Run in with Discontent

Christian: But pray tell me, did you meet nobody in the Valley of Humility?

Faithful: Yes, I met with one Discontent, who would willingly have persuaded me to go back again with him; his reason was, for that the valley was altogether without honor. He told me, moreover, that there to go was the way to disobey all my friends, as Pride, Arrogancy, Self-Conceit, Worldly-Glory, with others, who he knew, as he said, would be very much offended, if I made such a fool of myself as to wade through this valley.

Christian: Well, and how did you answer him?

Faithful: I told him, that although all these that he named might claim kindred of me, and that rightly, for indeed they were my relations according to the flesh; yet since I became a pilgrim, they have disowned me, as I also have rejected them; and therefore they were to me now no more than if they had never been of my lineage.

I told him, moreover, that as to this valley, he had quite misrepresented the thing; for before honor is humility, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Therefore, said I, I had rather go through this valley to the honor that was so accounted by the wisest, than choose that which he esteemed most worthy our affections.

Faithful now begins to describe his experience in the Valley of Humiliation. This valley is where Christian fought and defeated Apollyon. Faithful, however, meets another foe. He encounters Discontent, who tries to persuade him to go back and not attempt to cross the valley.

The purpose of the Valley of Humiliation is to help us see the depth of our sin against God and the greatness of our need for salvation. God brings us to the valley for our good, to prune away our pride, to humble us and to increase our love for Christ. Both Christian and Faithful had to confront their pride in this valley. We saw earlier in the allegory that Christian was prone to think too highly of himself. He was pleased with his progress and desirous of reward and recognition. He let slip from his mind the reality that his progress thus far was by God’s grace alone. And so when he went down into the Valley of Humiliation, his pride gave him the “slips.”

DiscontentFaithful, however was not as far along as he had hoped. He had been slowed and wearied by his struggles on Hill Difficulty. Now he was even more resolved to move ahead. He did not even stop at Palace Beautiful for the benefit of his own soul and others. Instead of seeking refreshment and assistance, he pressed on to gain more ground. Now as he descends into the valley, he is tempted to be dissatisfied with his progress. And so he is joined by an unwelcome companion, “one Discontent.”

Discontent tries to convince Faithful that the way of humility will be ruinous to his reputation. He will be scorned and ridiculed by the world. Discontent would have him give up and go back rather than appear weak and admit his need for grace and help. But Faithful, because of his recent trials, knew afresh of the mercies of God. When he was fallen on the Hill, he was raised up in the strength of the Lord. He now has his eyes on glory and has an answer to fend off discontentment.

Faithful tells Discontent that at one time he was indeed friends with Pride, Arrogancy, Self-Conceit and Worldly-Glory. These friends represent the world’s way of finding contentment and satisfaction. The world measures contentment by what we think of ourselves and by what others think of us. It finds humility to be demeaning and foolish. In the world’s eyes we can only be satisfied when we look good to ourselves and to others, not when we admit ourselves to be needy or down trodden.

When Faithful followed Christ, his former friends disowned him, and he rejected them. Faithful chose to be like Christ who “made Himself of no reputation” and took “the form of a bondservant.” Jesus came “in the likeness of men” and “humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:7–8). Faithful chose to believe God’s Word rather than the advice of his friends. He quotes from Proverbs where God warns against pride and commends humility.

Pride goes before destruction,
And a haughty spirit before a fall.
(Proverbs 16:18)

Before destruction the heart of a man is haughty,
And before honor is humility.
(Proverbs 18:12)

A man’s pride will bring him low,
But the humble in spirit will retain honor.
(Proverbs 29:23)

God will bring down the proud, but will save the humble.

For You will save the humble people,
But will bring down haughty looks.
(Psalm 18:27)

God will destroy the slanderer, but His eye is on the faithful.

Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor,
Him I will destroy;
The one who has a haughty look and a proud heart,
Him I will not endure.
My eyes shall be on the faithful of the land,
That they may dwell with me;
He who walks in a perfect way,
He shall serve me.
(Psalm 101:5–6)

Discontent can be a pesky companion. We invite his company when we are tempted to find our joy and satisfaction in something or someone other than Christ. Discontent seeks out those who reject Christ and those who try to find fulfillment in the things of this world. But he also finds those who attempt to follow Christ with wrong expectations and misplaced desires.

If you come to Christ with the expectation that being a Christian will solve all the problems in your marriage, or make you successful in your job, or give you prosperity and privilege in this life, then you can expect to have Discontent as your frequent companion. Why? Because Christ never promises that your marriage will be free from troubles, or that you will be rewarded in your business, or that you will achieve affluence and ease in this world. In fact, following Christ often brings more suffering and trials in this life. God uses our troubles and difficulties to sanctify us and draw us closer to Him. We need the strength and mercies of God every day and every moment, but we are prone to forget and trust too much in ourselves. Our trials and troubles humble us and graciously remind us of our need for a Savior. They prevent us from making the terrible mistake of believing we can make it through this life on our own.

Paul understood that true contentment is not found in our expectations being met or circumstances going our way; it is only found in Christ. The way to shake off Discontent is to anchor our satisfaction in Him alone. Paul learned to be content regardless of his condition or circumstances. He tells the church in Philippi:

But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:10–13).

People, possessions, plans and pursuits will all disappoint us in the end. Only Christ truly satisfies. Paul testified:

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 (Philippians 3:7–8).

If we have Christ, we have all we need. Our song will be:

Hallelujah! All I have is Christ
Hallelujah, Jesus is my life!
(from “All I Have Is Christ” by Jordan Kauflin)

If we understand that having Christ is more valuable than anything this life can offer, and that an eternity with Him makes it worth enduring all the pain and suffering and hardship this life can set in our way, then we will find true contentment. We will know as Paul did how to be abased and how to abound. This life is only a vapor; eternity is forever. Faithful understood that he was on a pilgrimage to the Celestial City. The only smile and favor he desired was that of his Lord.

I cannot be poor if I am in Christ
In Him I am full and abound
Though everything else should all pass away
I’m rich if in Him I am found

It is enough that I am in Christ
Enough that His mercy I see
It is enough that I taste of His grace
Enough that His love has found me

Pursue not this world, its wisdom and ways
Contentment eludes those who try
For all in this world is fading away
And soon will all wither and die

It is enough that I am in Christ
Enough that His mercy I see
It is enough that I taste of His grace
Enough that His love has found me
(from “It Is Enough” 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 ©2015 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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