Met by Atheist

Now, after a while, they perceived, afar off, one coming softly and alone, all along the highway to meet them. Then said Christian to his fellow, Yonder is a man with his back towards Zion, and he is coming to meet us.

Hopeful: I see him; let us take heed to ourselves now, lest he should prove a flatterer also. So he drew nearer and nearer, and at last came up unto them. His name was Atheist, and he asked them whither they were going.

Christian: We are going to Mount Zion.

Then Atheist fell into a very great laughter.

Christian: What is the meaning of your laughter?

Atheist: I laugh to see what ignorant persons you are, to take upon you so tedious a journey, and you are like to have nothing but your travel for your pains.

Christian: Why, man, do you think we shall not be received?

Atheist: Received! There is no such place as you dream of in all this world.

Christian: But there is in the world to come.

Atheist: When I was at home in mine own country, I heard as you now affirm, and from that hearing went out to see, and have been seeking this city this twenty years; but find no more of it than I did the first day I set out.

Christian: We have both heard and believe that there is such a place to be found.

Atheist: Had not I, when at home, believed, I had not come thus far to seek; but finding none, (and yet I should, had there been such a place to be found, for I have gone to seek it further than you), I am going back again, and will seek to refresh myself with the things that I then cast away, for hopes of that which, I now see, is not.

Christian: Then said Christian to Hopeful his fellow, Is it true what this man has said?

Hopeful: Take heed, he is one of the flatterers; remember what it hath cost us once already for our hearkening to such kind of fellows. What! No Mount Zion? Did we not see, from the Delectable Mountains the gate of the city? Also, are we not now to walk by faith? Let us go on, said Hopeful, lest the man with the whip overtake us again. You should have taught me that lesson, which I will round you in the ears withal: “Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge.” I say, my brother, cease to hear him, and let us “believe to the saving of the soul.”

Christian: My brother, I did not put the question to you for that I doubted of the truth of our belief myself, but to prove you, and to fetch from you a fruit of the honesty of your heart. As for this man, I know that he is blinded by the god of this world. Let you and I go on, knowing that we have belief of the truth, “and no lie is of the truth.”

Hopeful: Now do I rejoice in hope of the glory of God. So they turned away from the man; and he, laughing at them, went his way.

 Atheist

Once again Christian and Hopeful are traveling toward the Celestial City. They have been freed from the net of the Flatterer and brought back to the Way. Now they see afar off one coming toward them—one “with his back toward Zion.” Though the traveler does not appear threatening—he is walking “softly and alone”—Hopeful is suspicious.

The traveler’s name is Atheist. He is one who refuses to believe in God and rejects the truth of the Bible. He is walking in the opposite direction, away from Zion and the Celestial City and toward Vanity and Destruction. He no longer seeks eternal life. He no longer fears eternal judgment. In fact, he no longer believes in the reality of heaven and hell. When Christian tells him that they are going to Mount Zion, he responds with “very great laughter.” He considers Christian and Hopeful to be ignorant, beneath his superior knowledge of the world. Christian, still feeling the shame of his error in following the Flatterer, at first interprets Atheist’s laughter to mean: How could someone as sinful as you be received at Mount Zion! But Atheist taunts: “There is no such place as you dream of in all this world.”

This claim is not the confession of an agnostic who doubts that God is knowable, nor the testimony of a skeptic who doubts that the claims of the Bible can be true. These are the words of an Atheist who adamantly denies the existence of God and has contrived ways of understanding the world without thinking of God.

The claims of Atheist are foolish and unfounded.

The fool has said in his heart,
“There is no God.”
(Psalm 53:1)

He has come to the false conclusion that since he cannot understand the existence of God in light of what he sees in the world around him, God must not exist. It is the height of arrogance for a frail and finite creature such as man to conclude after only 20 years of seeking, “there is no such place as you dream of in all this world.” Eternal reward will always remain hidden to those who persist in such short-sighted folly.

The labor of fools wearies them,
For they do not even know how to go to the city!
(Ecclesiastes 10:15)

but he shall die in the place where they have led him captive, and shall see this land no more (Jeremiah 22:12).

Atheist claims that he was once an earnest pilgrim. His life, however, demonstrates that he is not a true disciple. He left his country out of curiosity and intrigue, not to find relief from a burden of sin or to escape the wrath to come. He sought for evidence of God’s existence and for the hope of eternal life, but finding none, he is now resolved to give up and go back to his country. A true disciple perseveres and does not dare go back. Christian declared when he was urged to turn back near the top of Hill Difficulty:

If I go back to mine own country, that is prepared for fire and brimstone, and I shall certainly perish there. If I can get to the Celestial City, I am sure to be in safety there. I must venture. To go back is nothing but death; to go forward is fear of death, and life-everlasting beyond it. I will yet go forward.

Atheist has become a scoffer. He has renounced the gospel. He regards the journey as tedious and pointless. Though he at one time professed the gospel, his heart was never softened by the gospel. He was never saved by the gospel and now he is gospel-hardened. Thomas Scott explains:

Some false professors gradually renounce “the truth” as it is in Jesus; but others openly set themselves against all kinds of religion, and turn scoffers and infidels. Indeed none are more likely to become avowed atheists, than such as have for many years hypocritically professed the gospel: for they often acquire an acquaintance with the several parts of religion, their connexion with each other, and the arguments with which they are supported; so that they know not where to begin, if they would oppose any particular doctrine or precept of revelation. Yet they hate the whole system; and, having never experienced those effects from the truth which the scripture ascribes to it, they feel, that if there be any reality in religion, their own case is very dreadful, and wish to shake off this mortifying and alarming conviction.

(Thomas Scott Notes on Pilgrim’s Progress)

When Atheist insists that he is turning back because his search for the Celestial City has proved to be fruitless, Christian asks Hopeful: “Is it true what this man has said?” Hopeful does not hesitate to answer. His reply highlights three lessons that we need to remember if we are to persevere in the journey.

1) Take heed and don’t be deceived. Hopeful is now more alert, having just been freed from the Flatterer’s net. He knows the hazard of following false counsel. He wants to avoid the snare of sin and the whip of God’s discipline. God’s discipline in our lives not only rescues us in the moment from turning back to Destruction, it becomes a deterrent that restrains us from straying into sin in the future. It keeps us out of danger and in the path of blessing. We must learn to watch and continually guard our hearts.

Keep your heart with all diligence,
For out of it spring the issues of life.
Put away from you a deceitful mouth,
And put perverse lips far from you.
Let your eyes look straight ahead,
And your eyelids look right before you.
Ponder the path of your feet,
And let all your ways be established.
Do not turn to the right or the left;
Remove your foot from evil.
(Proverbs 4:23–27)

2) Walk by faith and not by sight. We are not to listen to what we know is not right. We must remember the truth that we have learned—lessons and glimpses of glory from the Delectable Mountains. We must notleave off faith and begin walking by sight.

