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The Celestial City

The talk they had with the Shining Ones was about the glory of the place; who told them that the beauty and glory of it was inexpressible. There, said they, is the Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the innumerable company of angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect. You are going now, said they, to the paradise of God, wherein you shall see the tree of life, and eat of the never-fading fruits thereof; and when you come there, you shall have white robes given you, and your walk and talk shall be every day with the King, even all the days of eternity. There you shall not see again such things as you saw when you were in the lower region upon the earth, to wit, sorrow, sickness, affliction, and death, for the former things are passed away. You are now going to Abraham, to Isaac, and Jacob, and to the prophets—men that God has taken away from the evil to come, and that are now resting upon their beds, each one walking in his righteousness. The men then asked, What must we do in the holy place? To whom it was answered, You must there receive the comforts of all your toil, and have joy for all your sorrow; you must reap what you have sown, even the fruit of all your prayers, and tears, and sufferings for the King by the way. In that place you must wear crowns of gold, and enjoy the perpetual sight and vision of the Holy One, for there you shall see him as he is. There also you shall serve him continually with praise, with shouting, and thanksgiving, whom you desired to serve in the world, though with much difficulty, because of the infirmity of your flesh. There your eyes shall be delighted with seeing, and your ears with hearing the pleasant voice of the Mighty One. There you shall enjoy your friends again that are gone thither before you; and there you shall with joy receive, even every one that follows into the holy place after you. There also shall you be clothed with glory and majesty, and put into an equipage fit to ride out with the King of Glory. When he shall come with sound of trumpet in the clouds, as upon the wings of the wind, you shall come with him; and when he shall sit upon the throne of judgment; you shall sit by him; yea, and when he shall pass sentence upon all the workers of iniquity, let them be angels or men, you also shall have a voice in that judgment, because they were his and your enemies. Also, when he shall again return to the city, you shall go too, with sound of trumpet, and be ever with him.

The Celestial City

At last Christian and Hopeful have arrived at the Gates to the Celestial City. The city represents heaven, where all who have found rest and refuge in Christ will complete their journey and find eternal joy in His presence. The pilgrims have long looked forward to the day when they would finally reach their destination and see with their eyes what they sought by faith. The Shining Ones “told them that the beauty and glory of it was inexpressible.” For those of us who are still on the journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City, it is impossible to fully grasp and describe the splendor of heaven. Bunyan, however, provides a glimpse of its wonder.

The pilgrims talk with the Shining Ones “about the glory of the place.” Their discussion is not wistful conjecture or mere speculation. Bunyan again points us to Scripture. What we know of heaven for certain is only what God has revealed to us in His Word. Through the testimony of the Shining Ones, Bunyan weaves together several verses that offer a foretaste of the joy that awaits us.

In heaven the church, that Christ has redeemed “out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9) is brought near and gathered in His presence. The people of God are one body (Ephesians 2:16, 4:4; Colossians 3:15), one “holy nation” (Exodus 19:6, 1 Peter 2:9). Throughout history they have been scattered and separated by time and space, divided by language and custom, fragmented by denomination and polity. But in heaven distinctions will fade and divisions will dissolve. The “spirits of just men made perfect” will all be one in praising and adoring their Savior.

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel (Hebrews 12:22–24).

Heaven is “the paradise of God, wherein you shall see the tree of life, and eat of the never-fading fruits thereof.”

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God (Revelation 2:7).

And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:1–2).

We will be clothed in white (dressed in righteousness) and will walk and talk with the King.

You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy (Revelation 3:4).

Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads (Revelation 4:4).

Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God (Revelation 21:1–3).

We will be freed from sin’s presence as well as its curse and condemnation. There will be no more sorrow, sickness, affliction, or death.

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
And come to Zion with singing,
With everlasting joy on their heads.
They shall obtain joy and gladness,
And sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
(Isaiah 35:10)

For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth;
And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create;
For behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing,
And her people a joy.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
And joy in My people;
The voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her,
Nor the voice of crying.
(Isaiah 65:17–19)

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:4).

We will rejoice to see and hear and serve the Mighty One of Israel.

You shall have a song
As in the night when a holy festival is kept,
And gladness of heart as when one goes with a flute,
To come into the mountain of the Lord,
To the Mighty One of Israel.
(Isaiah 30:29)

And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads (Revelation 22:3–4).

We will be reunited with friends and loved ones who have gone on before us. We will enjoy fellowship with saints of old who are ““now resting upon their beds” and walking in righteousness.

The righteous perishes,
And no man takes it to heart;
Merciful men are taken away,
While no one considers
That the righteous is taken away from evil.
He shall enter into peace;
They shall rest in their beds,
Each one walking in his uprightness.
(Isaiah 57:1–2)

And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 8:11).

