Right Thoughts About God

Ignorance: What are good thoughts concerning God?

Christian: Even as I have said concerning ourselves, when our thoughts of God do agree with what the Word says of him; and that is, when we think of his being and attributes as the Word has taught, of which I cannot now discourse at large; but to speak of him with reference to us: Then we have right thoughts of God, when we think that he knows us better than we know ourselves, and can see sin in us when and where we can see none in ourselves; when we think he knows our inmost thoughts, and that our heart, with all its depths, is always open unto his eyes; also, when we think that all our righteousness stinks in his nostrils, and that, therefore, he cannot abide to see us stand before him in any confidence, even in all our best performances.

Word of God

Ignorance was hindered from coming to faith in Christ because he did not believe the truth about himself. His heart was darkened by sin. His life was in defiance of God’s Law. He was a justly condemned sinner in need of God’s grace and mercy. But he simply could not believe that his heart was that bad. His heart told him so!

If we are to rightly understand ourselves, we must measure ourselves according to God’s Word. This is true of what we believe about ourselves and it is true of what we believe about God. Having good thoughts about God is not necessarily thinking highly of Him or hoping that He will answer our prayers just as we desire. We are not free to imagine God as we want Him to be. He is not defined by our feelings, our felt needs, or our own sense of justice. If we are to know God truly, we must know Him as He as revealed Himself in His Word.

Consider for a moment some of what the Bible says is true about God.

God is solitary. He alone is God; there is none like Him.

Who is like You, O Lord, among the gods?
Who is like You, glorious in holiness,
Fearful in praises, doing wonders?
(Exodus 15:11)

For who is God, except the Lord?
And who is a rock, except our God?
(Psalm 18:31)

Now see that I, even I, am He,
And there is no God besides Me;
I kill and I make alive;
I wound and I heal;
Nor is there any who can deliver from My hand.
(Deuteronomy 32:39)

No one is holy like the Lord,
For there is none besides You,
Nor is there any rock like our God.
(1 Samuel 2:2)

God is holy. He alone is perfect, pure, and righteous.

Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name?
For You alone are holy.
For all nations shall come and worship before You,
For Your judgments have been manifested.
(Revelation 15:4)

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).

And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure (1 John 3:3).

Because He is holy, He hates sin and He will judge sin.

God is a just judge,
And God is angry with the wicked every day.
(Psalm 7:11)

For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness,
Nor shall evil dwell with You.
The boastful shall not stand in Your sight;
You hate all workers of iniquity.
(Psalm 5:4–5)

Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the ungodly shall perish.
(Psalm 1:5–6)

God is supreme. He is above all things; He is first and primary. Nothing is greater; nothing is higher. Nothing is more vital or more important.

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness,
The power and the glory,
The victory and the majesty;
For all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours;
Yours is the kingdom, O Lord,
And You are exalted as head over all.
(1 Chronicles 29:11)

“You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3)

God is omniscient. He knows all thing. He knows everything about us down to the smallest detail. Nothing can be hidden from God. Nothing can surprise Him or catch Him off guard.

O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.
(Psalm 139:1–3)

Known to God from eternity are all His works (Acts 15:18).

God is sovereign. He rules over all things. He is LORD and King. He directs all things and “works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11).

But our God is in heaven;
He does whatever He pleases
(Psalm 115:3)

Whatever the Lord pleases He does,
In heaven and in earth,
In the seas and in all deep places.
(Psalm 135:6)

God is immutable. He never changes.

For I am the Lord, I do not change;
Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.
(Malachi 3:6)

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning (James 1:17).

His Word is certain.

Forever, O Lord,
Your word is settled in heaven.
(Psalm 119:89)

His plans are certain.

The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
The plans of His heart to all generations
And His love is everlasting.
(Psalm 33:11)

And His love is everlasting.

The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying:
“Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love;
Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.
(Jeremiah 31:3)

God is good. He always does what is right and just.

He loves righteousness and justice;
The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.
(Psalm 33:5)

For the Lord is good;
His mercy is everlasting,
And His truth endures to all generations.
(Psalm 100:5)

God is merciful and gracious. He has provided a way of hope, forgiveness, and life in Christ.

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 (1 Peter 1:3).

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:4–5).

