THE LIFE AND LITERAURE OF JOHN BUNYAN
The Pilgrim’s Progress from this World to that Which is to Come;
The Delectable Mountains
Leaving the follies of By Path Meadow behind, Christian and Hopeful now ascend into the beauties of the Delectable Mountains. As their name would indicate this was a highly enjoyable place where both and soul were refreshed:
“…they went up to the mountains, to behold the gardens and orchards, the vineyards and fountains of water; where also they drank and washed themselves and did freely eat of the vineyards.”
The Meaning of the Delectable Mountains
Earlier in the journey at the Palace Beautiful Christian could view these mountains in the distance, now he had reached their slopes. This place therefore represents the goal of Christian maturity that we all must aspire to, as we make our journey through the wilderness of this world. When writing to the Hebrews the Apostle bewailed the immaturity of the believers and encouraging them to greater spiritual growth:
“For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Hebrews 4:12-14).
Paul, when writing to the Hebrews explained how the Church should develop “unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”, leaving the state of spiritual childhood behind (Ephesians 4:13).
We sometimes refer to seasons of blessedness as “mountain top experiences”. It ought to be the longing and aspiration of every Christian to get onto the mountain with the Lord, growing in grace and becoming more like Him:
“I want to scale the utmost height
And catch a gleam of glory bright;
But still I’ll pray till heaven I’ve found:
Lord lead me onto higher ground.”
The Message on the Delectable Mountains
The mountains while representing maturity, are not indicative of perfection. They were a place of learning for the pilgrims. The lessons they learned at this place were deeper and more profound than anything they had discovered earlier in this journey. This certainly corresponds to the “strong meat” that Paul referred in his Epistle to the Hebrews.
On the slope they encountered four Shepherds to whom they asked certain questions; “Whose Delectable Mountains are these? And whose be the sheep that feed upon them?”. The reply was both inviting and encouraging:
“These mountains are Immanuel’s Land, and they are within sight of his city; and the sheep also are his, and he laid down his life for them.”
One question I have personally asked, ‘Who do the shepherds represent?’ The key I believe is found in their names:
“…Knowledge, Experience, Watchful and Sincere.”
I take these Shepherds to be emblems of the elders of the Church, both in their capacity as teachers, pastors and rulers of the flock of God. It is a solemn reminder to all elders that we have been entrusted with the care of the Lord’s people as Peter wrote:
“…feed the flock of God, which is among you…” (1st Peter 5:1)
Those who have the oversight of the Church must be men of knowledge and of experience, who are watchful and sincere. As these Shepherds dwell on the mountains, however, they are also examples to the pilgrims as to what true maturity is.
The Lord wills it that we are all knowledgeable of His Word, that we learn from all the experiences of life which God by his providence brings our way, that we are watchful first over own affairs and that we are sincere in our Christian living. Sincerity is so important because it reaches down beneath our external behaviours, into our souls where our true motivations and aspirations lie. Sincerity asks the question, ‘Are we fuelled by an earnest love of God and a desire to glorify Him always.’
These Shepherds had lessons to teach Christian and Hopeful on these mountains and it behoved them to listen. We must listen to words of instruction, especially from those who are knowledgeable, experienced, watchful and sincere.
The first lesson was learned on top of the hill called “Error”. Looking down from cliff top they spied “several men dashed to pieces by a fall that they had made from the top”. The Shepherds referred to men like Hymeneas and Philetus who had erred and in so doing lost their souls (2nd Thessalonians 2:17-18). This is a warning against doctrinal error and its destructive capability.
The second lesson was taught from the peak of the mountain called “Caution”. Looking afar off they saw what looked like blind men, stumbling about in a graveyard. The Shepherds explain that when Giant Despair was finished with pilgrims he blinded them and left was in this graveyard to spend their days:
“He that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain in the congregation of the dead”.
Christian and Hopeful simply looked at one another “with tears gushing out”. They recognised, as we all have, that only by God’s grace they had been saved from such a terrible fate. To be devoid of spiritual understanding is the greatest of all judgements.
The Shepherds now led the pilgrims to a door in the side of a hill. Opening the door and looking, they saw that the place was dark and full of smoke. They heard rumbling noises and the cries of torments:
“This is a by-way to hell, a way that hypocrites go in at; namely such as sell their birthright, with Esau; such as sell their master, with Judas, such as blaspheme the gospel, with Alexander; and that lie and dissemble, with Ananias and Sapphira his wife.”
These lessons, especially the last caused the pilgrims the greatest of concern. They remind me of the Epistle to the Hebrews and the earnest warnings Paul constantly presented against apostasy:
“For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgement and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.” (Hebrews 10:26-27).
While no genuine believer can be lost, one can make a false profession and never be converted. Therefore, Hopeful was prompted to ask the Shepherds if those who entered the by-way to Hell had at one time had, “a show of pilgrimage”. After the Shepherds answered in the affirmative Christian and Hopeful exhorted one another:
“We had need to cry to the Strong for strength”.
The good words of the Shepherd should find a place in all our hearts as we make our journey forward; “Aye, and you have need to use it, when you have it, too.” While we have confidence in God we must constantly fear ourselves and our potential to sin; therefore, we must press forward with fear ever seeking to make our calling and election sure.
As the shepherds guided the travellers to the furthest end of this mountain range they gave Christian and Hopeful a looking glass on the peak of the hill called Clear”:
“They essayed to look, but the remembrance of that last thing that the shepherds showed 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. Then they went away and sang…”
With the clarity of God’s Word and the binoculars of faith we too ‘catch a gleam of glory bright’. We do not yet see the fullness of glory but we see enough to encourage our hearts.
As they were leaving the mountains behind the shepherds had two words of warning. One was the to beware of the skill and cunning of the Flatterer with the other being never to sleep on the Enchanted Ground.
At this stage, John Bunyan, the narrator and author, awoke from his dream. Some have conjectured that this represents a break in the story because the journey now represents Bunyan’s pilgrimage after he was ordained and sent forth to preach the Gospel.
He had reached a degree of maturity and now was commissioned to serve his master in a new way. Yet still there were challenges ahead, as there always will be.