“The porter then said to Christian, ‘Well, I will call out one of the virgins of this place, who will, if she likes your talk, bring you in to the rest of the family, according to the rules of the house.”
John Bunyan was a member of a Baptist church, and he knew how to do things in an orderly manner. I have sometimes met with people who have said that, in reading “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” you cannot tell to what denomination the writer belonged; but if you study his book carefully, you will soon discover, both from what he left out and what he put in, what the good man’s position was. When John Bunyan joined Mr. Gifford’s church, the Pastor said to him, “Well, John, I am glad to find that you are converted, but I could not take upon myself the responsibility of receiving you into fellowship; I must ask one of my elders or deacons to see you.
Someone must be appointed by the church to converse with you, and to report to the rest of the members whether you should be received or not.” “So, Watchful, the porter, rang a bell, at the sound of which came out at the door of the home, a grave and beautiful damsel, named Discretion, and asked why she was called.”
The officer of the church, who is appointed to see candidates for membership, should be “grave” in his carriage and “beautiful” in his character; he should be discreet, yet affectionate; desirous neither to be deceived nor to let his fellow-members be deceived; anxious not to be too severe, so as to keep out of the church those who are truly the Lord’s; and, on the other hand, not to be too lax, so as to receive those who are not His people. “The porter answered, ‘This man is in a journey from the City of Destruction to Mount Zion, but being weary and benighted, he asked me if he might lodge here to-night; so I told him I would call for thee, who, after discourse had with him, mayest do as seemeth thee good, even according to the law of the house.’ Then she asked whence he was, and whither he was going; and he told her.”
This is like the examination of converts which we generally describe under the term “seeing the elders.” In answer to the inquiries of Discretion, Christian did not go beating about the bush, and talking of other matters, but he told her at once what she wanted to know. “She asked him whence he was.” That question was put in order to ascertain whether he knew what he was by nature; for, if you do not know what you are by nature, you do not really begin to know anything aright. If you have never discovered that you were born in sin, and shapen in iniquity, — if you have never realized that you are a sinner, lost and undone; — and, further, if you have never lost your burden at the cross, — you are not fit to be entertained at the Palace Beautiful, for you evidently are not a true Christian.
Next, Discretion asked Christian “whither he was going.” That is a very important question. I am afraid that there are many people who do not know whither they are going, — whether to Heaven or to hell, — though they have a faint hope that, possibly, all may be well with them at the last.
There are also some who assert that a man cannot know whether he is saved till he gets into another world. Surely, they must have read a different Bible from the one I read every day; for that seems to me to speak very clearly upon this matter: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved;” — ”Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Surely, a man is not saved without knowing it; and he does not possess peace with God without being aware that he has that peace. “She asked him also how he had got into the way; and he told her.”
That is another inquiry that we shall put to you if you wish to unite with us in church-fellowship. We shall say to you, “You profess to be on the road to Heaven; but how did you commence to walk in that way? What led you to go on pilgrimage? How came you to realize your need of a Savior? How did the work of grace begin in your heart? We shall not want you to tell us the day and the hour when you were converted. Some of us could tell that about ourselves, but others could not; and there will be no discreet virgin who will be angry with you if you cannot. Often, when it rains, it would puzzle a Solomon to tell you exactly when it began, for it was at first a kind of mist, then it turned to a little drizzle, and afterwards it did really rain. Oftentimes, when the sun is shining, it may be that nobody can tell just when it rose, yet you know that it did rise, for you can both see it and feel it. When I was in Switzerland, one afternoon, I went up some five thousand feet so as to sleep at an inn, and to be ready for the sunrise the following day. Early in the morning, a big horn was blown, and everybody jumped out of bed, for that was an intimation that the sun was rising. We all ran out, wrapped in our blankets, — perhaps two hundred of us, — and were all staring away at the East to see the sun rise; but we were too late, for the sun was up before we were there. So it is, often, with the work of grace in the heart. It is there, but you do not know when it came there.
This is one point upon which the discreet virgin will be sure to question you, and I trust that we shall be able to say of you, as Bunyan says of Christian, “and he told her.” “Then she asked him what he had seen and met with in the way; and he told her.”
We shall want to know what your experience has been since you became a Christian, — whether you have proved the power of the prayer, because God has answered your petitions, — whether, when you have been tempted, you have been able to resist the tempter, and overcome him. We shall also ask you what you are doing for Christ, and what you think of Christ, and what are your habits with regard to reading Scriptures, and private prayer, and such things. “And last she asked his name; so he said, ‘It is Christian, and I have so much the more a desire to lodge here to-night, because, by what I perceive, this place was built by the Lord of the hill, for the relief and security of pilgrims.’ So she smiled, but the water stood in her eyes; and after a little pause, she said, ‘I will call forth two or three more of the family.’“ You see she was a tender, affectionate, gentle creature. She smiled to hear what the pilgrim said; she was pleased with his testimony, and “the water stood in her eyes” as she blessed the Lord that there was another soul brought out of darkness into His marvelous light.
You have, in this passage, a reference to the different church-officers. Mr. Watchful was the minister; Discretion was the deacon or elder; and then came “two or three more of the family.” “So she ran to the door, and called out Prudence, Piety, and Charity.”
These are the messengers of the church: — Prudence, who does not want to let any hypocrites in; Piety, who understands spiritual matters, and knows how to search the heart; and Charity, who judges kindly, yet justly, according to the love of Christ which is shed abroad in her heart. “Prudence, Piety, and Charity, after a little more discourse with him, had him into the family; and many of them, meeting him at the threshold of the house, said, ‘Come in, thou blessed of the Lord;’ this house was built, by the Lord of the hill, on purpose to entertain such pilgrims in. Then he bowed his head, and followed them into the house. So when he was come in and sat down, they gave him something to drink, and consented together that, until supper was ready, some of them should have some particular discourse with Christian, for the best improvement of time; and they appointed Piety, and Prudence, and Charity to discourse with him.”
There I shall leave him for the present, in good smug quarters, and I hope many of you will be tempted to come to the same door, and by the same means enter into the quietude and security of the Palace Beautiful, — Christ’s Church on earth.