In heaven we will enjoy our eternal reward. We will rest from the toils and sorrows on earth and reap the fruit of what we have sown.

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life (Galatians 6:7–8).

Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them” (Revelation 14:13).

We will be clothed with glory and equipped to accompany the King of Kings when He comes again at the sound of a trumpet.

Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed (1 Corinthians 15:51–52).

And we will rule, and reign, and judge with Him.

I watched till thrones were put in place,
And the Ancient of Days was seated;
His garment was white as snow,
And the hair of His head was like pure wool.
His throne was a fiery flame,
Its wheels a burning fire;
A fiery stream issued
And came forth from before Him.
A thousand thousands ministered to Him;
Ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him.
The court was seated,
And the books were opened.
(Daniel 7:9–10)

Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him” (Jude 14–15).

Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? (1 Corinthians 6:2–3).

There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever (Revelation 22:5).

Best of all, we will be in the presence of the King of Glory and we will “always be with the Lord.”

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure (1 John 3:2–3).

But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18).

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 ©2019 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

A Prayer for the New Year

This hymn, entitled “Prayer for a Blessing” by John Newton is from Part I “Seasons” of Book II of Olney Hymns and was sung “before annual sermons to young people, on New Years’ evenings.”

May God keep us near His throne of grace and may this be our prayer as we begin the new year.

Church and Steeple

Prayer for a Blessing

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

Now, gracious Lord, Thine arm reveal
And make Thy glory known;
Now let us all Thy presence feel
And soften hearts of stone!

Help us to venture near Thy throne
And plead a Savior’s name;
For all that we can call our own,
Is vanity and shame.

From all the guilt of former sin
May mercy set us free;
And let the year we now begin,
Begin and end with Thee.

Send down Thy Spirit from above,
That saints may love Thee more;
And sinners now may learn to love,
Who never loved before.

And when before Thee we appear,
In our eternal home,
May growing numbers worship here,
And praise Thee in our room.

“Prayer for A Blessing”
Words by John Newton (1779)
Music by Robert Simpson (1790–1832)
Words and Music ©Public Domain

Download free sheet music (PDF) for this hymn, including a guitar chord chart, and an arrangement of the hymn tune BALERMA for classical guitar.

More Hymns from History

More Hymns arranged for Classical Guitar

Protection on the King’s Highway

Besides, their king is at their whistle. He is never out of hearing; and if at any time they be put to the worst, he, if possible, comes in to help them; and of him it is said, “The sword of him that layeth at him cannot hold the spear, the dart, nor the habergeon; he esteemeth iron as straw, and brass as rotten wood. The arrow cannot make him flee; sling stones are turned with him into stubble. Darts are counted as stubble: he laugheth at the shaking of a spear.” What can a man do in this case? It is true, if a man could, at every turn, have Job’s horse, and had skill and courage to ride him, he might do notable things; for “his neck is clothed with thunder, he will not be afraid of the grasshopper; the glory of his nostrils is terrible: he paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his strength, he goeth on to meet the armed men. He mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted, neither turneth he back from the sword. The quiver rattleth against him, the glittering spear, and the shield. He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage, neither believeth he that it is the sound of the trumpet. He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha! and he smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.”

But for such footmen as you and I are, let us never desire to meet with an enemy, nor vaunt as if we could do better, when we hear of others that they have been foiled, Nor be tickled at the thoughts of our own manhood; for such commonly come by the worst when tried. Witness Peter, of whom I made mention before. He would swagger, ay, he would; he would, as his vain mind prompted him to say, do better, and stand more for his Master than all men; but who so foiled, and run down by these villains, as he?

When, therefore, we hear that such robberies are done on the King’s highway, two things become us to do:

  1. To go out harnessed, and to be sure to take a shield with us; for it was for want of that, that he that laid so lustily at Leviathan could not make him yield; for, indeed, if that be wanting, he fears us not at all. Therefore, he that had skill hath said, “Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.”
  2. It is good, also, that we desire of the King a convoy, yea, that he will go with us himself. This made David rejoice when in the Valley of the Shadow of Death; and Moses was rather for dying where he stood, than to go one step without his God. Oh, my brother, if he will but go along with us, what need we be afraid of ten thousands that shall set themselves against us? But, without him, “the proud helpers fall under the slain.”

I, for my part, have been in the fray before now; and though, through the goodness of him that is best, I am, as you see, alive, yet I cannot boast of my manhood. Glad shall I be, if I meet with no more such brunts; though I fear we are not got beyond all danger. However, since the lion and the bear have not as yet devoured me, I hope God will also deliver us from the next uncircumcised Philistine. Then sang Christian—

Poor Little-faith! Hast been among the thieves?
Wast robb’d? Remember this, whoso believes,
And gets more faith, shall then a victor be
Over ten thousand, else scarce over three.

