Tag Archives: assurance

Ignorance Follows His Heart

I saw then in my dream that Hopeful looked back and saw Ignorance, whom they had left behind, coming after. Look, said he to Christian, how far yonder youngster loiters behind.

Christian: Ay, ay, I see him; he cares not for our company.

Hopeful: But I think it would not have hurt him had he kept pace with us hitherto.

Christian: That is true; but I warrant you he thinks otherwise.

Hopeful: That, I think, he does; but, however, let us tarry for him. So they did.

Then Christian said to him, Come away, man, why do you stay so behind?

Ignorance: I take my pleasure in walking alone, even more a great deal than in company, unless I like it the better.

Then said Christian to Hopeful, (but softly), Did I not tell you he cared not for our company? But, however, said he, come up, and let us talk away the time in this solitary place. Then directing his speech to Ignorance, he said, Come, how do you? How stands it between God and your soul now?

Ignorance: I hope well; for I am always full of good motions, that come into my mind, to comfort me as I walk.

Christian: What good motions? pray, tell us.

Ignorance: Why, I think of God and heaven.

Christian: So do the devils and damned souls.

Ignorance: But I think of them and desire them.

Christian: So do many that are never like to come there. “The soul of the sluggard desires, and has nothing.”

Ignorance: But I think of them, and leave all for them.

Christian: That I doubt; for leaving all is a hard matter: yea, a harder matter than many are aware of. But why, or by what, are you persuaded that you have left all for God and heaven.

Ignorance: My heart tells me so.

Christian: The wise man says, “He that trusts his own heart is a fool.”

Ignorance: This is spoken of an evil heart, but mine is a good one.

Christian: But how dost thou prove that?

Ignorance: It comforts me in hopes of heaven.

Christian: That may be through its deceitfulness; for a man’s heart may minister comfort to him in the hopes of that thing for which he yet has no ground to hope.

Ignorance: But my heart and life agree together, and therefore my hope is well grounded.

Christian: Who told thee that thy heart and life agree together?

Ignorance: My heart tells me so.

Christian: Ask my fellow if I be a thief! Your heart tells you so! Except the Word of God bears witness in this matter, other testimony is of no value.

Ignorance: But is it not a good heart that has good thoughts? and is not that a good life that is according to God’s commandments?

Christian: Yes, that is a good heart that has good thoughts, and that is a good life that is according to God’s commandments; but it is one thing, indeed, to have these, and another thing only to think so.

"I'm always full of good motions"

During the long journey across the Enchanted Ground, Bunyan offers deeper insight into his story through two extended conversations. In the first, Hopeful shares with Christian his testimony of coming to faith in Christ. For the second, Bunyan brings back Ignorance, a character from earlier in the allegory. Bunyan’s purpose in these extended conversations is two-fold:

  1. To draw out some important doctrines regarding the salvation of sinners
  2. To more clearly highlight the differences between true faith and false faith

Bunyan knows that his readers will identify themselves with various characters and places throughout the story. He especially wants to help us see, for the sake of our own souls, the difference between a true believer (Hopeful) and a false believer (Ignorance). The contrast between the two is especially evident in where the two place their confidence. Hopeful believes the gospel and has placed his hope and trust in Christ. Ignorance is ignorant of the gospel and simply believes what his heart tells him is true.

When Christian and Hopeful last saw Ignorance, he had taken offence at their counsel, rejected their company, and continued the journey on his own. Though Ignorance is walking along the Way (intent on going to heaven), he regards the journey more causally than Christian and Hopeful. Hopeful looks back and sees that he is loitering and lagging behind. But Christian and Hopeful are willing to wait for him, desiring the opportunity to speak with him again.

Christian begins by asking Ignorance about the state of his soul before God. Hopeful has already affirmed that Christ alone can save; his soul is anchored in the sure promises of God’s Word. But Ignorance has moored his soul to wishful thinking. He hopes all is well. He rests his hope on his own “good motions” that come to his mind to comfort him along the way.

Good motions are those thoughts, feelings, and deeds that appear to be morally upright, spiritually uplifting, and truly beneficial to the soul. Ignorance has determined that if he can maintain a positive outlook and a preponderance of good things in his life, he will be welcomed at the end of his journey into the gates of the Celestial City. These good motions include: thinking about God and heaven, desiring God and heaven, and trusting his heart that he is living a good life. So long as these motions are active in his life, all must be well with his soul.

