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A Hill Called Clear

By this time the Pilgrims had a desire to go forward, and the Shepherds a desire they should; so they walked together towards the end of the mountains. Then said the Shepherds one to another, Let us here show to the Pilgrims the gates of the Celestial City, if they have skill to look through our perspective glass. The Pilgrims then lovingly accepted the motion; so they had them to the top of a high hill, called Clear, and gave them their glass to look.

Then they essayed to look, but the remembrance of that last thing that the Shepherds had shown them, made their hands shake; by means of which impediment, they could not look steadily through the glass; yet they thought they saw something like the gate, and also some of the glory of the place. Then they went away, and sang this song—

Thus, by the Shepherds, secrets are reveal’d,
Which from all other men are kept conceal’d.
Come to the Shepherds, then, if you would see
Things deep, things hid, and that mysterious be.

When they were about to depart, one of the Shepherds gave them a note of the way. Another of them bid them beware of the Flatterer. The third bid them take heed that they sleep not upon the Enchanted Ground. And the fourth bid them God-speed. So I awoke from my dream.

Mount Clear

The time has come for Christian and Hopeful to resume their journey. But Christian has learned the value of patience and the reward of lingering to learn more. Earlier in the allegory, at both the House of the Interpreter and Palace Beautiful, Christian desired to depart before he was ready. At both places, he was convinced—to the benefit of his soul—to stay longer. At Palace Beautiful he was taken up to an observation point, and because the day was clear, he was able to see the Delectable Mountains off in the distance. Now, from the Delectable Mountains, the Shepherds offer to give the pilgrims a glimpse of their journey’s end—to show them the very gates of the Celestial City.

Near the end of the Delectable Mountains is Mount Clear. This mountain provides an unparalleled view! From the top of this mountain the shepherds test the skill of the pilgrims at looking through the perspective glass. Mount Clear represents our unobstructed view of Christ and His glory, especially as we mature in our faith and near the end of life’s journey. As our time on earth grows shorter and the allure of the world grows weaker, our desire for the glories of Christ in heaven grows stronger. The Perspective Glass is the application of God’s Word to the well-being of our soul. William Mason describes it as “the glass of God’s word of grace and truth held up by the hand of faith to the eye of the soul.” Through it we see the hope of eternal life in Christ. Scripture shows us errors and cautions. It uncovers the depths of sin and warns of wrath and judgment. But it also takes us to the glories of heaven and gives us glimpses of the joy that awaits us in eternity.

Christian and Hopeful are not able to “look steadily through the glass.” Their hands shake as they hold up the scope. The reminder of remaining sin and conviction of past sins impede their view. Though we look intently through the lens of God’s Word at the realities of this life and eternal life to come, our view, this side of glory, is clouded. Paul tells us: “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). Though Christian and Hopeful cannot see as clearly as they would like, yet they continue their gaze. There reward is a glimpse of the glory of the Celestial City.

This glimpse of glory on Mount Clear comes through the clear teaching and compassionate ministry of the Shepherds. It is the shepherds’ task to make know “things deep, things hid, and that mysterious be.” Paul describes the ministry of the gospel as a

… stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus (Colossians 1:25–28).

The pilgrims are grateful for the truths they have learned in the Delectable Mountains. They desire others to come and see from their vantage point. They descend the mountain with song, delighting in the mysteries of God and encouraging others to seek wisdom and guidance from the Shepherds.

Before the pilgrims depart, the Shepherds prepare them for the journey ahead. They give them:

  • A note of the way—instruction on finding and staying on the right path
  • Warnings of dangers that lie ahead on their path: a warning to beware of the Flatterer and a warning not to sleep on the Enchanted Ground
  • And a prayer that God will go with them and bring them safely to their journey’s end.

The shepherd’s sermon on this mountain is clear. We must look steadfastly to Christ and the promises of the gospel. It is a sermon we must heed! Mount Clear and the By-Way to Hell remind us that eternity is at stake. This world is not all there is. When we are troubled and tempted by the world, our view of heaven is hazy and less certain. But when we look to Christ and His promises—and He is the one who delights our soul—it is the world that dims. Our view of heaven is bright and clear. Helen H. Lemmel expressed it beautifully in her hymn (1922):

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

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.