For we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

We do not seek our reward here in this life. In this life we are but pilgrims passing through. Jesus said: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). “For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come” (Hebrews 13:14). We must not believe the lie that this world is all there is.

3) Believe God’s Word and hope in His promises. We never get beyond needing the Word of God. Christian and Hopeful strayed from the Way, following after the Flatterer, because they neglected God’s Word. Though they carried with them instructions from the Shepherds, they failed to read and follow them. Now, faced with another temptation to abandon their journey, Hopeful says to Christian: “You should have taught me that lesson, which I will round you in the ears” [tell you sincerely]. He points Christian to God’s Word and quotes a warning from the book of Proverbs:

Cease, my son, to hear the instruction
that causeth to err from the words of knowledge.
(Proverbs 19:27, KJV)

Cease listening to instruction, my son,
And you will stray from the words of knowledge.
(Proverbs 19:27, NKJV)

And he quotes an affirmation:

But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul (Hebrews 10:39).

We must persevere in the light of God’s Word. We must believe “to the saving of the soul.” Christian assures Hopeful that he asked the question, not because he believed Atheist or doubted the truth, but because he desired to draw out a sincere testimony from Hopeful. Atheist is blind to the truth of the Gospel.

But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them (2 Corinthians 4:3–4).

But Christian and Hopeful are resolved to press on, believing what they know to be true and rejecting what they know to be a lie. God has given His Word that we might know truth from error.

I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and that no lie is of the truth. (1 John 2:21).

They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error (1 John 4:5–6).

Atheist faces a grave ending. He is turning back to refresh himself with things of this world that he had previously cast away. He scorns those who would forsake all the world has to offer in order to find eternal life, but he will end up empty, “having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).

Christian and Hopeful are still intent on reaching the Celestial City. They are not dissuaded by Atheist’s laughter and scorn. Because they take heed, walk by faith, and believe God’s Word, they continue on in their journey, seeking life eternal and “rejoicing in hope of the glory of God.”

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God (Romans 5:1–2).

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2018 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Teach Me O Lord Thy Way of Truth

Open God's Word

If we are to know truth, we must abide in God’s Word. If we are to follow Christ, who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), we must know and obey God’s Word. Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31–32).

But truth is not something we can comprehend on our own. One thing we must always do when we open God’s Word, is pray that His Spirit would illumine our understanding and help us rightly apply truth. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 2:14 that without the Spirit, we cannot understand the Word. To those who are dead in sin and have no spiritual life, the truth of God’s Word, in fact, appears to be foolishness. Any time we read the Bible, or hear it taught and preached, we should pray that God would teach us, give us understanding, and help us walk in truth.

This is how God instructs us to pray in His Word. The book of Psalms serves as the Bible’s inspired songbook, providing us divinely prescribed instruction on how we must sing and pray and worship the Lord. In Psalm 119:33–40 the psalmist prays:

Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes,
And I shall keep it to the end.
Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law;
Indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart.
Make me walk in the path of Your commandments,
For I delight in it.
Incline my heart to Your testimonies,
And not to covetousness.
Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things,
And revive me in Your way.
Establish Your word to Your servant,
Who is devoted to fearing You.
Turn away my reproach which I dread,
For Your judgments are good.
Behold, I long for Your precepts;
Revive me in Your righteousness.
(Psalm 119:33–40, NKJV)

The following setting of this portion of Psalm 119 is from The Psalter, 1912. Take time to read (and sing) the words. And make this your prayer as you look to God’s Word and seek to walk in its light.

Teach Me O Lord Thy Way of Truth

“Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes,
And I shall keep it to the end” (Psalm 119:33).

  1. Teach me O Lord Thy way of truth,
    And from it I will not depart;
    That I may steadfastly obey,
    Give me an understanding heart.
  2. In Thy commandments make me walk,
    For in Thy law my joy shall be;
    Give me a heart that loves Thy will,
    From discontent and envy free.
  3. Turn Thou mine eyes from vanity,
    And cause me in Thy ways to tread;
    O let Thy servant prove Thy Word,
    And thus to godly fear be led.
  4. Turn Thou away reproach and fear;
    Thy righteous judgments I confess;
    To know Thy precepts I desire;
    Revive me in Thy righteousness.

“Teach Me O Lord Thy Way of Truth”
Words from Psalm 119:33–40, The Psalter, 1912
Tune: CROSLAND (L.M.)
Music by Tom Wells, 2001
Words ©Public Domain
Music ©2001 Tom Wells (Used by Permission)

Tom Wells (Heritage Baptist Church in Mansfield, Texas) composed an excellent tune for this setting of Psalm 119:33–40. Download free sheet music (PDF), including a guitar chord chart, an arrangement of the hymn tune CROSLAND for classical guitar.

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Beware the Flatterer

So they went on and Ignorance followed. They went then till they came at a place where they saw a way put itself into their way, and seemed withal to lie as straight as the way which they should go: and here they knew not which of the two to take, for both seemed straight before them; therefore, here they stood still to consider. And as they were thinking about the way, behold a man, black of flesh, but covered with a very light robe, came to them, and asked them why they stood there. They answered they were going to the Celestial City, but knew not which of these ways to take. Follow me, said the man, it is thither that I am going. So they followed him in the way that but now came into the road, which by degrees turned, and turned them so from the city that they desired to go to, that, in little time, their faces were turned away from it; yet they followed him. But by and by, before they were aware, he led them both within the compass of a net, in which they were both so entangled that they knew not what to do; and with that the white robe fell off the black man’s back. Then they saw where they were. Wherefore, there they lay crying some time, for they could not get themselves out.

Christian: Then said Christian to his fellow, Now do I see myself in error. Did not the Shepherds bid us beware of the flatterers? As is the saying of the wise man, so we have found it this day. A man that flatters his neighbor, spreads a net for his feet.

Hopeful: They also gave us a note of directions about the way, for our more sure finding thereof; but therein we have also forgotten to read, and have not kept ourselves from the paths of the destroyer. Here David was wiser than we; for, said he, “Concerning the works of men, by the word of thy lips, I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer.” Thus they lay bewailing themselves in the net. At last they espied a Shining One coming towards them with a whip of small cord in his hand. When he was come to the place where they were, he asked them whence they came, and what they did there. They told him that they were poor pilgrims going to Zion, but were led out of their way by a black man, clothed in white, who bid us, said they, follow him, for he was going thither too. Then said he with the whip, It is Flatterer, a false apostle, that has transformed himself into an angel of light. So he rent the net, and let the men out. Then said he to them, Follow me, that I may set you in your way again. So he led them back to the way which they had left to follow the Flatterer. Then he asked them, saying, Where did you lie the last night? They said, With the Shepherds upon the Delectable Mountains. He asked them then if they had not of those Shepherds a note of direction for the way. They answered, Yes. But did you, said he, when you were at a stand, pluck out and read your note? They answered, No. He asked them, Why? They said, they forgot. He asked, moreover, if the Shepherds did not bid them beware of the Flatterer? They answered, Yes, but we did not imagine, said they, that this fine-spoken man had been he.

