Tag Archives: Delight in Christ

Seek First the Kingdom of God

Mountain Pathway

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).

Pressing on We Journey

Christ our greatest treasure,
He our highest aim!
Christ our deepest comfort,
Him we now acclaim!
By His death, He saved us,
By His life, we live.
To the King of glory,
All our lives we give .

Pressing on, we journey,
Christ we now confess,
Seeking first His kingdom
And His righteousness.

Rescued from destruction,
Told to seek the light;
Pulled up from the mire,
Fitted for the fight.
Christ, in every instance
Guides us in the Way,
Graciously providing
Mercies every day.

Pressing on, we journey,
Pilgrims we progress,
Seeking first His kingdom
And His righteousness.

Fret not for tomorrow,
Fear not past regrets.
He heals every sorrow,
Sure the course He sets.
All these things are added,
What to eat and wear;
All our needs provided,
By His loving care.

Pressing on, we journey,
Joys we now possess,
Seeking first His kingdom
And His righteousness.

We long for that day when
We’ll see face to face
Christ, the King of Glory,
Full of truth and grace.
But until that moment,
Finally He descends,
We will ever seek Him,
Faithful to the end.

Pressing on, we journey,
Hope we now express,
Seeking first His kingdom
And His righteousness.

Words ©2017 Kenneth A Puls

This hymn, from the album The Lord is My Delight, is based on Jesus’ command in Matthew 6:33 to seek “first His kingdom and His righteousness” and on John Bunyan’s allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress.

Check out the lyric video on youtube:

And download the music from band camp:

Click here to download lyrics and free sheet music, including an arrangement of the hymn tune WYE VALLEY for Classical Guitar.

Read A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (including notes and commentary on Bunyan’s allegory by Ken Puls)

The Celestial City

The talk they had with the Shining Ones was about the glory of the place; who told them that the beauty and glory of it was inexpressible. There, said they, is the Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the innumerable company of angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect. You are going now, said they, to the paradise of God, wherein you shall see the tree of life, and eat of the never-fading fruits thereof; and when you come there, you shall have white robes given you, and your walk and talk shall be every day with the King, even all the days of eternity. There you shall not see again such things as you saw when you were in the lower region upon the earth, to wit, sorrow, sickness, affliction, and death, for the former things are passed away. You are now going to Abraham, to Isaac, and Jacob, and to the prophets—men that God has taken away from the evil to come, and that are now resting upon their beds, each one walking in his righteousness. The men then asked, What must we do in the holy place? To whom it was answered, You must there receive the comforts of all your toil, and have joy for all your sorrow; you must reap what you have sown, even the fruit of all your prayers, and tears, and sufferings for the King by the way. In that place you must wear crowns of gold, and enjoy the perpetual sight and vision of the Holy One, for there you shall see him as he is. There also you shall serve him continually with praise, with shouting, and thanksgiving, whom you desired to serve in the world, though with much difficulty, because of the infirmity of your flesh. There your eyes shall be delighted with seeing, and your ears with hearing the pleasant voice of the Mighty One. There you shall enjoy your friends again that are gone thither before you; and there you shall with joy receive, even every one that follows into the holy place after you. There also shall you be clothed with glory and majesty, and put into an equipage fit to ride out with the King of Glory. When he shall come with sound of trumpet in the clouds, as upon the wings of the wind, you shall come with him; and when he shall sit upon the throne of judgment; you shall sit by him; yea, and when he shall pass sentence upon all the workers of iniquity, let them be angels or men, you also shall have a voice in that judgment, because they were his and your enemies. Also, when he shall again return to the city, you shall go too, with sound of trumpet, and be ever with him.

The Celestial City

At last Christian and Hopeful have arrived at the Gates to the Celestial City. The city represents heaven, where all who have found rest and refuge in Christ will complete their journey and find eternal joy in His presence. The pilgrims have long looked forward to the day when they would finally reach their destination and see with their eyes what they sought by faith. The Shining Ones “told them that the beauty and glory of it was inexpressible.” For those of us who are still on the journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City, it is impossible to fully grasp and describe the splendor of heaven. Bunyan, however, provides a glimpse of its wonder.

