Tag Archives: coveting

Remember Lot’s Wife

Now I saw that, just on the other side of this plain, the pilgrims came to a place where stood an old monument, hard by the highway side, at the sight of which they were both concerned, because of the strangeness of the form thereof; for it seemed to them as if it had been a woman transformed into the shape of a pillar; here, therefore they stood looking, and looking upon it, but could not for a time tell what they should make thereof. At last Hopeful espied written above the head thereof, a writing in an unusual hand; but he being no scholar, called to Christian (for he was learned) to see if he could pick out the meaning; so he came, and after a little laying of letters together, he found the same to be this, “Remember Lot’s Wife.” So he read it to his fellow; after which they both concluded that that was the pillar of salt into which Lot’s wife was turned, for her looking back with a covetous heart, when she was going from Sodom for safety. Which sudden and amazing sight gave them occasion of this discourse.

Christian: Ah, my brother! This is a seasonable sight; it came opportunely to us after the invitation which Demas gave us to come over to view the Hill Lucre; and had we gone over, as he desired us, and as you were inclining to do, my brother, we had, for aught I know, been made ourselves like this woman, a spectacle for those that shall come after to behold.

Hopeful: I am sorry that I was so foolish, and am made to wonder that I am not now as Lot’s wife; for wherein was the difference between her sin and mine? She only looked back; and I had a desire to go see. Let grace be adored, and let me be ashamed that ever such a thing should be in mine heart.

Christian: Let us take notice of what we see here, for our help for time to come. This woman escaped one judgment, for she fell not by the destruction of Sodom; yet she was destroyed by another, as we see she is turned into a pillar of salt.

Hopeful: True; and she may be to us both caution and example; caution, that we should shun her sin; or a sign of what judgment will overtake such as shall not be prevented by this caution. So Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, with the two hundred and fifty men that perished in their sin, did also become a sign or example to others to beware. But above all, I muse at one thing, to wit, how Demas and his fellows can stand so confidently yonder to look for that treasure, which this woman, but for looking behind her after, (for we read not that she stepped one foot out of the way) was turned into a pillar of salt; especially since the judgment which overtook her did make her an example, within sight of where they are; for they cannot choose but see her, did they but lift up their eyes.

Christian: It is a thing to be wondered at, and it argues that their hearts are grown desperate in the case; and I cannot tell who to compare them to so fitly, as to them that pick pockets in the presence of the judge, or that will cut purses under the gallows. It is said of the men of Sodom, that they were sinners exceedingly, because they were sinners before the Lord, that is, in his eyesight, and notwithstanding the kindnesses that he had showed them; for the land of Sodom was now like the garden of Eden heretofore. This, therefore, provoked Him the more to jealousy, and made their plague as hot as the fire of the Lord out of heaven could make it. And it is most rationally to be concluded, that such, even such as these are, that shall sin in the sight, yea, and that too in despite of such examples that are set continually before them, to caution them to the contrary, must be partakers of severest judgments.

Hopeful: Doubtless you have said the truth; but what a mercy is it, that neither you, but especially I, am not made myself this example! This ministers occasion to us to thank God, to fear before Him, and always to remember Lot’s wife.

Pillar of SaltNo sooner had Christian and Hopeful crossed the Plain of Ease and made it past Demas and the Silver Mine than they encounter a strange sight near the Way. The pilgrims see an old monument that appears to be “a woman transformed into the shape of a pillar.” The monument is placed “hard by the highway side” (right next to the path so it can’t be missed). At first they are puzzled and not sure of its meaning. Finally, Hopeful sees an inscription that unravels the mystery. The monument is a warning from the pages of Scripture where God brought judgment on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. God sent angels to warn Lot and his family to flee the city lest they be destroyed, telling them:

“Escape for your life! Do not look behind you nor stay anywhere in the plain. Escape to the mountains, lest you be destroyed” (Genesis 19:17).

Then God sent the promised judgment:

Then the Lord rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the Lord out of the heavens. So He overthrew those cities, all the plain, all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. But his wife looked back behind him, and she became a pillar of salt. And Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the Lord. Then he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the plain; and he saw, and behold, the smoke of the land which went up like the smoke of a furnace. And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in which Lot had dwelt (Genesis 19:24–29).

