Christian and Hopeful continue in the Way until they come to the Delectable Mountains. They find gardens, orchards, vineyards and fountains of water. They also see shepherds feeding their sheep on top of the mountains. They stand by the highway, so Christian and Hopeful approach them.
The shepherds’ names are Knowledge, Experience, Watchful and Sincere. They inform the pilgrims that the mountains are Immanuel’s Land. They are within sight of His city, and the sheep are His as well. Furthermore, He expects the shepherds to show hospitality to strangers. They welcome Christian and Hopeful with a feast and invite them to stay.
The next morning, the shepherds take the pilgrims to a hill called Error. One of its sides is very steep. Looking over the edge, they see several men dashed to pieces at the bottom. These are pilgrims led astray by false teaching. They remain unburied “as an example to others to take care that they don’t climb too high or come too near the brink of this mountain.”
Then the shepherds take them to another mountain named Caution. In the distance, they see blind men stumbling among tombs. These are pilgrims who crossed the stile into Bypath Meadow. Giant Despair imprisoned them, put out their eyes and left them to wander blindly.
Next, the shepherds take them to the bottom of the valley. They open a door on the side of a hill. It is dark and smoky; they hear sounds of fire and tormented cries, and it smells of brimstone. The shepherds explain, “This is a by-way to hell, where hypocrites enter in.” This includes Esau, Judas and Ananias and Sapphira.
After this, Christian and Hopeful are ready to move on. The shepherds take them to a final hill called Clear. From here, one can see the gates of the Celestial City through a perspective glass. The pilgrims cannot see it at first; their hands shake from the memory of the door. Yet they see something like a gate and some of its glory.
The shepherds prepare them to journey onward. One gives them written instructions of the way ahead; one cautions them to beware the Flatterer; one warns them not to sleep on Enchanted Ground; the last bids them God speed.
Bunyan gives the pilgrims another rest stop. Like the Palace Beautiful after Difficulty Hill or the River of Life after Vanity Fair, so now they come to the Delectable Mountains after their trial at Doubting Castle. Bunyan again shows us how the church refreshes and restores the souls of weary pilgrims.
Christian and Hopeful are especially refreshed by the pastoral care of Immanuel’s shepherds. These shepherds represent Christian pastors. Their names signify the qualities of an ideal minister – Knowledge of God’s Word, Experience in life and ministry, Watchfulness over themselves and others, and Sincere love for Jesus and His church.
It’s also significant that the shepherds show the pilgrims the Celestial City. Even this far into their pilgrimage, it’s possible they won’t make it. So the shepherds encourage them by showing them its gates. This too sets an example for those in ministry. Pastors must turn their people’s eyes toward heaven.
Abraham lived “in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country…for he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:9-10). Let us remind our people they are pilgrims in this world and set their sights on the Celestial City!
Considering Going Astray
Bunyan again warns us against not finishing our pilgrimage. The shepherds’ names apply to us as well. Without these qualities, we won’t make it to the Celestial City. The shepherds show Christian and Hopeful many who didn’t finish their pilgrimage because they didn’t possess these qualities.
Those without Knowledge fall off Mt Error. If we don’t know the Scriptures, we will be easily misled. Those who aren’t Watchful can be seen from Mt Caution. If we don’t see any danger in leaving the Way for easier paths, we will lose all spiritual foresight. Those who aren’t Sincere find the by-path to hell. Do we truly love Jesus? Or is our “pilgrimage” just for show?
This by-path disturbs the pilgrims. Hopeful notices, “Every one of these put on a show of going on a pilgrimage just like we are doing.” The shepherds reply, “Yes, and they traveled for quite a long time, too.” Hopeful asks, “Exactly how far is it possible for them to go on in pilgrimage?” The shepherds answer, “Some farther and some not so far as these mountains.”
Hypocrites go as far as they can in false pilgrimage. Some make it farther than others. No matter how far they go, they don’t make it to the Celestial City! Christian and Hopeful realize, “We certainly have need to cry to the Strong for strength.” The shepherds agree, “Yes, and you will have need to draw on that strength once you have it, too.”
In other words, we finish our pilgrimage only by God’s strength. Paul says, “It is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He…put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22). God guards His true pilgrims and ensures they reach the Celestial City. Nothing but His sustaining grace will get us there!
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