Religion and Worldly Gain

So they came up to each other, and after a short salutation, Mr. Hold-the-world propounded the question to Christian and his fellow, and bid them to answer it if they could.

Then said Christian, Even a babe in religion may answer ten thousand such questions. For if it be unlawful to follow Christ for loaves, (as it is in the sixth of John), how much more abominable is it to make of him and religion a stalking-horse to get and enjoy the world! Nor do we find any other than heathens, hypocrites, devils, and witches, that are of this opinion.

1. Heathens; for when Hamor and Shechem had a mind to the daughter and cattle of Jacob, and saw that there was no way for them to come at them, but by becoming circumcised, they say to their companions, If every male of us be circumcised, as they are circumcised, shall not their cattle, and their substance, and every beast of theirs, be ours? Their daughter and their cattle were that which they sought to obtain, and their religion the stalking-horse they made use of to come at them. Read the whole story.

2. The hypocritical Pharisees were also of this religion; long prayers were their pretense, but to get widows’ houses was their intent; and greater damnation was from God their judgment.

3. Judas the devil was also of this religion; he was religious for the bag, that he might be possessed of what was therein; but he was lost, cast away, and the very son of perdition.

4. Simon the witch was of this religion too; for he would have had the Holy Ghost, that he might have got money therewith; and his sentence from Peter’s mouth was according.

5. Neither will it out of my mind, but that that man that takes up religion for the world, will throw away religion for the world; for so surely as Judas resigned the world in becoming religious, so surely did he also sell religion and his Master for the same. To answer the question, therefore, affirmatively, as I perceive you have done, and to accept of, as authentic, such answer, is both heathenish, hypocritical, and devilish; and your reward will be according to your works.

Then they stood staring one upon another, but had not wherewith to answer Christian. Hopeful also approved of the soundness of Christian’s answer; so there was a great silence among them. Mr. By-ends and his company also staggered and kept behind, that Christian and Hopeful might outgo them. Then said Christian to his fellow, If these men cannot stand before the sentence of men, what will they do with the sentence of God? And if they are mute when dealt with by vessels of clay, what will they do when they shall be rebuked by the flames of a devouring fire?

Answering By-ends

In the previous post, By-ends and his companions propounded the question: Is it right for a minister or a tradesman to use religion in the pursuit of personal gain? They confidently answered in the affirmative and collectively admired their reasoning. Now they attempt to impress Christian and Hopeful and are gleefully awaiting the moment when they can watch the two pilgrims falter and fall silent.

Christian, however is not swayed or silenced. He easily sees through the superficiality of their answer. Our need in this life is not for worldly wealth or success. Jesus did not come to improve our status or increase our possessions in this life. We need forgiveness, righteousness, and new life—gifts that are afforded to us only in Christ. Jesus is King of kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:16); He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last (Revelation 22:13). To follow Him for the mere trifles of this world is indeed a tragedy of eternal consequence.

While Money-Love framed his answer to By-ends’ question according to his own logic and for his own advantage, Christian draws out his answer from Scripture. He first points to John 6 where Jesus rebukes the crowd for following Him, not because they believed Him to be the Messiah sent from God, but because He fed them with loaves and fishes.

Jesus answered them and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him” (John 6:26–27).

Jesus continues in John 6 to explain that He is the true “bread of life.” The fullness and satisfaction He offers is far greater than what the crowds were seeking or expecting. He can truly satisfy the hunger and thirst of our souls. He alone can give us life that is everlasting (John 6:28–40).

Christian continues to make his point by providing four examples from Scripture of men who used religion for personal gain: heathens (those outside a covenant relationship with God), hypocrites, devils, and witches (sorcerers).

Heathens—Hamor and Shechem were willing to be circumcised along with their countrymen in order to gain wives, property, and livestock from Israel.

And Hamor and Shechem his son came to the gate of their city, and spoke with the men of their city, saying: “These men are at peace with us. Therefore let them dwell in the land and trade in it. For indeed the land is large enough for them. Let us take their daughters to us as wives, and let us give them our daughters. Only on this condition will the men consent to dwell with us, to be one people: if every male among us is circumcised as they are circumcised. Will not their livestock, their property, and every animal of theirs be ours? Only let us consent to them, and they will dwell with us.” And all who went out of the gate of his city heeded Hamor and Shechem his son; every male was circumcised, all who went out of the gate of his city (Genesis 34:20–23).

Hypocrites—The Pharisees used religion to increase their status and swindle money and property from unsuspecting widows.

Then, in the hearing of all the people, He said to His disciples, “Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation” (Luke 20:45–47).

Devils—Judas was willing to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.

Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?” He spoke of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, for it was he who would betray Him, being one of the twelve (John 6:70–71).

Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?” And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver. So from that time he sought opportunity to betray Him (Matthew 26:14–16).

Witches (Sorcerers)—Simon thought he could purchase the power of God to heal with money.

And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity” (Acts 8:18–23).

Through Christian’s answer, Bunyan once again highlights the value and prominence of God’s Word. William Mason observes in his commentary on The Pilgrim’s Progress:

Here see the blessedness of being mighty in the Scripture, and the need of that exhortation, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16). For the Word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than a two-edged sword; it pierces through all the subtle devices of Satan, and the cunning craftiness of carnal professors; and divideth asunder the carnal reasonings of the flesh, and the spiritual wisdom which cometh from above.

By-ends and his friends are stunned by Christian’s response. They had sought to silence Christian and Hopeful with their argument, but in the end, it is they who are speechless. Christian warns that they will face a far greater rebuke in the coming judgement. Christian and Hopeful are mere men, wielding God’s Word and standing for truth; but God, who is “the Judge of all” (Hebrews 12:23), “is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29; Deuteronomy 4:24).

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 ©2017 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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