The Lord is merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.
(Psalm 103:8)

But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious,
Longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth.
(Psalm 86:15)

These are only a few of God’s attributes revealed to us in Scripture (see The Attributes of God by Arthur W. Pink, 1975 for an excellent study on what the Bible teaches about God).

Ignorance thought he knew God. But he was not thinking “good thoughts concerning God.” His concept of God was shaped by his experience and imagination. Christian affirms that the only way to think rightly about God is to “think of his being and attributes as the Word has taught.”

The problem with Ignorance is not that he is dispassionate or indolent. He is devout and has walked a long way on his journey. He is intent on going to the Celestial City. He has not been dissuaded to turn aside or turn back. It’s not that he is openly rebellious or intentionally deceptive. He is sincere in what he believes. He is earnest in his conversation with Christian. His problem is the standard by which he walks. As he grapples to understand life, God, and the world around him, he looks to his heart rather than God’s Word. He has made himself the standard and believes what he wants to believe. Where Scripture affirms his fancies, he heartily agrees with it. But where Scripture confronts his notions, he readily ignores it. It is his unwillingness to submit to God in His Word that has bound him to walk in Ignorance.

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.

A Prayer for the New Year

This hymn, entitled “Prayer for a Blessing” by John Newton is from Part I “Seasons” of Book II of Olney Hymns and was sung “before annual sermons to young people, on New Years’ evenings.”

May God keep us near His throne of grace and may this be our prayer as we begin the new year.

Church and Steeple

Prayer for a Blessing

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

Now, gracious Lord, Thine arm reveal
And make Thy glory known;
Now let us all Thy presence feel
And soften hearts of stone!

Help us to venture near Thy throne
And plead a Savior’s name;
For all that we can call our own,
Is vanity and shame.

From all the guilt of former sin
May mercy set us free;
And let the year we now begin,
Begin and end with Thee.

Send down Thy Spirit from above,
That saints may love Thee more;
And sinners now may learn to love,
Who never loved before.

And when before Thee we appear,
In our eternal home,
May growing numbers worship here,
And praise Thee in our room.

“Prayer for A Blessing”
Words by John Newton (1779)
Music by Robert Simpson (1790–1832)
Words and Music ©Public Domain

Download free sheet music (PDF) for this hymn, including a guitar chord chart, and an arrangement of the hymn tune BALERMA for classical guitar.

More Hymns from History

More Hymns arranged for Classical Guitar

The True Measure of the Heart

Ignorance: Pray, what count you good thoughts, and a life according to God’s commandments?

Christian: There are good thoughts of divers kinds; some respecting ourselves, some God, some Christ, and some other things.

Ignorance: What be good thoughts respecting ourselves?

Christian: Such as agree with the Word of God.

Ignorance: When do our thoughts of ourselves agree with the Word of God?

Christian: When we pass the same judgment upon ourselves which the Word passes. To explain myself—the Word of God says of persons in a natural condition, “There is none righteous, there is none that doeth good.” It says also, that “every imagination of the heart of man is only evil, and that continually.” And again, “The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” Now then, when we think thus of ourselves, having sense thereof, then are our thoughts good ones, because according to the Word of God.

Ignorance: I will never believe that my heart is thus bad.

Christian: Therefore you never had one good thought concerning yourself in your life. But let me go on. As the Word passes a judgment upon our heart, so it passes a judgment upon our ways; and when OUR thoughts of our hearts and ways agree with the judgment which the Word giveth of both, then are both good, because agreeing thereto.

Ignorance: Make out your meaning.

Christian: Why, the Word of God says that man’s ways are crooked ways; not good, but perverse. It says they are naturally out of the good way, that they have not known it. Now, when a man thus thinks of his ways—I say, when he does sensibly, and with heart-humiliation, thus think, then has he good thoughts of his own ways, because his thoughts now agree with the judgment of the Word of God.

Christian Instructs Ignorance

It is one thing to have a good heart, and another thing only to think your heart is good. It is one thing to live a good life, and another thing only to think your life is good. So how can you be sure? How do you rightly measure the heart? How do you know what thoughts are good? How can you truly know if your life is in accord with God’s commands?

