Rev.4:8). And after that they shut up the gates; which, when I had seen, I WISHED MYSELF AMONG THEM.”
Yet even after this, Bunyan cannot forbear warning. The Progress closes with the dreadful end of Ignorance, who had trusted in works righteousness instead of the righteousness of Christ.
May God grant that all of us by sovereign grace may be true believers in our Lord Jesus Christ, knowing we at the end shall life inherit, therefore fearing not what men say, we’ll labour night and day to be a pilgrim.
PASTORAL PERSPECTIVES IN THE PILGRIM’S PROGRESS
A pastor1 once commented that since there is such a strong pastoral emphasis in The Pilgrim’s Progress, it should be mandatory teaching for candidates for the Christian ministry.
On the other hand, an Oxford scholar, B. R. White, says of The Pilgrim’s Progress, “the sense of the surrounding presence of a church fellowship was almost completely absent.”2 Another Bunyan scholar, Pieter de Vries, writes, “In The Pilgrim’s Progress the church plays a very modest role.”3
Who is right? In his concluding poem to part 1 of The Progress, Bunyan tells us the book has to be interpreted. He warns us against miss-interpretation, against playing with the outside of his dream, and urges us to look for the substance of his matter, saying,
“Put by the curtains, look within my veil;
Turn up my metaphors, and do not fail
There, if thou seekest them, such things to find,
As will be helpful to an honest mind.”4
So a hermeneutical task lies before us, and if we engage in it, we shall find that the local church plays a vital role in the pastoral care of Christian on his pilgrimage from this world to the next.
The first evidence of this is Bunyan’s portrayal of EVANGELIST. He is really a pastor/evangelist, as Paul wrote to Timothy “Do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim.4:5). Not a high profile, itinerant, campaign organising, decision-seeking, type of evangelist. He probably represents John Gifford, who was pastor at Bedford from 1650-1656. In his testimony, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, Bunyan writes about being under conviction, “About this time I began to break my mind to those poor people in Bedford, and to tell them my condition; which when they heard, they told Mr. Gifford of me, who himself also took occasion to talk with me, and was willing to be well persuaded of me, though I think from little grounds; but he invited me to his house, where I should hear him confer with others about the dealings of God with their souls; from all which I received more conviction, and from that time began to see something of the vanity and inward wretchedness of my wicked heart;…”5
In all probability, John Gifford was also the model for the “picture of a very grave person” in the House of the Interpreter, signifying a godly pastor. The figure “had eyes lifted up to heaven, the best of books in his hand, the law of truth was written on his lips, the world was behind his back. It stood as if it pleaded with men, and a crown of gold did hang over his head.”
Interpreter explained that the man was one of a thousand who “can beget children, travail in birth with children, and nurse them when they are born.” In bringing people to spiritual birth, and caring for the spiritual infant, we see the evangelistic pastor or the pastor/evangelist at work.
Interpreter warned Christian that the picture represents the only man whom the Lord of the Celestial City had authorised to be his guide in all difficult places he may meet on his journey, and he was to take good heed to what he had seen in case he met others who would pretend to lead him right, but would in fact lead him down to death.
So the evangelist’s work is not done when the sinner comes to profess faith in Christ. He is a shepherd who will remain with the sheep throughout the journey, and the sheep are to take notice of him. So it is hardly wrong to say that the work of true evangelism continues throughout the length of the journey, guiding pilgrims in the right way that leads to life and warning them about the broad road that leads to destruction.
This is borne out by noting the three occasions on which Evangelist appears. The first encounter is at the City of Destruction where he appears as one seeking sinners. He drew out of Christian a confession of his state by a judicious use of questions, “Why are you crying?” “Why are you unwilling to die?” “Why are you standing still?” Evangelist did not have one cure-all remedy for every sinner, but by these questions showed his interest in Christian as an individual, and endeavoured to diagnose his state and need before giving him spiritual counsel.
Then Evangelist gave Christian a parchment-roll on which was written, “Fly from the wrath to come” showing that his counsel was based not on opinion but on the written revelation of God. He then asked Christian if he could see the Wicket Gate. When Christian said he could not, he directed him to the shining light close to it. In other words he was pointing Christian to Christ who is the Narrow Gate that leads to life. If he followed the light of the Word, it would lead him to Christ. He fitted his advice to the capacity of the man he was trying to help.
