Met by the Gardener

But, being a little strengthened, and better able to bear their sickness, they walked on their way, and came yet nearer and nearer, where were orchards, vineyards, and gardens, and their gates opened into the highway. Now, as they came up to these places, behold the gardener stood in the way, to whom the Pilgrims said, Whose goodly vineyards and gardens are these? He answered, They are the King’s, and are planted here for his own delight, and also for the solace of pilgrims. So the gardener had them into the vineyards, and bid them refresh themselves with the dainties. He also showed them there the King’s walks, and the arbors where he delighted to be; and here they tarried and slept.

Now I beheld in my dream that they talked more in their sleep at this time than ever they did in all their journey; and being in a muse thereabout, the gardener said even to me, Wherefore do you muse at the matter? It is the nature of the fruit of the grapes of these vineyards to go down so sweetly as to cause the lips of them that are asleep to speak.

So I saw that when they awoke, they addressed themselves to go up to the city; but, as I said, the reflection of the sun upon the city (for the city was pure gold) was so extremely glorious that they could not, as yet, with open face behold it, but through an instrument made for that purpose. So I saw, that as I went on, there met them two men, in raiment that shone like gold; also their faces shone as the light.

These men asked the Pilgrims whence they came; and they told them. They also asked them where they had lodged, what difficulties and dangers, what comforts and pleasures they had met in the way; and they told them. Then said the men that met them, You have but two difficulties more to meet with, and then you are in the city.

Christian then, and his companion, asked the men to go along with them; so they told them they would. But, said they, you must obtain it by your own faith. So I saw in my dream that they went on together, until they came in sight of the gate.

Met by the Gardener

The country of Beulah is a bountiful place, filled with “orchards, vineyards, and gardens” all kindly planted by the King for “his own delight, and also for the solace of pilgrims.”These gracious provisions are a welcome sight to Christian and Hopeful. They are nearing the end of their journey, preparing for death. As they continue on the Way through the country of Beulah, they are soon met by the Gardener. The Gardener takes them into the King’s gardens and vineyards and encourages them to eat and drink and be refreshed. The Gardener’s words echo the kindness and benevolence that Israel was to show when they crossed over into the Promised Land:

When you come into your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat your fill of grapes at your pleasure, but you shall not put any in your container. When you come into your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not use a sickle on your neighbor’s standing grain (Deuteronomy 23:24–25).

The Gardener also shows them the King’s walks (the right way to go) and the King’s arbors (where they can find rest). It is possible that the Gardener, like Watchful at Palace Beautiful, the Shepherds in the Delectable Mountains, and Great-Grace on the King’s Highway, represents another needed aspect of pastoral ministry. The pastor is a great comfort and help to those in the flock who are on the brink of heaven. He encourages them with God’s promises, feeds them with God’s Word, and prays for them that they will end well. But just as the shepherds have a “Chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:4), who is the “Lord Jesus,” the “great Shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrews 13:20), Scripture reminds us that there is but one Prime Gardener.

It was God who planted the first garden:

The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food (Genesis 2:8–9).

When Israel prepared to enter the Promised Land, Moses described it as a garden cared for by God.

Therefore you shall keep every commandment which I command you today, that you may be strong, and go in and possess the land which you cross over to possess, and that you may prolong your days in the land which the Lord swore to give your fathers, to them and their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey. For the land which you go to possess is not like the land of Egypt from which you have come, where you sowed your seed and watered it by foot, as a vegetable garden; but the land which you cross over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water from the rain of heaven, a land for which the Lord your God cares; the eyes of the Lord your God are always on it, from the beginning of the year to the very end of the year (Deuteronomy 11:8–12).

Isaiah looked forward to the day when the Lord will restore Zion as a fruitful garden:

For the Lord will comfort Zion,
He will comfort all her waste places;
He will make her wilderness like Eden,
And her desert like the garden of the Lord;
Joy and gladness will be found in it,
Thanksgiving and the voice of melody.
(Isaiah 51:3)

In the Song of Solomon (where Bunyan draws much of his imagery for the land of Beulah), the King is the Gardener. He is the Beloved One who feeds “his flock in the gardens.”

