Lessons at Interpreter’s House

In our previous reading, Christiana, her four sons, and Mercy set forth upon their journey and entered through the Wicket-Gate. Though Mercy was fearful of being rejected for not having a received a letter from the King as Christiana had, the Keeper assured her of her acceptance. In our present section, the pilgrims continue along the path and, after escaping an assault, come the house of Interpreter, where they are shown many illustrations that will serve to instruct them for the remainder of their travels.

Forbidden Fruit & Ill-favoured Ones

Leaving the Wicket-Gate behind, the pilgrims quickly come upon a garden, which we are told belonged to master of the fierce dog that had previous barked at them. Despite their mother’s warnings, Christiana’s boys took the fruit that they found and began to eat them. Yet her warnings were only against the theft that her sons were committing, since she did not know whose garden they had come to.

For the time being, Bunyan lets this incident be and says no more about. Yet, as is often the case with what we think of as small youthful sins, the consequences are still come.

Immediately after, Christiana and Mercy find themselves assaulted by two ill-favoured ones. As the two women wrestled against their attackers, they also cried out for help, and still being fairly close the Wicket-Gate, a Reliever came to deliver them.

Concerning the ill-favoured ones, one writer notes:

What are these ill-favoured ones? Such as you will be sure to meet with in your pilgrimage; some vile lusts, or cursed corruptions, which are suited to your carnal nature. These will attack you, and strive to prevail against you. Mind how these pilgrims acted, and follow their example. If one was to fix names to these ill-favoured ones, they might be called Unbelief and Licentiousness, which aim to rob Christ’s virgins of their chastity to him.

He also points out a valuable lesson to take to heart about the sometimes-violent temptations that may assault us:

Here we see that the most violent temptation to the greatest evil is not sin, if resisted and not complied with. Our Lord himself was tempted in all things like as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, ye followers of him, do not be dejected and cast down, though you should be exercised with temptations to the blackest crimes, and the most heinous sins. You cannot be assaulted with worse than your Lord was. He was tempted, but he resisted Satan, and overcame all, in our nature. Cry to him; he is the Reliever who will come in the hour of distress.[1]

After being delivered, Christiana notes that she was warned about the ill-favoured ones in the vision that she saw beside her bed. Even so, she failed to ask the Keeper of the Gate for protection. As she said it, “We were so taken with our present blessing, that dangers to come were forgotten by us; besides who could have thought, that so near the King’s Palace, there should have lurked such naughty ones” (230)? Yet many Christians know from similar assaults that the Enemy delights to strike at pilgrims whenever they feel the most secure.

We would do well to take Reliever’s words to heart:

in all places where you shall come, you will find no want at all; for in every of my Lord’s lodgings, which he has prepared for the reception of his Pilgrims, there is sufficient to furnish them against all attempts whatsoever: But as I said, he will be enquired of by them to do it for them; and it is a poor thing that is not worth asking for.


Emblems and Wisdom from Interpreter

As did Christian, the pilgrims soon came to the House of Interpreter where they were greeted with much joy, while also learning that Interpreter had already heard of their pilgrimage and had been expecting them. They are soon taken to the each of the rooms that Christian beheld, but afterward Interpreter introduced them to new rooms with new lessons for them to remember upon their journey.

First, they were shown a man with a muckrake, “raking to himself the straws, the small sticks, and dust of the floor” (234). Yet while he continued to do this unceasingly, another man stood above him with a Celestial Crown, which he would exchange for the muckrake. Christiana is able to give the interpretation of this picture. The worldly-minded focus so squarely upon raking up their treasures of dust that they cannot even raise their eyes to heaven to behold unfading crown that could be theirs.

Next, they were taken to a great room, “the very best room in the house” (236). Yet there was nothing to be seen in the room save a large spider. Christiana again understands the meaning, which is twofold. We are the spider. We think of spiders as being hideous and filled with venom, yet our sin is much worse than a spider’s venom. Yet just as the most hideous spider can be found in the greatest of rooms, so are we brought into our King’s House.

