Hopeful’s Testimony Part 6 Invitation to Christ

Christian: And what did you do then?

Hopeful: I made my objections against my believing, for that I thought he was not willing to save me.

Christian: And what said Faithful to you then?

Hopeful: He bid me go to him and see. Then I said it was presumption; but he said, No, for I was invited to come. Then he gave me a book of Jesus, his indicting, to encourage me the more freely to come; and he said, concerning that book, that every jot and tittle thereof stood firmer than heaven and earth. Then I asked him, What I must do when I came; and he told me, I must entreat upon my knees, with all my heart and soul, the Father to reveal him to me. Then I asked him further, how I must make my supplication to him? And he said, Go, and you shall find him upon a mercy-seat, where he sits all the year long, to give pardon and forgiveness to them that come. I told him that I knew not what to say when I came. And he bid me say to this effect:

God be merciful to me a sinner, and make me to know and believe in Jesus Christ; for I see, that if his righteousness had not been, or I have not faith in that righteousness, I am utterly cast away. Lord, I have heard that You are a merciful God, and have ordained that Your Son Jesus Christ should be the Savior of the world; and moreover, that You art willing to bestow him upon such a poor sinner as I am, (and I am a sinner indeed); Lord, take therefore this opportunity and magnify Your grace in the salvation of my soul, through Your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

Faithful and Hopeful

Hopeful knew that Christ was his only hope. He heard the gospel clearly explained by Faithful. He understood the gospel—even wanted to believe the gospel. Yet he hesitated. He thought himself to be too great a sinner. He did not believe God was willing to save him.

This was Bunyan’s own experience. Though he wanted the forgiveness and grace promised in Scripture, he did not believe it could be his. He describes his dark feelings in Grace Abounding.

Nay, thought I, now I grow worse and worse; now am I further from conversion than ever I was before. Wherefore I began to sink greatly in my soul, and began to entertain such discouragement in my heart as laid me low as hell. If now I should have burned at a stake, I could not believe that Christ had love for me; alas, I could neither hear him, nor see him, nor feel him, nor savor any of his things; I was driven as with a tempest, my heart would be unclean, the Canaanites would dwell in the land.

[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 78]

But, I observe, though I was such a great sinner before conversion, yet God never much charged the guilt of the sins of myignorance upon me; only he showed me I was lost if I had not Christ, because I had been a sinner; I saw that I wanted a perfect righteousness to present me without fault before God, and this righteousness was nowhere to be found, but in the person of Jesus Christ.

But my original and inward pollution, that, that was my plague and my affliction; that, I say, at a dreadful rate, always putting forth itself within me; that I had the guilt of, to amazement; by reason of that, I was more loathsome in my own eyes than was a toad; and I thought I was so in God’s eyes too; sin and corruption, I said, would as naturally bubble out of my heart, as water would bubble out of a fountain. I thought now that everyone had a better heart than I had; I could have changed heart with anybody; I thought none but the devil himself could equalize me for inward wickedness and pollution of mind. I fell, therefore, at the sight of my own vileness,deeply into despair; for I concluded that this condition that I was in could not stand with a state of grace. Sure, thought I, I am forsaken of God; sure I am given up to the devil, and to a reprobate mind; and thus I continued a long while, even for some years together.

[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 83–84]

At times he felt so wretched and miserable that he thought creation itself was reluctant to suffer his presence.

Thus was I always sinking, whatever I did think or do. So one day I walked to a neighboring town, and sat down upon a settle in the street, and fell into a very deep pause about the most fearful state my sin had brought me to; and, after long musing, I lifted up my head, but methought I saw as if the sun that shines in the heavens did grudge to give light, and as if the very stones in the street, and tiles upon the houses, did bend themselves against me; methought that they all combined together to banish me out of the world; I was abhorred of them, and unfit to dwell among them, or be partaker of their benefits, because I had sinned against the Savior. O how happy, now, was every creature over [what] I was; for they stood fast and kept their station, but I was gone and lost.

[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 187]

How can God save a soul so polluted and mired in sin? Why would He even want to?

Faithful’s response to Hopeful’s objection against believing is worth noting. He does not try to minimize Hopeful’s sin—Oh, you’re not that bad! Don’t be so hard on yourself! Of course God wants to save you! Nor does he attempt to build up Hopeful’s self esteem—Stop being so negative! Think of all the good things you’ve done! Of course you’re worth saving! Instead Faithful continues to exalt Christ and magnify His goodness, kindness, and mercy. He points Hopeful to the gracious promises of God’s Word. He shows Hopeful how God’s power and glory are magnified in His grace and mercy toward sinners. He encourages Hopeful to “go to Him and see.” When Hopeful fears that he would be presumptuous in going, Faithful reassures him. It is not presumption to go to Christ for grace and forgiveness. He invites us to come!

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30).

The Bible gives us both command and example of entreating God in prayer.

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

Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days (Daniel 6:10).

Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:12–13).

This invitation to come to Christ and display of God’s love in the cross of Christ is for all the world to hear and see.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

In John 6:37 Jesus promises: “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” Bunyan removes all objections of those who hesitate when he expounds this verse in Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ.

For this word, “in no wise,” cuts the throat of all objections; and it was spoken by the Lord Jesus for that very end; and to help the faith that is mixed with unbelief. And it is, as it were, the sum of all promises; neither can any objection be made upon the unworthiness that you find in yourself, that this promise will not assail.

But I am a great sinner, you say.
“I will in no wise cast out,” says Christ.

But I am an old sinner, you say.
“I will in no wise cast out,” says Christ.

But I am a hard-hearted sinner, you say.
“I will in no wise cast out,” says Christ.

But I am a backsliding sinner, you say.
“I will in no wise cast out,” says Christ.

But I have served Satan all my days, you say.
“I will in no wise cast out,” says Christ.

