A Story in the Style of John Bunyan

I set my head to rest not many nights ago

And as I slept I dreamed the wind did blow

From a strange land. I looked about to see

What this odd phenomenon could possibly be

There to my surprise I beheld so many things

That I had only read of heretofore; the thought brings

Peace to me, for I was in the land good Christian

Trod when to the Celestial City he set his mission

Finding myself on a hillside overlooking a city, which appeared to be in a very deplorable condition, and seeing also nearby a slough and a gate, I surmised that this must indeed be that same country in which Christian had lived before going on pilgrimage. I stood for some time wondering what would happen and presently an old man came walking along the road that was nearby.

Hoping that he could be of assistance, I approached him and said, “Pardon me, good sir, but would you mind answering a few questions from a stranger to these parts?”

“Of course not!” he answered. “But first, let us at least acquaint each other with who we are. My name is Mr. Sagacity.”

“Then I think my questions are already answered,” I said. I proceeded to introduce myself and then went on, “Is that not the City of Destruction yonder? And over there the Slough of Despond? And beyond it the same Wicket Gate at which Christian and later his wife and children began their pilgrimage?”

“You are not as much of a stranger as you perhaps thought, my friend. I can see that you have benefited from the tales told of Christian and Christiana and their children by John Bunyan in The Pilgrim’s Progress. You will know also that I am that same Mr. Sagacity who told John Bunyan of the start of Christiana on her pilgrimage.

“But come here and sit with me for a time, if you will, for I am in need of rest and perhaps you would have some questions you would like to have answered concerning this land and the happenings of late.”

“I would indeed like to sit with you for a time, for there is a matter pressing my mind that you could perhaps help to relieve.”

And so we sat down on the grass overlooking the city and I told him of the matter of my concern.

“Good sir,” I began, “there has been a great stir of late concerning the music men use to sing the praises of God and controversy abounds as to what is right and proper. Perhaps you could give some words of advice in this matter that would benefit me and many others a great deal.”

“Ah!” exclaimed Mr. Sagacity. “I know of a man whose pilgrimage is right in line with that matter. Very lately has he begun and is not near being finished yet. But I think the beginnings of his story would be very beneficial to you.” And here is the tale he told.

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There was in the City of Destruction one Rocker, a young man very popular with those in the city and the surrounding towns because of his marvelous ability to play the guitar. He was appreciated mostly by the younger people, many of the older ones having been brought up with music different from that which Rocker played, but all recognized him as being great in his field. He enjoyed great popularity and fame and made a tremendous amount of money, as well as numerous enemies.

A day came however, when Rocker began to notice that in his heart there was a great emptiness, which none of the things he had as possessions nor any of the experiences he had ever had could fill. He began to speak of this with his closest friends and found that they too had felt this emptiness, but had merely assumed that more possessions or better experiences would allow them to overcome it. As Rocker pondered these things in his mind, he doubted that more of anything he had tried before would fill the emptiness inside and he searched far and wide for someone who could help him.

He came one day upon a young man named Evangelist, with whom he spoke at length, and, although he understood little of what Evangelist said, he sensed in him the peace and joy that he so greatly desired. Evangelist, realizing that Rocker’s understanding was dull, pointed the way to the Wicket Gate by which Rocker could begin the pilgrimage that would lead to his heart’s desires at the Celestial City.

So, Rocker picked up his guitar and began his journey to the Wicket Gate. When he came to the Slough of Despond and saw that there was no way around it, he plunged in, so great was his desire to ease the longing in his heart.

But as he was in the midst of the slough there approached a very old man, Mr. Set-in-his-ways. (His proper name was Mr. Traditionalist, but he had picked up the nickname many years before.) He hailed Rocker and said, “Ho there, friend, what is that strange object you carry through the mire with you?”

“Can you not see by the shape that it is a guitar?” answered Rocker. “And I take it with me as I begin a pilgrimage to the Celestial City where I hope to find the desires of my heart, for I am told by an honorable man that there is one in that City who, by his mere glance, can fill all of my emptiness with peace and joy.”

Mr. Set-in-his-ways began to laugh jeeringly and roared, “Do you really think that you are going to take that instrument with you on pilgrimage? Haven’t you heard that the King of the Celestial City doesn’t allow such instruments? How could anything used to make the evil music of today be allowed to be taken on pilgrimage? Why, the gate keeper will probably look out and, seeing what you carry, not even answer when you knock.” And with that he began to walk on his way, scoffing at Rocker and mumbling about the folly of guitars.

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Rocker was perplexed as to what should be done and felt that he could not leave his guitar behind. Evangelist had said nothing of conditions being placed on his entry at the gate, and he felt sure that the King would understand that he had not realized that he was doing anything evil by playing his music.

