THE LIFE AND LITERAURE OF JOHN BUNYAN
The Pilgrim’s Progress from this World to that Which is to Come;
The Hill Difficulty and The Palace Beautiful
DIFFICULTIES ON THE WAY
Leaving Formalist and Hypocrisy, to take the easy route, to their own destruction, Christian laboured manfully up the Hill Difficulty. Anyone who has climbed a steep mountain can appreciate the tiredness, the aching limbs, the heavy breathing with the continual thought, “How long is this going to continue?”
This is a reminder to us that God’s will often leads us into places that the flesh finds to be most unpleasant. When called to stand alone for truth, to face opposition and criticism – the way is not easy. Yet this is the way that the Saviour himself took, our great inspiration:
“Let us go forth, therefore, unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach” (Hebrews 13:13)
Halfway up the ascent, Christian found a resting place erected by the Lord “for the refreshing of weary travellers.” This is a reminder of the compassion of God:
“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” (1st Corinthians 10:13)
In this location Christian meditated on his scroll and examined the new garments with which he was clothed. In seasons of hardship and persecution we will always be refreshed by considering our standing in Christ and the work that the Holy Ghost has wrought in our hearts.
This period of rest brought a new subtler trial to bear upon Christian. He fell into a deep sleep and in so doing lost his scroll. His sleeping represents spiritual complacency. When God blesses us with liberty and ease the temptation is, that we fail to watch and be vigilant. The roll represents the seal of the Spirit, the assurance of sins forgiven. When we fail to watch we can backslide and slip into that which gratifies the flesh. In these seasons of losing out with God we can lose our convictions and even our assurance. As Christian moved away, not even aware that like Samson, the Spirit of God had departed, so we can be like Laodecia, careless and indifferent while the Saviour being locked on the outside.
Let us pray that God would deliver us from spiritual carelessness!
Christian was forced to retrace his steps to the resting place where he found his roll, which was the occasion of great joy:
“Where is the blessedness I knew, when first I saw the Lord Where is the soul refreshing view, of Jesus and his Word” (William Cowper)
At the summit of the Hill Difficulty sat the Palace Beautiful, “built by the Lord of the Hill for the relief and security of pilgrims.” Faith Cooke in her biography of John Bunyan, “Fearless Pilgrim” calls The Palace Beautiful “an independent Church”. To be part of a fellowship of believers outside of the Church of England during the reign of Charles 2nd was no easy route to follow, yet for Bunyan this was path that the Holy Spirit had guided him along. To see the Palace Beautiful as the local fellowship to which we as believers belong is most instructive.
There were lions at the gate which alarmed would be pilgrims like Timorous and Mistrust who fled in the opposite direction. Watchful, the gatekeeper, reassures Christian that the lions are chained. The Church needs to be watchful, maintaining a membership roll with vigilance and only admitting those into membership who have a credible testimony of faith. The hindrances, set by Satan, however, represented by the lions are always restrained by the power of God. We too must reassure those who feel inadequate or fearful, that there is a place for them in the Church of Christ.
After being taken into the house Christian is introduced to three young ladies named Prudence, Charity and Patience. These elegant names are descriptive of the graces that should characterise those who belong to the Church. Prudence represents a godly testimony, Charity of the love that adorns the people of God and Patience is the attitude that we all need as we labour together for the cause of Christ and His truth.
The conversation that these young ladies had with Christian covered his pilgrimage to date including both his blessings and his failures. They enquired into his life in the City of Destruction including the spiritual condition of his family. The latter sequence is most touching as Christian weeps over his wife and children, who refused to come with him on his pilgrimage. The conversation highlights the importance of Christian fellowship and the loving interest that we should have in the lives especially of the trials, of each other:
“Blest be the tie that binds
Our Hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.”
After physical and spiritual refreshment Christian was taken to a chamber in the Palace called “Peace” whose window face the rising of the sun.
In the following days he received a guided tour of the Palace Beautiful, in order that Christian might be prepared for his future travels. The Church is not only a place of fellowship of peace, it must also be a place of preparation, strengthening Christians in their personal walk with God:
“For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:” (Ephesians 4:12)
He was taken to the study where he learned about the exploits of other pilgrims who had gone before. We constantly need reminding of those who Paul described as “the great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1).
He visited the armoury where he investigated the preparation made by the Lord for pilgrims:
“…sword, shield, helmet, breastplate, all-prayer, and shoes that would not wear out”
On another day he ascended to the roof of the Palace where he looked toward the south to see a beautiful land in the distance with hills, forests, vineyards, springs and fountains which the young ladies explained:
“They said it was Immanuel’s Land…when thou comest there, …thou mayest see to the gate of the Celestial City, as the shepherds that live there will make appear.”
Therefore, the pilgrim was encouraged by the past travels of faithful pilgrims, by the provision made by the Lord for the present and by the future prospect that lay before him. So, it is for us.
Before Christian could travel onward he was fitted with the armour, indicating that there would be much by of conflict before he would reach Immanuel’s Land and the gates of the Celestial City:
“Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:11)
At the gate the porter informed him of another traveller who had passed by the Palace Beautiful and had gone on beyond, whose name was Faithful. Christian was determined to catch him and so gain a companion. A reminder, perhaps that we can have fellowship with those not of our denomination, if they are faithful pilgrims indeed.