The Plain of Ease

Then Christian and Hopeful outwent them again, and went till they came to a delicate plain called Ease, where they went with much content; but that plain was but narrow, so they were quickly got over it.

The Plain of Ease

Have you ever wondered: Why does life have to be so hard? Admittedly, we are sinners living in a fallen world. But we have come to Christ whose “yoke is easy” and whose “burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). So why does “the way which leads to life” have to be “difficult” (Matthew 7:14)? Why do we have to walk through so many troubles and trials in this world?

Many times in The Pilgrim’s Progress Bunyan has made it clear that the life of a Christian is not easy. Already Christian has faced many difficulties. We have seen him weighed down with his burden, mired in the Slough of Despond, diverted by Worldly Wiseman, slowed by Hill Difficulty, confronted by Apollyon, confounded in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and tried in the town of Vanity. Now Christian and Hopeful come to the Plain of Ease. Here the Way is simple and they walk “with much content.” At this place in the allegory Bunyan emphasizes his point through brevity. All too quickly the pilgrims cross the plain and it is past.

The Plain of Ease represents times in life when all seems well and troubles are few. Spiritual warfare is at an ebb and peace and contentment abound. God grants such times for our rest and refreshment, but even with ease there is attending danger. Bunyan identifies this danger in his description of the plain.

The plain of Ease is delicate. In other words, it is subtle, not prominent. When crossing the plain, the plain itself is hardly perceptible. Unlike trials and troubles that disrupt our lives and demand our attention, ease doesn’t intrude or interrupt. Ease leaves us alone to settle in and relax in our comforts.

The plain is also narrow. It is short-lived and quickly traversed. Days of ease are fleeting—gone before we really notice them or appreciate them. It is easy to drift through days of ease. Our determination wanes, our guard comes down, and too easily we begin to forget just how much we need God.

Scripture exhorts us to remember:

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits.
(Psalm 103:2)

Remember His marvelous works which He has done,
His wonders, and the judgments of His mouth,
(Psalm 105:5)

In Deuteronomy Moses warned Israel not to forget God when they enjoyed the ease and comforts of the Promised Land.

“So it shall be, when the Lord your God brings you into the land of which He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give you large and beautiful cities which you did not build, houses full of all good things, which you did not fill, hewn-out wells which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant—when you have eaten and are full—then beware, lest you forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage” (Deuteronomy 6:10–12).

We are always desperately dependent upon God for His grace and mercy. But in times of ease we can too easily forget our dependence on God and fail to thank Him for His mercies as we should. In times of trouble when the way is steep and hard, our need is more evident. Because the Plain of Ease is delicate, God, in His mercy, often makes it narrow.

The subtlety of ease is a danger. But there is another danger that lies close to ease. In the next post, we will examine a second hazard that threatens the pilgrims: a little hill at the further side of the plain called Lucre.

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 ©2017 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

How Dear and Treasured Is the Church

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. … Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:13, 19–22).

The church is dear to Christ! He shed His blood and laid down His life that we might be brought near to God. He made us “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” We are “a holy temple in the Lord” with “Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.” We are “being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” In times of joy we celebrate together and lift our voices in praise. In times of sorrow we walk together and lift up each other in our prayers. We proclaim God’s Word and magnify Christ to the world: His great worth and our great need of Him.

Many in our day fail to see the value of the church. We are too quick to leave or stay away when difficulties arise. In times of disappointment we may be tempted to give up on the church. But we have reason to stay and press on. Commitment to God’s Word compels us. The magnitude of our mission convinces us. Sound theology steadies us. Troubles and trials, as we walk through them together, will teach us and anchor us more firmly in the grace and mercy of God. May God help us to love the church as He does.

How dear and treasured is the church!

pillar of the truth

“if I delay, [I write so that] you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).

How dear and treasured is the church,
With voices joined in praise and prayers,
For God has made us one in Christ,
To share our sorrows, joys and cares.

Entrusted with the truth of God,
Called out to make the gospel known,
We boldly as His church proclaim:
There’s grace and hope in Christ alone!

God fashions us as living stones;
Assembled as His dwelling place.
Though we were dead, He gives us life,
Each soul a miracle of grace.

Built as a buttress of the truth,
A pillar rising to the sky,
God sets His church before the world,
His Word and name to magnify.

To all the world we testify,
Our lives display in word and deed
The matchless worth of knowing Christ,
The boundless depth of our great need.

