Tag Archives: fellowship

Joined by Hopeful

Now I saw in my dream, that Christian went not forth alone, for there was one whose name was Hopeful (being made so by the beholding of Christian and Faithful in their words and behavior, in their sufferings at the fair), who joined himself unto him, and, entering into a brotherly covenant, told him that he would be his companion. Thus, one died to bear testimony to the truth, and another rises out of his ashes, to be a companion with Christian in his pilgrimage. This Hopeful also told Christian, that there were many more of the men in the fair, that would take their time and follow after.

Christian and HopefulBefore entering the town of Vanity, Christian and Faithful were warned that one of them would lose his life for the sake of gospel. They were aware of the danger, but they entered willingly, believing that Christ and the souls of those in the town were of more value than their own comfort, or even their own lives. In the end, it was Faithful who died bearing witness to the truth of the gospel. Faithful completed his journey and went on to his reward. Now Christian is left to press on without him. But Christian is not left to walk alone in sorrow. Hopeful has become a pilgrim and he tells Christian that he will be his companion.

What then can we learn from Hopeful’s conversion? Consider three valuable insights:

1. The journey is more pleasant if we do not walk alone.

Earlier in the story Christian discovered the value of Christian fellowship when he caught up with Faithful. Now, in God’s kindness, Christian once again has a companion to walk with him.

Walking with other believers on the journey is a great encouragement. Their labors in the gospel build up our labors. Their faith strengthens our faith. Their prayers increase our own prayers. Seeing God’s work of grace in others gives us strength and hope.

Paul often mentioned and gave thanks for fellow-labors.

In Thessalonica:

We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father (1 Thessalonians 1:2–3).

In Rome:

Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles (Romans 16:3–4).

In Philippi:

I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now (Philippians 1:3–5).

It is a great joy to have brothers and sisters in Christ, with whom we covenant together in the church, to walk and labor together in the hope of the gospel.

2. Pressing on in hope is rooted in seeing the work of God’s grace.

It is significant that Christian’s new companion is named Hopeful. God is a God of hope, who by the power of His Spirit, fills us with hope.

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

God sent His Son, the Lord Jesus, that “in Him the Gentiles shall hope” (Romans 15:12). He “according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).

Hopeful is new believer—his heart, a fresh work of God’s grace. His life is a testimony to the power of God’s transforming grace. God was at work, even in the midst of concerted efforts to suppress and silence the gospel. Hopeful was rescued from Vanity. And Hopeful himself has hope that the darkness of the town of Vanity can be overcome. He is sure that many others from the fair will in time follow and join them in their pilgrimage.

3. Our lives are ever on display before a watching world.

We don’t know how God may use our lives to influence and intrigue others around us for the sake of the gospel. Our joys and trials, and especially how we respond to joys and trials, can be of great consequence when brought to the attention of others in the purposeful designs of God’s providence.

Hopeful came to faith in Christ by “the beholding of Christian and Faithful in their words and behavior” and Bunyan adds for emphasis “in their sufferings at the fair.” It was especially in their endurance through suffering that Christian and Faithful demonstrated the true value and veracity of the gospel. Christ is a treasure worth more than all this world can offer—a treasure worth more than even life itself.

We live the gospel before others and share the gospel with others—our friends, family, children, neighbors, coworkers, even strangers — “that they may set their hope in God” (Psalm 78:7). Consider your own life. We live in a vain world. What do those around you see in the “beholding” of your life? Do you live in a way that commends the gospel? Do you demonstrate by choices, actions, attitudes, and reactions that Christ is your greatest treasure, and that the souls of people around you are precious? May God grant us to walk with hope that we might walk worthy of the gospel of Christ.

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2017 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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.

A Little Ascent

Now, as Christian went on his way, he came to a little ascent, which was cast up on purpose that pilgrims might see before them. Up there, therefore, Christian went, and looking forward, he saw Faithful before him, upon his journey. Then said Christian aloud, “Ho! ho! So-ho! stay, and I will be your companion!” At that, Faithful looked behind him; to whom Christian cried again, “Stay, stay, till I come up to you!” But Faithful answered, “No, I am upon my life, and the avenger of blood is behind me.”

