Conversation with Shepherds

Christian: Is this the way to the Celestial City?

Shepherds: You are just in your way.

Christian: How far is it thither?

Shepherds: Too far for any but those that shall get thither indeed.

Christian: Is the way safe or dangerous?

Christian: Safe for those for whom it is to be safe; but the transgressors shall fall therein.

Christian: Is there, in this place, any relief for pilgrims that are weary and faint in the way?

Shepherds: The Lord of these mountains hath given us a charge not to be forgetful to entertain strangers, therefore the good of the place is before you.

I saw also in my dream, that when the Shepherds perceived that they were wayfaring men, they also put questions to them, to which they made answer as in other places; as, Whence came you? and, How got you into the way? and, By what means have you so persevered therein? For but few of them that begin to come hither do show their face on these mountains. But when the Shepherds heard their answers, being pleased therewith, they looked very lovingly upon them, and said, Welcome to the Delectable Mountains.

The Shepherds, I say, whose names were Knowledge, Experience, Watchful, and Sincere, took them by the hand, and had them to their tents, and made them partake of that which was ready at present. They said, moreover, We would that ye should stay here awhile, to be acquainted with us; and yet more to solace yourselves with the good of these Delectable Mountains. They then told them, that they were content to stay; so they went to their rest that night, because it was very late.

Shepherds on the Delectable Mountains

As the pilgrims are welcomed to the Delectable Mountains, Christian questions the Shepherds who keep watch by the Way. Christian first asks if the way up into the mountains is the right path to the Celestial City. Earlier he had wandered out of the Way and into the dangers of Doubting Castle by going over the stile into By-Path Meadow. Now he is more alert and cautious. The shepherds assure him: “You are just in your way.” He is right in the way he is going.

The way of life winds upward for the wise,
That he may turn away from hell below.
(Proverbs 15:24)

He then asks how far it is to the Celestial City. The shepherds respond with a warning that not all who attempt the journey will arrive at the City—only those who persevere to the end. It is “too far for any but those that shall get thither indeed.” Christian has already experienced dangers along the Way, but he wonders now if there is more yet to face. He asks if the Way is safe or dangerous. The shepherds again warn him: “Safe for those for whom it is to be safe; but the transgressors shall fall therein.”

Scripture draws a contrast between the way of the righteous (who will persevere to the end) and the way of the wicked (who will perish).

Who is wise?
Let him understand these things.
Who is prudent?
Let him know them.
For the ways of the Lord are right;
The righteous walk in them,
But transgressors stumble in them.
(Hosea 14:9)

This contrast is seen especially in the book of Psalms.

For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the ungodly shall perish.
(Psalm 1:6)

Oh, let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end,
But establish the just;
For the righteous God tests the hearts and minds.
(Psalm 7:9)

For the arms of the wicked shall be broken,
But the Lord upholds the righteous.
The Lord knows the days of the upright,
And their inheritance shall be forever.
(Psalm 37:17–18)

Only those who are truly Christ’s will persevere. Only those kept by His power will reach the journey’s end. William Mason notes in his commentary on The Pilgrim’s Progress:

O how many professors grow weary of the way, fall short, and fail of coming to the end! Though the way be too far, too strait, and too narrow for many who set out, and never hold out to the end; yet all who are begotten by the Word of grace, and born of the Spirit of truth, shall persevere to the end, being kept by the mighty power of God, through faith, unto eternal salvation (1 Peter 1:5) —William Mason

The very trials and failures that bring discouragement to would-be pilgrims, causing them to turn back or fall away, serve to strengthen true pilgrims, causing them to look to Christ, rest in Him, and persevere.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience (James 1:2–3).

Thomas Scott explains:

The certainty of the final perseverance of true believers is exemplified in their persevering, notwithstanding inward and outward impediments. Many hold the doctrine who are not interested in the privilege; but the true believer acquires new strength by his trials and mistakes, and possesses increasing evidence that the new covenant is made with him. —Thomas Scott

Finally, Christian asks if the mountains offer “any relief for pilgrims that are weary and faint in the way.” The shepherds assure them that the Lord has charged them not to forget to entertain strangers.

Let brotherly love continue. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels (Hebrews 13:1–2).

The mountains represent the church seen through the eyes of a mature believer. Just as Christian was questioned concerning his confession of faith and testimony when he arrived at House Beautiful (the church seen through the eyes of a new convert), he and Hopeful are questioned here. The shepherds represent the pastors of the church, who feed and guard the flock. Their names are Knowledge, Experience, Watchful (the Porter at House Beautiful was also named Watchful), and Sincere. Thomas Scott notes the significance of their names:

These names show what are the endowments most essential to the pastoral office: (1) knowledge of the scriptures; (2) experience of the power of divine truth; (3) watchfulness over the people; (4) sincerity manifested by a disinterested, unambitious, unassuming, patient, and affectionate conduct. —Thomas Scott

Knowledge

Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. (1 Timothy 4:13)

Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you (1 Timothy 4:16).

We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed. But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left … (2 Corinthians 6:3–7).

Experience

Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity (1 Timothy 4:12)

Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all (2 Timothy 4:15).

Watchful

But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Timothy 4:5).

Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you (Hebrews 13:17).

Sincere

For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, and more abundantly toward you (2 Corinthians 1:12).

For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ (2 Corinthians 2:17).

We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed. But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God … by sincere love (2 Corinthians 6:3–6).

The Shepherds encourage Christian and Hopeful to stay awhile, find solace, and enjoy “the good of these Delectable Mountains.” The mountains themselves represent sermons—passages of Scripture expounded by the Shepherds: words of caution, admonitions, reproof of error, warnings of judgment and hell, words of clarity, and words of promise and encouragement. The sheep (church family) feed upon the mountains, strengthening their faith, deepening their repentance, and gaining greater understanding of God’s Word.

In the following posts we will examine some of these sermons—lessons that Christian and Hopeful will need as they complete their journey.

 

The Delectable Mountains

Lord, we thank You for the Mountains
Where You bring Your flocks to feed;
Guided by Your watchful Shepherds,
We find truth for every need.
Father, give us words of Caution,
Help us see Immanuel’s Land,
Keep us from the cliffs of Error,
Make us on good ground to stand.

(from “A Prayer for Pilgrims” by Ken Puls)

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2018 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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