The pilgrims talk with the Shining Ones “about the glory of the place.” Their discussion is not wistful conjecture or mere speculation. Bunyan again points us to Scripture. What we know of heaven for certain is only what God has revealed to us in His Word. Through the testimony of the Shining Ones, Bunyan weaves together several verses that offer a foretaste of the joy that awaits us.

In heaven the church, that Christ has redeemed “out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9) is brought near and gathered in His presence. The people of God are one body (Ephesians 2:16, 4:4; Colossians 3:15), one “holy nation” (Exodus 19:6, 1 Peter 2:9). Throughout history they have been scattered and separated by time and space, divided by language and custom, fragmented by denomination and polity. But in heaven distinctions will fade and divisions will dissolve. The “spirits of just men made perfect” will all be one in praising and adoring their Savior.

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel (Hebrews 12:22–24).

Heaven is “the paradise of God, wherein you shall see the tree of life, and eat of the never-fading fruits thereof.”

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God (Revelation 2:7).

And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:1–2).

We will be clothed in white (dressed in righteousness) and will walk and talk with the King.

You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy (Revelation 3:4).

Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads (Revelation 4:4).

Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God (Revelation 21:1–3).

We will be freed from sin’s presence as well as its curse and condemnation. There will be no more sorrow, sickness, affliction, or death.

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
And come to Zion with singing,
With everlasting joy on their heads.
They shall obtain joy and gladness,
And sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
(Isaiah 35:10)

For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth;
And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create;
For behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing,
And her people a joy.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
And joy in My people;
The voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her,
Nor the voice of crying.
(Isaiah 65:17–19)

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:4).

We will rejoice to see and hear and serve the Mighty One of Israel.

You shall have a song
As in the night when a holy festival is kept,
And gladness of heart as when one goes with a flute,
To come into the mountain of the Lord,
To the Mighty One of Israel.
(Isaiah 30:29)

And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads (Revelation 22:3–4).

We will be reunited with friends and loved ones who have gone on before us. We will enjoy fellowship with saints of old who are ““now resting upon their beds” and walking in righteousness.

The righteous perishes,
And no man takes it to heart;
Merciful men are taken away,
While no one considers
That the righteous is taken away from evil.
He shall enter into peace;
They shall rest in their beds,
Each one walking in his uprightness.
(Isaiah 57:1–2)

And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 8:11).

In heaven we will enjoy our eternal reward. We will rest from the toils and sorrows on earth and reap the fruit of what we have sown.

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life (Galatians 6:7–8).

Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them” (Revelation 14:13).

We will be clothed with glory and equipped to accompany the King of Kings when He comes again at the sound of a trumpet.

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).

And we will rule, and reign, and judge with Him.

I watched till thrones were put in place,
And the Ancient of Days was seated;
His garment was white as snow,
And the hair of His head was like pure wool.
His throne was a fiery flame,
Its wheels a burning fire;
A fiery stream issued
And came forth from before Him.
A thousand thousands ministered to Him;
Ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him.
The court was seated,
And the books were opened.
(Daniel 7:9–10)

Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him” (Jude 14–15).

Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? (1 Corinthians 6:2–3).

There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever (Revelation 22:5).

Best of all, we will be in the presence of the King of Glory and we will “always be with the Lord.”

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).

But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18).

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 Land of Beulah

Now I saw in my dream, that by this time the Pilgrims were got over the Enchanted Ground, and entering into the country of Beulah, whose air was very sweet and pleasant, the way lying directly through it, they solaced themselves there for a season. Yea, here they heard continually the singing of birds, and saw every day the flowers appear on the earth, and heard the voice of the turtle in the land. In this country the sun shines night and day; wherefore this was beyond the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and also out of the reach of Giant Despair, neither could they from this place so much as see Doubting Castle. Here they were within sight of the city they were going to, also here met them some of the inhabitants thereof; for in this land the Shining Ones commonly walked, because it was upon the borders of heaven. In this land also, the contract between the bride and the bridegroom was renewed; yea, here, “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so did their God rejoice over them.” Here they had no want of corn and wine; for in this place they met with abundance of what they had sought for in all their pilgrimage. Here they heard voices from out of the city, loud voices, saying, “‘Say ye to the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy salvation cometh! Behold, his reward is with him!’ Here all the inhabitants of the country called them, ‘The holy people, The redeemed of the Lord, Sought out'”, etc.

