Tag Archives: comfort

Welcomed at the Gate

Then I saw in my dream, that Christian was as in a muse a while. To whom also Hopeful added this word, Be of good cheer, Jesus Christ makes you whole; and with that Christian broke out with a loud voice, Oh, I see him again! and he tells me, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.” Then they both took courage, and the enemy was after that as still as a stone, until they were gone over. Christian therefore presently found ground to stand upon, and so it followed that the rest of the river was but shallow. Thus they got over.

Now, upon the bank of the river, on the other side, they saw the two shining men again, who there waited for them; wherefore, being come out of the river, they saluted them, saying, We are ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for those that shall be heirs of salvation. Thus they went along towards the gate.

Now you must note that the city stood upon a mighty hill, but the Pilgrims went up that hill with ease, because they had these two men to lead them up by the arms; also, they had left their mortal garments behind them in the river, for though they went in with them, they came out without them. They, therefore, went up here with much agility and speed, though the foundation upon which the city was framed was higher than the clouds. They therefore went up through the regions of the air, sweetly talking as they went, being comforted, because they safely got over the river, and had such glorious companions to attend them.

Now, now, look how the holy pilgrims ride,
Clouds are their chariots, angels are their guide:
Who would not here for him all hazards run,
That thus provides for his when this world’s done?

Over the River

As Christian struggles to cross the River, he is “in a muse.” Facing death causes him deep concern and consternation. He ponders his life and his thoughts are troubled with fears, regrets, doubts, and dismay. But Christian is calmed by two valuable comforts:

  1. He is encouraged by Hopeful, who stays near him, cheers his soul, and points him to Christ.
  2. He remembers the Word of God. It is hidden in his heart (Psalm 119:11) and now shines forth to clear and cleanse his thinking. He recalls the promise in Isaiah 43:

But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name;
You are Mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you.”
(Isaiah 43:1–2)

O that God would grant us such comforts! Remembrance of His Word and godly friends who will keep that Word before our eyes and in our ears—these can help keep our head above the fearful tide. These can be ours—in times of trouble and trial, even in our final moments of life on earth, but we must cultivate and cherish these comforts. Don’t take them for granted or assume you will have them in your hour of need. Invest time in studying, understanding, and memorizing Scripture. And invest time in cultivating Christian friendships—brothers and sisters who will pray for you, hold you accountable, and speak God’s Word into your life.

One of the most significant themes in The Pilgrim’s Progress is the preeminence of God’s Word. Too often we fail to realize its worth! On our journey from the City of Destruction (this present sinful world) to the Celestial City (the glorious world to come), it is our invaluable guide and indispensable comfort. Over and over Bunyan highlights just how essential Scripture is to our spiritual life and well-being.

And now, as Christian experiences death, God’s Word is his comfort that instills courage and causes the enemy to be “still as a stone.”

Fear and dread will fall on them;
By the greatness of Your arm
They will be as still as a stone,
Till Your people pass over, O Lord,
Till the people pass over
Whom You have purchased.
(Exodus 15:16)

Scripture again, as it did in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, warms Christian’s heart and lights his way. He is able to find ground to stand on. He and Hopeful make it safely over the river.

On the bank of the River the two pilgrims are greeted again and welcomed by the Shining Ones. The Shining Ones identify themselves as “ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14). Christian and Hopeful are now ushered by angels to their final destination—the City whose foundation sits “higher than the clouds.”

But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:16).

They shed the final remnants of corruption and put on immortality, having conquered death through the power of Christ Jesus.

For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

“O Death, where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory?”

The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:53–57).

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.

The Value of Little-faith’s Jewels

Hopeful: But it is a wonder that his necessity did not put him upon selling or pawning some of his jewels, that he might have wherewith to relieve himself in his journey.

