Tag Archives: Conscience

Hopeful’s Testimony Part 3 Growing Conviction

Christian: Then, as it seems, sometimes you got rid of your trouble.

Hopeful: Yes, verily, but it would come into my mind again, and then I should be as bad, nay, worse, than I was before.

Christian: Why, what was it that brought your sins to mind again?

Hopeful: Many things; as,

  1. If I did but meet a good man in the streets; or,
  2. If I have heard any read in the Bible; or,
  3. If mine head did begin to ache; or,
  4. If I were told that some of my neighbors were sick; or,
  5. If I heard the bell toll for some that were dead; or,
  6. If I thought of dying myself; or,
  7. If I heard that sudden death happened to others;
  8. But especially, when I thought of myself, that I must quickly come to judgment.

Christian: And could you at any time, with ease, get off the guilt of sin, when by any of these ways it came upon you?

Hopeful: No, not I, for then they got faster hold of my conscience; and then, if I did but think of going back to sin, (though my mind was turned against it), it would be double torment to me.

Hopeful's growing conviction

Though Hopeful initially rejected the gospel and resisted the conviction that was weighing upon his conscience, God continued to pursue him. He remembered his own mortality and frailty. He was reminded of his sinfulness and failing before God. He could not escape thoughts of the coming judgment. These reminders were all around him:

  • When he heard about or saw someone doing what was right and good
  • When he heard the Word of God read or mentioned
  • When he became ill or heard of others who were ill
  • When he heard about someone who died, especially if the death was tragic or unexpected (or unjust as it was with Faithful in Vanity Fair)
  • When he thought that he would die and stand before God in judgment

Though he tried to put thoughts of death, judgment, and God out of his mind, all of these things were aimed at his conscience. God would not let him alone to rest comfortably in his sin.

Many in our day are feeling the pangs of conscience like Hopeful, but they have yet to turn to Christ and find rest and relief. Hopeful’s testimony offers encouragement and instruction as we pray for friends and family who are still clinging to sin and resisting grace.

1) We need to remember that our lives are on display. We need to walk before others with integrity, loving what is right and good, and doing what is right and good.

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel (Philippians 1:27).

Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear (1 Peter 3:1–2).

2) We need to be bold in speaking the Word of God, even to unbelievers. The Word of God is the Word of life!

Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life (John 5:24).

Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed (Acts 13:48).

How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:14–17).

3) We need to trust in God’s good purposes even through times of difficulty and hardship. God often uses trials and sickness to remind us of our own frailty and need for Him. But God’s good purposes may well extend beyond ourselves. God can use tragedy, sickness, even death, as a means of grace to bring conviction to others and cause others to ponder the state of their soul. Our trials may be the very means that God is using to draw friends and family to Himself. He indeed works all things together for good, to those who love Him, “to those who are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). Let us live so that our lives, even in the midst of trials, help and not hinder others to look to Christ and find hope in the gospel.

We need to pray for those around us who are resisting God’s Word, who are hesitating or outright rejecting the truth. Pray that God will not leave them to their sin, but will use all means necessary to pursue and draw them to Himself. And pray that God’s “means” would include even us as He providentially directs our lives for our good and the good of others around us.

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 Testimony Part 2 Initial Resistance

Christian: But what was the cause of your carrying of it thus to the first workings of God’s blessed Spirit upon you?

Hopeful: The causes were, 1. I was ignorant that this was the work of God upon me. I never thought that, by awakenings for sin, God at first begins the conversion of a sinner. 2. Sin was yet very sweet to my flesh, and I was loath to leave it. 3. I could not tell how to part with mine old companions, their presence and actions were so desirable unto me. 4. The hours in which convictions were upon me were such troublesome and such heart-affrighting hours that I could not bear, no not so much as the remembrance of them, upon my heart.

 Witness in Vanity

Hopeful’s testimony again highlights a contrast between his experience of coming to faith in Christ and Christian’s experience. He and Christian responded differently to the awakening of the soul to the reality of sin and the need for salvation.

Christian first learned that he was in danger of judgment by reading his book (the Bible). As he read, he was distressed. We first see him “clothed with rags” (he is sinful and unrighteous), “with his face from his own house” (he has no desire to continue living in sin) and a burden is on his back (he feels the weight of guilt and conviction for his sin). When Evangelist pointed him to the Wicket Gate (Christ) and the Shining Light (light of God’s Word), Christian was anxious for help and ready to begin his journey to escape Destruction.