So Rocker pressed on, hoping the Gate Keeper would answer and intending to ask whether he would have to leave his guitar behind. He did not desire to leave it, but knew that he must if that was the only way to fill the void in his heart.

When he came to the Wicket Gate, Rocker hesitated, not wanting to be disappointed if the Gate Keeper refused to answer. But thinking again of Evangelist and the peace he had felt when talking to him, Rocker took courage and knocked boldly on the door.

Almost immediately the gate was pulled open and Rocker was beckoned to enter. Although he had knocked boldly, he now became timid, for the fear returned that he would perhaps have to leave his guitar behind.

“Welcome, friend,” said the Gate Keeper. “Who are you and what brings you to the Wicket Gate?”

“My name is Rocker and for many days I have felt a great emptiness that I wish to be filled. A man named Evangelist showed the qualities in his life that I desire most and he said that this gate opens the door to the path of the fulfillment of those desires. So, I am come to begin pilgrimage, if I may.”

“Excellent, young man!” exclaimed the Gate Keeper. “But, tell me, why was it that you hesitated at the gate for a time, then knocked boldly, and then became timid when the gate was opened?”

“I was elated when I talked with Evangelist and when we had finished, I made straight for the gate. While I was in the slough just outside, there came a man who asked what I carried. I told him that it was a guitar and he began to mock me and say that the King would be displeased that I came with it and that the music I play is evil in the King’s eyes. He said also that probably no one would even open the gate for me if I brought my guitar. So, I hesitated for fear that you would not answer my knock.”

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“I see. Did he not tell you his name?”

“No. Nor did he ask mine. It seems that his only concern was with disagreeing with what I was doing.”

“Well,” said the Gate Keeper, “it looks as if old Mr. Set-in-his-ways is up to his usual tricks. It would perhaps have been good if you had merely asked yourself, ‘If this man knows so much about the ways of the King, why is he not on pilgrimage himself?’ That would have given you courage right away.”

“The thought did not occur to me. But what did encourage me was the remembrance of the words of Evangelist and the peace I know is in his heart. And so, I knocked boldly upon the door.”

“You did indeed! I have not heard such a bold knock for many a day. But why the hesitation once the door was opened?”

“When you answered, I felt as if my heart would tear in two, for as much as I rejoiced that I would be allowed to enter, there was still the fear that perhaps you would tell me that I must leave my guitar behind in order to begin pilgrimage.”

As Rocker spoke these words the Gate Keeper took on a grim appearance and finally said, “Woe to Mr. Set-in-his-ways for causing you to stumble. He does not realize that the King delights not in sacrifices, but that he desires only a broken and contrite heart. Set-in-his-ways still thinks that a man must prove himself worthy in the eyes of the King before he will be accepted, not seeing that there is no deed that anyone can do to please the King.

“The King will show you in good time what to do with your guitar. He is pleased that you desire to know him and will show you as much of his will as you allow him to.

“But now is the time for you to start your journey. It will soon be night and you had best be at the Interpreter’s House before dark. There you will learn much.”

Rocker thanked the Gate Keeper heartily and began his pilgrimage. He passed by the Devil’s Garden, but was not enticed by the fruit of the trees that hung over the wall, for he had seen that sort of fruit before and knew well that, though pleasing to the eye, it brought one no nearer to being full. And so at length he came to the House of the Interpreter and knocked on the door.

The door was opened soon by a servant, and Rocker was ushered into a room where there sat an old man who looked very wise.

“Welcome, young man,” said the Interpreter. “It is good to see that you have decided to go on pilgrimage. There are few who have attained the fame and fortune that you have and have had the courage to risk it on what seems often to appear a blind hope.”

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“Interpreter, I have seen that there is more to life than fame and fortune and would gladly give them up for that which Evangelist has deep in his heart. But please answer me a question, if you will: Is the music I play evil, and will the King demand that I give up my guitar to continue on pilgrimage?”

“Such questions must indeed be answered, but the hour is late and more than anything you need a meal and some good rest. Tomorrow we will deal with your questions.”

The servant returned and showed Rocker to his room where a meal had been set out. He ate well and then went to bed. He rested far better than he had since he was a child with not a care in the world. When he awoke he found that for some reason he was not worried about the answers he would receive, though he knew that he might not like some of the words that would fall on his ears.

After he and the Interpreter had breakfasted, the Interpreter took Rocker into a room that had two white walls and two black walls and the ceiling and floors divided into squares that alternated the black and white colors. The Interpreter asked Rocker, “Is this room good or evil?”

Rocker pondered the question for a few moments and answered, “Half of it is the color that most would say is good and half the color of evil. I would have to say then that the room itself is neither and could only be considered one or the other by the use to which it is put.”

