Category Archives: Commentary

Rest at Palace Beautiful

Thus they discoursed together till late at night; and after they had committed themselves to their Lord for protection, they betook themselves to rest. The Pilgrim they laid in a large upper chamber, whose window opened towards the sun-rising. The name of the chamber was Peace; where he slept till break of day, and then he awoke and sang:

“Where am I now? Is this the love and care
Of Jesus for the men that pilgrims are?
Thus to provide! That I should be forgiven!
And dwell already the next door to heaven!”

Following supper, Christian continues the conversation with the family at Palace Beautiful until late in the evening. The opportunities we have to fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ are precious and valuable. We should not rush through them or take them for granted, but savor the time we have together.

As the family prepares to sleep, they trust themselves to the Lord.

I will both lie down in peace, and sleep;
For You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.
(Psalm 4:8)

I lay down and slept;
I awoke, for the LORD sustained me.
(Psalm 3:5)

Window of PeaceThe spacious upper chamber where Christian finds rest represents Christ. Its window opens to the rising sun. Jesus is the “sun of righteousness” who rises “with healing in its wings” (Malachi 4:2). He is the light of the world (Isaiah 60:1; John 8:12), the Dayspring who gives “light to those who sit in darkness” (Luke 1:78-79, Isaiah 9:2).

Christian’s bedchamber is called “Peace.”

You will keep him in perfect peace,
Whose mind is stayed on You,
Because he trusts in You.
(Isaiah 26:3)

Jesus is the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). In Him we find rest for our souls; He tells us:

Come to Me, all you 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 (Matthew 11:28-29).

Peace is a gift of Christ (John 14:27) and a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). And peace is a hallmark of Christ’s church. Most of the letters in the New Testament, written to encourage and instruct the churches, begin with a reference to peace: Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:3; Ephesians 1:2; Philippians 1:2; Colossians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:2; 1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2; Titus 1:4; Philemon 3; 1 Peter 1:2; 2 Peter 1:2; 2 John 3; Jude 2; Revelation 1:4.

Paul exhorts us, as we fellowship and walk together in the church, to endeavor “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). The peace and unity we share in household of God is a demonstration of the power of gospel. It is a miracle of grace that God can take diverse and sinful people and make us one in Christ. It is Jesus Himself who is our peace, who rescues us from sin and selfishness and unites us together as His people for His glory. Paul explains:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father (Ephesians 2:13-18).

It is Jesus who cares and loves us. He is our Savior and Redeemer. It is He who brings us near to God and near to one another in the family of God. As with Christian in Bunyan’s story, this truth should stir our hearts with joy and song.

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.

Supper at Palace Beautiful

Now I saw in my dream, that thus they sat talking together until supper was ready. So when they had made ready, they sat down to meat. Now the table was furnished “with fat things, and with wine that was well refined.” And all their talk at the table was about the Lord of the hill; as, namely, about what He had done, and wherefore He did what He did, and why He had built that house. And by what they said, I perceived that He had been a great warrior, and had fought with and slain “him that had the power of death,” but not without great danger to Himself, which made me love Him the more.

For, as they said, and as I believe (said Christian), He did it with the loss of much blood; but that which put glory of grace into all He did, was, that He did it out of pure love to His country. And besides, there were some of them of the household that said they had been and spoke with him since He did die on the cross; and they have attested that they had it from His own lips, that He is such a lover of poor pilgrims, that the like is not to be found from the east to the west.

They, moreover, gave an instance of what they affirmed, and that was, he had stripped Himself of His glory, that He might do this for the poor; and that they heard Him say and affirm, “that He would not dwell in the mountain of Zion alone.” They said, moreover, that He had made many pilgrims princes, though by nature they were beggars born, and their original had been the dunghill.

Supper at House BeautifulAfter Prudence, Piety and Charity question Christian and examine his life and testimony, the family comes together for a meal. From its earliest days the church “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). The meal at Palace Beautiful represents the fellowship that believers share together in Christ, especially in the regular observance of the Lord’s Supper.

The table displays God’s abundant provision for us in Christ. It is described as rich and sumptuous, “furnished with fat things, and with wine that was well refined.” Bunyan draws his imagery from Isaiah:

And in this mountain
The LORD of hosts will make for all people
A feast of choice pieces,
A feast of wines on the lees,
Of fat things full of marrow,
Of well-refined wines on the lees.
(Isaiah 25:6)

The conversation at the table centers on Christ, “the Lord of the Hill.” It is all about the gospel: who Jesus is, what He has done, and why that matters. Bunyan highlights several truths of the gospel from Scripture in his description:

It is in Jesus, coming to save us, where we see the glory of God’s grace displayed:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

Jesus is the Master Builder of Palace Beautiful (Matthew 16:18) and its Chief Cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). He is the Great Warrior who took on flesh and stood in our place, defeating death and triumphing over the evil one.

Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage (Hebrews 2:14-15).

At the supper we are reminded that it is Jesus who redeemed us by His shed blood and broken body on the cross.

And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:19-20).

It is Jesus who brings us near to God.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:13).

We have the testimony of Paul and others of the household of faith who saw Jesus raised from the dead that this gospel is true:

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).

It is the testimony of those gathered at the table that our Savior is “a lover of poor pilgrims.” Christ “loved the church and gave Himself for her” (Ephesians 5:25). The Apostle John records:

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end (John 13:1).

Christ is building His church “and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). The success of His mission is assured. He will “not dwell in the mountain of Zion alone.”

For God will save Zion
And build the cities of Judah,
That they may dwell there and possess it.
(Psalms 69:35)

He is able to raise up a beggar to be a prince.

He raises the poor from the dust
And lifts the beggar from the ash heap,
To set them among princes
And make them inherit the throne of glory.
For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’S,
And He has set the world upon them.
(1 Samuel 2:8)

He raises the poor out of the dust,
And lifts the needy out of the ash heap,
That He may seat him with princes—
With the princes of His people.
(Psalm 113:7-8)

At every point in Bunyan’s description of the supper at Palace Beautiful our attention is drawn to Christ. Jesus is at the heart of the love and joy we share together in the church. Our fellowship is in Him (1 Corinthians 1:9; 1 John 1:3). It is He who rescues us from sin and makes us sons and daughters of His Kingdom. Our lives display the power of His gospel as trophies of His grace and mercy. The table reminds us that we never get beyond our need for the gospel. We need to keep it on our lips and ringing in our ears. It is Jesus we remember as we proclaim His death till He comes (1 Corinthians 11:25-26).

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.

Conversation with Charity

Then said Charity to Christian, Have you a family? Are you a married man?

Christian: I have a wife and four small children.

Charity: And why did you not bring them along with you?

Christian: Then Christian wept, and said, Oh, how willingly would I have done it! But they were all of them utterly averse to my going on pilgrimage.

Charity: But you should have talked to them, and have endeavored to show them the danger of being behind.

Christian: So I did; and told them also of what God had shown to me of the destruction of our city; “but I seemed to them as one that mocked,” and they did not believe me.

Charity: And did you pray to God that he would bless your counsel to them?

Christian: Yes, and that with much affection. For you must think that my wife and poor children were very dear unto me.

Charity: But did you tell them of your own sorrow, and fear of destruction? For I suppose that destruction was visible enough to you.

Christian: Yes, over, and over, and over. They might also see my fears in my countenance, in my tears, and also in my trembling under the apprehension of the judgment that did hang over our heads; but all was not sufficient to prevail with them to come with me.

Charity: But what could they say for themselves, why they did not come?

Christian: Why, my wife was afraid of losing this world, and my children were given to the foolish delights of youth. So what by one thing, and what by another, they left me to wander in this manner alone.

Charity: But did you not, with your vain life, damp all that you by words used by way of persuasion to bring them away with you?

Christian: Indeed, I cannot commend my life; for I am conscious to myself of many failings therein; I know also that a man by his conversation may soon overthrow what by argument or persuasion he does labor to fasten upon others for their good. Yet this I can say, I was very wary of giving them occasion, by any unseemly action, to make them averse to going on pilgrimage. Yea, for this very thing they would tell me I was too precise, and that I denied myself of things, for their sakes, in which they saw no evil. Nay, I think I may say, that if what they saw in me did hinder them, it was my great tenderness in sinning against God, or of doing any wrong to my neighbor.

Charity: Indeed Cain hated his brother, “because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.” And if your wife and children have been offended with you for this, they thereby show themselves to be implacable to good, and “you have delivered your soul from their blood.”

Charity now joins in the conversation and she begins to question Christian about his home and family. Charity represents our compassion and love for others. She is highly commended in Scripture. Paul teaches:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal (1 Corinthians 13:1, KJV).
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity (1 Corinthians 13:13, KJV).