As Christian instructs Ignorance, he gets to the heart of the difference between a true believer and a false believer. Ignorance (a false believer) sets his own standards. His understanding of what is right is shaped by how he feels about his place in the world, how he desires to live his live, and how much he has prospered or suffered in this life. Ignorance remains true to his heart. If in his heart, he sincerely believes something to be true, then it must be true. But Christian and Hopeful look to a better and surer standard. The true measure of the heart is not our feelings and passions. It is not our hopes and aspirations. Nor is it our experiences or obstacles we have overcome. The true measure of the heart is the Word of God.

If we are to rightly measure the heart, we should not believe what our heart tells us is true. Instead, we must believe what God’s Word tells us is true.

How do you know if your thoughts are good? Ask yourself: Do my thoughts agree with God’s Word? How do you know if your life is good? Ask yourself: What does God’s Word say about my life? Am I passing the same judgment on myself which the Word passes?

The Word tells us that in our natural condition we are not good.

As it is written:
“There is none righteous, no, not one;
There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.
They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable;
There is none who does good, no, not one.”
(Romans 3:10–12)

Apart from Christ our hearts are evil.

Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Genesis 6:5).

… Then the Lord said in His heart, “I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done” (Genesis 8:21).

Left to ourselves, our ways are crooked and dark.

As for such as turn aside to their crooked ways,
The Lord shall lead them away
With the workers of iniquity.
Peace be upon Israel!
(Psalm 125:5)

To deliver you from the way of evil,
From the man who speaks perverse things,
From those who leave the paths of uprightness
To walk in the ways of darkness;
Who rejoice in doing evil,
And delight in the perversity of the wicked;
Whose ways are crooked,
And who are devious in their paths.
(Proverbs 2:12–15)

Though we may think we are on the way to heaven, if we are navigating this world according to our own standards (and even doing so sincerely) then we do not yet know the way of peace.

And the way of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
(Romans 3:17–18)

This is what the Bible says is true about us. If left to ourselves, this is our natural condition. This is the true measure of the heart. If this is what we believe about ourselves, then we are thinking good thoughts. Good thoughts are not necessarily thoughts about pleasant things; good thoughts are thoughts that reflect the truth of God’s Word.  If we anchor our judgments in God’s Word, then we will think rightly about our ways. If we acknowledge that what God has said about us in His Word is true, then there is hope that we will be humbled—that we will come to our senses and see our desperate need of a Savior. There is hope that we will stop trusting ourselves, resting in our own righteousness, and look to Christ, who alone gives “light to those who sit in darkness” and guides “our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79).

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.

Ignorance Follows His Heart

I saw then in my dream that Hopeful looked back and saw Ignorance, whom they had left behind, coming after. Look, said he to Christian, how far yonder youngster loiters behind.

Christian: Ay, ay, I see him; he cares not for our company.

Hopeful: But I think it would not have hurt him had he kept pace with us hitherto.

Christian: That is true; but I warrant you he thinks otherwise.

Hopeful: That, I think, he does; but, however, let us tarry for him. So they did.

Then Christian said to him, Come away, man, why do you stay so behind?

Ignorance: I take my pleasure in walking alone, even more a great deal than in company, unless I like it the better.

Then said Christian to Hopeful, (but softly), Did I not tell you he cared not for our company? But, however, said he, come up, and let us talk away the time in this solitary place. Then directing his speech to Ignorance, he said, Come, how do you? How stands it between God and your soul now?

Ignorance: I hope well; for I am always full of good motions, that come into my mind, to comfort me as I walk.

Christian: What good motions? pray, tell us.

Ignorance: Why, I think of God and heaven.

Christian: So do the devils and damned souls.

Ignorance: But I think of them and desire them.

Christian: So do many that are never like to come there. “The soul of the sluggard desires, and has nothing.”

Ignorance: But I think of them, and leave all for them.

Christian: That I doubt; for leaving all is a hard matter: yea, a harder matter than many are aware of. But why, or by what, are you persuaded that you have left all for God and heaven.

Ignorance: My heart tells me so.

Christian: The wise man says, “He that trusts his own heart is a fool.”

Ignorance: This is spoken of an evil heart, but mine is a good one.

Christian: But how dost thou prove that?

Ignorance: It comforts me in hopes of heaven.

