Christian: But what was the cause of your carrying of it thus to the first workings of God’s blessed Spirit upon you?
Hopeful: The causes were, 1. I was ignorant that this was the work of God upon me. I never thought that, by awakenings for sin, God at first begins the conversion of a sinner. 2. Sin was yet very sweet to my flesh, and I was loath to leave it. 3. I could not tell how to part with mine old companions, their presence and actions were so desirable unto me. 4. The hours in which convictions were upon me were such troublesome and such heart-affrighting hours that I could not bear, no not so much as the remembrance of them, upon my heart.
Hopeful’s testimony again highlights a contrast between his experience of coming to faith in Christ and Christian’s experience. He and Christian responded differently to the awakening of the soul to the reality of sin and the need for salvation.
Christian first learned that he was in danger of judgment by reading his book (the Bible). As he read, he was distressed. We first see him “clothed with rags” (he is sinful and unrighteous), “with his face from his own house” (he has no desire to continue living in sin) and a burden is on his back (he feels the weight of guilt and conviction for his sin). When Evangelist pointed him to the Wicket Gate (Christ) and the Shining Light (light of God’s Word), Christian was anxious for help and ready to begin his journey to escape Destruction.
Hopeful first heard the Bible’s warnings about sin from Christian and Faithful when they came to the town of Vanity. He was at first unwilling to see his danger. As he heard God’s Word, he responded with denial and rejection. Though he began feeling the “first workings” of God in his heart, he was resistant.
He describes 4 causes for his initial resistance:
1) He was ignorant that God was at work in his heart. He did not realize that the conviction he was experiencing was actually the stirrings of grace in his life. Conviction made him feel guilty and terrible. How could these things be of God?
The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).
2) He still loved his sin.
You love evil more than good,
Lying rather than speaking righteousness.
Hopeful heard the warnings of Scripture. The pleasures of sin are short-lived.
Do you not know this from of old,
since man was placed on earth,
that the exulting of the wicked is short,
and the joy of the godless but for a moment?
(Job 20:4–5, ESV)
Sin enslaves and leads us to death.
Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? (Romans 6:16)
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).
But Hopeful would not turn away from sin. Sin continued to ensnare him.
His own iniquities entrap the wicked man,
And he is caught in the cords of his sin.
“Sin was yet very sweet” and he loathed to leave it.
Stolen water is sweet,
And bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”
Bread gained by deceit is sweet to a man,
But afterward his mouth will be filled with gravel.
3) He was unwilling to part with old companions. Hopeful was not only enticed by his flesh to remain in sin, he was encouraged by sinful companions. Scripture warns:
He who walks with wise men will be wise,
But the companion of fools will be destroyed.
Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.” Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame (1 Corinthians 15:33–34).
Hopeful’s friends approved and affirmed him in his sin. He prized their friendship as they legitimized his sin. He was not ready to walk away from destructive relationships.
4) He was troubled by conviction and afraid of his guilt. Hopeful felt the weight of condemnation for his sin and it terrified him. When he remembered his sin, he was filled with conflicting thoughts of dread and delight. Sin promised him pleasure, but he couldn’t bear the guilt it left behind. Sin assured him that he would be satisfied, but he ended up troubled by conviction. He was unwilling to turn from sin, and so to find relief, he tried to banish guilt and conviction from his mind.
Many in our day are experiencing such struggles of conscience. Though they sense a measure of sin’s horror, they are trapped by sin. They have sinned against others and feel the lingering guilt and condemnation. They have been sinned against and feel the hurt and shame that sin leaves in its wake. But instead of pursuing forgiveness and relief in the gospel, they try to drown out and smother their conscience with false hopes and more sin.
As we share the gospel with friends, family, and others with whom we have the opportunity to speak, Hopeful’s experience should give us cause for real hope. Sometimes the bonds of sin are hard to break. Sometimes truth dawns slowly in the heart. But initial resistance to God’s Word is not fatal. In time Hopeful did hear and believe the gospel. He did forsake his sin and his old life in Vanity Fair. He became a pilgrim—a follower of Christ—and set out with Christian for the Celestial City. We must keep praying for those still in bondage to sin that God would in time give them light and set them free. In the next post Hopeful explains to Christian how God continued to pursue him and lay the weight of conviction on his conscience.
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.