Then said Christian to his fellow, Now I call to remembrance, that which was told me of a thing that happened to a good man hereabout. The name of the man was Little-faith, but a good man, and he dwelt in the town of Sincere. The thing was this at the entering in at this passage, there comes down from Broad-way Gate, a lane called Dead Man’s Lane; so called because of the murders that are commonly done there; and this Little-faith going on pilgrimage, as we do now, chanced to sit down there, and slept. Now there happened, at that time, to come down the lane, from Broad-way Gate, three sturdy rogues, and their names were Faint-heart, Mistrust, and Guilt, (three brothers), and they espying Little-faith, where he was, came galloping up with speed. Now the good man was just awake from his sleep, and was getting up to go on his journey. So they came up all to him, and with threatening language bid him stand. At this Little-faith looked as white as a clout, and had neither power to fight nor fly. Then said Faint-heart, Deliver thy purse. But he making no haste to do it (for he was loath to lose his money), Mistrust ran up to him, and thrusting his hand into his pocket, pulled out thence a bag of silver. Then he cried out, Thieves! Thieves! With that Guilt, with a great club that was in his hand, struck Little-faith on the head, and with that blow felled him flat to the ground, where he lay bleeding as one that would bleed to death. All this while the thieves stood by. But, at last, they hearing that some were upon the road, and fearing lest it should be one Great-grace, that dwells in the city of Good-confidence, they betook themselves to their heels, and left this good man to shift for himself. Now, after a while, Little-faith came to himself, and getting up, made shift to scrabble on his way. This was the story.
While Christian and Hopeful reflect on the tragic end of Turn-away, Christian remembers an account of another pilgrim. Not far from where the pilgrims now stand, a man, whose name is Little-faith from the town of Sincere, was assaulted and robbed.
Little-faith represents those who are weak in faith and spiritually unprepared to face the trials and temptations of this world. He follows Christ, but lacks courage, confidence and comfort. In Lectures on The Pilgrim’s Progress, G.B. Cheeverdescribes such pilgrims as those who “go doubting and trembling through life.” Jesus often admonished his followers for having little faith:
Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? (Matthew 6:30)
Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm (Matthew 8:25–26).
And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him [Peter], and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased (Matthew 14:31–32).
Now when His disciples had come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread. Then Jesus said to them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “It is because we have taken no bread.” But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves because you have brought no bread? (Matthew 16:5–8)
Unlike Turn-away, Little-faith is a true believer. His testimony is genuine (sincere) and his faith is real. He is an honest pilgrim and has gained the reputation of being “a good man.” But he has failed to prepare his soul for spiritual warfare and fit himself for battle.
Paul exhorts us to “watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13). In Ephesians 6:10 he says: “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.” This Little-faith has not done. He has been content to rely on his own goodness more than Christ. He has treated sin far too lightly and allowed himself to walk too closely to the way of the world. Now as he looks for a place to rest on his journey, he lies down to sleep not in the Chamber of Peace (a place of rest and confidence in Christ) at Palace Beautiful where Christian found refuge, but in Dead Man’s lane (a place of danger and temptation to sin).
Scripture warns of the danger of straying into the path of sinners:
For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the ungodly shall perish.
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).
We must be careful in the paths we choose. Jesus spoke of only two ways in life:
Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it (Matthew 7:13–14).
Dead Man’s Lane is a treacherous path that connects the Broad Way (the way of the world that leads back to the city from which Christian fled—Destruction) with the Narrow Way (the way of Christ and the Scriptures that leads to the Celestial City—Heaven). It begins at the Broad Way Gate (the wide entrance through which all who embrace the way of world pass) and meets the Narrow Way at the entrance to the dark lane (a dark stretch of the Way where the light of Scripture has grown dim).
Here at this dangerous intersection with the world, Little-faith fell asleep. He unwisely let down his guard and made himself vulnerable. Soon he is attacked by three villains who come down from the Broad Way Gate: Faint-heart, Mistrust and Guilt. The attack is an insightful description of what happens when a believer gives into temptation and falls prey to sin.