But I have sinned against light, you say.
“I will in no wise cast out,” says Christ.

But I have sinned against mercy, you say.
“I will in no wise cast out,” says Christ.

But I have no good thing to bring with me, you say.
“I will in no wise cast out,” says Christ.

Christ has promised that all who come to Him “I will by no means cast out.” We must believe this. We need never doubt the promises God gives us in His Word. The Word of God is certain. Everything He has said will come to pass.

Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away (Matthew 24:35).

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light (Genesis 1:3).

Not a word failed of any good thing which the Lord had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass (Joshua 21:45).

Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled (Matthew 5:17–18).

He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it (1 Thessalonians 5:24).

In the Old Testament, the prophet Joel reminded God’s people that God “is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness” (Joel 2:13). And so we hear God graciously say: “Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning” (Joel 2:12).

Faithful encouraged Hopeful to take God at His Word and go to Him in repentance and faith. He said, “you shall find him upon a mercy-seat.”

You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the Testimony that I will give you. And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the Testimony, about everything which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel. (Exodus 25:21–22).

The Mercy Seat in the Old Testament tabernacle and Temple (Leviticus 16:2, Number 7:89) was but a type of the true Mercy Seat in heaven. It is Christ who has opened our access to the throne of grace where we are entreated to come with boldness.

Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14–16).

Cast aside your objections and come to Christ! Hesitate no longer!

Say to them: “As I live,” says the Lord God, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11)

Take God at His Word and believe Him! Come repenting of sin and cast yourself on His mercy.

And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ (Luke 18:13)

And come to Him by faith believing that true righteousness is found in Christ alone.

if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation (Romans 10:9–10).

O sinner, come to Jesus Christ!
And find the riches He can give.
In Him find all for life and peace.
O sinner, look to Christ and live!

(from “O Sinner, Come to Jesus Christ”)

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.

For God So Loved the World

For God so loved the world, that he gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

These words are some of the most well-known and welcoming words of Scripture. Jesus spoke them to Nicodemus, a Jewish leader who was intrigued with Jesus’ miracles and came at night to learn more about Jesus. In this verse Jesus encapsulates His mission. He came to be a Savior not just for the nation of Israel, but for the world. He has come to shed His blood and ransom a people for God“from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9–10).

When Jesus said “whoever believes,” He did not mean “whoever” the way some in our day use “whatever” (as if God doesn’t really care who comes). The wording of the verse is actually very personal. A better rendering would be “each one believing” or “everyone believing.” Each one who places his or her faith in the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved. Everyone who turns away from their sin and comes to Christ by faith will be forgiven and will have eternal life.

These words are filled with hope. They offer life eternal! Though I am a needy sinner, wholly underserving of God’s kindness and mercy, living in a nation thousands of miles from where Jesus walked the earth, living almost 2000 years after He rose again and ascended into heaven, yet God’s love reaches even me!

Preach this wonderful promise to your soul often! Share with those around you who need God’s grace and mercy. God’s love is wider, deeper, and farther reaching than you could ever imagine!

My Soul What Truth Consoles You?

My soul, what truth consoles you?
For hope, where can you run?
For God so loved the world that
He gave His only Son,
And everyone believing,
Though wrecked by sin and strife,
In Him can never perish,
But have eternal life.

Words ©2017 Ken Puls

Check out the lyric video of this hymn on youtube:

See more lyrics, including a free Lyric Print (PDF), and download free sheet music for this hymn.

Image from Unsplash

Hopeful’s Testimony Part 5 The Gospel of Grace

Christian: And what did you do then?

Hopeful: Do! I could not tell what to do, until I brake my mind to Faithful, for he and I were well acquainted. And he told me, that unless I could obtain the righteousness of a man that never had sinned, neither mine own, nor all the righteousness of the world could save me.

Christian: And did you think he spoke true?

Hopeful: Had he told me so when I was pleased and satisfied with mine own amendment, I had called him fool for his pains; but now, since I see mine own infirmity, and the sin that cleaves to my best performance, I have been forced to be of his opinion.

Christian: But did you think, when at first he suggested it to you, that there was such a man to be found, of whom it might justly be said that he never committed sin?

Hopeful: I must confess the words at first sounded strangely, but after a little more talk and company with him, I had full conviction about it.

Christian: And did you ask him what man this was, and how you must be justified by him?

Hopeful: Yes, and he told me it was the Lord Jesus, that dwelleth on the right hand of the Most High. And thus, said he, you must be justified by him, even by trusting to what he hath done by himself, in the days of his flesh, and suffered when he did hang on the tree. I asked him further, how that man’s righteousness could be of that efficacy to justify another before God? And he told me he was the mighty God, and did what he did, and died the death also, not for himself, but for me; to whom his doings, and the worthiness of them, should be imputed, if I believed on him.

Faithful and Hopeful

Hopeful came to realize that he had no hope in himself. He had no righteousness of his own that was fit for the presence of God and not stained with sin. He knew he was guilty, but he was unable to escape conviction, either by attempting to ignore his sin or by trying to make amends for his sin. So, in his desperation he sought out one whom he thought could help. He shared his distress with Faithful, and Faithful faithfully pointed him to Christ.

Hopeful was acquainted with Faithful and knew of his testimony. When Christian and Faithful first came to Vanity Fair, Hopeful thought them to be fools for condemning evil and preaching against sin. But when he saw the evils of his own heart, and felt the weight of condemnation due his sin, he was compelled to agree with them. He sought their counsel, and though the message of the gospel “sounded strangely” to him at first, the more he heard, the more he was convinced that it was true.

Faithful told Hopeful that the only way he could be right with God was to attain a perfect righteousness. He needed to be holy.

In the Old Testament God told Israel in Leviticus 19:2, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” His standard has not changed in the New Testament. Peter writes to the church:

but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15–16).

