Over the last several posts, I have tried to analyze some of the characters of Pilgrim’s Progress that was written by John Bunyan in 1678. We have visited with Ignorance, Evangelist, Mr. Worldly Wiseman, Valiant for Truth, and Mr. Fearing. These travelers will be ones that we meet along the way in our trek toward the Celestial City. Bunyan’s observations of people in the 17th century still hold true for much of what we see in our times as well. You can see for yourself that these people along the way very much fit into the category of Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s poem about being a lifter or a leaner. A lifter is someone who makes deposits of encouragement and hope into your life. A leaner is one who great withdrawals and they will do so until you are literally sapped of emotional and spiritual strength. Great Heart falls into the category of a man who was not just a lifter, he was a very heavy lifter. He fills the role of a pastor whose calling and job it is to guide pilgrims to the shore of the river crossing that will lead to the Celestial City.
He is a man who represents to us the hard work and necessary discipline that is required to do this great job. There are some other pastors that Bunyan writes into the story as well. Obviously, Evangelist fits the role of a pastor and he appears all throughout the life of Christian but there are specifically four others besides Evangelist and Great Heart. Their names are Knowledge, Experience, Watchful, and Desire. These four keep their watch from the mountain tops in the steep ranges where sheep are cared for in the pastures. They care for the flocks and help the pilgrims primarily in two ways. They use the alternating tools of hope and fear as they lead their charges. They speak of hope when they mention the end of the destination that will have great glory. They sometimes resort to using fear by warning of some well laid temptation will lead them to turning back to the cities and towns they came from. Pastoral ministry in our day has never been more critically needed because of the great spiritual and moral drift and dire need for revival. There are Great Hearts scattered all over God’s Kingdom who are literally carrying entire churches on their shoulders. It is only in their absence that one really senses how important they are to us.
Great Heart first appears in Pilgrim’s Progress when he is looking out the window of the House of Interpreter. He is observing a man, Mr. Fearing, in great hesitation and blundering about with a decision of whether to come into the House of Interpreter. Great Heart secures permission from Interpreter and then goes out and works with Mr. Fearing to convince him to come into the warmth of the house. Later as Mr. Fearing leaves the House of Interpreter that Great Heart is given the assignment to escort Mr. Fearing to the end of the journey. Once he accomplishes this, he turns back around and returns to the House of Interpreter and repeats the process all over again. This the real work of a pastor who is in the trenches daily. There isn’t a lot of glamour and the work can be mind-bending, hard, challenging, and back breaking and at times downright disheartening. A pastor’s work is never done and while he works he experiences some of the most incredible highs and some of the deepest lows in his spirit. But if a pastor will submit to that role, the work shapes his soul, his mind, and his goals which in the end has a unique way of adding a great manner of holiness to him.
Great Heart is Interpreter’s armed servant that is fully equipped with the spiritual armor (Eph. 6:10-18) and he knows how to use every piece of it. He moves the pilgrims on and on and again and again. It can be routine, mundane, and monotonous. Great Heart longs for great revival and spiritual breakthrough along the way. Sometimes he experiences it and others he doesn’t. With every successful convoy, he turns and makes his way back to the House of Interpreter, he takes his place at the window, he is constantly scanning the landscape for more pilgrims to lead on to the Celestial City. When he comes to the river crossing, just as he has done before he will once again turn his back to the Celestial City. At times, there is a deep longing within him to move on over as well. His return requires that he walk through the land of Beulah, through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and on through the Valley of Humiliation battling with same predators and haunts that all travelers have to bypass as well. He does that because of a calling, because there is another convoy of saints to move forward, and because he has been called by God. He does this year after year and what makes his soul so noble is that Bunyan never lets a peep of a complaint out of him. Honestly, I would have to confess that this convicts me greatly because sometimes the joy of ministry seeps out of my own soul despite my best efforts to keep my heart true to my calling. Complaints come to my mind and soon rush to my mouth. Discontentment stirs in the soul and my feet feel like lead, weary after so many miles. However, you cannot stop because here is a sheep wandering, there is another one that is sick, here are a few more that have fallen into a ravine, and there are some who die along the way despite your best efforts to refresh and revive them. The weight and the responsibility is incredible but there is a deep-seated sense of duty that a true minister cannot shake off. I don’t think that I am alone in feeling some of those challenges that comes with the territory that all Great Hearts must walk. So, he moves forward, not on his own strength but by the inertia of the Spirit that has been part of his conversion. In reality the dependence on the Spirit is the only way he can make it. Every time he salutes a pilgrim before he crosses the river, Paul’s words are present with him. “What I will choose, I am not sure because I am in a dilemma. I would love to go on across but I know that it is needful for me to be here as well. To cross over is to gain the reward but to stay here and continue to work is the presence of the Lord in my life. But that is enough because He is the portion that we all must let sustain us” (Php. 1:23-26; Ps. 73:26).
