Tag Archives: death

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 River of Death

Now, I further saw, that between them and the gate was a river, but there was no bridge to go over: the river was very deep. At the sight, therefore, of this river, the Pilgrims were much stunned; but the men that went in with them said, You must go through, or you cannot come at the gate.

The Pilgrims then began to inquire if there was no other way to the gate; to which they answered, Yes; but there hath not any, save two, to wit, Enoch and Elijah, been permitted to tread that path since the foundation of the world, nor shall, until the last trumpet shall sound. The Pilgrims then, especially Christian, began to despond in their minds, and looked this way and that, but no way could be found by them by which they might escape the river. Then they asked the men if the waters were all of a depth. They said: No; yet they could not help them in that case; for, said they, you shall find it deeper or shallower as you believe in the King of the place.

They then addressed themselves to the water and, entering, Christian began to sink, and crying out to his good friend Hopeful, he said, I sink in deep waters; the billows go over my head, all his waves go over me! Selah.

Then said the other, Be of good cheer, my brother, I feel the bottom, and it is good. Then said Christian, Ah! my friend, the sorrows of death have compassed me about; I shall not see the land that flows with milk and honey; and with that a great darkness and horror fell upon Christian, so that he could not see before him. Also here he in great measure lost his senses, so that he could neither remember nor orderly talk of any of those sweet refreshments that he had met with in the way of his pilgrimage. But all the words that he spoke still tended to discover that he had horror of mind, and heart fears that he should die in that river, and never obtain entrance in at the gate. Here also, as they that stood by perceived, he was much in the troublesome thoughts of the sins that he had committed, both since and before he began to be a pilgrim. It was also observed that he was troubled with apparitions of hobgoblins and evil spirits, for ever and anon he would intimate so much by words. Hopeful, therefore, here had much ado to keep his brother’s head above water; yea, sometimes he would be quite gone down, and then, ere a while, he would rise up again half dead. Hopeful also would endeavor to comfort him, saying, Brother, I see the gate, and men standing by to receive us: but Christian would answer, It is you, it is you they wait for; you have been Hopeful ever since I knew you. And so have you, said he to Christian. Ah! brother! said he, surely if I was right he would now arise to help me; but for my sins he has brought me into the snare, and has left me. Then said Hopeful, My brother, you have quite forgot the text, where it is said of the wicked, “There are no bands in their death, but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men, neither are they plagued like other men. These troubles and distresses that you go through in these waters are no sign that God hath forsaken you; but are sent to try you, whether you will call to mind that which heretofore you have received of his goodness, and live upon him in your distresses.

Christian and Hopeful Crossing the RiverChristian and Hopeful are now nearing the end of their journey. They are within sight of the Celestial City, but one great barrier separates them from the Gate. They face a deep and foreboding river. The River represents death—the “last enemy” —and the pilgrims must cross it before they can gain entrance into the city.

“The last enemy that will be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26).

The river appears daunting and formidable. Christian and Hopeful are both stunned. They begin to despond when they see no way around it and no bridge to cross it; there is no way to escape death. When they ask if there is any other way to the Gate, they are told, “Yes”! But Scripture speaks of only two who did not die but were translated to glory: Enoch and Elijah.

So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him (Genesis 5:23–24).

By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, “and was not found, because God had taken him”; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God (Hebrews 11:5).

Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven (2 Kings 2:11).

Apart from these two, only those who are alive at Christ’s second coming will not taste death:

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

The pilgrims now realize that death is unavoidable. As they prepare to enter the water, they are encouraged and accompanied by the Shining Ones. Throughout the allegory the Shining Ones represent God’s work of grace in heart. In the country of Beulah these servants of the King walk and minister openly. They are sent to guide pilgrims in the final steps of the journey. The Shining Ones inform the pilgrims that the river will be shallow or deep depending on their faith. As the pilgrims enter the River, we see indeed that they experience death differently.

Christian is in great turmoil. His pride has long been his greatest obstacle, and even in death, his thoughts are of himself. He remembers his sins and ponders his failings. He begins to sink and cry out in distress. His words are taken from the laments of David:

Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls;
All Your waves and billows have gone over me.
(Psalm 42:7)

Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire,
Where there is no standing;
I have come into deep waters,
Where the floods overflow me.
(Psalm 69:1–2)

Deliver me out of the mire,
And let me not sink;
Let me be delivered from those who hate me,
And out of the deep waters.
Let not the floodwater overflow me,
Nor let the deep swallow me up;
And let not the pit shut its mouth on me.
(Psalm 69:14–15)

When the waves of death surrounded me,
The floods of ungodliness made me afraid.
The sorrows of Sheol surrounded me;
The snares of death confronted me.
(2 Samuel 22:5–6)

The pains of death surrounded me,
And the pangs of Sheol laid hold of me;
I found trouble and sorrow.
(Psalm 116:3)

For Christian, death is a great trial. Doubts that he believed were long past, flood his soul again.  Fears engulf him—fears he will never make it to the Celestial City. The foes he faced earlier in the Valley of the Shadow of Death (that had all but vanished in the country of Beulah) now return and seek to pull him under.