We need holiness. We need righteousness. But where can we find it? We cannot attain such holiness on our own. We cannot earn righteousness by keeping the Law and doing good works. If such righteousness is to be ours, it must be gained by another and granted to us by grace. This righteousness is only found in One Person—Christ Jesus alone.

This is the good news of the gospel. God has provided the righteousness we need in Christ.

But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:21–26).

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith (Philippians 3:7–9).

If we are to be holy and righteous, we must have Christ! If we are to be cleansed and forgiven, we must have Christ! If we are to escape death, the wages of sin, we must have Christ!

In Christ there is no more condemnation for sin.

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:1).

Who is he who condemns? 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).

In Christ there is eternal life.

And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent (John 17:3).

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

In Christ there is hope, joy, and salvation.

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, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:3–5).

For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:9).

It is through Christ’s shed blood that we are cleansed, redeemed, and forgiven.

knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God (1 Peter 1:18–21).

He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13–14).

He alone can make us acceptable and fit for God’s presence.

Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water (Hebrews 10:19–22).

Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence (Ephesians 1:4–8).

He alone can make us righteous and holy.

And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight (Colossians 1:21–22).

But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified (Hebrews 10:12–14).

Because of Jesus’ death, we who are in Him are made perfect. In Him we are justified. God imputes the blame and guilt of our sin to Christ. Though we are deserving of death, God takes the punishment due our sin and charges it to Christ’s account. He pours out His wrath and judgment upon Him, so that by Christ’s death on the cross, we are acquitted, cleansed, and forgiven. But that is not all! God also credits Christ’s righteousness to us. Only Jesus has perfectly kept God’s Word (John 8:55) and always done what is pleasing to God (John 8:29). God imputes Christ’s perfect righteousness to us so that we might be accepted in Him and declared holy and blameless. We are credited with His obedience, treated as sons and daughters, and brought near to God. In Christ, we stand before God forgiven and declared righteous.

Hopeful’s testimony highlights our need to look to Christ alone for rescue from sin and relief from guilt and condemnation. But it also highlights our need to always be ready to point others to the hope we have in Christ.

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear (1 Peter 3:15).

There are many around us who are ensnared by sin and in need of hope. Like Hopeful, some have initially rejected the gospel and are attempting to excuse their sin. Some have placed their confidence in themselves and are futilely attempting to do enough good to amend for their sin. But God can dissolve unfounded excuses and shatter false confidence. He can bring sinners low, to a point of crisis—where they reach the end of themselves, where they have no more answers, where they don’t know what to do.

God is at work in the lives of others around us and we need to be attentive and ready to serve them. Hopeful was drawn to Faithful in a time of crisis. He was intrigued with Faithful’s confidence and remembered Faithful’s message. Would Faithful’s experience be ours as well?  Ask yourself:

  • Are you aware of others around you—their challenges and struggles, hopes and dreams?
  • Is your life accessible to others? Do you have time or make time to make a difference in the lives of others?
  • Is your life marked by integrity, compassion, and confidence in God? In times of crisis and conviction, would those around you be compelled to seek your counsel and comfort?
  • Are you fluent with the gospel? Do you know God’s Word? Do you speak to others about their need for Christ? Are you willing and ready to share your faith?
  • Are you looking for opportunities to serve others and point them to Christ?

Without Christ, this world has no hope.

Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).

We must be faithful to hold fast to Christ and implore others to do so as well. He alone has the righteousness we need.

“Unchanging Righteousness,
My only hope and plea,
That Jesus came and lived and bled
And died and rose for me.”

(from Unchanging Righteousness by Ken Puls)

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.

Hopeful’s Testimony Part 4 The Futility of Works

Christian: And how did you do then?

Hopeful: I thought I must endeavor to mend my life; for else, thought I, I am sure to be damned.

Christian: And did you endeavor to mend?

Hopeful: Yes; and fled from not only my sins, but sinful company too; and betook me to religious duties, as prayer, reading, weeping for sin, speaking truth to my neighbors, etc. These things did I, with many others, too much here to relate.

Christian: And did you think yourself well then?

Hopeful: Yes, for a while; but at the last, my trouble came tumbling upon me again, and that over the neck of all my reformations.

Christian: How came that about, since you were now reformed?

Hopeful: There were several things brought it upon me, especially such sayings as these: “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” “By the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” “When ye shall have done all those things, say, We are unprofitable,” with many more such like. From whence I began to reason with myself thus: If ALL my righteousnesses are filthy rags; if, by the deeds of the law, NO man can be justified; and if, when we have done ALL, we are yet unprofitable, then it is but a folly to think of heaven by the law. I further thought thus: If a man runs a hundred pounds into the shopkeeper’s debt, and after that shall pay for all that he shall fetch; yet, if this old debt stands still in the book uncrossed, for that the shopkeeper may sue him, and cast him into prison till he shall pay the debt.

Christian: Well, and how did you apply this to yourself?

Hopeful: Why; I thought thus with myself. I have, by my sins, run a great way into God’s book, and that my now reforming will not pay off that score; therefore I should think still, under all my present amendments, But how shall I be freed from that damnation that I have brought myself in danger of by my former transgressions?

Christian: A very good application: but, pray, go on.

Hopeful: Another thing that has troubled me, even since my late amendments, is, that if I look narrowly into the best of what I do now, I still see sin, new sin, mixing itself with the best of that I do; so that now I am forced to conclude, that notwithstanding my former fond conceits of myself and duties, I have committed sin enough in one duty to send me to hell, though my former life had been faultless.

