Tag Archives: eternity

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.

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

 

A Hill Called Clear

By this time the Pilgrims had a desire to go forward, and the Shepherds a desire they should; so they walked together towards the end of the mountains. Then said the Shepherds one to another, Let us here show to the Pilgrims the gates of the Celestial City, if they have skill to look through our perspective glass. The Pilgrims then lovingly accepted the motion; so they had them to the top of a high hill, called Clear, and gave them their glass to look.

Then they essayed to look, but the remembrance of that last thing that the Shepherds had shown them, made their hands shake; by means of which impediment, they could not look steadily through the glass; yet they thought they saw something like the gate, and also some of the glory of the place. Then they went away, and sang this song—

Thus, by the Shepherds, secrets are reveal’d,
Which from all other men are kept conceal’d.
Come to the Shepherds, then, if you would see
Things deep, things hid, and that mysterious be.

When they were about to depart, one of the Shepherds gave them a note of the way. Another of them bid them beware of the Flatterer. The third bid them take heed that they sleep not upon the Enchanted Ground. And the fourth bid them God-speed. So I awoke from my dream.

Mount Clear

The time has come for Christian and Hopeful to resume their journey. But Christian has learned the value of patience and the reward of lingering to learn more. Earlier in the allegory, at both the House of the Interpreter and Palace Beautiful, Christian desired to depart before he was ready. At both places, he was convinced—to the benefit of his soul—to stay longer. At Palace Beautiful he was taken up to an observation point, and because the day was clear, he was able to see the Delectable Mountains off in the distance. Now, from the Delectable Mountains, the Shepherds offer to give the pilgrims a glimpse of their journey’s end—to show them the very gates of the Celestial City.

Near the end of the Delectable Mountains is Mount Clear. This mountain provides an unparalleled view! From the top of this mountain the shepherds test the skill of the pilgrims at looking through the perspective glass. Mount Clear represents our unobstructed view of Christ and His glory, especially as we mature in our faith and near the end of life’s journey. As our time on earth grows shorter and the allure of the world grows weaker, our desire for the glories of Christ in heaven grows stronger. The Perspective Glass is the application of God’s Word to the well-being of our soul. William Mason describes it as “the glass of God’s word of grace and truth held up by the hand of faith to the eye of the soul.” Through it we see the hope of eternal life in Christ. Scripture shows us errors and cautions. It uncovers the depths of sin and warns of wrath and judgment. But it also takes us to the glories of heaven and gives us glimpses of the joy that awaits us in eternity.

Christian and Hopeful are not able to “look steadily through the glass.” Their hands shake as they hold up the scope. The reminder of remaining sin and conviction of past sins impede their view. Though we look intently through the lens of God’s Word at the realities of this life and eternal life to come, our view, this side of glory, is clouded. Paul tells us: “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). Though Christian and Hopeful cannot see as clearly as they would like, yet they continue their gaze. There reward is a glimpse of the glory of the Celestial City.

This glimpse of glory on Mount Clear comes through the clear teaching and compassionate ministry of the Shepherds. It is the shepherds’ task to make know “things deep, things hid, and that mysterious be.” Paul describes the ministry of the gospel as a

… stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus (Colossians 1:25–28).

The pilgrims are grateful for the truths they have learned in the Delectable Mountains. They desire others to come and see from their vantage point. They descend the mountain with song, delighting in the mysteries of God and encouraging others to seek wisdom and guidance from the Shepherds.

Before the pilgrims depart, the Shepherds prepare them for the journey ahead. They give them:

  • A note of the way—instruction on finding and staying on the right path
  • Warnings of dangers that lie ahead on their path: a warning to beware of the Flatterer and a warning not to sleep on the Enchanted Ground
  • And a prayer that God will go with them and bring them safely to their journey’s end.

The shepherd’s sermon on this mountain is clear. We must look steadfastly to Christ and the promises of the gospel. It is a sermon we must heed! Mount Clear and the By-Way to Hell remind us that eternity is at stake. This world is not all there is. When we are troubled and tempted by the world, our view of heaven is hazy and less certain. But when we look to Christ and His promises—and He is the one who delights our soul—it is the world that dims. Our view of heaven is bright and clear. Helen H. Lemmel expressed it beautifully in her hymn (1922):

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

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.