Brought near to God by Christ’s shed blood,
Loved and adopted as His own,
A household built upon the Word,
With Christ Himself the Cornerstone.

Built on this Rock, the church will stand,
The gates of hell shall not prevail,
All who are Christ’s shall be raised up,
The Word of God will never fail.

Words ©2017 Ken Puls

Download the lyrics and free sheet music for this hymn, including an arrangement of the tune ERHALT UNS HERR for classical guitar.

More Hymns and Songs from Ken Puls Music

Religion and Worldly Gain

So they came up to each other, and after a short salutation, Mr. Hold-the-world propounded the question to Christian and his fellow, and bid them to answer it if they could.

Then said Christian, Even a babe in religion may answer ten thousand such questions. For if it be unlawful to follow Christ for loaves, (as it is in the sixth of John), how much more abominable is it to make of him and religion a stalking-horse to get and enjoy the world! Nor do we find any other than heathens, hypocrites, devils, and witches, that are of this opinion.

1. Heathens; for when Hamor and Shechem had a mind to the daughter and cattle of Jacob, and saw that there was no way for them to come at them, but by becoming circumcised, they say to their companions, If every male of us be circumcised, as they are circumcised, shall not their cattle, and their substance, and every beast of theirs, be ours? Their daughter and their cattle were that which they sought to obtain, and their religion the stalking-horse they made use of to come at them. Read the whole story.

2. The hypocritical Pharisees were also of this religion; long prayers were their pretense, but to get widows’ houses was their intent; and greater damnation was from God their judgment.

3. Judas the devil was also of this religion; he was religious for the bag, that he might be possessed of what was therein; but he was lost, cast away, and the very son of perdition.

4. Simon the witch was of this religion too; for he would have had the Holy Ghost, that he might have got money therewith; and his sentence from Peter’s mouth was according.

5. Neither will it out of my mind, but that that man that takes up religion for the world, will throw away religion for the world; for so surely as Judas resigned the world in becoming religious, so surely did he also sell religion and his Master for the same. To answer the question, therefore, affirmatively, as I perceive you have done, and to accept of, as authentic, such answer, is both heathenish, hypocritical, and devilish; and your reward will be according to your works.

Then they stood staring one upon another, but had not wherewith to answer Christian. Hopeful also approved of the soundness of Christian’s answer; so there was a great silence among them. Mr. By-ends and his company also staggered and kept behind, that Christian and Hopeful might outgo them. Then said Christian to his fellow, If these men cannot stand before the sentence of men, what will they do with the sentence of God? And if they are mute when dealt with by vessels of clay, what will they do when they shall be rebuked by the flames of a devouring fire?

Answering By-ends

In the previous post, By-ends and his companions propounded the question: Is it right for a minister or a tradesman to use religion in the pursuit of personal gain? They confidently answered in the affirmative and collectively admired their reasoning. Now they attempt to impress Christian and Hopeful and are gleefully awaiting the moment when they can watch the two pilgrims falter and fall silent.

Christian, however is not swayed or silenced. He easily sees through the superficiality of their answer. Our need in this life is not for worldly wealth or success. Jesus did not come to improve our status or increase our possessions in this life. We need forgiveness, righteousness, and new life—gifts that are afforded to us only in Christ. Jesus is King of kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:16); He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last (Revelation 22:13). To follow Him for the mere trifles of this world is indeed a tragedy of eternal consequence.

While Money-Love framed his answer to By-ends’ question according to his own logic and for his own advantage, Christian draws out his answer from Scripture. He first points to John 6 where Jesus rebukes the crowd for following Him, not because they believed Him to be the Messiah sent from God, but because He fed them with loaves and fishes.

Jesus answered them and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him” (John 6:26–27).

Jesus continues in John 6 to explain that He is the true “bread of life.” The fullness and satisfaction He offers is far greater than what the crowds were seeking or expecting. He can truly satisfy the hunger and thirst of our souls. He alone can give us life that is everlasting (John 6:28–40).

Christian continues to make his point by providing four examples from Scripture of men who used religion for personal gain: heathens (those outside a covenant relationship with God), hypocrites, devils, and witches (sorcerers).

Heathens—Hamor and Shechem were willing to be circumcised along with their countrymen in order to gain wives, property, and livestock from Israel.