Hopeful first heard the Bible’s warnings about sin from Christian and Faithful when they came to the town of Vanity. He was at first unwilling to see his danger. As he heard God’s Word, he responded with denial and rejection. Though he began feeling the “first workings” of God in his heart, he was resistant.

He describes 4 causes for his initial resistance:

1) He was ignorant that God was at work in his heart. He did not realize that the conviction he was experiencing was actually the stirrings of grace in his life. Conviction made him feel guilty and terrible. How could these things be of God?

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

2) He still loved his sin.

You love evil more than good,
Lying rather than speaking righteousness.
Selah
(Psalm 52:3)

Hopeful heard the warnings of Scripture. The pleasures of sin are short-lived.

Do you not know this from of old,
since man was placed on earth,
that the exulting of the wicked is short,
and the joy of the godless but for a moment?
(Job 20:4–5, ESV)

Sin enslaves and leads us to death.

Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? (Romans 6:16)

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

But Hopeful would not turn away from sin. Sin continued to ensnare him.

His own iniquities entrap the wicked man,
And he is caught in the cords of his sin.
(Proverbs 5:22)

“Sin was yet very sweet” and he loathed to leave it.

Stolen water is sweet,
And bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”
(Proverbs 9:17)

Bread gained by deceit is sweet to a man,
But afterward his mouth will be filled with gravel.
(Proverbs 20:17)

3) He was unwilling to part with old companions. Hopeful was not only enticed by his flesh to remain in sin, he was encouraged by sinful companions. Scripture warns:

He who walks with wise men will be wise,
But the companion of fools will be destroyed.
(Proverbs 13:20)

Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.” Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame (1 Corinthians 15:33–34).

Hopeful’s friends approved and affirmed him in his sin. He prized their friendship as they legitimized his sin. He was not ready to walk away from destructive relationships.

4) He was troubled by conviction and afraid of his guilt. Hopeful felt the weight of condemnation for his sin and it terrified him. When he remembered his sin, he was filled with conflicting thoughts of dread and delight. Sin promised him pleasure, but he couldn’t bear the guilt it left behind. Sin assured him that he would be satisfied, but he ended up troubled by conviction. He was unwilling to turn from sin, and so to find relief, he tried to banish guilt and conviction from his mind.

Many in our day are experiencing such struggles of conscience. Though they sense a measure of sin’s horror, they are trapped by sin. They have sinned against others and feel the lingering guilt and condemnation. They have been sinned against and feel the hurt and shame that sin leaves in its wake. But instead of pursuing forgiveness and relief in the gospel, they try to drown out and smother their conscience with false hopes and more sin.

As we share the gospel with friends, family, and others with whom we have the opportunity to speak, Hopeful’s experience should give us cause for real hope. Sometimes the bonds of sin are hard to break. Sometimes truth dawns slowly in the heart. But initial resistance to God’s Word is not fatal. In time Hopeful did hear and believe the gospel. He did forsake his sin and his old life in Vanity Fair. He became a pilgrim—a follower of Christ—and set out with Christian for the Celestial City. We must keep praying for those still in bondage to sin that God would in time give them light and set them free. In the next post Hopeful explains to Christian how God continued to pursue him and lay the weight of conviction on his conscience.

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.

Faithful’s Defense

When this Pickthank had told his tale, the Judge directed his speech to the prisoner at the bar, saying, You runagate, heretic, and traitor, have you heard what these honest gentlemen have witnessed against you?

Faithful: May I speak a few words in my own defense?

Judge: Sirrah! sirrah! You deserve to live no longer, but to be slain immediately upon the place; yet, that all men may see our gentleness towards you, let us hear what you, vile runagate, have to say.

Faithful: 1. I say, then, in answer to what Mr. Envy hath spoken, I never said aught but this, That what rule, or laws, or customs, or people, were flat against the Word of God, are diametrically opposite to Christianity. If I have said amiss in this, convince me of my error, and I am ready here before you to make my recantation.

2. As to the second, to wit, Mr. Superstition, and his charge against me, I said only this, That in the worship of God there is required a Divine faith; but there can be no Divine faith without a Divine revelation of the will of God. Therefore, whatever is thrust into the worship of God that is not agreeable to Divine revelation, cannot be done but by a human faith, which faith will not be profitable to eternal life.

3. As to what Mr. Pickthank hath said, I say (avoiding terms, as that I am said to rail, and the like) that the prince of this town, with all the rabblement, his attendants, by this gentleman named, are more fit for a being in hell, than in this town and country: and so, the Lord have mercy upon me!