Great-Heart 

The cruel assault of Little-faith is a reminder to Christian and Hopeful that their journey is still fraught with danger. The Way to the Celestial City is beset with trials and haunted by foes. Faint-heart, Mistrust and Guilt are bad enough, but their king is much worse. As Christian experienced in the Valley of Humiliation, Apollyon, the devil, who “is at their whistle,” is prowling about, ready to come and press the battle. Christian compares the might of Apollyon to the sea serpent Leviathan described in the book of Job.

Though the sword reaches him, it cannot avail;
Nor does spear, dart, or javelin.
He regards iron as straw,
And bronze as rotten wood.
The arrow cannot make him flee;
Slingstones become like stubble to him.
Darts are regarded as straw;
He laughs at the threat of javelins.
(Job 41:26–29)

In light of the overwhelming strength of the enemy, Christian muses: “What can a man do in this case?” What if he had great advantage going into the battle: a sturdy horse, courage, and skill to ride? Christian continues to quote from the book of Job where God describes a horse fit for war:

“Have you given the horse strength?
Have you clothed his neck with thunder?
Can you frighten him like a locust?
His majestic snorting strikes terror.
He paws in the valley, and rejoices in his strength;
He gallops into the clash of arms.
He mocks at fear, and is not frightened;
Nor does he turn back from the sword.
The quiver rattles against him,
The glittering spear and javelin.
He devours the distance with fierceness and rage;
Nor does he come to a halt because the trumpet has sounded.
At the blast of the trumpet he says, ‘Aha!’
He smells the battle from afar,
The thunder of captains and shouting.”
(Job 39:19–25)

Even with such an advantage we dare not regard the battle lightly. We should not think we would fare better in such combat. We must not scoff when we hear of others who have fallen in combat.

This is a lesson we must heed whenever we face trial and temptation. At this point in the allegory Bunyan directs his words to seasoned pilgrims, those who have walked long with the Lord. Though we have gained a measure of spiritual maturity, we must never presume that we are beyond the appeal and lure of temptation. Even Peter, on the night Jesus was betrayed, gave into fear and denied Him three times (Matthew 26:33–35).

We might think, “I’m spiritually fit. I read my Bible. I attend a good church. I teach Sunday School. I have friends who pray for me and encourage me. Certainly, I could face a little temptation and be able to brush it aside. I would never fall. I can keep sin in check without becoming ensnared.” But Christian warns us: Don’t desire it! Don’t try it! Sin and temptation are never to be trifled with.

Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:12–13).

Though Christian has faced and defeated Apollyon earlier in the story, he does not here boast in his efforts or regard himself as a champion. He humbly refers to himself and Hopeful as footmen, simple soldiers serving alongside others in submission to their commander. He confesses that he would be glad never again to feel the brunt of sin’s assault.

If we are to guard ourselves from temptation and sin, we must do two things:

1) Be prepared for spiritual warfare by putting on the armor of God

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil (Ephesians 6:11).

We must especially take the shield of faith:

above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one (Ephesians 6:16).

2) Never travel alone

Our desire must be to walk alongside our brothers and sisters in the faith in the convoy provided by the King—the church. In the company of others, we can serve and strengthen those around us. When we grow weary and stumble, others around us can serve and strengthen us. Our relationships can be a significant means of grace that God uses to keep us on the path and carry us along until we are home with Him in glory.

This is Bunyan’s emphasis in Part II of The Pilgrim’s Progress. When the pilgrims prepared to leave the Interpreter’s House and travel to House Beautiful, the Interpreter sends them on their way together and appoints for them a guide, Great-heart. The guide represents a faithful pastor who will care for their souls and guide them in truth.

The Interpreter then called for a man-servant of His, one Great-heart, and bid him take sword, and helmet, and shield; and take these My daughters, said He, and conduct them to the house called Beautiful, at which place they will rest next.  So he took his weapons and went before them; and the Interpreter said, God speed.

Our desire must also be to walk always in the presence of the Lord. Christian adds, “yea, that he will go with us himself.” This is David’s testimony:

I lay down and slept;
I awoke, for the Lord sustained me.
I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people
Who have set themselves against me all around.
Arise, O Lord;
Save me, O my God!
For You have struck all my enemies on the cheekbone;
You have broken the teeth of the ungodly.
Salvation belongs to the Lord.
Your blessing is upon Your people.
Selah
(Psalm 3:5–8)

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?
When the wicked came against me
To eat up my flesh,
My enemies and foes,
They stumbled and fell.
Though an army may encamp against me,
My heart shall not fear;
Though war may rise against me,
In this I will be confident.
(Psalm 27:1–3)

And Moses’ testimony:

Then he said to Him, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth” (Exodus 33:15–16).

