Tag Archives: Evangelism

Theater for God’s Glory

Theater of God's Glory

Calvin rightly called the world a “theater for the glory of God” [Institutes 1.5.8 and 1.14.20]. We are a part of this display. Our lives are to be a display and an offering for His glory. In all things we live to His praise. And that includes all things—what we do, what we say, and what we think. David prayed in Psalm 19:12-14 that he would be kept from sinning. He prayed that the words he spoke would be honoring to God. He prayed that the thoughts resounding in his heart would be pleasing to God. And not just his thoughts when he was in gathered worship with the people of God, or his words when he was singing praise, or his steps when he felt near to God, but all his thoughts and words and steps through life as he walked in the world.

We must learn to see the world this way, and live in the world this way. Our world is fallen and broken.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

Our world is at enmity against God. But God does not intend that we hide away or abandon the world. He intends for us to be salt and light. He intends for us to live as Christians—a humble and grateful people who have been rescued from sin and death. And He intends for us to live out in the world as trophies of His grace for His glory.

Sometimes we can get messed up in our thinking—if we start thinking of church as where we meet with God and serve God, and the rest of life as out in world—our jobs, our recreation, our families. We can mistakenly assume that God is only glorified when we do sacred things—things like coming to church, praying, reading our Bible, or witnessing. And God is pushed aside or drowned out when we do secular things—things like our jobs, chores around the house, school, and sports. He is pleased and draws close when we are endeavoring to do sacred things, but less pleased and distant when we turn to what is secular.

The word “secular” comes from a Latin word meaning “world.” It refers to the here and now in which we live—our immediate concerns as we live day to day.

But we must not separate the here and now from God. All of life is sacred. It all belongs to God. We cannot take a breath unless God gives it to us. He is there, with us in every situation, in every activity, in every circumstance. By His design “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

There is no separate place for God and another for the world. It’s all His—the world is His and we are His. He is at work—in every trial, in every triumph—in every joy, in every sorrow—shaping us and fashioning us for His glory. Our lives are on display. He has made the world for Himself. And He has placed us on the stage of the world to be a vessel of His grace and mercy, to be a testimony to His presence and power.

We need to see our world this way—in the spheres in which God has placed us—in our vocations, responsibilities and roles. These are but platforms on which to magnify Him—arenas in which we are called to display His glory and make Him known.

[This excerpt is from a Bible Study of Psalm 19 entitled “Theater for God’s Glory.” You can read the full Bible Study here.]

See more Sermons and Articles by Ken Puls

Pilgrims Persecuted

There, therefore, they lay for some time, and were made the objects of any man’s sport, or malice, or revenge, the great one of the fair laughing still at all that befell them. But the men being patient, and not rendering railing for railing, but contrariwise, blessing, and good words for bad, and kindness for injuries done, some men in the fair that were more observing, and less prejudiced than the rest, began to check and blame the baser sort for their continual abuses done by them to the men. They, therefore, in angry manner, let fly at them again, counting them as bad as the men in the cage, and telling them that they seemed confederates, and should be made partakers of their misfortunes. The other replied that, for aught they could see, the men were quiet, and sober, and intended nobody any harm; and that there were many that traded in their fair that were more worthy to be put into the cage, yea, and pillory too, than were the men they had abused. Thus, after diverse words had passed on both sides, the men behaving themselves all the while very wisely and soberly before them, they fell to some blows among themselves, and did harm one to another. Then were these two poor men brought before their examiners again, and there charged as being guilty of the late hubbub that had been in the fair. So they beat them pitifully, and hanged irons upon them, and led them in chains up and down the fair, for an example and a terror to others, lest any should speak in their behalf, or join themselves unto them. But Christian and Faithful behaved themselves yet more wisely, and received the ignominy and shame that was cast upon them, with so much meekness and patience, that it won to their side, though but few in comparison of the rest, several of the men in the fair. This put the other party yet into greater rage, insomuch that they concluded the death of these two men. Wherefore they threatened, that the cage nor irons should serve their turn, but that they should die, for the abuse they had done, and for deluding the men of the fair.

Then were they remanded to the cage again, until further order should be taken with them. So they put them in, and made their feet fast in the stocks.

Here, therefore, they called again to mind what they had heard from their faithful friend Evangelist, and were the more confirmed in their way and sufferings by what he told them would happen to them. They also now comforted each other, that whose lot it was to suffer, even he should have the best of it. Therefore each man secretly wished that he might have that preferment: but committing themselves to the all-wise disposal of Him that rules all things, with much content, they abode in the condition in which they were, until they should be otherwise disposed of.

Pilgrims ArrestedIn the last post Christian and Faithful faced the ire of the town of Vanity by being beaten and imprisoned. They resisted the town’s temptations and suffered the ensuing persecution. Their hardship was not to be brief. “They lay for some time” in their bonds facing the ridicule and antagonism of the world. They suffered long—and the longer they suffered, the worse their circumstances seemed to get.