Now as they walked in this land, they had more rejoicing than in parts more remote from the kingdom to which they were bound; and drawing near to the city, they had yet a more perfect view thereof. It was built of pearls and precious stones, also the street thereof was paved with gold; so that by reason of the natural glory of the city, and the reflection of the sunbeams upon it, Christian with desire fell sick; Hopeful also had a fit or two of the same disease. Wherefore, here they lay by it a while, crying out, because of their pangs, If you find my beloved, tell him that I am sick of love.

The Land of Beulah

After a long journey through the Enchanted Ground, the pilgrims arrive in the country of Beulah. Beulah is a refreshing contrast to the wearisome terrain that Christian and Hopeful have just endured. In the Enchanted Ground the air “tended to make one drowsy,” but here the air is “sweet and pleasant.” The Enchanted Ground represents our tendency to become spiritually complacent and fatigued. It is the world wearing us down in weariness—the seemingly endless struggle with temptations and trials that we face day after day. The country of Beulah represents our longing for heaven and desire to be with Jesus. It is the vision of our heavenly home lifting us up in hope—the glorious promise of eternal joy in the presence of Christ.

Beulah means married. The country is a reminder of Christ’s love for and His covenant relationship with His church (Jeremiah 31:31; Matthew 26:28; 1 Corinthians 11:25; Hebrews 9:15, 12:24).  The church is the bride of Christ (Revelation 21:9). The relationship of the church to Christ is depicted in Scripture as a marriage (Ephesians 5:22–33, Revelation 19:7–9; 21:9).

Bunyan borrows language from Scripture to describe the beauty of the land—Christ’s nearness and love for His people. In the Song of Solomon, the King calls to His beloved:

My beloved spoke, and said to me:
“Rise up, my love, my fair one,
And come away.
For lo, the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth;
The time of singing has come,
And the voice of the turtledove
Is heard in our land.”
(Song of Solomon 2:10–12)

Bunyan also draws language from Isaiah’s prophesy of the future glory of Israel with the coming of the Messiah.

You shall no longer be termed Forsaken,
Nor shall your land any more be termed Desolate;
But you shall be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah;
For the Lord delights in you,
And your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a virgin,
So shall your sons marry you;
And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
So shall your God rejoice over you.
(Isaiah 62:4–5)

In Beulah there is an abundance of provision.

The Lord has sworn by His right hand
And by the arm of His strength:
“Surely I will no longer give your grain
As food for your enemies;
And the sons of the foreigner shall not drink your new wine,
For which you have labored.
But those who have gathered it shall eat it,
And praise the Lord;
Those who have brought it together shall drink it in My holy courts.”
(Isaiah 62:8–9)

Here the inhabitants of Zion (the people of God) are called “the Holy People, the Redeemed of the Lord,” and “Sought Out.”

Indeed the Lord has proclaimed
To the end of the world:
“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Surely your salvation is coming;
Behold, His reward is with Him,
And His work before Him.’ ”
And they shall call them The Holy People,
The Redeemed of the Lord;
And you shall be called Sought Out,
A City Not Forsaken.
(Isaiah 62:11–12)

The country of Beulah provides the pilgrims “a more perfect view” of their final destination, the Celestial City. What Christian and Hopeful saw in the distance from a Hill called Clear in the Delectable Mountains when they were with the Shepherds, now they see in more radiant splendor.

Their view of the city is John’s vision of the New Jerusalem (the bride of Christ) in the book of Revelation. Bunyan makes clear that what we know about heaven, we know through God’s revelation in His Word.

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal. Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west.

Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. And he who talked with me had a gold reed to measure the city, its gates, and its wall. The city is laid out as a square; its length is as great as its breadth. And he measured the city with the reed: twelve thousand furlongs. Its length, breadth, and height are equal. Then he measured its wall: one hundred and forty-four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel. The construction of its wall was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones: the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth sardius, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass (Revelation 21:9–21).

Both Christian and Hopeful are dazzled by the site of the city and overwhelmed with wonder. Both fall sick with love. Their love-sickness represents a longing to be with Christ. This longing is seen in Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi.

For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better (Philippians 1:21–23).

And it is echoed in the words of the bride in Song of Solomon:

I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
If you find my beloved,
That you tell him I am lovesick!
(Song of Solomon 5:8)

The land of Beulah provides the closest and clearest glimpses of glory. Here “on the borders of heaven” saints are “within sight of the city.” They look forward with eagerness to the day when they will see Christ face to face. Here “the things of earth” “grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”

Bunyan places the country of Beulah near the end of his story. While this is a land that pilgrims can be blessed to visit at various seasons of life, it is especially the dwelling place of older saints—seasoned believers whose days in this life are drawing to an end. The world no longer enthralls them. Doubt and Despair no longer trouble them. Trials are momentary. Eternity looms large in their thinking. We hear the desire of their hearts in the closing words of Scripture:

And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!”
And let him who hears say, “Come!”
And let him who thirsts come.
Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely. …
He who testifies to these things says,
“Surely I am coming quickly.”
Amen.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus!
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
Amen.
(Revelation 22:17, 20–21)

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.

Hopeful’s Testimony Part 7 Coming to Christ

Christian: And did you do as you were bidden?

Hopeful: Yes; over, and over, and over.

Christian: And did the Father reveal his Son to you?

Hopeful: Not at the first, nor second, nor third, nor fourth, nor fifth; no, nor at the sixth time neither.

Christian: What did you do then?

Hopeful: What! why I could not tell what to do.

Christian: Had you not thoughts of leaving off praying?

Hopeful: Yes; an hundred times twice told.

Christian: And what was the reason you did not?

Hopeful: I believed that that was true which had been told me, to wit, that without the righteousness of this Christ, all the world could not save me; and therefore, thought I with myself, if I leave off I die, and I can but die at the throne of grace. And withal, this came into my mind, “Though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.” So I continued praying until the Father showed me his Son.

Christian: And how was he revealed unto you?

Hopeful: I did not see him with my bodily eyes, but with the eyes of my understanding; and thus it was: One day I was very sad, I think sadder than at any one time in my life, and this sadness was through a fresh sight of the greatness and vileness of my sins. And as I was then looking for nothing but hell, and the everlasting damnation of my soul, suddenly, as I thought, I saw the Lord Jesus Christ look down from heaven upon me, and saying, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”

But I replied, Lord, I am a great, a very great sinner. And he answered, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” Then I said, But, Lord, what is believing? And then I saw from that saying, “He that cometh to me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst”, that believing and coming was all one; and that he that came, that is, ran out in his heart and affections after salvation by Christ, he indeed believed in Christ. Then the water stood in mine eyes, and I asked further. But, Lord, may such a great sinner as I am be indeed accepted of thee, and be saved by thee? And I heard him say, “And him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out.” Then I said, But how, Lord, must I consider of thee in my coming to thee, that my faith may be placed aright upon thee? Then he said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” “He is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” “He died for our sins, and rose again for our justification.” “He loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.” “He is mediator betwixt God and us.” “He ever lives to make intercession for us.” From all which I gathered, that I must look for righteousness in his person, and for satisfaction for my sins by his blood; that what he did in obedience to his Father’s law, and in submitting to the penalty thereof, was not for himself, but for him that will accept it for his salvation, and be thankful. And now was my heart full of joy, mine eyes full of tears, and mine affections running over with love to the name, people, and ways of Jesus Christ.

Christian: This was a revelation of Christ to your soul indeed; but tell me particularly what effect this had upon your spirit.