And Hamor and Shechem his son came to the gate of their city, and spoke with the men of their city, saying: “These men are at peace with us. Therefore let them dwell in the land and trade in it. For indeed the land is large enough for them. Let us take their daughters to us as wives, and let us give them our daughters. Only on this condition will the men consent to dwell with us, to be one people: if every male among us is circumcised as they are circumcised. Will not their livestock, their property, and every animal of theirs be ours? Only let us consent to them, and they will dwell with us.” And all who went out of the gate of his city heeded Hamor and Shechem his son; every male was circumcised, all who went out of the gate of his city (Genesis 34:20–23).

Hypocrites—The Pharisees used religion to increase their status and swindle money and property from unsuspecting widows.

Then, in the hearing of all the people, He said to His disciples, “Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation” (Luke 20:45–47).

Devils—Judas was willing to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.

Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?” He spoke of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, for it was he who would betray Him, being one of the twelve (John 6:70–71).

Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?” And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver. So from that time he sought opportunity to betray Him (Matthew 26:14–16).

Witches (Sorcerers)—Simon thought he could purchase the power of God to heal with money.

And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity” (Acts 8:18–23).

Through Christian’s answer, Bunyan once again highlights the value and prominence of God’s Word. William Mason observes in his commentary on The Pilgrim’s Progress:

Here see the blessedness of being mighty in the Scripture, and the need of that exhortation, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16). For the Word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than a two-edged sword; it pierces through all the subtle devices of Satan, and the cunning craftiness of carnal professors; and divideth asunder the carnal reasonings of the flesh, and the spiritual wisdom which cometh from above.

By-ends and his friends are stunned by Christian’s response. They had sought to silence Christian and Hopeful with their argument, but in the end, it is they who are speechless. Christian warns that they will face a far greater rebuke in the coming judgement. Christian and Hopeful are mere men, wielding God’s Word and standing for truth; but God, who is “the Judge of all” (Hebrews 12:23), “is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29; Deuteronomy 4:24).

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 ©2017 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Increase Our Faith O Lord

Too often we become discouraged and infrequent in our prayers because we focus on our troubles rather than the power of God and the promises in His Word. We don’t know God as we should, we don’t think of Him as we should, and so we fail to trust Him as we should. We don’t cry out to Him as we should in prayer and praise.

This hymn is the fruit of a study on prayer from a prayer meeting at Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL, taught by our Associate Pastor, Jared Longshore. It is an exhortation to pray and look to God in faith. And it is a prayer that God would stir up faith in us that we would be quick to remember Him and seek Him.

Increase Our Faith O Lord

“… for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move;  and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20).

Increase our faith, O Lord!
We look to You today.
Remind us of Your Word and pow’r,
Come stir our hearts to pray.

Look down on us in love,
Draw near us in this place.
With confidence, we come in Christ
To seek the throne of grace.

Because we do not ask,
We often lack what’s good.
If we would only look to God
And trust Him as we should!

Our faith, it seems so small,
Yet You, Lord, are so great!
So help us bring petitions large,
In You we trust and wait.

If we but had the faith,
Small as a mustard seed,
Then we would see the mountains move
For God has power indeed.

There’s nothing that’s too hard,
No good thing He’ll withhold.
So let us bring our prayers in faith,
We cannot be too bold.

Look down with mercy, Lord
And hear the prayers we raise,
That we might see Your power displayed
And offer thanks and praise.

Words ©2017 Ken Puls

Download the lyrics and free sheet music for this hymn, including an arrangement of the tune HOLY ROOD for classical guitar.

More Hymns and Songs from Ken Puls Music

By-ends Asks a Question

By-ends: My brothers, we are, as you see, going all on pilgrimage; and, for our better diversion from things that are bad, give me leave to propound unto you this question:

Suppose a man, a minister, or a tradesman, etc., should have an advantage lie before him, to get the good blessings of this life, yet so as that he can by no means come by them except, in appearance at least, he becomes extraordinarily zealous in some points of religion that he meddled not with before, may he not use these means to attain his end, and yet be a right honest man?