Bunyan describes in the story a variety of reactions and responses from the people at the fair. Some are amused at the pilgrims, others are angry. Some dish out ridicule and scorn; others seek their harm. Still others are sympathetic and become upset with those who are giving out abuse. The abusers then react more violently still. But regardless of the response, favorable or not, Christian and Faithful act wisely. By God’s grace they endure with patience, even when falsely accused and more severely abused.

There are many brothers and sisters in Christ around the world who face severe persecution and hardship because of their faith. Remember to pray for them. Pray for their endurance—that they would be humble and wise—that God would strengthen their faith. Pray for their witness—that they would honor Christ—that God would magnify their testimony to all who see them and hear of them. And pray for their captors—that God would stir in their hearts curiosity and compassion—that God would save them. Thankfully there are organizations like Voice of the Martyrs that remind us of brothers and sisters in chains. Pray diligently for the persecuted church.

In the face of persecution Christian and Faithful return blessing for railing and kindness for injury. They are “quiet” and “sober” and do not speak out against those who seek their demise. By enduring suffering with meekness, wisdom and patience, the two pilgrims are examples of Christ. Isaiah prophesied of Jesus’ suffering:

He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
He was taken from prison and from judgment,
And who will declare His generation?
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.
And they made His grave with the wicked—
But with the rich at His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was any deceit in His mouth.
(Isaiah 53:7–9)

Jesus suffered for us and we are to follow His example. Peter quotes from Isaiah 53 as he exhorts us:

Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: “Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth”; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls (1 Peter 2:18–25).

As Christian and Faithful endure persecution, they trust that God is in control. They remember that suffering is a promised part of their pilgrimage. Evangelist had told them plainly that they would suffer for the sake of Christ. And so they comfort one another, knowing that the “worst” that could be done to them in this life (being put to death) is actually the “best” (because the one who suffers death will sooner be in the Lord’s presence). As Paul confesses: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

God is working all things together for their good and His glory—even pain and suffering. Just as God did with the cross—taking an evil act (crucifying the Son of the God) and bringing about great good (the salvation of sinners)—He uses the persecution and suffering of His people to accomplish good, strengthening our faith and testimony before a watching world. The testimony of Christian and Faithful is confirmed and strengthened in the crucible of persecution and suffering.

Bunyan contemplated his own suffering and possible death while in prison. He desired to endure and be faithful. He writes in his autobiography:

Before I came to prison, I saw what was a-coming, and had especially two considerations warm upon my heart; the first was how to be able to endure, should my imprisonment be long and tedious; the second was how to be able to encounter death, should that be here my portion; for the first of these, that Scripture (Colossians 1:11) was great information to me, namely, to pray to God to be “strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness.” I could seldom go to prayer before I was imprisoned, but not for so little as a year together, this sentence, or sweet petition, would, as it were, thrust itself into my mind, and persuade me, that if ever I would go through long-suffering, I must have all patience, especially if I would endure it joyfully [Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 324].

Bunyan did indeed learn patience. His faith in God was strengthened and his trust in God’s good purposes was affirmed.

In Bunyan’s account of his imprisonment, he closes it with these words—“Thus have I, in short, declared the manner and occasion of my being in prison; where I lie waiting the good will of God to do with me as He pleaseth; knowing that not one hair of my head can fall to the ground without the will of my Father which is in Heaven. Let the rage and malice of men be ever so great, they can do no more, nor go any further, than God permits them. When they have done their worst, “we know that all things work together for good to them that love God” (Rom. 8:28) [From Relation of Bunyan’s Imprisonment in The Works of John Bunyan (Banner of Truth) 1:54].

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 ©2016 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Centering on Jesus in Worship

Look to the Cross

When you think about worship, what comes to mind? What do you look for in a worship service? What do you enjoy most? What makes a service rich and meaningful? When you think about the gathered worship of the church—what do you find most delightful and memorable?

There are many wonderful things about our times of worship: the fellowship we share together, opportunities we have to encourage one another, the singing of psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, the times of corporate prayer and intercession, the biblical preaching and teaching of God’s Word. But as needful and as meaningful as these elements can be, they are not the chief joy and end of our worship. We sing and preach and pray and engage in these elements as a means to another end.

So what is that end?

I want to propose to you—

The end that is our great delight in worship is Jesus Christ Himself!
His Person, His Work, and His glory!

We can have preaching and singing—even good preaching and good singing. We can have praying and fellowship—heart-felt prayers and sweet-caring fellowship, but if we miss Christ, we miss worship. If we lose sight of Christ and His glory, our attempts at worship may sound good and look good and feel good, but they will be empty and vain.

What we need most in worship is to center on Christ— to look for Him, to pursue Him, to see Him, to embrace Him and to commune with Him.

[Continue reading this sermon from John 12:20–26]

Send the Law Before the Gospel

Light on Mountain

I have many books in my library that I value and return to often. Books I especially value are ones that have helped me understand and apply God’s Word. The book that first helped me grasp the vital connection between the Law and the Gospel is Walt Chantry’s God’s Righteous Kingdom (The Banner of Truth Trust, 1980). While reading the book, I was intrigued by the use of the Law in evangelism, as it serves along side the Gospel. It is the Law that exposes our sin and shows us our great need of a Savior. We need to taste the bad news (“for the wages of sin is death”) so we can savor the sweetness of the good news (“but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” —Romans 6:23). God has called us to preach both Law and Gospel:

Our Lord predicted a surge of evangelistic power when the Spirit would come. “When he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8). Next to communion with God and worship of his name, nothing will hold a greater interest for children of the kingdom than this amazing work of the Spirit in transforming souls. In the task of bringing men into the kingdom, the moral law and the gospel are the two major instruments in the arsenal of the Spirit” (God’s Righteous Kingdom, 89–90).