Hopeful: It made me see that all the world, notwithstanding all the righteousness thereof, is in a state of condemnation. It made me see that God the Father, though he be just, can justly justify the coming sinner. It made me greatly ashamed of the vileness of my former life, and confounded me with the sense of mine own ignorance; for there never came thought into my heart before now that showed me so the beauty of Jesus Christ. It made me love a holy life, and long to do something for the honor and glory of the name of the Lord Jesus; yea, I thought that had I now a thousand gallons of blood in my body, I could spill it all for the sake of the Lord Jesus.

Come to Christ

When Hopeful heard the gospel invitation, he responded as Faithful encouraged him to do. He prayed and sought God for understanding and mercy. But Hopeful confessed that he was not successful at first. Though his prayers were sincere, his coming to Christ was a struggle. He faced many obstacles. His life condemned him. His sins filled him with guilt. Fears and doubts clouded his mind. He still lived in the midst of Vanity and the town Fair sought to lure him back. Temptations bludgeoned him with guilt as fiercely as his sin. Even his pride turned against him, convincing him that his sin was so great and so vile that God would never want him.

These obstacles continue to hinder people from coming to Christ. The enemy of our souls would discourage, distract, oppress, oppose—anything to keep us away from the mercies and kindness of God in the gospel. Each obstacle offers another excuse to delay.

  • I would come to Christ, but I still have unanswered questions.
  • I would come to Christ, but there are statements in the Bible that I just don’t like.
  • I would come to Christ, but I just don’t have time to attend church.
  • I would come to Christ, but I need to get my life straightened out first.
  • I would come to Christ, but I don’t think God would save me. You just don’t know the terrible things I’ve done.

Hopeful prayed and sought relief many times before he truly laid hold of Christ in the gospel. His experience is similar to Christian’s who, upon arriving at the Wicket Gate, “knocked therefore more than once or twice” and when seeking instruction to find relief from his burden, “knocked over and over” at the House of the Interpreter.

So, what brought Hopeful finally to a saving knowledge of Christ?

How was Christ revealed to Him? Take note of three observations from Hopeful’s testimony.

1. God opened the eyes of his understanding.

Hopeful said: “I did not see him with my bodily eyes, but with the eyes of my understanding.”

That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power (Ephesians 1:17–19).

Salvation is not automatic. It is not easily dispensed as if grace were a refreshing soft drink and God were a vending machine. Salvation is a sovereign work of grace that turns the darkness of our hearts to light, the enchantment of our sins to dread, and the “foolishness” of the gospel to “words of life.”

2. The Word of God took root in his heart and mind.

Coming to Christ is the Lord opening the heart (Acts 16:14) as the Spirit of God powerfully wields the Word of God that we might understand, heed, and obey. To be set free from the bondage of sin, we must know the truth.

And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free (John 8:32).

God’s Word is truth.

Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth (John 17:17).

And God’s Word points us to Christ.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. (John 14:6).

It Is clear from Hopeful’s testimony that his thinking was saturated with God’s Word. When he was distressed and despondent, truths from Scripture came to his mind. He had a deep sense of his guilt and sinfulness. But promise after promise melted his chains and freed him to pursue Christ. When he was tempted to stop praying, the words of Habakkuk 2 came to his mind:

Then the Lord answered me and said:
“Write the vision
And make it plain on tablets,
That he may run who reads it.
For the vision is yet for an appointed time;
But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie.
Though it tarries, wait for it;
Because it will surely come,
It will not tarry.
“Behold the proud,
His soul is not upright in him;
But the just shall live by his faith.
(Habakkuk 2:2–4)

When he grieved over “the greatness and vileness” of his sin and looked for “nothing but hell” and “everlasting damnation,” he remembered the answer Paul and Silas gave to the Philippian jailer’s question:

And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:30–31).

And when he thought himself to be too great a sinner, he remembered the words Jesus gave to Paul:

And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me (2 Corinthians 12:9).

