All posts by Ken

Ken Puls is a follower of Jesus, husband, father, worship leader, pastor and song writer. Over the past 27 years of ministry he has composed over 50 songs and hymns. He directs the music and media ministries at Grace Baptist Church, Cape Coral, FL.

Conversation with Discretion

Porter: Well, I will call out one of the virgins of this place, who will, if she likes your talk, bring you into the rest of the family, according to the rules of the house. So Watchful, the porter, rang a bell, at the sound of which came out at the door of the house, a grave and beautiful damsel, named Discretion, and asked why she was called.

The porter answered, This man is on a journey from the City of Destruction to Mount Zion, but being weary and benighted, he asked me if he might lodge here tonight; so I told him I would call for you, who, after discourse had with him, may do as seems good to you, even according to the law of the house.

Then she asked him where he came from and where he was going to, and he told her. She asked him also how he got into the way; and he told her. Then she asked him what he had seen and met with in the way; and he told, her. And last she asked his name; so he said, It is Christian, and I have so much the more a desire to lodge here tonight, because, by what I perceive, this place was built by the Lord of the hill for the relief and security of pilgrims. So she smiled, but the water stood in her eyes; and after a little pause, she said, I will call forth two or three more of the family. So she ran to the door, and called out Prudence, Piety, and Charity, who, after a little more discourse with him, had him into the family; and many of them, meeting him at the threshold of the house, said, Come in, you blessed of the Lord; this house was built by the Lord of the hill, on purpose to entertain such pilgrims in. Then he bowed his head, and followed them into the house.

Conversation with DiscretionIn the last post Christian sought entrance into Palace Beautiful, Bunyan’s depiction of the church as seen through the eyes of a new believer. The Porter of the Palace, whose name is Watchful, represents a minister of the gospel who watches and cares for the souls of pilgrims. When Christian arrived at the door, he encouraged Christian and began asking him questions about his faith and testimony. Now Watchful summons Discretion to determine if Christian is to be admitted and received into the Palace.

Discretion is the ability to recognize what is true and distinguish it, so that we can approve what is excellent. It is carefulness and caution in an effort to make good judgments and sound decisions. God’s Word commends discretion:

Discretion will preserve you; understanding will keep you (Proverbs 2:11).

Christian’s conversation with Discretion and the Porter represents the care and questioning involved in admitting new members to the local church. The minister needs discretion to rightly judge the understanding of the gospel and testimony of those seeking membership in the church.

Discretion questions Christian about:

    1. His journey (where he came from and where he is going): Christian tells some of his life story. He is fleeing the City of Destruction and is on a journey to the Celestial City.
    2. His salvation (how he got into the way): Christian tells of his encounter with Christ and the gospel. He was pointed to the Gate by Evangelist, came in at the Gate and found relief from his burden at the cross.
    3. His testimony (what he has seen and met with in the way): Christian tells of the people and places he has encountered along the way. Some have hindered him, like the Slough and Worldly Wiseman; but some have strengthened him, like the House of the Interpreter and Goodwill.
    4. His identity (what is his name). Christian had told the Porter that his name was once Graceless, but now his name is Christian. His identity is with Christ and his followers.

The cautious and loving step of interviewing prospective members before admitting them to membership in the church was commonly practiced in Baptist churches in Bunyan’s day. Wyman Richardson observes that:

… early Baptists were convinced that all prospective members should give evidence of their conversion. Without this, they forfeited not only their right to be a part of the church, but also the only factor that allows any of us to be members of the church: the new life given by and in Jesus Christ.

In asking for evidence, these Baptists were following a practice that flows logically and naturally from a commitment to regenerate church membership. The need for evidence of conversion in fact makes perfect sense. If the membership of a local church consists only of regenerate, born-again people, then these people should be able to give evidence of the fact that they are, in fact, regenerate as well as some sort of account of the time when they passed from, death into life.

[Wyman Richardson, On Earth as It Is in Heaven (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2011), 24.]

The idea of a membership interview might seem strange to some. Unlike the practice of many churches in our day, Christian was not immediately ushered into the house at his first request for lodging. The Porter, along with Discretion, took time to hear him out and judge if he were a believer or not.

But some might ask: Why would it matter? Shouldn’t the church welcome in unbelievers as well as believers? Shouldn’t we gladly receive all when they come?

The answer is yes and no. Keep in mind here that Bunyan is describing church membership, not church attendance.

Unbelievers will certainly be in attendance in our church gatherings and we should be glad they are present and under the preaching of God’s Word. We should make an effort to be sure the gospel is clearly proclaimed and all are invited to come to Christ. We should pray that God would grant them conviction of sin and desperation that they would be compelled to flee to Christ for relief and peace. But, though unbelievers are among us, the church, as a family and fellowship, is for believers. And we should take care, as best with can, knowing that our judgments are not infallible, to determine that those who come to join the church have a credible profession of faith and give evidence of God’s grace at work in their lives.

Why make church membership such an issue? Why make an effort to discern if the one coming to join has truly laid hold of Christ in the gospel? The need for church discipline indicates that we cannot always discern rightly the state of someone’s soul. We do so precisely because souls are at stake. It would be unloving and deceitful for a church to welcome into its membership one who gave no evidence of a heart turned to Christ and a life changed by the power of His Spirit. We don’t want to give our endorsement to one who is not genuinely seeking to follow Christ. We don’t want membership in a church to become a false blanket of security to one whose heart is still dead in sin and entrenched in the world. We want people to look to Jesus, not to a time when they walked an aisle or prayed a prayer. And that means taking time—time to discern their journey, their salvation, their testimony and their identity. The church needs discernment, especially at the front door, as it interviews candidates for membership.

Christian demonstrates that he indeed has set his heart on following Christ. He gives evidence of a humble and teachable heart. He listened gladly to the Porter’s words of instruction: “This house was built by the Lord of the hill, and he built it for the relief and security of pilgrims.” Now in his reply to Discretion he answers what he has learned: “I have so much the more a desire to lodge here tonight, because, by what I perceive, this place was built by the Lord of the hill for the relief and security of pilgrims.”

