Tag Archives: holiness

Ignorance and Justification

Ignorance: Do you think that I am such a fool as to think God can see no further than I? or, that I would come to God in the best of my performances?

Christian: Why, how do you think in this matter?

Ignorance: Why, to be short, I think I must believe in Christ for justification.

Christian: How! Do you think you must believe in Christ, when you do not see your need of him! You neither see your original nor actual infirmities; but have such an opinion of yourself, and of what you do, as plainly renders you to be one that did never see a necessity of Christ’s personal righteousness to justify you before God. How, then, do you say, I believe in Christ?

Ignorance: I believe well enough for all that.

Christian: How do you believe?

Ignorance: I believe that Christ died for sinners, and that I shall be justified before God from the curse, through His gracious acceptance of my obedience to His law. Or thus, Christ makes my duties, that are religious, acceptable to His Father, by virtue of His merits; and so shall I be justified.

Christian: Let me give an answer to this confession of your faith:

  1. You believe with a fantastical faith; for this faith is nowhere described in the Word.
  2. You believe with a false faith; because it takes justification from the personal righteousness of Christ, and applies it to your own.
  3. This faith does not make Christ a justifier of your person, but of your actions; and of your person for your actions’ sake, which is false.
  4. Therefore, this faith is deceitful, even such as will leave you under wrath, in the day of God Almighty; for true justifying faith puts the soul, as sensible of its condition by the law, upon flying for refuge unto Christ’s righteousness, which righteousness of His is not an act of grace, by which He makes for justification, your obedience accepted with God; but His personal obedience to the law, in doing and suffering for us what that required at our hands; this righteousness, I say, true faith accepts; under the skirt of which, the soul being shrouded, and by it presented as spotless before God, it is accepted, and acquit from condemnation.

Ignorance: What! would you have us trust to what Christ, in His own person, has done without us? This conceit would loosen the reins of our lust, and tolerate us to live as we list; for what matter how we live, if we may be justified by Christ’s personal righteousness from all, when we believe it?

Christian: Ignorance is thy name, and as your name is, so you are; even this your answer demonstrates what I say. You are ignorant of what justifying righteousness is, and as ignorant how to secure your soul, through the faith of it, from the heavy wrath of God. Yea, you also are ignorant of the true effects of saving faith in this righteousness of Christ, which is, to bow and win over the heart to God in Christ, to love His name, His word, ways, and people, and not as you ignorantly imagine.

Christian Instructs Ignorance

As Christian continues to press Ignorance with the truth of God’s Word, Ignorance responds with what appears to be a sound answer. Ignorance denies that his confidence is in himself and that he can come to God on the basis of his own works, even in his “best performances.” He claims: “I must believe in Christ for justification.” Christian, however, won’t allow him to get by with using the language of salvation while missing the truth of salvation. Ignorance speaks of believing in Christ, but he doesn’t grasp his need for believing in Christ. He sees value in Christ’s righteousness, but he doesn’t see Christ’s righteousness as his only hope.

Ignorance rightly believes that Christ died on the cross for sinners, but he thinks that his justification rests in his own obedience to God’s Law, made acceptable to the Father through the merits of Christ’s righteousness.

Ignorance’s error is rooted in a false assumption. He has grossly underestimated the vastness and vileness of sin. And he has greatly overvalued his own righteousness in comparison. He believes he is basically a good person. He sees his righteousness as humanly weak, but not filthy (Isaiah 54:6) and wretched (Romans 7:24). He trusts that God will graciously infuse the divine goodness and perfections of Christ with his own sincere efforts of religious devotion and, by virtue of Christ’s merit now fortifying his own, accept him as righteous.

Christian rightly concludes that Ignorance has a “false” and “fantastical” faith.

  1. What Ignorance believes is not in accord with the revelation of Scripture, but contrived from the logic of religion.
  2. Though acknowledging Christ for divine assistance, Ignorance believes he will be justified by God’s gracious acceptance of his own obedience to the Law.
  3. He is coming not as a wretched, condemned sinner looking to Christ to justify his person, but rather as a sincere, devout follower looking to Christ to justify his religious duties.
  4. Therefore, his faith is deceitful and dangerous because it leaves him under God’s wrath and condemnation, while convincing him that all is well.

God’s Word is clear. We cannot be justified—declared righteous before God—by our own works.

knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified (Galatians 2:16).

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:19–20).