Though Hopeful tried at first to suppress the conviction weighing upon his heart, he was unsuccessful. He tried not to think about the consequences of his sin, but he still felt guilty and condemned. He then thought of another way to ease his conscience. He feared judgment for all the wrongs he had done, and so he endeavored to mend his life by doing good. He tried forsaking sin. He abandoned sinful companions. He did things that he believed would commend him to God. He prayed, he read his Bible, he felt sorry for sin, he even witnessed to his neighbors—that the world might see he was reformed. But going through the motions of being right with God does not make one right with God. Any good feelings Hopeful gained by being religious were fleeting. Guilt and conviction continued to flood his soul and overwhelmed all his efforts to reform.

The truth began to dawn in Hopeful’s thinking as he pondered God’s Word. Scripture teaches the futility of works as a way to be right with God. As Hopeful remembered verses that he had read and heard, he realized two important truths.

  1. Even if he could live perfectly from this day forward, he could never repay his former debt of sin.Were he able to obey God’s commands and do all that was required of him, he would only be doing his duty.

So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, “We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do” (Luke 17:10).

He could not do more to make up for past sins. The burden was too great. This was Christian’s great distress when he set out from the City of Destruction. Hopeful came to understand what Christian learned earlier on his journey when Worldly Wiseman sent him to see Legality in the Village of Morality. As Christian neared the cliffs of the High Hill (the thundering of God’s Law on Mount Sinai) the mountain seemed threatening, his burden seemed heavier, and he could not go on. Later in the allegory Faithful learned the same lesson when he was struck down by Moses on Hill Difficulty. Both Christian and Faithful attempted to gain God’s favor by obeying God’s Law. And both learned the same truth: the law cannot save us. No one will ever attain heaven by keeping God’s Law. We cannot find relief from our guilt or acceptance with God through our own attempts at obedience. In our sin, the Law only condemns us. It provides no relief, no reprieve, no respite. Our only hope of forgiveness is God’s grace and mercy given to us in Christ Jesus.

knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified (Galatians 2:16).

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast (Ephesians 2:8–9).

We can never do enough good works to cancel out our debt of sin. We are wholly unable to repay God; we cannot gain righteousness by our own efforts and strength.

  1. Even if he could repay his former debt of sin, he would still be weighed down with the debt owed daily for new sins.Though he tried reforming his life, he discovered that sin remained in his heart. Each day new sins added to his guilt before God. His sins separated him from God. Sin is thoroughly evil and contrary to God and His nature. Ralph Venning offers an apt description of the “sinfulness of sin.”

God is holy, without spot or blemish, or any such thing, without any wrinkle, or anything like it, as they also that are in Christ shall one day be (Ephesians 5:27). He is so holy, that he cannot sin himself, nor be the cause or author of sin in another. He does not command sin to be committed, for to do so would be to cross his nature and will. Nor does he approve of any man’s sin, when it is committed, but hates it with a perfect hatred. He is without iniquity, and of purer eyes than to behold (i.e. approve) iniquity (Habakkuk 1:13).

On the contrary, as God is holy, all holy, only holy, altogether holy, and always holy, so sin is sinful, all sinful, only sinful, altogether sinful, and always sinful (Genesis 6:5). In my flesh, that is, in my sinful corrupt nature, there dwelleth no good thing (Romans 7:18). As in God there is no evil, so in sin there is no good. God is the chiefest of goods and sin is the chiefest of evils. As no good can be compared with God for goodness, so no evil can be compared with sin for evil.

[The Sinfulness of Sin, Ralph Venning, 1669]

Sin is pervasive and insidious. It is mixed in all we do. Impure motives, wrong opinions, misguided ideas—we all have them. Even our righteous acts have enough sin mixed in to send us to hell. Hopeful confesses: “I have committed sin enough in one duty to send me to hell, though my former life had been faultless.” Sin has so tainted our thoughts and actions, that even our best efforts and most noble thoughts are as “filthy rags.”

But we are all like an unclean thing,
And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags;
We all fade as a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind,
Have taken us away.
(Isaiah 64:6)

Not every sin causes equally dire consequences or requires the same sort of restitution.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation (Matthew 23:14).

But every sin is grievous and damnable, because it is ultimately committed against our perfect and holy Creator.

How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God? (Genesis 39:9b)

For I acknowledge my transgressions,
And my sin is always before me.
Against You, You only, have I sinned,
And done this evil in Your sight—
That You may be found just when You speak,
And blameless when You judge.
(Psalm 51:3–4)

Jonathan Edwards rightly concludes:

Any sin is more or less heinous depending upon the honor and majesty of the one whom we had offended. Since God is of infinite honor, infinite majesty, and infinite holiness, the slightest sin is of infinite consequence. The slightest sin is nothing less than cosmic treason when we realize against whom we have sinned.

[The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners, Jonathan Edwards, 1734]

R.C. Sproul further explains Edwards’ conclusion:

“Sin is cosmic treason. Sin is treason against a perfectly pure Sovereign. It is an act of supreme ingratitude toward the One to whom we owe everything, to the One who has given us life itself. Have you ever considered the deeper implications of the slightest sin, of the most minute peccadillo? What are we saying to our Creator when we disobey Him at the slightest point? We are saying no to the righteousness of God. We are saying, “God, Your law is not good. My judgement is better than Yours. Your authority does not apply to me. I am above and beyond Your jurisdiction. I have the right to do what I want to do, not what You command me to do.”

[The Holiness of God, R.C. Sproul1985]

Hopeful understands the dire consequences of his sin. And he realizes the futility of his own works to atone for his sin. He cannot earn his own righteousness or attain God’s favor through his own efforts. He needs to look to the work of another. He needs a righteousness not his own. In the next post we will hear how Hopeful learned of the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ.

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.

Hopeful’s Testimony Part 3 Growing Conviction

Christian: Then, as it seems, sometimes you got rid of your trouble.

Hopeful: Yes, verily, but it would come into my mind again, and then I should be as bad, nay, worse, than I was before.

Christian: Why, what was it that brought your sins to mind again?