Then I saw in my dream that he commanded them to lie down; which, when they did, he chastised them sore, to teach them the good way wherein they should walk; and as he chastised them he said, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten; be zealous, therefore, and repent.” This done, he bid them go on their way, and take good heed to the other directions of the shepherds. So they thanked him for all his kindness, and went softly along the right way, singing—

Come hither, you that walk along the way;
See how the pilgrims fare that go astray.
They catched are in an entangling net,
‘Cause they good counsel lightly did forget:
‘Tis true they rescued were, but yet you see,
They’re scourged to boot. Let this your caution be.

 The Flatterer's Net

It is to our great shame that sins which have caused us to stumble in the past are too often the same sins that trip us up in the present. Even when we receive the benefit of sound teaching and firm warning, we are slow to learn. Even with an abundance of knowledge and experience, we can too easily fall into the same errors and troubles that have previously slowed and hindered our journey. Christian discovered this to be true in his ongoing battle with spiritual pride.

We see the first evidences of pride in Christian’s life when he “caught a slip or two” going down into the Valley of Humiliation. In the Valley he faced Apollyon who accused him of being prideful. Apollyon said of Christian: “And when you talk of your journey, and of what you have heard and seen, you are inwardly desirous of vain-glory in all that you say or do.”Later at the Little Ascent Christian “vain-gloriously” smiled when he outpaced Faithful. His pride and over-confidence in himself as he ran past Faithful caused him to stumble and fall. He was not able to get up until Faithful came to help him. Still later, when the Way grew difficult, Christian encouraged Hopeful to follow him over the stile into By-Path Meadow. In pride, Christian turned aside, believing he could find an easier path. The path through the meadow appeared to be more pleasant and it seemed to lie parallel with the true path. But By-Path Meadow enticed the pilgrims away from the Way of true righteousness (found in Christ alone) and into the snares and pitfalls of self-righteousness and good intentions. The pilgrims were led further astray by Vain-Confidence, captured by Giant Despair, and imprisoned for a time in Doubting Castle.

Now the pilgrims again face the dilemma of two paths that seem to go the same direction. They are uncertain how to proceed until another traveler, finely dressed in a very light robe, tells them that he also is going to the Celestial City and encourages them to follow him.

Christian and Hopeful should have realized the risk in following the stranger. Though they have made much progress, the dangers along the Way have not diminished. They should have learned from experience, remembering the tragic result of following Vain Confidence. They should have listened more carefully to the Shepherds, following their “note of direction for the way” and heeding their warning: “beware the Flatterer.” But once again they are enticed to go astray. And now they face an even more subtle danger. The Flatterer is disguised. He seems to the pilgrims to be a “fine-spoken man.” But in truth, he is one who brings corruption and ruin with his words:

Those who do wickedly against the covenant he shall corrupt with flattery; but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits (Daniel 11:32).

A lying tongue hates those who are crushed by it,
And a flattering mouth works ruin.
(Proverbs 26:28)

He deceives the hearts of the simple.

Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple (Romans 16:17–18).

He is “a false apostle, that has transformed himself into an angel of light.”

For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works (2 Corinthians 11:13–15).

Flattery is deceitful and insincere. It is darkness masquerading as light. It is a lie parading itself as truth. It coaxes us to think well of ourselves. It assures us that our sins are not as bad as they really are. It convinces us that our efforts are more noble than they really are. It gives us credit when no credit is due. Flattery can come from others who embellish the truth to gain our favor. Or worse, it can come from ourselves in the form of self-deception as we regard sin lightly and imagine ourselves to be better and wiser than we are. Flattery will lead us astray.

Though the way seems “to lie as straight as the way which they should go,” it begins to take subtle turns. Soon the pilgrims are going in the opposite direction, toward Destruction rather than the Celestial City. The change of direction happens slowly. Little by little they cease resting in Christ for their righteousness. And more and more they trust in themselves. Their own progress in the journey becomes a temptation to puff up their pride.

This is a real danger, especially for seasoned pilgrims who have achieved a measure of spiritual maturity. This is not rushing ahead with Vain Confidence, believing they can set a path to their own liking. This is being charmed and flattered for victory over past sins and trials. It is looking back at real progress in the journey and, instead of giving praise and thanks to God, declaring, “Look at me! See how far I’ve come!” Cheever warns:

A man eager after spiritual attainments does certainly seem to be in the high road to heaven; but if he makes those attainments, instead of Christ, his savior, then certainly his face is turned, and his feet are tending the other way. So we need to be upon our watch against anything and everything, though it should come to us in the shape of an angel of light, which would turn us from a sole reliance upon Christ, or tempt us to a high opinion of ourselves. A broken heart and a contrite spirit are, in the sight of God, of great price; but if any man thinks himself to have attained perfection, he is not very likely to be in the exercise of a broken heart or of a contrite spirit, nor indeed in the exercise of true faith in Christ for justification.

(from Lectures on The Pilgrim’s Progress by G.B. Cheever)

Eventually the Flatterer leads the pilgrims into a trap where they become ensnared in a net.

A man who flatters his neighbor
Spreads a net for his feet.
(Proverbs 29:5)

Sinful pride and self-righteousness will always be a snare that will cause us to stumble and fall.

How could Christian and Hopeful be fooled into following the Flatterer? Why did they not see through the disguise? They were vulnerable to deception because they failed to stay in God’s Word. They forgot to read the instructions given them by the Shepherds. Had they heeded Scripture, they could have sung with David:

Concerning the works of men,
By the word of Your lips,
I have kept away from the paths of the destroyer.
Uphold my steps in Your paths,
That my footsteps may not slip.
(Psalm 17:4–5)

Thankfully the pilgrims are not left ensnared in the net. They lament and repent of their sin of neglecting God’s Word and going astray. They see a Shining One coming “with a whip of small cord in his hand.” Earlier in the allegory, when the Shining Ones appeared to Christian at the cross, they represented the work of God in the heart of a sinner who is saved by grace. Here that work continues as a Shining One rends the net and free them. Cheever notes that the use of the whip represents: “the discipline of the good Spirit of the Lord with his children, when they in any manner go astray, and also the loving-kindness of the Lord, even in the chastisement of his people.”

God’s discipline is hard. The Shining One made them lie down and “chastised them sore” (Deuteronomy 25:2). But God’s discipline is a kindness and blessing that He brings to preserve us and prevent us from being destroyed by sin. It restores us to the good path and teaches us “the good way” in which we should walk (2 Chronicles 6:27). Discipline is a display of God’s love and a call for us to repent:

As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent (Revelation 3:19).