Conversation with CharityChristian arrived at House Beautiful alone and Charity voices her concern for his wife and sons. Christian tells her that his family was opposed to him going on a pilgrimage. Though he warned them “over and over and over” and tried to tell them of the danger of staying behind, they would not listen. Though he was brokenhearted, they rejected his pleas and mock his efforts to persuade them. Christian quotes from Genesis 19:14, comparing the response of his family to that of Lot’s family when he warned them to flee Sodom:

So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who had married his daughters, and said, “Get up, get out of this place; for the LORD will destroy this city!” But to his sons-in-law he seemed to be joking (Genesis 19:14).

In the dialog between Charity and Christian, Bunyan offers some helpful lessons in how we should respond to loved-ones who reject the gospel and become offended with us who so desperately want to see them come to Christ.

1. We must pray for and plead with those we love to come to Christ, knowing that God alone can change their hearts.

Christiana was afraid of losing this world. The children were ensnared by the foolish delights of youth. Though Christian loved them, nothing he did could convince them to join him and escape Destruction. In their rejection we see the blindness and darkness of being “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). They walked, as Paul describes, “in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart (Ephesians 4:17-18). Christian told them the gospel. He prayed for them. He lived before them. They could see his fears and tears for their sake, yet none of these prevailed. Their blindness was like that of Israel in the Old Testament. Israel saw the hand of God bring them out of Egypt. They saw Pharaoh’s army crushed in the sea. They saw the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, yet many died in unbelief. Even in the days when Jesus walked the earth, many heard the Savior teach and saw Him work miracles. They saw Him crucified, yet did not believe.

Our best efforts cannot break through the hardness and oppression of sin. As Bonar reminds us in the hymn Not What My Hands Have Done, “all my prayers and sighs and tears” will avail nothing without divine strength and power. We can strongly desire the salvation of those we love, but only God can change their hearts. Paul reminds us that it is God in love who triumphs over death and brings life.
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast (Ephesians 2:4-9).
And so, we must pray and plead, as Charity compels us, looking to God that He would do what we cannot do—that He would reach down and graciously save.

2. As we pray and plead, we must live before others in a way that commends the gospel and does not discredit it.

We must live the gospel ourselves. We must show love and be quick to repent and ready to forgive. Too easily our own sin trips us up and threatens to undo others around us. Our sin can dampen our testimony and our efforts to bring the gospel to others.
Charity asks: “But did you not, with your vain life, damp all that you by words used by way of persuasion to bring them away with you?” A hundred sound words and wise instructions can be washed away in one slip where we do not heed instruction and follow wisdom ourselves, and fail to live the gospel by repenting and asking forgiveness. We will never live before others perfectly in this life. But even our failings can strengthen our testimony when we respond to sin in right ways: confessing and owning our sin, repenting and seeking reconciliation, and loving and forgiving those who sin against us.

3. We must never give up praying for and pleading with those we love to come to Christ.

Charity commends Christian for following Christ and doing what was right, even though it made him offensive in the eyes of his loved-ones. Charity quotes from 1 John 3:12, comparing their response to that of Cain who was ensnared by “the wicked one and murdered his brother.” Christian did what was right and followed Christ, though it set him at odds with his family. The world is at enmity with God, even when that world is bound up in the hearts of those we love. Though Christian’s family was dear to him, he did not hold back his love to God in order to keep their approval. Rather, he did what was most compassionate and loving toward them. Their souls were in danger of Destruction, so he continued to warn them and plead with them to go with him.

Charity concludes with a quote from Ezekiel 3:19 reminding us of the role of a watchman:

Yet, if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul (Ezekiel 3:19).

We must stay at the wall and sound the alarm, whether our warnings are heeded or not. We must not give up, not step down, not keep quiet so not to cause offense. If the danger is real—and it is—we must continue to plead and to pray. We do not know how or when God may choose to use our testimony and answer our prayers.
Concerning Christian’s wife and sons, Bunyan relates the rest of the story in Part 2 of The Pilgrim’s Progress. Though Christian came to the end of his journey and died without seeing his family repent and come to Christ, his testimony remained. His family remembered his faith in Christ and his love for them. His prayers were, in God’s time, answered. In Part 2 Christiana and her four sons are convicted by their sin and how badly they treated Christian. They flee Destruction to follow Christ and make their own pilgrimage to the Celestial City.

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.

Conversation with Prudence

Then Prudence thought good to ask him a few questions, and desired his answer to them.

Prudence: Do you not think sometimes of the country where you came from?

Christian: Yes, but with much shame and detestation: “Truly, if I had been mindful of that country from whence I came out, I might have had opportunity to have returned; but now I desire a better country, that is, an heavenly.”

Prudence: Are you ever enticed by some of the things that then you were accustomed to do?