My beloved has gone to his garden,
To the beds of spices,
To feed his flock in the gardens,
And to gather lilies.
I am my beloved’s,
And my beloved is mine.
He feeds his flock among the lilies.
(Song of Solomon 6:2–3)

After Jesus was crucified, He was laid in a nearby tomb in a garden.

Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So there they laid Jesus, because of the Jews’ Preparation Day, for the tomb was nearby (John 19:41–42).

And when He rose again, Mary Magdalene, the first to see Him, supposed Him to be the gardener.

But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. Then they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him, “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher). (John 20:11–16)

In the country of Beulah, the Gardener stands in the Way near the journey’s end to see that pilgrims make it safely home. The Lord considers the death of His saints as precious.

Precious in the sight of the Lord
Is the death of His saints.
(Psalm 116:15)

As they near the end of their journey in this life, He is near providing all they need.

As Christian and Hopeful near death, they continue their love-sickness (longing for heaven). Bunyan uses more imagery from the Song of Solomon to express their desire to depart this life and be with Christ.

The wine goes down smoothly for my beloved,
Moving gently the lips of sleepers.
I am my beloved’s,
And his desire is toward me.
(Song of Solomon 9b–10)

As Christian and Hopeful prepare to enter the Celestial City and complete their journey, they are met by two Shining Ones. The Shining Ones question them and tell them they have only two more difficulties left: getting across the River (experiencing death) and getting through the Gates of the City (entering heaven).

The City is made of “pure gold” (Revelation 21:18) and the pilgrims cannot look upon it “but through an instrument made for that purpose” (we see the glory of heaven in Scripture through the eyes of faith). In this life we can gaze upon God’s glory but dimly, as through a mirror. But one day we ourselves will be glorified and we will see Him “face to face.”

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known (1 Corinthians 13:12).

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18).

In this life we long for heaven—we desire to be with Christ. We long to be freed, not only from the curse and condemnation of sin, but from its very presence and power. We desire to be like Christ. One day “we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure (1 John 3:2-3).

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 ©2019 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

The Land of Beulah

Now I saw in my dream, that by this time the Pilgrims were got over the Enchanted Ground, and entering into the country of Beulah, whose air was very sweet and pleasant, the way lying directly through it, they solaced themselves there for a season. Yea, here they heard continually the singing of birds, and saw every day the flowers appear on the earth, and heard the voice of the turtle in the land. In this country the sun shines night and day; wherefore this was beyond the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and also out of the reach of Giant Despair, neither could they from this place so much as see Doubting Castle. Here they were within sight of the city they were going to, also here met them some of the inhabitants thereof; for in this land the Shining Ones commonly walked, because it was upon the borders of heaven. In this land also, the contract between the bride and the bridegroom was renewed; yea, here, “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so did their God rejoice over them.” Here they had no want of corn and wine; for in this place they met with abundance of what they had sought for in all their pilgrimage. Here they heard voices from out of the city, loud voices, saying, “‘Say ye to the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy salvation cometh! Behold, his reward is with him!’ Here all the inhabitants of the country called them, ‘The holy people, The redeemed of the Lord, Sought out'”, etc.

Now as they walked in this land, they had more rejoicing than in parts more remote from the kingdom to which they were bound; and drawing near to the city, they had yet a more perfect view thereof. It was built of pearls and precious stones, also the street thereof was paved with gold; so that by reason of the natural glory of the city, and the reflection of the sunbeams upon it, Christian with desire fell sick; Hopeful also had a fit or two of the same disease. Wherefore, here they lay by it a while, crying out, because of their pangs, If you find my beloved, tell him that I am sick of love.