This was Bunyan’s own experience as recorded in Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners:

Therefore I still did pray to God, that he would come in with this Scripture more fully on my heart; to wit, that he would help me to apply the whole sentence, ‘for as yet I could not: that he gave, I gathered; but further I could not go,’ for as yet it only helped me to hope ‘there might be mercy for me,’ “My grace is sufficient”; and though it came no farther, it answered my former question; to wit, that there was hope; yet, because “for thee” was left out, I was not contented, but prayed to God for that also. Wherefore, one day as I was in a meeting of God’s people, full of sadness and terror, for my fears again were strong upon me; and as I was now thinking my soul was never the better, but my case most sad and fearful, these words did, with great power, suddenly break in upon me, “My grace is sufficient for thee, my grace is sufficient for thee, my grace is sufficient for thee,” three times together; and, oh! methought that every word as a mighty word unto me; as my, and grace, and sufficient, and for thee; they were then, and sometimes are still, far bigger than others be.

At which time my understanding was so enlightened, that I was as though I had seen the Lord Jesus look down from heaven through the tiles upon me, and direct these words unto me. This sent me mourning home, it broke my heart, and filled me full of joy, and laid me low as the dust; only it stayed not long with me, I mean in this glory and refreshing comfort, yet it continued with me for several weeks, and did encourage me to hope. But so soon as that powerful operation of it was taken off my heart, that other about Esau returned upon me as before; so my soul did hang as in a pair of scales again, sometimes up and sometimes down, now in peace, and anon again in terror.

[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 206–207]

As Hopeful struggled, many more verses of Scripture came to his mind and turned his thoughts to Christ.

And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst (John 6:35).

But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out (John 6:36–37).

This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief (1 Timothy 1:15).

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (Romans 10:4).

Who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification (Romans 5:25).

And from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood (Revelation 1:5).

For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5).

But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:24–25).

It was the promises of God’s Word that revealed Christ to Hopeful. Hopeful saw in Scripture “the beauty of Jesus Christ.”Christ alone can “save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him.”

3. He gave up hope in himself and believed God’s Word that Christ is the only hope of salvation for sinners.

Hopeful finally laid hold of the hope found in Christ when he gave up all hope in himself. He realized that if he were to be saved, Christ and Christ alone must save him. He could offer no righteousness of his own. He had nowhere else to turn. He was justly condemned to die for his sins. He was determined to come to Christ or die trying. And so, he continued praying, pleading at the throne of grace.

To come to Christ, all Hopeful had to “do” was believe. He finally understood “that believing and coming was all one; and that he that came, that is, ran out in his heart and affections after salvation by Christ, he indeed believed in Christ.”

Coming to Christ is not something that we can earn by doing enough good things to convince God that we are serious. It is not something we can merit by saying prayers, serving in ministry, or attending church. It is not saying the right things, doing the right things, or having the right experiences. Coming to Christ is simply believing. It is realizing that you are a needy sinner and fleeing to Him for mercy and grace. It is trusting Christ, resting in Him—anchoring yourself in Him as your only true haven and refuge.

When Hopeful understood the truth of God’s Word concerning salvation in Christ, it changed his view of the world. The world no longer held the same allure and attraction. It could no longer hold captive his affections. He realized the dazzle of Vanity Fair was but a facade that masked it vileness and emptiness. Christ now claimed his heart and affections. He found true joy in knowing and loving Christ, who “while we were still sinners” died for us (Romans 5:8), not in pursuing the fleeting pleasures of the world. He found his greatest satisfaction in the pursuit of holiness out of a heart of gratitude for all Christ had done for him, not in the pursuit of fame, or riches, or worldly success.

What then can we do to come to a saving knowledge of Christ?

What are we to do if, like Hopeful, our sins seem too vile and our attempts to seek God’s mercy seem unsuccessful or unanswered?

1. Don’t give up praying. God is the One who opens hearts. He is the One who gives understanding. So pray and ask that He grant it to you “over and over and over.” If you “leave off” praying, you will die. So, resolve to stay at the throne of grace for as long as it takes.

2. Don’t give up reading and hearing God’s Word. If you desire to receive understanding from God, if your desire is to find His mercy and grace, then go to where He speaks. God speaks in His Word. If you desire to hear God’s voice, then don’t neglect God’s Word! Read His Word, study His Word, sit under the preaching of His Word—and pray as you do so, that He will help you understand and come to a saving knowledge of Christ.