We meet Evangelist for the second time when Christian was at the high hill on the way to the village of Morality to see Mr. Legality, having been misdirected by Mr. Worldly Wiseman. Evangelist again used questions in dealing with this wandering sheep. “What are you doing here?” “Aren’t you the man I found crying outside the City of Destruction?” “How is it you have so quickly turned aside from my direction, for you are now going the wrong way?” He also asked what Mr. Worldly Wiseman had said to Christian. Then he applied warnings from the Word of God to those who turned out of the way. He spoke at length about Christian’s error until the pilgrim was convicted, at which point Evangelist turned to encouragement, saying the man at the gate would receive him, but he must be sure not to turn aside again. “He kissed him, gave him one smile, and bid him God-speed.” (Emphasis mine). He gave him but little encouragement that he might realise the seriousness and danger of his error, but not so little as to make him despair.
Bunyan here portrays a man for whom evangelism and pastoral care are inextricably linked. A man who comes to rescue straying sheep and guide them in the right way. That he had been instrumental in causing Christian to make a “decision” to start his journey was not enough. He had an ongoing pastoral concern and sense of responsibility for this man.
Our third encounter with Evangelist is just before Christian and Faithful arrive at Vanity Fair. The two pilgrims welcomed Evangelist most warmly, for it had been he who set Faithful as well as Christian on his way to the narrow Gate. Once again we find him using questions. “How has it fared with you since last we met?” “What have you met with and how have you behaved yourselves?” Evangelist spoke much to encourage the travellers, but also warned them that they “must through many tribulations enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” He told them that one or both must seal their testimony with blood in Vanity Fair, and urged them to remain faithful unto death.
Evangelist did not hide from the pilgrims the fact that the Christian life can be beset with many trials. Bunyan presents him not as a man whose sole interest was to fill pews, but who had a genuine and ongoing-interest in those who turn their backs on the City of Destruction, knowing it is those who endure to the end who shall be saved. So he started them off on the way of life, but was never far away thereafter, and would be on hand to warn, re-direct and encourage.
Having entered through the Wicket Gate, Christian was told to call at the House of the Interpreter where he would be shown excellent things that would be a help to him on his journey. Is the Interpreter’s House a symbol of the local church, and does the Interpreter portray a godly pastor? Alexander Whyte in his Bunyan Characters thinks so. He writes, “And since every minister of the gospel is an interpreter, and every evangelical church is an interpreter’s house, let us gather up some of the precious lessons to ministers and to people with which this passage of The Pilgrim’s Progress so much abounds.”6
However, it is more usual to see the Interpreter as a reference to the Holy Spirit and His work. At this point in the story, Bunyan inserted the word “illumination” into the margin, which must surely be a reference to the work of the Spirit in illuminating the sacred page and leading believers into all the truth. Thus Thomas Scott, “The Interpreter emblematically represents the teaching of the Holy Spirit according to the Scripture; for, while believers read, hear, and meditate, and endeavour to profit by their daily experience and observation, they also depend on this promised teaching, and by constant prayer look to the Fountain of wisdom, to deliver them from prejudice, preserve them from error, and enable them to profit by the ministry of the word.”7
George Cheever similarly writes, “This good man of the House, the Interpreter, we are, without doubt, to take as the representative of the Holy Spirit, with his enlightening and sanctifying influences on the heart. He is our Comforter, Guardian, and Guide through all our pilgrimage; our Instructor to take of the things which are Christ’s, and to shew them to our souls; our Sanctifier, to lead us into all truth, and to make it the nourishing food of our souls, and with it and in it bringing Christ before us continually, to fasten our affections upon him, and make him, of God, unto us, our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.”8
Another example is Barry Horner, “The Interpreter is the Holy Spirit who is inseparably associated with the Word of God. It is He who makes the Word ‘living and powerful’ (Heb. 4:12), who communicates and illuminates the truth (2 Tim. 3:16), and especially as it concerns the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ (John 15:26).”9
It seems undeniable that these writers are correct in their interpretation, and Bunyan’s annotation is conclusive, but in view of the connection between the Holy Spirit and the ministry of the Word, and the connection between the ministry of the Word and the local church, does Alexander Whyte not have a point? Particularly helpful is his comment on the variety of scenes that were to be found in the Interpreter’s House. He writes, “The significant rooms of that divine house instruct us also that all the lessons requisite for our salvation are not to be found in any one scripture or in any one sermon, but that all that is required by any pilgrim or any company of pilgrims should be found in every minister’s ministry as he leads his flock on from one Sabbath-day to another, rightly dividing the word of truth. Our ministers should have something in their successive sermons for everybody. Something for the children, something for the slow-witted and the dull of understanding, and something specially suited for those who are of quick apprehension; something at one time to make the people smile, at another time to make them blush, and at another time to make the water stand in their eyes.”10
So, whilst the Holy Spirit must have the pre-eminence in our understanding of the Interpreter’s House, yet as Horner says, the Holy Spirit “is inseparably associated with the Word of God”9, and as it is the minister’s task to interpret and apply that Word as he himself is taught by the Spirit, there is something here to instruct us about the local church as the place of pastoral care for the pilgrim, such care being provided by the Spirit anointed ministry of a godly pastor who faithfully declares the whole counsel of God. A preacher who rides a hobbyhorse would not meet with Bunyan’s approval.