Christian: That may be through its deceitfulness; for a man’s heart may minister comfort to him in the hopes of that thing for which he yet has no ground to hope.

Ignorance: But my heart and life agree together, and therefore my hope is well grounded.

Christian: Who told thee that thy heart and life agree together?

Ignorance: My heart tells me so.

Christian: Ask my fellow if I be a thief! Your heart tells you so! Except the Word of God bears witness in this matter, other testimony is of no value.

Ignorance: But is it not a good heart that has good thoughts? and is not that a good life that is according to God’s commandments?

Christian: Yes, that is a good heart that has good thoughts, and that is a good life that is according to God’s commandments; but it is one thing, indeed, to have these, and another thing only to think so.

"I'm always full of good motions"

During the long journey across the Enchanted Ground, Bunyan offers deeper insight into his story through two extended conversations. In the first, Hopeful shares with Christian his testimony of coming to faith in Christ. For the second, Bunyan brings back Ignorance, a character from earlier in the allegory. Bunyan’s purpose in these extended conversations is two-fold:

  1. To draw out some important doctrines regarding the salvation of sinners
  2. To more clearly highlight the differences between true faith and false faith

Bunyan knows that his readers will identify themselves with various characters and places throughout the story. He especially wants to help us see, for the sake of our own souls, the difference between a true believer (Hopeful) and a false believer (Ignorance). The contrast between the two is especially evident in where the two place their confidence. Hopeful believes the gospel and has placed his hope and trust in Christ. Ignorance is ignorant of the gospel and simply believes what his heart tells him is true.

When Christian and Hopeful last saw Ignorance, he had taken offence at their counsel, rejected their company, and continued the journey on his own. Though Ignorance is walking along the Way (intent on going to heaven), he regards the journey more causally than Christian and Hopeful. Hopeful looks back and sees that he is loitering and lagging behind. But Christian and Hopeful are willing to wait for him, desiring the opportunity to speak with him again.

Christian begins by asking Ignorance about the state of his soul before God. Hopeful has already affirmed that Christ alone can save; his soul is anchored in the sure promises of God’s Word. But Ignorance has moored his soul to wishful thinking. He hopes all is well. He rests his hope on his own “good motions” that come to his mind to comfort him along the way.

Good motions are those thoughts, feelings, and deeds that appear to be morally upright, spiritually uplifting, and truly beneficial to the soul. Ignorance has determined that if he can maintain a positive outlook and a preponderance of good things in his life, he will be welcomed at the end of his journey into the gates of the Celestial City. These good motions include: thinking about God and heaven, desiring God and heaven, and trusting his heart that he is living a good life. So long as these motions are active in his life, all must be well with his soul.

But Christian shows from Scripture that these “good motions” are insufficient to validate saving faith.

Ignorance thinks about God and heaven, but even the demons believe and tremble.

You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! (James 2:19)

He desires God and heaven, but desiring alone attains nothing.

The soul of a lazy man desires, and has nothing;
But the soul of the diligent shall be made rich.
(Proverbs 13:4)

He trusts the affirmations of his heart that his life is good, but “the heart is deceitful above all things.”

The heart is deceitful above all things,
And desperately wicked;
Who can know it?
I, the Lord, search the heart,
I test the mind,
Even to give every man according to his ways,
According to the fruit of his doings.
(Jeremiah 17:9–10)

He who is of a proud heart stirs up strife,
But he who trusts in the Lord will be prospered.
He who trusts in his own heart is a fool,
But whoever walks wisely will be delivered.
(Proverbs 28:25–26)

Ignorance has wrongly judged his heart to be good. He is not convinced of the depth of his sin or his need of a Savior. He finds comfort in himself—his good works, his positive outlook, his self-determination. He has wrongly concluded that because his “heart and life agree together,” he has a well-grounded hope and God will accept him. He makes it clear by his replies that, while he presents himself as a follower of Christ, he is in fact a follower of himself.

The only sure foundation on which to anchor our hope is God’s Word. It points us to Christ who alone can save us. But Ignorance has traded the sure Word of God for the shifting sensations of the heart. He believes all is well with his soul, because his heart tells him so! Christian tells him plainly: “Your heart tells you so! Except the Word of God bears witness in this matter, other testimony is of no value.”

