Today we continue to read through John Bunyan’s classic work The Pilgrim’s Progress, and we arrive at the eighth stage of his journey. This week Christian and Hopeful journey on and come to the Delectable Mountains. This is a chapter that required me to re-read it (or really to listen to it and then to read it).
If my understanding is correct, Bunyan uses the Delectable Mountains to point to the place and the power of the local church in the life of the Christian. It is a place of rest, a place of feeding and a place to be warned of error, all under the care and oversight of loving shepherds. In this case the shepherds are called Knowledge, Experience, Watchful, and Sincere.
You can see the care Bunyan used in welcoming people into his own church. He was obviously a man who highly valued church membership and sought to extend it only to those who were truly converted.
I saw also in my dream, that when the shepherds perceived that they were wayfaring men, they also put questions to them, (to which they made answer as in other places,) as, Whence came you? and, How got you into the way? and, By what means have you so persevered therein? for but few of them that begin to come hither, do show their face on these mountains. But when the shepherds heard their answers, being pleased therewith, they looked very lovingly upon them, and said, Welcome to the Delectable Mountains.
You can also see a plurality of elders here, with different character qualities of an elder displayed in each of these men. Having concluded that Christian and Hopeful are genuine in their pilgrimage, they now act in unity: “Then said the shepherds one to another, Shall we show these pilgrims some wonders? So when they had concluded to do it, they had them first to the top of a hill called Error, which was very steep on the farthest side, and bid them look down to the bottom.” They proceed to teach them about error, to caution them about going astray, to give them a glance into hell, and to provide them with a glimpse of the Celestial City.
It is interesting to me how the shepherds proceed from warning about error somewhat in the abstract (I don’t think either Christian or Hopeful were given to the error of Hymenius and Philetus) to giving a caution based on a sin the two men had fallen prey to. And having proceeded from error to caution, now the shepherds give the men a view of their great destination. This says something about the way Bunyan would pastor and preach, I am sure. “Then Christian and Hopeful looked upon one another, with tears gushing out, but yet said nothing to the shepherds.” They were deeply affected as they understood that only grace had kept them from being destroyed.
I will leave it to someone else to discuss the by-way to hell as I want to make mention of another important little detail. The shepherds lead Christian and Hopeful to a hill named Clear where they are able to use a telescope to gaze at the Celestial City way off in the distance. Yet the recent glimpse of hell has so affected them that their hands shake, allowing them only a shaky, dim view of heaven. “Then they tried to look; but the remembrance of that last thing that the shepherds had shown them made their hands shake, by means of which impediment they could not look steadily through the glass; yet they thought they saw something like the gate, and also some of the glory of the place.” I love how Bunyan illustrates this verse: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” For now our sin keeps us from seeing heaven with a clear focus. We see it dimly and long for it, knowing that the reality will be far greater than all we can see and imagine.
For next Thursday please read (or listen to) stage nine. You may want to consult the CCEL version if the version you are reading has a different chapter breakdown. We are nearing the end of Christian’s journey!
The purpose of this program is to read these books together. If you have something to say, whether a comment or criticism or question, feel free to use the comment section for that purpose.