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.

Prompting Our Prayers

What can we do to be more consistent and more abundant in our prayers? Here are five practical ways you can bolster your praying.

1. Look for reasons to pray

as God burdens you
as you remember truth, Scripture
as you hear of requests from others
when you face difficulties and decisions
when you receive blessing and prosper

We live in a fallen world; we don’t have to look far to find reason to cry out to God. Look for those reasons to pray. Are you facing difficulty? Are brothers and sister in Christ facing difficulty? Are you facing decisions? Has God blessed you and prospered you?
As Scripture testifies, all of live is an occasion that should drive us to prayer. Ask God to make you sensitive to occasions for prayer and more intentional in going to Him in prayer. Prayer doesn’t always have to be long or formal or even well-thought out, but prayer should be frequent, spontaneous, and from the heart.

2. Try to begin and end the day in prayer

Make it a practice of seeking God with your first thoughts as you awake and your last thoughts as you fall asleep. In your first waking moments, thank Him for giving you a new day, for keeping you through the night. As you drift off to sleep, turn your thoughts to God. You will not offend God by taking to Him when you are tired or even by falling asleep in the middle of your prayer. There is, in fact no better way to prepare yourself for rest than by crawling into the arms of God as you pillow your head at night. Make it a practice as you doze off at night to thank the Lord for bringing you through the day. Trust Him! Set your mind at ease acknowledging that He is good and in control of all things. Sleep is a wonderful gift of God that reminds us that we are not God and we are not in control. There are regular intervals when we are out and the world goes on without our involvement. Sleep is a wonderful reminder that God is God and we are not. Use those times of retiring and rising as prompts to prayer.

3. Take opportunity with other believers to pray

Use the times of fellowship you have with other Christians as occasions for prayer. We gather together  as a church family at times specifically for prayer, but even when you visit during the week, or have occasion to see one another, or speak to one another on the phone, take time to stop and pray, especially as your hear of needs and blessings. Pause to intercede and to praise.

4. Set aside time during the day to be alone and pray

Make opportunities for yourself to be alone for prayer. Go for a walk; go to a place where you can be by yourself for a time. Unplug. Turn off your TV, your computer, your phone—and pray. You may need to take advantage of times you are already by yourself: driving to or home from work in you car, taking a bath or a shower. Seek times to be by yourself that you can give to God. Ask God to create time for you and prompt you to pray. When God in His providence removes you from the presence of other people (by sickness or by other means), use the opportunity to seek Him.

5. Use everyday tasks to prompt your prayers

As people we are often habitual and very predictable. We do the same things over and over. We have our routines and daily practices. These can work against us if they are sinful or harmful and hard to break. But many routines are actually quite useful in helping us navigate and manage our day. And these can be enlisted and established as prompts to prayer.

One to whom we can look as an example of this is General Stonewall Jackson. Jackson was a general in the Confederate army during the civil war, and he was a devout believer. He took the command to “pray without ceasing” as a rule of life.  Here is an excerpt about his life written by his wife:

[A] friend once asked him what was his understanding of the Bible command to be “instant in prayer” and to “pray without ceasing.” “I can give you,” he said, “my idea of it by illustration, if you will allow it, and will not think that I am setting myself up as a model for others. I have so fixed the habit in my own mind that I never raise a glass of water to my lips without lifting my heart to God in thanks and prayer for the water of life. Then, when we take our meals, there is the grace. Whenever I drop a letter in the post-office, I send a petition along with it for God’s blessing upon its mission and the person to whom it is sent. When I break the seal of a letter just received, I stop to ask God to prepare me for its contents and make it a messenger of good. When I go to my classroom and await the arrangement of the cadets in their places, that is my time to intercede with God for them. And so in every act of the day, I have made the practice habitual.”

[from Life and Letters of “Stonewall” Jackson by Mary Anna Jackson (1892; reprint, Harrisburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1995), 72-73.]

Water GlassJackson took even the menial tasks of life and associated them with prayer: Getting out of bed in the morning, getting dressed in the morning, getting a drink of water, eating a meal, getting ready to teach a class—all of these became prompts to prayer.
I encourage you tonight, as we come to a time of prayer, to be thoughtful and creative in ways that you could begin prompting yourself to pray. Don’t wait for time of need. Don’t wait for circumstances or trials to bring you to your knees. Make your life a life of prayer. Look for signposts in your life that will continually and consistently direct your thoughts to God. We can learn to pray without ceasing!

This is an excerpt from a Bible Study entitled “When Should We Pray?” taught at Grace Baptist Church on July 2, 2014.

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.

Music at Grace

Music at Grace

Often I am asked about the music we sing at Grace Baptist Church. Are the lyrics available? Where can I find a recording? How can I get the sheet music?

The music we sing at Grace comes from many songwriters and composers, embracing new songs of our day as well as cherished hymns of the faith. Some of our music is composed and arranged in house. The rest comes from many other sources. Most of the songs are available online.

Each year I post a list of 150 titles of our current and favorite music for worship. The list includes composers, publishers and (for some titles) links to help find the music online.

Here is the list of our current and favorite music for worship thus far in 2014.

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.

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