But Christian shows from Scripture that these “good motions” are insufficient to validate saving faith.

Ignorance thinks about God and heaven, but even the demons believe and tremble.

You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! (James 2:19)

He desires God and heaven, but desiring alone attains nothing.

The soul of a lazy man desires, and has nothing;
But the soul of the diligent shall be made rich.
(Proverbs 13:4)

He trusts the affirmations of his heart that his life is good, but “the heart is deceitful above all things.”

The heart is deceitful above all things,
And desperately wicked;
Who can know it?
I, the Lord, search the heart,
I test the mind,
Even to give every man according to his ways,
According to the fruit of his doings.
(Jeremiah 17:9–10)

He who is of a proud heart stirs up strife,
But he who trusts in the Lord will be prospered.
He who trusts in his own heart is a fool,
But whoever walks wisely will be delivered.
(Proverbs 28:25–26)

Ignorance has wrongly judged his heart to be good. He is not convinced of the depth of his sin or his need of a Savior. He finds comfort in himself—his good works, his positive outlook, his self-determination. He has wrongly concluded that because his “heart and life agree together,” he has a well-grounded hope and God will accept him. He makes it clear by his replies that, while he presents himself as a follower of Christ, he is in fact a follower of himself.

The only sure foundation on which to anchor our hope is God’s Word. It points us to Christ who alone can save us. But Ignorance has traded the sure Word of God for the shifting sensations of the heart. He believes all is well with his soul, because his heart tells him so! Christian tells him plainly: “Your heart tells you so! Except the Word of God bears witness in this matter, other testimony is of no value.”

Ignorance asks: “But is it not a good heart that has good thoughts? And is not that a good life that is according to God’s commandments?” Christian affirms that this is true.

For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:43:49).

But Christian warns: “It is one thing, indeed, to have these, and another thing only to think so.” So how then can we know if our heart holds good treasure or evil treasure? In the next post Christian explains the true measure of a heart.

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2018 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

What Little-Faith Lost

Hopeful: But did they take from him all that ever he had?

Christian: No; the place where his jewels were they never ransacked, so those he kept still. But, as I was told, the good man was much afflicted for his loss, for the thieves got most of his spending-money. That which they got not (as I said) were jewels, also he had a little odd money left, but scarce enough to bring him to his journey’s end; nay, if I was not misinformed, he was forced to beg as he went, to keep himself alive; for his jewels he might not sell. But beg, and do what he could, he went (as we say) with many a hungry belly the most part of the rest of the way.

Hopeful:  But is it not a wonder they got not from him his certificate, by which he was to receive his admittance at the Celestial Gate?

Christian:  It is a wonder; but they got not that, though they missed it not through any good cunning of his; for he, being dismayed with their coming upon him, had neither power nor skill to hide anything; so it was more by good Providence than by his endeavor, that they missed of that good thing.

Hopeful:  But it must needs be a comfort to him, that they got not his jewels from him.

Christian:  It might have been great comfort to him, had he used it as he should; but they that told me the story said, that he made but little use of it all the rest of the way, and that because of the dismay that he had in the taking away his money; indeed, he forgot it a great part of the rest of his journey; and besides, when at any time it came into his mind, and he began to be comforted therewith, then would fresh thoughts of his loss come again upon him, and those thoughts would swallow up all.

Hopeful: Alas! poor man! This could not but be a great grief to him.

Christian: Grief! ay, a grief indeed. Would it not have been so to any of us, had we been used as he, to be robbed, and wounded too, and that in a strange place, as he was? It is a wonder he did not die with grief, poor heart! I was told that he scattered almost all the rest of the way with nothing but doleful and bitter complaints; telling also to all that overtook him, or that he overtook in the way as he went, where he was robbed, and how; who they were that did it, and what he lost; how he was wounded, and that he hardly escaped with his life.

 Little-faith

In the last post Christian described for Hopeful the assault and robbery of Little-faith. Little-faith was a pilgrim who strayed into Dead Man’s Lane and was attacked by three villains: Faint-heart, Mistrust and Guilt. They snatched a bag of silver from his pocket and left him on the road, wounded and bleeding. With no one around to help him, Little-faith had to stagger on by himself.

But what exactly did Little-faith lose?