Great Heart lives in the paradox that comes with the ministry. He flows back and forth between blessed rest and hard work. He moves into worlds that tremble with the harshness of war and then again, a world that has utter peace. He knows what it is like to long for the Lord on the earth compared to knowing that one day he will meet that Christ face-to-face in Heaven. With that strange contradiction of the ministry in two worlds that he finds himself in, he becomes emotionally and spiritually involved with people that he will love deeply. Mr. Fearful was one of those and Mr. Standfast was another whom Great Heart helped. Mr. Standfast is ushered across the river but prior to that, he almost pleads with Great Heart to make sure that his wife and children are borne safely across as well. Great Heart salutes him and then turns around and heads back for another passage. These are the kinds of people that you meet along the way.
If you are one of the Great Heart’s that is doing this kind of work, I salute you! I would encourage you as well not to get weary in well-doing (Gal. 6:9). Your fervent prayers, your calm stability, your love of the Word and the Truth, your passionate preaching, and yet seemingly routine almost boring devotion is worth far more than you can know right now. Bunyan makes a crucial point in one of his observations about Great Heart; every drop of sweat and tear that falls to the ground doesn’t go unnoticed by the King who rules the Celestial City. There will come a time and place that the sweat, blood, and tears will be rewarded in ways that I cannot even began to describe for you. The reason for that is because I don’t know all the details of the rewards only a portion. I just know that Scripture gives us just a hint of what it will be like when we finally hit the finish line and cross over. Awaiting us is a great crowd of exulting witnesses, a beautiful crown that is fitted with precious stones, an unfathomable joy that will swallow every bit of the discouragement and depression we ever fought with, and an immeasurable feeling of accomplishment over a task, a work, a job that has been well done. Stay with it my dear Great Heart, it’s going to be worth it! It is another prayer, another message, another hospital visit, another phone call, another work day, another letter of encouragement, another deep and unhurried dive into the Word, and another faltering step because all of this is called faithfulness! Do your job, Great Heart, there is coming a day when you will experience greater joy than you have ever known!
If you are one of the pilgrim’s following a Great Heart, I would like to remind you of a scene in Pilgrim’s Progress where just a small part of his value was seen by Christiana and her children. At a point while he is keeping watch, a prowling lion is roaming around in the Valley of the Shadow of Death and he catches sight of the travelers. The lion comes with the intention of mayhem, destruction, and devouring Christiana and her brood. But Great Heart pulls his sword (the same one used to kill Giant Despair) and defends them against its attack and the lion slowly backs away and disappears into the growth. For those who are being escorted along by a Great Heart, I would encourage you to honor and respect him, his job is not easy. There are times when it seems as if he is stirred much about things that you may think are insignificant and merits little attention. But Great Heart has a way of seeing the spiritual dangers and hardships that may escape your mind at the time. He has been down the road, has spent time with other travelers, has observed their ways and can help you get to the Celestial City if you will follow his leading, his advice, and his devotion. Value the ministry and life of Great Heart because it is by his calling that you will be helped immensely in the journey.
Thanks for reading. . .
To be continued. . .