Money-Love: I see the bottom of your question; and, with these gentlemen’s good leave, I will endeavor to shape you an answer. And first, to speak to your question as it concerns a minister himself: Suppose a minister, a worthy man, possessed but of a very small benefice, and has in his eye a greater, more fat, and plump by far; he has also now an opportunity of getting of it, yet so as by being more studious, by preaching more frequently and zealously, and, because the temper of the people requires it, by altering of some of his principles; for my part, I see no reason but a man may do this, (provided he has a call), aye, and more a great deal besides, and yet be an honest man. For why—

  1. His desire of a greater benefice is lawful, (this cannot be contradicted), since it is set before him by Providence; so then, he may get it, if he can, making no question for conscience’ sake.
  2. Besides, his desire after that benefice makes him more studious, a more zealous preacher, etc., and so makes him a better man; yea, makes him better improve his parts, which is according to the mind of God.
  3. Now, as for his complying with the temper of his people, by dissenting, to serve them, some of his principles, this argues: (1) That he is of a self-denying, temper; (2) Of a sweet and winning deportment; and so (3) more fit for the ministerial function.
  4. I conclude, then, that a minister that changes a small for a great, should not, for so doing, be judged as covetous; but rather, since he has improved in his parts and industry thereby, be counted as one that pursues his call, and the opportunity put into his hands to do good.

And now to the second part of the question, which concerns the tradesman you mentioned. Suppose such a one to have but a poor employ in the world, but by becoming religious, he may mend his market, perhaps get a rich wife, or more and far better customers to his shop; for my part, I see no reason but that this may be lawfully done. For why—

  1. To become religious is a virtue, by what means soever a man becomes so.
  2. Nor is it unlawful to get a rich wife, or more custom to my shop.
  3. Besides, the man that gets these by becoming religious, gets that which is good, of them that are good, by becoming good himself; so then here is a good wife, and good customers, and good gain, and all these by becoming religious, which is good; therefore, to become religious, to get all these, is a good and profitable design.

This answer, thus made by this Mr. Money-love to Mr. By-ends’ question, was highly applauded by them all; wherefore they concluded upon the whole, that it was most wholesome and advantageous. And because, as they thought, no man was able to contradict it, and because Christian and Hopeful were yet within call, they jointly agreed to assault them with the question as soon as they overtook them; and the rather because they had opposed Mr. By-ends before. So they called after them, and they stopped, and stood still till they came up to them; but they concluded, as they went, that not Mr. By-ends, but old Mr. Hold-the-world, should propound the question to them, because, as they supposed, their answer to him would be without the remainder of that heat that was kindled between Mr. By-ends and them, at their parting a little before.

Money-love's Lesson

One of the great dangers of sin and folly is their ability to appear reasonable and right. Sin is a form of insanity that twists our thinking, deceiving and distorting truth, until actions and attitudes obviously contrary to God’s Word seem perfectly sound and sensible. Selfishness, greed, pretense, deception—these can all emerge in our minds as virtuous as we craftily excuse them and justify our need to indulge in them.

Bunyan offers a penetrating look at our propensity to rationalize sin as he unfolds the hypocrisy of By-ends and his friends. As By-ends affirms, they are all convinced that they are pilgrims. They claim to be seeking Christ’s kingdom, but their true aim is personal gain. They think they can have both a zeal for Christ and the riches of this world. And they think they can legitimately employ the former to gain the later.

To make his point By-ends puts forth a question. Is it right for a minister or a tradesman to use religion in the pursuit of personal gain?

Money-love elaborates the question, beginning with the minister: Suppose a minister has an opportunity to move to a larger church that can pay him more. To gain the position he will be expected to study more, preach more, and be more animated and engaging in his preaching. However, to be successful in this new ministry, he will need to avoid certain topics and adjust his stance on particular matters so as not to offend or upset members of the congregation. Is it right for him to make such a move?

Money-love quickly says yes. He sees no problem with the minister modifying his religion in order to pursue the higher paying position. He reasons:

  1. It is not sinful to desire more pay and, since the opportunity has come his way, it must be in the providence of God for him to pursue it.
  2. More study and more opportunities to preach will certainly make him a better preacher.
  3. His acquiescing to the sensibilities of the congregation is not wrong—in fact, it demonstrates deference and self-denial, affirming that he has such qualities that will allow him to excel in ministry.
  4. Moving from a small church to a large church is evidence of success, improvement and advancement and should not in any way be judged as covetous.

Money-love then expounds the question of the tradesman: Suppose a tradesman, who is not doing well in his business, has an opportunity to expand his market, tap into a larger customer base, and perhaps even find a wealthy woman to be his wife. All he needs to do is to join a local church, thereby gaining the confidence and trust of its large congregation. Is it right for him to join the church and become an active, zealous church member?

Money-love again sees no problem and he affirms the tradesman’s scheme. He reasons:

  1. It is always good and beneficial to go to church and engage in religion. Being religious is a virtue regardless of the motivation.
  2. It is not sinful for a man to convince a rich woman to be his wife, or convince potential customers to do business at his store—in fact, it demonstrates the he is motivated and hard-working.
  3. Since being religious is good, and getting a wife is good, and growing your business is good—getting a wife and growing your business by being religious must certainly be good. Such an endeavor is a “good and profitable design.”