A Hymn for the New Year

Eternal God Exalted

God is always faithful and He is always with us. He is ever with us, not just in space: wherever we may go. He is with us in all of time: our past, our present, our future—with us every moment! We can rest in Him and trust Him as He works out His good purposes.

The heart of man plans his way,
But the Lord establishes his steps.
(Proverbs 16:9)

Eternal God Exalted

1. Eternal God exalted
Above both time and space;
You hold my life completely,
A trophy of Your grace.
Both time and space a canvas,
You craft all history
To show Your grace and power
Through eternity.

2. You planned before creation
My birth and life and death;
In mercy and in kindness
You give me every breath.
You’re everywhere in fullness,
Wherever I may go;
And all my days and moments
All at once You know.

3. Each day Your Word sustains me,
Your Spirit guides and leads;
You never will forsake me,
Your grace is all I need.
For time is but a teacher,
A patient means of grace
That I might learn to trust You,
Ever seek Your face.

4. I need not fear the future
For You’re already there;
And in the past You’ve brought me
Through every trial and care.
In every present moment
You faithfully are near;
So help me now to trust You,
Cast away all fear.

Words ©2016 Ken Puls
Download a lyric sheet and free sheet music for this hymn, including an arrangement of the tune RUTHERFORD for classical guitar.

Run in with Discontent

Christian: But pray tell me, did you meet nobody in the Valley of Humility?

Faithful: Yes, I met with one Discontent, who would willingly have persuaded me to go back again with him; his reason was, for that the valley was altogether without honor. He told me, moreover, that there to go was the way to disobey all my friends, as Pride, Arrogancy, Self-Conceit, Worldly-Glory, with others, who he knew, as he said, would be very much offended, if I made such a fool of myself as to wade through this valley.

Christian: Well, and how did you answer him?

Faithful: I told him, that although all these that he named might claim kindred of me, and that rightly, for indeed they were my relations according to the flesh; yet since I became a pilgrim, they have disowned me, as I also have rejected them; and therefore they were to me now no more than if they had never been of my lineage.

I told him, moreover, that as to this valley, he had quite misrepresented the thing; for before honor is humility, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Therefore, said I, I had rather go through this valley to the honor that was so accounted by the wisest, than choose that which he esteemed most worthy our affections.

Faithful now begins to describe his experience in the Valley of Humiliation. This valley is where Christian fought and defeated Apollyon. Faithful, however, meets another foe. He encounters Discontent, who tries to persuade him to go back and not attempt to cross the valley.

The purpose of the Valley of Humiliation is to help us see the depth of our sin against God and the greatness of our need for salvation. God brings us to the valley for our good, to prune away our pride, to humble us and to increase our love for Christ. Both Christian and Faithful had to confront their pride in this valley. We saw earlier in the allegory that Christian was prone to think too highly of himself. He was pleased with his progress and desirous of reward and recognition. He let slip from his mind the reality that his progress thus far was by God’s grace alone. And so when he went down into the Valley of Humiliation, his pride gave him the “slips.”

DiscontentFaithful, however was not as far along as he had hoped. He had been slowed and wearied by his struggles on Hill Difficulty. Now he was even more resolved to move ahead. He did not even stop at Palace Beautiful for the benefit of his own soul and others. Instead of seeking refreshment and assistance, he pressed on to gain more ground. Now as he descends into the valley, he is tempted to be dissatisfied with his progress. And so he is joined by an unwelcome companion, “one Discontent.”

Discontent tries to convince Faithful that the way of humility will be ruinous to his reputation. He will be scorned and ridiculed by the world. Discontent would have him give up and go back rather than appear weak and admit his need for grace and help. But Faithful, because of his recent trials, knew afresh of the mercies of God. When he was fallen on the Hill, he was raised up in the strength of the Lord. He now has his eyes on glory and has an answer to fend off discontentment.

Faithful tells Discontent that at one time he was indeed friends with Pride, Arrogancy, Self-Conceit and Worldly-Glory. These friends represent the world’s way of finding contentment and satisfaction. The world measures contentment by what we think of ourselves and by what others think of us. It finds humility to be demeaning and foolish. In the world’s eyes we can only be satisfied when we look good to ourselves and to others, not when we admit ourselves to be needy or down trodden.

