Deliverance, Difficulty, & the House Beautiful

Leaving Interpreter’s House, Christian soon comes to a little hill upon which stands a cross. At this marvelous sight, Christian’s burden is immediately loosened and rolls into the sepulcher, never to be seen again. The burden, as we said previously, is the guilt and shame of sin, not necessarily sin itself. For this reason, even as Christian has been journeying down the straight path after passing through the wicket-gate, he was yet to find peace and assurance of his salvation, and this is precisely what he found in gazing upon the cross. Three Shining Ones (presumably angels) greet him with a pronouncement of peace. He receives three marks of assurance of his salvation: first, a verbal declaration that his sins are forgiven; second, new clothing to replace his rags; third, a mark on his head and a sealed scroll (which is later explicitly called his assurance on page 42).

The same is true of all believers, though the meeting of the cross may vary. As heard from Spurgeon in our first study, Christian ought to have been sent right to the cross. Indeed, the hope should be that all believers look upon the goodness of the cross essentially in conjunction with entering the wicket-gate. However, it is not always so. It was not so for Bunyan, who distinctly received his assurance at the foot of the cross after his conversion. Of this moment in his own life, Bunyan reflected:

I remember that one day, as I was travelling into the country and musing on the wickedness and blasphemy of my heart, and considering of the enmity that was in me to God, that scripture came in my mind, He hath “made peace through the blood of his cross.” Col. i. 20. By which I was made to see, both again, and again, and again, that day, that God and my soul were friends by this blood; yea, I saw that the justice of God and my sinful soul could embrace and kiss each other through this blood. This was a good day to me; I hope I shall not forget it.[1]

I share a similar story, wrestling with assurance of my salvation. From ages 9-12, I can recall many, many nights of falling to sleep praying for forgiveness over and over again because I wanted my last words to be for forgiveness if I were to die during the night. At age 19, I heard a sermon (by whom and on what subject or text, I remember neither), and after the service, I saw for the first time the beauty of Christ’s death once for all. I then understood that my prayers for forgiveness were for a restored fellowship with God but not a means of being forgiven. He purchased the payment of my sin debt once for all, and none of my sins come as a surprise to Him since all of my sin was future sin whenever the sacrifice was made. In short, as with Christian and with Bunyan himself, the sight of the cross set me loose from the burden and weight of sin.

Following the loss of his burden, Christian encounters many fellow travelers who, sadly, do not walk in the pilgrim’s way. First, he meets three sleepers: Simple, Sloth, and Presumption. Although he warned them of the dangers that were all about them and offered to help break off the chains that bound them, they merely dismissed Christian and continued sleeping. The image is clear, except for Simple, which Bunyan certainly intended in the sense that Proverbs speaks of the simple. In Proverbs, the simple are not yet wise but neither are they altogether fools; they are able to travel down either path. Scripture is able “to give prudence to the simple” (Proverbs 1:4), yet the simple are also “killed by their turning away” (Proverbs 1:32). Thus, if Simple had traveled with Christian, he very well may have had his name changed to Wise just as Christian’s name was once Graceless (48). Instead, Simple companied himself with Sloth and Presumption and came to share in their destruction.

Next, Christian met Formalist and Hypocrisy, who come onto the Way by tumbling over the walls of salvation. They tell Christian that they come from Vain-glory and that the Wicket-gate was deemed too far travel. They argue to Christian that being on the path is all that matters, that entering by the gate is unnecessary. Indeed, whenever Christian displays to them his Roll, mark, and new clothes, they mock him.

These men occupied the seat of the scorner; they had always been well dressed. His coat might do for such a ragamuffin as he had been; but they needed no garment but their own righteousness–the forms of their church. The mark, or certificate of the new birth, was an object of scorn to them. Probably they pitied him as a harmless mystic, weak in mind and illiterate. Alas! how soon was their laughter durned into mourning. Fear and calamity overwhelmed them. They trusted in themselves, and there was none to deliver.[2]

Indeed, just as they could not be troubled to journey to the Wicket-gate, they could also not be troubled to ascend the hill Difficulty. They were fair-weather Christians, avoiding hardship like the plague. There are a great many such people today. It is far from uncommon to find church membership and walked-aisle confessions on the obituaries of many who never bothered to read their Bible nor to actually be among God’s people. Their confidence (and their family’s confidence) is upon mere formality, their having walked the aisle, prayed the sinner’s prayer, and/or being called a church member. They effectively hopped the wall of salvation without ever entering through the gate nor standing at the foot of the cross. Thus, when difficulty is encountered, as it most certainly will be, they fall away from the path.

Christian, however, ventured up Difficulty, and halfway up the hill, he comes to an Arbour built for refreshing weary pilgrims. Christian, therefore, took a rest, reading over his Roll and considering his garments. Unfortunately, he falls asleep until it is almost nighttime. Continuing on his journey at a hurried pace, he meets Timorous and Mistrust, who flee back toward the City of Destruction out of fear of some lions in the way. Christian, while afraid, resolves to continue forward: “I must venture; to go back, is nothing but death; to go forward, is Fear of death, and Life everlasting beyond it: I will yet go forward” (44). Christian’s courage is strengthened by a greater fear than the lions; he fears the One who is able to destroy both the body and soul in hell (Matthew 10:28). This is the fear of the LORD that overpowers all other fears.