While fleeing Sodom and Gomorrah with her husband, Lot’s wife ignored the angel’s warning, looked back, and “became a pillar of salt.” The sight of the pillar of salt near the Way gives Christian and Hopeful pause. In their solemn discourse, Bunyan teaches us three important lessons:

1. We are saved by God’s grace alone, not by our own wits or cunning.

Christian regards the monument as a “seasonable sight.” He tells Hopeful, “Let us take notice of what we see here, for our help for time to come.” He recognizes the value and providential timing in finding the pillar on their journey. It is meant to teach them and alert them to be cautious. Had they listened to the words of Demas and stopped to look in his mine, as Hopeful was inclined to do, they might have fallen into the snare of sin. Hopeful is humbled and confesses his foolishness. He knows he strayed in his heart and is deserving of judgment. He sees his sin as far worse: Lot’s wife “only looked back,” but he “had a desire to go see.” It is only by God’s grace that he did not fall into the same condemnation. It is God, not us, who saves us and keeps us. Left to ourselves, we would stumble and fall. He alone is worthy of praise!

For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? (1 Corinthians 4:7).

2. We must heed God’s warnings and take His judgment against sin seriously.

Although temptations to walk in the ways of the world are often close by, especially when we walk through times of ease, God’s warnings are also close at hand. We see these warnings set forth clearly in God’s Word and manifest starkly in the consequences of sin and the insatiable emptiness that sin leaves in its wake. Sin ultimately leads to misery and condemnation. We can be grateful that God doesn’t judge every sin with a timely display of His wrath. If He did, we would all be consumed.

The Lord is merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.
(Psalm 103:8).

BUT

He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
(Psalm 103:9)

And so we must heed His warnings and flee to Him for mercy and grace. Hopeful mentions another account later in the Old Testament where God displayed His wrath as “a sign” or warning to His people.

The sons of Eliab were Nemuel, Dathan, and Abiram. These are the Dathan and Abiram, representatives of the congregation, who contended against Moses and Aaron in the company of Korah, when they contended against the Lord; and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up together with Korah when that company died, when the fire devoured two hundred and fifty men; and they became a sign (Numbers 26:9–10).

All of God’s judgments— on Sodom and Gomorrah, on the Sons of Korah, on Lot’s wife—are warnings to us to take the wrath of God seriously. Every display of God’s wrath is a call to us to turn away from sin, and come to Christ for mercy, forgiveness, wisdom and righteousness.

The warnings are clear, placed along our path so we cannot avoid seeing them. Yet too often we ignore or discount them. The pillar stands within sight of the mine. The consequences of sin stare us in the face. Yet even with God’s warnings so close at hand, we wander off the path to trifle with sin. God’s blessings are equally clear. He sustains us—He gives us every breath. His gracious provisions are all around us. Yet even in the midst of blessing, we ignore God’s kindness and go our own way.

The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were richly blessed of God. Their beauty was comparable to the garden of Eden. Yet their citizens did not honor God and rebelled against Him.

And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere (before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar. Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan, and Lot journeyed east. And they separated from each other. Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain and pitched his tent even as far as Sodom. But the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the Lord (Genesis 13:10–13).

Blatant sin in midst of God’s abundant provision and kindness is nothing less than “exceedingly wicked and sinful against the Lord.” To ignore His warnings and live as if there were no coming judgment is utter folly (Psalm 14:1, 53:1). God’s sovereign rule over His creation is evident and obvious if we would but acknowledge it. There will be no valid excuses on the Day of Judgment from the ungodly who refuse to turn from their sin and flee to Christ.

3. We must guard our hearts and not assume that because we are fleeing the consequences of sin, we are safely beyond the reach of sin.

Christian and Hopeful made it past the silver mine. They would not stray from the path even a step.  They escaped the fate that came upon By-ends and his friends. But the pillar is a warning that they must stay vigilant and guard their hearts. Lot’s wife was being rescued; she was on a right path, hastened to leave a city prepared for destruction. But she longingly looked back. She treasured what was behind her. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Her heart remained in Sodom and so she was judged as a citizen of Sodom.