Ignorance asks: “But is it not a good heart that has good thoughts? And is not that a good life that is according to God’s commandments?” Christian affirms that this is true.

For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:43:49).

But Christian warns: “It is one thing, indeed, to have these, and another thing only to think so.” So how then can we know if our heart holds good treasure or evil treasure? In the next post Christian explains the true measure of a heart.

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.

O Holy Night

Night Sky

Cantique de Noël

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
‘Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees
O hear the angel voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born
O night—O holy night, O night divine!

French Carol
Translated by John S Dwight, 1855
Music by Adolphe Adam, 1847

Read more of the lyrics to this Christmas Carol

Download a free arrangement of this Christmas Carol
for Flute and Classical Guitar [PDF]

To find additional music arranged for Classical Guitar, including an arrangement of Vivaldi’s Trio Sonata in C for Flute and Guitar, visit:

Student Pieces and Music for Classical Guitar

See also:

Christmas Music for Classical Guitar

Hymns for Classical Guitar

Wedding Music for Classical Guitar

Music of Bach for Classical Guitar

 

Hopeful’s Testimony Part 7 Coming to Christ

Christian: And did you do as you were bidden?

Hopeful: Yes; over, and over, and over.

Christian: And did the Father reveal his Son to you?

Hopeful: Not at the first, nor second, nor third, nor fourth, nor fifth; no, nor at the sixth time neither.

Christian: What did you do then?

Hopeful: What! why I could not tell what to do.

Christian: Had you not thoughts of leaving off praying?

Hopeful: Yes; an hundred times twice told.

Christian: And what was the reason you did not?

Hopeful: I believed that that was true which had been told me, to wit, that without the righteousness of this Christ, all the world could not save me; and therefore, thought I with myself, if I leave off I die, and I can but die at the throne of grace. And withal, this came into my mind, “Though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.” So I continued praying until the Father showed me his Son.

Christian: And how was he revealed unto you?

Hopeful: I did not see him with my bodily eyes, but with the eyes of my understanding; and thus it was: One day I was very sad, I think sadder than at any one time in my life, and this sadness was through a fresh sight of the greatness and vileness of my sins. And as I was then looking for nothing but hell, and the everlasting damnation of my soul, suddenly, as I thought, I saw the Lord Jesus Christ look down from heaven upon me, and saying, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”

But I replied, Lord, I am a great, a very great sinner. And he answered, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” Then I said, But, Lord, what is believing? And then I saw from that saying, “He that cometh to me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst”, that believing and coming was all one; and that he that came, that is, ran out in his heart and affections after salvation by Christ, he indeed believed in Christ. Then the water stood in mine eyes, and I asked further. But, Lord, may such a great sinner as I am be indeed accepted of thee, and be saved by thee? And I heard him say, “And him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out.” Then I said, But how, Lord, must I consider of thee in my coming to thee, that my faith may be placed aright upon thee? Then he said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” “He is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” “He died for our sins, and rose again for our justification.” “He loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.” “He is mediator betwixt God and us.” “He ever lives to make intercession for us.” From all which I gathered, that I must look for righteousness in his person, and for satisfaction for my sins by his blood; that what he did in obedience to his Father’s law, and in submitting to the penalty thereof, was not for himself, but for him that will accept it for his salvation, and be thankful. And now was my heart full of joy, mine eyes full of tears, and mine affections running over with love to the name, people, and ways of Jesus Christ.

Christian: This was a revelation of Christ to your soul indeed; but tell me particularly what effect this had upon your spirit.

Hopeful: It made me see that all the world, notwithstanding all the righteousness thereof, is in a state of condemnation. It made me see that God the Father, though he be just, can justly justify the coming sinner. It made me greatly ashamed of the vileness of my former life, and confounded me with the sense of mine own ignorance; for there never came thought into my heart before now that showed me so the beauty of Jesus Christ. It made me love a holy life, and long to do something for the honor and glory of the name of the Lord Jesus; yea, I thought that had I now a thousand gallons of blood in my body, I could spill it all for the sake of the Lord Jesus.