Money-love’s answers are affirmed by all. By-ends has proved his point. In the company of Christian and Hopeful, he was rebuked and offended. But now he has found companions that answer to his liking. Foolishness thrives best in the company of fools and so they fail to see their own faulty reasoning. Rather than their hypocrisy being exposed, it is applauded and admired.

By-ends and his friends now devise a plan. They are so convinced in their own minds of the soundness of their reasoning, that they believe no one can refute them. Christian and Hopeful had earlier shamed By-ends when he was alone. Now they will catch up to the pilgrims and confront them as a group, with Hold-the-world acting as spokesman. And this time it will be Christian who will falter and be silenced. In the next post we will hear Christian’s response to By-ends and his friends.

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 ©2017 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

A Prayer and Encouragement for Those Who Preach God’s Word

A prayer and an encouragement for those who faithfully study and preach God’s Word week by week, diligently mining its treasures that we might marvel at truth in all its facets.

The Riches of God's Word

Vast the Riches of God’s Word

“Therefore I love your commandments
above gold, above fine gold.”
(Psalm 119:127)

1. Vast the riches of God’s Word,
Truth that shines as purest gold.
Search its treasures, venture deep,
All its splendor to behold!

2. Grant us hearts that love the Word,
Open ears that we might hear,
Help Your servant, Lord, we pray,
Make the message plain and clear.

3. Keep our thoughts from wandering
As Your Word is preached today,
Anchor us in truth applied
That we might not fall or stray.

4. Preach the Word, we need to hear!
Draw out wealth as from a mine.
Show each gem that we might see
Truth in all its facets shine.

5. Take us to each verse and line,
Open up the Word and show
All the riches we can find;
Help us more of Christ to know.

6. May God’s Word in brilliance shine
Light on all we do and say.
May it be our great delight
To receive it and obey.

Words ©2017 Ken Puls

Download the lyrics and free sheet music for this hymn, including an arrangement of the tune INNOCENTS for classical guitar.

More Hymns and Songs

The Companions of By-ends

Now I saw in my dream that Christian and Hopeful forsook him, and kept their distance before him; but one of them looking back, saw three men following Mr. By-ends, and behold, as they came up with him, he made them a very low conge; and they also gave him a compliment. The men’s names were Mr. Hold-the-world, Mr. Money-love, and Mr. Save-all; men that Mr. By-ends had formerly been acquainted with; for in their minority they were schoolfellows, and were taught by one Mr. Gripe-man, a schoolmaster in Love-gain, which is a market town in the county of Coveting, in the north. This schoolmaster taught them the art of getting, either by violence, cozenage, flattery, lying, or by putting on the guise of religion; and these four gentlemen had attained much of the art of their master, so that they could each of them have kept such a school themselves.

Well, when they had, as I said, thus saluted each other, Mr. Money-love said to Mr. By-ends, Who are they upon the road before us? (for Christian and Hopeful were yet within view).

By-ends: They are a couple of far countrymen, that, after their mode, are going on pilgrimage.

Money-Love: Alas! Why did they not stay, that we might have had their good company? for they, and we, and you, Sir, I hope, are all going on pilgrimage.

By-ends: We are so, indeed; but the men before us are so rigid, and love so much their own notions, and do also so lightly esteem the opinions of others, that let a man be never so godly, yet if he jumps not with them in all things, they thrust him quite out of their company.

Save-All: That is bad, but we read of some that are righteous overmuch; and such men’s rigidness prevails with them to judge and condemn all but themselves. But, I pray, what, and how many, were the things wherein you differed?

By-ends: Why, they, after their headstrong manner, conclude that it is duty to rush on their journey all weathers; and I am for waiting for wind and tide. They are for hazarding all for God at a clap; and I am for taking all advantages to secure my life and estate. They are for holding their notions, though all other men are against them; but I am for religion in what, and so far as the times, and my safety, will bear it. They are for religion when in rags and contempt; but I am for him when he walks in his golden slippers, in the sunshine, and with applause.

