Notes and Commentary on
The Pilgrim's Progress
by Ken Puls
23. A Portriat of a Minister
So he had him into a private room, and bid his man open a door; the which when he had done, Christian saw the picture of a very grave Person hang up against the wall; and this was the fashion of it, It had eyes lifted up to Heaven, the best of Books in his hand, the Law of Truth was written upon his lips, the World was behind his back; it stood as if pleading with men, and a Crown of Gold did hang over its head.
Christian: Then said Christian, What means this?
Interpreter: The man whose picture this is, is one of a thousand; he can beget children, travel in birth with children, and nurse them himself when they are born. And whereas you see him with eyes lift up to Heaven, the best of Books in his hand, and the Law of Truth writ upon his lips; it is to show you, that his work is to know and unfold dark things to Sinners; even as also you see him stand as if he pleaded with men; and whereas you see the World as cast behind him, and that a Crown hangs over his head; that is to show you, that slighting and despising the things that are present, for the love that he has to his Master's service, he is sure in the World that comes next, to have Glory for his reward. Now said the Interpreter, I have showed you this picture first, because the man whose picture this is, is the only man whom the Lord of the place where you are going has authorized to be your Guide in all difficult places you may meet with in the Way: Wherefore take good heed to what I have showed you, and bear well in your mind what you have seen, lest in your Journey you meet with some that pretend to lead you right, but their way goes down to death.
Notes and Commentary
The first lesson that the Interpreter sets before Christian is to show him a picture hanging in a private room. Christian notices immediately that the man portrayed in the picture is a man with a very grave countenance. This man represents a true minister of the Gospel and his countenance speaks to the seriousness of his calling before God. This minister knows and understands his responsibilities as a watchman and shepherd of Christ's flock. He is aware that his vocation involves real dangers as well as great rewards.
The Interpreter speaks of the Gospel minister as "one of a thousand" who "can beget children, travel in birth with children, and nurse them himself with they are born," alluding to Paul's description of his ministry:
I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you. For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Therefore I urge you, imitate me (1 Corinthians 4:14-16).
This minister not only speaks truth and teaches truth, but he looks upon the people, with whom God has entrusted him, as his children in the faith, as those whom he must watch over, guard, feed and protect. In Galatians 4:19 Paul also speaks of the church as his "little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you."
Bunyan's portrait provides a six-fold description of a true Gospel minister:
1. His eyes are lifted up to Heaven.
The Gospel minister has his eyes fixed upon Jesus. Jesus is preeminent in his life and ministry. The beauty of holiness and the glory of God manifest in the person and work of Christ are the focus of his affections. The minister looks intently to his Lord, who is even now exalted at the right hand of His Father in heaven. We see this fixed gaze described in the book of Hebrews:
Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).
2. The best of books is in his hand.
The Gospel minister is committed to God's Word. He does not preach his ideas, his opinions, or his agenda, but only seeks by God's grace, as God gives him light, to expound and declare the Scriptures in their completeness. Bunyan, no doubt, had his own pastor in mind as he composed his description of a minister set upon God's Word. He relates in Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners:
At this time, also, I sat under the ministry of holy Mr. Gifford, whose doctrine, by God's grace, was much for my stability. This man made it much his business to deliver the people of God from all those faults and unsound rests that, by nature, we are prone to take and make to our souls. He pressed us to take special heed that we took not up any truth upon trust—as from this, or that, or any other man or men—but to cry mightily to God that He would convince us of the reality thereof, and set us down therein, by His own Spirit, in the holy Word; for, said he, if you do otherwise when temptations come, if strongly, you, not having received them with evidence from heaven, will find you want that help and strength now to resist as once you thought you had.
[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 117]
3. The Law of Truth is written upon his lips.
The Gospel minister is a man committed to speaking God's truth that he might turn himself and others from sin. He is one like Levi of whom the prophet Malachi spoke:
The law of truth was in his mouth,
And injustice was not found on his lips.
He walked with Me in peace and equity,
And turned many away from iniquity.
The Interpreter explains that these first three characteristics demonstrate that the minister's work is to "know and unfold dark things to Sinners." To do this the minster must have his gaze upon Christ and his grasp upon the pure Word of God.
4. The World is cast behind him.
The Gospel Minister is not enamored or encumbered by the philosophies and allurements of the world. His joy and satisfaction is in knowing and serving Christ. Many who call themselves pastors today seem to come offering the world on a platter. They extol health, wealth, success and prosperity in the place of humility, sacrifice, self-denial and service. But this is not the way of a true minister. A true minister values Jesus more than anything this world can offer. As the man in Jesus' parable, who found a treasure hidden in a field and sold all he had so he could buy the field (Matthew 13:44), the minister has cast the world behind him for the sake of following Christ.
5. He stands as if He is pleading with men.
A true minster of the Gospel also has a heart for the lost. He longs to see others come to Christ and find the same joy, peace and satisfaction that he enjoys. He understands that eternal realities are at stake for the souls of his hearers—life and death, heaven and hell—and his heart burns with a desire to warn men to flee from the wrath to come.
6. A Crown of Gold hangs over his head.
The Gospel minster can endure the hardship and suffering of this life, because he knows he has reward in heaven. Jesus, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross; so the Gospel minster, for the eternal joy and glory of heaven, can forsake the world and seek first God's kingdom.
These last three characteristics show that a true minister despises the things of the present for the love of His Master. He is a man who lives by faith, knowing that the eternal blessings and promises of God are far greater than the false, temporal attractions of sin. He is able to slight this present world, because his hope is in the world to come. He is looking to that glory and reward of heaven, who is Jesus Christ Himself.
I close with two important points of application from this lesson in the House of the Interpreter:
1. It is of primary importance that we seek out true and faithful shepherds to guide and watch over our souls. As we have already seen with Christian's encounters with Evangelist and Worldly Wiseman, it is a great advantage to recognize and follow godly counsel, and folly to disregard it. Some of Christian's most discouraging moments that follow in this allegory occur when he fails to heed this first lesson. We need to "take good heed" and "bear well in mind" what Bunyan is teaching here if we are to avoid pretenders and pitfalls. Only a minster of this description is fit to be a Guide to those on the Way. Only this kind of pastor will be prepared to help his flock along the difficult places in the Way. We must pray that God will teach us to prize and cherish such men who will care for our souls. We must pray that God will continue to raise up such men to serve as Gospel ministers.
2. All believers should strive to imitate the godly character of the Gospel minister. This portrait is a fitting representation not just for a minister of the Gospel, but it sets forth a character that every true minister of the Gospel longs to see flourish in the people he shepherds. Paul said to the Corinthians: "Imitate me" (1 Corinthians 4:16 and 11:1). Christ gave the church pastors and teachers
for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:12-13).
Paul told the Colossians of his labors in the gospel:
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).
We must not be content to seek spiritual maturity, godliness and zeal for ministry only in pastors and elders, but labor and persevere by God's grace until these fruits are born and flourishing in all the church.
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