We ended our first week’s reading with Christian being sent back to the narrow path toward the wicket-gate by Evangelist. In our present reading, Christian enters the gate, has a brief conversation with Goodwill, and then is given much to meditate upon by Interpreter.
After Christian’s wandering from the path, his journey to the gate was filled with dread “like one that was all the while treading on forbidden ground, and could by no means think himself safe” (21). Having begun to turn aside from the goodness of the gospel toward legality, his eyes were open to the danger all about him, threats that would bring him back under the very destruction that he was fleeing. Yet even with all his fears and failures lingering over him (just as the burden did upon his back), his knocking at the door is met by a man named Goodwill. This is a picture of Jesus’ marvelous words: “Fear not, little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). How wonderful to know that our Lord’s disposition toward us is one of goodwill, that He is pleased to open the gate to all who knock!
In Christian’s brief dialogue with Goodwill, we hear Christian’s humility after recounting the affair with Pliable, saying, “I have said the truth of Pliable, and if I should also say all the truth of myself, it will appear there is no betterment ‘twixt him and myself. ‘Tis true, he went back to his own house, but I also turned aside to go in the way of Death, being persuaded thereto by the carnal arguments of one Mr Worldly-Wiseman” (24). Being saved by grace alone, every Christian ought to possess a similar humility, especially when considering those Pliables who have fallen away. As Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 1:15, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” If we truly are, as Spurgeon once said, the worst sinners that we know (and we are), then we have no ground for pride and every reason for humility.
Lastly, before we move on to discussing Interpreter’s House, we should take note of Goodwill’s description of path that Christian must travel. After Christian asks if there are any “turnings or windings,” Goodwill answers, “Yes, there are many ways butt down upon this, and they are crooked and wide: But thus thou mayest distinguish the right from the wrong, the Right only being strait and narrow” (25). As Tyler Van Halteren has Goodwill say in his children’s adaption, “The right path is obvious, but it isn’t always easiest.”
Christian then arrives at Interpreter’s House, where he is shown many things that stir him to contemplation of the journey before him. Since this extended scene begins with Interpreter lighting a candle in order to show Christian the various scenes, it seems that we are to read this as a picture itself of the Holy Spirit’s work in guiding believers “into all truth” (John 16:13), for within each of these seven scenes is either an encouragement or warning for Christian to heed on his way to the Celestial City. Although the very illustrated nature of these lessons and the explanations given make them quite clear, let us give a few comments where we can.
First, Interpreter shows Christian a picture of a grave man with his eyes fixed up to heaven, the truth upon his lips, and world set behind him, pleading with men. Interpreter informs Christian that this is the portrait of true guides along the way. George Offor, editor of Bunyan’s collected works, writes:
The FIRST object presented by the Holy Spirit to the mind of a young believer, is the choice of his minister; not to be submissive to human orders, but to choose for himself. The leading features are, that he be grave, devotional, a lover of his Bible, one who rejects error and preaches the truth; uninfluenced by paltry pelf or worldly honours; pleading patiently to win souls; seeking only his Master’s approbation; souls, and not money, for his hire; an immortal crown for his reward. With the laws of men and friendship to mislead us, how essential is the guidance of the Holy Spirit in this important choice!
Sadly, how many pastors today do not fit such a portrait! Rather than shunning the treasures of this world as rubbish in comparison to Christ, many proclaim a gospel of health and wealth. Rather than being marked by a serious joy, many are indistinguishable from the frivolous countenance of the world. Rather than pleading the truth to those on the road to damnation, many are content to give motivational platitudes for living our best life now. All pilgrims should indeed beware such wolves “that pretend to lead thee right, but their way goes down to death” (27).
In the second lesson, a lesson of the inability of the law to cleanse sin is given via a dusty room wherein sweeping only sends the dust into the air. Grace, however, is pictured through water being sprinkled on the floor so that the dust is easily swept away. Grace, not law, can conquer sin because grace removes the sting of sin. The law awakens us to the reality of our sin and of our desperate need of grace; yet it is wholly unable to cleanse us of even the smallest of sins.
The third lesson is of two children Passion and Patience, who are both told to wait until the beginning of the year to receive the best things. Passion, however, is discontent until he is given a bag full of treasure, which is quickly spent and used up. Patience, on the other hand, waits for the proper time and is rewarded with treasure that does not wear out. This is perhaps the quintessential lesson of the pilgrim, for it is the passing by of present goods in order to obtain the best of goods. The only ones able to avoid the snare of great riches in this life are those who have their hope set upon even greater riches in the life to come.