We must guard our hearts in the battle against temptation. It is possible to turn out of the Way with a glance, not just a step. Lot’s wife came under God’s judgment even in the midst of escaping God’s judgment. Though her feet carried her away from destruction, her heart plunged her into the Pit. She had the same covetous heart that Israel would later display when God brought them out of their bondage in Egypt. Israel was on the way to the Promised Land, yet their hearts were addicted to slavery, and they looked back with longing.

Now the mixed multitude who were among them yielded to intense craving; so the children of Israel also wept again and said: “Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!” (Numbers 11:4–6).

The message inscribed above the pillar reads: “Remember Lot’s Wife.” It is a message for us today. The inscription comes from Jesus’ words in Luke 17:

Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed. In that day, he who is on the housetop, and his goods are in the house, let him not come down to take them away. And likewise the one who is in the field, let him not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it (Luke 17:28–33).

You can turn away from God in your heart and rebel against Him in your thoughts without ever taking an obvious step. There are many in churches today who appear to be on the right path fleeing Destruction. They seek to escape the consequences of sin—its misery and condemnation, but they are looking back, longing for what they left. We must flee sin at all cost. We must flee sin in our hearts and with our eyes and ears, as well as with our hands and feet. We must not assume that because we are fleeing the consequences of sin, we are safely beyond the reach of sin. Scripture admonishes us:

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).

Let us run from sin with no looking back. And, as Hopeful instructs, let us thank God, fear Him, and always remember Lot’s wife.

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.

Religion and Worldly Gain

So they came up to each other, and after a short salutation, Mr. Hold-the-world propounded the question to Christian and his fellow, and bid them to answer it if they could.

Then said Christian, Even a babe in religion may answer ten thousand such questions. For if it be unlawful to follow Christ for loaves, (as it is in the sixth of John), how much more abominable is it to make of him and religion a stalking-horse to get and enjoy the world! Nor do we find any other than heathens, hypocrites, devils, and witches, that are of this opinion.

1. Heathens; for when Hamor and Shechem had a mind to the daughter and cattle of Jacob, and saw that there was no way for them to come at them, but by becoming circumcised, they say to their companions, If every male of us be circumcised, as they are circumcised, shall not their cattle, and their substance, and every beast of theirs, be ours? Their daughter and their cattle were that which they sought to obtain, and their religion the stalking-horse they made use of to come at them. Read the whole story.

2. The hypocritical Pharisees were also of this religion; long prayers were their pretense, but to get widows’ houses was their intent; and greater damnation was from God their judgment.

3. Judas the devil was also of this religion; he was religious for the bag, that he might be possessed of what was therein; but he was lost, cast away, and the very son of perdition.

4. Simon the witch was of this religion too; for he would have had the Holy Ghost, that he might have got money therewith; and his sentence from Peter’s mouth was according.

5. Neither will it out of my mind, but that that man that takes up religion for the world, will throw away religion for the world; for so surely as Judas resigned the world in becoming religious, so surely did he also sell religion and his Master for the same. To answer the question, therefore, affirmatively, as I perceive you have done, and to accept of, as authentic, such answer, is both heathenish, hypocritical, and devilish; and your reward will be according to your works.

Then they stood staring one upon another, but had not wherewith to answer Christian. Hopeful also approved of the soundness of Christian’s answer; so there was a great silence among them. Mr. By-ends and his company also staggered and kept behind, that Christian and Hopeful might outgo them. Then said Christian to his fellow, If these men cannot stand before the sentence of men, what will they do with the sentence of God? And if they are mute when dealt with by vessels of clay, what will they do when they shall be rebuked by the flames of a devouring fire?

Answering By-ends

In the previous post, By-ends and his companions propounded the question: Is it right for a minister or a tradesman to use religion in the pursuit of personal gain? They confidently answered in the affirmative and collectively admired their reasoning. Now they attempt to impress Christian and Hopeful and are gleefully awaiting the moment when they can watch the two pilgrims falter and fall silent.

Christian, however is not swayed or silenced. He easily sees through the superficiality of their answer. Our need in this life is not for worldly wealth or success. Jesus did not come to improve our status or increase our possessions in this life. We need forgiveness, righteousness, and new life—gifts that are afforded to us only in Christ. Jesus is King of kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:16); He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last (Revelation 22:13). To follow Him for the mere trifles of this world is indeed a tragedy of eternal consequence.

