Christian: Then Christian began and said, I will ask you a question. How came you to think at first of so doing as you do now?
Hopeful: Do you mean, how came I at first to look after the good of my soul?
Christian: Yes, that is my meaning.
Hopeful: I continued a great while in the delight of those things which were seen and sold at our fair; things which, I believe now, would have, had I continued in them, still drowned me in perdition and destruction.
Christian: What things are they?
Hopeful: All the treasures and riches of the world. Also, I delighted much in rioting, reveling, drinking, swearing, lying, uncleanness, Sabbath-breaking, and what not, that tended to destroy the soul. But I found at last, by hearing and considering of things that are divine, which indeed I heard of you, as also of beloved Faithful that was put to death for his faith and good living in Vanity Fair, that “the end of these things is death.” And that for these things’ sake “cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.”
Christian: And did you presently fall under the power of this conviction?
Hopeful: No, I was not willing presently to know the evil of sin, nor the damnation that follows upon the commission of it; but endeavored, when my mind at first began to be shaken with the Word, to shut mine eyes against the light thereof.
The Pilgrim’s Progress is primarily the story of Christian. On the opening page we see him distressed, “clothed with rags, standing in a certain place, with his face from his own house, a book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back.” At the encouragement of Evangelist, he flees his home in the city of Destruction and begins his journey to the Celestial City. Through the character of Christian, Bunyan tells his own story of coming to faith in Christ. But he also gives us glimpses into the journeys of some others along the way. Faithful tells of his own escape from the City of Destruction. We hear of his encounters with Wanton, Adam the First, Moses, Discontent, and Shame. We see his powerful witness as he travels with Christian to the town of Vanity, where he is put on trial and martyred for his faith. Later in the allegory Christian relates some of the story of Little-faith, a pilgrim from the town of Sincere who struggled on his journey after he was robbed and beaten.
It is interesting to compare the testimonies of each of these pilgrims. You will find that there are many similarities—things that are true of all the accounts. But you will also find some differences. Bunyan is emphasizing by this that our pilgrimages will not all be the same. Some parts of the journey that are easy for some, will be difficult for others. There are temptations that may cause some to stray for a time, while others will immediately see the danger and not be led astray. This is why is so important for us to travel together—fellowshipping with one another, encouraging one another, and discipling one another.
To continue their journey Christian and Hopeful must traverse the Enchanted Ground. As they cross, they try to stay awake and alert by engaging in “good discourse.” At Palace Beautiful Christian learned the value of godly company and gospel conversations. Discretion, Piety, Prudence, and Charity all questioned Christian and drew out his testimony. Now Christian questions Hopeful and their dialog provides a detailed account of Hopeful’s testimony.
Christian begins by asking Hopeful how it was that he became concerned about his soul. Hopeful is from the town of Vanity. His former life reflected the spiritual state of many in this world. He was ensnared and entrenched in sin, pursuing all the vain pleasures of this life, blissfully unaware that his soul was in danger. He was blind to God’s good ways, delighting in all the world has to offer, and hoping all would turn out well in the end.
The turning point came in Hopeful’s life when Christian and Faithful came to his town. As Hopeful watched and listened to the two pilgrims, he was intrigued. He began thinking about the good of his soul.
Their lives intrigued him. When Christian and Faithful came to Vanity Fair they seemed very much out of place. They weren’t tempted by the temporary and fleeting pleasures of the world. They did not buy and sell at the Fair with others in the town. Instead, they told the merchants, “We buy the truth” (Proverbs 23:23). The town reacted with anger and scorn. Christian and Faithful were oppressed, persecuted, put on trial, and jailed. In the end Faithful was martyred for his faith. Yet in the midst of trial and temptation, Christian and Faithful stood firm for the truth.
Their words intrigued him. Christian and Faithful not only lived the truth before the town, they spoke the truth. They faithfully proclaimed and taught God’s Word. Hopeful heard that he must forsake sin or face coming wrath and judgment.
But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them (Ephesians 5:3–7).
Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them (Colossians 3:5–7).
Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts (Romans 13:13–14).
He heard that sin leads only to death.
What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death(Romans 6:21).
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).
At first Hopeful refused to believe the truth. He did not want to acknowledge the evil of sin or the certainty of judgment. His eyes were closed, his ears were hard of hearing, and his heart was dull (Isaiah 6:10, Matthew 13:15, Acts 28:27). He was enamored by the world and against the things of God.
Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:7–8).
But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14).
Hopeful was not looking for Christ. He was not trying to understand the Bible. He was not even aware that he was lost and in danger. He prized the riches and treasures of the world more than the Word and Way of God. Though he both heard and saw the gospel on display in the lives of Christian and Faithful, he tried at first to block the truth from his mind and hide it from his eyes.
Hopeful’s experience highlights the importance of sharing our faith with others, even with those who initially reject and scorn the truth. Christian and Faithful were willing to go through the town of Vanity (the sinful world in its opposition to God) and face opposition and persecution, even to death, so that people living in the town could see and hear the gospel proclaimed. Because of their witness, Hopeful was able to hear and consider “things that are divine.” He heard them speak truth; he saw them stand for truth, and he watched them live the truth. It made a lasting impression.
We live in a day when the world is equally opposed to truth and ensnared by sin. Truth is regarded as fluid and malleable—something to be constantly shaped as we construct our own realities and tell our own stories in order to make sense of the world around us. Evil is recast and redefined as anything that threatens or opposes our stories. The world delights in darkness, rejects the light of God’s Word, and is blind to God’s ways.
May God give us boldness in our day to live and speak truth in the midst of a lost world. And may those around us see our lives, hear our words, and be intrigued to know the hope within us.
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.