Now, by this time he was come to the arbor again, where for a while he sat down and wept; but at last, as Christian would have it, looking sorrowfully down under the settle, there he espied his roll; the which he, with trembling and haste, caught up, and put it into his bosom. But who can tell how joyful this man was when he had gotten his roll again! For this roll was the assurance of his life and acceptance at the desired haven. Therefore he laid it up in his bosom, gave thanks to God for directing his eye to the place where it lay, and with joy and tears betook himself again to his journey. But oh, how nimbly now did he go up the rest of the hill! Yet, before he got up, the sun went down upon Christian; and this made him again recall the vanity of his sleeping to his remembrance And thus he again began to condole with himself: O thou sinful sleep; how, for your sake, am I like to be benighted in my journey! I must walk without the sun; darkness must cover the path of my feet; and I must hear the noise of the doleful creatures, because of my sinful sleep. Now also he remembered the story that Mistrust and Timorous told him of; how they were frighted with the sight of the lions. Then said Christian to himself again: These beasts range in the night for their prey; and if they should meet with me in the dark, how should I shift them? How should I escape being by them torn in pieces? Thus he went on his way. But while he was thus bewailing his unhappy miscarriage, he lift up his eyes, and behold there was a very stately palace before him, the name of which was Beautiful; and it stood just by the highway side.
In the last post Christian learned the painful consequences of sinful sleep. He became careless and idle and, as he slept in the light, his roll slipped away. But Christian also demonstrated the fruits of humble repentance. He acknowledged his sin, sought forgiveness, and retraced his steps in a diligent search to find and recover what was lost.
The roll was precious to Christian. It represents, as Bunyan reminds us, “the assurance of his life and acceptance at the desired haven.” Assurance is not a given in the Christian walk; it is not guaranteed to all believers. It can be strong or weak at times. It can even be lost for a time due to sin or neglect. The 1689 London Baptist Confession acknowledges that even true believers can struggle with assurance.
True believers may in various ways have the assurance of their salvation shaken, decreased, or temporarily lost. This may happen because they neglect to preserve it or fall into some specific sin that wounds their conscience and grieves the Spirit. It may happen through some unexpected or forceful temptation or when God withdraws the light of His face and allows even those who fear Him to walk in darkness and to have no light. Yet they are never completely lacking the seed of God, the life of faith, love of Christ and the brethren, sincerity of heart, or conscience concerning their duty. Out of these graces, through the work of the Spirit, this assurance may at the proper time be revived. In the meantime, they are kept from utter despair through them.
[Confessing the Faith: The 1689 Baptist Confession for the 21st Century, 20.4]
Though Christians may fall into dark times and lose the light of God’s felt presence and comfort, God, by the power and work of His Spirit, will keep and protect them. When the time is right according to His purposes, he will restore their assurance and hope. David prayed for such revival as he grieved his own sin in Psalm 51:
Make me hear joy and gladness,
That the bones You have broken may rejoice.
Hide Your face from my sins,
And blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence,
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,
And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.
Jeremiah prophesied during dark days leading up to the fall of Jerusalem and Judah. In Lamentations he expressed his own grief and struggles when he felt confounded and abandoned:
I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of His wrath.
He has led me and made me walk
In darkness and not in light.
Surely He has turned His hand against me
Time and time again throughout the day.
He has aged my flesh and my skin,
And broken my bones.
He has besieged me
And surrounded me with bitterness and woe.
He has set me in dark places
Like the dead of long ago.
He has hedged me in so that I cannot get out;
He has made my chain heavy.
Even when I cry and shout,
He shuts out my prayer.
He has blocked my ways with hewn stone;
He has made my paths crooked.
He has been to me a bear lying in wait,
Like a lion in ambush.
He has turned aside my ways and torn me in pieces;
He has made me desolate.
He has bent His bow
And set me up as a target for the arrow.
He has caused the arrows of His quiver
To pierce my loins.
I have become the ridicule of all my people—
Their taunting song all the day.
He has filled me with bitterness,
He has made me drink wormwood.