But Hopeful is full of hope. He finds the river much shallower and, unlike Christian, walks across with firm footing. He keeps his head above the waves and sees the Gate when Christian is unable. Once again, it is God’s kindness that Christian and Hopeful walk together. Hopeful’s thoughts are of Christ. Even in death, Hopeful encourages his brother and points him to the Savior and to the promise of eternal life. Hopeful reminds Christian of Scripture and tells him that even the trial he is facing in death is an indication of God’s grace at work. Unlike the wicked who will be cast away, Christian is concerned for his soul, distressed by his doubts, and troubled by his sin.

But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled;
My steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the boastful,
When I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
For there are no pangs in their death,
But their strength is firm.
They are not in trouble as other men,
Nor are they plagued like other men.
(Psalm 73:2–5)

It is a mark of grace that Christian is not in anguish over the loss of this world. Rather, he grieves his lack of faith and holiness.

Every true pilgrim who sets out for the Celestial City will complete the journey. God will do everything necessary to bring us home to glory.

being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6).

But our awareness of His grace as we near the end of life and experience death will be strengthened or weakened by our faith, as we “believe in the King of the place.” We must exercise our faith now. We must learn to walk by faith, not by sight, and be grateful for every circumstance and providence that keeps us pointed to Christ and oriented toward eternity. This requires a radical shift in our thinking. Too often we value what profits us little and spurn what God can use for our good. It is a paradox that what we consider to be an advantage in this life can actually hinder us (if it distracts us from trusting in Christ). And what we consider to be a disadvantage in this life can actually help us (if it makes us more mindful of our need for Christ). What this world most prizes—status, privilege, wealth, youth and vigor—are things that bind us to this life. Sadly, they can prevent us from looking to Christ and yearning for the life to come. But what the world most fears—hardship, illness, poverty, old age and frailty—are things that cause us to grow weary of this life. Thankfully, they can serve us, if they teach us to value Christ and yearn more for the life to come.

Those most at home in this world will have the hardest time leaving it. It is difficult to face death when you are clinging tenaciously to the world. Those least encumbered by the world will have an easier time leaving it. When we realize that Christ and His promises—which for now are unseen (seen only with the eyes of faith)—are more real and more valuable than anything the world can offer, then we can greet death not as an enemy but as an entrance to glory.

The River

Lord, we pray for those now crossing
Through the River, death’s cold tide.
Help them through its flowing current,
Bring them safe on Canaan’s side.

(from A Prayer for Pilgrims)

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.

Met by the Gardener

But, being a little strengthened, and better able to bear their sickness, they walked on their way, and came yet nearer and nearer, where were orchards, vineyards, and gardens, and their gates opened into the highway. Now, as they came up to these places, behold the gardener stood in the way, to whom the Pilgrims said, Whose goodly vineyards and gardens are these? He answered, They are the King’s, and are planted here for his own delight, and also for the solace of pilgrims. So the gardener had them into the vineyards, and bid them refresh themselves with the dainties. He also showed them there the King’s walks, and the arbors where he delighted to be; and here they tarried and slept.

Now I beheld in my dream that they talked more in their sleep at this time than ever they did in all their journey; and being in a muse thereabout, the gardener said even to me, Wherefore do you muse at the matter? It is the nature of the fruit of the grapes of these vineyards to go down so sweetly as to cause the lips of them that are asleep to speak.

So I saw that when they awoke, they addressed themselves to go up to the city; but, as I said, the reflection of the sun upon the city (for the city was pure gold) was so extremely glorious that they could not, as yet, with open face behold it, but through an instrument made for that purpose. So I saw, that as I went on, there met them two men, in raiment that shone like gold; also their faces shone as the light.

These men asked the Pilgrims whence they came; and they told them. They also asked them where they had lodged, what difficulties and dangers, what comforts and pleasures they had met in the way; and they told them. Then said the men that met them, You have but two difficulties more to meet with, and then you are in the city.

