I saw then in my dream, that they went till they came into a certain country, whose air naturally tended to make one drowsy, if he came a stranger into it. And here Hopeful began to be very dull and heavy of sleep; wherefore he said unto Christian, I do now begin to grow so drowsy that I can scarcely hold up mine eyes, let us lie down here and take one nap.
Christian: By no means, said the other, lest sleeping, we never awake more.
Hopeful: Why, my brother? Sleep is sweet to the laboring man; we may be refreshed if we take a nap.
Christian: Do you not remember that one of the Shepherds bid us beware of the Enchanted Ground? He meant by that that we should beware of sleeping; “Therefore let us not sleep, as do others, but let us watch and be sober.”
Hopeful: I acknowledge myself in a fault, and had I been here alone I had by sleeping run the danger of death. I see it is true that the wise man says: Two are better than one. Hitherto hath thy company been my mercy, and thou shalt have a good reward for thy labor.
Christian: Now then, said Christian, to prevent drowsiness in this place, let us fall into good discourse.
Hopeful: With all my heart, said the other.
Christian: Where shall we begin?
Hopeful: Where God began with us. But do you begin, if you please.
Christian: I will sing you first this song:
When saints do sleepy grow, let them come hither,
And hear how these two pilgrims talk together:
Yea, let them learn of them, in any wise,
Thus to keep ope their drowsy slumb’ring eyes.
Saints’ fellowship, if it be managed well,
Keeps them awake, and that in spite of hell.
Since meeting in the town of Vanity, Christian and Hopeful have faced many dangers and difficulties together. As they near the end of their journey they face another peril—one that is subtler and much harder to discern. They enter the Enchanted Ground—a country where the air tends to make unsuspecting travelers drowsy and lethargic. The Enchanted Ground represents dullness brought about by spiritual complacency and fatigue.
When Christian and Hopeful enter the Enchanted Ground, Hopeful begins “to be very dull and heavy of sleep.” He suggests to Christian that they stop and take a nap. Christian, however, is adamant that they press on. He fears that if they sleep, they might never awake. But Hopeful is not convinced. He questions Christian’s resistance and quotes Scripture to make his point: “The sleep of a laboring man is sweet…” (Ecclesiastes 5:12). The verse that Hopeful quotes is certainly true. Christian learned the value of rest at House Beautiful. But this is not the time for sleep. Christian remembers the instructions of the Shepherds and recognizes the ground. The Shepherds warned the pilgrims to beware of the Enchanted Ground. They dare not sleep in this place.
Consider and hear me, O Lord my God;
Enlighten my eyes,
Lest I sleep the sleep of death.
How long will you slumber, O sluggard?
When will you rise from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
A little folding of the hands to sleep—
So shall your poverty come on you like a prowler,
And your need like an armed man.
And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed (Romans 13:11).
Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober (1 Thessalonians 5:6).
Christian has already seen the dangers of spiritual sleep. Earlier in the allegory he found Simple, Sloth, and Presumption asleep not far from the cross. Simple saw no need to study, understand, or apply doctrine. Sloth saw no need to do hard or costly things. Presumption settled where, if needed, he could see the cross and assumed all would be well. Christian himself later fell asleep at the Arbor while he was climbing Hill Difficulty. He lost his roll (his assurance of salvation) for a time and his carelessness placed him in greater danger.
The danger of the Enchanted Ground is spiritual complacency and fatigue.
When life is comfortable and religion becomes rote, we can grow complacent and careless in our walk with God. We can settle in and grow too comfortable in our faith. Our worship loses its wonder and becomes too routine. We go to church week after week, hearing the same old Sunday School lessons, singing the same old songs, hearing the same preacher saying the same things. And we begin to think: I’ve heard that before—and we don’t listen as intently—Didn’t we sing this hymn just last week?—and we stop paying attention to the words. We grow too familiar with the content and form of worship—and we tune out. Our minds wander and spiritual sleep overtakes us. We come week after week to feed on God’s Word but fail to “taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8). In his commentary on The Pilgrim’s Progress, William Mason warns:
Christian, beware of sleeping on this enchanted ground! When all things go easy, smooth, and well, we are prone to grow drowsy in soul. How many are the calls in the Word against spiritual slumber! and yet how many professors, through the enchanting air of this world, are fallen into the deep sleep of formality! Be warned by them to cry to thy Lord to keep thee awake to righteousness, and vigorous in the ways of thy Lord—(Mason).
