Now, when he was got up to the top of the hill, there came two men running to meet him amain; the name of the one was Timorous, and of the other, Mistrust; to whom Christian said, Sirs, what’s the matter? You run the wrong way.
Timorous answered, that they were going to the City of Zion, and had got up that difficult place; but, said he, the further we go, the more danger we meet with; wherefore we turned, and are going back again.
Yes, said Mistrust, for just before us lie a couple of lions in the way, whether sleeping or waking we know not, and we could not think, if we came within reach, but they would presently pull us in pieces.
Then said Christian, You make me afraid, but whither shall I fly to be safe? 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. So Mistrust and Timorous ran down the hill, and Christian went on his way.
As Christian arrives at the top of the Hill, he once again encounters travelers on the Way. Two men, named Timorous and Mistrust, come “running to meet him amain,” that is “with great haste.” But these travelers, Christian observes, are running in the wrong direction. Unlike Simple, Sloth and Presumption, who were intent on staying put, and Formalist and Hypocrisy, who were intent on finding an easier way, these two seem determined to turn and make a rapid retreat.
When Christian asks them the reason why they are running away, Timorous explains their terror. They were on the way to Zion, and had even got up the difficult Hill, but the further they went, the more danger they found. So now they “turned, and are going back again.” Mistrust describes the source of their fears. They saw two lions in the way and were convinced that if they continued on, they might be destroyed. The lions, as Christian later discovers, sit along the Way near the entrance to House Beautiful. They are a menace to travelers on the Way, especially those who would seek lodging at the House.
House Beautiful represents the true church, built upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In Bunyan’s day, those who identified themselves with the true Gospel and true church were labeled Dissenters and Nonconformists. They stood in opposition to the established Anglican Church and the civil laws that upheld its authority in the land. The lions represent the combined threat of the civil authorities and the state church to oppress Nonconformists and convince them to renounce their faith and fall in line with regimented religious and social norms.
Throughout the allegory, as in 16th and 17th centuries in England, the lions vary in their behavior: Sometimes they are fierce and menacing, inflicting harassment, fines and imprisonment. Sometimes they are roaring and on the prowl, seeking to devour with torture and death. At other times they are asleep (as Faithful later reports), relaxing and repealing laws and making promises of liberty.
Bunyan experienced some of this oppression firsthand. He was arrested for being a Nonconformist and was imprisoned from 1660 to 1672 and again from 1675 to 1678 (when he wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress). When the monarchy was restored in 1660, Charles II began enacting several laws designed to oppress the Nonconformists and legalize their persecution. These laws were known as the Clarendon Code and included the Act of Uniformity in 1662 (requiring of all church leaders their “unfeigned consent and assent” to the reissued Book of Common Prayer), the Coventicle Act in 1664 (outlawing church services where the Book of Common Prayer was not used, even in homes) and the Five Mile Act in 1665 (outlawing pastors who had been ejected from the state church by forbidding them to come within five miles of a city or town where they had ministered). These and other laws caused many to shrink back and forsake truth in Bunyan’s day.
Timorous (whose name means timid or fearful) and Mistrust (doubtful or wary) represent those who make a start for the Celestial City, but turn back for fear of man, cowering to social and political pressures of the day. Timorous and Mistrust were frightened by the mere sight of the lions (not their roar or aggression). They imagined the worse and fled in cowardice. Part 2 later describes how they came to a terrible end.
Christian was earlier warned of possible peril in standing for truth and the fear it can instill in the hearts of those who embark on the journey to eternal life. In one of the lessons in the House of the Interpreter he was shown a Beautiful Palace. Men in armor stood near the door threatening all who would go in. Outside the palace was a company of men who desired to go in but were afraid. They were unwilling to face the suffering and persecution and trials that come with standing for truth and proclaiming the true Gospel.
Scripture indeed warns us of the reality of suffering and persecution for the sake of the Gospel. Even in Jesus’ day there were some who would not identify themselves with Him for fear of men:
Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God (John 12:42–43).
But Jesus said:
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake (Matthew 5:10–11).
And Jesus warned His disciples that they indeed would face suffering:
But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name’s sake (Luke 21:12).
Paul, who faced much suffering for the sake of the gospel said:
For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake (Philippians 1:29).
Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12).
We have in the United States long enjoyed the blessing of religious freedom. The lions largely have been kept out of the Way. We have not had to fear an oppressive government or state church pressuring and persecuting those who would not conform to its social ideals and religious edicts. But times may be changing. As issues like same-sex marriage and pro-choice come to the forefront and gain more foothold in our culture, the pressures will come (both real and imagined) for the church and its members to acquiesce. We must hold onto truth and not turn back. As we have seen recently with World Vision wavering in its policy decisions (accepting the hiring of employees in same-sex marriages and then reversing the decision), the temptation to give up ground for the sake of fitting in to cultural expectations can be strong.
Christian responds to Timorous and Mistrust by admitting his own fears, but he wonders where he might go to be safe. If he returns to his origin, the City of Destruction, he knows he will perish. If he makes it to his destination, the Celestial City, he knows he will find safety. Though pressing on means facing the fear of death, he “must venture.” And so he determines to go forward while Mistrust and Timorous run away.
We must encourage one another to hold to Christ and stay the course. In Philippians 3 Paul weighs the value of knowing Jesus. It is better to suffer the loss of all things and have Christ, than to have all this world can offer and be without Him. And so Paul says:
“… I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12–14).
There is nothing more valuable or needful for our souls than to gain Christ. We must “venture on Him” regardless of cost or fear or pain or loss. He alone can “do helpless sinners good”!
Lo! The incarnate God ascended
Pleads the merit of His blood
Venture on Him, venture wholly
Let no other trust intrude
None but Jesus, none but Jesus
Can do helpless sinners good
(from “Come Ye Sinners” by Joseph Hart, 1759)
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 ©2014 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.