Hold-the-World: Ay, and hold you there still, good Mr. By-ends; for, for my part, I can count him but a fool, that, having the liberty to keep what he has, shall be so unwise as to lose it. Let us be wise as serpents; it is best to make hay when the sun shines; you see how the bee lieth still all winter, and bestirs her only when she can have profit with pleasure. God sends sometimes rain, and sometimes sunshine; if they be such fools to go through the first, yet let us be content to take fair weather along with us. For my part, I like that religion best that will stand with the security of God’s good blessings unto us; for who can imagine, that is ruled by his reason, since God has bestowed upon us the good things of this life, but that he would have us keep them for his sake? Abraham and Solomon grew rich in religion. And Job says, that a good man shall lay up gold as dust. But he must not be such as the men before us, if they be as you have described them.

Save-All: I think that we are all agreed in this matter, and therefore there needs no more words about it.

Money-Love: No, there needs no more words about this matter, indeed; for he that believes neither Scripture nor reason (and you see we have both on our side) neither knows his own liberty, nor seeks his own safety.

The Companions of By-endsIn the last post, Christian and Hopeful met a traveler named By-ends. By-ends claimed to be a fellow pilgrim, but his religion proved to be a pretense. Though he was walking on the pathway claiming to follow Christ, he was in fact following his own heart in pursuit of personal gain. Life in Christ was not his aim or reward, rather, it was a means to another end, a way to attain a more advantageous position in this life.

By-ends is certainly a regular church attender in our day, especially in communities where the church is looked on favorably and where the cost of identifying with Christ is low. But the emphasis given to By-ends in The Pilgrim’s Progress indicates that he must have been active in Bunyan’s day as well. Though Christian and Hopeful leave By-ends behind, Bunyan keeps the focus of the story on him and gives us more insight into his character. The falseness of By-ends’ faith is evident especially in: 1) his choice of companions, 2) his opinion of Christian and Hopeful, and 3) his view of religion.

By-ends Choice of Companions

Not long after Christian and Hopeful’s departure, three other travelers catch up to By-ends. They are all former acquaintances and By-ends readily welcomes them as his preferred companions. They greet him with a respectful bow and a compliment. Their names reveal a like-mindedness to By-ends’ way of thinking: Mr. Hold-the-world, Mr. Money-love, and Mr. Save-all. They all grew up together in the town of Love-gain in the country of Coveting. Their school teacher was Mr. Gripeman. Bunyan here uses an archaic definition of gripe meaning “to clutch or grasp or seize.” Mr. Gripeman’s students learned “the art of getting”—how to accrue possessions, power, pleasure and profit by any means necessary: violence, cozenage (deception), flattery, lying, or even by putting on the guise of religion. Though they prefer the treasures of this world to heavenly treasure, they all regularly attend church. They value the church, not as a place of humble worship and sacrificial service, but as a useful place to make connections, explore prospects, and gain people’s trust. They have learned well how to manipulate religion to their advantage in their pursuit of personal gain.

By-ends’ Opinion of Christian and Hopeful

Though By-ends considers himself to be a pilgrim, he distances himself from Christian and Hopeful. He describes them to his current companions as “far countrymen” not near neighbors or relations. His complaints against them are numerous: He does not count them as brothers, but feels slighted that they would not affirm his “reasonable” way of thinking. He thinks them to be rash and radical; they have their own “mode” of going on a pilgrimage. They are rigid and in love with their own notions. They lightly esteem the opinions of others. They won’t accept the company of any who do not act and think as they do. They are self-righteous in their condemnation of others. By-ends’ friends all agree with his assessment. They conclude that Christian and Hopeful have no regard for their own safety, have cast off their liberty, and are indeed unreasonable and even unbiblical.

By-ends’ View of Religion

It is clear from the testimony of By-ends and his companions that they believe themselves to be on a pilgrimage. Their faith is false. Their souls are in great peril. They are in love with the world, enamored by its mirage of prosperity and imprisoned by its fleeting comforts. Yet they believe all is well. Their guise of religion has fooled even themselves.

Though By-ends regards Christian and Hopeful as radical and unreasonable, he believes himself to be sensible and balanced. He will not journey in all weathers (willing to press on in faith even when the storms of life come), but waits for wind and tide (favorable conditions and comfortable circumstances). He will not hazard all for God “at a clap” (when tragedy or an adverse circumstance strikes), but takes every advantage to secure own his life and estate. He will not stand for truth when it is opposed, but seeks first for his own welfare and safety. He will not hold religion while in rags or contempt, but only when it “walks in his golden slippers, in the sunshine, and with applause.”