Discretion hears Christian’s words with favor and summons more of the family to come and converse with him. She is joined by Prudence, Piety and Charity, who, after more conversation, welcome Christian into the family. The church welcomes him saying: “Come in, you blessed of the Lord; this house was built by the Lord of the hill, on purpose to entertain such pilgrims in.”

Christian enters with reverence and humility. He bows his head and follows them inside. In the next few posts we will consider the conversations that Christian has with Prudence, Piety and Charity, and explore the value of gospel conversations in the house of God.

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 ©2014 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

How Should We Sing the Great Old Hymns of the Faith?

Down through the ages church history has displayed a rich tapestry of praise to the glory of God. Included in the music of the church are many beloved hymns that have stood the test of time and have become lasting contributions to the church’s voice in worship. These are songs that resonate beyond their age, with proven quality and depth.

There is no question that we should continue to sing and cherish the old, established, proven hymns of the faith. They remind us that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves. God is at work in every age accomplishing His purposes and building His church. His Kingdom reaches throughout history and across nations and languages. The old hymns of the faith are the voices and echoes of the past that testify to the greatness and faithfulness of God through the ages.

But how should we sing the great old hymns of the faith? How do we add our voices in the present to songs from the past in ways that will allow us to share in the praise and benefit from the testimony of saints who have gone before us?

Or to ask the question another way: Is it more authentic to sing the great hymns of the faith just as they were written? Should we aim to preserve them in the style and form in which they were composed? Or is it more authentic to recognize that we live in a new day and aim to craft our music to reflect the styles of today? Should we take the old hymns and give them a fresh sound, adjusting and adapting them to fit our voice and our time?

Piano and Drums

Many have strong preferences regarding how we sing the music of the past. Some believe the old beloved songs should be left as is and not “messed up” by making them sound contemporary. Others are convinced that the old hymns are more meaningful and accessible in our day when we re-craft them with new settings and new tunes.

Authenticity is measured differently across styles of music. For classical music an authentic sound might be judged by how close the musicians come to expressing the original intentions of the composer. Deviating from the notation, altering or re-arranging the tune would dilute the song and make it inauthentic and unstylistic. For jazz authenticity might be judged by the musicians’ creativity and skill at improvisation. The idea of playing a song as written, or playing it the same way it was played yesterday (or even a few moments ago) would be absurd.

But authenticity in worship is never a matter of our own creativity or our adherence to musical form. Authenticity is always a matter of the heart. Our aim in worship is glorifying God, not exalting one way of singing over another. We come to proclaim truth, not preserve musical form or flaunt musical talent. We come to magnify Christ, not measure the greatness of our songs.

God’s worship cannot be contained by our preferences, within our comfort zones, and inside our creativity. Paul’s descriptive words for church music, psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, encompass the great breadth and scope of music in the church that God is orchestrating to His own glory.

So how then should we sing the great old hymns of the faith?

The answer is with hearts enlivened by God’s grace and moved by God’s glory. And this can take many forms. There will be times (and places) when we use older and beloved settings of great hymns. At times we might sing new songs that borrow or incorporate older hymns (songs such as Cornerstone from Hillsong that uses the verses from The Solid Rock or Lord I Need You from Matt Maher that quotes I Need Thee Every Hour). And at times we might sing older hymns with a new arrangements and tunes (songs such as Glorious Day – Living He Loved Me, sung by Casting Crowns, that updates One Day or God Moves from Sovereign Grace Music that updates William Cooper’s hymn God Moves in a Mysterious Way). But at all times we must sing from our hearts with passions more enflamed for God’s glory than stoked by personal preferences.

There are some compelling reasons why we should see the music of the church as fluid and dynamic, rather than rigid and inviolate.

1. God has designed our music to be necessarily contemporary. Most of the music of the church only lasts for the moment. It serves its day and then fades to make room for new songs. Even with the Old Testament psalms, thousands were composed and sung in worship in the tabernacle and Temple, but only 150 were set down and preserved in Scripture. Relatively few hymns and songs have continued on to become the treasured music of the church. But whether we sing the music from the past or new songs from our own day, our singing is contemporary. It is the church lifting its voice in worship to God now in the present.

2. With the psalms God gave us a mandate and set a precedent for our worship. We are commanded in Scripture:

Sing praises to God, sing praises!
Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For God is the King of all the earth;
sing praises with a psalm!
(Psalm 47:6–7)

The psalms continue into the New Testament as a treasured part of the church’s music:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God (Colossians 3:16).

addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart (Ephesians 5:19).

Paul taught the church to include the music of the past. First on his list of what the church should sing are the psalms, music of the Old Testament that anticipated the coming of Jesus and spoke of Him (Luke 24:44). And yet the psalms come to us without musical tunes or arrangements. While some of the inscriptions on the psalms suggest that specific melodies and instruments were used, those original melodies were not preserved along with the words. To sing the psalms, as God commands, the church has had to compose and add its own tunes.

3. Most of the great old hymns are known by tunes that were added later by composers looking for a new sound for great lyrics. For Example:

• The words to Holy, Holy, Holy were written by Reginald by Reginald Heber (1783–1826). John B. Dykes later composed a new tune (NICAEA) for the hymn when it was included in Hymns Ancient and Modern in 1861.

• The words to the hymn Amazing Grace by John Newton were published in the Olney Hymnal in 1779. Verse 6 that begins “When we’ve been there ten thousand years” was added in 1790. The tune NEW BRITAIN (also known as AMAZING GRACE) is an American folk tune that was first published (to different words) in the Virginia Harmony in 1831. It was adapted and arranged by Edwin O. Excell to fit the lyrics to Amazing Grace in 1900.

• The words to And Can It Be were written by Charles Wesley in 1738. The hymn tune most associated with Wesley’s words, SAGINA, was composed by Thomas Campbell in 1825, over 80 years later.

In most cases, we owe the longevity of great hymns of the past to the willingness of church musicians to find or compose new music to accompany them.