The Land of Beulah

After a long journey through the Enchanted Ground, the pilgrims arrive in the country of Beulah. Beulah is a refreshing contrast to the wearisome terrain that Christian and Hopeful have just endured. In the Enchanted Ground the air “tended to make one drowsy,” but here the air is “sweet and pleasant.” The Enchanted Ground represents our tendency to become spiritually complacent and fatigued. It is the world wearing us down in weariness—the seemingly endless struggle with temptations and trials that we face day after day. The country of Beulah represents our longing for heaven and desire to be with Jesus. It is the vision of our heavenly home lifting us up in hope—the glorious promise of eternal joy in the presence of Christ.

Beulah means married. The country is a reminder of Christ’s love for and His covenant relationship with His church (Jeremiah 31:31; Matthew 26:28; 1 Corinthians 11:25; Hebrews 9:15, 12:24).  The church is the bride of Christ (Revelation 21:9). The relationship of the church to Christ is depicted in Scripture as a marriage (Ephesians 5:22–33, Revelation 19:7–9; 21:9).

Bunyan borrows language from Scripture to describe the beauty of the land—Christ’s nearness and love for His people. In the Song of Solomon, the King calls to His beloved:

My beloved spoke, and said to me:
“Rise up, my love, my fair one,
And come away.
For lo, the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth;
The time of singing has come,
And the voice of the turtledove
Is heard in our land.”
(Song of Solomon 2:10–12)

Bunyan also draws language from Isaiah’s prophesy of the future glory of Israel with the coming of the Messiah.

You shall no longer be termed Forsaken,
Nor shall your land any more be termed Desolate;
But you shall be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah;
For the Lord delights in you,
And your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a virgin,
So shall your sons marry you;
And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
So shall your God rejoice over you.
(Isaiah 62:4–5)

In Beulah there is an abundance of provision.

The Lord has sworn by His right hand
And by the arm of His strength:
“Surely I will no longer give your grain
As food for your enemies;
And the sons of the foreigner shall not drink your new wine,
For which you have labored.
But those who have gathered it shall eat it,
And praise the Lord;
Those who have brought it together shall drink it in My holy courts.”
(Isaiah 62:8–9)

Here the inhabitants of Zion (the people of God) are called “the Holy People, the Redeemed of the Lord,” and “Sought Out.”

Indeed the Lord has proclaimed
To the end of the world:
“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Surely your salvation is coming;
Behold, His reward is with Him,
And His work before Him.’ ”
And they shall call them The Holy People,
The Redeemed of the Lord;
And you shall be called Sought Out,
A City Not Forsaken.
(Isaiah 62:11–12)

The country of Beulah provides the pilgrims “a more perfect view” of their final destination, the Celestial City. What Christian and Hopeful saw in the distance from a Hill called Clear in the Delectable Mountains when they were with the Shepherds, now they see in more radiant splendor.

Their view of the city is John’s vision of the New Jerusalem (the bride of Christ) in the book of Revelation. Bunyan makes clear that what we know about heaven, we know through God’s revelation in His Word.

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal. Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west.

Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. And he who talked with me had a gold reed to measure the city, its gates, and its wall. The city is laid out as a square; its length is as great as its breadth. And he measured the city with the reed: twelve thousand furlongs. Its length, breadth, and height are equal. Then he measured its wall: one hundred and forty-four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel. The construction of its wall was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones: the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth sardius, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass (Revelation 21:9–21).

Both Christian and Hopeful are dazzled by the site of the city and overwhelmed with wonder. Both fall sick with love. Their love-sickness represents a longing to be with Christ. This longing is seen in Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi.

For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better (Philippians 1:21–23).