Without God we will fall:

Without Me they shall bow down among the prisoners,
And they shall fall among the slain.”
For all this His anger is not turned away,
But His hand is stretched out still.
(Isaiah 10:4)

We must not hold ourselves in high regard in the face of temptation. We must not look to skill, or experience, or the mantle of church leadership to prop us up. The only strength that will survive the day comes from Christ. We cannot stand unless we stand in Him.

Some trust in chariots, and some in horses;
But we will remember the name of the Lord our God.
(Psalm 20:7)

And in Him we will surely stand.

The labor hard before us,
The battle rages long.
Alone we cannot bear it;
Our foes are much too strong.
But God has chosen weakness,
The feeble and the frail.
He lifts us up in power
To conquer and prevail.

(from the hymn “Fragile Jars of Clay”)

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.

How to Live in This Present Age

Church Steeple and Clock

In Titus 2:11–12 Paul summarizes how we are to live together in this present age.

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age.

Because “the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,” we must live and walk in ways that commend and adorn that gospel. Our identity must be in Christ and we must live for Him. Paul tells us that in this present age we should live soberly, righteously and godly.

He says we are to live soberly (sophronas) — This is the word that Paul has used throughout this chapter to describe the conduct of older men (verse 2), younger women (verse 5), and younger men (verse 6); and the teaching (sophronizo) of older women (verse 4). We must act wisely according to the light God has given us in His Word illumined by the work of His Spirit.

We are to walk justly— Walk in a right way with integrity in our relationships and dealings with one another.

We are to walk in a godly way— Walk with our minds fixed and our passions focused on the things of God, desiring to see God magnified and His glory displayed in our lives.

Paul instructed Titus to “speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine” (2:1). Sound doctrine is a faithful companion and a fitting counterpoint to “things which are proper.” Things that are foolish—things that are trivial—things that are superficial—these things will be uncomfortable where there is sound doctrine. But those things that are wise and just and godly—these are to accompany sound doctrine.

There must be a connection between the doctrine we profess and the conduct we display. Both must glorify and exalt God.

Doctrine must be lived out in devotion. We must believe what is right and then do what is right. The truth we know with our minds and cherish in our hearts must be lived out in our hands and feet. The truth we hold must be made evident as we love God and love one another.

Read more from this sermon on Titus 2:1–15 entitled “How to Live in This Present Age”

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A Hill Called Error

Then I saw in my dream, that in the morning the Shepherds called up to Christian and Hopeful to walk with them upon the mountains; so they went forth with them, and walked a while, having a pleasant prospect on every side. Then said the Shepherds one to another, Shall we show these pilgrims some wonders? So when they had concluded to do it, they had them first to the top of a hill called Error, which was very steep on the furthest side, and bid them look down to the bottom. So Christian and Hopeful looked down, and saw at the bottom several men dashed all to pieces by a fall that they had from the top. Then said Christian, What does this mean? The Shepherds answered, Have you not heard of them that were made to err by hearkening to Hymeneus and Philetus as concerning the faith of the resurrection of the body? They answered, Yes. Then said the Shepherds, Those that you see lie dashed in pieces at the bottom of this mountain are they; and they have continued to this day unburied, as you see, for an example to others to take heed how they clamber too high, or how they come too near the brink of this mountain. 

Christian and Hopeful heeded the counsel of the Shepherds to stay awhile in the Delectable Mountains before continuing their journey. The shepherds (pastors) now walk with the pilgrims and guide them through the mountains (exegete passages of Bible in sermons, explaining more clearly the meaning of the text). The mountains have much to offer and the pilgrims are in need of assistance, for there are yet many dangers ahead.

Earlier in the allegory when Christian was at the House of the Interpreter (a representation of Scripture), he was in a hurry in leave. The Interpreter beckoned him several times to stay and see more. Again, at Palace Beautiful (the church from the vantage point of a new believer), when Christian was ready to depart, he was encouraged to stay (and by staying he was able to see the Delectable Mountains off in the distance). Now that Christian has arrived at the Delectable Mountains (the church from the vantage point of a mature believer), he is ready to see all that the Shepherds desire to show him. He knows the value of hearing, lingering and meditating on the Word of God—such patient preparation will more fully prepare him for what lies ahead on his journey.

View from a Hill called Error

In the mountains the pilgrims have a better vantage point to see the world around them. They can see hope, promise, and reward, where down below they were hampered by doubt, despair, and diffidence. They can see potential dangers and difficulties long before they must face them up close.  As the shepherds begin to show the pilgrims “some wonders” they first take them to the top of a hill called Error.

Sermons can teach us and help us avoid drifting into error. We see in Scripture warnings, cautions, and admonitions. Scripture reproves us when we begin to stray. It corrects us and shows us the way back. It instructs us how to keep to the right Way.

