Tag Archives: death

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 Death of Faithful

They therefore brought him out, to do with him according to their law; and, first, they scourged him, then they buffeted him, then they lanced his flesh with knives; after that, they stoned him with stones, then pricked him with their swords; and, last of all, they burned him to ashes at the stake. Thus came Faithful to his end.

Now I saw that there stood behind the multitude a chariot and a couple of horses, waiting for Faithful, who (so soon as his adversaries had despatched him) was taken up into it, and straightway was carried up through the clouds, with sound of trumpet, the nearest way to the Celestial Gate.

Brave FAITHFUL, bravely done in word and deed;
Judge, witnesses, and jury have, instead
Of overcoming thee, but shown their rage:
When they are dead, you’ll live from age to age.

But as for Christian, he had some respite, and was remanded back to prison. So he there remained for a space; but He that overrules all things, having the power of their rage in his own hand, so wrought it about, that Christian for that time escaped them, and went his way. And as he went, he sang, saying—

Well, Faithful, you have faithfully professed,
Unto thy Lord; with whom you shall be blest,
When faithless ones, with all their vain delights,
Are crying out under their hellish plights:
Sing, Faithful, sing, and let your name survive;
For though they kill’d you, you are yet alive!

Death of Faithful

Earlier in the allegory Evangelist had foretold that one of the pilgrims would be martyred in the town of Vanity. Now, at the trial’s end, Faithful is cruelly put to death. Bunyan describes Faithful’s death in a manner familiar to his readers. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs was first published in 1563 and was widely known; Bunyan had a copy of the book, along with his Bible, in his prison cell.

Bunyan begins with a physical description of Faithful’s martyrdom. His words point us to Scripture. Hebrews 11 speaks of many who “died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (verse 13).

“… Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy…” (Hebrews 11:35–38).

Bunyan also alludes to Jesus’ death. Jesus was scourged before he was delivered to be crucified (Matthew 27:26). Pilate delivered Jesus to the Jews to be judged according to their law.

Then Pilate said to them, “You take Him and judge Him according to your law” (John 18:31.

The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God” (John 19:7).

The cruelty of Faithful’s death is dreadful. If all we saw were the events in the town of Vanity, it would seem that Faithful came to a horrible end. But Bunyan does not just give us a physical description. He takes us behind the veil of apparent tragedy and shows us the glory of spiritual reality. Behind the crowd that came to gawk at Faithful’s demise was a chariot and horses waiting to take Faithful at once to the Celestial City. He is carried up through the clouds with the sound of a trumpet (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17) in a manner resembling Elijah’s departure from Elisha in the Old Testament:

“Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven” (2 Kings 2:11).

Faithful is lovingly ushered to the very gates of the Celestial City while Christian remains behind to eventually press on in the Way.

This account of the true end of Faithful’s life on earth offers three important lessons:

1. God regards the death of His saints as precious.

God cares for us in life and He will care for us in death. Even if our death comes in way that seems sudden, unexpected, tragic, painful, unjust or cruel, we can trust that God will enfold us in His love and safely bring us home.

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

2. For the saints of God, death is gain.

Paul concluded: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). He said that while he saw the need to labor for the gospel, he had “a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Philippians 1:23). Departing is to “be with Christ.” Paul reasoned that to be “at home in the body” is to be “absent from the Lord,” but to be “absent from the body” is “to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6–8). This is what Jesus promised to the repentant thief on the cross: “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). It is this promise that emboldened Evangelist to tell the pilgrims that the one who would die at Vanity Fair would “have the better of his fellow.” Though Faithful died painfully and soonest, he escaped the ongoing toil and dangers of the journey and was soonest to enjoy the immediate presence of Christ.

3. God is sovereign over life and death.

God has sovereignly determined the number of our days as well as the occasion and circumstances of our death. Death is by God’s sovereign decree and will not come a moment before His predetermined will.

Why did Faithful have to die, but Christian escaped? How could God permit such agony for one while sparing the other? This is a great mystery, but we can trust that God, “who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all” (Romans 8:32), is working for the good of both in a way that will bring Him the greatest glory. The Lord holds the king’s heart in His hand (Proverbs 21:1)—and even the hearts of a cruel judge and jury. One pilgrim is delivered to death, faithful to the end, as a testimony of the supreme value of life in Christ. The other is released to press on in the faith as an encouragement and hope for others. And God, who “overrules all things” is glorified by both.

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 ©2017 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.