Christian: You talk like one upon whose head is the shell to this very day; for what should he pawn them, or to whom should he sell them? In all that country where he was robbed, his jewels were not accounted of; nor did he want that relief which could from thence be administered to him. Besides, had his jewels been missing at the gate of the Celestial City, he had (and that he knew well enough) been excluded from an inheritance there; and that would have been worse to him than the appearance and villainy of ten thousand thieves.

Hopeful: Why are you so tart, my brother? Esau sold his birthright, and that for a mess of pottage, and that birthright was his greatest jewel; and if he, why might not Little-faith do so too?

Christian: Esau did sell his birthright indeed, and so do many besides, and by so doing exclude themselves from the chief blessing, as also that caitiff did; but you must put a difference between Esau and Little-faith, and also between their estates. Esau’s birthright was typical, but Little-faith’s jewels were not so; Esau’s belly was his god, but Little-faith’s belly was not so; Esau’s want lay in his fleshly appetite, Little-faith’s did not so. Besides, Esau could see no further than to the fulfilling of his lusts; “Behold, I am at the point to die, (said he), and what profit shall this birthright do me?” But Little-faith, though it was his lot to have but a little faith, was by his little faith kept from such extravagances, and made to see and prize his jewels more than to sell them, as Esau did his birthright. You read not anywhere that Esau had faith, no, not so much as a little; therefore, no marvel if, where the flesh only bears sway, (as it will in that man where no faith is to resist), if he sells his birthright, and his soul and all, and that to the devil of hell; for it is with such, as it is with the donkey, who in her occasions cannot be turned away. When their minds are set upon their lusts, they will have them whatever they cost. But Little-faith was of another temper, his mind was on things divine; his livelihood was upon things that were spiritual, and from above; therefore, to what end should he that is of such a temper sell his jewels (had there been any that would have bought them) to fill his mind with empty things? Will a man give a penny to fill his belly with hay; or can you persuade the turtle-dove to live upon carrion like the crow? Though faithless ones can, for carnal lusts, pawn, or mortgage, or sell what they have, and themselves outright to boot; yet they that have faith, saving faith, though but a little of it, cannot do so. Here, therefore, my brother, is your mistake.

Hopeful: I acknowledge it; but yet your severe reflection had almost made me angry.

Christian: Why, I did but compare thee to some of the birds that are of the brisker sort, who will run to and fro in untrodden paths, with the shell upon their heads; but pass by that, and consider the matter under debate, and all shall be well between you and me.

 Bandits rob Little-Faith

In the last post Christian and Hopeful discussed the grievous robbery of Little-faith. Three villains attacked Little-faith near Dead Man’s Lane. They plundered his coin purse but were not able to reach his jewels. Christian told Hopeful that after the assault Little-faith was forced to beg to stay alive and complete his journey, “for his jewels he might not sell.” Christian’s comment stirs a question in Hopeful’s mind that leads to a debate. Why could Little-faith not sell his jewels? Why did he not pawn some of his jewels to increase his wealth in his life, that his journey might be more comfortable? Was he greedy? Was he prideful? Was he ashamed? Why would he resort to begging and presume upon the kindness of others if he had the means to pay his own way?

Christian is at first astounded by the question. He considers Hopeful’s thinking to be lunacy. Theologically he is right to address Hopeful’s error. The value of Little-faith’s jewels is immeasurable. He must not and cannot ever part with them.

In regard to both security and worth, there is a great difference between the jewels and the coin purse. The coin purse can be increased or emptied. We carry it with us. It represents our spiritual comfort and peace of mind. The purse is filled when we experience and sense the grace of God at work in our lives. It is plundered when we fall prey to sin and are assaulted by spiritual weakness, doubt, and shame. But our jewels are secure. They are safe with Christ. They represent our heavenly reward and our inheritance in God’s Kingdom.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you (1 Peter 1:3–4).

This inheritance is ours in Christ.

In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:11–14).

Our inheritance with Christ in heaven is the pearl of great price, more valuable than anything we might possess in this life.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:45–46).

