Then I saw in my dream they went very lovingly on together, and had sweet discourse of all things that had happened to them in their pilgrimage; and thus Christian began:
Christian: My honored and well-beloved brother, Faithful, I am glad that I have overtaken you; and that God has so tempered our spirits, that we can walk as companions in this so pleasant a path.
Faithful: I had thought, dear friend, to have had your company quite from our town; but you did get the start of me, wherefore I was forced to come thus much of the way alone.
Christian: How long did you stay in the City of Destruction before you set out after me on your pilgrimage?
Faithful: Till I could stay no longer; for there was great talk presently after you were gone out that our city would, in short time, with fire from heaven, be burned down to the ground.
Christian: What! Did your neighbors talk so?
Faithful: Yes, it was for a while in everybody’s mouth.
Christian: What! And did no more of them but you come out to escape the danger?
Faithful: Though there was, as I said, a great talk thereabout, yet I do not think they did firmly believe it. For in the heat of the discourse, I heard some of them deridingly speak of you and of your desperate journey, (for so they called this your pilgrimage), but I did believe, and do still, that the end of our city will be with fire and brimstone from above; and therefore I have made my escape.
Christian: Did you hear no talk of neighbor Pliable?
Faithful: Yes, Christian, I heard that he followed you till he came at the Slough of Despond, where, as some said, he fell in; but he would not be known to have so done; but I am sure he was soundly bedabbled with that kind of dirt.
Christian: And what said the neighbors to him?
Faithful: He has, since his going back, been had greatly in derision, and that among all sorts of people; some do mock and despise him; and scarce will any set him on work. He is now seven times worse than if he had never gone out of the city.
Christian: But why should they be so set against him, since they also despise the way that he forsook?
Faithful: Oh, they say, hang him, he is a turncoat! He was not true to his profession. I think God has stirred up even his enemies to hiss at him, and make him a proverb, because he has forsaken the way.
Christian: Had you no talk with him before you came out?
Faithful: I met him once in the streets, but he leered away on the other side, as one ashamed of what he had done; so I did not speak to him.
Christian: Well, at my first setting out, I had hopes of that man; but now I fear he will perish in the overthrow of the city; for it is happened to him according to the true proverb, “The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed, to her wallowing in the mire.”
Faithful: These are my fears of him too; but who can hinder that which will be?
Christian and Faithful now press on together toward the Celestial City. The two share a love and devotion to Christ and Christian is delighted to have a brother to walk with him. As they walk together they share what they have experienced in their pilgrimage. As their conversation begins, Bunyan highlights three lessons:
1. The Miracle of Christian Friendship
Christian speaks of his joy in befriending Faithful. The Valley of the Shadow of Death was “a very solitary place” where Christian felt very much alone. The path was dark and treacherous. Now, walking in the light of day with Faithful as his friend, he finds the Way to be “so pleasant a path.” Faithful also speaks of his longing to have Christian’s company. He had hoped to flee Destruction with Christian, but Christian had left before him. The kindness of God has now brought them together and a miracle of His grace has made them companions on a pilgrimage. In the City of Destruction, Christian and Faithful might not ever have met or had anything in common. But their desire and commitment to follow Christ has “tempered their spirits” and placed them together. This is true of all Christian friendships. God has joined together hearts and lives in ways that astound the world and magnify the power of His grace and wisdom.
2. The Impact of a Changed Life
As the conversation continues, Faithful describes his escape from the City of Destruction. Christian’s departure had caused a great stir in the city. He is surprised to hear that many of neighbors were talking about him. Most did not believe him and spoke with scorn of his warnings of coming judgment. They called his pilgrimage a “desperate journey.” But God is not hindered by unbelief. The Word of God is powerful. God can prosper the gospel even when it is spoken in derision. Neighbors mocked and derided Christian, but Faithful heard and believed.
In Paul’s day there were some who preached Christ, not because they believed the gospel, but because they were trying to stir up trouble for Paul. Yet Paul could rejoice!
Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice (Philippians 1:15–18).
We must be faithful to live for Christ and preach Christ, even when our testimony is likely to be scorned. We can grow weary of speaking of Christ among unbelievers as we see them respond again and again with contempt. Unsaved family members, co-workers and friends can wear us down with incessant ridicule and rejection. But we don’t know the impact our life might have on others around us. We don’t know how God may choose to use our testimony, even long after we are gone. It was Christian’s testimony that encouraged Faithful to flee Destruction, even while it was being disparaged by the world. May God keep us faithful and use our lives to point others to Christ.
3. The Danger of a Spurious Profession
Faithful also updates Christian on the outcome of Pliable. Earlier in the journey, Pliable had set out with Christian. He seemed at first to be a zealous pilgrim, hurrying Christian along, ravished with thoughts of heaven. But Pliable was discouraged when he and Christian fell into the Slough of Despond. Pliable chose to abandon his adventure with Christian and turn back. When he returned to the City of Destruction he was covered in the mud of the Slough (still marked by the shame and baseness of his sin) and met with scorn by those who saw him. He is compared to the Proverb:
As a dog returns to his own vomit,
So a fool repeats his folly.
Bunyan inserts two verses likening Pliable to Israel in the Old Testament who chose to ignore the prophets who brought them God’s Word:
This says the Lord of hosts: Behold, I will send on them the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, and will make them like rotten figs that cannot be eaten, they are so bad. And I will pursue them with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence; and I will deliver them to trouble among all the kingdoms of the earth—to be a curse, an astonishment, a hissing, and a reproach among all the nations where I have driven them, because they have not heeded My words, says the Lord, which I sent to them by My servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them; neither would you heed, says the Lord (Jeremiah 29:17–19).
And to false teachers in the New Testament whose end is worse than their beginning:
For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire” (2 Peter 2:20–22).
Pliable turned away from God’s Word and forsook the way of righteousness. His profession of faith was spurious. Now he is in more danger than before. He is shamed by the world, seen as weak and pitiful, viewed as a hypocrite and “turncoat.” His only hope is still the gospel, yet he is too ashamed to seek the company of those who would gladly share it with him. Instead he leers away and avoids uncomfortable confrontation.
The tragic example of Pliable teaches us the peril of shame. Shame is the stain of sin on the soul. Left unwashed it is deadly, and we are powerless to remove it. It is a stain that can only be cleansed by the shed blood of Christ on the cross. Only in Christ can we find the hope and forgiveness we need. Yet shame by its very nature discourages us from looking to Christ. It wants to hide and cover itself. It keeps us downcast and resigns us to Destruction. If we are to avoid the plight of Pliable we must confess our sin and ever keep our eyes fixed upward to the cross.
A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
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The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2015 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.