A Hill Called Error

Then I saw in my dream, that in the morning the Shepherds called up to Christian and Hopeful to walk with them upon the mountains; so they went forth with them, and walked a while, having a pleasant prospect on every side. Then said the Shepherds one to another, Shall we show these pilgrims some wonders? So when they had concluded to do it, they had them first to the top of a hill called Error, which was very steep on the furthest side, and bid them look down to the bottom. So Christian and Hopeful looked down, and saw at the bottom several men dashed all to pieces by a fall that they had from the top. Then said Christian, What does this mean? The Shepherds answered, Have you not heard of them that were made to err by hearkening to Hymeneus and Philetus as concerning the faith of the resurrection of the body? They answered, Yes. Then said the Shepherds, Those that you see lie dashed in pieces at the bottom of this mountain are they; and they have continued to this day unburied, as you see, for an example to others to take heed how they clamber too high, or how they come too near the brink of this mountain. 

Christian and Hopeful heeded the counsel of the Shepherds to stay awhile in the Delectable Mountains before continuing their journey. The shepherds (pastors) now walk with the pilgrims and guide them through the mountains (exegete passages of Bible in sermons, explaining more clearly the meaning of the text). The mountains have much to offer and the pilgrims are in need of assistance, for there are yet many dangers ahead.

Earlier in the allegory when Christian was at the House of the Interpreter (a representation of Scripture), he was in a hurry in leave. The Interpreter beckoned him several times to stay and see more. Again, at Palace Beautiful (the church from the vantage point of a new believer), when Christian was ready to depart, he was encouraged to stay (and by staying he was able to see the Delectable Mountains off in the distance). Now that Christian has arrived at the Delectable Mountains (the church from the vantage point of a mature believer), he is ready to see all that the Shepherds desire to show him. He knows the value of hearing, lingering and meditating on the Word of God—such patient preparation will more fully prepare him for what lies ahead on his journey.

View from a Hill called Error

In the mountains the pilgrims have a better vantage point to see the world around them. They can see hope, promise, and reward, where down below they were hampered by doubt, despair, and diffidence. They can see potential dangers and difficulties long before they must face them up close.  As the shepherds begin to show the pilgrims “some wonders” they first take them to the top of a hill called Error.

Sermons can teach us and help us avoid drifting into error. We see in Scripture warnings, cautions, and admonitions. Scripture reproves us when we begin to stray. It corrects us and shows us the way back. It instructs us how to keep to the right Way.

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16–17).

We can learn from the mistakes and missteps of others. The Shepherds take Christian and Hopeful to the top of the hill and have them look over the cliff. They see at the bottom several men who are “dashed all to pieces by a fall that they had from the top.” Those who “lie dashed in pieces” are the remains of those who tumbled into heresy by heeding false teachers.

The passage the Shepherds are expounding on the Hill called Error is 2 Timothy 2:16–18. In this passage Paul warns about straying from the truth and spreading error. He mentions Hymeneus and Philetus as examples of false teachers:

But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some (2 Timothy 2:16–18).

We must be careful to hold to truth and not be led into error by those who would distort the truth to their own liking. Peter warns of the dire consequences of falling into such error.

Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.

You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.

(2 Peter 3:14–18)

We can be thankful that God has given to His church faithful shepherds who guide and protect the flock from error. They teach us and warn us and point us to Christ.

Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily (Colossians 1:28–29).

They caution us not to “clamber too high” (exalting speculation and opinion in place of biblical truth) or “come too near the brink” (entertaining erroneous and unbiblical notions in our thoughts). We must heed their words and esteem them very highly as they labor to help us discern truth from error.

And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves (1 Thessalonians 5:12–13).

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.

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.

The Delectable Mountains

They went then till they came to the Delectable Mountains, which mountains belong to the Lord of that hill of which we have spoken before; so they went up to the mountains, to behold the gardens and orchards, the vineyards and fountains of water; where also they drank and washed themselves, and did freely eat of the vineyards. Now there were on the tops of these mountains Shepherds feeding their flocks, and they stood by the highway side. The Pilgrims therefore went to them, and leaning upon their staves, (as is common with weary pilgrims when they stand to talk with any by the way), they asked, Whose Delectable Mountains are these? And whose be the sheep that feed upon them?

Shepherds: These 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.

Mountains delectable they now ascend,
Where Shepherds be, which to them do commend
Alluring things, and things that cautious are,
Pilgrims are steady kept by faith and fear.

Shepherds and the Delectable Mountains

After Christian and Hopeful escape from Doubting Castle, they continue their journey, ascending into the Delectable Mountains. These are the mountains of the Lord.