When I first read God’s Righteous Kingdom, I sought to summarize the content of the book in a hymn. I wrote the hymn 30 years ago on November 7, 1986 as an expression of praise for the uses of the Law in the life of a believer.

Send the Law before the Gospel,
Shine the Light revealing sin!
Men will see they need a Savior
As their hearts are bared within.
Weep you sinners under judgement;
See yourself before God’s Law!
Full deserving condemnation,
Dread the wrath of God in awe.

Come you sinners and take comfort,
You convicted and dismayed,
For God’s love is only sown in
Furrows that His Law has made.
Come you sinners, look to Jesus!
He’s fulfilled the Law’s demands.
Christ will turn your dread and sorrow
Into love for God’s commands.

Praise to God for such instruction,
Sent to show us our great need.
We must place our hope in Jesus
And in Him we shall be freed.
O believer, be encouraged!
Christ died suff’ring in our place;
Bore the sins of all His children,
That we shall come unto grace.

On the cross was Christ afflicted,
There endur’d the wrath of God.
Now the Law no more condemns us,
Satisfied by His shed blood.
God has set His Law before us;
Let His Word be our delight!
As we travel unto glory,
Persevering in His light.

God has given His commandments;
They shall never pass away.
On our hearts His Spirit writes them,
That we can through grace obey.
May His Law forever guide us
In the paths of righteousness,
As we seek His will most holy,
All our efforts He shall bless!

Words ©1987 Ken Puls
Listen to this hymn and download free sheet music.

Read more on the Founders Blog:
Hymns and God’s Law as a Rule of Life
Hymns and God’s Law as a Tutor to Christ

Pilgrims Out of Place

Now, as I said, the way to the Celestial City lies just through this town where this lusty fair is kept; and he that will go to the city, and yet not go through this town, must needs go out of the world. The Prince of princes himself, when here, went through this town to his own country, and that upon a fair day too Yea, and as I think, it was Beelzebub, the chief lord of this fair, that invited him to buy of his vanities; yea, would have made him lord of the fair, would he but have done him reverence as he went through the town. Yea, because he was such a person of honor, Beelzebub had him from street to street, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a little time, that he might, if possible, allure the Blessed One to cheapen and buy some of his vanities; but he had no mind to the merchandise, and therefore left the town, without laying out so much as one farthing upon these vanities. This fair, therefore, is an ancient thing, of long standing, and a very great fair.

Now these pilgrims, as I said, must needs go through this fair. Well, so they did: but, behold, even as they entered into the fair, all the people in the fair were moved, and the town itself as it were in a hubbub about them; and that for several reasons: for:

First: The pilgrims were clothed with such kind of raiment as was diverse from the raiment of any that traded in that fair. The people, therefore, of the fair, made a great gazing upon them: some said they were fools, some they were bedlams, and some they are outlandish men.

Secondly: And as they wondered at their apparel, so they did likewise at their speech; for few could understand what they said; they naturally spoke the language of Canaan, but they that kept the fair were the men of this world; so that, from one end of the fair to the other, they seemed barbarians each to the other.

Thirdly: But that which did not a little amuse the merchandisers was, that these pilgrims set very light by all their wares; they cared not so much as to look upon them; and if they called upon them to buy, they would put their fingers in their ears, and cry, Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity, and look upwards, signifying that their trade and traffic was in heaven.

One chanced mockingly, beholding the carriage of the men, to say unto them, What will you buy? But they, looking gravely upon him, answered, “We buy the truth.” At that there was an occasion taken to despise the men the more; some mocking, some taunting, some speaking reproachfully, and some calling upon others to smite them. At last things came to a hubbub and great stir in the fair, insomuch that all order was confounded. Now was word presently brought to the great one of the fair, who quickly came down, and deputed some of his most trusted friends to take these men into examination, about whom the fair was almost overturned. So the men were brought to examination; and they that sat upon them, asked them whence they came, whither they went, and what they did there, in such an unusual garb? The men told them that they were pilgrims and strangers in the world, and that they were going to their own country, which was the heavenly Jerusalem, and that they had given no occasion to the men of the town, nor yet to the merchandisers, thus to abuse them, and to let them in their journey, except it was for that, when one asked them what they would buy, they said they would buy the truth. But they that were appointed to examine them did not believe them to be any other than bedlams and mad, or else such as came to put all things into a confusion in the fair. Therefore they took them and beat them, and besmeared them with dirt, and then put them into the cage, that they might be made a spectacle to all the men of the fair.

Behold Vanity Fair! the Pilgrims there
Are chain’d and stand beside:
Even so it was our Lord pass’d here,
And on Mount Calvary died.