4. For most of the history of western hymnody, words were not rigidly connected to specific tunes. Before hymnals that included both words and music, printed together on the same page, became popular in the 20th century, it was common for the same hymn to be sung to several different tunes. Hymnals were printed with words only; tunes and lyrics were matched by poetic meter (C.M., L.M., 7.6.7.6., etc.). Each local church would have a repertoire of favorite and familiar tunes that they would use with the lyrics they wanted to sing in worship. As churches today are moving away from printed hymnals to again sing with words only (now projected on screens), the idea that a song can have only one authentic tune or arrangement is fading as well.

Thankfully there are church musicians in our day who are committed to keeping hymnody alive and well. Tim Challis has provided a helpful summary on contemporary hymns. Several groups are writing new tunes and new arrangements of old hymns, including Sovereign Grace Music, Indelible Grace, Paige CXVI, and Red Mountain Music.
We need to sing the great old hymns of the faith. We need to join our voices with God’s people through the ages and celebrate the boundless scope of His mercy and grace. May God help us to sing them, in both new and old ways, as authentic expressions of our hearts in worship to His glory and praise.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy BIble, English Standard Version (ESV) ©2001 by Crossway.

Christian Arrives at Palace Beautiful

But while he was thus bewailing his unhappy miscarriage, he lift up his eyes, and behold there was a very stately palace before him, the name of which was Beautiful; and it stood just by the highway side.
So I saw in my dream that he made haste and went forward, that if possible he might get lodging there. Now, before he had gone far, he entered into a very narrow passage, which was about a furlong off the porter’s lodge; and looking very narrowly before him as he went, he espied two lions in the way. Now, thought he, I see the dangers that Mistrust and Timorous were driven back by. (The lions were chained, but he saw not the chains.) Then he was afraid, and thought also himself to go back after them, for he thought nothing but death was before him. But the porter at the lodge, whose name is Watchful, perceiving that Christian made a halt as if he would go back, cried unto him, saying, “Is your strength so small?” Fear not the lions, for they are chained, and are placed there for trial of faith where it is, and for discovery of those that had none. Keep in the midst of the path, no hurt shall come unto you.
Then I saw that he went on, trembling for fear of the lions, but taking good heed to the directions of the porter. He heard them roar, but they did him no harm. Then he clapped his hands, and went on till he came and stood before the gate where the porter was. Then said Christian to the porter, “Sir, what house is this? And may I lodge here tonight?” The porter answered, “This house was built by the Lord of the hill, and he built it for the relief and security of pilgrims.” The porter also asked where he was from, and where he was going to.
Christian: I am come from the City of Destruction, and am going to Mount Zion; but because the sun is now set, I desire, if I may, to lodge here tonight.
Porter: What is your name?
Christian: My name is now Christian, but my name at the first was Graceless. I came of the race of Japheth, whom God will persuade to dwell in the tents of Shem.
Porter: But how does it happen that you come so late? The sun is set.
Christian: I had been here sooner, but that, “wretched man that I am!” I slept in the arbor that stands on the hillside. Nay, I had, notwithstanding that, been here much sooner, but that, in my sleep, I lost my evidence, and came without it to the brow of the hill and then feeling for it, and finding it not, I was forced with sorrow of heart, to go back to the place where I slept my sleep, where I found it, and now I am come.
Porter: Well, I will call out one of the virgins of this place, who will, if she likes your talk, bring you into the rest of the family, according to the rules of the house. So Watchful, the porter, rang a bell, at the sound of which came out at the door of the house, a grave and beautiful damsel, named Discretion, and asked why she was called.

As Christian again grew fearful of the approaching night, he saw by God’s kind providence, a place to seek refuge. Near to the Way was “a very stately palace” named Beautiful. The palace represents the church, and especially at this point in the story, it represents the church from the vantage point of new believer who has not yet matured in faith. As with the House of the Interpreter, Christian will gain many advantages and encouragements needed for the journey ahead by lodging here. Bunyan draws his description of the Palace Beautiful from Psalm 48.

Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised
In the city of our God,
In His holy mountain.
Beautiful in elevation,
The joy of the whole earth,
Is Mount Zion on the sides of the north,
The city of the great King.
God is in her palaces;
He is known as her refuge.
(Psalms 48:1-3)

This psalm celebrates God dwelling with His people. It speaks of Jerusalem, the city that was home to the temple, sacrifices and festivals in the Old Testament, and describes it as beautiful and lifted up. It is God’s city. He “is in her palaces” and “is known as her refuge.” Jerusalem was a type in the Old Testament that foreshadowed a greater fulfillment of God’s presence with His people in Christ. Jesus is the King of kings, whose name is Emmanuel (God with us), who came and dwelt among us (John 1:14).

Between the LionsWhen Christian sees the beautiful palace, he hurries to gain entrance. But he notices that the way in is narrow and guarded by lions. The lions, as we saw earlier, represent the duel threat of the civil government and the state church who oppressed those who would identify themselves with the true Gospel and the true church in Bunyan’s day. These were the lions that frightened away Timorous and Mistrust. They stand near the entrance to the palace, prowling for those who would declare their faith by seeking lodging. Thomas Scott explains:

“A public profession of faith exposes a man to more opposition from relatives and neighbors than a private attention to religion; and in our author’s days it was commonly the signal for persecution: for which reason he places the lions in the road to the house Beautiful” (Thomas Scott).

When Christian realizes that the lions are between him and his desired refuge he becomes fearful and thinks about going back. But the Porter of the Palace, whose name is Watchful, sees Christian and calls out to encourage him. He asks: “Is your strength so small?” Bunyan points us here to Jesus’ words in Mark:

When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:34–37).

The Porter tells Christian not to fear; the lions are chained. Though Christian cannot see the chains, he must trust the word of Porter and follow his counsel to walk in the midst of the path. God is sovereign over all rulers and authority. We read in Proverbs:

The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD,
Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.
(Proverbs 21:1)

Though the lions may roar and appear menacing, they have no power except what is granted them by our sovereign God.