When the Shining One leads the two pilgrims back to the Way and chastises them, they are grateful. They “thanked him for all his kindness” and rejoiced with singing. Cheever concludes:

So were these two erring disciples, who had now insensibly been beguiled away from Christ and his righteousness, into flattering, delusive opinions of their own attainments, whipped back by the Shining One into the path of humility, faith, truth, and duty. So great is “the love of the Spirit,” so sweet and long-suffering the patience and the mercy of the Lord!

(from Lectures on The Pilgrim’s Progress by G.B. Cheever)

May God guard and watch over our steps that we might not go astray. And may He keep us from the net of the Flatterer and in the path of humility, resting in Christ alone as our one and only Savior.

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2018 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

It Is Enough

Church and Sunset

“For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).

I cannot be poor if I am in Christ,
In Him I am full and abound.
Though everything else should all pass away,
I’m rich if in Him I am found.

It is enough that I am in Christ,
Enough that His mercy I see.
It is enough that I taste of His grace,
Enough that His love has found me.

Pursue not this world, its wisdom and ways;
Contentment eludes those who try.
For all in this world is fading away,
And soon will all wither and die.

It is enough that I am in Christ,
Enough that His mercy I see.
It is enough that I taste of His grace,
Enough that His love has found me.

What profits a man if he gains the world,
Yet loses his soul in the end?
And what will the joys of this life be worth,
If you face the judgment condemned?

It is enough that I am in Christ,
Enough that His mercy I see.
It is enough that I taste of His grace,
Enough that His love has found me.

If I am in Christ, I have all I need,
Adopted and loved as a son.
It will be enough that I see my Lord,
And hear Him say to me: “Well done.”

It is enough that I am in Christ,
Enough that His mercy I see.
It is enough that I taste of His grace,
Enough that His love has found me.

Words and Music ©2000 Kenneth A Puls

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—Ken Puls

 

Protection on the King’s Highway

Besides, their king is at their whistle. He is never out of hearing; and if at any time they be put to the worst, he, if possible, comes in to help them; and of him it is said, “The sword of him that layeth at him cannot hold the spear, the dart, nor the habergeon; he esteemeth iron as straw, and brass as rotten wood. The arrow cannot make him flee; sling stones are turned with him into stubble. Darts are counted as stubble: he laugheth at the shaking of a spear.” What can a man do in this case? It is true, if a man could, at every turn, have Job’s horse, and had skill and courage to ride him, he might do notable things; for “his neck is clothed with thunder, he will not be afraid of the grasshopper; the glory of his nostrils is terrible: he paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his strength, he goeth on to meet the armed men. He mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted, neither turneth he back from the sword. The quiver rattleth against him, the glittering spear, and the shield. He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage, neither believeth he that it is the sound of the trumpet. He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha! and he smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.”

But for such footmen as you and I are, let us never desire to meet with an enemy, nor vaunt as if we could do better, when we hear of others that they have been foiled, Nor be tickled at the thoughts of our own manhood; for such commonly come by the worst when tried. Witness Peter, of whom I made mention before. He would swagger, ay, he would; he would, as his vain mind prompted him to say, do better, and stand more for his Master than all men; but who so foiled, and run down by these villains, as he?

When, therefore, we hear that such robberies are done on the King’s highway, two things become us to do:

  1. To go out harnessed, and to be sure to take a shield with us; for it was for want of that, that he that laid so lustily at Leviathan could not make him yield; for, indeed, if that be wanting, he fears us not at all. Therefore, he that had skill hath said, “Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.”
  2. It is good, also, that we desire of the King a convoy, yea, that he will go with us himself. This made David rejoice when in the Valley of the Shadow of Death; and Moses was rather for dying where he stood, than to go one step without his God. Oh, my brother, if he will but go along with us, what need we be afraid of ten thousands that shall set themselves against us? But, without him, “the proud helpers fall under the slain.”

I, for my part, have been in the fray before now; and though, through the goodness of him that is best, I am, as you see, alive, yet I cannot boast of my manhood. Glad shall I be, if I meet with no more such brunts; though I fear we are not got beyond all danger. However, since the lion and the bear have not as yet devoured me, I hope God will also deliver us from the next uncircumcised Philistine. Then sang Christian—

Poor Little-faith! Hast been among the thieves?
Wast robb’d? Remember this, whoso believes,
And gets more faith, shall then a victor be
Over ten thousand, else scarce over three.

Great-Heart 

The cruel assault of Little-faith is a reminder to Christian and Hopeful that their journey is still fraught with danger. The Way to the Celestial City is beset with trials and haunted by foes. Faint-heart, Mistrust and Guilt are bad enough, but their king is much worse. As Christian experienced in the Valley of Humiliation, Apollyon, the devil, who “is at their whistle,” is prowling about, ready to come and press the battle. Christian compares the might of Apollyon to the sea serpent Leviathan described in the book of Job.

Though the sword reaches him, it cannot avail;
Nor does spear, dart, or javelin.
He regards iron as straw,
And bronze as rotten wood.
The arrow cannot make him flee;
Slingstones become like stubble to him.
Darts are regarded as straw;
He laughs at the threat of javelins.
(Job 41:26–29)

In light of the overwhelming strength of the enemy, Christian muses: “What can a man do in this case?” What if he had great advantage going into the battle: a sturdy horse, courage, and skill to ride? Christian continues to quote from the book of Job where God describes a horse fit for war:

“Have you given the horse strength?
Have you clothed his neck with thunder?
Can you frighten him like a locust?
His majestic snorting strikes terror.
He paws in the valley, and rejoices in his strength;
He gallops into the clash of arms.
He mocks at fear, and is not frightened;
Nor does he turn back from the sword.
The quiver rattles against him,
The glittering spear and javelin.
He devours the distance with fierceness and rage;
Nor does he come to a halt because the trumpet has sounded.
At the blast of the trumpet he says, ‘Aha!’
He smells the battle from afar,
The thunder of captains and shouting.”
(Job 39:19–25)

Even with such an advantage we dare not regard the battle lightly. We should not think we would fare better in such combat. We must not scoff when we hear of others who have fallen in combat.

This is a lesson we must heed whenever we face trial and temptation. At this point in the allegory Bunyan directs his words to seasoned pilgrims, those who have walked long with the Lord. Though we have gained a measure of spiritual maturity, we must never presume that we are beyond the appeal and lure of temptation. Even Peter, on the night Jesus was betrayed, gave into fear and denied Him three times (Matthew 26:33–35).

We might think, “I’m spiritually fit. I read my Bible. I attend a good church. I teach Sunday School. I have friends who pray for me and encourage me. Certainly, I could face a little temptation and be able to brush it aside. I would never fall. I can keep sin in check without becoming ensnared.” But Christian warns us: Don’t desire it! Don’t try it! Sin and temptation are never to be trifled with.

Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:12–13).

Though Christian has faced and defeated Apollyon earlier in the story, he does not here boast in his efforts or regard himself as a champion. He humbly refers to himself and Hopeful as footmen, simple soldiers serving alongside others in submission to their commander. He confesses that he would be glad never again to feel the brunt of sin’s assault.

If we are to guard ourselves from temptation and sin, we must do two things:

1) Be prepared for spiritual warfare by putting on the armor of God

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil (Ephesians 6:11).

We must especially take the shield of faith:

above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one (Ephesians 6:16).

2) Never travel alone

Our desire must be to walk alongside our brothers and sisters in the faith in the convoy provided by the King—the church. In the company of others, we can serve and strengthen those around us. When we grow weary and stumble, others around us can serve and strengthen us. Our relationships can be a significant means of grace that God uses to keep us on the path and carry us along until we are home with Him in glory.

This is Bunyan’s emphasis in Part II of The Pilgrim’s Progress. When the pilgrims prepared to leave the Interpreter’s House and travel to House Beautiful, the Interpreter sends them on their way together and appoints for them a guide, Great-heart. The guide represents a faithful pastor who will care for their souls and guide them in truth.

The Interpreter then called for a man-servant of His, one Great-heart, and bid him take sword, and helmet, and shield; and take these My daughters, said He, and conduct them to the house called Beautiful, at which place they will rest next.  So he took his weapons and went before them; and the Interpreter said, God speed.

Our desire must also be to walk always in the presence of the Lord. Christian adds, “yea, that he will go with us himself.” This is David’s testimony:

I lay down and slept;
I awoke, for the Lord sustained me.
I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people
Who have set themselves against me all around.
Arise, O Lord;
Save me, O my God!
For You have struck all my enemies on the cheekbone;
You have broken the teeth of the ungodly.
Salvation belongs to the Lord.
Your blessing is upon Your people.
Selah
(Psalm 3:5–8)

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?
When the wicked came against me
To eat up my flesh,
My enemies and foes,
They stumbled and fell.
Though an army may encamp against me,
My heart shall not fear;
Though war may rise against me,
In this I will be confident.
(Psalm 27:1–3)

And Moses’ testimony:

Then he said to Him, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth” (Exodus 33:15–16).

Without God we will fall:

Without Me they shall bow down among the prisoners,
And they shall fall among the slain.”
For all this His anger is not turned away,
But His hand is stretched out still.
(Isaiah 10:4)

We must not hold ourselves in high regard in the face of temptation. We must not look to skill, or experience, or the mantle of church leadership to prop us up. The only strength that will survive the day comes from Christ. We cannot stand unless we stand in Him.

Some trust in chariots, and some in horses;
But we will remember the name of the Lord our God.
(Psalm 20:7)

And in Him we will surely stand.

The labor hard before us,
The battle rages long.
Alone we cannot bear it;
Our foes are much too strong.
But God has chosen weakness,
The feeble and the frail.
He lifts us up in power
To conquer and prevail.

(from the hymn “Fragile Jars of Clay”)

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2018 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

How to Live in This Present Age

Church Steeple and Clock

In Titus 2:11–12 Paul summarizes how we are to live together in this present age.

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age.

Because “the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,” we must live and walk in ways that commend and adorn that gospel. Our identity must be in Christ and we must live for Him. Paul tells us that in this present age we should live soberly, righteously and godly.

He says we are to live soberly (sophronas) — This is the word that Paul has used throughout this chapter to describe the conduct of older men (verse 2), younger women (verse 5), and younger men (verse 6); and the teaching (sophronizo) of older women (verse 4). We must act wisely according to the light God has given us in His Word illumined by the work of His Spirit.

We are to walk justly— Walk in a right way with integrity in our relationships and dealings with one another.

We are to walk in a godly way— Walk with our minds fixed and our passions focused on the things of God, desiring to see God magnified and His glory displayed in our lives.

Paul instructed Titus to “speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine” (2:1). Sound doctrine is a faithful companion and a fitting counterpoint to “things which are proper.” Things that are foolish—things that are trivial—things that are superficial—these things will be uncomfortable where there is sound doctrine. But those things that are wise and just and godly—these are to accompany sound doctrine.

There must be a connection between the doctrine we profess and the conduct we display. Both must glorify and exalt God.

Doctrine must be lived out in devotion. We must believe what is right and then do what is right. The truth we know with our minds and cherish in our hearts must be lived out in our hands and feet. The truth we hold must be made evident as we love God and love one another.

Read more from this sermon on Titus 2:1–15 entitled “How to Live in This Present Age”

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Great-Grace, the King’s Champion

Hopeful: But, Christian, these three fellows, I am persuaded in my heart, are but a company of cowards; would they have run else, think you, as they did, at the noise of one that was coming on the road? Why did not Little-faith pluck up a greater heart? He might, methinks, have stood one brush with them, and have yielded when there had been no remedy.

Christian: That they are cowards, many have said, but few have found it so in the time of trial. As for a great heart, Little-faith had none; and I perceive by you, my brother, had you been the man concerned, you are but for a brush, and then to yield.

And, verily, since this is the height of your stomach, now they are at a distance from us, should they appear to you as they did to him they might put you to second thoughts.

But, consider again, they are but journeymen thieves, they serve under the king of the bottomless pit, who, if need be, will come into their aid himself, and his voice is as the roaring of a lion. I myself have been engaged as this Little-faith was, and I found it a terrible thing. These three villains set upon me, and I beginning, like a Christian, to resist, they gave but a call, and in came their master. I would, as the saying is, have given my life for a penny, but that, as God would have it, I was clothed with armor of proof. Ay, and yet, though I was so harnessed, I found it hard work to quit myself like a man. No man can tell what in that combat attends us, but he that hath been in the battle himself.

Hopeful: Well, but they ran, you see, when they did but suppose that one Great-grace was in the way.

Christian: True, they have often fled, both they and their master, when Great-grace hath but appeared; and no marvel; for he is the King’s champion. But, I think, you will put some difference between Little-faith and the King’s champion. All the King’s subjects are not his champions, nor can they, when tried, do such feats of war as he. Is it meet to think that a little child should handle Goliath as David did? Or that there should be the strength of an ox in a wren? Some are strong, some are weak; some have great faith, some have little. This man was one of the weak, and therefore he went to the wall.

Hopeful: I would it had been Great-grace for their sakes.

Christian: If it had been, he might have had his hands full; for I must tell you, that though Great-grace is excellent good at his weapons, and has, and can, so long as he keeps them at sword’s point, do well enough with them; yet, if they get within him, even Faint-heart, Mistrust, or the other, it shall go hard but they will throw up his heels. And when a man is down, you know, what can he do?