By-ends is enthusiastic in justifying and rationalizing his views. He does so by:

  • Complaining about and degrading Christian and Hopeful
  • Offering his own ideas as the voice of reason
  • Seeking the support and encouragement of friends who think the same way as he does

Hold-the-world affirm his views. He does so by:

  • Appealing to nature and common sense—He draws analogies from serpents and bees, sunshine and rain, winter and harvest.
  • Appealing even to Scripture and biblical illustration—He refers (though out of context) to Abraham, Solomon and Job.

By-ends and his companions are convinced that they are right and that Christian and Hopeful are harsh and unloving for not accepting them on their own terms. They desire to hold to the world, love money and save all for themselves. But the Bible clearly contradicts them. We cannot follow Christ and hold to the world.

Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (James 4:4).

We cannot love money and serve God as well.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows (1 Timothy 6:10).

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (Matthew 6:24).

And we cannot save all for ourselves and value our own life above all.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Matthew 16:24–26).

The faith of By-ends and his friends is not confirmed by Scripture. Their love is not ultimately for Christ, but for themselves. Their religion is self-seeking and not God-honoring. In the next post By-ends and his friends defend their reasoning for using religion as a means to acquire personal gain.

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 ©2017 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

The Posture of Worship (Part 2)

Raised Hands

Last time in our series on worship, we began a study on what the Bible says about posture in worship.

So why is posture important? Why all the verses?

Why, in a day when we are called upon to worship God in Spirit and in truth, should we be concerned about our outward expressions of worship?

In our time together this evening I want to answer these questions.  We will first discuss the importance of posture and then conclude with a right perspective on posture.

I. The importance of posture in worship

1. God made us to be both body and soul.

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being (Genesis 2:7).

God created our bodies, as well as our souls. He made us of dust and breathed life in us. He made us to enjoy Him, not only in our souls, but in our bodies as well. He demands our obedience, not only in our hearts, but lived out in our bodies as well.

Paul refers to our bodies as the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s (1 Corinthians 6:19–20).

God made our bodies to glorify Him. Paul exhorted the church:

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service (Romans 12:1).

He desired that Christ be exalted in his own life lived out to God’s glory.

For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death (Philippians 1:19–20).

We cannot separate body and soul. God has created us and wired us to be complete beings. What we do with the body affects the soul. What goes on in the soul is made manifest and expresses itself in the body.

Corporate worship of necessity involves the body.

  • We speak God’s Word.
  • We voice our prayers.
  • We sing with our lips.
  • We place our gifts and tithes in the offering plate.
  • We eat and drink at the Lord’s Table.

When we worship God, we worship Him in our bodies.

Oh, but some might say, “God is Spirit.” And we are to worship Him in Spirit and in truth. God is concerned with my heart and so what I do with my body is of little or no consequence.

It is true that we are to worship God in Spirit and in truth. But God informs us in His Word that He has given His Sprit to make us alive—in our bodies. His indwelling presence has made our bodies temples of worship. We are living sacrifices, dead to sin but alive unto Christ.

We cannot escape our bodies if we are to participate in the elements of worship. We can get into trouble and become imbalanced we disengage our body and soul. This can happen two ways.

  1. We become so withdrawn or introspective that we no longer value what is happening around us—or concern ourselves with how we are reacting to what is happening around us. We think that we can hold our faith on the inside—in the domain of the heart—without caring that it ever shows on the outside.
  2. We become so extroverted that we content ourselves with just going through the bodily motions and we disengage the heart. We think God will be pleased with our outward show of faith without caring that we really mean it on the inside.

Both of these dangers lead us down the road of hypocrisy. When God truly pierces us with His Word, it affects body and soul!

Truth rightly understood in the heart—on the inside—will compel us to live out truth and rightly apply it—on the outside.

Worship begins in the heart—in the mind (focusing and directing our thoughts), then the will (determining our actions), and our emotions (flooding and spilling out into our feelings). As the truth of God’s Word dawns in our thinking by the illuminating power of the Spirit, we are brought to sorrow and repentance over our sin—we are brought to joy and faith in the salvation and forgiveness of sin found in Christ. And we are spurred into action and obedience as the reality of God’s work on the inside is expressed and lived out on the outside.

We need truth, but we need the Spirit to quicken us and make that truth alive and active in our hearts and in our lives. Truth is not just for the mind—it is for the whole of our being.

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).

Truth has implications and demands on our hands and feet as well as our minds and intellect.

Known truth must be practiced truth. Doctrine must find its way to devotion.