When Christian arrives unharmed at the gate, he is greeted by the Porter. The Porter represents a minister of the gospel who watches and cares for the souls of pilgrims. In Jerusalem of old God set watchmen upon the walls:

I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem;
They shall never hold their peace day or night.
You who make mention of the LORD, do not keep silent
(Isaiah 62:6).

In the New Testament, the role of the pastor is described as a watchman:

But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Timothy 4:5).

Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you (Hebrews 13:17).

Later in the allegory one of the shepherds in the Delectable Mountains (a depiction of the church from the vantage point of a more mature Christian) is also named Watchful.

The Porter tells Christian that the palace is built by the Lord of the Hill. “He built it for the relief and security of pilgrims.” It is Christ who builds His church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).

Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-22).

When Christian asks for lodging, the Porter questions him about his faith and testimony. Christian professes that he has fled the City of Destruction and is now going to Mount Zion. His name is now Christian (a follower and disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ), but it once was Graceless. Christian has a new name and has taken his stand with the people God:

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy (1 Peter 2:9-10).

Christian then identifies himself as from the line of Japheth (one of Noah’s sons whose descendents settled Europe—including Bunyan’s homeland of England). In Genesis 9:27 Noah prayed that God would prosper Japheth and cause him to “dwell in the tents of Shem.” We see this fulfilled in the spread of the gospel as those who were once strangers and foreigners, far from the promises of God, are brought near in Christ:

Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands—that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:11-13).

The Porter asks about the lateness of Christian’s arrival. The sun is setting and night is approaching. Christian laments that he should have come sooner, but carelessness caused him to lose time and lose ground. Here in Christian’s confession we see one of the reasons why he needs to join himself to the church. As a new believer Christian still has much to learn. He had been careless when he should have been careful. He was slothful when he should have been sober. Yet the very quality that Christian realizes he lacks, that has caused his most recent sorrows and late arrival, is the very quality that distinguishes the Porter. Christian failed to keep watch over his soul, but the Porter is Watchful and gives Christian the encouragement and counsel he needs to press on. We need the advantage of faithful pastors, and brothers and sisters in Christ, who will help us watch out for our souls and hold us accountable.

As the dialog continues, the Porter summons Discretion to come interview Christian, according to the rules of the house, to determine if he should be admitted into the family. In the next post we will begin looking at the care the church takes to receive and welcome its members.

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 ©2014 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Father Lift Our Eyes in Prayer

Too often when we come to pray, our thoughts are set upon ourselves—on our trials and struggles. We are overly mindful of our limitations and distress. And if we keep our attention fixed on ourselves and our circumstances, our praying can become mired in discouragement and confusion.

It is God’s gracious design, in giving us the wonderful privilege of prayer, to lift our eyes off of us and off of our sometimes bewildering troubles, and fix them upon Him—on His sure character and person—on His sure Word and promises. We dare not linger long surveying our cares and needs. We do better to look through them, above them, and to the very One who work all things for our good and His glory.

The idea for this hymn came during the 1997 Southern Baptist Founders Conference. At that conference Iain Murray preached a series of messages on revival. On Friday evening, July 25, 1997, he concluded his message by speaking of our need for prayer. He admonished us in our prayers not to begin by looking at the world or or to our many needs. We must start by seeing God, knowing Who He is, what He has done, and what He promises to do. Unless we know God, we will not know how to pray.

May God shine the light of His Word upon our prayers.

Light on the Sea

Father, lift our eyes in prayer
We Your glory would behold!
We need light to see Your hand
As Your perfect plan unfolds.
Clearly let us see You, Lord
When we face dismay or loss
In each trial let us see
Not our crisis, but Your cross.

Lord, forgive our selfish prayers
We forget to Whom we pray
And in folly bring advice
Thinking we know best the way
Show us Lord Your perfect will
Help us walk contentedly
You, O Lord, know best the way
None, Lord, can Your couns’lor be.

Teach us, Lord, to know You well
That we might have well to say
Lift our thoughts to meditate
On Your glory as we pray
Do not let our prayers arise
With eyes fixed on want and need
Look beyond, above, and to
Him to Whom we come and plead

Lord, remove our thoughts from self
Warm our words with words Your own
On the Scriptures, set our minds
When in prayer we seek Your throne
That we all may comprehend
Width and length and depth and height!
Fully know the love of Christ!
On our prayers, Lord, shine Your light

Words ©1998, 2014 Ken Puls
Download free sheet music and lyric sheet for this hymn.

The Roll Recovered

Now, by this time he was come to the arbor again, where for a while he sat down and wept; but at last, as Christian would have it, looking sorrowfully down under the settle, there he espied his roll; the which he, with trembling and haste, caught up, and put it into his bosom. But who can tell how joyful this man was when he had gotten his roll again! For this roll was the assurance of his life and acceptance at the desired haven. Therefore he laid it up in his bosom, gave thanks to God for directing his eye to the place where it lay, and with joy and tears betook himself again to his journey. But oh, how nimbly now did he go up the rest of the hill! Yet, before he got up, the sun went down upon Christian; and this made him again recall the vanity of his sleeping to his remembrance And thus he again began to condole with himself: O thou sinful sleep; how, for your sake, am I like to be benighted in my journey! I must walk without the sun; darkness must cover the path of my feet; and I must hear the noise of the doleful creatures, because of my sinful sleep. Now also he remembered the story that Mistrust and Timorous told him of; how they were frighted with the sight of the lions. Then said Christian to himself again: These beasts range in the night for their prey; and if they should meet with me in the dark, how should I shift them? How should I escape being by them torn in pieces? Thus he went on his way. But while he was thus bewailing his unhappy miscarriage, he lift up his eyes, and behold there was a very stately palace before him, the name of which was Beautiful; and it stood just by the highway side.

In the last post Christian learned the painful consequences of sinful sleep. He became careless and idle and, as he slept in the light, his roll slipped away. But Christian also demonstrated the fruits of humble repentance. He acknowledged his sin, sought forgiveness, and retraced his steps in a diligent search to find and recover what was lost.