3. Don’t look at your sin without looking to Christ. Be honest in confessing and owning your sin. Believe what the Bible says about the vileness of sin and the judgment due sin. But don’t think long about sin without remembering the glories of Christ. If you honestly assess your sin without accessing the mercies of God in Christ, you will most certainly fall victim to Despair. You will be beaten down with fears and imprisoned in doubts. If you try evaluating your heart without turning your ear to God’s Word, you will miss the truth—you will miss Christ. Christ is the only One who can make you free (John 8:32, 36). He is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Listen to the wise counsel of Robert Murray M’Cheyne and heed his words.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Jer. 17:9. Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely. Such infinite majesty, and yet such meekness and grace, and all for sinners, even the chief!

(from Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne(Edinburgh, 1894)

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.

The Lord Is My Delight—Twenty Years

Waterfall and Valley

“But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ” (Philippians 3:7).

The Lord is my delight!
To serve my Sov’reign King;
My life poured out to do His will,
A joyful offering!

As I arise this day,
May I count all things loss,
To the know the joy of life in Christ
By taking up my cross.

I long to be like Christ,
His will my meat and drink,
Delighting in obedience
In all I do and think.

This day the Lord has giv’n
Belongs to Him, not me,
To be lived out in faith and love,
And not spent selfishly.

Each person that I meet,
Each circumstance I face,
Is an occasion to make known
The riches of His grace.

My joy is in the Lord,
To serve Him all my days;
My life poured out for all to see,
A sacrifice of praise.

Words ©1998 Kenneth A Puls

This is the title hymn from the album The Lord Is My Delight, a collection of hymns and songs celebrating the joy of following and serving Christ. I wrote the hymn twenty years ago, in October 1998, in my final semester at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I had successfully defended my dissertation in September and I was looking forward to graduation in December with a PhD in Church Music Ministry. The hymn is a declaration of my ongoing commitment to acknowledge every day as a gift from God to be used for His glory. 

Check out the lyric video on youtube:

And download the music from band camp:

Click here to download lyrics and free sheet music, including an arrangement of the hymn tune TRENTHAM for Classical Guitar.

—Ken Puls

It Is Enough

Church and Sunset

“For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).

I cannot be poor if I am in Christ,
In Him I am full and abound.
Though everything else should all pass away,
I’m rich if in Him I am found.

It is enough that I am in Christ,
Enough that His mercy I see.
It is enough that I taste of His grace,
Enough that His love has found me.

Pursue not this world, its wisdom and ways;
Contentment eludes those who try.
For all in this world is fading away,
And soon will all wither and die.

It is enough that I am in Christ,
Enough that His mercy I see.
It is enough that I taste of His grace,
Enough that His love has found me.

What profits a man if he gains the world,
Yet loses his soul in the end?
And what will the joys of this life be worth,
If you face the judgment condemned?

It is enough that I am in Christ,
Enough that His mercy I see.
It is enough that I taste of His grace,
Enough that His love has found me.

If I am in Christ, I have all I need,
Adopted and loved as a son.
It will be enough that I see my Lord,
And hear Him say to me: “Well done.”

It is enough that I am in Christ,
Enough that His mercy I see.
It is enough that I taste of His grace,
Enough that His love has found me.

Words and Music ©2000 Kenneth A Puls

Check out the lyric video on youtube:

And download the music from band camp:

Click here to download lyrics and free sheet music: including song sheet, chord chart and music arranged for classical guitar.

—Ken Puls

 

The Delectable Mountains

They went then till they came to the Delectable Mountains, which mountains belong to the Lord of that hill of which we have spoken before; so they went up to the mountains, to behold the gardens and orchards, the vineyards and fountains of water; where also they drank and washed themselves, and did freely eat of the vineyards. Now there were on the tops of these mountains Shepherds feeding their flocks, and they stood by the highway side. The Pilgrims therefore went to them, and leaning upon their staves, (as is common with weary pilgrims when they stand to talk with any by the way), they asked, Whose Delectable Mountains are these? And whose be the sheep that feed upon them?