[This excerpt is from a sermon entitled “The Posture of Worship (Part 2)” in the series Thoughts on Worship. Continue reading the full sermon text here.]

Read also “The Posture of Worship (Part 1)”

See more Sermons and Articles by Ken Puls

The Posture of Worship (Part 1)

Lift up the hands

The Bible has much to say about our posture in worship. This can be seen in two specific points:

I. The meanings of the two words, translated most often in Scripture as “worship” in both the Old and New Testament, refer to posture.

The Hebrew verb shacah in the Old Testament means to become low or to bow down as an act of reverence. It depicts a physical act that symbolizes what we do when we worship—showing reverence to God, acknowledging Him as the Most High, humbling ourselves, making ourselves low—in His presence. The term describes the worship of Israel at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple:

When Solomon had finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. And the priests could not enter the house of the Lord, because the glory of the Lord had filled the Lord’s house. When all the children of Israel saw how the fire came down, and the glory of the Lord on the temple, they bowed their faces to the ground on the pavement, and worshiped and praised the Lord, saying: “For He is good, for His mercy endures forever” (2 Chronicles 7:1-3).

And in the psalms:

Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.
(Psalms 95:6)

In the New Testament proskuneo is the Greek term most often translated “worship.” It has a similar meaning: to bow down, become low or kiss toward.

It is the verb used when the wisemen came to Bethlehem to see Jesus after seeing His star in the East.

And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2:11).

This is the term used in Matthew 4 when Satan tempted Jesus:

And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve’” (Matthew 4:9–10).

It is the verb used after the resurrection when Jesus greets the women near the empty tomb:

And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, “Rejoice!” So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him (Matthew 28:9).

And before His ascension into heaven when His disciples worshipped Him:

Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted (Matthew 28:16–17).

It describes the worship of the church on earth. Paul speaks of an unbeliever coming into a worship service and being convinced that God is truly present. He says of the unbeliever:

And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you (1 Corinthians 14:25).

This is a physical expression of worship—not just bowing down to God in the heart, but bowing down with the body.

Proskuneo describes the worship in heaven as well:

The twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne (Revelation 4:10).

It is the word (both noun and verb) used five times in John 4:20–24 where Jesus teaches:

But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Some have interpreted Jesus’ words here to mean that God is only concerned about our spirit in worship—only interested in what is happening on the inside—the externals are of no importance or consequence.

I submit to you that this is a misinterpretation of these verses. Jesus was not teaching here that the body no longer mattered. He was teaching that our worship must be alive in the power of the Spirit and informed and in submission to the authority of His Word.

Truth must first be received and understood and grasped by the heart, but when truth grips us—when it really matters to us—when it really affects us—it will be borne out—visibly displayed—made apparent and lived out in our bodies.

What does it look like when we worship God? What should it look like? What affect should truth have on our physical expression—on our countenance—if we really get it? When we look into God’s Word, we see that He has much to say concerning our posture and expression in worship. He is concerned not only with what we are communicating directly to Him on the inside in our hearts—but also what we are communicating on the outside to those around us.

God alone is worthy of our worship. He alone is Most High. And we are to express our worship to Him in both body and heart. So how then can we know what is appropriate and fitting as we physically express our devotion to God in worship? Here the Scripture gives us a wealth of information.

[This excerpt is from a sermon entitled “The Posture of Worship (Part 1)” in the series Thoughts on Worship. You can read the full sermon text here.]

See more Sermons and Articles by Ken Puls

Guitar Hymns for Easter Sunday

It’s almost Easter Sunday. If you play classical guitar and are looking for music, here are some suggestions. Click on the hymn title to view or download the free sheet music (PDF).

Hymns for Easter

Alleluia! Alleluia!
Christ the Lord Is Risen Today (EASTER HYMN)
Crown Him With Many Crowns
I Know That My Redeemer Lives
Look Ye Saints, the Sight Is Glorious
Low in the Grave He Lay
The Head That Once Was Crowned With Thorns
Thine Is the Glory

You are welcome to copy and share these hymns with friends and fellow guitarists. You can use them for accompanying congregational singing (classical guitar works especially well for a sunrise service), playing prelude or offertory music, or simply playing for your own enjoyment.  Please copy the full page with the website address and the “Used by Permission” notice at the bottom (see Permissions).

For additional music, check out:

Hymns for Good Friday

Hymns for Classical Guitar
Christmas Music for Classical Guitar
Wedding Music for Classical Guitar
More Music for Classical Guitar

Music and Resources for Worship