The roll was precious to Christian. It represents, as Bunyan reminds us, “the assurance of his life and acceptance at the desired haven.” Assurance is not a given in the Christian walk; it is not guaranteed to all believers. It can be strong or weak at times. It can even be lost for a time due to sin or neglect. The 1689 London Baptist Confession acknowledges that even true believers can struggle with assurance.

True believers may in various ways have the assurance of their salvation shaken, decreased, or temporarily lost. This may happen because they neglect to preserve it or fall into some specific sin that wounds their conscience and grieves the Spirit. It may happen through some unexpected or forceful temptation or when God withdraws the light of His face and allows even those who fear Him to walk in darkness and to have no light. Yet they are never completely lacking the seed of God, the life of faith, love of Christ and the brethren, sincerity of heart, or conscience concerning their duty. Out of these graces, through the work of the Spirit, this assurance may at the proper time be revived. In the meantime, they are kept from utter despair through them.
[Confessing the Faith: The 1689 Baptist Confession for the 21st Century, 20.4]

Though Christians may fall into dark times and lose the light of God’s felt presence and comfort, God, by the power and work of His Spirit, will keep and protect them. When the time is right according to His purposes, he will restore their assurance and hope. David prayed for such revival as he grieved his own sin in Psalm 51:

Make me hear joy and gladness,
That the bones You have broken may rejoice.
Hide Your face from my sins,
And blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence,
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,
And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.
(Psalm 51:8–12)

Jeremiah prophesied during dark days leading up to the fall of Jerusalem and Judah. In Lamentations he expressed his own grief and struggles when he felt confounded and abandoned:

I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of His wrath.
He has led me and made me walk
In darkness and not in light.
Surely He has turned His hand against me
Time and time again throughout the day.
He has aged my flesh and my skin,
And broken my bones.
He has besieged me
And surrounded me with bitterness and woe.
He has set me in dark places
Like the dead of long ago.
He has hedged me in so that I cannot get out;
He has made my chain heavy.
Even when I cry and shout,
He shuts out my prayer.
He has blocked my ways with hewn stone;
He has made my paths crooked.
He has been to me a bear lying in wait,
Like a lion in ambush.
He has turned aside my ways and torn me in pieces;
He has made me desolate.
He has bent His bow
And set me up as a target for the arrow.
He has caused the arrows of His quiver
To pierce my loins.
I have become the ridicule of all my people—
Their taunting song all the day.
He has filled me with bitterness,
He has made me drink wormwood.
He has also broken my teeth with gravel,
And covered me with ashes.
You have moved my soul far from peace;
I have forgotten prosperity.
And I said, “My strength and my hope
Have perished from the LORD.”
Remember my affliction and roaming,
The wormwood and the gall.
My soul still remembers
And sinks within me.
(Lamentations 3:1–20)

But then in verse 21 his thoughts lift from his affliction to God. He remembers what he knows to be true of God:

This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
Through the LORD’S mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I hope in Him!”
(Lamentations 3:21–24)

He thinks on God’s mercies and faithfulness, and his hope is restored. We must learn to pray this way when we are cast down and afflicted:

Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him
For the help of His countenance.
(Psalms 42:5)

Christian Finds His RollIn Bunyan’s story Christian knew the sorrow of assurance shaken. But in God’s kindness he also knew the joy of assurance revived. He returned to the arbor and “looking sorrowfully down” he found his lost roll. Christian’s response is worth noting here. When he saw the roll, he took it up with trembling and haste. He “put it into his bosom” (held it close to his heart). He was filled with joy and gave thanks to God for directing his steps to find it. When he set out again to resume his journey, he went back up the hill nimbly. His former trial was not as imposing. Freshly assured of grace, the hill was no longer difficult.

When Christian regained his assurance he learned to cherish it more. Even the trial itself was turned to blessing. This was Bunyan’s own testimony. In Grace Abounding Bunyan summarizes how he regained his assurance after being “tossed from many weeks” with fears and doubts:

At last this consideration fell with weight upon me, that it was for the Word and way of God that I was in this condition. Wherefore I was engaged not to flinch a hair’s breadth from it.

I thought also, that God might choose whether He would give me comfort now or at the hour of death, but I might not therefore choose whether I would hold my profession or no. I was bound, but He was free. Yea, it was my duty to stand to His word, whether He would ever look upon me or no, or save me at the last. Wherefore, thought I, the point being thus, I am for going on, and venturing my eternal state with Christ, whether I have comfort here or no. If God does not come in, thought I, I will leap off the ladder even blindfold into eternity, sink or swim, come heaven, come hell. Lord Jesus, if You will catch me, do. If not, I will venture for Your name.

I was no sooner fixed upon this resolution, but that word dropped upon me, “Does Job serve God for naught?” As if the accuser had said, Lord, Job is no upright man, he servers You for by-respects. Have you not made a hedge about him, etc. “But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has, and he will curse You to Your face.” How now, thought I, is this the sign of an upright soul, to desire to serve God, that will serve God for nothing rather than give out? Blessed be God, then, I hope I have an upright heart. For I am resolved, God giving me strength, never to deny my profession, though I have nothing at all for my pains, and as I was thus considering, that Scripture set before me, Psalm 44:12–26.

Now was my heart full of comfort, for I hoped it was sincere. I would not have been without this trial for much, I am comforted every time I think of it, and I hope I shall bless God forever for the teaching I have had by it.

[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 336–339]

Bunyan cast himself upon the mercy of God, trusting that God would do what is right. He was determined to press on by faith, regardless of how clouded his circumstances or feelings became. By God’s grace and strength he would continue to confess Christ and repent of sin. Looking to God restored his joy and comfort.