Vanity FairThe town of Vanity is Bunyan’s depiction of the world around us—a world enamored with sin and enthralled by frivolity. It’s a world in denial of the authority of God—even the very existence of God. It is perilous to pilgrims. But passing through this town is unavoidable. We are all born in the City of Destruction and to journey to the Celestial City, “we must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

We can learn some valuable lessons in the town of Vanity:

1. It is God’s will that we walk through this world, though it is fallen and marred with sin.

God does not take us out of the world once He saves us. He keeps us in the world. We are to be “blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15). If we are to share the hope we have in Christ with the people of this world, we must live and walk in their midst.

I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world (1 Corinthians 5:9–10).

We are called to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13–16), and in God’s design there may be times when we need to pass through dark and unsavory places.

2. Jesus Himself came to our broken world.

“The Prince of princes himself, when here, went through this town to his own country.” Jesus came and “dwelt among us” that we might behold His glory (John 1:14). “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him” (John 1:10). He was “tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory (Matthew 4:8).

Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours” (Luke 4:5–7).

In this world we will indeed face trials and temptations, but we have a Savior who has defeated sin and death. His Word gives us comfort:

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

3. If we follow Christ and seek His Kingdom, our lives will be in sharp contrast to the world around us.

Christian and Faithful stand out at the fair. They don’t fit in. They are not carried away and enthralled by the allurements of the fair that entice the citizens of the town.

Bunyan notes:

1) The pilgrims look and act differently. They had looked to Christ for salvation and that made all the difference. They were rescued from Destruction and now their “citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:19–20). The town has its mind set “on earthly things,” but Christian and Faithful are eagerly pressing on to the Celestial City. Paul exhorts us:

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth (Colossians 3:1–2).

Such a mindset has implication for our conduct, as Paul explains:

Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them (Colossians 3:5–7).

This need to walk in contrast to the world is echoed by Peter and John:

Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation (1 Peter 2:11–12).

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world (1 John 2:15–16).

2) The pilgrims speak differently. Their conversation is noticeably different from that of town’s people. They are not enticed by the latest gossip or lured with profane humor. They speak “the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory” (1 Corinthians 2:6–8). They speak of spiritual things (the language of Canaan) and those at the fair cannot understand them.

But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14).

They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error (1 John 4:5–6).

Having our mind set on Christ has implications for our speech. Paul goes on to explain in Colossians:

But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds (Colossians 3:8–9).

3) The pilgrims are not interested in what the town has to offer. They are not tempted by temporary and fleeting pleasures. They refuse to look at the wares displayed for sale.

Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things,
And revive me in Your way.
(Psalm 119:37)

When asked what they would buy, the pilgrims respond: “We buy the truth.”

Buy the truth, and do not sell it,
Also wisdom and instruction and understanding.
(Proverbs 23:23)

This truly enrages the town and its merchants. Christians and Faithful are mocked and mistreated. When apprehended and interrogated they say that they are pilgrims and strangers in the world and are seeking a heavenly country.

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. 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 11:13–16).

Bunyan’s narrative of Christian and Faithful at Vanity Fair seems somewhat out of step with modern methods of evangelism. Why not set up a booth at the fair and beat the town at its own game? The church, especially in Western culture, is often more concerned about fitting in and appearing relevant to the world it is trying to reach, rather than standing out and standing for truth. Christian and Faithful are not afraid to stand for truth. Their bold testimony before the world sets them in stark contrast to the world. Yet, as we shall soon see, their testimony bears lasting fruit.

Our greatest testimony before the world is when we live like Christians and exalt Christ and His Word above all else. But living for Christ can be costly. Christian and Faithful were beaten (persecuted), besmeared with dirt (made to look contemptable), and put in a cage (restricted and constrained). In the next post we will examine further the persecution Christian and Faithful were made to endure for the sake of the gospel.

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 ©2016 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Fragile Jars of Clay

Treasure in Jars of Clay

This past week I enjoyed attending and leading the music at the Southern Baptist Founders Conference Southwest at Heritage Baptist Church in Mansfield, Texas. While at the conference I had the opportunity to finish writing a hymn. The idea for the hymn came earlier this year in a sermon series through the book of 2 Corinthians entitled “Gospel Power in Human Weakness” preached by Dr. Tom Ascol at Grace Baptist Church, Cape Coral, Florida.

As the church we are called to go and proclaim to the world the hope we have in Jesus. But we live in a world of darkness, blind and in bondage to sin. We face powerful foes and seemingly overwhelming odds against us. How can we press on in ministry and mission?

Paul offers encouragement and an answer to that question:

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus ‘sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us (2 Corinthians 4:5-7).

Though we are weak and frail—fragile jars of clay, God has placed in us the treasure of the gospel that He might display His sovereign, “surpassing power” to save.

Fragile Jars of Clay

1. A mission lies before us
To go and to proclaim
The hope we have in Jesus,
The glory of His name
The faint and weak He’s chosen
His power to display
By placing gospel treasure
In fragile jars of clay.