If we are to be justified, it can only be by a gift of God’s grace through the redemption provided for us in Christ. We cannot stand before God in our sinfulness. We cannot reach God through our own meager righteousness. We need the righteousness that is found in Christ alone for all who believe in Him by faith!

But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:21–24).

God does not justify us by our works made acceptable in Christ, but by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin” (Romans 4:5–8).

Our justification rests solely upon the person and work of Christ. God takes the guilt of our sin and places it on (or imputes it to) Christ, so that Christ is treated as we deserve to be treated. We deserve the wrath and condemnation of God; we deserve death. Though Christ was (and still is) perfect and holy, He died for us on the cross, paying our debt and bearing God’s wrath for us that we might live. This is God’s wondrous mercy! But there is more! God takes the perfect righteousness of Christ and places it on (or imputes it to) us, so that we are treated as Christ deserves to be treated—as sons and daughters. Though we are sinners (and continue to struggle with sin even as Christians) we are regarded as perfect and holy. We are clothed in Christ’s righteousness and stand acceptable before God, not because of what we have done, but because of what Christ has done. Because of Christ, we are purified, cleansed, forgiven, accepted, and made right with God. Christ’s perfect life of obedience and sacrificial death on the cross, purchased this for us. He is the only hope for sinners to be rescued from sin and the dire consequences of sin.

Ignorance argues that if God accepts us as righteous solely on the basis of Christ’s obedience, then sin would be given free reign. We would presume upon God, live however we want, and plunge headlong into sin. Paul anticipated this line of reasoning in Romans:

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? (Romans 6:1–2)

Ignorance again has based his conclusion on a false assumption. He thinks that free grace from God would embolden sinners rather than restrain them. But true saving grace not only justifies, it also sanctifies. In Christ we have not only forgiveness of sin, but power to turn away from sin (Romans 1:16–17, 1 Corinthians 1:18).God not only declares us righteous in Christ, He gives us a heart that loves righteousness and desires to pursue righteousness. He takes away our love of sinning and more and more causes us to “love His name, His word, ways, and people.” By God’s grace we can live for Christ and not in sin. We can walk by faith and not walk in ignorance.

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.

Right Thoughts About God

Ignorance: What are good thoughts concerning God?

Christian: Even as I have said concerning ourselves, when our thoughts of God do agree with what the Word says of him; and that is, when we think of his being and attributes as the Word has taught, of which I cannot now discourse at large; but to speak of him with reference to us: Then we have right thoughts of God, when we think that he knows us better than we know ourselves, and can see sin in us when and where we can see none in ourselves; when we think he knows our inmost thoughts, and that our heart, with all its depths, is always open unto his eyes; also, when we think that all our righteousness stinks in his nostrils, and that, therefore, he cannot abide to see us stand before him in any confidence, even in all our best performances.

Word of God

Ignorance was hindered from coming to faith in Christ because he did not believe the truth about himself. His heart was darkened by sin. His life was in defiance of God’s Law. He was a justly condemned sinner in need of God’s grace and mercy. But he simply could not believe that his heart was that bad. His heart told him so!

If we are to rightly understand ourselves, we must measure ourselves according to God’s Word. This is true of what we believe about ourselves and it is true of what we believe about God. Having good thoughts about God is not necessarily thinking highly of Him or hoping that He will answer our prayers just as we desire. We are not free to imagine God as we want Him to be. He is not defined by our feelings, our felt needs, or our own sense of justice. If we are to know God truly, we must know Him as He as revealed Himself in His Word.

Consider for a moment some of what the Bible says is true about God.

God is solitary. He alone is God; there is none like Him.

Who is like You, O Lord, among the gods?
Who is like You, glorious in holiness,
Fearful in praises, doing wonders?
(Exodus 15:11)

For who is God, except the Lord?
And who is a rock, except our God?
(Psalm 18:31)

Now see that I, even I, am He,
And there is no God besides Me;
I kill and I make alive;
I wound and I heal;
Nor is there any who can deliver from My hand.
(Deuteronomy 32:39)

No one is holy like the Lord,
For there is none besides You,
Nor is there any rock like our God.
(1 Samuel 2:2)

God is holy. He alone is perfect, pure, and righteous.

Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name?
For You alone are holy.
For all nations shall come and worship before You,
For Your judgments have been manifested.
(Revelation 15:4)

but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15–16).

And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure (1 John 3:3).

Because He is holy, He hates sin and He will judge sin.