We have the promise in God’s Word:

Those who sow in tears
Shall reap in joy.
(Psalms 126:5)

Christian repented with godly sorrow and he was raised up in joy and renewed hope. He was now filled with confidence and ready to press on in his journey. He started again, going smoothly and swiftly up the hill. But he still faced impending peril wrought by the consequences of his sin. It was late in the day and the sun was going down. As the night approached, the shadows and darkness made it hard to see the path. He began to hear the sounds of creatures of the night and thought again of the lions prowling ahead. His sorrows and fears were reawakened and began to rattle his confidence.

But by God’s grace, Christian sees along the path a place to find safety and lodging. God again directs his steps to find help in time of need. He sees “a very stately palace before him, the name of which was Beautiful.” In the next several posts we will examine Christian’s stay at Palace Beautiful, Bunyan’s depiction of the church, and learn of the many benefits and blessings that come with being in the household of God.

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 ©2014 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

The Lost Roll

But, thinking again of what he had heard from the men, he felt in his bosom for his roll, that he might read therein, and be comforted; but he felt, and found it not. Then was Christian in great distress, and knew not what to do; for he wanted that which used to relieve him, and that which should have been his pass into the Celestial City. Here, therefore, he began to be much perplexed, and knew not what to do. At last he bethought himself that he had slept in the arbor that is on the side of the hill; and, falling down upon his knees, he asked God’s forgiveness for that his foolish act, and then went back to look for his roll. But all the way he went back, who can sufficiently set forth the sorrow of Christian’s heart? Sometimes he sighed, sometimes he wept, and oftentimes he chide himself for being so foolish to fall asleep in that place, which was erected only for a little refreshment for his weariness. Thus, therefore, he went back, carefully looking on this side and on that, all the way as he went, if happily he might find his roll, that had been his comfort so many times in his journey. He went thus, till he came again within sight of the arbor where he sat and slept; but that sight renewed his sorrow the more, by bringing again, even afresh, his evil of sleeping into his mind. Thus, therefore, he now went on bewailing his sinful sleep, saying, O wretched man that I am that I should sleep in the daytime! That I should sleep in the midst of difficulty! That I should so indulge the flesh, as to use that rest for ease to my flesh, which the Lord of the hill hath erected only for the relief of the spirits of pilgrims!

How many steps have I took in vain! Thus it happened to Israel, for their sin; they were sent back again by the way of the Red Sea; and I am made to tread those steps with sorrow, which I might have trod with delight, had it not been for this sinful sleep. How far might I have been on my way by this time! I am made to tread those steps thrice over, which I needed not to have trod but once; yea, now also I am like to be benighted, for the day is almost spent. O, that I had not slept!

When Christian hears the report from Timorous and Mistrust that there were lions ahead, he himself begins to fear. He looks for his roll for comfort, but discovers it is missing. As we learned earlier in the story, the roll represents Christian’s “assurance of life and acceptance at the desired haven.” It fell from his hand while he was asleep in the arbor.

The loss of Christian’s roll highlights two important lessons:

First: The Consequences of Sinful Sleep

The Lost RollIn the arbor Christian made a costly mistake. He slept in the daytime, when God had given him light. He slept in the midst of difficulty, when he had not yet reached the high ground. He became careless when he found opportunity for ease. So long as he was climbing and clambering up the hill, he was determined to move ahead, but he settled in to stay when he found a place to rest. As a result he fell asleep and his roll slipped away. He lost his confidence and determination. Without his roll Christian became distressed and perplexed. He had determined to go forward, saying, “I must venture.” But now he is uncertain and distraught.

We are called, as Christians, to watch and walk in the light. We must stay awake and alert and not squander the day when the night is coming. Bunyan points us here to Paul’s admonition:

Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation (1 Thessalonians 5:6–8).

Paul repeats this warning in Romans:

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. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. 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 13:11–14).

Jesus Himself said:

“Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going” (John 12:35).

This is a lesson we must learn. We need to be good stewards of the light and rest God gives us. We must walk and press on as we have light, as we have clear instruction from God’s Word and know where to go and what to do. We must watch and renew our strength as we have rest, encouraged as we see progress, yet mindful that we are not yet at the journey’s end. When we fail to be spiritually alert and diligent and instead become dull and slothful, we make ourselves vulnerable to a host of doubts and fears.

Second: The Fruits of Humble Repentance

At this point in the journey Christian takes a spiritual assessment of himself. He has made it to the top of Hill Difficulty, but he has also heard frightening news of what lies ahead. Since finding relief from his burden at the cross, he has met with several pretenders in the Way and watched as they scoffed, turned back, turned aside and refused to press on.

His recent conversation with Timorous and Mistrust has stirred up fears in his own mind and he begins to question and doubt his salvation. Christian comes to the realization that the same sins he saw overtake and overthrow the pretenders are also in his own heart. He was content to stay and sleep when he should be pressing on in the journey, just like Simple, Sloth and Presumption. He was afraid and uncertain, just like Timorous and Mistrust. How can he be certain of salvation and acceptance at the Celestial City, if such sin and stumbling is evident in his own life?

Christian’s journey in The Pilgrim’s Progress in many ways reflects Bunyan’s own pilgrimage. In Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners Bunyan describes a time early in his imprisonment when he struggled with fears and doubt. He feared that the authorities might sentence him to die. He was afraid that he was spiritually weak and unfit to bear witness for Christ and face death. His fear so overwhelmed him for a time that he became perplexed and was tempted to doubt his own salvation. Here is a portion of Bunyan’s account:

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 lying much upon my spirits, that my imprisonment might end at the gallows for ought I could tell. Now 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 I think I could, if I should be called to it. Besides, I thought with myself, if I should make a scrambling shift to climb up the ladder, yet I should either with quaking, or other symptoms of fainting, 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, in such a cause as this.

Wherefore I prayed to God that he would comfort me, and give me strength to do and suffer me what He should call me to; yet no comfort appeared, but all continued hid. I was also at this time so really possessed with the thought of death, that oft I was as if I was on a ladder with the rope about my neck. Only this was some encouragement to me. I thought I might now have an opportunity to speak my last words to a multitude, which I thought would come to see me die. And, thought I, if it must be so, if God will but convert one soul by my very last words, I shall not count my life thrown away, nor lost.