Upon this reflection, Christiana remarks: “God has made nothing in vain” (237). This, indeed, was Bunyan’s outlook upon the created world, as we can tell by the images within Interpreter’s House. For any reader that would desire more of these pictures from Bunyan, he wrote a book of poetry for children doing just that called A Book for Boys and Girls, which can be found beginning at page 746 of the third volume of John Bunyan’s collected works. There is also a slightly modernize Kindle version under the title: John Bunyan’s Poetry: Divine Emblems. Within this book is a further elaboration on the lessons we might learn from spiders in a poem called “The Sinner and the Spider.”

Thirdly, the pilgrims are shown chickens and a Hen. Here Interpreter displayed how the different calls of the Hen to her chickens are like the different calls that the King has. I find it a bit humorous that Interpreter concludes this picture by saying, “I chose, my darlings, to lead you into the room where such things are, because you are women, and they are easy for you” (238). Yet the next room shows them a butcher slaughtering a sheep, and Interpreter tells them: “You must learn of this sheep to suffer, and to put up wrongs without murmurings and complaints. Behold how quietly she takes her death, and without objecting, she suffereth her skin to be pulled over her ears. Your King doth call you his Sheep” (238). I do not think this juxtaposition was accidental on Bunyan’s part. Although the Lord certainly speaks tenderly to His daughters, they must no less be prepared to suffer for His sake.

The emblem of the garden is very worthy of meditation: “Behold the flowers are divers in stature, in quality, and colour, and smell and virtue; and some are better than some: Also where the gardener has set them, there they stand, and quarrel not one with another” (240). How many unnecessary quarrels could be avoid by considering and applying this principle!

The final two lessons form a pair. The field of wheat and corn without the kernels is a warning against fruitlessness. Without the actual wheat and corn, the plants are nothing more than straw fit for the fire. The robin eating the spider, however, is a warning against hypocrisy or, we might say, the outward appearance of fruitfulness. Let us remember again that Bunyan does not use professor here as a synonym for teacher (as we would think today); rather, he means one who makes a profession. And there are indeed many who profess to follow Christ and outwardly appear very godly, yet in private, they indulge in all manners of sins. They are like a field that looks beautiful from a distance, but a closer inspection reveals its fruitlessness.

After seeing these things, Christiana asks in Interpreter for more wisdom, and he gives to her a series of proverbs. We have not the time comment upon these nuggets for thought, so I will simply commend you to think upon these bites of wisdom. I have found two particularly poignant: “One leak will sink a Ship, and one Sin will destroy a Sinner” (241) and “If a man would live well, let him fetch his last day to him, and make it always his Company-keeper” (242).

Bathed and Sealed

After showing the pilgrims a tree, whose outside was fair but was rotten within, Interpreter took them to supper, where Christiana and Mercy recounted how their journeys began to their host. From this conversation, we read of Mercy at night finally free from the doubts that still continued to gnaw at her.

In the morning, the pilgrims were given a bath to cleanse them of the soil gathered from their journey. The margin calls this ‘The Bath of Sanctification’ and many have questioned whether Bunyan intended this to represent baptism. The short and honest answer is that I do not know. Perhaps this was Bunyan’s intent, since baptism is meant to be a kind of physical seal of the new covenant. Yet baptism itself does not wash away sins but is only a sign of our being washed clean by the blood of Christ. I think that baptism is not in view; rather, Bunyan is giving a picture of what happens each time we come to Christ in fresh repentance of sin.

There is no traveling on pilgrimage without gathering soil. There are no pilgrims but daily need to have recourse to this bath of sanctification–the blood of Jesus, which cleanses of all sin. 1 Jn. i. 7. Christ is the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness. Zec. xiii. 1. Christ is the soul’s only bath. As all baths are for the purification of the body, such is this bath to our soul. But unless the bath be used, this cannot be effected; so, unless we have recourse to Christ, we cannot enjoy the purification of the soul; but the Holy Ghost, the Sanctifier, convinces us of sin, shows us our fresh-contracted spots and defilements, and leads us to the blood of the Lamb. O how does this enliven and strengthen our souls, by filling our conscience with joy and peace in believing![2]

[1] Works of John Bunyan Vol III, 182.

[2] Works of John Bunyan Vol III, 189.

The page numbers refer to the Banner of Truth hardcover, which can be found here.


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