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16–17).

We can learn from the mistakes and missteps of others. The Shepherds take Christian and Hopeful to the top of the hill and have them look over the cliff. They see at the bottom several men who are “dashed all to pieces by a fall that they had from the top.” Those who “lie dashed in pieces” are the remains of those who tumbled into heresy by heeding false teachers.

The passage the Shepherds are expounding on the Hill called Error is 2 Timothy 2:16–18. In this passage Paul warns about straying from the truth and spreading error. He mentions Hymeneus and Philetus as examples of false teachers:

But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some (2 Timothy 2:16–18).

We must be careful to hold to truth and not be led into error by those who would distort the truth to their own liking. Peter warns of the dire consequences of falling into such error.

Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.

You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.

(2 Peter 3:14–18)

We can be thankful that God has given to His church faithful shepherds who guide and protect the flock from error. They teach us and warn us and point us to Christ.

Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily (Colossians 1:28–29).

They caution us not to “clamber too high” (exalting speculation and opinion in place of biblical truth) or “come too near the brink” (entertaining erroneous and unbiblical notions in our thoughts). We must heed their words and esteem them very highly as they labor to help us discern truth from error.

And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves (1 Thessalonians 5:12–13).

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.

Conversation with Shepherds

Christian: Is this the way to the Celestial City?

Shepherds: You are just in your way.

Christian: How far is it thither?

Shepherds: Too far for any but those that shall get thither indeed.

Christian: Is the way safe or dangerous?

Christian: Safe for those for whom it is to be safe; but the transgressors shall fall therein.

Christian: Is there, in this place, any relief for pilgrims that are weary and faint in the way?

Shepherds: The Lord of these mountains hath given us a charge not to be forgetful to entertain strangers, therefore the good of the place is before you.

I saw also in my dream, that when the Shepherds perceived that they were wayfaring men, they also put questions to them, to which they made answer as in other places; as, Whence came you? and, How got you into the way? and, By what means have you so persevered therein? For but few of them that begin to come hither do show their face on these mountains. But when the Shepherds heard their answers, being pleased therewith, they looked very lovingly upon them, and said, Welcome to the Delectable Mountains.

The Shepherds, I say, whose names were Knowledge, Experience, Watchful, and Sincere, took them by the hand, and had them to their tents, and made them partake of that which was ready at present. They said, moreover, We would that ye should stay here awhile, to be acquainted with us; and yet more to solace yourselves with the good of these Delectable Mountains. They then told them, that they were content to stay; so they went to their rest that night, because it was very late.

Shepherds on the Delectable Mountains

As the pilgrims are welcomed to the Delectable Mountains, Christian questions the Shepherds who keep watch by the Way. Christian first asks if the way up into the mountains is the right path to the Celestial City. Earlier he had wandered out of the Way and into the dangers of Doubting Castle by going over the stile into By-Path Meadow. Now he is more alert and cautious. The shepherds assure him: “You are just in your way.” He is right in the way he is going.

The way of life winds upward for the wise,
That he may turn away from hell below.
(Proverbs 15:24)

He then asks how far it is to the Celestial City. The shepherds respond with a warning that not all who attempt the journey will arrive at the City—only those who persevere to the end. It is “too far for any but those that shall get thither indeed.” Christian has already experienced dangers along the Way, but he wonders now if there is more yet to face. He asks if the Way is safe or dangerous. The shepherds again warn him: “Safe for those for whom it is to be safe; but the transgressors shall fall therein.”

Scripture draws a contrast between the way of the righteous (who will persevere to the end) and the way of the wicked (who will perish).

Who is wise?
Let him understand these things.
Who is prudent?
Let him know them.
For the ways of the Lord are right;
The righteous walk in them,
But transgressors stumble in them.
(Hosea 14:9)

This contrast is seen especially in the book of Psalms.

For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the ungodly shall perish.
(Psalm 1:6)

Oh, let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end,
But establish the just;
For the righteous God tests the hearts and minds.
(Psalm 7:9)

For the arms of the wicked shall be broken,
But the Lord upholds the righteous.
The Lord knows the days of the upright,
And their inheritance shall be forever.
(Psalm 37:17–18)

Only those who are truly Christ’s will persevere. Only those kept by His power will reach the journey’s end. William Mason notes in his commentary on The Pilgrim’s Progress:

O how many professors grow weary of the way, fall short, and fail of coming to the end! Though the way be too far, too strait, and too narrow for many who set out, and never hold out to the end; yet all who are begotten by the Word of grace, and born of the Spirit of truth, shall persevere to the end, being kept by the mighty power of God, through faith, unto eternal salvation (1 Peter 1:5) —William Mason

The very trials and failures that bring discouragement to would-be pilgrims, causing them to turn back or fall away, serve to strengthen true pilgrims, causing them to look to Christ, rest in Him, and persevere.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience (James 1:2–3).