But yet all things of God were kept out of my sight, and still the tempter followed me with: “But whither must you go when you die? What will become of you? Where will you be found in another world? What evidence have you for heaven and glory, and an inheritance among them that are sanctified?” Thus was I tossed for many weeks, and knew not what to do.

[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 333–336]

Bunyan describes the real struggles of his heart, as he, like Christian in the allegory, did not know what to do. But take note of what Christian does next. In Christian’s response Bunyan shows us the fruits of humble repentance.

When Christian realizes that his sinful sleep in the arbor caused his roll to slip away, he quickly acknowledges and owns his sin. He falls to his knees and asks God for forgiveness. He then takes action to retrace his steps in search of his roll. Christian’s sin has sad consequences. He prolongs his trial and compounds his grief. He is forced to cover the same ground three times (the second time going back) that he should have traveled once. Yet he humbly repents with diligence and godly sorrow. Thomas Scott notes:

“Christian’s perplexity, remorse, complaints and self-reproachings, when he missed his roll, and went back to seek it, exactly suit the experience of humble and conscientious believers, when unwatchfulness has brought their state into uncertainty.”

Bunyan underscores the need for repentance by pointing us to a sobering verse in Revelation addressed to the church at Ephesus calling them to repent and warning them of the consequences of not repenting:

Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent (Revelation 2:5).

Unrepentance leads to darkness—the loss of the light of Christ. Repentance is the way to joy and light and renewed hope of forgiveness and life.

We must pray that God will not only make us watchful and diligent to walk in the light, but also make us humble and quick to repent when we fail and fall into sin. In the next post we will continue Christian’s search for the lost roll as he returns to the arbor.

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 ©2014 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

The Pilgrim’s Puzzle: Number 1

The Pilgrim's Puzzle

How well do you know John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress? Here is a puzzle to test your knowledge. If you can answer less than 10, you should definitely add the book to your reading list soon. If you can answer more than 10, you get a passing score for familiarity with the story. If you can answer more than 20, well done; you get high marks for attention to detail. And if you can answer all 25, you most certainly earn the title of aficionado. Take note: a few answers are from Part 2 of the book.

Crossword Puzzle 1

ACROSS

1.  Apollyon threw this at Christian.
2.  Christian was seeking to be rid of this.
6.  The path to Mount Zion.
7.  The Damsel’s name at the House of the Interpreter. [Part 2]
9.  This Giant lived in a cave at the end of the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
11. This caused Christian to fall into the Slough.
12. The town of Vanity ____.
13. Number of Lions that stand before House Beautiful.
14. Christian’s original name.
17. Mistrust and Timorous were running from these.
18. Mr. ___–Ends
19. Pulled Christian from the Slough of Despond.
20. Stands at the entrance to By-Path Meadow.
21. Mr. Great-Heart finds this Old Pilgrim asleep under an oak tree. [Part 2]

DOWN

1. The place where Bunyan slept and dreamed.
2. Stands in the Garden at the House of the Interpreter. [Part 2]
3. One of the Shepherds.
4. Stands at the entrance to the Way.
5. This good man from the town of Sincere was beaten and robbed.
8. This man pointed Christian to the Wicket Gate.
9. The Chamber where Christian slept at House Beautiful.
10. Where Christian was prepared for Battle.
15. Represents Illumination.
16. Placed through the midst of the Slough.
18. What Christian held in his hand that caused him distress.

View / Download this Puzzle as a PDF

The Pilgrim’s Puzzle Number 1 from kenpulsmusic.com 2014

 

 

Timorous and Mistrust

Now, when he was got up to the top of the hill, there came two men running to meet him amain; the name of the one was Timorous, and of the other, Mistrust; to whom Christian said, Sirs, what’s the matter? You run the wrong way.
Timorous answered, that they were going to the City of Zion, and had got up that difficult place; but, said he, the further we go, the more danger we meet with; wherefore we turned, and are going back again.
Yes, said Mistrust, for just before us lie a couple of lions in the way, whether sleeping or waking we know not, and we could not think, if we came within reach, but they would presently pull us in pieces.
Then said Christian, You make me afraid, but whither shall I fly to be safe? If I go back to mine own country, that is prepared for fire and brimstone, and I shall certainly perish there. If I can get to the Celestial City, I am sure to be in safety there. I must venture. To go back is nothing but death; to go forward is fear of death, and life-everlasting beyond it. I will yet go forward. So Mistrust and Timorous ran down the hill, and Christian went on his way.

As Christian arrives at the top of the Hill, he once again encounters travelers on the Way. Two men, named Timorous and Mistrust, come “running to meet him amain,” that is “with great haste.” But these travelers, Christian observes, are running in the wrong direction. Unlike Simple, Sloth and Presumption, who were intent on staying put, and Formalist and Hypocrisy, who were intent on finding an easier way, these two seem determined to turn and make a rapid retreat.

Timorous and MistrustWhen Christian asks them the reason why they are running away, Timorous explains their terror. They were on the way to Zion, and had even got up the difficult Hill, but the further they went, the more danger they found. So now they “turned, and are going back again.” Mistrust describes the source of their fears. They saw two lions in the way and were convinced that if they continued on, they might be destroyed. The lions, as Christian later discovers, sit along the Way near the entrance to House Beautiful. They are a menace to travelers on the Way, especially those who would seek lodging at the House.

House Beautiful represents the true church, built upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In Bunyan’s day, those who identified themselves with the true Gospel and true church were labeled Dissenters and Nonconformists. They stood in opposition to the established Anglican Church and the civil laws that upheld its authority in the land. The lions represent the combined threat of the civil authorities and the state church to oppress Nonconformists and convince them to renounce their faith and fall in line with regimented religious and social norms.

Throughout the allegory, as in 16th and 17th centuries in England, the lions vary in their behavior: Sometimes they are fierce and menacing, inflicting harassment, fines and imprisonment. Sometimes they are roaring and on the prowl, seeking to devour with torture and death. At other times they are asleep (as Faithful later reports), relaxing and repealing laws and making promises of liberty.