While Money-Love framed his answer to By-ends’ question according to his own logic and for his own advantage, Christian draws out his answer from Scripture. He first points to John 6 where Jesus rebukes the crowd for following Him, not because they believed Him to be the Messiah sent from God, but because He fed them with loaves and fishes.

Jesus answered them and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him” (John 6:26–27).

Jesus continues in John 6 to explain that He is the true “bread of life.” The fullness and satisfaction He offers is far greater than what the crowds were seeking or expecting. He can truly satisfy the hunger and thirst of our souls. He alone can give us life that is everlasting (John 6:28–40).

Christian continues to make his point by providing four examples from Scripture of men who used religion for personal gain: heathens (those outside a covenant relationship with God), hypocrites, devils, and witches (sorcerers).

Heathens—Hamor and Shechem were willing to be circumcised along with their countrymen in order to gain wives, property, and livestock from Israel.

And Hamor and Shechem his son came to the gate of their city, and spoke with the men of their city, saying: “These men are at peace with us. Therefore let them dwell in the land and trade in it. For indeed the land is large enough for them. Let us take their daughters to us as wives, and let us give them our daughters. Only on this condition will the men consent to dwell with us, to be one people: if every male among us is circumcised as they are circumcised. Will not their livestock, their property, and every animal of theirs be ours? Only let us consent to them, and they will dwell with us.” And all who went out of the gate of his city heeded Hamor and Shechem his son; every male was circumcised, all who went out of the gate of his city (Genesis 34:20–23).

Hypocrites—The Pharisees used religion to increase their status and swindle money and property from unsuspecting widows.

Then, in the hearing of all the people, He said to His disciples, “Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation” (Luke 20:45–47).

Devils—Judas was willing to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.

Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?” He spoke of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, for it was he who would betray Him, being one of the twelve (John 6:70–71).

Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?” And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver. So from that time he sought opportunity to betray Him (Matthew 26:14–16).

Witches (Sorcerers)—Simon thought he could purchase the power of God to heal with money.

And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity” (Acts 8:18–23).

Through Christian’s answer, Bunyan once again highlights the value and prominence of God’s Word. William Mason observes in his commentary on The Pilgrim’s Progress:

Here see the blessedness of being mighty in the Scripture, and the need of that exhortation, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16). For the Word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than a two-edged sword; it pierces through all the subtle devices of Satan, and the cunning craftiness of carnal professors; and divideth asunder the carnal reasonings of the flesh, and the spiritual wisdom which cometh from above.

By-ends and his friends are stunned by Christian’s response. They had sought to silence Christian and Hopeful with their argument, but in the end, it is they who are speechless. Christian warns that they will face a far greater rebuke in the coming judgement. Christian and Hopeful are mere men, wielding God’s Word and standing for truth; but God, who is “the Judge of all” (Hebrews 12:23), “is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29; Deuteronomy 4:24).

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.

By-ends Asks a Question

By-ends: My brothers, we are, as you see, going all on pilgrimage; and, for our better diversion from things that are bad, give me leave to propound unto you this question:

Suppose a man, a minister, or a tradesman, etc., should have an advantage lie before him, to get the good blessings of this life, yet so as that he can by no means come by them except, in appearance at least, he becomes extraordinarily zealous in some points of religion that he meddled not with before, may he not use these means to attain his end, and yet be a right honest man?

Money-Love: I see the bottom of your question; and, with these gentlemen’s good leave, I will endeavor to shape you an answer. And first, to speak to your question as it concerns a minister himself: Suppose a minister, a worthy man, possessed but of a very small benefice, and has in his eye a greater, more fat, and plump by far; he has also now an opportunity of getting of it, yet so as by being more studious, by preaching more frequently and zealously, and, because the temper of the people requires it, by altering of some of his principles; for my part, I see no reason but a man may do this, (provided he has a call), aye, and more a great deal besides, and yet be an honest man. For why—

  1. His desire of a greater benefice is lawful, (this cannot be contradicted), since it is set before him by Providence; so then, he may get it, if he can, making no question for conscience’ sake.
  2. Besides, his desire after that benefice makes him more studious, a more zealous preacher, etc., and so makes him a better man; yea, makes him better improve his parts, which is according to the mind of God.
  3. Now, as for his complying with the temper of his people, by dissenting, to serve them, some of his principles, this argues: (1) That he is of a self-denying, temper; (2) Of a sweet and winning deportment; and so (3) more fit for the ministerial function.
  4. I conclude, then, that a minister that changes a small for a great, should not, for so doing, be judged as covetous; but rather, since he has improved in his parts and industry thereby, be counted as one that pursues his call, and the opportunity put into his hands to do good.