Shepherds: These mountains are Immanuel’s Land, and they are within sight of his city; and the sheep also are his, and he laid down his life for them.

Mountains delectable they now ascend,
Where Shepherds be, which to them do commend
Alluring things, and things that cautious are,
Pilgrims are steady kept by faith and fear.

Shepherds and the Delectable Mountains

After Christian and Hopeful escape from Doubting Castle, they continue their journey, ascending into the Delectable Mountains. These are the mountains of the Lord.

His foundation is in the holy mountains.
The Lord loves the gates of Zion
More than all the dwellings of Jacob.
Glorious things are spoken of you,
O city of God!
Selah
(Psalm 87:1–3)

They are beautiful and bountiful—a place filled with gardens, orchards, vineyards, and fountains. Here is refreshment and delight. Here shepherds keep watch and feed their flocks.

The Delectable Mountains represent the church from the vantage point of a more mature Christian. Atop these mountains the pilgrims have a wider view and can see with more clarity. Their understanding of God’s Word is greater. Heaven is in view. The world is less alluring. Earlier in the allegory, Christian had a glimpse of these mountains from an observation point on the roof of House Beautiful. There he could only see the mountains far off in the distance. House Beautiful depicted the church through the eyes of a young believer. Christian loved the truth but had yet to ascend its heights.  Now Christian and Hopeful are nearer to the journey’s end. Their faith has grown. Their repentance has deepened. And their love for Christ has strengthened. They have walked the pathway longer.

The shepherds affirm what Christian learned at House Beautiful. The mountains are Immanuel’s Land and they are within sight of His city—the Celestial City to which the pilgrims are journeying. The joy of Immanuel’s Land is Christ. He is the King whose name is Immanuel, “God with Us” (Isaiah 7:17; Matthew 1:23). He is the promised Savior. In the Old Testament Ezekiel looked forward to the coming of the King and Shepherd from the linage of David who would save His people and cause them to dwell in safety. He concluded in chapter 29:

“I will raise up for them a garden of renown, and they shall no longer be consumed with hunger in the land, nor bear the shame of the Gentiles anymore. Thus they shall know that I, the Lord their God, am with them, and they, the house of Israel, are My people,” says the Lord God. “You are My flock, the flock of My pasture; you are men, and I am your God,” says the Lord God (Ezekiel 34:29–31).

Jesus is the Good Shepherd who knows His sheep and laid down His life for the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

“I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep” (John 10:14–15).

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one” (John 10:27–30).

The shepherds gladly speak of Immanuel, the Good Shepherd. They stand by the Way, ready to welcome and point pilgrims to Him. In the next several posts, we will focus on the shepherds and their instructions to the pilgrims. As Christian received valuable teaching for his journey at the House of the Interpreter and House Beautiful, the pilgrims receive valuable insights here—insights that will be crucial for their reaching the journey’s end.

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.

The Lord Is My Delight

Just released! A new album of hymns and songs celebrating the joy of following and serving Christ.

The Lord Is My Delight 2017

Stream music and listen on Bandcamp.

Click here to download free sheet music (PDF) of these songs and hymns.

Click here for more songs and hymns.

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.
Delight yourself also in the Lord,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him,
And He shall bring it to pass.
(Psalm 37:3–5)

New Album Coming Friday

In 2012 I released an album of songs and hymns I had written entitled Upon This Rock. That collection focused on Christ as our Rock and salvation, our one hope and resting place. This Friday, January 5th, I will be releasing a second collection entitled The Lord Is My Delight. This new album is a celebration of the joy of following and serving Christ.

Pre-order the album today and receive one of the tracks now.

I wrote the hymn My Soul What Truth Consoles You? one year ago today, on New Year’s Day 2017.  The idea for the hymn came during a message preached on New Year’s Day, January 1, 2017 by Conrad Mbewe on John 3:16 entitled “God’s Indescribable Love.” Dr. Mbewe encouraged us to begin the new year with our souls “anchored deep” in the unfailing love of God in Christ.