Pastoral Perspectives in the Pilgrim’s Progress 2
By Peter Kinley
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.’”1
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.”2
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.’3 He (Bunyan) 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!”4
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.”5
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.”6
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.”7
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.”8
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.”9 Then, “Christian’s departure is from the protective and strengthening fellowship of a local church out into the howling wilderness of this world.”10
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.’”11
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.’”12
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.”13 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.”14
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 Corinthians 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.”15
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.”16
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.’”17
1 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.
2 John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress, edited, with notes, by the Rev. Thomas Scott, Chatto & Windus, London, 1876, page 67.
3 Barry Horner, T & I, pages 212f.
4 Barry Horner, T & I, page 213.
5 Barry Horner, T & I, page 213.
6 Charles H. Spurgeon, op. cit., page 115.
7 Charles H. Spurgeon, op. cit., pages 116f.
8 Barry Horner, T & I, page 189.
9 Barry Horner, T & I, page 192.
10 Barry Horner, T & I, pages 193f.
11 Alexander Whyte, op. cit., page 240.
12 John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress, edited, with notes, by the Rev. Thomas Scott, Chatto & Windus, London, 1876, pages 196f.
13 John Bunyan, The Works of John Bunyan, volume 3, edited by George Offor, Blackie and Son, Glasgow, Edinburgh and London, 1860, page 145.
14 John Bunyan, The Works of John Bunyan, volume 3, edited by George Offor, Blackie and Son, Glasgow, Edinburgh and London, 1860, page 145.
15 John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress, edited, with notes, by the Rev. Thomas Scott, Chatto & Windus, London, 1876, pages 194f.
16 Quoted by Barry Horner in T & I, pages 195f.
17 John Bunyan, The Works of John Bunyan, volume 1, edited by George Offor, Blackie and Son, Glasgow, Edinburgh and London, 1860, page 758.