Third Stage (Part 2): At the Palace Beautiful

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While atop the Hill Difficulty, Christian sees a palace off the highway. It is the Palace Beautiful. Hoping to find lodging, he takes the narrow path that leads to it. But two lions stand in the way! The porter (Watchful) sees Christian hesitate. He says, “Don’t be afraid of the lions, for they are chained…stay in the middle of the path and you will not be harmed.”

Though afraid, Christian passes through the lions and approaches the gate. Watchful tells him the palace “was built by the Lord of the hill for the relief and security of pilgrims.” A virgin of the palace (Discretion) comes out to speak with him. She calls three others (Piety, Prudence, and Charity) who welcome him and invite him inside.

They discuss his pilgrimage while dinner is prepared. The virgins are especially curious why his family hasn’t come with him. Christian shares how he warned them, prayed for them and lived in a commendable way, yet they refused. Satisfied with his efforts, they sit down to eat. They enjoy good food, strong wine, and conversation about the Lord of the hill, especially His love for pilgrims. Christian spends the night in a large bedroom called Peace.        

The next day, they take Christian to the study. They show him ancient records pertaining to the Lord of the hill. The records document His genealogy, mighty deeds and willingness to receive any person. They also document the notable deeds of His servants.

The following day, they take Christian to the armory. They show him “a variety of military weapons which their Lord had provided for pilgrims,” including a full suit of armor. He also sees weaponry used by the Lord’s servants. These include the jawbone wielded by Samson against the Philistines and the sling used by David against Goliath.

On his last day there, Christian is taken to the top of the palace. From there he can see the Delectable Mountains, a pleasant range in Immanuel’s Land. The shepherds there will show him the gate of the Celestial City, for it can be seen from their vantage point. Then the virgins take him to the armory and equip him “from head to foot with fully tested weapons.”

The porter shares that he saw another pilgrim (Faithful) pass by. Christian remembers him, for they were neighbors in the City of Destruction.      

Considering the Church

Bunyan includes several rest stops on Christian’s journey. He was already helped at the Wicket Gate, and will later be refreshed at the Delectable Mountains. For now he finds rest and renewal at the Palace Beautiful. These locations symbolize the church. Bunyan is showing how the church strengthens Christians on their pilgrimage.

It’s worth noting that only those with faith may enter the Palace. Watchful tells Christian the lions in the path “are placed there to test your faith at this point in your journey. They also show clearly those who have no faith.” Those whose faith is weak (e.g. Timorous and Mistrust) fail the test and forgo the benefits of the Palace.

Today we debate whether church should be geared toward believers or unbelievers. Should our worship services be “seeker sensitive” and “visitor friendly”? Bunyan answers this question outright. The church is for the benefit of Christians. Jesus established it for “the relief and security of pilgrims,” so it ought to strengthen and guide us on our pilgrimage.   

Christian’s stay at the Palace is pleasant and beneficial. He finds genuine fellowship and spiritual nourishment, and leaves equipped for the next stage of his journey. How different this is from the way many of us experience church! How many pilgrims today pass by the “Palace” because they are wearied by the politics and worldliness therein?

This stage of Christian’s journey is an indictment against the modern church. We ought to be strengthening the saints and guiding them toward the next stop on their pilgrimage. Instead, we exhaust them with meaningless debates and make unbelievers a higher priority.     

The church meant everything to Bunyan. He spent twelve years in prison for preaching and officiating worship without authorization. The Church of England in his day was rigid, formalistic and domineering. His little congregation in Bedford was to him a beautiful palace. If only the church in our day could be a place for “the relief and security of pilgrims”!

How can the church today be a place for “the relief and security of pilgrims”? Leave your thoughts with a comment below!

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