At this, Christian was somewhat moved, and putting to all his strength, he quickly got up with Faithful, and did also overrun him; so the last was first. Then did Christian vain-gloriously smile, because he had gotten the start of his brother; but not taking good heed to his feet, he suddenly stumbled and fell, and could not rise again until Faithful came up to help him.

Christian and FaithfulNow that Christian has made it through the Valley of the Shadow of Death and past the cave, he comes to yet another mercy of God. He finds a little ascent that was designed especially for the benefit of pilgrims. The little ascent represents encouragement along the Way, especially the encouragement we gain from seeing the faithfulness of God in the testimony and progress of other believers. The ascent was “cast up on purpose that pilgrims might see before them.” As Christian ascends and looks forward, he sees another pilgrim ahead of him. The sight of another pilgrim, after enduring the solitary struggles of the valley, is a balm to Christian’s soul. He is not alone in his journey. There is a brother walking the same path and Christian desires to be his companion.

Christian’s experience at the Little Ascent teaches two valuable lessons. Bunyan highlights both the delight and danger of walking with brothers and sisters in Christ.

The Delight of Christian Fellowship

The first lesson of the Little Ascent is the value of Christian fellowship. We can be greatly helped by those who walk with us along the Way, especially as we see God at work in their lives.

Earlier in the story Bunyan depicted the value of Christian fellowship in the church (a theme he explores more fully in Part 2 of The Pilgrim’s Progress). Christian enjoyed the benefits of discourse with the family at House Beautiful. Now, seeing Faithful up ahead on the path, Christian again longs for godly conversation.

Christian first learned of Faithful from the Porter when he left Palace Beautiful. He had heard Faithful’s voice quoting Scripture (Psalm 23) while in the valley. Even then Faithful’s confidence in God’s Word had given Christian strength to press on. Now Christian sees Faithful walking ahead. God had brought them both safely through.

Christian calls out and urges Faithful to wait. But Faithful had just endured the Valley of the Shadow of Death. He is still fearful of what he had left behind. He presses forward and will not stop. This does not discourage Christian, however. Christian understands Faithful’s fears, having also come through the valley and escaped its dangers. He has compassion for Faithful and is even more determined to gain his company. As Christian makes an effort to overtake Faithful, Bunyan teaches us a second lesson.

The Danger of Spiritual Pride

The second lesson of the Little Ascent is the danger of spiritual pride. Faithful has outpaced Christian. But when Christian makes an effort to catch up, he ends up running past him. Christian is not hindered by the lingering fears of Faithful. The chase is easy. The race is soon won. When Christian sees that he is now ahead of his brother he “vain-gloriously” smiles. The smile betrays sin in Christian’s heart. His heart is now overrun with spiritual pride.

Paul warns of pride in Philippians, even as he exhorts us to care for one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Before he tells us: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4), he says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). The order of these verses is significant. If we concern ourselves with the interests of others, even rightly motivated, and we lack humility, we will be in danger of falling into spiritual pride.

This was not Christian’s first struggle against pride. Pride caused him to slip going down into the Valley of Humiliation. Pride was one of the sins that Apollyon observed in Christian and used to accuse him, saying, “you are inwardly desirous of vain-glory in all that you say or do.” Though Christian readily confessed his sin, telling Apollyon, “all this is true, and much more which you have left out,” he did not root out pride in just one valley. It overtakes him again here and sets him up for a fall.

We are warned in the book of Proverbs:

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

We must guard against spiritual pride when we see it in ourselves. When we think we stand, when we think we are ahead, when we position ourselves to look better than others, we are in danger of falling. Christian fell when he saw himself advance further than Faithful. Christian failed to take heed to his steps and found himself unable to rise. But even in Christian’s failure we see the grace of God at work. Faithful came and raised him to his feet. Christian stumbled and was helped by the very one he thought he had bested.

The little ascent teaches us both the delight of walking with brothers and sisters in Christ and the danger of spiritual pride when we are tempted to compare ourselves to others and seek an advantage over others. May God grant us compassion and humility that we might learn to walk together in unity and love.