Bunyan experienced some of this oppression firsthand. He was arrested for being a Nonconformist and was imprisoned from 1660 to 1672 and again from 1675 to 1678 (when he wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress). When the monarchy was restored in 1660, Charles II began enacting several laws designed to oppress the Nonconformists and legalize their persecution. These laws were known as the Clarendon Code and included the Act of Uniformity in 1662 (requiring of all church leaders their “unfeigned consent and assent” to the reissued Book of Common Prayer), the Coventicle Act in 1664 (outlawing church services where the Book of Common Prayer was not used, even in homes) and the Five Mile Act in 1665 (outlawing pastors who had been ejected from the state church by forbidding them to come within five miles of a city or town where they had ministered). These and other laws caused many to shrink back and forsake truth in Bunyan’s day.

Timorous (whose name means timid or fearful) and Mistrust (doubtful or wary) represent those who make a start for the Celestial City, but turn back for fear of man, cowering to social and political pressures of the day. Timorous and Mistrust were frightened by the mere sight of the lions (not their roar or aggression). They imagined the worse and fled in cowardice. Part 2 later describes how they came to a terrible end.

Christian was earlier warned of possible peril in standing for truth and the fear it can instill in the hearts of those who embark on the journey to eternal life. In one of the lessons in the House of the Interpreter he was shown a Beautiful Palace. Men in armor stood near the door threatening all who would go in. Outside the palace was a company of men who desired to go in but were afraid. They were unwilling to face the suffering and persecution and trials that come with standing for truth and proclaiming the true Gospel.

Scripture indeed warns us of the reality of suffering and persecution for the sake of the Gospel. Even in Jesus’ day there were some who would not identify themselves with Him for fear of men:

Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God (John 12:42–43).

But Jesus said:

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake (Matthew 5:10–11).

And Jesus warned His disciples that they indeed would face suffering:

But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name’s sake (Luke 21:12).

Paul, who faced much suffering for the sake of the gospel said:

For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake (Philippians 1:29).

Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12).

We have in the United States long enjoyed the blessing of religious freedom. The lions largely have been kept out of the Way. We have not had to fear an oppressive government or state church pressuring and persecuting those who would not conform to its social ideals and religious edicts. But times may be changing. As issues like same-sex marriage and pro-choice come to the forefront and gain more foothold in our culture, the pressures will come (both real and imagined) for the church and its members to acquiesce. We must hold onto truth and not turn back. As we have seen recently with World Vision wavering in its policy decisions (accepting the hiring of employees in same-sex marriages and then reversing the decision), the temptation to give up ground for the sake of fitting in to cultural expectations can be strong.

Christian responds to Timorous and Mistrust by admitting his own fears, but he wonders where he might go to be safe. If he returns to his origin, the City of Destruction, he knows he will perish. If he makes it to his destination, the Celestial City, he knows he will find safety. Though pressing on means facing the fear of death, he “must venture.” And so he determines to go forward while Mistrust and Timorous run away.

We must encourage one another to hold to Christ and stay the course. In Philippians 3 Paul weighs the value of knowing Jesus. It is better to suffer the loss of all things and have Christ, than to have all this world can offer and be without Him. And so Paul says:

“… I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12–14).

There is nothing more valuable or needful for our souls than to gain Christ. We must “venture on Him” regardless of cost or fear or pain or loss. He alone can “do helpless sinners good”!

Lo! The incarnate God ascended
Pleads the merit of His blood
Venture on Him, venture wholly
Let no other trust intrude
None but Jesus, none but Jesus
Can do helpless sinners good
(from “Come Ye Sinners” by Joseph Hart, 1759)

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 ©2014 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Today We Gather in This Place

God has woven into the fabric of His creation a rhythm of life: work six days and rest one day in seven. The Sabbath day is God’s gift to the world He has made. It reminds us that He is Lord of our time and that He alone can give us rest. Jesus said: “Come to  me, all who labor and are  heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and  learn from me, for I am  gentle and lowly in heart, and  you will find rest for your souls. For  my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

This hymn is a celebration of the day that God calls us corporately to rejoice and rest in Him as we come together for worship.

Gathered for Worship

Today we gather in this place
To join in one accord,
And as one body lift our voice
To glorify the Lord.
The Sabbath is a gift of God
A day of great delight;
So let us come and seek the Lord
And in His truth unite.

A day to pray and meditate
On truth proclaimed and heard;
A day of conversations filled
With discourse on God’s Word.
A day for us to fellowship,
Encourage and console;
A day to hear the Scriptures read,
A feast day for the soul.

In the beginning God revealed
His character to man,
His Moral Law was manifest
Within creation’s plan.
For in six days did God create,
The seventh day He blest,
And gave to us one day in seven
To be a day of rest.

A holy day meant for our good
God graciously provides;
A day that has not passed away,
But in each age abides.
So now in the New Covenant
A Sabbath still remains,
A day to celebrate our King,
Who rose again and reigns.

As God the Father rested when
Creation’s work was done,
Now we look to a greater rest
Accomplished by His Son.
Our Sabbath is fulfilled in Christ,
We rest in Him alone
And celebrate one day in seven,
The day He calls His own.

Christ rose again the morning of
The first day of the week;
So we with joy each Lord’s Day meet,
His Word to know and seek.
So let us not forsake the day,
But gather in His name,
And corporately bow down and make
His praise our only aim.

Words ©2002 Ken Puls  Music ©2002 Tom Wells

Download free sheet music and lyric sheet, and listen to a recording of this hymn made during the morning service at Grace Baptist Church, Cape Coral, FL on March 23, 2014.

A Prayer for Pilgrims

This is a hymn I composed based on Part 1 of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. Each of the 16 verses is a prayer of intercession for those who are at difference places and stages on the Christian journey.

Check out the lyric video on youtube:

And download the song on bandcamp:

Free Sheet Music is also available.

—Ken Puls