Hopeful: Many things; as,

  1. If I did but meet a good man in the streets; or,
  2. If I have heard any read in the Bible; or,
  3. If mine head did begin to ache; or,
  4. If I were told that some of my neighbors were sick; or,
  5. If I heard the bell toll for some that were dead; or,
  6. If I thought of dying myself; or,
  7. If I heard that sudden death happened to others;
  8. But especially, when I thought of myself, that I must quickly come to judgment.

Christian: And could you at any time, with ease, get off the guilt of sin, when by any of these ways it came upon you?

Hopeful: No, not I, for then they got faster hold of my conscience; and then, if I did but think of going back to sin, (though my mind was turned against it), it would be double torment to me.

Hopeful's growing conviction

Though Hopeful initially rejected the gospel and resisted the conviction that was weighing upon his conscience, God continued to pursue him. He remembered his own mortality and frailty. He was reminded of his sinfulness and failing before God. He could not escape thoughts of the coming judgment. These reminders were all around him:

  • When he heard about or saw someone doing what was right and good
  • When he heard the Word of God read or mentioned
  • When he became ill or heard of others who were ill
  • When he heard about someone who died, especially if the death was tragic or unexpected (or unjust as it was with Faithful in Vanity Fair)
  • When he thought that he would die and stand before God in judgment

Though he tried to put thoughts of death, judgment, and God out of his mind, all of these things were aimed at his conscience. God would not let him alone to rest comfortably in his sin.

Many in our day are feeling the pangs of conscience like Hopeful, but they have yet to turn to Christ and find rest and relief. Hopeful’s testimony offers encouragement and instruction as we pray for friends and family who are still clinging to sin and resisting grace.

1) We need to remember that our lives are on display. We need to walk before others with integrity, loving what is right and good, and doing what is right and good.

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel (Philippians 1:27).

Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear (1 Peter 3:1–2).

2) We need to be bold in speaking the Word of God, even to unbelievers. The Word of God is the Word of life!

Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life (John 5:24).

Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed (Acts 13:48).

How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:14–17).

3) We need to trust in God’s good purposes even through times of difficulty and hardship. God often uses trials and sickness to remind us of our own frailty and need for Him. But God’s good purposes may well extend beyond ourselves. God can use tragedy, sickness, even death, as a means of grace to bring conviction to others and cause others to ponder the state of their soul. Our trials may be the very means that God is using to draw friends and family to Himself. He indeed works all things together for good, to those who love Him, “to those who are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). Let us live so that our lives, even in the midst of trials, help and not hinder others to look to Christ and find hope in the gospel.

We need to pray for those around us who are resisting God’s Word, who are hesitating or outright rejecting the truth. Pray that God will not leave them to their sin, but will use all means necessary to pursue and draw them to Himself. And pray that God’s “means” would include even us as He providentially directs our lives for our good and the good of others around us.

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 Lord Is My Delight—Twenty Years

Waterfall and Valley

“But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ” (Philippians 3:7).

The Lord is my delight!
To serve my Sov’reign King;
My life poured out to do His will,
A joyful offering!

As I arise this day,
May I count all things loss,
To the know the joy of life in Christ
By taking up my cross.

I long to be like Christ,
His will my meat and drink,
Delighting in obedience
In all I do and think.

This day the Lord has giv’n
Belongs to Him, not me,
To be lived out in faith and love,
And not spent selfishly.

Each person that I meet,
Each circumstance I face,
Is an occasion to make known
The riches of His grace.

My joy is in the Lord,
To serve Him all my days;
My life poured out for all to see,
A sacrifice of praise.

Words ©1998 Kenneth A Puls

This is the title hymn from the album The Lord Is My Delight, a collection of hymns and songs celebrating the joy of following and serving Christ. I wrote the hymn twenty years ago, in October 1998, in my final semester at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I had successfully defended my dissertation in September and I was looking forward to graduation in December with a PhD in Church Music Ministry. The hymn is a declaration of my ongoing commitment to acknowledge every day as a gift from God to be used for His glory. 

Check out the lyric video on youtube:

And download the music from band camp:

Click here to download lyrics and free sheet music, including an arrangement of the hymn tune TRENTHAM for Classical Guitar.

—Ken Puls

Hopeful’s Testimony Part 2 Initial Resistance

Christian: But what was the cause of your carrying of it thus to the first workings of God’s blessed Spirit upon you?

Hopeful: The causes were, 1. I was ignorant that this was the work of God upon me. I never thought that, by awakenings for sin, God at first begins the conversion of a sinner. 2. Sin was yet very sweet to my flesh, and I was loath to leave it. 3. I could not tell how to part with mine old companions, their presence and actions were so desirable unto me. 4. The hours in which convictions were upon me were such troublesome and such heart-affrighting hours that I could not bear, no not so much as the remembrance of them, upon my heart.

 Witness in Vanity

Hopeful’s testimony again highlights a contrast between his experience of coming to faith in Christ and Christian’s experience. He and Christian responded differently to the awakening of the soul to the reality of sin and the need for salvation.

Christian first learned that he was in danger of judgment by reading his book (the Bible). As he read, he was distressed. We first see him “clothed with rags” (he is sinful and unrighteous), “with his face from his own house” (he has no desire to continue living in sin) and a burden is on his back (he feels the weight of guilt and conviction for his sin). When Evangelist pointed him to the Wicket Gate (Christ) and the Shining Light (light of God’s Word), Christian was anxious for help and ready to begin his journey to escape Destruction.

Hopeful first heard the Bible’s warnings about sin from Christian and Faithful when they came to the town of Vanity. He was at first unwilling to see his danger. As he heard God’s Word, he responded with denial and rejection. Though he began feeling the “first workings” of God in his heart, he was resistant.