The next significant evidence about the pastoral relationship between the local church and the pilgrim is the PALACE BEAUTIFUL. This is Bunyan’s way of describing how Christian joined a local church. The narrative runs, “…he (Christian) lift up his eyes, and, behold, there was a very stately palace before him, the name of which was Beautiful; and it stood just by the highway side.
“So I saw in my dream, that he made haste and went forward, that if possible he might get lodging there. Now before he had gone far, he entered into a very narrow passage, which was about a furlong off of the porter’s lodge; and, looking very narrowly before him as he went, he espied two lions in the way.”
As the Palace Beautiful, Bunyan represents the local church as something attractive which a spiritual pilgrim will want to join, but he also illustrates the fact that admission to membership is not to be taken for granted, not only on account of the opposition from unbelievers that can be faced, but also on account of the expectations and demands of those who are already in membership.
The two lions were among the dangers that caused Timorous and Mistrust to turn back because “the prospect of our being torn in pieces seemed too real.”
Spurgeon sees the lions as representing the difficulties, which lie in the way of a Christian joining a church. He writes, “It seems to him such a trial to have to talk with a Christian brother about his experience, and a truly awful thing to have to come before the church, and a still more dreadful thing to be baptized; and, so, poor Mr. Timidity begins to quiver and quake. Sometimes, even worse fears than these come up, and the perplexed soul cries, ‘Shall I be able to hold on if I profess to be a follower of Christ? Shall I continue to bear a good testimony for Him in after years as well as now? What will my husband say about the matter? What will my father say? What will those I work with say when they hear that I have avowed myself to be a disciple of Christ?’ That was poor Christian’s trouble, ‘he espied two lions in the way.’”11
Thomas Scott has a similar understanding. “A public profession of faith exposes a man to more opposition from relatives and neighbours, than a private attention to religion; and in our author’s days it was commonly the signal for persecution: for which reason he places the lions in the road to the house Beautiful.”12
True as these points are in themselves, it remains uncertain whether there is not more to be said about the lions, and also why, when he came to the Beautiful Palace, Faithful chose not to go in? Although the lions roared at Christian as he passed, when Faithful came to them he found them fast asleep. What is Bunyan’s meaning here?
Barry Horner points out that Bunyan described himself as writing Grace Abounding “while imprisoned, ‘from the lions’ den.’13 He continues. ‘I thank God upon every remembrance of you (Bedford church believers); and rejoice, even while I stick between the teeth of the lions in the wilderness.’” At the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, the two lions, church and state endeavoured by means of statute to block the progress of dissenting Christians from entering into fellowship with a gathered church consisting only of professed believers, such as is represented by the Palace Beautiful. Bunyan’s refusal to conform resulted in his imprisonment for twelve years in the first instance. Horner comments, “Establishment religion was exceedingly savage!”14
With regard to Faithful, Horner goes on, “…Faithful finds that the lions are asleep. Most likely they sense that this pilgrim will not seek to reside at the Palace Beautiful; he is not so much in direct opposition to them. And this being the case, then what is Faithful’s local church affiliation? There can be only one possibility, and that is he represents a non-separatist Puritan, an Anglican Puritan after the likes of the more moderate Richard Baxter and William Gurnall.”15
In spite of their differing ecclesiology, Christian and Faithful had very fruitful fellowship together, and Faithful is portrayed as a true man of God. He may represent an actual friendship of Bunyan the separatist with an Anglican evangelical called William Dell.