Even churches can drift into spiritual lethargy. As God’s people, we can become drowsy, asleep near the cross, like Simple, Sloth, and Presumption. We can dismiss and discard the teaching of difficult doctrine, so not to offend anyone. We can settle into a comfortable routine and stop doing hard things and challenging things. We can pare down ministry so it is manageable and predictable. We can grow complacent and languid—no longer sharing our faith with others, no longer engaging one another about our spiritual welfare. We can assume all is well and fail to encourage and admonish one another. As Keith Green has said, we can fall “asleep in the light.”
Oh, can’t you see such sin?!
The world is sleeping in the dark,
That the church just can’t fight,
’cause it’s asleep in the light!
©1978 from the album No Compromise
Spiritual complacency is not the only thing that lulls us to sleep. Spiritual fatigue does so as well. Living as a Christian in a world filled with sin is hard. Rising day after day, fighting the same old battles against sin, can be wearisome. It is easy to wonder at times—wouldn’t it be nice if I just didn’t have to fight anymore? Satan tempts us to give up the fight of faith. He tries to allure us away from what is true when we are weak and weary.
In Part II of The Pilgrim’s Progress, the pilgrims find two travelers asleep on the Enchanted Ground: Heed-less and Too-Bold. They rushed in with confidence, but failed to stay alert. They did not heed the truth of God’s Word and grew weary in crossing. They weren’t prepared for the long haul. Great-heart, the pilgrims’ guide in Part II, explains their demise.
This, then, is the mischief of it, when heedless ones go on pilgrimage, it is twenty to one but they are served thus; for this Enchanted Ground is one of the last refuges that the enemy to pilgrims has. Wherefore it is, as you see, placed almost at the end of the way, and so it stands against us with the more advantage. For when, thinks the enemy, will these fools be so desirous to sit down, as when they are weary? and when so like to be weary, as when almost at their journey’s end? Therefore it is, I say, that the Enchanted Ground is placed so nigh to the Land Beulah, and so near the end of their race.
The Enchanted Ground lies near the end of the journey because spiritual fatigue is a danger we can easily slip into when we have followed the Way for a long time.
How then are we to avoid the dangers and make it across the Enchanted Ground?
The solution for making it across such a treacherous place is threefold:
1) Never walk alone. When Hopeful realizes his error, he is grateful for Christian’s company. He quotes from Ecclesiastes:
Two are better than one,
Because they have a good reward for their labor.
For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.
But woe to him who is alone when he falls,
For he has no one to help him up.
Had he been by himself, Hopeful might have fallen asleep and not completed his journey. By God’s kindness, Christian walked with him and prevented him from succumbing to spiritual slumber.
2) Look to God’s Word. God has given us instruction in His Word that we must heed and follow. He has given us faithful Shepherds to teach us God’s Word and to exhort us to follow its instruction. We must remember God’s Word and preach it continually to ourselves and to one another as we press on to our journey’s end.
3) Engage in godly discourse. Christian tells Hopeful, “to prevent drowsiness in this place, let us fall into good discourse.” Here Bunyan highlights the value of Christian discipleship. The pilgrims sing and discuss together spiritual things that edify their souls. Discipleship involves helping and encouraging others, and letting others help and encourage us. It involves investing time in others, rejoicing in truth with others, and sharing testimony of God’s goodness with one another. We need to continually rehearse the gospel, and never simply presume the gospel. Discipleship is the means of grace whereby God keeps the gospel new and fresh in our hearts. It is the means whereby new believers are taught to cherish and walk in the faith. And it is the means whereby mature believers are heartened to continue cherishing and walking in the faith.
In the next several posts we will see discipleship in action. Christian will question Hopeful, draw out his testimony, and offer encouragement and instruction. God is gracious in insisting that we journey to the Celestial City together. We should always be grateful for the opportunity to walk together, look to God’s Word together, and share testimonies of God’s goodness our lives. We need discourse on the truth to keep us from growing dull and falling asleep in the Way.
Father, help them not grow drowsy
As they cross Enchanted Ground;
Stir their souls with lively discourse
Of the precious grace they’ve found.
(from A Prayer for Pilgrims 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 ©2018 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.