He has also broken my teeth with gravel,
And covered me with ashes.
You have moved my soul far from peace;
I have forgotten prosperity.
And I said, “My strength and my hope
Have perished from the LORD.”
Remember my affliction and roaming,
The wormwood and the gall.
My soul still remembers
And sinks within me.
But then in verse 21 his thoughts lift from his affliction to God. He remembers what he knows to be true of God:
This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
Through the LORD’S mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I hope in Him!”
He thinks on God’s mercies and faithfulness, and his hope is restored. We must learn to pray this way when we are cast down and afflicted:
Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him
For the help of His countenance.
In Bunyan’s story Christian knew the sorrow of assurance shaken. But in God’s kindness he also knew the joy of assurance revived. He returned to the arbor and “looking sorrowfully down” he found his lost roll. Christian’s response is worth noting here. When he saw the roll, he took it up with trembling and haste. He “put it into his bosom” (held it close to his heart). He was filled with joy and gave thanks to God for directing his steps to find it. When he set out again to resume his journey, he went back up the hill nimbly. His former trial was not as imposing. Freshly assured of grace, the hill was no longer difficult.
When Christian regained his assurance he learned to cherish it more. Even the trial itself was turned to blessing. This was Bunyan’s own testimony. In Grace Abounding Bunyan summarizes how he regained his assurance after being “tossed from many weeks” with fears and doubts:
At last this consideration fell with weight upon me, that it was for the Word and way of God that I was in this condition. Wherefore I was engaged not to flinch a hair’s breadth from it.
I thought also, that God might choose whether He would give me comfort now or at the hour of death, but I might not therefore choose whether I would hold my profession or no. I was bound, but He was free. Yea, it was my duty to stand to His word, whether He would ever look upon me or no, or save me at the last. Wherefore, thought I, the point being thus, I am for going on, and venturing my eternal state with Christ, whether I have comfort here or no. If God does not come in, thought I, I will leap off the ladder even blindfold into eternity, sink or swim, come heaven, come hell. Lord Jesus, if You will catch me, do. If not, I will venture for Your name.
I was no sooner fixed upon this resolution, but that word dropped upon me, “Does Job serve God for naught?” As if the accuser had said, Lord, Job is no upright man, he servers You for by-respects. Have you not made a hedge about him, etc. “But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has, and he will curse You to Your face.” How now, thought I, is this the sign of an upright soul, to desire to serve God, that will serve God for nothing rather than give out? Blessed be God, then, I hope I have an upright heart. For I am resolved, God giving me strength, never to deny my profession, though I have nothing at all for my pains, and as I was thus considering, that Scripture set before me, Psalm 44:12–26.
Now was my heart full of comfort, for I hoped it was sincere. I would not have been without this trial for much, I am comforted every time I think of it, and I hope I shall bless God forever for the teaching I have had by it.
[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 336–339]
Bunyan cast himself upon the mercy of God, trusting that God would do what is right. He was determined to press on by faith, regardless of how clouded his circumstances or feelings became. By God’s grace and strength he would continue to confess Christ and repent of sin. Looking to God restored his joy and comfort.
We have the promise in God’s Word:
Those who sow in tears
Shall reap in joy.
Christian repented with godly sorrow and he was raised up in joy and renewed hope. He was now filled with confidence and ready to press on in his journey. He started again, going smoothly and swiftly up the hill. But he still faced impending peril wrought by the consequences of his sin. It was late in the day and the sun was going down. As the night approached, the shadows and darkness made it hard to see the path. He began to hear the sounds of creatures of the night and thought again of the lions prowling ahead. His sorrows and fears were reawakened and began to rattle his confidence.
But by God’s grace, Christian sees along the path a place to find safety and lodging. God again directs his steps to find help in time of need. He sees “a very stately palace before him, the name of which was Beautiful.” In the next several posts we will examine Christian’s stay at Palace Beautiful, Bunyan’s depiction of the church, and learn of the many benefits and blessings that come with being in the household of God.
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.