Then I saw that they had them to the top of another mountain, and the name of that is Caution, and bid them look afar off; which, when they did, they perceived, as they thought, several men walking up and down among the tombs that were there; and they perceived that the men were blind, because they stumbled sometimes upon the tombs, and because they could not get out from among them. Then said Christian, What does this mean?
The Shepherds then answered, Did you not see a little below these mountains a stile, that led into a meadow, on the left hand of this way? They answered, Yes. Then said the Shepherds, From that stile there goes a path that leads directly to Doubting Castle, which is kept by Giant Despair, and these, pointing to them among the tombs, came once on pilgrimage, as you do now, even till they came to that same stile; and because the right way was rough in that place, they chose to go out of it into that meadow, and there were taken by Giant Despair, and cast into Doubting Castle; where, after they had been a while kept in the dungeon, he at last did put out their eyes, and led them among those tombs, where he has left them to wander to this very day, that the saying of the wise man might be fulfilled, “He that wanders out of the way of understanding, shall remain in the congregation of the dead.” Then Christian and Hopeful looked upon one another, with tears gushing out, but yet said nothing to the Shepherds.
Christian and Hopeful continue to explore the Delectable Mountains under the guidance of the Shepherds. On the first mountain they were warned of drifting into error. If the pilgirms are to navigate the way forward, they must know how to discern truth from error. On this second mountain they are exhorted to look back. They look down into the valley, in the direction from which they came, and there they see blind men, stumbling and lost in a graveyard filled with tombs. The mountains, again, each represents a sermon—a passage of Scripture expounded by the Shepherds. The message on Mount Caution is from Proverbs—
A man who wanders from the way of understanding
Will rest in the assembly of the dead.
Christian doesn’t recognize at first the proximity of the tombs he now sees to the dark castle from which he had just escaped. He asks the Shepherds, “What does this mean?” As the Shepherds explain, he regretfully remembers. The tombs are in the castle-yard that Giant Despair had shown to Christian and Hopeful in an attempt to discourage them. Those who wander amidst the bones are those who, like Christian, found God’s Way to be rough and sought an easier way. They wandered “from the way of understanding” and now they are in danger of eternal death. Their lives have been ruined by despair, blinded to truth, and they no longer see any hope.
On the one hand, this appears to be a lesson received too late. Christian and Hopeful have already stumbled onto the grounds of Doubting Castle. But on the other, this is a very timely lesson. The pilgrims must remember their missteps and learn from them. More temptations and dangers lie ahead. They must be ready.
Often sermons from God’s Word can help us evaluate more clearly errors we have made in the past and cause us to more deeply appreciate the mercies of God that keep us from the worst of their consequences. It is all too easy for us to discount our errors and fail to learn from them. We forget where we have been and end up falling into the same errors over and over. When we fail to acknowledge our sin—confess it and fight it—when we instead find ways to manage sin—hide it and cope with it—sin will slowly blind us, weigh us down, and imprison us. We will lose our way and lose sight of the gospel. Christ will become less precious to our souls. We will become as those wandering about the tombs. Those who fail to keep hold of the promise that unlocks the gates of Doubting Castle are doomed to remain in its prison. They are blinded, confined to the darkness of their own despair, without hope and without light.
We must learn to heed God’s Word and be quick to confess our sins and our need for Christ. Scripture cautions us:
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8).
But it also gives us the sure promise:
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9–10).
Hearing the words of the shepherds, Christian and Hopeful are overcome with tears. There are times when we sit under the preaching of God’s Word, that conviction feels so pointed and application sounds so personal, it is as if the sermon were meant only for us. It seems as if the pastor has been looking through a window into our thoughts and lives and fashioned his message specifically to call us out. But this precise heart-work is not the craftiness or clairvoyance of the pastor. It is the skillful work of the Spirit wielding the sharp edge of God’s Word.
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:12–13).
Christian and Hopeful hear the words of caution from God’s Word and they realize how great a danger they were in when they willfully wandered into By-Path Meadow. They are awash with sorrow for having strayed from the good Way. And they are filled with joy and gratitude to Christ for having escaped the dungeon of despair with the promise of salvation.
Pray that God’s Spirit will wield the Word in our hearts. Pray that He will keep our hearts tender and sensitive to His Word. Flee from sins and be quick to repent. Do not discount or dismiss past sins as if they are of no consequence. It is because of our sins that Christ died! Do not despise the remorse that the memory of past sins brings. Rather, let that remorse remind you of sin’s true evil nature—that you might be repulsed by sin and flee from it. And let every reminder of past sins and failings again point you Christ and deepen your love and gratitude for Him. His Word is sure. He alone forgives. He alone can make us whole.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits:
Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
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 ©2018 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.