The “three study rogues” come “galloping up with speed” and catch Little-faith off-guard. Before he has time to collect his thoughts or rouse his conscience, temptation is staring him down. The thieves threaten his life and Little-faith turns “white as a clout.” Little-faith’s fear identifies him as an easy target—a clout is a piece of white cloth used by archers for target practice (Webster Dictionary, 1828). Faint-heart (timidity) demands that he surrender his purse. Little-faith is slow to respond, but he loses his courage and offers little resistance. Mistrust (doubt and unbelief) sees an opportunity and rushes in to snatch a bag of silver from Little-faith’s pocket. The theft represents the loss Little-faith experiences when he gives into sin. No sooner does he cry out against his assailants than Guilt (shame and dishonor) moves in and beats him with a club—a club is similar to the one that Christian and Hopeful felt at the hands of Giant Despair in Doubling Castle.
Little-faith stumbles with each criminal. He is timid with Faint-heart, unbelieving with Mistrust, and ashamed with Guilt. William Mason summarizes:
Where there is a faint heart in God’s cause, and mistrust of God’s truths, there will be guilt in the conscience, and but little faith. These rogues will prevail over, and rob such souls of the comforts of God’s love and of Christ’s salvation.
Christian already had an encounter with a character named Mistrust. Earlier in the story, near the top of Hill Difficulty, Timorous (akin to Faint-heart) and Mistrust ran past Christian, fleeing the lions that prowl near the entrance to Palace Beautiful. The lions represented persecution of believers by the government and the state church. Many in Bunyan’s day were tempted to cower to political and ecclesiastical pressure. Bunyan had seen other ministers lose heart and deny the true gospel. When Bunyan was in prison, facing the threat of hanging for being a Non-conformist, he feared that he would have little faith and fall to this temptation. He explains in his autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners:
I will tell you a pretty business; I was once above all the rest in a very sad and low condition for many weeks; at which time also I being but a young prisoner, and not acquainted with the laws, had this lay much upon my spirit, That my imprisonment might end at the gallows for aught that I could tell. Now, therefore, Satan laid hard at me to beat me out of heart, by suggesting thus unto me, But how if when you come indeed to die, you should be in this condition; that is, as not to savor the things of God, nor to have any evidence upon your soul for a better state hereafter? For indeed at that time all the things of God were hid from my soul.
Wherefore, when I at first began to think of this, it was a great trouble to me; for I thought with myself, that in the condition I now was in, I was not fit to die, neither indeed did think I could, if I should be called to it: besides, I thought with myself, if I should make a scrabbling shift to clamber up the ladder, yet I should either with quaking, or other symptoms of faintings, give occasion to the enemy to reproach the way of God and his people, for their timorousness. This therefore lay with great trouble upon me, for methought I was ashamed to die with a pale face, and tottering knees, for such a cause as this.
[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 333-334]
Once Little-faith was robbed and beaten, the thieves did not stay long. They feared that other pilgrims would be traveling the Way, especially Great-grace from the town of Good Conscience (a pastor or fellow believer who is strong in faith). One of the best defenses God has given us as followers of Christ is our local church (Palace Beautiful) with its faithful leaders and brothers and sisters in Christ who will help us keep watch over our soul. It was a great disadvantage to Little-faith that he was traveling alone.
Little-faith is now left wounded and weakened. His purse has been plundered. Bunyan uses language from his autobiography when he tells us that Little-faith “made shift to scrabble on his way.” To shift means to change position or method when an initial attempt fails, especially in search of a way out of a difficult circumstance. To scrabble is to scrape along slowly on hands and knees as if climbing a cliff (Webster Dictionary, 1828). Little-faith is still intent on continuing his journey, but his progress now is more difficult. In the next post we will consider what exactly Little-faith lost.
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.