He describes 4 causes for his initial resistance:

1) He was ignorant that God was at work in his heart. He did not realize that the conviction he was experiencing was actually the stirrings of grace in his life. Conviction made him feel guilty and terrible. How could these things be of God?

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

2) He still loved his sin.

You love evil more than good,
Lying rather than speaking righteousness.
Selah
(Psalm 52:3)

Hopeful heard the warnings of Scripture. The pleasures of sin are short-lived.

Do you not know this from of old,
since man was placed on earth,
that the exulting of the wicked is short,
and the joy of the godless but for a moment?
(Job 20:4–5, ESV)

Sin enslaves and leads us to death.

Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? (Romans 6:16)

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

But Hopeful would not turn away from sin. Sin continued to ensnare him.

His own iniquities entrap the wicked man,
And he is caught in the cords of his sin.
(Proverbs 5:22)

“Sin was yet very sweet” and he loathed to leave it.

Stolen water is sweet,
And bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”
(Proverbs 9:17)

Bread gained by deceit is sweet to a man,
But afterward his mouth will be filled with gravel.
(Proverbs 20:17)

3) He was unwilling to part with old companions. Hopeful was not only enticed by his flesh to remain in sin, he was encouraged by sinful companions. Scripture warns:

He who walks with wise men will be wise,
But the companion of fools will be destroyed.
(Proverbs 13:20)

Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.” Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame (1 Corinthians 15:33–34).

Hopeful’s friends approved and affirmed him in his sin. He prized their friendship as they legitimized his sin. He was not ready to walk away from destructive relationships.

4) He was troubled by conviction and afraid of his guilt. Hopeful felt the weight of condemnation for his sin and it terrified him. When he remembered his sin, he was filled with conflicting thoughts of dread and delight. Sin promised him pleasure, but he couldn’t bear the guilt it left behind. Sin assured him that he would be satisfied, but he ended up troubled by conviction. He was unwilling to turn from sin, and so to find relief, he tried to banish guilt and conviction from his mind.

Many in our day are experiencing such struggles of conscience. Though they sense a measure of sin’s horror, they are trapped by sin. They have sinned against others and feel the lingering guilt and condemnation. They have been sinned against and feel the hurt and shame that sin leaves in its wake. But instead of pursuing forgiveness and relief in the gospel, they try to drown out and smother their conscience with false hopes and more sin.

As we share the gospel with friends, family, and others with whom we have the opportunity to speak, Hopeful’s experience should give us cause for real hope. Sometimes the bonds of sin are hard to break. Sometimes truth dawns slowly in the heart. But initial resistance to God’s Word is not fatal. In time Hopeful did hear and believe the gospel. He did forsake his sin and his old life in Vanity Fair. He became a pilgrim—a follower of Christ—and set out with Christian for the Celestial City. We must keep praying for those still in bondage to sin that God would in time give them light and set them free. In the next post Hopeful explains to Christian how God continued to pursue him and lay the weight of conviction on his conscience.

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.

Hopeful’s Testimony Part 1 Ensnared by Sin

Christian: Then Christian began and said, I will ask you a question. How came you to think at first of so doing as you do now?

Hopeful: Do you mean, how came I at first to look after the good of my soul?

Christian: Yes, that is my meaning.

Hopeful: I continued a great while in the delight of those things which were seen and sold at our fair; things which, I believe now, would have, had I continued in them, still drowned me in perdition and destruction.

Christian: What things are they?

Hopeful: All the treasures and riches of the world. Also, I delighted much in rioting, reveling, drinking, swearing, lying, uncleanness, Sabbath-breaking, and what not, that tended to destroy the soul. But I found at last, by hearing and considering of things that are divine, which indeed I heard of you, as also of beloved Faithful that was put to death for his faith and good living in Vanity Fair, that “the end of these things is death.” And that for these things’ sake “cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.”

Christian: And did you presently fall under the power of this conviction?

Hopeful: No, I was not willing presently to know the evil of sin, nor the damnation that follows upon the commission of it; but endeavored, when my mind at first began to be shaken with the Word, to shut mine eyes against the light thereof.

 Christian and Hopeful

The Pilgrim’s Progress is primarily the story of Christian. On the opening page we see him distressed, “clothed with rags, standing in a certain place, with his face from his own house, a book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back.” At the encouragement of Evangelist, he flees his home in the city of Destruction and begins his journey to the Celestial City. Through the character of Christian, Bunyan tells his own story of coming to faith in Christ. But he also gives us glimpses into the journeys of some others along the way. Faithful tells of his own escape from the City of Destruction. We hear of his encounters with Wanton, Adam the First, Moses, Discontent, and Shame. We see his powerful witness as he travels with Christian to the town of Vanity, where he is put on trial and martyred for his faith. Later in the allegory Christian relates some of the story of Little-faith, a pilgrim from the town of Sincere who struggled on his journey after he was robbed and beaten.

It is interesting to compare the testimonies of each of these pilgrims. You will find that there are many similarities—things that are true of all the accounts. But you will also find some differences. Bunyan is emphasizing by this that our pilgrimages will not all be the same. Some parts of the journey that are easy for some, will be difficult for others. There are temptations that may cause some to stray for a time, while others will immediately see the danger and not be led astray. This is why is so important for us to travel together—fellowshipping with one another, encouraging one another, and discipling one another.

To continue their journey Christian and Hopeful must traverse the Enchanted Ground. As they cross, they try to stay awake and alert by engaging in “good discourse.” At Palace Beautiful Christian learned the value of godly company and gospel conversations. Discretion, Piety, Prudence, and Charity all questioned Christian and drew out his testimony. Now Christian questions Hopeful and their dialog provides a detailed account of Hopeful’s testimony.

