Catechisms at Beautiful

When we last left Christiana and her fellow pilgrims, they had left Interpreter’s House with a new companion to be their guide and protector, Great-heart. Together they came upon the place of deliverance, found the hanged bodies of Simple, Sloth, and Presumption, and began their climb up the Hill of Difficulty. In our present reading, the pilgrims face Grim the giant and find a lengthy lodging at the House Beautiful.

We begin with the pilgrims at rest in the Arbour, and after eating and drinking, they set forth again. But Christiana soon realizes that she forgot to take her bottle of spirits given by Interpreter. Mercy then notes that the Arbour is apparently a place of forgetfulness since it was here that Christian also forgot his Roll. Great-heart gives an invaluable lesson for all Christians to consider deeply. The forgetfulness of Christian and Christiana arose from them not being sufficiently watchful and awake. In their rest, which of course was much needed, they grew complacent and let their diligence grow slack. Let us learn from both pilgrims and use our rest wisely, keeping watch at all times.

Continuing onward, the pilgrims come upon a monument set up to warn all pilgrims that Timorous and Mistrust, who tried to turn Christian back for fear of lions, had their tongues burnt with a hot iron. Indeed, then they soon came upon the lions themselves. Here we read that “the boys that went before were glad to cringe behind, for they were afraid of the Lions; so they stept back, and went behind” (259). Great-heart smiles at this, but it is certainly worth meditating upon by any who desire leadership of any kind, whether in ministry, the workplace, or in the home. Many desire to be first who lack the courage to walk first into danger.

Yet the lions were not the only danger this time. A giant named Grim (or Bloody-man) came to support them. It seems right to view this giant not as an inward assault upon the Christian (as Despair clearly represented) but rather as an allegory for the outward trials inflicted upon Christians. The editor of Bunyan’s works notes that Bunyan was likely thinking of “those infamous penal statutes under which Dissenters [like Bunyan himself] so severely suffered.”[1] That interpretation certainly falls in line with Grim’s insistence that the pilgrims turn aside and take another path. The governmental ordinances dictating how churches must assemble and that led to Bunyan’s own imprisonment must have certainly seemed like a giant Grim challenging those upon the King’s path. In such times, ministers like Bunyan must be prepared to stand defiant like Great-heart and say, “this is the Way they must go, and go it they shall, in spite of thee and the Lions” (260). We should also note that Great-heart slays Grim with his sword, and so too is the church able to conquer every enemy, by holding fast to God’s trustworthy Word.

After slaying Grim, the pilgrims pass through the lions, who were chained. One writer notes:

O pilgrim, it is sweet to reflect that every lion-like foe is under the control of thy God, and cannot come one link of the chain nearer to thee than thy Lord will permit! Therefore, when fears and terrors beset thee, think of thy Lord’s love to thee, his power engages to preserve thee, and his promises to comfort thee.[2]

At last, they come to the Porter’s Lodge called Beautiful, and Great-heart declares his need to return to Interpreter’s House. While they try to persuade him to remain with them, he responds to them:

I am at my Lord’s commandment: If he shall allot me to be your Guide quite through, I will willingly wait upon you; but here you failed at first; for when he bid me come thus far with you, then you should have begged me of him to have gone quite through with you, and he would have granted your request.

262

Thus, they were left without a guide again due to their failure to think ahead and to ask.

As we noted back in Part 1, Bunyan intended this lodging to be an allegory for the gathered local church, and here we indeed find a beautiful picture. As the pilgrims enter, they “did salute each other with a kiss, and said, Welcome, ye vessels of the Grace of God; Welcome to us your Faithful Friends” (263). Such a welcome ought certainly to be true of the weekly gathering, yet it is often particularly true when visiting another like-minded congregation. My wife and I make certain to find a church to visit while on vacation for this very reason. It is a tremendously beautiful experience to meet strangers for the first time yet quickly realize that you are brothers and sisters who will spend eternity together, even if you never meet again in this life.

After a good night’s sleep, the pilgrims agree to lodge at length there and remained for “about a month or above” (266). Then we are treated to Prudence catechizing Christiana’s children. It would take far too much time to comment upon the particulars of the catechism that Bunyan presents here, so let us focus upon the notion of catechizing children itself.