Full of fear, Christian was ready to turn back, but as a caring pastor, Watchful, the porter challenged and encouraged Christian to come forward, telling him that the lions were chained and could not hurt him if he kept to the middle of the path. Says Spurgeon, “Unbelief generally has a good eye for the lions, but a blind eye for the chains that hold them back. It is quite true that there are difficulties in the way of those who profess to be followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. We do not desire to conceal this fact, and we do not wish you to come amongst us without counting the cost. But it is also true that these difficulties have a limit which they cannot pass. Like the lions in the pilgrim’s pathway, they are chained, and restrained, and absolutely under the control of the Lord God Almighty.”16
A little later Spurgeon gives us an example of how he exercised a pastoral ministry to timid would-be church members, similar to that of Watchful. “What is the difficulty in the way of any of you who desire to make a profession of your faith in Christ? I ask you earnestly to look it in the face; for, I believe, if you do so, it will soon vanish. Consider the difficulty carefully, and then consider the far greater difficulty in your way if you do not profess the faith which you say that you do truly hold. Remember these words of the Lord Jesus, which you can never explain away, “He that denieth Me before men shall be denied before the angels of God.” “Oh!” you say, “I do not deny Christ; I merely do not confess Him.” Yes, but that is just what our Saviour meant by denial of Him, for He had just before said, “Whosoever shall confess Me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God;” so that the expression, “He that denieth Me before men” is evidently intended to apply to him who does not confess Christ. Therefore, see to it that you do come forward, and testify that you belong to Christ, if you really are His.”17
Having safely passed the lions, Christian reached pastor Watchful, who told him that the Palace was built by the Lord of the hill for the relief and security of pilgrims. Christian was first questioned by Watchful, and then by Discretion, followed by three other residents of the Palace, Prudence, Piety and Charity. The objective of all this questioning was to ascertain as far as was humanly possible, whether or not Christian was a genuine pilgrim, knowing that if he were not, he would damage the existing fellowship. Evidence points to Bunyan basing this part of his allegory on the normal practice of the Bedford church he joined and that he was himself put through this process. Barry Horner comments, “Entrance into church membership was not designed to be an easy process.”18
Having obtained admission, Christian was engaged by Piety, Prudence and Charity in spiritual conversation for their mutual edification. To these three ladies, Christian recounted his experiences about what moved him to leave the City of Destruction, his experiences since, his desires for the Celestial City, and the reason why he had not brought his family with him. All this occupied them until, and was a preparation for, supper time, which is clearly symbolic of the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper, for at the table the talk was all about the Lord of the Hill, what He had done, why He did it, why He built the Palace Beautiful, how, as a great warrior, he had fought with and slain him that had the power of death, and how He had done this with the loss of much blood. And many other things did they talk of concerning their Lord until bedtime.