Christian: Yes, but greatly against my will; especially my inward and carnal cogitations, with which all my countrymen, as well as myself, were delighted. But now all those things are my grief; and might I but choose mine own things, I would choose never to think of those things anymore. But when I would be doing of that which is best, that which is worst is with me.

Prudence: Do you not find sometimes, as if those things were vanquished, which at other times are your perplexity?

Christian: Yes, but that is seldom; but they are to me golden hours in which such things happen to me.

Prudence: Can you remember by what means you find your annoyances, at times, as if they were vanquished?

Christian: Yes, when I think what I saw at the cross, that will do it; and when I look upon my broidered coat, that will do it; also when I look into the roll that I carry in my bosom, that will do it; and when my thoughts wax warm about where I am going to, that will do it.

Prudence: And what is it that makes you so desirous to go to Mount Zion?

Christian: Why, there I hope to see him alive that did hang dead on the cross; and there I hope to be rid of all those things that to this day are in me an annoyance to me. There, they say, there is no death. And there I shall dwell with such company as I like best. For, to tell you truth, I love him, because I was by him eased of my burden; and I am weary of my inward sickness. I am eager to be where I shall die no more, and with the company that shall continually cry, “Holy, Holy, Holy!”

PrudenceThe conversation at Palace Beautiful continues with Prudence asking Christian some questions. Prudence represents our carefulness to walk in the wisdom and truth of God’s Word. To be prudent is to live and act with discretion and to exercise good judgment. Prudence is the practical outworking of wisdom. Christian prudence is godly wisdom in action, as we apply God’s Word to what we think, say and do.

Piety began the discussion by drawing out Christian’s story and testimony for the benefit of all in the Palace; Prudence probes deeper. She presses Christian into a more weighty conversation that explores his inner motivation and struggles. Her questions focus on:

    1. His inward battles with former lusts
    2. His fortitude to fend off carnal thoughts and worldly temptations
    3. His strategy to guard his heart and mind against sin

Earlier in his pilgrimage Christian had been careless and unwise. Rather than heeding truth and keeping in the Way, he was swayed for a time by the advice of Worldly Wiseman. The answers that Christian now gives to Prudence’s questions show us the progress that he has made on his journey in gaining spiritual wisdom.

First she asks him if he ever entertains thoughts about his former way of life: “Do you not think sometimes of the country where you came from?” Christian formerly resided in the town of Destruction, but when he thinks of that place now, it is with “shame and detestation.” Israel sinned in the Old Testament when their hearts were “turned back to Egypt” (Acts 7:39). But Christian is intent to leave behind his old way of life. He desires “a better country” quoting from Hebrews:

And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:15-16).

Prudence then asks if he is ever enticed by some of the things that he once was accustomed to do in his former way of life. Christian admits that he struggles, but he truly desires now to do what is right. He does not want carnal thoughts to disturb and trouble him. Those thoughts in which he once found sinful pleasure are a grief to him now. He acknowledges the ongoing battle in his heart against remaining sin.

If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice (Romans 7:16-19).

Sometimes evil thoughts are brought down and subdued. At other times they rise up to entangle and agitate. Christian confesses to Prudence that the hours when his thoughts are free from carnal temptations, while too few, are like gold to him.

Prudence then asks Christian about his strategy to guard against carnal thoughts. What means are most effective in vanquishing besetting sin?

Christian mentions the value of meditating on God’s Word. He ponders the truth of Scripture and preaches it to himself. He anchors his thoughts in the promises of the gospel: the cross of Christ (the place of deliverance), the imputed righteousness of Christ (the coat he now wears), the assurance of salvation (his roll that he carries close to his heart), and his destination (eternal life in heaven).

Finally Prudence asks him why he is so eager to reach heaven. Christian is anchored in God’s Word and aiming for eternity. He has embarked on a journey and understands that this world is not his home. It is filled with sin, death, trials and afflictions, and it can wearisome as we press on day by day. We must remember that we are just passing through. Christian longs for the joys that await us in glory:

    • There we will see Christ face to face (1 John 3:1-3; Revelation 22:4).
    • There we will be free, not just from sin’s condemnation and power, but from its presence (Revelation 21:27, 22:3).
    • There we will have life eternal; there will be no more death (Isaiah 25:8; Revelation 21:4)
    • There we will be in the company of angels (Revelation 4:8) and the redeemed (Philippians 3:20) forever.

In the next post the conversation will continue with Charity.

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.

