Notes and Commentary on
The Pilgrim's Progress
by Ken Puls
40. 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.
Notes and Commentary
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.
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).
When 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 8:34Ð37).
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.
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.
Continue reading 41. Conversation with Discretion
Return to 39. The Roll Recovered
Read and Follow "A Guide to John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress" on the blog: Christian Arrives at Palace Beautiful