Faithful's DefenseAs soon as Envy, Superstition and Pickthank finish bringing their accusations against Faithful, the judge is ready to pronounce his sentence. Faithful’s guilt is assumed. Lord Hate-good speaks of the witnesses as “honest gentlemen” while derisively addressing Faithful as a “runagate, heretic, and traitor.” Yet Faithful makes a plea to speak in his own defense.

Faithful’s reply to his accusers points us to a core theme of The Pilgrim’s Progress: the centrality of God’s Word. Again and again throughout the allegory Bunyan takes us to the Bible. It is the book that Christian is reading at the beginning of the story that warns him of the coming judgment. Its promises are the “good and substantial steps” through the Slough of Despond. It is the Shining Light that shows the way to the Gate. It is the House of the Interpreter where Christian is shown “excellent things.” It is the “records of greatest antiquity” brought out for instruction at Palace Beautiful. And it is the Light of Day that helps Christian make his way to the end of the valley.

Now in Vanity Fair, the Word of God is Faithful’s strong defense. His three answers highlight the primacy of Scripture in life, worship and conscience:

I. We must judge our lives on the basis of God’s Word.

Envy is offended because the teachings of Faithful (and Christianity) are opposed to many of the customs and practices of the town. Faithful affirms that any “rule or laws or customs or people” that are contrary to God’s Word are in opposition to the Christian faith.

If we are to live and walk in ways that are pleasing to God, we can’t invent our own standards; we must look to His Word. It is the Bible that instructs us in righteousness:

“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).

Peter exhorts us to “heed” the Scriptures “as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19).

Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path.
(Psalm 119:105)

The entrance of Your words gives light;
It gives understanding to the simple.
(Psalm 119:130)

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
Yea, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
Moreover by them Your servant is warned,
And in keeping them there is great reward.
(Psalm 19:7–11)

God’s Word is most valuable and most profitable to us as we journey through this life. When the world entices us to believe or do something contrary to Scripture, we must listen to God (Acts 4:19). We must continue to speak the Word “with all boldness” (Acts 4:29).

II. We must judge our worship of God on the basis of His Word.

Superstition is offended because the teachings of Faithful (and Christianity) degrade his own religious practices and ideas of how God should be worshipped. Faithful affirms that our worship must come from divine faith that grows in the light of divine revelation. We come to God by grace through faith, which is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8). His Spirit enlivens and empowers us. And we come in accordance with God’s truth revealed to us in His Word. His Spirit illumines and teaches us.

If we are to worship God in Spirit and in Truth, we need the work of His Spirit and we must look to His Word for guidance and direction. We can’t invent our own ways and methods of approaching God. We must know the Scriptures and submit to the Scriptures as the Spirit brings understanding.

The London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 provides a good explanation of this. This confession was written by Particular Baptists in England in 1677, a year before Bunyan first published The Pilgrim’s Progress. It was officially adopted in 1689. The first chapter of the confession is about the Scriptures. It begins by saying that we must look to God’s Word to know how to be saved from sin and walk in a way pleasing to God. The opening sentence reads: “The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience.”

Chapter 22 speaks specifically on worship:

“The light of nature shows that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all; is just, good, and doth good unto all; and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart and all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures” (1689 London Baptist Confession, 22:1).

This is what has been called the Regulative Principle of worship. It simply means that our worship is to be regulated by the Word of God. The Bible must set the boundaries and define the way in which we are to seek God in worship.

III. We must submit our conscience to the Word of God.

Pickthank is offended because the teachings of Faithful (and Christianity) are an affront to fallen human nature. Faithful affirms that in our fallen nature we are at enmity against God.

Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:7–8).

By insisting on the authority of God’s Word, Faithful has exposed the terrible truth that the town of Vanity will not bear to hear. Outside of Christ we stand condemned before God, deserving of wrath and hell.

Though Faithful knows that the witnesses, the judge and the town itself all stand against him, he is firm in his conviction to stand on the Word of God. He won’t violate his conscience by disowning or disavowing the truth. He concludes with the prayer “the Lord have mercy upon me!” Faithful’s prayer is echoed in church history when Martin Luther, defending his own convictions on April 18, 1521 at the Diet of Worms, declared:

“Unless I am convinced by testimonies of the Scriptures or by clear arguments that I am in error—for popes and councils have often erred and contradicted themselves—I cannot withdraw, for I am subject to the Scriptures I have quoted; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. It is unsafe and dangerous to do anything against one’s conscience. Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise. So help me God.”

May God grant us the boldness and steadfastness of Faithful to hold true to His Word.

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.