Conversation with Piety

So when he was come in and sat down, they gave him something to drink, and consented together, that until supper was ready, some of them should have some particular discourse with Christian, for the best improvement of time; and they appointed Piety, and Prudence, and Charity to discourse with him; and thus they began:

Piety: Come, good Christian, since we have been so loving to you, to receive you in our house this night, let us, if perhaps we may better ourselves thereby, talk with you of all things that have happened to you in your pilgrimage.
Christian: With a very good will, and I am glad that you are so well disposed.
Piety: What moved you at first to betake yourself to a pilgrim’s life?
Christian: I was driven out of my native country by a dreadful sound that was in mine ears: to wit, that unavoidable destruction did attend me, if I abode in that place where I was.
Piety: But how did it happen that you came out of your country this way?
Christian: It was as God would have it; for when I was under the fears of destruction, I did not know whither to go; but by chance there came a man, even to me, as I was trembling and weeping, whose name is Evangelist, and he directed me to the wicket-gate, which else I should never have found, and so set me into the way that has led me directly to this house.
Piety: But did you not come by the house of the Interpreter?
Christian: Yes, and did see such things there, the remembrance of which will stick by me as long as I live; especially three things: to wit, how Christ, in despite of Satan, maintains His work of grace in the heart; how the man had sinned himself quite out of hopes of God’s mercy; and also the dream of him that thought in his sleep the day of judgment was come.
Piety: Why, did you hear him tell his dream?
Christian: Yes, and a dreadful one it was. I thought it made my heart ache as he was telling of it; but yet I am glad I heard it.
Piety: Was that all that you saw at the house of the Interpreter?
Christian: No; he took me and had me where he showed me a stately palace, and how the people were clad in gold that were in it; and how there came a venturous man and cut his way through the armed men that stood in the door to keep him out, and how he was bid to come in, and win eternal glory. I thought those things did ravish my heart! I would have stayed at that good man’s house a twelvemonth, but that I knew I had further to go.
Piety: And what else did you see in the way?
Christian: Saw! Why, I went but a little further, and I saw one, as I thought in my mind, hang bleeding upon the tree; and the very sight of Him made my burden fall off my back, (for I groaned under a very heavy burden,) but then it fell down from off me. It was a strange thing to me, for I never saw such a thing before; yea, and while I stood looking up, for then I could not forbear looking, three Shining Ones came to me. One of them testified that my sins were forgiven me; another stripped me of my rags, and gave me this broidered coat which you see; and the third set the mark which you see in my forehead, and gave me this sealed roll. (And with that he plucked it out of his bosom.)
Piety: But you saw more than this, did you not?
Christian: The things that I have told you were the best; yet some other matters I saw, as, namely: I saw three men, Simple, Sloth, and Presumption, lie asleep a little out of the way, as I came, with irons upon their heels; but do you think I could awake them? I also saw Formality and Hypocrisy come tumbling over the wall, to go, as they pretended, to Zion, but they were quickly lost, even as I myself did tell them; but they would not believe. But above all, I found it hard work to get up this hill, and as hard to come by the lions’ mouths, and truly if it had not been for the good man, the porter that stands at the gate, I do not know but that after all I might have gone back again; but now I thank God I am here, and I thank you for receiving of me.

Conversation at Palace BeautifulWhen Christian arrived at Palace Beautiful he was greeted and interviewed by the Porter and Discretion. When they were convinced that Christian’s testimony was sincere, they invited him into the family, into the household of faith. In this portion of the story Bunyan highlights the joys of Christian fellowship and value of church membership. At Palace Beautiful Christian is refreshed from his journey. Members of the family engage him in gospel conversations to pass the time in a profitable way.

The first to converse with Christian is Piety. Piety represents our personal devoutness and devotion to God. It is our earnest and sincere desire to love God and to remain faithful to Him. Piety asks Christian to share his testimony, all the things that have happened to him thus far on his pilgrimage. She inquires about:

    1. How he first heard the gospel and became a pilgrim
    2. What he learned in the House of the Interpreter (the Word of God)
    3. His salvation at the cross and his hope in Christ
    4. Dangers and distractions that he has faced and overcome

Piety’s interest in hearing Christian is that “perhaps we may better ourselves thereby.” In other words, by hearing Christian’s story of how he escaped Destruction and found faith in Christ, others will be strengthened in their faith and encouraged to press on in their journey. By hearing what he has learned from God’s Word, others will be edified and helped. Gospel conversation magnifies the goodness and faithfulness of God as He is at work in our lives and draws out our hope and confidence in him for the benefit of others.
In the next post the conversation will continue with Prudence.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.