His foundation is in the holy mountains.
The Lord loves the gates of Zion
More than all the dwellings of Jacob.
Glorious things are spoken of you,
O city of God!
Selah
(Psalm 87:1–3)

They are beautiful and bountiful—a place filled with gardens, orchards, vineyards, and fountains. Here is refreshment and delight. Here shepherds keep watch and feed their flocks.

The Delectable Mountains represent the church from the vantage point of a more mature Christian. Atop these mountains the pilgrims have a wider view and can see with more clarity. Their understanding of God’s Word is greater. Heaven is in view. The world is less alluring. Earlier in the allegory, Christian had a glimpse of these mountains from an observation point on the roof of House Beautiful. There he could only see the mountains far off in the distance. House Beautiful depicted the church through the eyes of a young believer. Christian loved the truth but had yet to ascend its heights.  Now Christian and Hopeful are nearer to the journey’s end. Their faith has grown. Their repentance has deepened. And their love for Christ has strengthened. They have walked the pathway longer.

The shepherds affirm what Christian learned at House Beautiful. The mountains are Immanuel’s Land and they are within sight of His city—the Celestial City to which the pilgrims are journeying. The joy of Immanuel’s Land is Christ. He is the King whose name is Immanuel, “God with Us” (Isaiah 7:17; Matthew 1:23). He is the promised Savior. In the Old Testament Ezekiel looked forward to the coming of the King and Shepherd from the linage of David who would save His people and cause them to dwell in safety. He concluded in chapter 29:

“I will raise up for them a garden of renown, and they shall no longer be consumed with hunger in the land, nor bear the shame of the Gentiles anymore. Thus they shall know that I, the Lord their God, am with them, and they, the house of Israel, are My people,” says the Lord God. “You are My flock, the flock of My pasture; you are men, and I am your God,” says the Lord God (Ezekiel 34:29–31).

Jesus is the Good Shepherd who knows His sheep and laid down His life for the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

“I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep” (John 10:14–15).

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one” (John 10:27–30).

The shepherds gladly speak of Immanuel, the Good Shepherd. They stand by the Way, ready to welcome and point pilgrims to Him. In the next several posts, we will focus on the shepherds and their instructions to the pilgrims. As Christian received valuable teaching for his journey at the House of the Interpreter and House Beautiful, the pilgrims receive valuable insights here—insights that will be crucial for their reaching the journey’s end.

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.

Christian Arrives at Palace Beautiful

But while he was thus bewailing his unhappy miscarriage, he 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 the porter’s lodge; and looking very narrowly before him as he went, he espied two lions in the way. Now, thought he, I see the dangers that Mistrust and Timorous were driven back by. (The lions were chained, but he saw not the chains.) Then he was afraid, and thought also himself to go back after them, for he thought nothing but death was before him. But the porter at the lodge, whose name is Watchful, perceiving that Christian made a halt as if he would go back, cried unto him, saying, “Is your strength so small?” Fear not the lions, for they are chained, and are placed there for trial of faith where it is, and for discovery of those that had none. Keep in the midst of the path, no hurt shall come unto you.
Then I saw that he went on, trembling for fear of the lions, but taking good heed to the directions of the porter. He heard them roar, but they did him no harm. Then he clapped his hands, and went on till he came and stood before the gate where the porter was. Then said Christian to the porter, “Sir, what house is this? And may I lodge here tonight?” The porter answered, “This house was built by the Lord of the hill, and he built it for the relief and security of pilgrims.” The porter also asked where he was from, and where he was going to.
Christian: I am come from the City of Destruction, and am going to Mount Zion; but because the sun is now set, I desire, if I may, to lodge here tonight.
Porter: What is your name?
Christian: My name is now Christian, but my name at the first was Graceless. I came of the race of Japheth, whom God will persuade to dwell in the tents of Shem.
Porter: But how does it happen that you come so late? The sun is set.
Christian: I had been here sooner, but that, “wretched man that I am!” I slept in the arbor that stands on the hillside. Nay, I had, notwithstanding that, been here much sooner, but that, in my sleep, I lost my evidence, and came without it to the brow of the hill and then feeling for it, and finding it not, I was forced with sorrow of heart, to go back to the place where I slept my sleep, where I found it, and now I am come.
Porter: Well, I will call out one of the virgins of this place, who will, if she likes your talk, bring you into the rest of the family, according to the rules of the house. So Watchful, the porter, rang a bell, at the sound of which came out at the door of the house, a grave and beautiful damsel, named Discretion, and asked why she was called.