And it is echoed in the words of the bride in Song of Solomon:

I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
If you find my beloved,
That you tell him I am lovesick!
(Song of Solomon 5:8)

The land of Beulah provides the closest and clearest glimpses of glory. Here “on the borders of heaven” saints are “within sight of the city.” They look forward with eagerness to the day when they will see Christ face to face. Here “the things of earth” “grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”

Bunyan places the country of Beulah near the end of his story. While this is a land that pilgrims can be blessed to visit at various seasons of life, it is especially the dwelling place of older saints—seasoned believers whose days in this life are drawing to an end. The world no longer enthralls them. Doubt and Despair no longer trouble them. Trials are momentary. Eternity looms large in their thinking. We hear the desire of their hearts in the closing words of Scripture:

And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!”
And let him who hears say, “Come!”
And let him who thirsts come.
Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely. …
He who testifies to these things says,
“Surely I am coming quickly.”
Amen.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus!
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
Amen.
(Revelation 22:17, 20–21)

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 ©2019 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

The Cause of Temporary’s Backsliding

Hopeful: Now I have showed you the reasons of their going back, do you show me the manner thereof.

Christian: So I will willingly.

  1. They draw off their thoughts, all that they may, from the remembrance of God, death, and judgment to come.

  2. Then they cast off by degrees private duties, as closet prayer, curbing their lusts, watching, sorrow for sin, and the like.

  3. Then they shun the company of lively and warm Christians.

  4. After that they grow cold to public duty, as hearing, reading, godly conference, and the like.

  5. Then they begin to pick holes, as we say, in the coats of some of the godly; and that devilishly, that they may have a seeming color to throw religion (for the sake of some infirmity they have espied in them) behind their backs.

  6. Then they begin to adhere to, and associate themselves with, carnal, loose, and wanton men.

  7. Then they give way to carnal and wanton discourses in secret; and glad are they if they can see such things in any that are counted honest, that they may the more boldly do it through their example.

  8. After this they begin to play with little sins openly.

  9. And then, being hardened, they show themselves as they are. Thus, being launched again into the gulf of misery, unless a miracle of grace prevent it, they everlastingly perish in their own deceivings.

Backsliding Cliff

Temporary’s falling away is tragic, but it didn’t happen overnight. It was a slow process that little by little eroded his faith and dampened his zeal. Earlier in the allegory, Bunyan portrayed the terrible end of apostasy through the encounter with Turn-Away. Now with Temporary he focuses on how it begins. So how does it happen? How can someone full of zeal and joy in the Lord, fall away? Christian outlines the treacherous progression that turned Temporary around and caused him to backslide.