Whoso looks well upon Great-grace’s face, shall see those scars and cuts there, that shall easily give demonstration of what I say. Yea, once I heard that he should say, (and that when he was in the combat), “We despaired even of life.” How did these sturdy rogues and their fellows make David groan, mourn, and roar? Yea, Heman, and Hezekiah, too, though champions in their day, were forced to bestir them, when by these assaulted; and yet, notwithstanding, they had their coats soundly brushed by them. Peter, upon a time, would go try what he could do; but though some do say of him that he is the prince of the apostles, they handled him so, that they made him at last afraid of a sorry girl. 

Great-Grace

Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress includes many contrasts. Christian escapes the City of Destruction (this fallen, sinful world) to journey to the Celestial City (the glories of heaven). Along the way he receives good counsel (Evangelist) and bad counsel (Worldly Wiseman). Bunyan distinguishes true converts (Christian, Faithful, Hopeful, Little-faith) from false converts (Simple, Sloth, Presumption, Formalist, Hypocrisy, By-ends, Turn-away, Ignorance).

Now, in contrast to Little-faith, we hear of another true and valiant pilgrim—Great-grace. The villains who robbed Little-faith fled in fear when they thought Great-grace might be nearby. Great-grace is the King’s champion. He is courageous, fit for battle, and adept at wielding the sword. He represents a vigilant believer or faithful pastor who is strong in faith, seasoned in spiritual warfare, and sympathetic to the needs of fellow Christians. He is one whom others can turn to in times of trial for godly counsel and encouragement. He knows the Word of God and is diligent in prayer. His strength is not in himself and his boast is not in his own works (Ephesians 2:8–9), but he lives to serve and glorify His King.

Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us,
But to Your name give glory,
Because of Your mercy,
Because of Your truth.
(Psalm 115:1)

He is clothed in the “whole armor of the Lord” and he stands in the strength of the Lord (Ephesians 6:10–20). He is “strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1). William Mason explains:

Now here you see what is meant by Great-grace, who is so often mentioned in this book, and by whom so many valiant things were done. We read, “With great power the apostles gave witness of the resurrection of Jesus.” Why was it? Because “great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33). So you see all is of grace, from first to last, in salvation. If we do great things for Christ, yet, not unto us, but unto the great grace of our Lord, be all the glory.

The contrast between Great-grace and Little-faith highlights a significant truth. Not everyone is strong in faith. Not everyone has a “great heart.” We all have differing measures of spiritual strength and maturity. Christian tells Hopeful: “All the King’s subjects are not his champions, nor can they, when tried, do such feats of war as he. … Some are strong, some are weak; some have great faith, some have little.”

Hopeful wonders why Little-faith was not more courageous. Why did he not put forth more effort to stand? But Christian understands the true intensity of Little-faith’s trial. Hopeful is evaluating temptation from a distance, but Christian has experienced it close up. Little-faith was attacked by “journeymen thieves,” but Christian faced their master, who prowls about like a roaring lion:

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world (1 Peter 5:8–9).

When Christian faced Apollyon in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, he had the advantage of being dressed in the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10–20). He had been to House Beautiful, the church, and was strengthened by the preaching of the gospel. Even so, he found the battle to be arduous and his foe to be fierce.

Like Hopeful, we tend to underestimate the power of sin and treat it too lightly. Sin is a much more formidable foe when it is close and threatening. Seen from a distance it appears less intimidating. We gauge its strength across a wide field of battle and wonder: How could this be a struggle? I can handle this! Yet when the assault comes, the line is broken, and the enemy breaks through our defenses, the conflict can leave us beaten, battered and bruised, as it did Little-faith.

Even those who are great in grace are not immune to the scourge of battle. Great-grace bears the scars and cuts of combat on his face. Even he can be beaten down for a time. He must be alert and keep watch, for himself as well as for others in the Way. He must keep his weapons “at sword’s point” (unsheathed, in hand, and engaged in battle).

All of the King’s champions have faced times of trial. Peter was a target of the enemy (Luke 22:31) and was brought down by fear, even fear of a servant girl who recognized him and called him out (Luke 22:54–62). Paul was “burdened beyond measure” and “despaired even of life” (2 Corinthians 1:8). He regarded himself as the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). David was weighed down by his iniquities (Psalm 38:4–6). He confessed “my sin is always before me” (Psalm 51:3). Heman the Ezrahite cried out: “my soul is full of troubles” and “I am like a man who has no strength, adrift among the dead” (Psalm 88:3–5). Hezekiah was “sick and near death” and he “wept bitterly” (Isaiah 38:1–3).

If we see such bruises and scars on our champions, how much more seriously should we regard our fight against sin? We need to guard our hearts.  We need to take up—

the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints (Ephesians 6:16–18).

This is a battle we can only win with our Bibles open (“at sword’s point”) and the promises of the gospel ringing in our hearts and minds.

The battle is hard because it is not a fight we can wage from a distance. It is not a fight we can wage on our own. The battleground is our own hearts and minds. Our fight is against sin and weakness within ourselves. Again William Mason explains:

Who can stand in the evil day of temptation, when beset with Faint-heart, Mistrust, and Guilt, backed by the power of their master, Satan? No one, unless armed with the whole armor of God; and even then, the power of such infernal foes makes it a hard fight to the Christian. But this is our glory, the Lord shall fight for us, and we shall hold our peace. We shall be silent as to ascribing any glory to ourselves, knowing our very enemies are part of ourselves, and that we are more than conquerors over all these (only) through HIM who loved us (Rom. 8:37).

Christ alone is our victory. We need His great grace if we are to prevail. He alone has power to conquer and defeat sin and death.

The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:56–58).

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2018 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

The Value of Little-faith’s Jewels

Hopeful: But it is a wonder that his necessity did not put him upon selling or pawning some of his jewels, that he might have wherewith to relieve himself in his journey.

Christian: You talk like one upon whose head is the shell to this very day; for what should he pawn them, or to whom should he sell them? In all that country where he was robbed, his jewels were not accounted of; nor did he want that relief which could from thence be administered to him. Besides, had his jewels been missing at the gate of the Celestial City, he had (and that he knew well enough) been excluded from an inheritance there; and that would have been worse to him than the appearance and villainy of ten thousand thieves.

Hopeful: Why are you so tart, my brother? Esau sold his birthright, and that for a mess of pottage, and that birthright was his greatest jewel; and if he, why might not Little-faith do so too?