As Christian again grew fearful of the approaching night, he saw by God’s kind providence, a place to seek refuge. Near to the Way was “a very stately palace” named Beautiful. The palace represents the church, and especially at this point in the story, it represents the church from the vantage point of new believer who has not yet matured in faith. As with the House of the Interpreter, Christian will gain many advantages and encouragements needed for the journey ahead by lodging here. Bunyan draws his description of the Palace Beautiful from Psalm 48.

Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised
In the city of our God,
In His holy mountain.
Beautiful in elevation,
The joy of the whole earth,
Is Mount Zion on the sides of the north,
The city of the great King.
God is in her palaces;
He is known as her refuge.
(Psalms 48:1-3)

This psalm celebrates God dwelling with His people. It speaks of Jerusalem, the city that was home to the temple, sacrifices and festivals in the Old Testament, and describes it as beautiful and lifted up. It is God’s city. He “is in her palaces” and “is known as her refuge.” Jerusalem was a type in the Old Testament that foreshadowed a greater fulfillment of God’s presence with His people in Christ. Jesus is the King of kings, whose name is Emmanuel (God with us), who came and dwelt among us (John 1:14).

Between the LionsWhen Christian sees the beautiful palace, he hurries to gain entrance. But he notices that the way in is narrow and guarded by lions. The lions, as we saw earlier, represent the duel threat of the civil government and the state church who oppressed those who would identify themselves with the true Gospel and the true church in Bunyan’s day. These were the lions that frightened away Timorous and Mistrust. They stand near the entrance to the palace, prowling for those who would declare their faith by seeking lodging. Thomas Scott explains:

“A public profession of faith exposes a man to more opposition from relatives and neighbors 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” (Thomas Scott).

When Christian realizes that the lions are between him and his desired refuge he becomes fearful and thinks about going back. But the Porter of the Palace, whose name is Watchful, sees Christian and calls out to encourage him. He asks: “Is your strength so small?” Bunyan points us here to Jesus’ words in Mark:

When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:34–37).

The Porter tells Christian not to fear; the lions are chained. Though Christian cannot see the chains, he must trust the word of Porter and follow his counsel to walk in the midst of the path. God is sovereign over all rulers and authority. We read in Proverbs:

The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD,
Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.
(Proverbs 21:1)

Though the lions may roar and appear menacing, they have no power except what is granted them by our sovereign God.

When Christian arrives unharmed at the gate, he is greeted by the Porter. The Porter represents a minister of the gospel who watches and cares for the souls of pilgrims. In Jerusalem of old God set watchmen upon the walls:

I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem;
They shall never hold their peace day or night.
You who make mention of the LORD, do not keep silent
(Isaiah 62:6).

In the New Testament, the role of the pastor is described as a watchman:

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).

Later in the allegory one of the shepherds in the Delectable Mountains (a depiction of the church from the vantage point of a more mature Christian) is also named Watchful.

The Porter tells Christian that the palace is built by the Lord of the Hill. “He built it for the relief and security of pilgrims.” It is Christ who builds His church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).

Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-22).

When Christian asks for lodging, the Porter questions him about his faith and testimony. Christian professes that he has fled the City of Destruction and is now going to Mount Zion. His name is now Christian (a follower and disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ), but it once was Graceless. Christian has a new name and has taken his stand with the people God:

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy (1 Peter 2:9-10).

Christian then identifies himself as from the line of Japheth (one of Noah’s sons whose descendents settled Europe—including Bunyan’s homeland of England). In Genesis 9:27 Noah prayed that God would prosper Japheth and cause him to “dwell in the tents of Shem.” We see this fulfilled in the spread of the gospel as those who were once strangers and foreigners, far from the promises of God, are brought near in Christ:

Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands—that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:11-13).

The Porter asks about the lateness of Christian’s arrival. The sun is setting and night is approaching. Christian laments that he should have come sooner, but carelessness caused him to lose time and lose ground. Here in Christian’s confession we see one of the reasons why he needs to join himself to the church. As a new believer Christian still has much to learn. He had been careless when he should have been careful. He was slothful when he should have been sober. Yet the very quality that Christian realizes he lacks, that has caused his most recent sorrows and late arrival, is the very quality that distinguishes the Porter. Christian failed to keep watch over his soul, but the Porter is Watchful and gives Christian the encouragement and counsel he needs to press on. We need the advantage of faithful pastors, and brothers and sisters in Christ, who will help us watch out for our souls and hold us accountable.

As the dialog continues, the Porter summons Discretion to come interview Christian, according to the rules of the house, to determine if he should be admitted into the family. In the next post we will begin looking at the care the church takes to receive and welcome its members.

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 ©2014 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.