And now to the second part of the question, which concerns the tradesman you mentioned. Suppose such a one to have but a poor employ in the world, but by becoming religious, he may mend his market, perhaps get a rich wife, or more and far better customers to his shop; for my part, I see no reason but that this may be lawfully done. For why—

  1. To become religious is a virtue, by what means soever a man becomes so.
  2. Nor is it unlawful to get a rich wife, or more custom to my shop.
  3. Besides, the man that gets these by becoming religious, gets that which is good, of them that are good, by becoming good himself; so then here is a good wife, and good customers, and good gain, and all these by becoming religious, which is good; therefore, to become religious, to get all these, is a good and profitable design.

This answer, thus made by this Mr. Money-love to Mr. By-ends’ question, was highly applauded by them all; wherefore they concluded upon the whole, that it was most wholesome and advantageous. And because, as they thought, no man was able to contradict it, and because Christian and Hopeful were yet within call, they jointly agreed to assault them with the question as soon as they overtook them; and the rather because they had opposed Mr. By-ends before. So they called after them, and they stopped, and stood still till they came up to them; but they concluded, as they went, that not Mr. By-ends, but old Mr. Hold-the-world, should propound the question to them, because, as they supposed, their answer to him would be without the remainder of that heat that was kindled between Mr. By-ends and them, at their parting a little before.

Money-love's Lesson

One of the great dangers of sin and folly is their ability to appear reasonable and right. Sin is a form of insanity that twists our thinking, deceiving and distorting truth, until actions and attitudes obviously contrary to God’s Word seem perfectly sound and sensible. Selfishness, greed, pretense, deception—these can all emerge in our minds as virtuous as we craftily excuse them and justify our need to indulge in them.

Bunyan offers a penetrating look at our propensity to rationalize sin as he unfolds the hypocrisy of By-ends and his friends. As By-ends affirms, they are all convinced that they are pilgrims. They claim to be seeking Christ’s kingdom, but their true aim is personal gain. They think they can have both a zeal for Christ and the riches of this world. And they think they can legitimately employ the former to gain the later.

To make his point By-ends puts forth a question. Is it right for a minister or a tradesman to use religion in the pursuit of personal gain?

Money-love elaborates the question, beginning with the minister: Suppose a minister has an opportunity to move to a larger church that can pay him more. To gain the position he will be expected to study more, preach more, and be more animated and engaging in his preaching. However, to be successful in this new ministry, he will need to avoid certain topics and adjust his stance on particular matters so as not to offend or upset members of the congregation. Is it right for him to make such a move?

Money-love quickly says yes. He sees no problem with the minister modifying his religion in order to pursue the higher paying position. He reasons:

  1. It is not sinful to desire more pay and, since the opportunity has come his way, it must be in the providence of God for him to pursue it.
  2. More study and more opportunities to preach will certainly make him a better preacher.
  3. His acquiescing to the sensibilities of the congregation is not wrong—in fact, it demonstrates deference and self-denial, affirming that he has such qualities that will allow him to excel in ministry.
  4. Moving from a small church to a large church is evidence of success, improvement and advancement and should not in any way be judged as covetous.

Money-love then expounds the question of the tradesman: Suppose a tradesman, who is not doing well in his business, has an opportunity to expand his market, tap into a larger customer base, and perhaps even find a wealthy woman to be his wife. All he needs to do is to join a local church, thereby gaining the confidence and trust of its large congregation. Is it right for him to join the church and become an active, zealous church member?

Money-love again sees no problem and he affirms the tradesman’s scheme. He reasons:

  1. It is always good and beneficial to go to church and engage in religion. Being religious is a virtue regardless of the motivation.
  2. It is not sinful for a man to convince a rich woman to be his wife, or convince potential customers to do business at his store—in fact, it demonstrates the he is motivated and hard-working.
  3. Since being religious is good, and getting a wife is good, and growing your business is good—getting a wife and growing your business by being religious must certainly be good. Such an endeavor is a “good and profitable design.”