Thomas Scott explains:

The certainty of the final perseverance of true believers is exemplified in their persevering, notwithstanding inward and outward impediments. Many hold the doctrine who are not interested in the privilege; but the true believer acquires new strength by his trials and mistakes, and possesses increasing evidence that the new covenant is made with him. —Thomas Scott

Finally, Christian asks if the mountains offer “any relief for pilgrims that are weary and faint in the way.” The shepherds assure them that the Lord has charged them not to forget to entertain strangers.

Let brotherly love continue. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels (Hebrews 13:1–2).

The mountains represent the church seen through the eyes of a mature believer. Just as Christian was questioned concerning his confession of faith and testimony when he arrived at House Beautiful (the church seen through the eyes of a new convert), he and Hopeful are questioned here. The shepherds represent the pastors of the church, who feed and guard the flock. Their names are Knowledge, Experience, Watchful (the Porter at House Beautiful was also named Watchful), and Sincere. Thomas Scott notes the significance of their names:

These names show what are the endowments most essential to the pastoral office: (1) knowledge of the scriptures; (2) experience of the power of divine truth; (3) watchfulness over the people; (4) sincerity manifested by a disinterested, unambitious, unassuming, patient, and affectionate conduct. —Thomas Scott

Knowledge

Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. (1 Timothy 4:13)

Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you (1 Timothy 4:16).

We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed. But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left … (2 Corinthians 6:3–7).

Experience

Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity (1 Timothy 4:12)

Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all (2 Timothy 4:15).

Watchful

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).

Sincere

For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, and more abundantly toward you (2 Corinthians 1:12).

For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ (2 Corinthians 2:17).

We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed. But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God … by sincere love (2 Corinthians 6:3–6).

The Shepherds encourage Christian and Hopeful to stay awhile, find solace, and enjoy “the good of these Delectable Mountains.” The mountains themselves represent sermons—passages of Scripture expounded by the Shepherds: words of caution, admonitions, reproof of error, warnings of judgment and hell, words of clarity, and words of promise and encouragement. The sheep (church family) feed upon the mountains, strengthening their faith, deepening their repentance, and gaining greater understanding of God’s Word.

In the following posts we will examine some of these sermons—lessons that Christian and Hopeful will need as they complete their journey.

 

The Delectable Mountains

Lord, we thank You for the Mountains
Where You bring Your flocks to feed;
Guided by Your watchful Shepherds,
We find truth for every need.
Father, give us words of Caution,
Help us see Immanuel’s Land,
Keep us from the cliffs of Error,
Make us on good ground to stand.

(from “A Prayer for Pilgrims” by Ken Puls)

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 Delectable Mountains

They went then till they came to the Delectable Mountains, which mountains belong to the Lord of that hill of which we have spoken before; so they went up to the mountains, to behold the gardens and orchards, the vineyards and fountains of water; where also they drank and washed themselves, and did freely eat of the vineyards. Now there were on the tops of these mountains Shepherds feeding their flocks, and they stood by the highway side. The Pilgrims therefore went to them, and leaning upon their staves, (as is common with weary pilgrims when they stand to talk with any by the way), they asked, Whose Delectable Mountains are these? And whose be the sheep that feed upon them?

Shepherds: These mountains are Immanuel’s Land, and they are within sight of his city; and the sheep also are his, and he laid down his life for them.

Mountains delectable they now ascend,
Where Shepherds be, which to them do commend
Alluring things, and things that cautious are,
Pilgrims are steady kept by faith and fear.

Shepherds and the Delectable Mountains

After Christian and Hopeful escape from Doubting Castle, they continue their journey, ascending into the Delectable Mountains. These are the mountains of the Lord.

His foundation is in the holy mountains.
The Lord loves the gates of Zion
More than all the dwellings of Jacob.
Glorious things are spoken of you,
O city of God!
Selah
(Psalm 87:1–3)

They are beautiful and bountiful—a place filled with gardens, orchards, vineyards, and fountains. Here is refreshment and delight. Here shepherds keep watch and feed their flocks.

The Delectable Mountains represent the church from the vantage point of a more mature Christian. Atop these mountains the pilgrims have a wider view and can see with more clarity. Their understanding of God’s Word is greater. Heaven is in view. The world is less alluring. Earlier in the allegory, Christian had a glimpse of these mountains from an observation point on the roof of House Beautiful. There he could only see the mountains far off in the distance. House Beautiful depicted the church through the eyes of a young believer. Christian loved the truth but had yet to ascend its heights.  Now Christian and Hopeful are nearer to the journey’s end. Their faith has grown. Their repentance has deepened. And their love for Christ has strengthened. They have walked the pathway longer.

