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Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,
making the most of the time, because the days are evil. (Eph. 5:15-16, ESV)

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Notes Regarding the Characters in

Pilgrim's Progress

Lesson #20

Delectable Mountains - Our two travelers would have reached these mountains sooner if Christian had not misled Hopeful, causing them to end up in Doubting Castle.  What sadness and needless pain we often put ourselves and others through by our disobedience and sin! (Bradley, p. 76)

                The Delectable Mountains seem intended to represent those calm seasons of peace and comfort, which consistent believers often experience in their old age.  They have survived, in a considerable degree, the vehemence of their youthful passions, and have honourably performed their parts in the active scenes of life: they are established, by long experience, in the simplicity of dependence and obedience: the Lord graciously exempts them from peculiar trials and temptations: their acquaintance with the ministers and people of God is enlarged, and they possess the respect, confidence, and affections of many esteemed friends: they have much leisure for communion with God, and the immediate exercises of religion: and they often converse with their brethren on the loving kindness and truth of the Lord till “their hearts burn within them”.  Thus “leaning on their staves”, depending on the promises and perfections of God in assured faith and hope, they anticipate their future happiness “with joy unspeakable and full of glory”.

                I do not need to stop to tell the most guileless of my hearers that [these shepherds were] not [shepherds] who sheep were four-footed creatures, but [ministers] of the gospel, whose sheep are men, women, and children.  Nor are the Delectable Mountains any range of hills and valleys of grace and herbs in England or Scotland.  The prophet Ezekiel calls them the mountains of Israel; but by that you all know that he had in his mind something far better than any earthly mountain.  That prophet of Israel had in his mind the church of God with its synagogues and its sacraments, with all the grace and truth that all these things conveyed from God to the children of Israel.  As David also sang in the twenty-third Psalm: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.  He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters.” (Whyte, p. 240)


The Shepherds - The Shepherds and their flocks denote the more extensive acquaintance of many aged Christians with the ministers and churches of Christ, the Chief Shepherd, “who laid down his life for the sheep”.  This is “Emmanuel’s land”; for, being detached from worldly engagements and connexions, they now spend their time almost wholly among the subjects of the Prince of Peace, and as in his more especial presence. (Scott, p. 265-6)

                In the shepherds’ names are found the traits of a godly minister.  The first is Knowledge.  A truly great minister will have the highest knowledge, a thorough knowledge of the Bible and thus of himself.  From this knowledge then he will feed his sheep, showing them the holiness of God and the depravity of the human heart.  His soul will be laid bare as he preaches earnestly because of the burden God has laid upon [it].  Secondly, there is Experience. ... It is knowledge that has been tried and tested in the crucible of God’s furnace that enables a pastor to bring to life verses printed on a page, to send flaming arrows to pierce hard hearts.  Blessed is the pastor who can speak with such authority on the basis of his own experience of God. (Bradley, p. 76)

             [H]ow costly must a thoroughly good minister’s experience be to him!  What a quantity and what a quality of experience is needed to take a raw, light-minded, ignorant, and self-satisfied youth and transform him into the pastor, the tried and trusted friend of the tempted, the sorrow-laden, and the shipwrecked hearts and lives of his congregation!  What years and years of the selectest experiences are needed to teach the average divinity student to know himself, to track out and run to earth his own heart, and thus to lay open and read other men’s hearts to their self-deceived owners in the light of his own.  A matter, moreover, that he gets not one word of help toward in all his college curriculum. (Whyte, p. 253)

                Watchful, the third shepherd, represents a good pastor, who is attentive over the souls of his congregation.  His vigilance will be seen as he visits, instructs, and personally deals with his people. ... In the fourth shepherd, named Sincere, is represented the value of a minister who has pure, godly intentions.  His sincerity towards God is seen in his holy living, and thus he is highly esteemed by his people.  His a transparent man who means what he says to his flock, having no ulterior motives.  When he warns his people of the evil and damaging consequences of sin and of how deep in the heart it can hide, these cautions pierce the people’s consciences, for they know that he warns them for their own good.  He is patient with the weak, for he realizes that they injure themselves with their carelessness, and he remembers God’s forbearance over the years concerning his own faults.  He is a shepherd who has a right, sincere, and godly interest in and intention for his flock, and thus he is a skillful, safe guide to follow. (Bradley, p. 76f)


The Distance - The certainty of the final perseverance of true believers is continually exemplified in their actually persevering, notwithstanding all imaginable inward and outward impediments.  Many hold the doctrine who are not interested in the privilege; and whose conduct eventually proves that they “had no root in themselves”: but the true believer acquires new strength by his very trials and mistakes, and possess increasing evidence that the new covenant is made with him; for, “having obtained help of God”, he still “continues in Christ's word”, and `abides in him”: and, while temptations, persecutions, heresies, and afflictions, which stumble transgressors and detect hypocrites, tend to quicken, humble, sanctify, and establish him, he may assuredly conclude that “he shall be kept by the power of God, through faith, unto salvation.”


Blind Among the Tombs - Many professors, turning aside from the line of conscientious obedience to escape difficulties, experience great distress of mind; which not being able to endure, they desperately endeavour to disbelieve or pervert all they have learned concerning religion: thus they are blinded by Satan through their despondings, and are given over to strong delusions, as the just punishment of their wickedness.  Notwithstanding their profession, and the hopes long formed of them, they return to the company of those who are dead in sin, and buried in worldly pursuits; differing from them merely in a few speculative notions, and being far more hopeless than they.  This is not only the case with many, at the first beginning of a religious profession, as of Pliable at the Slough of Despond, but with some at every stage of the journey.  Such examples may very properly demand our tears of godly sorrow and fervent gratitude; when we reflect on our own misconduct, and the loving kindness of the Lord, who hath made us to differ, by first implanting, and then preserving, faith in our hearts. (Scott, p. 270)


The Need of Strength - No man can see the heart of another, or certainly know him to be a true believer: it is, therefore, proper to warn the most approved persons, “while they think they stand, to take heed lest they fall”.  Such cautions, with the diligence, self-examination, watchfulness and prayer which they excite, are the means of perseverance and establishment to the upright.  An event may be certain in itself, and yet inseparable from the method in which it is to be accomplished; and it may appear very uncertain to the persons concerned, especially if they yield to remissness; so that prayer to the Almighty God for strength, with continual watchfulness and attention to every part of practical religion, is absolutely necessary to “the full assurance of hope unto the end”. (Scott, p. 271-2)

                On the Delectable Mountains pilgrims are given a chance to “have their souls catch up with their bodies” after a hectic, difficult, exhausting week.  How we should prize and guard the Sabbath (Lord’s Day), which is to be a foretaste of heaven, and use it to worship God and nourish our eternal souls! (Bradley, p. 79)


notes taken from:

Bunyan Characters in the Pilgrim's Progress by Alexander Whyte, London:Oliphant Anderson and Ferrier, 1902.

The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan with Explanatory Notes by Thomas Scott, Swengel, PA:Reiner Pub., 1976.

The Pilgrim’s Progress Study Guide by Maureen Bradley, Phillipsburg:P&R, 1994.


David G. Barker