Money-love’s answers are affirmed by all. By-ends has proved his point. In the company of Christian and Hopeful, he was rebuked and offended. But now he has found companions that answer to his liking. Foolishness thrives best in the company of fools and so they fail to see their own faulty reasoning. Rather than their hypocrisy being exposed, it is applauded and admired.

By-ends and his friends now devise a plan. They are so convinced in their own minds of the soundness of their reasoning, that they believe no one can refute them. Christian and Hopeful had earlier shamed By-ends when he was alone. Now they will catch up to the pilgrims and confront them as a group, with Hold-the-world acting as spokesman. And this time it will be Christian who will falter and be silenced. In the next post we will hear Christian’s response to By-ends and his friends.

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.

The Companions of By-ends

Now I saw in my dream that Christian and Hopeful forsook him, and kept their distance before him; but one of them looking back, saw three men following Mr. By-ends, and behold, as they came up with him, he made them a very low conge; and they also gave him a compliment. The men’s names were Mr. Hold-the-world, Mr. Money-love, and Mr. Save-all; men that Mr. By-ends had formerly been acquainted with; for in their minority they were schoolfellows, and were taught by one Mr. Gripe-man, a schoolmaster in Love-gain, which is a market town in the county of Coveting, in the north. This schoolmaster taught them the art of getting, either by violence, cozenage, flattery, lying, or by putting on the guise of religion; and these four gentlemen had attained much of the art of their master, so that they could each of them have kept such a school themselves.

Well, when they had, as I said, thus saluted each other, Mr. Money-love said to Mr. By-ends, Who are they upon the road before us? (for Christian and Hopeful were yet within view).

By-ends: They are a couple of far countrymen, that, after their mode, are going on pilgrimage.

Money-Love: Alas! Why did they not stay, that we might have had their good company? for they, and we, and you, Sir, I hope, are all going on pilgrimage.

By-ends: We are so, indeed; but the men before us are so rigid, and love so much their own notions, and do also so lightly esteem the opinions of others, that let a man be never so godly, yet if he jumps not with them in all things, they thrust him quite out of their company.

Save-All: That is bad, but we read of some that are righteous overmuch; and such men’s rigidness prevails with them to judge and condemn all but themselves. But, I pray, what, and how many, were the things wherein you differed?

By-ends: Why, they, after their headstrong manner, conclude that it is duty to rush on their journey all weathers; and I am for waiting for wind and tide. They are for hazarding all for God at a clap; and I am for taking all advantages to secure my life and estate. They are for holding their notions, though all other men are against them; but I am for religion in what, and so far as the times, and my safety, will bear it. They are for religion when in rags and contempt; but I am for him when he walks in his golden slippers, in the sunshine, and with applause.

Hold-the-World: Ay, and hold you there still, good Mr. By-ends; for, for my part, I can count him but a fool, that, having the liberty to keep what he has, shall be so unwise as to lose it. Let us be wise as serpents; it is best to make hay when the sun shines; you see how the bee lieth still all winter, and bestirs her only when she can have profit with pleasure. God sends sometimes rain, and sometimes sunshine; if they be such fools to go through the first, yet let us be content to take fair weather along with us. For my part, I like that religion best that will stand with the security of God’s good blessings unto us; for who can imagine, that is ruled by his reason, since God has bestowed upon us the good things of this life, but that he would have us keep them for his sake? Abraham and Solomon grew rich in religion. And Job says, that a good man shall lay up gold as dust. But he must not be such as the men before us, if they be as you have described them.

Save-All: I think that we are all agreed in this matter, and therefore there needs no more words about it.

Money-Love: No, there needs no more words about this matter, indeed; for he that believes neither Scripture nor reason (and you see we have both on our side) neither knows his own liberty, nor seeks his own safety.

The Companions of By-endsIn the last post, Christian and Hopeful met a traveler named By-ends. By-ends claimed to be a fellow pilgrim, but his religion proved to be a pretense. Though he was walking on the pathway claiming to follow Christ, he was in fact following his own heart in pursuit of personal gain. Life in Christ was not his aim or reward, rather, it was a means to another end, a way to attain a more advantageous position in this life.