The fourth lesson is of a wall on fire that continues to grow hotter even as a man continuously threw water on the fire to quench it, representing the Devil. Interpreter then shows Christian that behind the wall was another man feeding the fire with oil, representing Christ. Just as the man representing Christ was hidden behind the wall, so too is it “hard for the Tempted to see how this Work of Grace is maintained in the soul” (31). Yet even if the work of Christ appears to be hidden from our view, if our fires are still burning, we owe it to His continued and persevering grace!
The fifth lesson is given no explanation at all, yet as Christian himself notes the imagery is quite clear. The picture is of a beautiful palace guarded by company of men as well as a man ready to write down the names of anyone who wished to enter. Because of the guards, everyone was too fearful to enter. A valiant man, however, told the scribe to write down his name and then drew his sword and fought his way through the men to the entrance of the palace, at which point a voice declared, “Come in, Come in; Eternal Glory thou shalt win” (32).
We see something of Bunyan himself in this lesson, for he lived in a time were conformity to the Church of England was mandated by law. As a nonconformist by conviction of Scripture, Bunyan refused to submit to those demands and was, thus, arrested and imprisoned for twelve years for unlawful preaching. His life was marked by a similarly violent zeal, although Bunyan did not arm himself with a literal sword but rather that sword of the Spirit and with the helmet of salvation.
We would do well to remember that Jesus Himself said that “in the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). Likewise, Paul and Barnabas encouraged the Christians at Lystra to continue in the faith “saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). There is reason, after all, that Paul wrote of impending death to Timothy saying, “I have fought the good fight of faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). All who wish to enter the eternal palace of our Lord must also be prepared to put on the whole armor of God and stand firm.
The fifth lesson is quite easily the most disturbing. It is of a man, whom Christian dialogues with, that is locked in the iron cage of despair. He laments to Christian that he is beyond forgiveness because he is beyond repentance. Citing the two dreadful warnings of Hebrews 6 and 10, the despairing man wails, “I have shut myself out of all the promises, and there now remains to me nothing but threatenings, dreadful threatenings, fearful threatenings of certain judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour me as an adversary” (33).
Interpreter gives no further remark upon this man except to say, “Let this man’s Misery be remembered by thee, and be an everlasting Caution to thee” (34). Indeed, such caution is the very point of this lesson, yet the picture inevitably leaves us wondering whether the man was truly cut off from God’s grace or whether he was trapped inside a cell of his own making. I agree with George Cheever who comments that “Bunyan intended not to represent this man as actually beyond the reach of mercy, but to show the dreadful consequences of departing from God, and of being abandoned of Him to the misery of unbelief and despair.” Support for this thought is found in Christian’s own entrapment within the prison of Doubting Castle by Giant Despair later in the book. Despair is certainly a pitiless prison, but as we will see, the promises of God are the only key freedom.
The final lesson is of a man who awoke from sleep trembling with fear. He dreamt of the Day of Judgment and was not prepared to stand before the face of the Judge of all the earth. Therefore, he dreamt that he was among those who cried for the mountains to fall on them and hide them from the face of the Lamb. This is a fitting close to Interpreter’s lessons because that great day of Christ’s return should certainly be ever present in our minds. 1 Peter 4:7 says as much, “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” Frequent meditation upon the Day of Judgment should certainly stir us up to sober-minded and self-controlled living, which is the only way befitting a pilgrim bound for eternal paradise.
As Christian prepares to leave Interpreter’s House, desperate to be rid of burden, he says that Interpreter’s lessons “put me in Hope and Fear” (36). Indeed, both are necessary for the life of a Christian. One writer notes that:
Our safety consists in a due proportion of hope and fear. When devoid of hope, we resemble a ship without an anchor; when unrestrained by fear, we are like the same vessel under full sail without ballast. True comfort is the effect of watchfulness, diligence, and circumspection. What lessons could possibly have been selected of greater importance or more suited to establish the new convert, than these are which our author has most ingeniously and agreeably inculcated, under the emblem of the Interpreter’s curiosities?
Indeed, the final two lessons illustrate this well. The man in the cage of despair is a man without hope, while the final man’s dream of the Day of Judgment reveals the fearful end of anyone who does not fear God before that Day. Like Christian, may we too learn these lessons well that we would walk with hopeful fear on our road to the Celestial City!
 The Works of John Bunyan Vol III, 101.
 The Works of John Bunyan Vol III, 102.