Christian then, and his companion, asked the men to go along with them; so they told them they would. But, said they, you must obtain it by your own faith. So I saw in my dream that they went on together, until they came in sight of the gate.

Met by the Gardener

The country of Beulah is a bountiful place, filled with “orchards, vineyards, and gardens” all kindly planted by the King for “his own delight, and also for the solace of pilgrims.”These gracious provisions are a welcome sight to Christian and Hopeful. They are nearing the end of their journey, preparing for death. As they continue on the Way through the country of Beulah, they are soon met by the Gardener. The Gardener takes them into the King’s gardens and vineyards and encourages them to eat and drink and be refreshed. The Gardener’s words echo the kindness and benevolence that Israel was to show when they crossed over into the Promised Land:

When you come into your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat your fill of grapes at your pleasure, but you shall not put any in your container. When you come into your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not use a sickle on your neighbor’s standing grain (Deuteronomy 23:24–25).

The Gardener also shows them the King’s walks (the right way to go) and the King’s arbors (where they can find rest). It is possible that the Gardener, like Watchful at Palace Beautiful, the Shepherds in the Delectable Mountains, and Great-Grace on the King’s Highway, represents another needed aspect of pastoral ministry. The pastor is a great comfort and help to those in the flock who are on the brink of heaven. He encourages them with God’s promises, feeds them with God’s Word, and prays for them that they will end well. But just as the shepherds have a “Chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:4), who is the “Lord Jesus,” the “great Shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrews 13:20), Scripture reminds us that there is but one Prime Gardener.

It was God who planted the first garden:

The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food (Genesis 2:8–9).

When Israel prepared to enter the Promised Land, Moses described it as a garden cared for by God.

Therefore you shall keep every commandment which I command you today, that you may be strong, and go in and possess the land which you cross over to possess, and that you may prolong your days in the land which the Lord swore to give your fathers, to them and their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey. For the land which you go to possess is not like the land of Egypt from which you have come, where you sowed your seed and watered it by foot, as a vegetable garden; but the land which you cross over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water from the rain of heaven, a land for which the Lord your God cares; the eyes of the Lord your God are always on it, from the beginning of the year to the very end of the year (Deuteronomy 11:8–12).

Isaiah looked forward to the day when the Lord will restore Zion as a fruitful garden:

For the Lord will comfort Zion,
He will comfort all her waste places;
He will make her wilderness like Eden,
And her desert like the garden of the Lord;
Joy and gladness will be found in it,
Thanksgiving and the voice of melody.
(Isaiah 51:3)

In the Song of Solomon (where Bunyan draws much of his imagery for the land of Beulah), the King is the Gardener. He is the Beloved One who feeds “his flock in the gardens.”

My beloved has gone to his garden,
To the beds of spices,
To feed his flock in the gardens,
And to gather lilies.
I am my beloved’s,
And my beloved is mine.
He feeds his flock among the lilies.
(Song of Solomon 6:2–3)

After Jesus was crucified, He was laid in a nearby tomb in a garden.

Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So there they laid Jesus, because of the Jews’ Preparation Day, for the tomb was nearby (John 19:41–42).

And when He rose again, Mary Magdalene, the first to see Him, supposed Him to be the gardener.

But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. Then they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him, “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher). (John 20:11–16)

In the country of Beulah, the Gardener stands in the Way near the journey’s end to see that pilgrims make it safely home. The Lord considers the death of His saints as precious.

Precious in the sight of the Lord
Is the death of His saints.
(Psalm 116:15)

As they near the end of their journey in this life, He is near providing all they need.

As Christian and Hopeful near death, they continue their love-sickness (longing for heaven). Bunyan uses more imagery from the Song of Solomon to express their desire to depart this life and be with Christ.

The wine goes down smoothly for my beloved,
Moving gently the lips of sleepers.
I am my beloved’s,
And his desire is toward me.
(Song of Solomon 9b–10)

As Christian and Hopeful prepare to enter the Celestial City and complete their journey, they are met by two Shining Ones. The Shining Ones question them and tell them they have only two more difficulties left: getting across the River (experiencing death) and getting through the Gates of the City (entering heaven).

The City is made of “pure gold” (Revelation 21:18) and the pilgrims cannot look upon it “but through an instrument made for that purpose” (we see the glory of heaven in Scripture through the eyes of faith). In this life we can gaze upon God’s glory but dimly, as through a mirror. But one day we ourselves will be glorified and we will see Him “face to face.”

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known (1 Corinthians 13:12).

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18).