By-ends is certainly a regular church attender in our day, especially in communities where the church is looked on favorably and where the cost of identifying with Christ is low. But the emphasis given to By-ends in The Pilgrim’s Progress indicates that he must have been active in Bunyan’s day as well. Though Christian and Hopeful leave By-ends behind, Bunyan keeps the focus of the story on him and gives us more insight into his character. The falseness of By-ends’ faith is evident especially in: 1) his choice of companions, 2) his opinion of Christian and Hopeful, and 3) his view of religion.

By-ends Choice of Companions

Not long after Christian and Hopeful’s departure, three other travelers catch up to By-ends. They are all former acquaintances and By-ends readily welcomes them as his preferred companions. They greet him with a respectful bow and a compliment. Their names reveal a like-mindedness to By-ends’ way of thinking: Mr. Hold-the-world, Mr. Money-love, and Mr. Save-all. They all grew up together in the town of Love-gain in the country of Coveting. Their school teacher was Mr. Gripeman. Bunyan here uses an archaic definition of gripe meaning “to clutch or grasp or seize.” Mr. Gripeman’s students learned “the art of getting”—how to accrue possessions, power, pleasure and profit by any means necessary: violence, cozenage (deception), flattery, lying, or even by putting on the guise of religion. Though they prefer the treasures of this world to heavenly treasure, they all regularly attend church. They value the church, not as a place of humble worship and sacrificial service, but as a useful place to make connections, explore prospects, and gain people’s trust. They have learned well how to manipulate religion to their advantage in their pursuit of personal gain.

By-ends’ Opinion of Christian and Hopeful

Though By-ends considers himself to be a pilgrim, he distances himself from Christian and Hopeful. He describes them to his current companions as “far countrymen” not near neighbors or relations. His complaints against them are numerous: He does not count them as brothers, but feels slighted that they would not affirm his “reasonable” way of thinking. He thinks them to be rash and radical; they have their own “mode” of going on a pilgrimage. They are rigid and in love with their own notions. They lightly esteem the opinions of others. They won’t accept the company of any who do not act and think as they do. They are self-righteous in their condemnation of others. By-ends’ friends all agree with his assessment. They conclude that Christian and Hopeful have no regard for their own safety, have cast off their liberty, and are indeed unreasonable and even unbiblical.

By-ends’ View of Religion

It is clear from the testimony of By-ends and his companions that they believe themselves to be on a pilgrimage. Their faith is false. Their souls are in great peril. They are in love with the world, enamored by its mirage of prosperity and imprisoned by its fleeting comforts. Yet they believe all is well. Their guise of religion has fooled even themselves.

Though By-ends regards Christian and Hopeful as radical and unreasonable, he believes himself to be sensible and balanced. He will not journey in all weathers (willing to press on in faith even when the storms of life come), but waits for wind and tide (favorable conditions and comfortable circumstances). He will not hazard all for God “at a clap” (when tragedy or an adverse circumstance strikes), but takes every advantage to secure own his life and estate. He will not stand for truth when it is opposed, but seeks first for his own welfare and safety. He will not hold religion while in rags or contempt, but only when it “walks in his golden slippers, in the sunshine, and with applause.”

By-ends is enthusiastic in justifying and rationalizing his views. He does so by:

  • Complaining about and degrading Christian and Hopeful
  • Offering his own ideas as the voice of reason
  • Seeking the support and encouragement of friends who think the same way as he does

Hold-the-world affirm his views. He does so by:

  • Appealing to nature and common sense—He draws analogies from serpents and bees, sunshine and rain, winter and harvest.
  • Appealing even to Scripture and biblical illustration—He refers (though out of context) to Abraham, Solomon and Job.

By-ends and his companions are convinced that they are right and that Christian and Hopeful are harsh and unloving for not accepting them on their own terms. They desire to hold to the world, love money and save all for themselves. But the Bible clearly contradicts them. We cannot follow Christ and hold to the world.

Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (James 4:4).

We cannot love money and serve God as well.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows (1 Timothy 6:10).

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (Matthew 6:24).

And we cannot save all for ourselves and value our own life above all.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Matthew 16:24–26).

The faith of By-ends and his friends is not confirmed by Scripture. Their love is not ultimately for Christ, but for themselves. Their religion is self-seeking and not God-honoring. In the next post By-ends and his friends defend their reasoning for using religion as a means to acquire personal gain.

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.