Over the next few days, Christian was taken first of all to the study, where he was provided with much information from the records concerning such things as the Person and acts of the Lord of the hill, the deeds of His servants, and things that must yet come to pass. Next, Christian was taken to the armoury, where he saw what the Lord had provided for the defence of pilgrims, and many other excellent things. After this, he was taken to the top of the house where he was shown a beautiful view of Immanuel’s Land in the distance. When he reached the Delectable Mountains in Immanuel’s Land, the shepherds who lived there would show him the Celestial City. Before Christian left the Palace Beautiful, he was taken back to the armoury and equipped with armour and a sword. He knew not that he was about to descend into the Valley of Humiliation and be attacked by Apollyon, nor how much he would need this protection. He was also given food and wine. Barry Horner says, “Thus he (Christian) is equipped with personal information, fortification, and vision. These remain abiding priorities for local church ministry.”19 Then, “Christian’s departure is from the protective and strengthening fellowship of a local church out into the howling wilderness of this world.”20
There are other pastoral perspectives, but the last one I want to comment on is Christian’s visit to the DELECTABLE MOUNTAINS. Here dwell the shepherds Knowledge, Experience, Watchful and Sincere, who inform Christian and hopeful that “the mountains are Immanuel’s Land, and they are within sight of his City; and the sheep also are his, and he laid down his life for them.” From these words, Bunyan evidently wants us to understand that this is another representation of the local church, comprised of a redeemed membership and pastored by a plurality of elders. Listen to Alexander Whyte, “I do not need to stop to tell the most guileless of my hearers that old Knowledge was not a shepherd whose sheep were four-footed creatures, but a minister of the gospel, whose sheep are men, women, and children. Nor are the Delectable Mountains any range of hills and valleys of grass and herbs in England or Scotland. The prophet Ezekiel calls them the mountains of Israel; but by that you all know that he had in his mind something far better than any earthly mountain. That prophet of Israel had in his mind the church of God with its synagogues and its sacraments, with all the grace and truth that all these things conveyed from God to the children of Israel. As David also sang in the twenty-third Psalm: ‘The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters.’”21
Thomas Scott says the names of the shepherds show “what endowments are most essential to the pastoral office. – The attention given to preachers should not be proportioned to the degree of their confidence, vehemence, accomplishments, graceful delivery, eloquence, or politeness; but to that of their knowledge of the scriptures, and of every subject that relates to the glory of God and the salvation of souls: their experience of the power of divine truth in their own hearts, of the faithfulness of God to his promises, of the believer’s conflicts, difficulties, and dangers, and of the manifold devices of Satan to mislead, deceive, pervert, defile or harass the souls of men; their watchfulness over the people, as their constant business and unremitted care, to caution them against every snare, and to recover them out of every error into which they may be betrayed; and their sincerity, as manifested by a disinterested, unambitious, unassuming, patient, and affectionate conduct; by proving that they deem themselves bound to practise their own instructions, and by an uniform attempt to convince the people, that they ‘seek not their’s but them.’”22
Having questioned Christian and Hopeful to ascertain whether or not they were sincere pilgrims, and being pleased with the answers they received, these under-shepherds invited them to remain with them for a while, that the pilgrims might get to know the shepherds better, and that they might benefit from the good to be had on the Mountains. The shepherds showed Christian and Hopeful some sad scenes to warn them about the end of those who made a pretence of being pilgrims; the Mountain of Error, Mount Caution, and a by-way to Hell. The realisation that the people they were being shown were once professed pilgrims as Christian and Hopeful were now, made them acknowledge their need “to cry to the Strong for strength”, to which the shepherds replied, “Yes, and you will have need to use it, when you have it, too.”
George Offer gives us this quotation from Burder, “Those seem to shun the common broad road; but having only the mark of religion, while their hearts are not right with God, are as effectually ruined as the most profligate and open offenders.”23 And this from Mason, “Thus we read of some who were once enlightened, and had tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the world to come. Heb.6:6. It is hard to say how far or how long a person may carry on a profession, and yet fall away, and come short of the kingdom at last. This should excite to diligence, humility, and circumspection, ever looking to Jesus to keep us from falling.”23
Evidently, Bunyan saw it as part of an elder’s pastoral responsibility to take the Scriptural warnings about hypocrisy seriously, and to help the sheep to judge their true condition, but their ministry also included encouragement, and for this purpose they gave the pilgrims a sight of the gates of the Celestial City through their Perspective Glass. For Bunyan, the church is that from which the believer should be able to catch a glimpse of heaven. In his Discourse of the Building, Nature, Excellency, and Government of the House of God he writes
“Such mountains round about this house do stand
As one from thence may see the Holy Land.”
Then, with further warnings and encouragements from the shepherds, the pilgrims went on their way. In a marginal note, Bunyan says that Christian and Hopeful were shown “sure wonders” by the shepherds, i.e. their teaching included things that were really and undoubtedly a cause of wonder. What we might call the deep things of God. (1 Cor. 2:10)
In this scene, Bunyan is giving us a description of the pastoral ministry of elders who discern the spiritual condition of those who come among them, and minister to them both with warnings and encouragements. With their warnings of the consequences of sin and error, they were not afraid to make the pilgrims tremble, yet their words were spoken in love, which is proved by the facts that their warnings were balanced with encouragements, and at the first, when they had satisfied themselves that Christian and Hopeful were genuine pilgrims, Bunyan says “they (the shepherds) looked very lovingly upon them, and said, ‘Welcome to the Delectable Mountains.’”