God is a just judge,
And God is angry with the wicked every day.
(Psalm 7:11)

For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness,
Nor shall evil dwell with You.
The boastful shall not stand in Your sight;
You hate all workers of iniquity.
(Psalm 5:4–5)

Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the ungodly shall perish.
(Psalm 1:5–6)

God is supreme. He is above all things; He is first and primary. Nothing is greater; nothing is higher. Nothing is more vital or more important.

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness,
The power and the glory,
The victory and the majesty;
For all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours;
Yours is the kingdom, O Lord,
And You are exalted as head over all.
(1 Chronicles 29:11)

“You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3)

God is omniscient. He knows all thing. He knows everything about us down to the smallest detail. Nothing can be hidden from God. Nothing can surprise Him or catch Him off guard.

O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.
(Psalm 139:1–3)

Known to God from eternity are all His works (Acts 15:18).

God is sovereign. He rules over all things. He is LORD and King. He directs all things and “works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11).

But our God is in heaven;
He does whatever He pleases
(Psalm 115:3)

Whatever the Lord pleases He does,
In heaven and in earth,
In the seas and in all deep places.
(Psalm 135:6)

God is immutable. He never changes.

For I am the Lord, I do not change;
Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.
(Malachi 3:6)

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning (James 1:17).

His Word is certain.

Forever, O Lord,
Your word is settled in heaven.
(Psalm 119:89)

His plans are certain.

The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
The plans of His heart to all generations
And His love is everlasting.
(Psalm 33:11)

And His love is everlasting.

The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying:
“Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love;
Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.
(Jeremiah 31:3)

God is good. He always does what is right and just.

He loves righteousness and justice;
The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.
(Psalm 33:5)

For the Lord is good;
His mercy is everlasting,
And His truth endures to all generations.
(Psalm 100:5)

God is merciful and gracious. He has provided a way of hope, forgiveness, and life in Christ.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who 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).

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:4–5).

The Lord is merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.
(Psalm 103:8)

But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious,
Longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth.
(Psalm 86:15)

These are only a few of God’s attributes revealed to us in Scripture (see The Attributes of God by Arthur W. Pink, 1975 for an excellent study on what the Bible teaches about God).

Ignorance thought he knew God. But he was not thinking “good thoughts concerning God.” His concept of God was shaped by his experience and imagination. Christian affirms that the only way to think rightly about God is to “think of his being and attributes as the Word has taught.”

The problem with Ignorance is not that he is dispassionate or indolent. He is devout and has walked a long way on his journey. He is intent on going to the Celestial City. He has not been dissuaded to turn aside or turn back. It’s not that he is openly rebellious or intentionally deceptive. He is sincere in what he believes. He is earnest in his conversation with Christian. His problem is the standard by which he walks. As he grapples to understand life, God, and the world around him, he looks to his heart rather than God’s Word. He has made himself the standard and believes what he wants to believe. Where Scripture affirms his fancies, he heartily agrees with it. But where Scripture confronts his notions, he readily ignores it. It is his unwillingness to submit to God in His Word that has bound him to walk in Ignorance.

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.

Hopeful’s Testimony Part 5 The Gospel of Grace

Christian: And what did you do then?

Hopeful: Do! I could not tell what to do, until I brake my mind to Faithful, for he and I were well acquainted. And he told me, that unless I could obtain the righteousness of a man that never had sinned, neither mine own, nor all the righteousness of the world could save me.

Christian: And did you think he spoke true?

Hopeful: Had he told me so when I was pleased and satisfied with mine own amendment, I had called him fool for his pains; but now, since I see mine own infirmity, and the sin that cleaves to my best performance, I have been forced to be of his opinion.

Christian: But did you think, when at first he suggested it to you, that there was such a man to be found, of whom it might justly be said that he never committed sin?

Hopeful: I must confess the words at first sounded strangely, but after a little more talk and company with him, I had full conviction about it.

Christian: And did you ask him what man this was, and how you must be justified by him?

Hopeful: Yes, and he told me it was the Lord Jesus, that dwelleth on the right hand of the Most High. And thus, said he, you must be justified by him, even by trusting to what he hath done by himself, in the days of his flesh, and suffered when he did hang on the tree. I asked him further, how that man’s righteousness could be of that efficacy to justify another before God? And he told me he was the mighty God, and did what he did, and died the death also, not for himself, but for me; to whom his doings, and the worthiness of them, should be imputed, if I believed on him.

