Tag Archives: conviction

Hopeful’s Testimony Part 4 The Futility of Works

Christian: And how did you do then?

Hopeful: I thought I must endeavor to mend my life; for else, thought I, I am sure to be damned.

Christian: And did you endeavor to mend?

Hopeful: Yes; and fled from not only my sins, but sinful company too; and betook me to religious duties, as prayer, reading, weeping for sin, speaking truth to my neighbors, etc. These things did I, with many others, too much here to relate.

Christian: And did you think yourself well then?

Hopeful: Yes, for a while; but at the last, my trouble came tumbling upon me again, and that over the neck of all my reformations.

Christian: How came that about, since you were now reformed?

Hopeful: There were several things brought it upon me, especially such sayings as these: “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” “By the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” “When ye shall have done all those things, say, We are unprofitable,” with many more such like. From whence I began to reason with myself thus: If ALL my righteousnesses are filthy rags; if, by the deeds of the law, NO man can be justified; and if, when we have done ALL, we are yet unprofitable, then it is but a folly to think of heaven by the law. I further thought thus: If a man runs a hundred pounds into the shopkeeper’s debt, and after that shall pay for all that he shall fetch; yet, if this old debt stands still in the book uncrossed, for that the shopkeeper may sue him, and cast him into prison till he shall pay the debt.

Christian: Well, and how did you apply this to yourself?

Hopeful: Why; I thought thus with myself. I have, by my sins, run a great way into God’s book, and that my now reforming will not pay off that score; therefore I should think still, under all my present amendments, But how shall I be freed from that damnation that I have brought myself in danger of by my former transgressions?

Christian: A very good application: but, pray, go on.

Hopeful: Another thing that has troubled me, even since my late amendments, is, that if I look narrowly into the best of what I do now, I still see sin, new sin, mixing itself with the best of that I do; so that now I am forced to conclude, that notwithstanding my former fond conceits of myself and duties, I have committed sin enough in one duty to send me to hell, though my former life had been faultless.

Though Hopeful tried at first to suppress the conviction weighing upon his heart, he was unsuccessful. He tried not to think about the consequences of his sin, but he still felt guilty and condemned. He then thought of another way to ease his conscience. He feared judgment for all the wrongs he had done, and so he endeavored to mend his life by doing good. He tried forsaking sin. He abandoned sinful companions. He did things that he believed would commend him to God. He prayed, he read his Bible, he felt sorry for sin, he even witnessed to his neighbors—that the world might see he was reformed. But going through the motions of being right with God does not make one right with God. Any good feelings Hopeful gained by being religious were fleeting. Guilt and conviction continued to flood his soul and overwhelmed all his efforts to reform.

The truth began to dawn in Hopeful’s thinking as he pondered God’s Word. Scripture teaches the futility of works as a way to be right with God. As Hopeful remembered verses that he had read and heard, he realized two important truths.

  1. Even if he could live perfectly from this day forward, he could never repay his former debt of sin.Were he able to obey God’s commands and do all that was required of him, he would only be doing his duty.

So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, “We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do” (Luke 17:10).

He could not do more to make up for past sins. The burden was too great. This was Christian’s great distress when he set out from the City of Destruction. Hopeful came to understand what Christian learned earlier on his journey when Worldly Wiseman sent him to see Legality in the Village of Morality. As Christian neared the cliffs of the High Hill (the thundering of God’s Law on Mount Sinai) the mountain seemed threatening, his burden seemed heavier, and he could not go on. Later in the allegory Faithful learned the same lesson when he was struck down by Moses on Hill Difficulty. Both Christian and Faithful attempted to gain God’s favor by obeying God’s Law. And both learned the same truth: the law cannot save us. No one will ever attain heaven by keeping God’s Law. We cannot find relief from our guilt or acceptance with God through our own attempts at obedience. In our sin, the Law only condemns us. It provides no relief, no reprieve, no respite. Our only hope of forgiveness is God’s grace and mercy given to us in Christ Jesus.

knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified (Galatians 2:16).