Christian begins by asking Hopeful how it was that he became concerned about his soul. Hopeful is from the town of Vanity. His former life reflected the spiritual state of many in this world. He was ensnared and entrenched in sin, pursuing all the vain pleasures of this life, blissfully unaware that his soul was in danger. He was blind to God’s good ways, delighting in all the world has to offer, and hoping all would turn out well in the end.

The turning point came in Hopeful’s life when Christian and Faithful came to his town. As Hopeful watched and listened to the two pilgrims, he was intrigued. He began thinking about the good of his soul.

Their lives intrigued him. When Christian and Faithful came to Vanity Fair they seemed very much out of place. They weren’t tempted by the temporary and fleeting pleasures of the world. They did not buy and sell at the Fair with others in the town. Instead, they told the merchants, “We buy the truth” (Proverbs 23:23). The town reacted with anger and scorn. Christian and Faithful were oppressed, persecuted, put on trial, and jailed. In the end Faithful was martyred for his faith. Yet in the midst of trial and temptation, Christian and Faithful stood firm for the truth.

Their words intrigued him. Christian and Faithful not only lived the truth before the town, they spoke the truth. They faithfully proclaimed and taught God’s Word. Hopeful heard that he must forsake sin or face coming wrath and judgment.

But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them (Ephesians 5:3–7).

Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them (Colossians 3:5–7).

Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts (Romans 13:13–14).

He heard that sin leads only to death.

What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death(Romans 6:21).

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

At first Hopeful refused to believe the truth. He did not want to acknowledge the evil of sin or the certainty of judgment. His eyes were closed, his ears were hard of hearing, and his heart was dull (Isaiah 6:10, Matthew 13:15, Acts 28:27).  He was enamored by the world and against the things of God.

Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:7–8).

But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14).

Hopeful was not looking for Christ. He was not trying to understand the Bible. He was not even aware that he was lost and in danger. He prized the riches and treasures of the world more than the Word and Way of God. Though he both heard and saw the gospel on display in the lives of Christian and Faithful, he tried at first to block the truth from his mind and hide it from his eyes.

Hopeful’s experience highlights the importance of sharing our faith with others, even with those who initially reject and scorn the truth. Christian and Faithful were willing to go through the town of Vanity (the sinful world in its opposition to God) and face opposition and persecution, even to death, so that people living in the town could see and hear the gospel proclaimed. Because of their witness, Hopeful was able to hear and consider “things that are divine.” He heard them speak truth; he saw them stand for truth, and he watched them live the truth. It made a lasting impression.

We live in a day when the world is equally opposed to truth and ensnared by sin. Truth is regarded as fluid and malleable—something to be constantly shaped as we construct our own realities and tell our own stories in order to make sense of the world around us. Evil is recast and redefined as anything that threatens or opposes our stories. The world delights in darkness, rejects the light of God’s Word, and is blind to God’s ways.

May God give us boldness in our day to live and speak truth in the midst of a lost world. And may those around us see our lives, hear our words, and be intrigued to know the hope within us.

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 Enchanted Ground

I saw then in my dream, that they went till they came into a certain country, whose air naturally tended to make one drowsy, if he came a stranger into it. And here Hopeful began to be very dull and heavy of sleep; wherefore he said unto Christian, I do now begin to grow so drowsy that I can scarcely hold up mine eyes, let us lie down here and take one nap.

Christian: By no means, said the other, lest sleeping, we never awake more.

Hopeful: Why, my brother? Sleep is sweet to the laboring man; we may be refreshed if we take a nap.

Christian: Do you not remember that one of the Shepherds bid us beware of the Enchanted Ground? He meant by that that we should beware of sleeping; “Therefore let us not sleep, as do others, but let us watch and be sober.”

Hopeful: I acknowledge myself in a fault, and had I been here alone I had by sleeping run the danger of death. I see it is true that the wise man says: Two are better than one. Hitherto hath thy company been my mercy, and thou shalt have a good reward for thy labor.

Christian: Now then, said Christian, to prevent drowsiness in this place, let us fall into good discourse.

Hopeful: With all my heart, said the other.

Christian: Where shall we begin?

Hopeful: Where God began with us. But do you begin, if you please.

Christian: I will sing you first this song:

When saints do sleepy grow, let them come hither,
And hear how these two pilgrims talk together:
Yea, let them learn of them, in any wise,
Thus to keep ope their drowsy slumb’ring eyes.
Saints’ fellowship, if it be managed well,
Keeps them awake, and that in spite of hell.

 The Enchanted Ground

Since meeting in the town of Vanity, Christian and Hopeful have faced many dangers and difficulties together. As they near the end of their journey they face another peril—one that is subtler and much harder to discern. They enter the Enchanted Ground—a country where the air tends to make unsuspecting travelers drowsy and lethargic. The Enchanted Ground represents dullness brought about by spiritual complacency and fatigue.

When Christian and Hopeful enter the Enchanted Ground, Hopeful begins “to be very dull and heavy of sleep.” He suggests to Christian that they stop and take a nap. Christian, however, is adamant that they press on. He fears that if they sleep, they might never awake. But Hopeful is not convinced. He questions Christian’s resistance and quotes Scripture to make his point: “The sleep of a laboring man is sweet…” (Ecclesiastes 5:12). The verse that Hopeful quotes is certainly true. Christian learned the value of rest at House Beautiful. But this is not the time for sleep. Christian remembers the instructions of the Shepherds and recognizes the ground. The Shepherds warned the pilgrims to beware of the Enchanted Ground. They dare not sleep in this place.

Consider and hear me, O Lord my God;
Enlighten my eyes,
Lest I sleep the sleep of death.
(Psalm 13:3)

How long will you slumber, O sluggard?
When will you rise from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
A little folding of the hands to sleep—
So shall your poverty come on you like a prowler,
And your need like an armed man.
(Proverbs 6:9–11)

And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed (Romans 13:11).

Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober (1 Thessalonians 5:6).