2. With such a task before us,
How can we stand and fight
Against the powers of evil
That rage at all that’s right?
God strengthens us with armor;
Calls us to wield His Word.
We boldly preach His gospel;
The outcome is assured.

3. So great the work before us
To shine the gospel light
Into a world in darkness,
Unto the dead of night.
But God has saving power
To give the blind their sight,
For He dispels the darkness
And says, “Let there be light!”

4. The labor hard before us,
The battle rages long.
Alone we cannot bear it;
Our foes are much too strong.
But God has chosen weakness,
The feeble and the frail.
He lifts us up in power
To conquer and prevail.

5. This mission now before us,
We gladly will obey,
Though we be unassuming,
Frail, fragile jars of clay.
For great the precious treasure
Our God has placed within,
His pow’r alone can save us,
The battle He must win.

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

The Promise of Suffering

Christian: Then Christian thanked him for his exhortation; but told him, withal, that they would have him speak further to them for their help the rest of the way, and the rather, for that they well knew that he was a prophet, and could tell them of things that might happen unto them, and also how they might resist and overcome them. To which request Faithful also consented. So Evangelist began as follows:

Evangelist: My sons, you have heard, in the words of the truth of the gospel, that you must, through many tribulations, enter into the kingdom of heaven. And, again, that in every city bonds and afflictions abide in you; and therefore you cannot expect that you should go long on your pilgrimage without them, in some sort or other. You have found something of the truth of these testimonies upon you already, and more will immediately follow; for now, as you see, you are almost out of this wilderness, and therefore you will soon come into a town that you will by and by see before you; and in that town you will be hardly beset with enemies, who will strain hard but they will kill you; and be you sure that one or both of you must seal the testimony which you hold, with blood; but be you faithful unto death, and the King will give you a crown of life.

He that shall die there, although his death will be unnatural, and his pain perhaps great, he will yet have the better of his fellow; not only because he will be arrived at the Celestial City soonest, but because he will escape many miseries that the other will meet with in the rest of his journey. But when you are come to the town, and shall find fulfilled what I have here related, then remember your friend, and quit yourselves like men, and commit the keeping of your souls to your God in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator.

Evangelist Christian and Faithful

Both Christian and Faithful benefited from the return of Evangelist. They were encouraged by his wise counsel and grateful for his exhortation. Earlier in the story, when receiving instruction at the House of the Interpreter, Christian was too eager to resume his journey. More than once the Interpreter bid him to stay and learn more. Now Christian is more mature in his faith. He knows the Way can be hard and he values godly instruction. Before continuing on, he desires to hear more from Evangelist. He desires to be as prepared as possible for the troubles and trials that lie ahead.

Evangelist continues his instruction by once again speaking “the words of the truth of the gospel.” He points the pilgrims to God’s and does not hide from them the seriousness of the dangers they are about to face. He quotes the words of Paul and Barnabas in Acts 14 acknowledging the promise of suffering to those who would follow Christ:

And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:21–22).

Paul was well acquainted with suffering, yet willing to endure “chains and tribulations” for the sake of the gospel.

And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:22–24).

Paul understood that having Christ is more valuable than anything this world has to offer.

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 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:8–11).

Because of the grace of God manifest in Christ, Paul was able not just to endure, but to “glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3–4).

Jesus willingly endured suffering on the cross “for the joy that was set before Him” (Hebrews 12:2). Paul, with his hope firmly anchored in Christ, had a glimpse of that joy:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).

The writer of Hebrews echoes this hope writing to Christians who “endured a great struggle with sufferings” and “were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations” (Hebrews 10:32–33). Yet they “joyfully accepted the plundering” of their earthly possessions, knowing that they had “an enduring possession” in heaven (10:34).

Christian and Faithful now need a full measure of this hope and confidence. Evangelist’s words foreshadow what is to come. The pilgrims are preparing to enter a city where they will face temptation and severe persecution. One of them will seal his testimony with his blood and will die a martyr. Evangelist tells that one that he must be faithful unto death and the King will give him a crown of life.

Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him (James 1:12).

Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life (Revelation 2:10).

Evangelist encourages them not to fear or lose heart, but to “quit yourselves like men” (be brave):

Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong (1 Corinthians 13:16, KJV).
Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong (1 Corinthians 13:16).

And he exhorts them to entrust themselves to God who indeed made them and sustains them:

Therefore, let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator (1 Peter 4:19).

In Christ we have all we need to endure the tribulations of this life. Jesus Himself said:

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

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 ©2016 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

A Meeting with Evangelist

Thus they went on talking of what they had seen by the way, and so made that way easy which would otherwise, no doubt, have been tedious to them; for now they went through a wilderness.

Now, when they were got almost quite out of this wilderness, Faithful chanced to cast his eye back, and espied one coming after them, and he knew him. Oh! said Faithful to his brother, who comes yonder? Then Christian looked, and said, It is my good friend Evangelist. Ay, and my good friend too, said Faithful, for it was he that set me in the way to the gate. Now was Evangelist come up to them, and thus saluted them:

Evangelist: Peace be with you, dearly beloved; and peace be to your helpers.