Scott relates this experience of the pilgrims to elderly saints. “The Delectable Mountains seem intended to represent those calm seasons of peace and comfort which consistent believers experience in their old age…The shepherds and their flocks denote the more extensive acquaintance of many aged Christians with the ministers and churches of Christ, the Chief Shepherd.”24
In The Desire of the Righteous Granted, Bunyan writes, “Church fellowship, or the communion of saints, is the place where the Son of God loves to walk…Church fellowship, rightly managed, is the glory of all the world. No place, no community, no fellowship, is adorned and bespangled with those beauties as is a church rightly knit together to their head, and lovingly serving one another…Hence the church is called the place of God’s desire on earth.”25
George Offor, commenting on this, says, “Church fellowship, rightly managed, abounds with blessings, when the bishops or elders and the people are united in gospel bonds to promote each other’s peace and holy enjoyment – their great happiness being to extend the benign influence of the Redeemer’s kingdom. Let Watchful be the porter; Discretion admit the members; Prudence take the oversight; Piety conduct the worship; and Charity endear the members to each other, and it is a house ‘beautiful’.”26
1. It is not known who the pastor was, but he made the comment in a seminar taken by Dr. Barry E. Horner who refers to the comment in his book, Themes and Issues from the Pilgrim’s Progress, Reformation Press, New York, 2001, (hereafter, Horner, T & I) page 184.
2. B. R. White, “The Fellowship of Believers: Bunyan and Puritanism,” article in John Bunyan, Conventicle and Parnassus, ed. N. H. Keeble, page 1, and quoted in Horner, T & I, page 184.
3. Peiter de Vries, John Bunyan on the Order of Salvation, Peter Lang, New York, 1994, page 80, and quoted in Horner, T & I, page 184.
4. John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress, The Accurate Revised Text by Barry Horner, Reformation Press, New York, 1999, page 203.
5. Quoted by Horner, T & I, page 185f.
6. Alexander Whyte, Bunyan Characters, Oliphant Anderson and Ferrier, Edinburgh and London, 1893, page 76.
7. John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress, edited, with notes, by the Rev. Thomas Scott, Chatto & Windus, London, 1876, page 36.
8. George B. Cheever, Lectures on the Pilgrim’s Progress, and on the Life and Times of Bunyan, Thomas Nelson,, London and Edinburgh, 1899, page 195.
9. Barry Horner, T & I, page 48.
10. Alexander Whyte, op. cit., pages 80f.
11. Charles H. Spurgeon, Pictures from Pilgrim’s Progress, A Commentary on Portions of John Bunyan’s Immortal Allegory, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1982, pages 114f.
12. John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress, edited, with notes, by the Rev. Thomas Scott, Chatto & Windus, London, 1876, page 67.
13. Barry Horner, T & I, pages 212f.
14. Barry Horner, T & I, page 213.
15. Barry Horner, T & I, page 213.
16. Charles H. Spurgeon, op. cit., page 115.
17. Charles H. Spurgeon, op. cit., pages 116f.
18. Barry Horner, T & I, page 189.
19. Barry Horner, T & I, page 192.
20. Barry Horner, T & I, pages 193f.
21. Alexander Whyte, op. cit., page 240.
22. John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress, edited, with notes, by the Rev. Thomas Scott, Chatto & Windus, London, 1876, pages 196f.
23. John Bunyan, The Works of John Bunyan, volume 3, edited by George Offor, Blackie and Son, Glasgow, Edinburgh and London, 1860, page 145.
24. John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress, edited, with notes, by the Rev. Thomas Scott, Chatto & Windus, London, 1876, pages 194f.
25. Quoted by Barry Horner in T & I, pages 195f.
26. John Bunyan, The Works of John Bunyan, volume 1, edited by George Offor, Blackie and Son, Glasgow, Edinburgh and London, 1860, page 758.