“You have answered well. And so it is with the music you play. It is an empty, neutral room that can be put to good use or to evil and the music is one or the other when the words that go along with it are the praises of the King or the praises of man.”

“But Interpreter, will not some say that since my music has been used with evil words for so long that the two cannot be separated?”

“Some will indeed,” replied the Interpreter. “But they forget that Jesus met people where they were and did not hesitate to use the things familiar to them to communicate his truth. To farmers, he spoke of seed and soil; to fishermen, of fishing for men; to a thirsty woman, of living water. He aroused their curiosity by using the things meaningful to them and proceeded to draw them to himself. But come, there are other things that will perhaps show you better.”

The Interpreter then led Rocker into a room with a number of pictures on the walls. He led Rocker to one that pictured a man sitting in front of a pub, writing something down.

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“Do you know who this is?” asked the Interpreter.

“No, sir. I’m afraid I don’t.”

“This is the one known as Martin Luther. In order to bring singing to his congregations, he borrowed the melodies of the songs people sang when drinking and wrote words for them that praised the King. Some of these songs are among the most revered by those who are lovers of the ‘old’ hymns.”

Moving across the room, the Interpreter showed Rocker a painting of a man near exhaustion, writing furiously with a Bible open nearby.

“Ah!” proclaimed Rocker. “This man I believe I recognize. Is this not Handel?”

“It is. He is shown here finishing his great masterpiece, Messiah. It was an oratorio, and few today realize that the same form was used to entertain the wealthy with themes such as lust, murder, and hatred.”

“Do you mean then that these Christian men held in such high honor used the music that was most popular and often used for evil purposes to proclaim the praises of the King?” asked Rocker.

“You have spoken very truly. And these are not the only ones. There are others such as Isaac Watts and William Booth. Perhaps a lesson the Apostle Peter learned will apply here. He was shown a vision of animals and told to kill and eat that which was considered unclean according to the Jewish law. He refused, but was told that what the King had declared clean, he was not to call unclean.

“This referred to the gentiles Peter was about to meet and he realized that the Lord was not partial to any group of men, but loved all men. The Jews were the ‘chosen people’ only by the King’s good pleasure, not by any merit of their own. Not seeing this they fell under the impression that they were better than other men for something they had done.

“Likewise, today many people are under the impression that there is a ‘chosen music.’ But Scripture merely tells us to teach and admonish each other with songs and hymns and spiritual songs. It speaks not of the musical style, but of the content.

“Now come, there is one last thing to show you before you go on your way.”

The Interpreter led Rocker into another room filled with pictures. Here there was a common figure in each. In one he spoke to a crowd; in another he helped in the making of a tent; in yet another he reached out a hand to a sick man.

“This,” said the Interpreter, “is the Apostle Paul and all of the pictures here contain him, for he said, ‘I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.’

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“So, Rocker, to those who love rock music, a rocker can speak best. Your music is not evil unless you let it be so. Do not let your heart be troubled any further concerning that. As for your question of whether the King will ask you to give up your music, you will soon be shown.

“You have come on pilgrimage because you want to fill the emptiness inside and be made whole. That in itself is a selfish motive and the success of your quest will only occur when you see that self matters not at all and your will is given back to the one who knows what is best for you.

“Now go. See what the King has in store for you.”

Rocker left the House of the Interpreter contemplating all that had been spoken and shown to him. He thought hard about what the Interpreter’s last statement had meant and hoped that he would soon find out.

Very soon he came to the place where he could see the figure of one hanging on a cross; and at last he understood. Here was someone who wanted him to have peace and joy in his heart more than Rocker did himself. Here was Love.

Rocker did the only thing he could. He took his guitar and placed it at the feet of the one hanging on the tree, not caring if he ever picked it up again or not, for he owed all to Christ and he gave all he had to him.

After a short time there came a voice from the sky, saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Now take back your instrument and sing my praises with the music that flows best from your heart, for I gave it to you and you have done rightly by returning it to me.”

And Rocker took up his guitar and began to sing:

Beneath the cross of Jesus I now see the depth of Love

For here one truly worthy and as harmless as a dove

Did take on him the guilt and shame that I alone should bear

His body torn and bloody is of things on earth most fair

All the things my heart desires now seem to fade away

Except the burning urge to give to Him my will’s whole sway

And now my hands again will play, my voice again will sing

But only of the cross of Christ, the Love of my sweet King

And here Mr. Sagacity ended his tale, for that was all he knew of Rocker’s pilgrimage. But that was indeed all I needed to hear. Let him who has ears to hear do so.

Pat A. Hargis is a student at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, Lombard, Illinois.

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