Christian: Esau did sell his birthright indeed, and so do many besides, and by so doing exclude themselves from the chief blessing, as also that caitiff did; but you must put a difference between Esau and Little-faith, and also between their estates. Esau’s birthright was typical, but Little-faith’s jewels were not so; Esau’s belly was his god, but Little-faith’s belly was not so; Esau’s want lay in his fleshly appetite, Little-faith’s did not so. Besides, Esau could see no further than to the fulfilling of his lusts; “Behold, I am at the point to die, (said he), and what profit shall this birthright do me?” But Little-faith, though it was his lot to have but a little faith, was by his little faith kept from such extravagances, and made to see and prize his jewels more than to sell them, as Esau did his birthright. You read not anywhere that Esau had faith, no, not so much as a little; therefore, no marvel if, where the flesh only bears sway, (as it will in that man where no faith is to resist), if he sells his birthright, and his soul and all, and that to the devil of hell; for it is with such, as it is with the donkey, who in her occasions cannot be turned away. When their minds are set upon their lusts, they will have them whatever they cost. But Little-faith was of another temper, his mind was on things divine; his livelihood was upon things that were spiritual, and from above; therefore, to what end should he that is of such a temper sell his jewels (had there been any that would have bought them) to fill his mind with empty things? Will a man give a penny to fill his belly with hay; or can you persuade the turtle-dove to live upon carrion like the crow? Though faithless ones can, for carnal lusts, pawn, or mortgage, or sell what they have, and themselves outright to boot; yet they that have faith, saving faith, though but a little of it, cannot do so. Here, therefore, my brother, is your mistake.

Hopeful: I acknowledge it; but yet your severe reflection had almost made me angry.

Christian: Why, I did but compare thee to some of the birds that are of the brisker sort, who will run to and fro in untrodden paths, with the shell upon their heads; but pass by that, and consider the matter under debate, and all shall be well between you and me.

 Bandits rob Little-Faith

In the last post Christian and Hopeful discussed the grievous robbery of Little-faith. Three villains attacked Little-faith near Dead Man’s Lane. They plundered his coin purse but were not able to reach his jewels. Christian told Hopeful that after the assault Little-faith was forced to beg to stay alive and complete his journey, “for his jewels he might not sell.” Christian’s comment stirs a question in Hopeful’s mind that leads to a debate. Why could Little-faith not sell his jewels? Why did he not pawn some of his jewels to increase his wealth in his life, that his journey might be more comfortable? Was he greedy? Was he prideful? Was he ashamed? Why would he resort to begging and presume upon the kindness of others if he had the means to pay his own way?

Christian is at first astounded by the question. He considers Hopeful’s thinking to be lunacy. Theologically he is right to address Hopeful’s error. The value of Little-faith’s jewels is immeasurable. He must not and cannot ever part with them.

In regard to both security and worth, there is a great difference between the jewels and the coin purse. The coin purse can be increased or emptied. We carry it with us. It represents our spiritual comfort and peace of mind. The purse is filled when we experience and sense the grace of God at work in our lives. It is plundered when we fall prey to sin and are assaulted by spiritual weakness, doubt, and shame. But our jewels are secure. They are safe with Christ. They represent our heavenly reward and our inheritance in God’s Kingdom.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you (1 Peter 1:3–4).

This inheritance is ours in Christ.

In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:11–14).

Our inheritance with Christ in heaven is the pearl of great price, more valuable than anything we might possess in this life.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:45–46).

The comparison that Bunyan draws between Little-faith’s treasure (his jewels) and his coin purse (his spending money) comes from Bunyan’s autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. When Bunyan came to faith in Christ, he knew Christ to be of all-surpassing worth and glory.

It was glorious to me to see his exaltation, and the worth and prevalency of all his benefits, and that because of this: now I could look from myself to him, and should reckon that all those graces of God that now were green in me, were yet but like those cracked groats and fourpence-halfpennies that rich men carry in their purses, when their gold is in their trunks at home! Oh, I saw my gold was in my trunk at home! In Christ, my Lord and Savior! Now Christ was all; all my wisdom, all my righteousness, all my sanctification, and all my redemption.

[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 232]

His treasure was Christ! In Christ is all wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.

But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:30–31).

And this treasure is eternally secure. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35–39).

Little-faith did not earn or deserve his treasured inheritance. It is a gift of grace. He cannot be separated from it and he certainly would not consider selling it.

Hopeful further presses his point by comparing Little-faith to Esau who despised his birthright (his inheritance) and sold it to Jacob for a pot of stew (Genesis 25:29–33). But Esau is not like Little-faith. Esau was worldly and profane. He lacked faith and was driven by lust. Scripture warns:

looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears (Hebrews 12:15–17).

Christian regards Esau as a caitiff (a “contemptable or cowardly person”). Esau acted according to his worldly passions, “as it is with the donkey, who in her occasions cannot be turned away.”

A wild donkey used to the wilderness,
That sniffs at the wind in her desire;
In her time of mating, who can turn her away?
All those who seek her will not weary themselves;
In her month they will find her.
(Jeremiah 2:24)

But Little-faith was a true pilgrim bound for the Celestial City. He possessed faith enough to cause him to press on and continue looking to Christ. He prized his jewels and knew that without them he would have no eternal inheritance. His suffering and lack of comforts in this life, unlike Esau, caused him to value his heavenly reward even more.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).

Hopeful acknowledges his error but admits that he almost got angry with Christian’s reply. Christian gave the right answer, but it came across to Hopeful as “tart” and “severe.” He encourages Hopeful not to take offense but to engage willingly in honest debate. Like Christian and Hopeful, we will often have differences in our understanding and grasp of truth. It is to our advantage to be quick to listen and slow to take offense (James 1:19). Their exchange is a reminder that when we see matters differently, we must be concerned with winning our brother, not just winning an argument.

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2018 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Guitar Music for the 4th of July

Fireworks

If you are a guitarist and are looking for music to celebrate Independence Day this July 4th, here is a patriotic song that became popular during the American Revolutionary War.

The words and music were both composed by America’s first prolific composer, William Billings (1746–1800). Billings lived in Boston and made his living as a tanner. He was part of an effort in Protestant churches in America to help congregations learn to sing well. He composed over 100 songs and taught in a “singing school” in his church.

The first verse and tune of the hymn “Chester” were published by Billings in The New England Psalm Singer (1770). The remaining verses were added during the war and published in The Singing Master’s Assistant (1778).

CHESTER

Let tyrants shake their iron rod,
And Slav’ry clank her galling chains,
We fear them not, we trust in God,
New England’s God forever reigns.

Howe and Burgoyne and Clinton too,
With Prescot and Cornwallis join’d,
Together plot our Overthrow,
In one Infernal league combin’d.

When God inspir’d us for the fight,
Their ranks were broke, their lines were forc’d,
Their ships were Shatter’d in our sight,
Or swiftly driven from our Coast.

The Foe comes on with haughty Stride;
Our troops advance with martial noise,
Their Vet’rans flee before our Youth,
And Gen’rals yield to beardless Boys.

What grateful Off’ring shall we bring?
What shall we render to the Lord?
Loud Halleluiahs let us Sing,
And praise His name on ev’ry Chord.