Growing up in a charismatic denomination, I had never even heard of catechisms until I was in college or perhaps even after I had graduated. So, for those similarly unfamiliar catechisms are question-and-answer method of instructing new believers in the faith, particularly children. The earliest catechism used in the earlier church to instruct new believers before baptism consisted of being taught the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments. During and after the Reformation, catechisms resurfaced in popularity. The Heidelberg Catechism and the Westminster Catechism are two the most well-known and well-loved. I also greatly love the modern New City Catechism.

While Prudence asks catechism questions of Christiana’s children, notice that she is not primarily responsible for teaching them; rather, she is conducting something of a test to “see how Christiana had brought up her children” (266). Such a scene runs very contrary to our modern notion of teaching children. Many parents today view obedience to Ephesians 6:4 as taking their children to church each week in order to know the instruction of the Lord. Yet Paul does not give churches the command to instruct children; he commands fathers to do so. Indeed, I think it would be very prudent if churches were used more for accountability and equipping in this task, just as Prudence does here.

Of course, one might argue that catechisms are unnecessary since they are not scriptural. While it certainly is true that there is no command in Scripture to use catechisms with our children, I think it is very wise to do so. We are commanded explicitly to bring up our children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). That instruction is going to necessarily require some sort of structure. Why not make use of resources that have been beloved for centuries?

Beyond this, we also are given a scene of Mercy and a potential suitor, Mr. Brisk. After seeing Mercy’s diligence in work, he thinks that she would make a good housewife. Yet we are told:

Mercy then revealed the business to the maidens that were of the house, and enquired of them concerning  him, for they did know him better than she. So they told her, that he was very busy young man, and one that pretended to religion; but was, as they feared, a stranger to the Power of that which is Good. (270)

Thus, they counsel Mercy to simply continue serving the poor, and Brisk’s desire for her would pass. It seems to me that in this one scene we find more wisdom regarding courtship than most books on dating. Note that Mercy takes counsel among her sisters within the church, and also note they do not give her a decree to obey but counsel to heed. Both parties display their wisdom by their actions. Furthermore, notice that Brisk is almost immediately dissuaded by Mercy’s care for the poor. Zealous pursuit of Christ and good works will often be a sufficient litmus test for judging a potential spouse.

Another scene that we are given during their stay as Beautiful is Matthew, Christiana’s eldest son, coming down with a sickness. After summoning a physician named Mr. Skill, they come to discover that the sickness was caused by eating the fruit from Beelzebub’s garden. Mr. Skill first gave Matthew of medicine “of the blood of a Goat, the Ashes of a Heifer, and with some of the Juice of Hyssop” (273), but that potion was too weak. Note that Hebrews 10:1-4 is referenced in the margin, which reads:

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

What, then, can wash away our sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. Thus, Matthew was given medicine Ex Carne et sanguine Christi, that is, of the flesh and blood of Christ.

This is the only portion for sin-sick souls. Feeding upon Christ’s flesh and blood by faith, keeps us from sinning, and when sick of sin, these, and nothing but these, can heal and restore us. Yet there is in our nature an unstoppable reluctance to receive these, through the unbelief which works in us! So Matthew found it.[3]

It might be easy to read these words and Bunyan’s words and think that we go to the Lord’s Supper to find forgiveness, but that is not the case. We go to the Lord’s Supper for a powerful display of our forgiveness, but for forgiveness itself, we go to Christ alone. Of course, we may (and should) use the Lord’s Supper as an opportunity to cast our sins upon Christ and receive His pardon, yet we do not look to the bread and cup themselves as the body and blood of Jesus. They simply call us to look to Christ, whose body was broken and blood was shed to forgive sins and heal the sickness of our transgressions. O Christian, note this well:

It is a universal pill; ’tis good against all the diseases that Pilgrims are incident to; and when it is well prepared, it will keep good, time out of mind.

274

Let us conclude by noting that Christian and company finally learn to ask by sending a request for Great-heart to be their guide once more, and having asked, they receive. May we do likewise.


[1] The Works of John Bunyan Vol III, 196.

[2] The Works of John Bunyan Vol III, 196.

[3] The Works of John Bunyan Vol III, 202.


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

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