  1. Backsliding begins by thinking less and less of God and His Word. Temporary knew that Scripture warned against sin and condemned him for his sin, but he found no lasting consolation looking to Christ. He loved sin too much. He lacked the will to resist it. He lacked the power to forsake it. Though he had professed faith in Christ and had convinced all around him that he was turning away from sin, he harbored a delight for sin in his heart. Though he claimed to be a Christian, he discovered that it was simply too hard to live and walk and believe as a Christian in his own strength. Even his outward attempts to do what was right condemned him as a hypocrite and fraud. He was walking toward heaven on his way to hell. He was claiming to know peace, but still felt condemned. Rather than dwell on the unpleasant realities of sin, death, and judgment, rather than ponder his growing guilt and shame, he turned his thoughts away from God and gave his attention to self, living it up, and entertainment.
  2. Backsliding continues by neglecting “private duties.” Prayer becomes less frequent. The Bible sits on the shelf unread. Temporary gave up any pretense of acting like a Christian in private. When temptations came, he guarded his privacy more than his heart. He willingly gave into sin and refused to feel any grief for wrongs he had done.
  3. Neglecting private duties soon affects public associations. Temporary no longer wanted to be around vibrant Christians. He didn’t so much mind those who were struggling or indifferent. But those who were joyful in Christ and growing in God’s Word—these he could not tolerate. Their very presence in his life added to his own feelings of unworthiness and guilt.
  4. Avoiding encounters with growing Christians then chills public duties. Temporary became less concerned with presenting himself as a Christian to others around him, even in public worship. He no longer tried paying attention during the preaching and public reading of Scripture. He was less enthused with participating in corporate prayer and singing. Soon his church attendance fell off altogether.
  5. The backslider then looks to excuse his non-attendance. Temporary justified his actions by “picking holes” in the testimony of others. His dismissed his own hypocrisy by looking for inconsistencies in the lives of church members and attenders. Their infirmities and struggles became his justification for staying away from church.
  6. The loss of church fellowship is filled with worldly association. Temporary no longer felt accepted by the church. They were hypocrites anyway. They couldn’t help him. He didn’t really belong. And so he sought friendship and belonging elsewhere. He joined clubs, went to the gym, helped charities, hung out with co-workers—all the while looking for people with whom he could relate, people he could talk to without feeling put down. He surrounded himself with people who weren’t offended by sin, people who didn’t mind having a little fun and holding on to worldly pleasures. He befriended the world and little by little, the world led him further from God, deeper into sin.
  7. The backslider grows complacent and comfortable with sin in private. Carelessness and prayerlessness opens the way to “carnal and wanton discourses in secret.” Temporary still feared men (what others might think of him), but he no longer feared the Lord. He fell into foolishness and gave into his lusts. He schemed to satisfy his sinful desires and then plotted to keep them hidden.
  8. Sin that takes root in the darkness does not remain hidden. Emboldened by the fleeting pleasure of secret sin, and craving more, Temporary began to sin more openly. Unrestrained by watchfulness and unchecked by those he called his friends, he drifted little by little into a lifestyle of unconcealed, blatant sin.
  9. Unrestrained sin calcifies the heart and deceives the mind. Temporary ended up in a worse state than before he professed faith in Christ. Now he was entrenched in sin and burned out in religion. He had discredited and dismissed the only Way to life and peace with God. He was on his way to “everlasting punishment” yet unconcerned about his soul.

How then can we guard against such a terrible outcome? There are four important lessons we should learn from Temporary’s backsliding:

1) We dare not toy with sin and leave off the means of grace. Nothing can be hidden from God.

The eyes of the Lord are in every place,
Keeping watch on the evil and the good.
(Proverbs 15:3)

 We must guard our hearts and give no place to sin in our lives (public or private). We must continually remember Christ and keep the gospel alive in our thinking. We must daily lay hold of the means of grace: prayer, reading the Bible, fellowship, worship,… God has graciously given ample provision for the good of our souls.

2) We must keep watch for the sake of others as well as ourselves. Bunyan places this lesson near the end of the enchanted ground. Christian and Hopeful are mature believers. When we toy with sin and become spiritually lazy, we not only place our own souls in jeopardy, we endanger others. Young believers are watching us. They are taking their cues from us. If we give sin a foothold, they will see less of a need to resist. If we are not alarmed with sin in our lives, they will be more prone to let down their guard. If we excuse our sin, we will teach them to do so as well.

3) For those who reject God and return to the world, judgment is swift and immediate. Facing the wrath of God in hell for eternity is a real danger for any who cast off their faith, but it is not the beginning of judgment. Paul warns those who know the truth, yet willingly suppress it to hold onto their sin:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools (Romans 1:18–22).

Their hardness of heart is the harbinger of judgment. They become “futile in their thoughts” and can no longer discern right from wrong, good from evil. God gives them up to their sin—to pursue the desires of “their foolish hearts.” They push God from their thinking and sin rushes in to corrupt the mind.

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them (Romans 1:28–32).

4) Though backsliding is fearful, it does not have to be fatal. Christian concludes that those who have plunged “again into the gulf of misery” will be condemned for eternity “unless a miracle of grace prevent it.” There is none among the living who is beyond the reach of God’s grace. We must pray for those who are backsliding, whose faith seems fleeting and temporary. Pray that God will pursue them with mercy. Pray that He will awaken them to their danger. Pray that their misery and God’s judgment in their lives will be but warning shots across the bow to turn them around and return them to wisdom and the fear of the Lord.

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 ©2019 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.