The comparison that Bunyan draws between Little-faith’s treasure (his jewels) and his coin purse (his spending money) comes from Bunyan’s autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. When Bunyan came to faith in Christ, he knew Christ to be of all-surpassing worth and glory.

It was glorious to me to see his exaltation, and the worth and prevalency of all his benefits, and that because of this: now I could look from myself to him, and should reckon that all those graces of God that now were green in me, were yet but like those cracked groats and fourpence-halfpennies that rich men carry in their purses, when their gold is in their trunks at home! Oh, I saw my gold was in my trunk at home! In Christ, my Lord and Savior! Now Christ was all; all my wisdom, all my righteousness, all my sanctification, and all my redemption.

[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 232]

His treasure was Christ! In Christ is all wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.

But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:30–31).

And this treasure is eternally secure. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 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 8:35–39).

Little-faith did not earn or deserve his treasured inheritance. It is a gift of grace. He cannot be separated from it and he certainly would not consider selling it.

Hopeful further presses his point by comparing Little-faith to Esau who despised his birthright (his inheritance) and sold it to Jacob for a pot of stew (Genesis 25:29–33). But Esau is not like Little-faith. Esau was worldly and profane. He lacked faith and was driven by lust. Scripture warns:

looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears (Hebrews 12:15–17).

Christian regards Esau as a caitiff (a “contemptable or cowardly person”). Esau acted according to his worldly passions, “as it is with the donkey, who in her occasions cannot be turned away.”

A wild donkey used to the wilderness,
That sniffs at the wind in her desire;
In her time of mating, who can turn her away?
All those who seek her will not weary themselves;
In her month they will find her.
(Jeremiah 2:24)

But Little-faith was a true pilgrim bound for the Celestial City. He possessed faith enough to cause him to press on and continue looking to Christ. He prized his jewels and knew that without them he would have no eternal inheritance. His suffering and lack of comforts in this life, unlike Esau, caused him to value his heavenly reward even more.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).

Hopeful acknowledges his error but admits that he almost got angry with Christian’s reply. Christian gave the right answer, but it came across to Hopeful as “tart” and “severe.” He encourages Hopeful not to take offense but to engage willingly in honest debate. Like Christian and Hopeful, we will often have differences in our understanding and grasp of truth. It is to our advantage to be quick to listen and slow to take offense (James 1:19). Their exchange is a reminder that when we see matters differently, we must be concerned with winning our brother, not just winning an argument.

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.

Hopeful’s Reassurance

Hopeful: Indeed, our present condition is dreadful, and death would be far more welcome to me than thus for ever to abide; but yet, let us consider, the Lord of the country to which we are going has said, You shall do no murder: no, not to another man’s person; much more, then, are we forbidden to take his counsel to kill ourselves. Besides, he that kills another, can but commit murder upon his body; but for one to kill himself is to kill body and soul at once. And, moreover, my brother, you talk of ease in the grave; but have you forgotten the hell, for certain the murderers go? “For no murderer has eternal life,” &c. And let us consider, again, that all the law is not in the hand of Giant Despair. Others, so far as I can understand, have been taken by him, as well as we; and yet have escaped out of his hand. Who knows, but the God that made the world may cause that Giant Despair may die? or that, at some time or other, he may forget to lock us in? or that he may, in a short time, have another of his fits before us, and may lose the use of his limbs? and if ever that should come to pass again, for my part, I am resolved to pluck up the heart of a man, and to try my utmost to get from under his hand. I was a fool that I did not try to do it before; but, however, my brother, let us be patient, and endure a while. The time may come that may give us a happy release; but let us not be our own murderers. With these words Hopeful at present did moderate the mind of his brother; so they continued together (in the dark) that day, in their sad and doleful condition.

Well, towards evening, the Giant goes down into the dungeon again, to see if his prisoners had taken his counsel; but when he came there he found them alive; and truly, alive was all; for now, what for want of bread and water, and by reason of the wounds they received when he beat them, they could do little but breathe. But, I say, he found them alive; at which he fell into a grievous rage, and told them that, seeing they had disobeyed his counsel, it should be worse with them than if they had never been born.