Download a transcription of the tune CHESTER for classical guitar (PDF sheet music).

Download a transcription of the national anthem (The Star Spangled Banner) for classical guitar (PDF sheet music).

More music for classical guitar

What Little-Faith Lost

Hopeful: But did they take from him all that ever he had?

Christian: No; the place where his jewels were they never ransacked, so those he kept still. But, as I was told, the good man was much afflicted for his loss, for the thieves got most of his spending-money. That which they got not (as I said) were jewels, also he had a little odd money left, but scarce enough to bring him to his journey’s end; nay, if I was not misinformed, he was forced to beg as he went, to keep himself alive; for his jewels he might not sell. But beg, and do what he could, he went (as we say) with many a hungry belly the most part of the rest of the way.

Hopeful:  But is it not a wonder they got not from him his certificate, by which he was to receive his admittance at the Celestial Gate?

Christian:  It is a wonder; but they got not that, though they missed it not through any good cunning of his; for he, being dismayed with their coming upon him, had neither power nor skill to hide anything; so it was more by good Providence than by his endeavor, that they missed of that good thing.

Hopeful:  But it must needs be a comfort to him, that they got not his jewels from him.

Christian:  It might have been great comfort to him, had he used it as he should; but they that told me the story said, that he made but little use of it all the rest of the way, and that because of the dismay that he had in the taking away his money; indeed, he forgot it a great part of the rest of his journey; and besides, when at any time it came into his mind, and he began to be comforted therewith, then would fresh thoughts of his loss come again upon him, and those thoughts would swallow up all.

Hopeful: Alas! poor man! This could not but be a great grief to him.

Christian: Grief! ay, a grief indeed. Would it not have been so to any of us, had we been used as he, to be robbed, and wounded too, and that in a strange place, as he was? It is a wonder he did not die with grief, poor heart! I was told that he scattered almost all the rest of the way with nothing but doleful and bitter complaints; telling also to all that overtook him, or that he overtook in the way as he went, where he was robbed, and how; who they were that did it, and what he lost; how he was wounded, and that he hardly escaped with his life.

 Little-faith

In the last post Christian described for Hopeful the assault and robbery of Little-faith. Little-faith was a pilgrim who strayed into Dead Man’s Lane and was attacked by three villains: Faint-heart, Mistrust and Guilt. They snatched a bag of silver from his pocket and left him on the road, wounded and bleeding. With no one around to help him, Little-faith had to stagger on by himself.

But what exactly did Little-faith lose?

Each of the villains contributed to Little-faith’s loss. Faint-heart (timidity and weakness) attacked his strength and courage. Mistrust (doubt and unbelief) undermined his trust and confidence. Guilt (shame and dishonor) bludgeon his peace and contentment.

Little-faith suffered great loss, but he did not lose all. Christian explains: though the thieves were able to take Little-faith’s spending money, they were not able to ransack his jewels. Little-faith lost his coin purse, but retained his treasure.

The coin purse represents our spiritual comfort and peace of mind in this life. It is our awareness of God’s grace at work in our lives and our joy as we rest in work of Christ for our salvation. The coin purse holds spending money—our daily confidence and assurance that we will reach our journey’s end. When Little-faith was robbed (gave into temptation and sin), he lost his purse—his comfort and peace of mind. And he lost most of his spending money—he was overcome with grief that overwhelmed much of his hope and confidence. He was left with scarcely enough money to bring him to his journey’s end.

Now “If the righteous one is scarcely saved,
Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?”
(1 Peter 4:18)

The thieves were able to snatch his coin purse, but they could not get to his treasure. The jewels represent our heavenly reward (kept safe with Christ). They display the many glorious blessings of our spiritual union with Christ.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 1:3).

Our salvation is safe in heaven where thieves cannot break in and steal.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19–21).

Our salvation is safe with God. No one can pluck us from His hand.

And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand (John 10:28–29).

Our salvation is safe with Christ. Nothing can separate us from His love.

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38–39).

The robbers also did not take Little-faith’s certificate to gain admittance to the Celestial City. The certificate represents his faith in Christ. The thieves missed “that good thing” not by Little-faith’s cunning or ability, but by the kind Providence of God. William Mason explains:

What was this good thing? His precious faith, whose author, finisher, and object is precious Jesus. And where he gives this precious gift of faith, though it be but little, even as a grain of mustard-seed, not all the powers of earth and hell can rob the heart of it. Christ prayed for His disciple that his faith should not fail, or be totally lost; therefore, though Peter lost his comforts for a season, yet not his faith totally, not his soul eternally; for, says Jesus, of all his dear flock, yea, of those of little faith too, None shall pluck them out of My hand. There is one blessed security, not in ourselves, but in our Lord.

Even small faith can accomplish great things.

And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” So the Lord said, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you (Luke 17:5–6).

Though Little-faith’s faith is small, he has a Savior who intercedes for him.

… It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us (Romans 8:34).

When Jesus prayed for Peter, He prayed that his faith would not fail.

And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:31–32).

The reality that Little-faith still had his certificate and jewels should have been cause for hope and joy. They assured the completion of his journey—the salvation of his soul.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:6–9).

But Little-faith was so perplexed at losing his purse, he could not take lasting comfort in his jewels. The robbery did not threaten the final outcome of the journey, but it did impact the journey itself. Little-faith pressed on, but he traveled hungry and as a beggar. He was harassed and hindered by his own pain and grief. Thomas Scott summarizes in his Explanatory Notes:

The believer’s union with Christ, and the sanctification of the Spirit, sealing his acceptance and rendering him meet for heaven, are his invaluable and unalienable jewels. But he may by sin lose his comforts, and not be able to perceive the evidences of his own safety: and even when again enabled to hope that it will be well with him in the event; he may be so harassed by the recollection of the loss he has sustained, the effects of his misconduct on others, and the obstructions he hath thrown in the way of his own comfort and usefulness, that his future life may be rendered a constant scene of disquietude and painful reflections. Thus the doctrine of the believer’s final perseverance is both maintained and guarded from abuse: and it is not owning to a man’s own care, but to the Lord’s free mercy, powerful interposition, and the engagements of the new covenant, that unbelief and guilt do not rob him of his title to heaven, as well as of his comfort and confidence.

Little-faith complained and lamented, telling everyone he encountered in the Way about his misfortune. He should have looked to Christ—His atoning death—His perfect righteousness—His abundant mercy—but the weakened pilgrim was too consumed with himself. Little-faith is the example we should avoid—eyes fixed on self in bitter pride. Christian is the example we should follow—eyes fixed on Christ in humble praise. When Christian was confronted with temptation and assaulted by Apollyon, he responded not with pride, but with humility, acknowledging his sin, but speaking much of his great and merciful King.

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2018 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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