THE LIFE AND LITERATURE OF JOHN BUNYAN
The Pilgrim’s Progress from this World to that Which is to Come;
Now I saw in my dream, that by this time the Pilgrims were got over the Enchanted Ground, and entering into the country of Beulah, whose air was very sweet and pleasant, the way lying directly through it, they solaced themselves there for a season.
With these words Bunyan introduces the reader to Beulah Land, being the next stage of Christian and Hopeful’s journey to the Celestial City.
This is a place of security far “beyond the Shadow of Death and out of reach of Giant Despair.” It seems that for much of their journey Doubting Castle could often be seen in all its foreboding darkness but now they could not so much as see this sinister place. Instead, they were now able to see the Celestial City. As they were on the borderlands of glory the Shining Ones frequently came across to visit and to fellowship with the pilgrims.
The effect of the atmosphere of Beulah Land caused the travellers to fall into a state of sickness. Such was their longing for Christ and the Celestial City they were lovesick in their desires for heaven.
The gardener greatly helped them by showing them the vineyards that were planted by the King for the refreshment of pilgrims. Here they ate of the King’s dainties, enjoying sleep in one of the shelters erected for the relief of Pilgrims.
Beulah Land represents a place of complete assurance where the soul rests completely upon Jesus Christ and therefore enjoys remarkable and sweet fellowship with Him. Bunyan takes the name of this location from Isaiah 62:4:
Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzeibah, and thy land Beulah: for the LORD delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married
The two key words to understand in this text are Hepzeibah (my delight in her) and Beulah (married). In Isaiah 62 God was promising the restoration of Israel and in so doing emphasised that He was married to His people and would never cast them away.
John Bunyan in his narrative speaks of Beulah as being the place where “the contract between the bride and groom was renewed” as he quotes from Isaiah 52:5:
As the bridegroom rejoiceth over his bride so did their God rejoice over them
He also refers to the Song of Solomon where the relationship between and His Church, as the bride, is emphasised so tenderly. As Christian and Hopeful were sick they cried put with the Shunamite who longed for her lover (Song of Solomon 5:8):
If ye find my Beloved, tell him that I am sick of love
It is a blessing to have this truth affirmed, that Christ delights in His people, that we are His bride and that He never will put us away. In our earthly pilgrimage we must constantly seek this, the only place of rest beneath the shadow of His wings.
What lessons can we then learn from Beulah Land to help us along in our own personal pilgrimages to Glory Land?
The most basic lesson relates to our union with Christ, placing us in a position where we cannot be harmed by the evil one:
The Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid (Psalm 27:1)
…your life is hid with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3)
Beulah Land, however, teaches us, that assurance of salvation is more than a theological fact, it is an emotional experience. While we do not depend upon our emotions, we would be quite wrong to assume that Christianity will not affect our emotions. Christ used words like joy and peace to convey the wonder of experiencing His salvation:
These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy may be full (John 15:11)
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled neither let it be afraid (John 14:27)
Therefore, the more we rest on Christ and the stronger our faith in Him the greater will be our sense of peace in a troubled world. From this perspective we are all striving for Beulah Land, just to experience more of Christ.
In this sense Beulah Land may represent special seasons when God draws near to His people in unusual supernatural ways. Paul described himself as one caught up into the third heaven where word unrepeatable words (2nd Corinthians 12:1-6). In Rev Murdoch Campbell’s book “The Memories of a Wayfaring Man” he describes various seasons when God came close in his own life and of others whom he ministered to. In one of these instances an elderly saint in the Scottish Highlands explained why she could not tell how long her state of blessedness was; “For me time ceased to be”. John Flavel the English Puritan while communing with God upon his horse was rendered utterly unaware of his surroundings, such was the presence of the Almighty. Dismounting his horse, he prayed that if it was God’s will, he might leave this world.
In seasons of revival there are many recorded testimonies of God visiting His people in similar ways.
Bunyan, however, depicted this beautiful land just before the river that separated the pilgrims from the Celestial City. The travellers were mature in their pilgrimage and the journey had almost reached a conclusion. As God’s leads His people closer to home he draws us into a place of deeper and sweeter communion. As a Pastor I have often reflected on the faith, the deep joy and the strong peace that elderly mature believers often possess. This seems to be what Harriet W. Re Qua had in mind when writing the verse:
I can see far down the mountain where I wandered many years
Often hindered in my journey by the mists of doubts and fears
Broken vows and disappointments thickly sprinkled all the way,
But the Spirit led unerring to the land I hold today
Is not this the land of Beulah, blessed, blessed land of light,
Where the flowers bloom forever and the sun is always bright?
American Puritan preacher and author Edward Payson said that he often doubted whether such a place depicted by Bunyan existed, but as he grew older he testified that this place was genuine:
Where I to adopt the figurative language of Bunyan, I might date this letter from the Land of Beulah, of which I have been for some weeks a happy inhabitant. The Celestial City is full in my view. Its glories have been upon me, its breezes fan me, its odours are wafted to me, its sounds strike upon my ears, its spirit is breathed into my heart. Nothing separates me from it but the River of Death, which now appears but as an insignificant rill, that may be crossed at a single step, whenever God shall give permission. The Sun of Righteousness has been gradually drawing nearer and nearer, appearing larger and brighter as He approached, and now He fills the whole hemisphere, pouring forth a flood of glory, in which I seem to float, like an inset in the beams of the sun; exulting, yet almost trembling, while I gaze on this excessive brightness, and wondering, with unutterable wonder, why God should deign thus to shine upon a sinful worm.