When Faithful followed Christ, his former friends disowned him, and he rejected them. Faithful chose to be like Christ who “made Himself of no reputation” and took “the form of a bondservant.” Jesus came “in the likeness of men” and “humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:7–8). Faithful chose to believe God’s Word rather than the advice of his friends. He quotes from Proverbs where God warns against pride and commends humility.

Pride goes before destruction,
And a haughty spirit before a fall.
(Proverbs 16:18)

Before destruction the heart of a man is haughty,
And before honor is humility.
(Proverbs 18:12)

A man’s pride will bring him low,
But the humble in spirit will retain honor.
(Proverbs 29:23)

God will bring down the proud, but will save the humble.

For You will save the humble people,
But will bring down haughty looks.
(Psalm 18:27)

God will destroy the slanderer, but His eye is on the faithful.

Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor,
Him I will destroy;
The one who has a haughty look and a proud heart,
Him I will not endure.
My eyes shall be on the faithful of the land,
That they may dwell with me;
He who walks in a perfect way,
He shall serve me.
(Psalm 101:5–6)

Discontent can be a pesky companion. We invite his company when we are tempted to find our joy and satisfaction in something or someone other than Christ. Discontent seeks out those who reject Christ and those who try to find fulfillment in the things of this world. But he also finds those who attempt to follow Christ with wrong expectations and misplaced desires.

If you come to Christ with the expectation that being a Christian will solve all the problems in your marriage, or make you successful in your job, or give you prosperity and privilege in this life, then you can expect to have Discontent as your frequent companion. Why? Because Christ never promises that your marriage will be free from troubles, or that you will be rewarded in your business, or that you will achieve affluence and ease in this world. In fact, following Christ often brings more suffering and trials in this life. God uses our troubles and difficulties to sanctify us and draw us closer to Him. We need the strength and mercies of God every day and every moment, but we are prone to forget and trust too much in ourselves. Our trials and troubles humble us and graciously remind us of our need for a Savior. They prevent us from making the terrible mistake of believing we can make it through this life on our own.

Paul understood that true contentment is not found in our expectations being met or circumstances going our way; it is only found in Christ. The way to shake off Discontent is to anchor our satisfaction in Him alone. Paul learned to be content regardless of his condition or circumstances. He tells the church in Philippi:

But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:10–13).

People, possessions, plans and pursuits will all disappoint us in the end. Only Christ truly satisfies. Paul testified:

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:7–8).

If we have Christ, we have all we need. Our song will be:

Hallelujah! All I have is Christ
Hallelujah, Jesus is my life!
(from “All I Have Is Christ” by Jordan Kauflin)

If we understand that having Christ is more valuable than anything this life can offer, and that an eternity with Him makes it worth enduring all the pain and suffering and hardship this life can set in our way, then we will find true contentment. We will know as Paul did how to be abased and how to abound. This life is only a vapor; eternity is forever. Faithful understood that he was on a pilgrimage to the Celestial City. The only smile and favor he desired was that of his Lord.

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
(from “It Is Enough” by Ken Puls)

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 ©2015 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Conversation with Prudence

Then Prudence thought good to ask him a few questions, and desired his answer to them.

Prudence: Do you not think sometimes of the country where you came from?

Christian: Yes, but with much shame and detestation: “Truly, if I had been mindful of that country from whence I came out, I might have had opportunity to have returned; but now I desire a better country, that is, an heavenly.”

Prudence: Are you ever enticed by some of the things that then you were accustomed to do?

Christian: Yes, but greatly against my will; especially my inward and carnal cogitations, with which all my countrymen, as well as myself, were delighted. But now all those things are my grief; and might I but choose mine own things, I would choose never to think of those things anymore. But when I would be doing of that which is best, that which is worst is with me.

Prudence: Do you not find sometimes, as if those things were vanquished, which at other times are your perplexity?

Christian: Yes, but that is seldom; but they are to me golden hours in which such things happen to me.

Prudence: Can you remember by what means you find your annoyances, at times, as if they were vanquished?

Christian: Yes, when I think what I saw at the cross, that will do it; and when I look upon my broidered coat, that will do it; also when I look into the roll that I carry in my bosom, that will do it; and when my thoughts wax warm about where I am going to, that will do it.

Prudence: And what is it that makes you so desirous to go to Mount Zion?