In this life we long for heaven—we desire to be with Christ. We long to be freed, not only from the curse and condemnation of sin, but from its very presence and power. We desire to be like Christ. One day “we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”

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

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 Death of Faithful

They therefore brought him out, to do with him according to their law; and, first, they scourged him, then they buffeted him, then they lanced his flesh with knives; after that, they stoned him with stones, then pricked him with their swords; and, last of all, they burned him to ashes at the stake. Thus came Faithful to his end.

Now I saw that there stood behind the multitude a chariot and a couple of horses, waiting for Faithful, who (so soon as his adversaries had despatched him) was taken up into it, and straightway was carried up through the clouds, with sound of trumpet, the nearest way to the Celestial Gate.

Brave FAITHFUL, bravely done in word and deed;
Judge, witnesses, and jury have, instead
Of overcoming thee, but shown their rage:
When they are dead, you’ll live from age to age.

But as for Christian, he had some respite, and was remanded back to prison. So he there remained for a space; but He that overrules all things, having the power of their rage in his own hand, so wrought it about, that Christian for that time escaped them, and went his way. And as he went, he sang, saying—

Well, Faithful, you have faithfully professed,
Unto thy Lord; with whom you shall be blest,
When faithless ones, with all their vain delights,
Are crying out under their hellish plights:
Sing, Faithful, sing, and let your name survive;
For though they kill’d you, you are yet alive!

Death of Faithful

Earlier in the allegory Evangelist had foretold that one of the pilgrims would be martyred in the town of Vanity. Now, at the trial’s end, Faithful is cruelly put to death. Bunyan describes Faithful’s death in a manner familiar to his readers. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs was first published in 1563 and was widely known; Bunyan had a copy of the book, along with his Bible, in his prison cell.

Bunyan begins with a physical description of Faithful’s martyrdom. His words point us to Scripture. Hebrews 11 speaks of many who “died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (verse 13).

“… Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy…” (Hebrews 11:35–38).

Bunyan also alludes to Jesus’ death. Jesus was scourged before he was delivered to be crucified (Matthew 27:26). Pilate delivered Jesus to the Jews to be judged according to their law.

Then Pilate said to them, “You take Him and judge Him according to your law” (John 18:31.

The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God” (John 19:7).

The cruelty of Faithful’s death is dreadful. If all we saw were the events in the town of Vanity, it would seem that Faithful came to a horrible end. But Bunyan does not just give us a physical description. He takes us behind the veil of apparent tragedy and shows us the glory of spiritual reality. Behind the crowd that came to gawk at Faithful’s demise was a chariot and horses waiting to take Faithful at once to the Celestial City. He is carried up through the clouds with the sound of a trumpet (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17) in a manner resembling Elijah’s departure from Elisha in the Old Testament:

“Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven” (2 Kings 2:11).

Faithful is lovingly ushered to the very gates of the Celestial City while Christian remains behind to eventually press on in the Way.

This account of the true end of Faithful’s life on earth offers three important lessons:

1. God regards the death of His saints as precious.

God cares for us in life and He will care for us in death. Even if our death comes in way that seems sudden, unexpected, tragic, painful, unjust or cruel, we can trust that God will enfold us in His love and safely bring us home.

“Precious in the sight of the Lord
Is the death of His saints.”
(Psalm 116:15)

2. For the saints of God, death is gain.

Paul concluded: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). He said that while he saw the need to labor for the gospel, he had “a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Philippians 1:23). Departing is to “be with Christ.” Paul reasoned that to be “at home in the body” is to be “absent from the Lord,” but to be “absent from the body” is “to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6–8). This is what Jesus promised to the repentant thief on the cross: “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). It is this promise that emboldened Evangelist to tell the pilgrims that the one who would die at Vanity Fair would “have the better of his fellow.” Though Faithful died painfully and soonest, he escaped the ongoing toil and dangers of the journey and was soonest to enjoy the immediate presence of Christ.

3. God is sovereign over life and death.

God has sovereignly determined the number of our days as well as the occasion and circumstances of our death. Death is by God’s sovereign decree and will not come a moment before His predetermined will.

Why did Faithful have to die, but Christian escaped? How could God permit such agony for one while sparing the other? This is a great mystery, but we can trust that God, “who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all” (Romans 8:32), is working for the good of both in a way that will bring Him the greatest glory. The Lord holds the king’s heart in His hand (Proverbs 21:1)—and even the hearts of a cruel judge and jury. One pilgrim is delivered to death, faithful to the end, as a testimony of the supreme value of life in Christ. The other is released to press on in the faith as an encouragement and hope for others. And God, who “overrules all things” is glorified by both.

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.