Christian: Welcome, welcome, my good Evangelist, the sight of your countenance brings to my remembrance your ancient kindness and unwearied laboring for my eternal good.

Faithful: And a thousand times welcome, said good Faithful. Thy company, O sweet Evangelist, how desirable it is to us poor pilgrims!

Evangelist: Then said Evangelist, How has it fared with you, my friends, since the time of our last parting? What have you met with, and how have you behaved yourselves?

Then Christian and Faithful told him of all things that had happened to them in the way; and how, and with what difficulty, they had arrived at that place.

Evangelist: Right glad am I, said Evangelist, not that you have met with trials, but that you have been victors; and for that you have, notwithstanding many weaknesses, continued in the way to this very day.

I say, right glad am I of this thing, and that for mine own sake and yours. I have sowed, and you have reaped: and the day is coming, when both he that sowed and they that reaped shall rejoice together; that is, if you hold out: “for in due season you shall reap, if you faint not.” The crown is before you, and it is an incorruptible one; so run, that you may obtain it. Some there be that set out for this crown, and, after they have gone far for it, another comes in, and takes it from them. Hold fast, therefore, that you have; let no man take your crown. You are not yet out of the gun-shot of the devil; you have not resisted unto blood, striving against sin; let the kingdom be always before you, and believe steadfastly concerning things that are invisible. Let nothing that is on this side the other world get within you; and, above all, look well to your own hearts, and to the lusts thereof, “for they are deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” Set your faces like a flint; you have all power in heaven and earth on your side.

After the departure of Talkative, Christian and Faithful continue their journey together. Their pathway now takes them “through a wilderness.” Bunyan began the story with the words “as I walked through the wilderness of this world.” The wilderness represents the world in which we live, especially in its opposition and rejection of God. It is a place fraught with danger, dryness and desolation, as the pilgrims are soon again to discover. They press on by walking together and encouraging one another. Christian learned at the Little Ascent, where he first saw Faithful, the value of Christian fellowship. That fellowship now serves to invigorate them and make the way easy where it may have been tedious.

Christian Faithful and EvangelistAs Christian and Faithful near the end of the wilderness, they see a friend coming after them. Both recognize him as Evangelist. Evangelist has appeared twice before in Bunyan’s allegory: at the beginning where he pointed Christian to the Gate, and at Mount Sinai where he admonished Christian for heeding the voice of Worldly Wiseman and straying from the Way. Evangelist was instrumental in sharing the gospel with both Christian and Faithful. Now he returns to see how they are doing in the journey.

Evangelist addresses them as “dearly beloved.” His words of greeting come from 1 Chronicles 12:8 where Amasai greets David, saying: “Peace, peace to you, and peace to your helpers! For your God helps you.”

Both Christian and Faithful are delighted to see him. They welcome him as a friend and are grateful for his ministry and care for their souls. They readily share with him an account of their journey. As Evangelist listens to their stories, he rejoices, not because they have walked through dark trials, but because they have been victorious through trials and have persevered. Despite many weaknesses, they have “continued in the way to this very day.”

“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 John 4).

He is grateful to see lasting fruit from his labors:

“And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together” (John 4:36).

And once again he points the pilgrims to Christ and to His Word. He brings them encouragement, exhortation and warning from the Scriptures.

He tells them to “hold out” and not faint, for in due time they will reap a reward:

“And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Galatians 6:9).

He speaks of an incorruptible crown and encourages them to run the race to win the prize:

“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24–27).

He tells them to “hold fast” and “let no man take your crown” (stand firm and not give into the fear of man):

“Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown” (Revelation 3:11).

He warns them that they must continue to resist the devil (Ephesians 6:10–13; James 4:7) and fight against sin (Romans 6:11–14). They must seek first the Kingdom of God (Matthew 7:33) and aim for what is invisible (spiritual and eternal), rather than what is visible (worldly and temporal; 2 Corinthians 4:18). They are to keep themselves unstained from the world (James 1:27) and guard their hearts from temptations. For “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it” (Jeremiah 17:9).

He urges them to “set your faces like a flint” (press on with determination):

“For the Lord God will help Me;
Therefore I will not be disgraced;
Therefore I have set My face like a flint,
And I know that I will not be ashamed.”
(Isaiah 50:7)

For all power and authority are on their side:

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen (Matthew 28:18–20).

Bunyan teaches us at least three lessons about what it means to be an Evangelist:

An Evangelist has an abiding commitment to the ministry of the gospel. Christian remembers Evangelist’s earlier kindness and his “unwearied laboring” for the good of pilgrims. We see aspects of Evangelist’s work throughout the story: pointing pilgrims to the way of life, reproving and correcting them when they wander from the way, and now fortifying them to remain faithful to the way. He is ever serving the cause of Christ.

An Evangelist has an abiding concern for souls. Evangelism is not simply sharing Christ, putting a notch in your belt and moving on. It is loving people, investing time and energy and resources for the sake of others. It is following up when possible with discipleship and encouragement. It is caring deeply about the spiritual well-being of people. Evangelist is not content to point Christian and Faithful in the right direction and then forget them. His desire is to see them win the race and complete their journey. And so he continues to serve them to that end.

