THE REMAINING BURDEN
For some readers it seems surprising that after passing through the Wicket Gate, with the assistance of Good-Will, Christian’s burden remains. We should not necessarily assume, however, that assurance is a blessing that every converted soul instantly receives. Some struggle with the burden of assurance longing to be free of their horrible guilt. This was certainly true of John Bunyan who laboured long and hard in a place of spiritual oppression. Therefore, Christian’s journey is typical of his own spiritual path. As well as telling him to remain on the “strait and narrow” path Good-Will sends the new pilgrim to the House of the Interpreter. This is Christian’s first stop on his journey and it proves to be most helpful in bringing him to a place of peace.
THE MEANING OF THE HOUSE OF THE INTERPRETER
A new Christian has an innate desire, planted by the Holy Ghost to learn and in learning to grow in grace. The House of the Interpreter therefore, is representative of the initial period of development as the new convert begins to grasp spiritual and eternal realities. For John Bunyan, as a ‘babe in Christ’ the House of the Interpreter was the Rectory attached to St John’s Parish Church in Bedford, where he was faithfully mentored and pastored by John Gifford. Ultimately, however, the Interpreter is not a man, but the Holy Spirit who opens our understanding that we might comprehend things unseen. The lessons portrayed to the traveller in the House of the Interpreter are useful for the Church in every age. George Cheevers described their lessons as being “beautiful and instructive with heavenly imagery” to such an extent that “It would be difficult to find twelve consecutive pages in the English Language, that contain such volumes of meaning…”. Approaching the Interpreter Christian had a request which must surely be echoed by every believing heart as we come to consider the Word of God; he desired:
“excellent things, such as would be a help to me in my journey.”
THE PICTURE ON THE WALL
Being led into a private room Christian beheld the picture of a “grave man” with his “eyes lifted up to heaven, the best of books in his hand, the law of truth was written upon his lips, the world was behind his back. He stood as if he pleaded with men, and a crown of gold did hang over his head.”
The Interpreter explained that this was the first lesson because “the man whose picture this is, is the only man whom the Lord of the place whither thou art going, hath authorised to be thy guide in all difficult places thou mayest meet with in the way.” This emphasised the importance of the young convert being attached to a Church where a faithful man of God would preach Christ in all His fullness.
THE DUSTY PARLOUR
The Interpreter led Christian through the house by the hand, indicating that the Holy Spirit is constantly guiding the believer, showing us the will and the mind of God. The next room was the parlour which was full of dust, having not been swept for many a day. As soon as the sweeping started the dust filled the room, choking the lungs, until the command was given for water to be sprinkled, and the dust settled. Expounding, the Interpreter taught that the Parlour was the heart of man filled with the dust of sin. As soon as the law begins to sweep the sin, the dust rises and the sinner’s state of conviction is most miserable indeed. The sprinkling with water represents the grace of God in the Gospel which alone can subdue sin making the heart “fit for the King of glory to inhabit” (Romans 5:20).
PASSION AND PATIENCE
The next room contained two little children, the eldest being Passion with other being called Patience. Passion was most discontented wanted all he could receive now but wasted everything until he was left in rags. Patience was most content to have nothing now knowing that greater gifts were coming. Christian clearly perceived the meaning as we all must do;
“Then I perceive that it is not best to covet things that are now, but to wait for things to come.”
FIRE, OIL, WATER
This room is my personal favourite because of the way it illustrates the triumph of grace in our lives. Christian is mystified because he sees a fire burning against a wall which becomes brighter and hotter even resisting all the attempts of the man who is constantly pouring water on it. The puzzle was solved when Christian saw a man behind the wall, unseen, yet acting powerfully pouring oil on the flames, thwarting the work of the extinguisher:
“This is Christ…with the oil of his grace, maintains the work already done in the heart…This fire is the work of grace that is wrought in the heart; he that casts water upon it…is the devil…And in that thou sawest that the man stood behind the wall to maintain the fire, that is to teach thee that it is hard for the tempted to see how this work of grace is maintained in the soul.”
THE STATELY PALACE
The Interpreter now revealed to Christian a stately palace, with a great many people desiring to enter, but the way was barred by a fearsome company of armed men. One man stepped forward from the crowd, asking the recorder to write his name down and then with all the courage and skill he could muster he fought his way through the guards until eventually he heard the sound:
Come in, come in; Eternal life thou shalt win
This is certainly based on the words of our Lord; “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:12). The Christian life is certainly a battle and we are not to be expect an easy path on our way to glory, but for writing in his prison cell this had special resonance for Bunyan as Joseph Ivimey explained:
“For a man to fight his way through infernal enemies, is in every age a fearful battle; but in addition to this to enter his name as a nonconformist in Bunyan’s time, demanded intrepidity of no ordinary degree; their enemies were the throne, the laws, and the bishops, armed with malignity against these followers of Jesus Christ. But there were noble spirits of very stout countenance’, that by the sword of the Spirit cut their way through the opposition, Bunyan was one of those worthies.”
THE MAN IN THE IRON CAGE
In a darkened room Christian was introduced by the Interpreter to a man languishing in an iron cage. Describing himself as once a “professor” travelling to “the Celestial City” he neglected “to watch and be sober”. He “sinned against the light of the Word”, “grieved the Spirit”, “crucified him to myself afresh”, “because of the lusts, pleasures, and profits of the world” and therefore “God hath denied me repentance”:
O eternity! eternity!
How shall I grapple with the misery that I must meet in eternity.
This largely an exposition of Paul’s thesis to The Hebrews. They constantly were encouraged to remain steadfast lest they slip and become apostate, with no hope of repentance. It is a reminder of the proper reformed titles of the doctrine that we mistakenly called ‘eternal security’; the true name being ‘The Perseverance of the Saints’. Those who truly have grace continue in the faith and we are therefore urged to work out of salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).
THE TREMBLING MAN
The final room contained a man who was arising from his bed in a state of consternation. The reason for his trembling was that he dreamed of the Day of Judgement; his description is most vivid. When asked why he was so upset the man replied, “Why, I thought that the Day of Judgement was come, and that I was not ready for it.”
As Christian went on his way considering everything that he saw he commented; “they put me in hope and fear”. William Scott expounded succinctly the importance of these characteristics in the Christian’s heart and attitude:
“Our safety consists in a true proportion of hope and fear…True comfort is the effect of watchfulness, diligence and circumspection”
While our hope is in Christ we must have the humility and honestly to fear ourselves and to ensure that the root of the matter is found within.
“Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.” (Hebrews 4:14