Christian has already seen the dangers of spiritual sleep. Earlier in the allegory he found Simple, Sloth, and Presumption asleep not far from the cross. Simple saw no need to study, understand, or apply doctrine. Sloth saw no need to do hard or costly things. Presumption settled where, if needed, he could see the cross and assumed all would be well. Christian himself later fell asleep at the Arbor while he was climbing Hill Difficulty. He lost his roll (his assurance of salvation) for a time and his carelessness placed him in greater danger.

The danger of the Enchanted Ground is spiritual complacency and fatigue.

When life is comfortable and religion becomes rote, we can grow complacent and careless in our walk with God. We can settle in and grow too comfortable in our faith. Our worship loses its wonder and becomes too routine. We go to church week after week, hearing the same old Sunday School lessons, singing the same old songs, hearing the same preacher saying the same things. And we begin to think: I’ve heard that before—and we don’t listen as intently—Didn’t we sing this hymn just last week?—and we stop paying attention to the words. We grow too familiar with the content and form of worship—and we tune out. Our minds wander and spiritual sleep overtakes us. We come week after week to feed on God’s Word but fail to “taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8). In his commentary on The Pilgrim’s Progress, William Mason warns:

Christian, beware of sleeping on this enchanted ground! When all things go easy, smooth, and well, we are prone to grow drowsy in soul.  How many are the calls in the Word against spiritual slumber! and yet how many professors, through the enchanting air of this world, are fallen into the deep sleep of formality! Be warned by them to cry to thy Lord to keep thee awake to righteousness, and vigorous in the ways of thy Lord—(Mason).

Even churches can drift into spiritual lethargy. As God’s people, we can become drowsy, asleep near the cross, like Simple, Sloth, and Presumption. We can dismiss and discard the teaching of difficult doctrine, so not to offend anyone. We can settle into a comfortable routine and stop doing hard things and challenging things. We can pare down ministry so it is manageable and predictable. We can grow complacent and languid—no longer sharing our faith with others, no longer engaging one another about our spiritual welfare. We can assume all is well and fail to encourage and admonish one another. As Keith Green has said, we can fall “asleep in the light.”

Oh, can’t you see such sin?!
The world is sleeping in the dark,
That the church just can’t fight,
’cause it’s asleep in the light!

Keith Green
©1978 from the album No Compromise

Spiritual complacency is not the only thing that lulls us to sleep. Spiritual fatigue does so as well. Living as a Christian in a world filled with sin is hard. Rising day after day, fighting the same old battles against sin, can be wearisome. It is easy to wonder at times—wouldn’t it be nice if I just didn’t have to fight anymore? Satan tempts us to give up the fight of faith. He tries to allure us away from what is true when we are weak and weary.

In Part II of The Pilgrim’s Progress, the pilgrims find two travelers asleep on the Enchanted Ground: Heed-less and Too-Bold. They rushed in with confidence, but failed to stay alert. They did not heed the truth of God’s Word and grew weary in crossing. They weren’t prepared for the long haul. Great-heart, the pilgrims’ guide in Part II, explains their demise.

This, then, is the mischief of it, when heedless ones go on pilgrimage, it is twenty to one but they are served thus; for this Enchanted Ground is one of the last refuges that the enemy to pilgrims has. Wherefore it is, as you see, placed almost at the end of the way, and so it stands against us with the more advantage. For when, thinks the enemy, will these fools be so desirous to sit down, as when they are weary? and when so like to be weary, as when almost at their journey’s end? Therefore it is, I say, that the Enchanted Ground is placed so nigh to the Land Beulah, and so near the end of their race.

The Enchanted Ground lies near the end of the journey because spiritual fatigue is a danger we can easily slip into when we have followed the Way for a long time.

How then are we to avoid the dangers and make it across the Enchanted Ground?

The solution for making it across such a treacherous place is threefold:

1) Never walk alone. When Hopeful realizes his error, he is grateful for Christian’s company. He quotes from Ecclesiastes:

Two are better than one,
Because they have a good reward for their labor.
For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.
But woe to him who is alone when he falls,
For he has no one to help him up.
(Ecclesiastes 4:9–10)

Had he been by himself, Hopeful might have fallen asleep and not completed his journey. By God’s kindness, Christian walked with him and prevented him from succumbing to spiritual slumber.

2) Look to God’s Word. God has given us instruction in His Word that we must heed and follow. He has given us faithful Shepherds to teach us God’s Word and to exhort us to follow its instruction. We must remember God’s Word and preach it continually to ourselves and to one another as we press on to our journey’s end.

3) Engage in godly discourse. Christian tells Hopeful, “to prevent drowsiness in this place, let us fall into good discourse.” Here Bunyan highlights the value of Christian discipleship. The pilgrims sing and discuss together spiritual things that edify their souls. Discipleship involves helping and encouraging others, and letting others help and encourage us. It involves investing time in others, rejoicing in truth with others, and sharing testimony of God’s goodness with one another. We need to continually rehearse the gospel, and never simply presume the gospel.  Discipleship is the means of grace whereby God keeps the gospel new and fresh in our hearts. It is the means whereby new believers are taught to cherish and walk in the faith. And it is the means whereby mature believers are heartened to continue cherishing and walking in the faith.

In the next several posts we will see discipleship in action. Christian will question Hopeful, draw out his testimony, and offer encouragement and instruction. God is gracious in insisting that we journey to the Celestial City together. We should always be grateful for the opportunity to walk together, look to God’s Word together, and share testimonies of God’s goodness our lives. We need discourse on the truth to keep us from growing dull and falling asleep in the Way.

Father, help them not grow drowsy
As they cross Enchanted Ground;
Stir their souls with lively discourse
Of the precious grace they’ve found.

(from A Prayer for Pilgrims by Ken Puls)

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.

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 not leave 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.

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