Sad it is when many, stumbling and groping blindly along the Broad Way, never discover Interpreter’s house, no, nothing more than Legality House in Moralitytown, or Eat-Drink-and-Be-Merry Inn at Sodomton. The house of Interpreter was established by the King of the place for the instruction of pilgrims. There they catch sight of such intriguing things as the dunghill raker, the hen and her chicks, the butcher killing a sheep which dies quietly, patiently, without murmurings and complaints; the robin, beautiful, but with an ugly spider in its mouth; a tree rotten inside, yet standing with bright green leaves. Leaving the place, the pilgrims, characteristically of their pilgrim nature, sang of what they had heard and seen there.
The butcher, garden and the field,
The robin and his bait,
Also the rotten tree, doth yield
Me argument of weight:
To move me for to watch and pray,
To strive to be sincere,
To take my cross up day by day,
And serve the Lord with fear.
To do this, and to be mature members of this household, young pilgrims must prepare themselves by study of the Word of God. Let them study the faith of the Reformers. Let them learn to confess the truth of Interpreter. Let them learn to interpret His Word revealed in nature, in man, in Scripture, in providence, in the good fight of faith. Let them resolve this year by God’s grace to read some great book of the faith by some great man of the faith. Then let them do as resolved. Another book they ought by now to be reading, one “inexhaustibly and unfailingly interesting,” is one which seems a novelty, and yet contains Nothing but sound and honest Gospel strains.
In those strains you have heard of the man with the much rake. Who has not seen the man? He can look no way but downward. He bends over with a much rake in his hands to grovel in muck, sewage, dunghills, and the like. It never enters his mind to exchange his muck rake for the crown of life. Scavenging through waste, grime, slime and scum, he is more concerned to turn up a rusty nail than to lay hold on the celestial crown. He is a man of this world. His posture and muck rake reveal his canal mind. Heaven to him is a fable. The world is his only god, good, goal and goad. Could it be that there are people like this man in the house of Interpreter? That even there, or in the company of its members, minds are much-raking? That listening to sermons, they are still much-raking? Or that their conversation (manner of life) is but a form of much-raking? That their life invariably runs in the vein of the poor, miserable chaff, rotten wood, hay and stubble of earthly things? With them it is, that when there is no muck to rake, that is, when the church is good, the minister is good and the sermon is good, these things will not be noticed, but nit picking will set in and much-raking will follow, and continue, for it is deemed a waster to lose a moment at it. Like the Pharisees, boasted epitomes of perfection, they are much-raking adepts. Perhaps, and it is hoped, that at such a sight you pray, “lord deliver me from this much rake!” “That prayer had lain by till it is almost rusty.” There are prayers scarcely used by Christians, which, contradicting their habitual conduct, ought to make us grieve for them and tremble for ourselves.
What do people say as they step out of Interpreter’s house into the street? Good, if they can report, “Here have I seen things rate and profitable; things pleasant, dreadful; things to make me stable.” Sometimes you hear it said, “I don’t believe a word of it!” or people say “able!” or “nothing!” or “excellent!” or “fair” of “great” or “mediocre.” The interpreter should not pay much attention to such remarks, but strive to put forth occasionally things “rare,” often things “pleasant,” sometimes things “dreadful,” but always things “profitable.”
The public rooms of Interpreter’s house revealed to Christian just such things. There were dark rooms, one with an iron cage, confining not a tiger or lion, but a man gripped in despair. Before we heave the scene, we must take a very brief look at the very best room in the house. Mercy and Christiana looked very carefully around that room, but could see nothing. Directed to look again, they saw nothing but an ugly spider on the wall. You never saw a spider in Interpreter’s house? You never say amused at the fact that it dangled on its wispy strand over the head of Old Honest’s wife, came down, close to touching, and rewound upward only to return a foot away hovering over another head? You never dallied with such a nothing to such an extent that interpreter’s words were wasted on you? There was a spider in the house. Was that the only spider in the room? Weren’t there as many spiders as souls? Quick of apprehension you will answer, Not one, but many spiders in the best room of Interpreter’s house, “and spiders with venom more destructive.” Once while the interpreter stood praying in the pulpit a spider crawled along the edge of the holy desk close to folded hands, but prayerful scrutiny revealed another spider present there, which proves that both prayer and preaching must be cleansed from the poison of indwelling sin and the pollutions of the flesh. Every creature is a word of God ready to speak to us. Scripture directs us to hear His Word from ant, swallow and spider, to name a few.
But if thy God thou wilt not hearken to,
What can the swallow, ant, and spider do?
Spider on the pulpit? Then presumptuous prophet, step down, sit humiliatingly in pew, and listen to a better! What saith the preacher?
Hark, then, tho’ man is noble by creation,
He’s lapsed now to such degeneration
As not to grieve, so careless is he grown,
Tho’ he himself has sadly overthrown
And brought to bondage every earthly thing,
E’en from the very spider to the king:
This we poor sensitives do feel and see,
For subject to the curse you made us be;
Tread not upon me, neither from me go;
“Tis man who has brought all the world to woe.
What! Outdone and cut down by a spider? Indeed! Has not man fallen far below every creature, even the most filthy, the ugliest crawling thing, though it be the dregs of nature, the dross and scum of all? Quiet, proud prophet, listen and learn.
The law of my creation bids me teach thee;
I will not, for thy pride to God, impeach thee.
I spin, I weave, and all to let thee see,
Thy best performances but cobwebs be.
Thy glory now is brought to such an ebb,
It doth not much excel the spider’s web.
My lying quiet till the fly is caught
Shows, secretly, hell hath thy ruin brought.
In that I on her seize when she is taken,
I show who gathers whom God hath forsaken.
The fly lies buzzing in my web to tell
How sinners always roar and howl in hell.
As Interpreter put it, “The spider is in king’s palaces” (Prov. 30:28). This is on record to show that no matter how full of the venom of sin you are, you may be faith dwell in “the best room of the King’s house.”
What we may learn, even in connection with the truth of man’s depravity, is that the preaching of the Word should have in it something for the children, something for the intellectual, something for the slow thinker, something to make people smile, at another time to make them blush, at another, to make their eyes water. Even Interpreter’s proverbial sayings were unforgettable. One for example was, “One leak will sink a ship, and one sin will destroy a sinner.” The pilgrims remembered these words all the days of their life. They often repeated them to themselves as they thought of their own sin.
Originally Published in:
Vol. 30 No. 1 March 1970