The shepherds affirm what Christian learned at House Beautiful. The mountains are Immanuel’s Land and they are within sight of His city—the Celestial City to which the pilgrims are journeying. The joy of Immanuel’s Land is Christ. He is the King whose name is Immanuel, “God with Us” (Isaiah 7:17; Matthew 1:23). He is the promised Savior. In the Old Testament Ezekiel looked forward to the coming of the King and Shepherd from the linage of David who would save His people and cause them to dwell in safety. He concluded in chapter 29:

“I will raise up for them a garden of renown, and they shall no longer be consumed with hunger in the land, nor bear the shame of the Gentiles anymore. Thus they shall know that I, the Lord their God, am with them, and they, the house of Israel, are My people,” says the Lord God. “You are My flock, the flock of My pasture; you are men, and I am your God,” says the Lord God (Ezekiel 34:29–31).

Jesus is the Good Shepherd who knows His sheep and laid down His life for the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

“I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep” (John 10:14–15).

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one” (John 10:27–30).

The shepherds gladly speak of Immanuel, the Good Shepherd. They stand by the Way, ready to welcome and point pilgrims to Him. In the next several posts, we will focus on the shepherds and their instructions to the pilgrims. As Christian received valuable teaching for his journey at the House of the Interpreter and House Beautiful, the pilgrims receive valuable insights here—insights that will be crucial for their reaching the journey’s end.

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.

Out of Zion

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people,
let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.
(Psalms 14:7)

Church and town at Sunrise

Verse 7 of Psalm 14 represents a crucial turning point. The psalm began as a meditation, that quickly turned to a lament, but now is a petition, looking forward to a time of praise and rejoicing.

David considers the hopeless of man left to himself. He mediates on the depravity and corruption of man, and realizes that if anyone can be saved, it must be through God’s grace and life-giving power.
But notice from where God’s salvation is to come: out of Zion!

What is Zion?

David could have prayed that salvation would come from hand of God. He could have said that salvation would come from the promised Messiah. And this would be true. But he expands his statement at the end of the psalm, praying that salvation will come out of Zion.

This is more than a reference to the physical city of Jerusalem, where Christ would be crucified and accomplish in time and space the salvation of God’s people. Zion is also used in Scripture as reference to the people of God.

Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion.
(Psalms 65:1)

God’s purpose in salvation includes its being fulfilled and accomplished by Christ-but also its application and proclamation in us! God is the One who saves. Notice—

Verse 7 continues: “When the LORD restores…”

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people,
let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.
(Psalms 14:7)

It is the Lord who restores! But God uses means to accomplish His salvation. As God saves, we respond with joy and gladness-joy and gladness that compel us to share the good news of salvation with others. It is our joy and responsibility to spread the Gospel—out of Zion, knowing with confidence that God will work-His Word will go out and will not return void.

He has established us here as a church in this community for a purpose. I encourage you to think from this mindset—out of Zion. God has put us here to make Him known. Every friend, every acquaintance, every relationship is in your life for you to magnify Jesus Christ.

Read more from this sermon on Psalm 14 entitled “Out of Zion”

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Within a Better Covenant

All of Scripture points us to Christ. The New Testament proclaims His coming. The Old Testament prepares for His coming. From the Garden of Eden in Genesis (where God promised that the Seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent) to the songs of praise to the Lamb in Revelation, we hear the good news of salvation in Christ.

Jesus is the glory of the covenants. He is the substance of all the shadows and types of the Old Covenant. The tabernacle and Temple—the sacrifices and festivals—all foreshadow the person and work of Christ. When Christ came in the New Testament and the full light of God’s revelation was made known in Him, the shadows of the Old vanished away (Hebrews 8:13). What was temporary and preparatory in the Old Testament is eternal and complete in the New Testament in Christ.

The difference between the Old and New Covenants is largely a difference in brilliance and clarity. It is not that there are two or more ways of salvation, or two or more gospels. There is only one gospel and one salvation—Jesus is the only way, the only truth and the only life in both Old and New Testaments.

But the view of this gospel in the Old Testament, seen through the Old Covenant with its types and shadows, is less clear and defined as it is in the New. It is like going out at night, before the dawn, and seeing a beautiful landscape under the starlight. The trees and mountains and lake—the scene is all in place, but largely, it can only be seen in outline and silhouette. There is much left in shadow; the details and color are still hidden. It lies before you, but your view is sketchy.

Shadows Fade at First Light

But as the dawn arrives, and the rays of the sun begin to break over the horizon, then your view begins to open. You can see more and more. As the sun climbs higher and higher, those details and colors that were hidden are revealed and illumined by the light.

The gospel as we see it in the Old Covenant is the dawn breaking—those first rays announcing the coming light. The gospel as we see it in the New Covenant is the full glory of the sun at noon day.