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind (1 Peter 3:8).

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 Holy BIble, English Standard Version (ESV) ©2001 by Crossway.

Supper at Palace Beautiful

Now I saw in my dream, that thus they sat talking together until supper was ready. So when they had made ready, they sat down to meat. Now the table was furnished “with fat things, and with wine that was well refined.” And all their talk at the table was about the Lord of the hill; as, namely, about what He had done, and wherefore He did what He did, and why He had built that house. And by what they said, I perceived that He had been a great warrior, and had fought with and slain “him that had the power of death,” but not without great danger to Himself, which made me love Him the more.

For, as they said, and as I believe (said Christian), He did it with the loss of much blood; but that which put glory of grace into all He did, was, that He did it out of pure love to His country. And besides, there were some of them of the household that said they had been and spoke with him since He did die on the cross; and they have attested that they had it from His own lips, that He is such a lover of poor pilgrims, that the like is not to be found from the east to the west.

They, moreover, gave an instance of what they affirmed, and that was, he had stripped Himself of His glory, that He might do this for the poor; and that they heard Him say and affirm, “that He would not dwell in the mountain of Zion alone.” They said, moreover, that He had made many pilgrims princes, though by nature they were beggars born, and their original had been the dunghill.

Supper at House BeautifulAfter Prudence, Piety and Charity question Christian and examine his life and testimony, the family comes together for a meal. From its earliest days the church “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). The meal at Palace Beautiful represents the fellowship that believers share together in Christ, especially in the regular observance of the Lord’s Supper.

The table displays God’s abundant provision for us in Christ. It is described as rich and sumptuous, “furnished with fat things, and with wine that was well refined.” Bunyan draws his imagery from Isaiah:

And in this mountain
The LORD of hosts will make for all people
A feast of choice pieces,
A feast of wines on the lees,
Of fat things full of marrow,
Of well-refined wines on the lees.
(Isaiah 25:6)

The conversation at the table centers on Christ, “the Lord of the Hill.” It is all about the gospel: who Jesus is, what He has done, and why that matters. Bunyan highlights several truths of the gospel from Scripture in his description:

It is in Jesus, coming to save us, where we see the glory of God’s grace displayed:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

Jesus is the Master Builder of Palace Beautiful (Matthew 16:18) and its Chief Cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). He is the Great Warrior who took on flesh and stood in our place, defeating death and triumphing over the evil one.

Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage (Hebrews 2:14-15).

At the supper we are reminded that it is Jesus who redeemed us by His shed blood and broken body on the cross.

And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:19-20).

It is Jesus who brings us near to God.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:13).

We have the testimony of Paul and others of the household of faith who saw Jesus raised from the dead that this gospel is true:

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).

It is the testimony of those gathered at the table that our Savior is “a lover of poor pilgrims.” Christ “loved the church and gave Himself for her” (Ephesians 5:25). The Apostle John records:

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end (John 13:1).

Christ is building His church “and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). The success of His mission is assured. He will “not dwell in the mountain of Zion alone.”

For God will save Zion
And build the cities of Judah,
That they may dwell there and possess it.
(Psalms 69:35)

He is able to raise up a beggar to be a prince.

He raises the poor from the dust
And lifts the beggar from the ash heap,
To set them among princes
And make them inherit the throne of glory.
For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’S,
And He has set the world upon them.
(1 Samuel 2:8)

He raises the poor out of the dust,
And lifts the needy out of the ash heap,
That He may seat him with princes—
With the princes of His people.
(Psalm 113:7-8)

At every point in Bunyan’s description of the supper at Palace Beautiful our attention is drawn to Christ. Jesus is at the heart of the love and joy we share together in the church. Our fellowship is in Him (1 Corinthians 1:9; 1 John 1:3). It is He who rescues us from sin and makes us sons and daughters of His Kingdom. Our lives display the power of His gospel as trophies of His grace and mercy. The table reminds us that we never get beyond our need for the gospel. We need to keep it on our lips and ringing in our ears. It is Jesus we remember as we proclaim His death till He comes (1 Corinthians 11:25-26).

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.