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast (Ephesians 2:8–9).

We can never do enough good works to cancel out our debt of sin. We are wholly unable to repay God; we cannot gain righteousness by our own efforts and strength.

  1. Even if he could repay his former debt of sin, he would still be weighed down with the debt owed daily for new sins.Though he tried reforming his life, he discovered that sin remained in his heart. Each day new sins added to his guilt before God. His sins separated him from God. Sin is thoroughly evil and contrary to God and His nature. Ralph Venning offers an apt description of the “sinfulness of sin.”

God is holy, without spot or blemish, or any such thing, without any wrinkle, or anything like it, as they also that are in Christ shall one day be (Ephesians 5:27). He is so holy, that he cannot sin himself, nor be the cause or author of sin in another. He does not command sin to be committed, for to do so would be to cross his nature and will. Nor does he approve of any man’s sin, when it is committed, but hates it with a perfect hatred. He is without iniquity, and of purer eyes than to behold (i.e. approve) iniquity (Habakkuk 1:13).

On the contrary, as God is holy, all holy, only holy, altogether holy, and always holy, so sin is sinful, all sinful, only sinful, altogether sinful, and always sinful (Genesis 6:5). In my flesh, that is, in my sinful corrupt nature, there dwelleth no good thing (Romans 7:18). As in God there is no evil, so in sin there is no good. God is the chiefest of goods and sin is the chiefest of evils. As no good can be compared with God for goodness, so no evil can be compared with sin for evil.

[The Sinfulness of Sin, Ralph Venning, 1669]

Sin is pervasive and insidious. It is mixed in all we do. Impure motives, wrong opinions, misguided ideas—we all have them. Even our righteous acts have enough sin mixed in to send us to hell. Hopeful confesses: “I have committed sin enough in one duty to send me to hell, though my former life had been faultless.” Sin has so tainted our thoughts and actions, that even our best efforts and most noble thoughts are as “filthy rags.”

But we are all like an unclean thing,
And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags;
We all fade as a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind,
Have taken us away.
(Isaiah 64:6)

Not every sin causes equally dire consequences or requires the same sort of restitution.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation (Matthew 23:14).

But every sin is grievous and damnable, because it is ultimately committed against our perfect and holy Creator.

How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God? (Genesis 39:9b)

For I acknowledge my transgressions,
And my sin is always before me.
Against You, You only, have I sinned,
And done this evil in Your sight—
That You may be found just when You speak,
And blameless when You judge.
(Psalm 51:3–4)

Jonathan Edwards rightly concludes:

Any sin is more or less heinous depending upon the honor and majesty of the one whom we had offended. Since God is of infinite honor, infinite majesty, and infinite holiness, the slightest sin is of infinite consequence. The slightest sin is nothing less than cosmic treason when we realize against whom we have sinned.

[The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners, Jonathan Edwards, 1734]

R.C. Sproul further explains Edwards’ conclusion:

“Sin is cosmic treason. Sin is treason against a perfectly pure Sovereign. It is an act of supreme ingratitude toward the One to whom we owe everything, to the One who has given us life itself. Have you ever considered the deeper implications of the slightest sin, of the most minute peccadillo? What are we saying to our Creator when we disobey Him at the slightest point? We are saying no to the righteousness of God. We are saying, “God, Your law is not good. My judgement is better than Yours. Your authority does not apply to me. I am above and beyond Your jurisdiction. I have the right to do what I want to do, not what You command me to do.”

[The Holiness of God, R.C. Sproul1985]

Hopeful understands the dire consequences of his sin. And he realizes the futility of his own works to atone for his sin. He cannot earn his own righteousness or attain God’s favor through his own efforts. He needs to look to the work of another. He needs a righteousness not his own. In the next post we will hear how Hopeful learned of the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ.

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 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.