Some time between 1660 and 1675 when John Bunyan was twice imprisoned for holding religious services out of the auspice of the established church, he began work on Pilgrim's Progress his allegory of Christian's progress from 'this world to that which is to come'. He describes a stop on Christian's journey at the House of the Interpreter who was to instruct him on the right way to live the Christian life. In 1822, William Blake made an illustration for one of the lessons taught in the House of the Interpreter. Pilgrim was led into a parlor filled with dust; a man was called to sweep but he only stirred up the dust. A damsel was called to sprinkle the room with water with the result that the room was easily swept clean.
The Interpreter explained to Pilgrim: "This parlor is the heart of a man that was never sanctified by the sweet grace of the gospel: the dust is his original sin, and inward corruptions that have defiled the whole man. He that began to sweep at first, is the Law; but she that brought water, and did sprinkle it, is the Gospel. Now, whereas thou sawest that so soon as the first began to sweep, the dust did so fly about that the room by him could not be cleansed, but that thou wast almost choked therewith; this is to show thee, that the Law, instead of cleansing the heart (by its working) from sin, doth revive, put strength into, and increase it in the soul, even as it doth discover and forbid it, but doth not give power to subdue."
Blake's understanding of the roles of the law and the gospel is set forth in these passages in Jerusalem. In this first section Blake is saying that the forgiveness of God does not require 'Moral Virtue' but that we mutually sacrifice for, and continually forgive one another.
Jerusalem, Plate 61, (E 212)
"Saying, Doth Jehovah Forgive a Debt only on condition that it shall
Be Payed? Doth he Forgive Pollution only on conditions of Purity
That Debt is not Forgiven! That Pollution is not Forgiven
Such is the Forgiveness of the Gods, the Moral Virtues of the
Heathen, whose tender Mercies are Cruelty. But Jehovahs Salvation
Is without Money & without Price, in the Continual Forgiveness of Sins
In the Perpetual Mutual Sacrifice in Great Eternity! for behold!
There is none that liveth & Sinneth not! And this is the Covenant
Of Jehovah: If you Forgive one-another, so shall Jehovah Forgive You:
That He Himself may Dwell among You."
Here Blake tells us that 'accusation of sin & judgment' is the root of our quarrels and violence leading to Eternal Death.
Jerusalem, Plate 64, (E215)
"All Quarrels arise from Reasoning. the secret Murder, and
The violent Man-slaughter. these are the Spectres double Cave
The Sexual Death living on accusation of Sin & judgment
To freeze Love & Innocence into the gold & silver of the Merchant
Without Forgiveness of Sin Love is Itself Eternal Death"
Now Blake contrasts the message of Jesus: self-denial, forgiveness of sin, casting out devils, healing, pity, and setting prisoners free with that of the Pharisees (the chief proponents of the law): smiting with terror and punishment, crucifying, and proselyting to tyranny and wrath.
Jerusalem, Plate 77, (E 232)
"But Jesus is the bright Preacher of Life
Creating Nature from this fiery Law,
By self-denial & forgiveness of Sin.
Go therefore, cast out devils in Christs name
Heal thou the sick of spiritual disease
Pity the evil, for thou art not sent
To smite with terror & with punishments
Those that are sick, like the Pharisees
Crucifying &,encompassing sea & land
For proselytes to tyranny & wrath,
But to the Publicans & Harlots go!
Teach them True Happiness, but let no curse
Go forth out of thy mouth to blight their peace
For Hell is opend to heaven; thine eyes beheld
The dungeons burst & the Prisoners set free."
Blake and Bunyan were both teaching the message of Paul in the second chapter of Galatians: "a man is justified not by performing what the Law commands but by faith in Jesus Christ. We ourselves are justified by our faith and not by our obedience to the Law, for we have recognised that no one can achieve justification by doing the 'works of the Law'. Bunyan continues; "when the gospel comes in the sweet and precious influences thereof to the heart...so is sin vanquished and subdued, and the soul made clean."
The little circle of younger artists who gathered around Blake in his later years referred to his humble home as the House of the Interpreter.