Christian’s fear makes him reach for the comfort of his Roll, which had fallen from his hand while sleeping at the Arbour. Note the lesson here. No, Christian’s slumber was not perpetual and bound chains as Simple, Sloth, and Presumption were, yet it did rob him of his assurance. His lack of wakefulness and diligence cost him his comfort of feeling secure, much like a soldier would rightly wake up in fear if he fell into an unintended sleep within a warzone. Yet Christian also needed to travel back to the Arbour to reclaim his Roll. One of my wife’s favorite sayings is that the lazy work twice, and that is certainly true of Christian. His sloth cost him much more time and effort in the end.

May I digress on somewhat of a tangent? The Arbour was not the problem. It was created for rest, not slumber. Rest is a blessing from God; indeed, it is a command from God. Rest should refresh and send us back to work with renewed strength. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to replace this rest/work rhythm with their sinful counterfeits, idleness and busyness. Both form strong feedback loops, the first being positive and the second being negative. Idleness leaves us frantic to make up lost time, as Christian did upon waking, which leads to busyness. Busyness is hectic and unbound, which means that we soon can do no more, and the cycle continues on and on. Proper rest, however, is rejuvenating and leaves us eager, though not frantic, to return to our work. Proper work, then, is diligent and focused but not hectic and chaotic. After this sort of work, rest is welcomed because rest is earned.

The final portion of our reading is spent at the House Beautiful. The Porter of the house, named Watchful, beckons Christian to stay in the midst of the path and the lions, which are chained, will not be able to devour him. Spurgeon comments:

Watchful means the good minister, who ought to be ever watchful for souls. He told the pilgrim to “keep in the midst of the path;” and we give you the same advice. Live consistently, walk carefully; –not right at the edge of the way, as though you were half inclined to wander from it; but on the crown of the causeway, right in the middle of the King’s highway. Walk in integrity and uprightness, whatever may be the consequence of doing so. For a while, difficulties may dismay you, but they really cannot hurt you. The lions are chained.[3]

There are many particulars regarding Christian’s time in the house that we could mention, yet for the sake of time, let us only discuss one before concluding with some thoughts on the House Beautiful in general.

On page 52, Christian laments his frequent carnal thoughts that plague him. Prudence asks, however, whether he experiences times when they are vanquished. Christian replies, “Yes, but seldom; but they are to me Golden Hours, in which such things happen to me.”

“Can you remember,” asks Prudence, “by what Means you find your annoyances at times, as if they were vanquished?”

“Yes, when I think what I saw at the Cross, that will do it; and when I look upon my ‘broidered Coat, that will do it; and when I look into the Roll that I carry in my bosom, that will do it; and when my thoughts wax warm about whither I am going, that will do it.”

In other words, Christian’s worldly and sinful thoughts were banished for a time as he meditated upon the cross and its benefits. Psalm 1 tells us that the blessed man meditates upon God’s law day and night. Yet we have even more than the law; we have Christ Himself! We who have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ should all the more meditate upon Him. Only in the light of His glory and grace will the things of earth grow strangely dim.

The House Beautiful, if you did not catch the allegory, is the church, a local church to be more specific. Notice how careful Bunyan is with his imagery here. The house was not built directly upon the pilgrim’s path; rather, “it stood just by the Highway side” (46). Indeed, toward the end of his stay, Christian learns that another pilgrim, named Faithful, passed by the house without entering in. Thus, Bunyan is careful not to set belonging to a local church as being necessary for salvation, yet consider how he piles upon us the benefits that came upon Christian within that house! Bunyan is not guilting his readers into belonging to a congregation; he is wooing them. The house is beautiful and filled with heavenly teaching and company. Of course, even the most beautiful of congregations still have lions, yet when the church is faithful to Christ through the Scriptures, those lions will be chained.

How beautiful must that church be where Watchful is the porter; where Discretion admits the members; where Prudence takes the oversight; where Piety conducts the worship; and where Charity endears the members to one another! They partake of the Lord’s Supper, a feast of fat things, with wine well refined.[4]

Let us conclude with this exhortation. Each local church reflects the cumulative health of its individual members; therefore, if this is the portrait of the church that you long to belong to, begin by being such a Christian. Conduct yourself with watchfulness over your own steps along the narrow way. Let discretion, prudence, and piety be your frame of mind. Be overflowing with charity for your brothers and sisters in the faith. In other words, imitate the beauty of Christ.

[1] The Works of John Bunyan Vol I, 19-20.

[2] The Works of John Bunyan Vol III, 104.

[3] Charles Spurgeon, Pictures from the Pilgrim’s Progress, 75.

[4] The Works of John Bunyan Vol III, 109.

The edition cited is the Banner of Truth hardcover, which can be found here.

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