Come to Christ

When Hopeful heard the gospel invitation, he responded as Faithful encouraged him to do. He prayed and sought God for understanding and mercy. But Hopeful confessed that he was not successful at first. Though his prayers were sincere, his coming to Christ was a struggle. He faced many obstacles. His life condemned him. His sins filled him with guilt. Fears and doubts clouded his mind. He still lived in the midst of Vanity and the town Fair sought to lure him back. Temptations bludgeoned him with guilt as fiercely as his sin. Even his pride turned against him, convincing him that his sin was so great and so vile that God would never want him.

These obstacles continue to hinder people from coming to Christ. The enemy of our souls would discourage, distract, oppress, oppose—anything to keep us away from the mercies and kindness of God in the gospel. Each obstacle offers another excuse to delay.

  • I would come to Christ, but I still have unanswered questions.
  • I would come to Christ, but there are statements in the Bible that I just don’t like.
  • I would come to Christ, but I just don’t have time to attend church.
  • I would come to Christ, but I need to get my life straightened out first.
  • I would come to Christ, but I don’t think God would save me. You just don’t know the terrible things I’ve done.

Hopeful prayed and sought relief many times before he truly laid hold of Christ in the gospel. His experience is similar to Christian’s who, upon arriving at the Wicket Gate, “knocked therefore more than once or twice” and when seeking instruction to find relief from his burden, “knocked over and over” at the House of the Interpreter.

So, what brought Hopeful finally to a saving knowledge of Christ?

How was Christ revealed to Him? Take note of three observations from Hopeful’s testimony.

1. God opened the eyes of his understanding.

Hopeful said: “I did not see him with my bodily eyes, but with the eyes of my understanding.”

That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power (Ephesians 1:17–19).

Salvation is not automatic. It is not easily dispensed as if grace were a refreshing soft drink and God were a vending machine. Salvation is a sovereign work of grace that turns the darkness of our hearts to light, the enchantment of our sins to dread, and the “foolishness” of the gospel to “words of life.”

2. The Word of God took root in his heart and mind.

Coming to Christ is the Lord opening the heart (Acts 16:14) as the Spirit of God powerfully wields the Word of God that we might understand, heed, and obey. To be set free from the bondage of sin, we must know the truth.

And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free (John 8:32).

God’s Word is truth.

Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth (John 17:17).

And God’s Word points us to Christ.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. (John 14:6).

It Is clear from Hopeful’s testimony that his thinking was saturated with God’s Word. When he was distressed and despondent, truths from Scripture came to his mind. He had a deep sense of his guilt and sinfulness. But promise after promise melted his chains and freed him to pursue Christ. When he was tempted to stop praying, the words of Habakkuk 2 came to his mind:

Then the Lord answered me and said:
“Write the vision
And make it plain on tablets,
That he may run who reads it.
For the vision is yet for an appointed time;
But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie.
Though it tarries, wait for it;
Because it will surely come,
It will not tarry.
“Behold the proud,
His soul is not upright in him;
But the just shall live by his faith.
(Habakkuk 2:2–4)

When he grieved over “the greatness and vileness” of his sin and looked for “nothing but hell” and “everlasting damnation,” he remembered the answer Paul and Silas gave to the Philippian jailer’s question:

And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:30–31).

And when he thought himself to be too great a sinner, he remembered the words Jesus gave to Paul:

And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me (2 Corinthians 12:9).

This was Bunyan’s own experience as recorded in Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners:

Therefore I still did pray to God, that he would come in with this Scripture more fully on my heart; to wit, that he would help me to apply the whole sentence, ‘for as yet I could not: that he gave, I gathered; but further I could not go,’ for as yet it only helped me to hope ‘there might be mercy for me,’ “My grace is sufficient”; and though it came no farther, it answered my former question; to wit, that there was hope; yet, because “for thee” was left out, I was not contented, but prayed to God for that also. Wherefore, one day as I was in a meeting of God’s people, full of sadness and terror, for my fears again were strong upon me; and as I was now thinking my soul was never the better, but my case most sad and fearful, these words did, with great power, suddenly break in upon me, “My grace is sufficient for thee, my grace is sufficient for thee, my grace is sufficient for thee,” three times together; and, oh! methought that every word as a mighty word unto me; as my, and grace, and sufficient, and for thee; they were then, and sometimes are still, far bigger than others be.