At this they trembled greatly, and I think that Christian fell into a swoon; but, coming a little to himself again, they renewed their discourse about the Giant’s counsel; and whether yet they had best to take it or no. Now Christian again seemed to be for doing it, but Hopeful made his second reply as follows:

Hopeful: My brother, said he, do you not remember how valiant you have been heretofore? Apollyon could not crush you, nor could all that you did hear, or see, or feel, in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. What hardship, terror, and amazement have you already gone through! And are you now nothing but fear! You see that I am in the dungeon with you, a far weaker man by nature than you are; also, this Giant has wounded me as well as you, and has also cut off the bread and water from my mouth; and with you I mourn without the light. But let us exercise a little more patience; remember how you played the man at Vanity Fair, and was neither afraid of the chain, nor cage, nor yet of bloody death. Wherefore let us (at least to avoid the shame, that becomes not a Christian to be found in) bear up with patience as well as we can.

Locked in Doubting CastleIn the depths of Doubting Castle, cruelly abused by the schemes of Giant Despair and his wife Diffidence, Christian has reached the point of despairing even of life itself. But in his misery, he has a tremendous advantage. He is not on the journey alone. He has Hopeful as a companion. And Hopeful comes to his aid with counsel and encouragement.

Hopeful begins by pointing Christian to God and His Word. Our hope, if it is to hold, must be anchored in the commands and promises of Scripture.

For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope (Romans 15:4).

1) Hopeful reminds Christian of who God is. He is Creator of heaven and earth. He is in control, not the giants who have them pinned down.

2) Hopeful reminds Christian of what God has said. God commands: “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). Murder, including suicide, the taking of one’s own life, is contrary to God and truth. It plays into Satan’s design, who from the beginning has sought to mar and destroy God’s creation.

You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it (John 8:44).

Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him (1 John 3:15).

3) And Hopeful reminds Christian that they must resist Despair. Giant Despair trembles at the light. He is vulnerable and can lose his strength and leave off his vigilance. God may yet provide His pilgrims an opportunity for escape. They must be patient and endure.

It is worth noting in Bunyan’s story that the pilgrims do not find immediate relief. The darkness remains. Resolve and good counsel do not free them. For a time, their endurance and will to press on only brings about increased suffering. When the giant rages, Bunyan describes Christian as falling to a swoon.

Bunyan himself experienced bouts of depression where he “swooned” as Christian did. He describes such a time in Grace Abounding:

At another time, though just before I was pretty well and savory in my spirit, yet suddenly there fell upon me a great cloud of darkness, which did so hide from me the things of God and Christ, that I was as if I had never seen or known them in my life; I was also so overrun in my soul, with a senseless, heartless frame of spirit, that I could not feel my soul to move or stir after grace and life by Christ; I was as if my loins were broken, or as if my hands and feet had been tied or bound with chains. At this time also I felt some weakness to seize ‘upon’ my outward man, which made still the other affliction the more heavy and uncomfortable ‘to me.’ [Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 261]

But Hopeful again reassures Christian with truth. He reminds his brother of the difficulties and dangers that he has already endured by God’s grace.  He reminds him of his valiant stand for the gospel at Vanity Fair, a testimony that served in part to lead Hopeful to Christ. And he exhorts him not to bring shame upon himself, but to “bear up with patience.”

How great is our need for a companion such as Hopeful—a brother or sister who will stay near us in times of distress, “rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer” (Romans 12:12). And there are many opportunities for us to be Hopeful and help others around us cling to truth. Mason says in his commentary on The Pilgrim’s Progress:

Here is the blessing of a hopeful companion; here is excellent counsel. Let vain professors say what they may against looking back to past experiences, it is most certainly good and right so to do; not to encourage present sloth and presumption, but to excite fresh confidence of hope in the Lord. We have David’s example, and Paul’s word to encourage us to this, “The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine” (1 Sam. 17:37); and says Paul, “We had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead” (2 Cor. 1:9)—(Mason).