An Evangelist has an abiding confidence in God’s Word. Evangelist doesn’t offer his own advice or ideas. He knows that there is but one message that pilgrims need to hear and heed. Christian and Faithful are soon to face fierce temptation and trial. Evangelist speaks God’s Word to them faithfully and unashamedly. He knows that God will do all He has promised He will do and so he proclaims that Word with boldness.

From this encounter, we can also learn from Christian and Faithful’s example. They are delighted when Evangelist comes to them. They welcome his counsel and are attentive to his concern. May God make us continually grateful for those who care for our souls and have invested their labors for our spiritual well-being.

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 ©2016 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

No Greater Passion

No Greater Passion

This past Sunday Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Florida celebrated the 30th Anniversary of Dr. Tom Ascol serving as pastor. I have had the privilege of serving with Tom and leading music at Grace since 2003. As part of the celebration I wrote a new song  with the help of Becca Sissons entitled “No Greater Passion.”

The chorus of the song has words very familiar to our church family. Pastor Tom has taught us to remember that the gospel is all about Jesus: “Who He is, what He’s done, and why it matters.”

The idea for the verses came from another pastor, whose words Tom borrowed as an encouragement to our church. Inspired by Spurgeon’s first words at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, these were the first words that Pastor Tom spoke from the pulpit when we began meeting in our new building on Easter Sunday, April 8, 2012:

This building has been prepared to serve the advance of the gospel here in Southwest Florida and around the world. Because of that I propose that the theme of all the preaching and teaching that will come from this platform shall be the person and work of Jesus Christ. We believe many things in this church. We love the law of God and delight in it because it is not only right but it is good. We love the great doctrines that are revealed in the Bible, especially those wonderful doctrines of God’s sovereign grace in salvation. But if asked what is our creed our answer must now and forever be, “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” The one message that we have to proclaim to our community is simply this: “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.” His life, death and resurrection is our joy and our passion.

No Greater Passion

“For I decided to know nothing among you except
Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).

We have no greater passion,
No greater joy we own;
No other cause so great unites us
Than making Jesus known.
We have one simple message
That Jesus came to save;
To rescue dead and helpless sinners,
His life He freely gave.

Let our lives and our lips
Declare the gospel.
All praise to Christ we give!
Who He is, what He’s done,
And why it matters,
He’s the reason that we live.

We have no other answer,
When asked about our creed.
It’s Christ alone, His love compels us
To reach a world in need.
We have a great commission
To preach His Word to all,
At home, abroad and to hard places,
Wherever He may call.

Let our lives and our lips
Declare the gospel.
All praise to Christ we give!
Who He is, what He’s done,
And why it matters,
He’s the reason that we live.

We have no other refuge;
“To whom Lord shall we go?”
In You alone is life eternal,
No other hope we know.
We have one sure foundation
That can’t be overthrown.
We’re anchored firm in Christ our Savior,
Our Rock, our Cornerstone.

Let our lives and our lips
Declare the gospel.
All praise to Christ we give!
Who He is, what He’s done,
And why it matters,
He’s the reason that we live.

No other passion,
No other creed,
No other refuge,
This we believe.
No other passion
No other creed,
He’s the reason that we live.

Words by Ken Puls; Music by Ken Puls and Rebecca Sissons
©2016 Kenneth Puls and Rebecca Sissons

You can hear a recording of the song from our evening service on June 5, 2016:

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

—Ken Puls

Faithful’s Escape from the City of Destruction

Then I saw in my dream they went very lovingly on together, and had sweet discourse of all things that had happened to them in their pilgrimage; and thus Christian began:

Christian: My honored and well-beloved brother, Faithful, I am glad that I have overtaken you; and that God has so tempered our spirits, that we can walk as companions in this so pleasant a path.

Faithful: I had thought, dear friend, to have had your company quite from our town; but you did get the start of me, wherefore I was forced to come thus much of the way alone.

Christian: How long did you stay in the City of Destruction before you set out after me on your pilgrimage?

Faithful: Till I could stay no longer; for there was great talk presently after you were gone out that our city would, in short time, with fire from heaven, be burned down to the ground.

Christian: What! Did your neighbors talk so?

Faithful: Yes, it was for a while in everybody’s mouth.

Christian: What! And did no more of them but you come out to escape the danger?

Faithful: Though there was, as I said, a great talk thereabout, yet I do not think they did firmly believe it. For in the heat of the discourse, I heard some of them deridingly speak of you and of your desperate journey, (for so they called this your pilgrimage), but I did believe, and do still, that the end of our city will be with fire and brimstone from above; and therefore I have made my escape.

Christian: Did you hear no talk of neighbor Pliable?

Faithful: Yes, Christian, I heard that he followed you till he came at the Slough of Despond, where, as some said, he fell in; but he would not be known to have so done; but I am sure he was soundly bedabbled with that kind of dirt.

Christian: And what said the neighbors to him?

Faithful: He has, since his going back, been had greatly in derision, and that among all sorts of people; some do mock and despise him; and scarce will any set him on work. He is now seven times worse than if he had never gone out of the city.