It is in the brilliance of the sun—God’s full revelation of His Son and the cross— that we now see and understand the gospel in its fullness and completeness.  The Old is “outshined with Christ in view”!

“But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established with better promises” (Hebrews 8:6).

The following hymn was composed for the 2001 General Assembly of the Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America (ARBCA), that met March 6-8, 2001 at Heritage Baptist Church in Mansfield, Texas. It celebrates the greater blessings and promises we now possess within the better covenant in Christ Jesus.

Within A Better Covenant

Within a better covenant
God’s people now abide,
Built on the finished work of Christ,
Accomplished and applied.
From ev’ry nation, tribe, and tongue,
The Spirit calls the bride,
Uniting in this covenant
Each one for whom Christ died.

All those within this covenant
Are quickened and made new;
From least to great, they know the Lord
And trust His Word as true.
The Spirit works and writes God’s Law
Upon each heart and mind,
That each will turn and flee to Christ,
His grace and mercy find.

For unto Moses, Jesus gave
His Law on Sinai’s hill;
The Law that one day He would come
To perfectly fulfill.
God’s Law fulfilled in Jesus Christ
Is holy, good, and right;
What once condemned us for our sin
Is now made our delight.

The Spirit seals the covenant
With each He sets apart;
A circumcision not of flesh,
But of the conquer’d heart.
For it is not by flesh and blood,
Nor by the will of man,
That Christ now builds and keeps His church
And causes it to stand.

The covenants that came before
Did then prepare the way,
As God progressively revealed
The glories of Christ’s day.
The types and shadows of the old
A foretaste did provide,
But old has vanished now away
As Christ is magnified!

In ceaseless service priests of old
Brought off’rings day by day,
But blood of bulls and goats could not
Take sin’s dark guilt away.
Behold, a better sacrifice,
The spotless Lamb who died!
Christ shed His blood once for all time
To cleanse and save His bride.

God made provision in the Old,
Its Temple, priests, and land;
An earthly nation He raised up
And strengthened by His hand.
But earthly shadows now have past,
Outshined with Christ in view,
Proclaiming now unto the church:
God’s Kingdom is in you!

Behold, the temple of the New,
Not made with bricks or stone,
Is now the gathered hearts of all
Whom Christ has called His own.
The sacrifices of our lips
We to this temple bring
That Christ be praised as all in all,
Our Prophet, Priest, and King.

Words ©2001 Ken Puls

Tom Wells (Heritage Baptist Church in Mansfield, Texas) composed the tune for this hymn. Download the lyrics and free sheet music (PDF), including an arrangement of the tune GRAPE CREEK for classical guitar.

More Hymns and Songs from Ken Puls Music

More Hymn tunes arranged for classical guitar

How Dear and Treasured Is the Church

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. … 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 2:13, 19–22).

The church is dear to Christ! He shed His blood and laid down His life that we might be brought near to God. He made us “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” We are “a holy temple in the Lord” with “Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.” We are “being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” In times of joy we celebrate together and lift our voices in praise. In times of sorrow we walk together and lift up each other in our prayers. We proclaim God’s Word and magnify Christ to the world: His great worth and our great need of Him.

Many in our day fail to see the value of the church. We are too quick to leave or stay away when difficulties arise. In times of disappointment we may be tempted to give up on the church. But we have reason to stay and press on. Commitment to God’s Word compels us. The magnitude of our mission convinces us. Sound theology steadies us. Troubles and trials, as we walk through them together, will teach us and anchor us more firmly in the grace and mercy of God. May God help us to love the church as He does.

How dear and treasured is the church!

pillar of the truth

“if I delay, [I write so that] you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).

How dear and treasured is the church,
With voices joined in praise and prayers,
For God has made us one in Christ,
To share our sorrows, joys and cares.

Entrusted with the truth of God,
Called out to make the gospel known,
We boldly as His church proclaim:
There’s grace and hope in Christ alone!

God fashions us as living stones;
Assembled as His dwelling place.
Though we were dead, He gives us life,
Each soul a miracle of grace.

Built as a buttress of the truth,
A pillar rising to the sky,
God sets His church before the world,
His Word and name to magnify.

To all the world we testify,
Our lives display in word and deed
The matchless worth of knowing Christ,
The boundless depth of our great need.

Brought near to God by Christ’s shed blood,
Loved and adopted as His own,
A household built upon the Word,
With Christ Himself the Cornerstone.

Built on this Rock, the church will stand,
The gates of hell shall not prevail,
All who are Christ’s shall be raised up,
The Word of God will never fail.

Words ©2017 Ken Puls

Download the lyrics and free sheet music for this hymn, including an arrangement of the tune ERHALT UNS HERR for classical guitar.

More Hymns and Songs from Ken Puls Music