Christian endures the dungeon because he has Hopeful as a companion. Bunyan’s message in this portion of The Pilgrim’s Progress is clear. It is to our great advantage, even to the preserving of our lives, that we walk together in this journey, and that we make an effort to comfort and encourage one another along the way. (This is a theme that Bunyan explores in much greater depth in Part 2 of The Pilgrim’s Progress with the account of Christian’s family, Christiana and her children, and their companions as they travel to the Celestial City.)

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

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2017 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Comfort, Comfort Ye My People

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Isaiah 40:1–2).

Forest at Dawn

Isaiah 40 begins with some amazing words of hope. In the midst of pending judgment, Isaiah points the nation of Judah to the coming of the Messiah. He speaks of Christ who would come and tell the weary and downcast:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30).

In 1741 George Fredrick Handel opened his oratorio Messiah with a setting of Isaiah 40. Seventy years earlier, in 1671, a German minister named Johannes Olearius fashioned the same passage into a hymn: Comfort, Comfort Ye My People. Olearius was born in 1611 (the same year the KJV translation of the Bible was completed) and he attended the University of Wittenberg (where Martin Luther had taught theology).

The hymn is set to a tune from the Genevan Psalter composed by Louis Bourgeois to fit Psalm 42. Psalm 42 includes the refrain:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.
(Psalm 42:5)

Olearius’ hymn is a beautiful setting of God’s words of comfort to His people. It was translated into English by Catherine Winkworth in 1863.

 

Comfort, Comfort Ye My People

Comfort, comfort ye my people,
Speak ye peace, thus saith our God;
Comfort those who sit in darkness,
Mourning ‘neath their sorrow’s load.
Speak ye to Jerusalem,
Of the peace that waits for them;
Tell her that her sins I cover,
And her warfare now is over.

Yea, her sins our God will pardon,
Blotting out each dark misdeed;
All that well deserved His anger
He no more will see or heed.
She has suffered many a day,
Now her griefs have passed away;
God will change her pining sadness
Into ever springing gladness.

For the herald’s voice is crying
In the darkness far and near,
Bidding all men to repentance,
Since the kingdom now is here.
O that warning cry obey!
Now prepare for God a way;
Let the valleys rise to meet Him,
And the hills bow down to greet Him.

Make ye straight what long was crooked,
Make the rougher places plain;
Let your hearts be true and humble,
As befits His holy reign.
For the glory of the Lord
Now o’er earth is shed abroad;
And all flesh shall see the token,
That His word is never broken.

“Comfort, Comfort Ye My People”
Words by Johannes Olearius, 1671
Translated by Catherine Winkworth, 1863
Music by Louis Bourgeois, 1551
Arranged from the tune GENEVAN 42
From the Genevan Psalter, 1551
Words and Music ©Public Domain

Download free sheet music (PDF), including guitar chord charts and an arrangement of the hymn tune THIRSTING for classical guitar.

More Hymns from History

More Christmas music arranged for Classical Guitar

Behold Your God, Believe His Word!

Isaiah 40 Bible

A voice says, “Cry!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass,
And all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades
When the breath of the LORD blows on it;
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God will stand forever.
(Isaiah 40:6–8)

Isaiah reminds us that God always is faithful to His Word.

Our experiences in this life are temporary—including both joys and trials; but God’s Word endures forever. We are like the grass that withers and the flower that fades—but God and His Word are not. Darkness and difficulties may come, or prosperity and ease—but regardless of circumstances, regardless of how well or how badly things appear to be going, God will always accomplish all He has purposed. His Word is true and faithful. For Judah, devastation and exile are looming, BUT there is hope, there is comfort, there is a SAVIOR. Christ will come, because “the mouth of the LORD has spoken it.”

Read more from this sermon on Isaiah 40 entitled “Behold Our God, Believe His Word”

Find More Sermons and Articles