At which time my understanding was so enlightened, that I was as though I had seen the Lord Jesus look down from heaven through the tiles upon me, and direct these words unto me. This sent me mourning home, it broke my heart, and filled me full of joy, and laid me low as the dust; only it stayed not long with me, I mean in this glory and refreshing comfort, yet it continued with me for several weeks, and did encourage me to hope. But so soon as that powerful operation of it was taken off my heart, that other about Esau returned upon me as before; so my soul did hang as in a pair of scales again, sometimes up and sometimes down, now in peace, and anon again in terror.

[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 206–207]

As Hopeful struggled, many more verses of Scripture came to his mind and turned his thoughts to Christ.

And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst (John 6:35).

But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out (John 6:36–37).

This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief (1 Timothy 1:15).

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (Romans 10:4).

Who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification (Romans 5:25).

And from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood (Revelation 1:5).

For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5).

But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:24–25).

It was the promises of God’s Word that revealed Christ to Hopeful. Hopeful saw in Scripture “the beauty of Jesus Christ.”Christ alone can “save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him.”

3. He gave up hope in himself and believed God’s Word that Christ is the only hope of salvation for sinners.

Hopeful finally laid hold of the hope found in Christ when he gave up all hope in himself. He realized that if he were to be saved, Christ and Christ alone must save him. He could offer no righteousness of his own. He had nowhere else to turn. He was justly condemned to die for his sins. He was determined to come to Christ or die trying. And so, he continued praying, pleading at the throne of grace.

To come to Christ, all Hopeful had to “do” was believe. He finally understood “that believing and coming was all one; and that he that came, that is, ran out in his heart and affections after salvation by Christ, he indeed believed in Christ.”

Coming to Christ is not something that we can earn by doing enough good things to convince God that we are serious. It is not something we can merit by saying prayers, serving in ministry, or attending church. It is not saying the right things, doing the right things, or having the right experiences. Coming to Christ is simply believing. It is realizing that you are a needy sinner and fleeing to Him for mercy and grace. It is trusting Christ, resting in Him—anchoring yourself in Him as your only true haven and refuge.

When Hopeful understood the truth of God’s Word concerning salvation in Christ, it changed his view of the world. The world no longer held the same allure and attraction. It could no longer hold captive his affections. He realized the dazzle of Vanity Fair was but a facade that masked it vileness and emptiness. Christ now claimed his heart and affections. He found true joy in knowing and loving Christ, who “while we were still sinners” died for us (Romans 5:8), not in pursuing the fleeting pleasures of the world. He found his greatest satisfaction in the pursuit of holiness out of a heart of gratitude for all Christ had done for him, not in the pursuit of fame, or riches, or worldly success.

What then can we do to come to a saving knowledge of Christ?

What are we to do if, like Hopeful, our sins seem too vile and our attempts to seek God’s mercy seem unsuccessful or unanswered?

1. Don’t give up praying. God is the One who opens hearts. He is the One who gives understanding. So pray and ask that He grant it to you “over and over and over.” If you “leave off” praying, you will die. So, resolve to stay at the throne of grace for as long as it takes.

2. Don’t give up reading and hearing God’s Word. If you desire to receive understanding from God, if your desire is to find His mercy and grace, then go to where He speaks. God speaks in His Word. If you desire to hear God’s voice, then don’t neglect God’s Word! Read His Word, study His Word, sit under the preaching of His Word—and pray as you do so, that He will help you understand and come to a saving knowledge of Christ.

3. Don’t look at your sin without looking to Christ. Be honest in confessing and owning your sin. Believe what the Bible says about the vileness of sin and the judgment due sin. But don’t think long about sin without remembering the glories of Christ. If you honestly assess your sin without accessing the mercies of God in Christ, you will most certainly fall victim to Despair. You will be beaten down with fears and imprisoned in doubts. If you try evaluating your heart without turning your ear to God’s Word, you will miss the truth—you will miss Christ. Christ is the only One who can make you free (John 8:32, 36). He is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Listen to the wise counsel of Robert Murray M’Cheyne and heed his words.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Jer. 17:9. Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely. Such infinite majesty, and yet such meekness and grace, and all for sinners, even the chief!

(from Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne(Edinburgh, 1894)

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 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.

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