Christian: Why, there I hope to see him alive that did hang dead on the cross; and there I hope to be rid of all those things that to this day are in me an annoyance to me. There, they say, there is no death. And there I shall dwell with such company as I like best. For, to tell you truth, I love him, because I was by him eased of my burden; and I am weary of my inward sickness. I am eager to be where I shall die no more, and with the company that shall continually cry, “Holy, Holy, Holy!”

PrudenceThe conversation at Palace Beautiful continues with Prudence asking Christian some questions. Prudence represents our carefulness to walk in the wisdom and truth of God’s Word. To be prudent is to live and act with discretion and to exercise good judgment. Prudence is the practical outworking of wisdom. Christian prudence is godly wisdom in action, as we apply God’s Word to what we think, say and do.

Piety began the discussion by drawing out Christian’s story and testimony for the benefit of all in the Palace; Prudence probes deeper. She presses Christian into a more weighty conversation that explores his inner motivation and struggles. Her questions focus on:

    1. His inward battles with former lusts
    2. His fortitude to fend off carnal thoughts and worldly temptations
    3. His strategy to guard his heart and mind against sin

Earlier in his pilgrimage Christian had been careless and unwise. Rather than heeding truth and keeping in the Way, he was swayed for a time by the advice of Worldly Wiseman. The answers that Christian now gives to Prudence’s questions show us the progress that he has made on his journey in gaining spiritual wisdom.

First she asks him if he ever entertains thoughts about his former way of life: “Do you not think sometimes of the country where you came from?” Christian formerly resided in the town of Destruction, but when he thinks of that place now, it is with “shame and detestation.” Israel sinned in the Old Testament when their hearts were “turned back to Egypt” (Acts 7:39). But Christian is intent to leave behind his old way of life. He desires “a better country” quoting from Hebrews:

And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. 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 11:15-16).

Prudence then asks if he is ever enticed by some of the things that he once was accustomed to do in his former way of life. Christian admits that he struggles, but he truly desires now to do what is right. He does not want carnal thoughts to disturb and trouble him. Those thoughts in which he once found sinful pleasure are a grief to him now. He acknowledges the ongoing battle in his heart against remaining sin.

If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice (Romans 7:16-19).

Sometimes evil thoughts are brought down and subdued. At other times they rise up to entangle and agitate. Christian confesses to Prudence that the hours when his thoughts are free from carnal temptations, while too few, are like gold to him.

Prudence then asks Christian about his strategy to guard against carnal thoughts. What means are most effective in vanquishing besetting sin?

Christian mentions the value of meditating on God’s Word. He ponders the truth of Scripture and preaches it to himself. He anchors his thoughts in the promises of the gospel: the cross of Christ (the place of deliverance), the imputed righteousness of Christ (the coat he now wears), the assurance of salvation (his roll that he carries close to his heart), and his destination (eternal life in heaven).

Finally Prudence asks him why he is so eager to reach heaven. Christian is anchored in God’s Word and aiming for eternity. He has embarked on a journey and understands that this world is not his home. It is filled with sin, death, trials and afflictions, and it can wearisome as we press on day by day. We must remember that we are just passing through. Christian longs for the joys that await us in glory:

    • There we will see Christ face to face (1 John 3:1-3; Revelation 22:4).
    • There we will be free, not just from sin’s condemnation and power, but from its presence (Revelation 21:27, 22:3).
    • There we will have life eternal; there will be no more death (Isaiah 25:8; Revelation 21:4)
    • There we will be in the company of angels (Revelation 4:8) and the redeemed (Philippians 3:20) forever.

In the next post the conversation will continue with Charity.

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 ©2014 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Forever and Always

Cape Coral Sunbeams
Each moment is a treasure,
A present to employ,
Not chasing fleeting pleasures,
But finding lasting joy.
The truth that Christ is risen,
It changes everything;
My hopes, my dreams, my passions,
Now center on my King!

I live to serve my Savior,
Not just to seize the day;
But to lay hold of glory,
Forever—
Forever and always!

Words and Music ©2011 Kenneth A Puls and Rebecca Ascol Sissons

See more of this worship song and check out what’s new:

Just added (free downloads) a lyrics sheet and new recording from our Morning Service at Grace Baptist Church Cape Coral, FL (March 16, 2014). Sheet music for this song is also available.