In our previous reading, Christiana and the other pilgrims came to Interpreter’s House, where they were given a warm and joyful welcome since Interpreter had already received word that Christian’s family had finally become pilgrims themselves. Having shown the travelers a number of lessons, they were ready again to set out. In these pages, the pilgrims come to the place of deliverance and discuss the imputation of righteousness, come upon men hanged as a warning, and start up the hill of difficulty.
As the pilgrims leave Interpreter’s House, they do not leave alone. Interpreter sent one of his servants with the company, a man named Great-heart, who was armed with a sword, helmet, and shield. I agree with one writer’s assessment of what this character represents:
The conductor, named Great-heart, is a gospel minister under the direction of the Holy Spirit; courageous, armed with the sword of the Spirit, enjoying the hope of salvation, and defended by the shield of faith.
Led by this guide, the pilgrims set forth and soon came to the cross, the place where Christian’s burden was rolled away. Here Christiana begins a dialogue with a question for Great-heart. Back at the Wicket-gate, the Keeper spoke of pardon by word and deed, saying, “by word, in the Promise of Forgiveness; by deed, in the Way I obtained it” (224). With these words still ringing in her mind, Christiana now asks, “What the Promise is, of that I know something: But what is it to have Pardon by deed, or in the Way that it was obtained” (248)?
This begins a discourse with Great-heart regarding our justification, though particularly upon how the righteousness of our Savior is imputed onto us. Great-heart first answers Christiana’s question by saying:
So then to speak to the question more at large, the pardon that you and Mercy, and these boys have attained, was obtained by another; to wit, by him that let you in at the Gate: and he hath obtained it in this double way; he has performed Righteousness to cover you, and spilt Blood to wash you in.248-249
As Great-heart describes to the pilgrims here, our salvation is a twofold work of Christ. Since we cannot be saved by our own righteousness, we must be gifted the righteousness of another. Here lies the beauty of Christian assurance. We declare without reservation that we are the least deserving to receive God’s eternal favor, yet we are steadfastly confident that we have that favor, not through any efforts of our own but because of the righteousness that Christ has given to us. Indeed, how is it that we who are sinful can pray to the Holy One and call Him Father? It is only because Christ the mediator has restored our communion with God. And we are now able to enter into that communion because we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ.
Yet imputing righteousness is only half the work. It does little good to give a man caked in mud new clothing. He must first be washed of the mud, and then he is ready to put on clean clothes. In the same way, before granting us His righteousness Christ first cleanses our sins by His blood. Bunyan’s description through Great-heart of this is excellent:
Sin has delivered us up to the just Curse of a righteous Law: Now from this curse we must be justified by way of Redemption, a Price being paid for the harms we have done; and this is by the Blood of your Lord, who came and stood in your place and stead, and died your Death for your Transgressions: Thus has he ransomed you from your transgressions, by Blood, and covered your polluted and deformed Souls with Righteousness: For the sake of which, God passeth by you, and will not hurt you, when he comes to judge the world.251
We rightly call this the gospel, the good news, for what message is better than this! Indeed, Christiana is overcome by the splendor of the cross and for a moment cannot imagine how any could look upon the cross and not be moved to repentance. Yet Great-heart gently reminds her of the crowds that laughed and spit upon Christ during the actual crucifixion. If people would do so at the foot of the cross, how much more will they do so to its message?
There is also a lesson to learn here from Great-heart’s answer:
Mind how tenderly Great-heart deals with warm-hearted Christiana. He does not attempt to throw cold water upon the fire of her affections, but gently insinuates, 1. The peculiar frame of the mind she speaks from; 2. Suggests that she must not always expect to be in such raptures; and, 3. Reminds her that her indulgences were of a peculiar nature, not common to all, but bestowed upon the faithful in Christ only; and that, therefore, amidst all of her joyful feelings, she should know to whom she was indebted for them, and give all the glory to the God of all grace.
After this, the pilgrims went on further and came upon three men who were hanged upon the side of the road. These men were Simple, Sloth, and Presumption, whom Christian had encountered in his own journey. Great-heart notes that while they were asleep when Christian passed them by and would not awake at his warnings, they had in fact led others astray. Therefore, they were hanged as a warning to all who pass by of the dangers of simpleness, sloth, and presumption. George Offer, the editor of Bunyan’s works, notes that Bunyan was referencing a common practice in his own day. “It was custom, to a late period, to hang up murderers in irons, until the body dropped to pieces; that such terrible examples might deter others from the like crimes.”
Let us consider the characters of these three professors: 1. Here is a Simple, a foolish credulous professor, ever learning, but never coming to the knowledge of the truth, so as to believe it, love it, and be established on it; hence liable to be carried away by every wind of doctrine. 2. Sloth, a quiet, easy professor, who never disturbs any one by his diligence in the Word of God, nor his zeal for the truths and glory of God. 3. Presumption, one who expects salvation in the end, without the means prescribed by God for attaining it. O beware these three sorts of professors, for they turn many aside!
Moving onward from these examples of judgment, the pilgrims came to the hill of Difficulty. Yet upon their arrival, they find the spring that Christian was refreshed by dirty and polluted. They were only able to get a drink by placing some water in a vessel and letting the dirt settle to the bottom. The marginal note gives us the meaning of this scene: “‘Tis difficult getting good Doctrine in erroneous Times” (255). Indeed, it is tragic that so many are in a similar place today. Hearing God’s Word ought to be like drinking from a cool, refreshing spring, yet there are sadly many preachers and teachers who fill the spring with dirt so that God’s people must diligently filter in order to get a proper drink.
Like Christian, the pilgrims also beheld the paths of Formality and Hypocrisy that seemed to go around the hill, and after ascending the hill and arriving at the Arbour, Great-heart asked the boys what their thoughts about the pilgrimage were. The youngest, James, answered: “I remember now what my mother has told me, namely, that the Way to heaven is as a ladder, and the Way to Hell is as down a hill. But I had rather go up a ladder to Life, than down the hill to Death” (257). After Mercy added that going downhill is easy, James concluded: “The Day is coming, when in my opinion, going down the Hill will be the hardest of all” (257).
That is a fitting word for all Christians to remember. The way to life is narrow and difficult, but its end is rest and peace. The road to hell is broad and easy, but its end will be more difficult than any hardship faced by God’s people in this life. We would do well to keep such a vision for the end before our eyes that we may persevere through hardship and receive at last the crown of life.
 Works of John Bunyan Vol III, 192.
 Works of John Bunyan Vol III, 192.
 Works of John Bunyan Vol III, 193.
The edition cited is the Banner of Truth hardcover, which can be found here.