Each of the villains contributed to Little-faith’s loss. Faint-heart (timidity and weakness) attacked his strength and courage. Mistrust (doubt and unbelief) undermined his trust and confidence. Guilt (shame and dishonor) bludgeon his peace and contentment.

Little-faith suffered great loss, but he did not lose all. Christian explains: though the thieves were able to take Little-faith’s spending money, they were not able to ransack his jewels. Little-faith lost his coin purse, but retained his treasure.

The coin purse represents our spiritual comfort and peace of mind in this life. It is our awareness of God’s grace at work in our lives and our joy as we rest in work of Christ for our salvation. The coin purse holds spending money—our daily confidence and assurance that we will reach our journey’s end. When Little-faith was robbed (gave into temptation and sin), he lost his purse—his comfort and peace of mind. And he lost most of his spending money—he was overcome with grief that overwhelmed much of his hope and confidence. He was left with scarcely enough money to bring him to his journey’s end.

Now “If the righteous one is scarcely saved,
Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?”
(1 Peter 4:18)

The thieves were able to snatch his coin purse, but they could not get to his treasure. The jewels represent our heavenly reward (kept safe with Christ). They display the many glorious blessings of our spiritual union with Christ.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 1:3).

Our salvation is safe in heaven where thieves cannot break in and steal.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19–21).

Our salvation is safe with God. No one can pluck us from His hand.

And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand (John 10:28–29).

Our salvation is safe with Christ. Nothing can separate us from His love.

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38–39).

The robbers also did not take Little-faith’s certificate to gain admittance to the Celestial City. The certificate represents his faith in Christ. The thieves missed “that good thing” not by Little-faith’s cunning or ability, but by the kind Providence of God. William Mason explains:

What was this good thing? His precious faith, whose author, finisher, and object is precious Jesus. And where he gives this precious gift of faith, though it be but little, even as a grain of mustard-seed, not all the powers of earth and hell can rob the heart of it. Christ prayed for His disciple that his faith should not fail, or be totally lost; therefore, though Peter lost his comforts for a season, yet not his faith totally, not his soul eternally; for, says Jesus, of all his dear flock, yea, of those of little faith too, None shall pluck them out of My hand. There is one blessed security, not in ourselves, but in our Lord.

Even small faith can accomplish great things.

And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” So the Lord said, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you (Luke 17:5–6).

Though Little-faith’s faith is small, he has a Savior who intercedes for him.

… It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us (Romans 8:34).

When Jesus prayed for Peter, He prayed that his faith would not fail.

And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:31–32).

The reality that Little-faith still had his certificate and jewels should have been cause for hope and joy. They assured the completion of his journey—the salvation of his soul.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:6–9).

But Little-faith was so perplexed at losing his purse, he could not take lasting comfort in his jewels. The robbery did not threaten the final outcome of the journey, but it did impact the journey itself. Little-faith pressed on, but he traveled hungry and as a beggar. He was harassed and hindered by his own pain and grief. Thomas Scott summarizes in his Explanatory Notes:

The believer’s union with Christ, and the sanctification of the Spirit, sealing his acceptance and rendering him meet for heaven, are his invaluable and unalienable jewels. But he may by sin lose his comforts, and not be able to perceive the evidences of his own safety: and even when again enabled to hope that it will be well with him in the event; he may be so harassed by the recollection of the loss he has sustained, the effects of his misconduct on others, and the obstructions he hath thrown in the way of his own comfort and usefulness, that his future life may be rendered a constant scene of disquietude and painful reflections. Thus the doctrine of the believer’s final perseverance is both maintained and guarded from abuse: and it is not owning to a man’s own care, but to the Lord’s free mercy, powerful interposition, and the engagements of the new covenant, that unbelief and guilt do not rob him of his title to heaven, as well as of his comfort and confidence.

Little-faith complained and lamented, telling everyone he encountered in the Way about his misfortune. He should have looked to Christ—His atoning death—His perfect righteousness—His abundant mercy—but the weakened pilgrim was too consumed with himself. Little-faith is the example we should avoid—eyes fixed on self in bitter pride. Christian is the example we should follow—eyes fixed on Christ in humble praise. When Christian was confronted with temptation and assaulted by Apollyon, he responded not with pride, but with humility, acknowledging his sin, but speaking much of his great and merciful King.

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2018 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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.