Christian: But why should they be so set against him, since they also despise the way that he forsook?

Faithful: Oh, they say, hang him, he is a turncoat! He was not true to his profession. I think God has stirred up even his enemies to hiss at him, and make him a proverb, because he has forsaken the way.

Christian: Had you no talk with him before you came out?

Faithful: I met him once in the streets, but he leered away on the other side, as one ashamed of what he had done; so I did not speak to him.

Christian: Well, at my first setting out, I had hopes of that man; but now I fear he will perish in the overthrow of the city; for it is happened to him according to the true proverb, “The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed, to her wallowing in the mire.”

Faithful: These are my fears of him too; but who can hinder that which will be?

Christian and Faithful now press on together toward the Celestial City. The two share a love and devotion to Christ and Christian is delighted to have a brother to walk with him. As they walk together they share what they have experienced in their pilgrimage. As their conversation begins, Bunyan highlights three lessons:

1. The Miracle of Christian Friendship

Christian and FaithfulChristian speaks of his joy in befriending Faithful. The Valley of the Shadow of Death was “a very solitary place” where Christian felt very much alone. The path was dark and treacherous. Now, walking in the light of day with Faithful as his friend, he finds the Way to be “so pleasant a path.” Faithful also speaks of his longing to have Christian’s company. He had hoped to flee Destruction with Christian, but Christian had left before him. The kindness of God has now brought them together and a miracle of His grace has made them companions on a pilgrimage. In the City of Destruction, Christian and Faithful might not ever have met or had anything in common. But their desire and commitment to follow Christ has “tempered their spirits” and placed them together. This is true of all Christian friendships. God has joined together hearts and lives in ways that astound the world and magnify the power of His grace and wisdom.

2. The Impact of a Changed Life

As the conversation continues, Faithful describes his escape from the City of Destruction. Christian’s departure had caused a great stir in the city. He is surprised to hear that many of neighbors were talking about him. Most did not believe him and spoke with scorn of his warnings of coming judgment. They called his pilgrimage a “desperate journey.” But God is not hindered by unbelief. The Word of God is powerful. God can prosper the gospel even when it is spoken in derision. Neighbors mocked and derided Christian, but Faithful heard and believed.

In Paul’s day there were some who preached Christ, not because they believed the gospel, but because they were trying to stir up trouble for Paul. Yet Paul could rejoice!

Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice (Philippians 1:15–18).

We must be faithful to live for Christ and preach Christ, even when our testimony is likely to be scorned. We can grow weary of speaking of Christ among unbelievers as we see them respond again and again with contempt. Unsaved family members, co-workers and friends can wear us down with incessant ridicule and rejection. But we don’t know the impact our life might have on others around us. We don’t know how God may choose to use our testimony, even long after we are gone. It was Christian’s testimony that encouraged Faithful to flee Destruction, even while it was being disparaged by the world. May God keep us faithful and use our lives to point others to Christ.

3. The Danger of a Spurious Profession

Faithful also updates Christian on the outcome of Pliable. Earlier in the journey, Pliable had set out with Christian. He seemed at first to be a zealous pilgrim, hurrying Christian along, ravished with thoughts of heaven. But Pliable was discouraged when he and Christian fell into the Slough of Despond. Pliable chose to abandon his adventure with Christian and turn back. When he returned to the City of Destruction he was covered in the mud of the Slough (still marked by the shame and baseness of his sin) and met with scorn by those who saw him. He is compared to the Proverb:

As a dog returns to his own vomit,
So a fool repeats his folly.
(Proverbs 26:11)

Bunyan inserts two verses likening Pliable to Israel in the Old Testament who chose to ignore the prophets who brought them God’s Word:

This says the Lord of hosts: Behold, I will send on them the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, and will make them like rotten figs that cannot be eaten, they are so bad. And I will pursue them with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence; and I will deliver them to trouble among all the kingdoms of the earth—to be a curse, an astonishment, a hissing, and a reproach among all the nations where I have driven them, because they have not heeded My words, says the Lord, which I sent to them by My servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them; neither would you heed, says the Lord (Jeremiah 29:17–19).

And to false teachers in the New Testament whose end is worse than their beginning:

For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire” (2 Peter 2:20–22).

Pliable turned away from God’s Word and forsook the way of righteousness. His profession of faith was spurious. Now he is in more danger than before. He is shamed by the world, seen as weak and pitiful, viewed as a hypocrite and “turncoat.” His only hope is still the gospel, yet he is too ashamed to seek the company of those who would gladly share it with him. Instead he leers away and avoids uncomfortable confrontation.

The tragic example of Pliable teaches us the peril of shame. Shame is the stain of sin on the soul. Left unwashed it is deadly, and we are powerless to remove it. It is a stain that can only be cleansed by the shed blood of Christ on the cross. Only in Christ can we find the hope and forgiveness we need. Yet shame by its very nature discourages us from looking to Christ. It wants to hide and cover itself. It keeps us downcast and resigns us to Destruction. If we are to avoid the plight of Pliable we must confess our sin and ever keep our eyes fixed upward to the cross.

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.