Faithful and Hopeful

Hopeful came to realize that he had no hope in himself. He had no righteousness of his own that was fit for the presence of God and not stained with sin. He knew he was guilty, but he was unable to escape conviction, either by attempting to ignore his sin or by trying to make amends for his sin. So, in his desperation he sought out one whom he thought could help. He shared his distress with Faithful, and Faithful faithfully pointed him to Christ.

Hopeful was acquainted with Faithful and knew of his testimony. When Christian and Faithful first came to Vanity Fair, Hopeful thought them to be fools for condemning evil and preaching against sin. But when he saw the evils of his own heart, and felt the weight of condemnation due his sin, he was compelled to agree with them. He sought their counsel, and though the message of the gospel “sounded strangely” to him at first, the more he heard, the more he was convinced that it was true.

Faithful told Hopeful that the only way he could be right with God was to attain a perfect righteousness. He needed to be holy.

In the Old Testament God told Israel in Leviticus 19:2, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” His standard has not changed in the New Testament. Peter writes to the church:

but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15–16).

We need holiness. We need righteousness. But where can we find it? We cannot attain such holiness on our own. We cannot earn righteousness by keeping the Law and doing good works. If such righteousness is to be ours, it must be gained by another and granted to us by grace. This righteousness is only found in One Person—Christ Jesus alone.

This is the good news of the gospel. God has provided the righteousness we need in Christ.

But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:21–26).

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 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 (Philippians 3:7–9).

If we are to be holy and righteous, we must have Christ! If we are to be cleansed and forgiven, we must have Christ! If we are to escape death, the wages of sin, we must have Christ!

In Christ there is no more condemnation for sin.

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:1).

Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us (Romans 8:34).

In Christ there is eternal life.

And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent (John 17:3).

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

In Christ there is hope, joy, and salvation.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:3–5).

For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:9).

It is through Christ’s shed blood that we are cleansed, redeemed, and forgiven.

knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God (1 Peter 1:18–21).

He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13–14).

He alone can make us acceptable and fit for God’s presence.

Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water (Hebrews 10:19–22).

Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence (Ephesians 1:4–8).

He alone can make us righteous and holy.

And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight (Colossians 1:21–22).

But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified (Hebrews 10:12–14).

Because of Jesus’ death, we who are in Him are made perfect. In Him we are justified. God imputes the blame and guilt of our sin to Christ. Though we are deserving of death, God takes the punishment due our sin and charges it to Christ’s account. He pours out His wrath and judgment upon Him, so that by Christ’s death on the cross, we are acquitted, cleansed, and forgiven. But that is not all! God also credits Christ’s righteousness to us. Only Jesus has perfectly kept God’s Word (John 8:55) and always done what is pleasing to God (John 8:29). God imputes Christ’s perfect righteousness to us so that we might be accepted in Him and declared holy and blameless. We are credited with His obedience, treated as sons and daughters, and brought near to God. In Christ, we stand before God forgiven and declared righteous.

Hopeful’s testimony highlights our need to look to Christ alone for rescue from sin and relief from guilt and condemnation. But it also highlights our need to always be ready to point others to the hope we have in Christ.

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear (1 Peter 3:15).

There are many around us who are ensnared by sin and in need of hope. Like Hopeful, some have initially rejected the gospel and are attempting to excuse their sin. Some have placed their confidence in themselves and are futilely attempting to do enough good to amend for their sin. But God can dissolve unfounded excuses and shatter false confidence. He can bring sinners low, to a point of crisis—where they reach the end of themselves, where they have no more answers, where they don’t know what to do.

God is at work in the lives of others around us and we need to be attentive and ready to serve them. Hopeful was drawn to Faithful in a time of crisis. He was intrigued with Faithful’s confidence and remembered Faithful’s message. Would Faithful’s experience be ours as well?  Ask yourself:

  • Are you aware of others around you—their challenges and struggles, hopes and dreams?
  • Is your life accessible to others? Do you have time or make time to make a difference in the lives of others?
  • Is your life marked by integrity, compassion, and confidence in God? In times of crisis and conviction, would those around you be compelled to seek your counsel and comfort?
  • Are you fluent with the gospel? Do you know God’s Word? Do you speak to others about their need for Christ? Are you willing and ready to share your faith?
  • Are you looking for opportunities to serve others and point them to Christ?

Without Christ, this world has no hope.

Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).

We must be faithful to hold fast to Christ and implore others to do so as well. He alone has the righteousness we need.

“Unchanging Righteousness,
My only hope and plea,
That Jesus came and lived and bled
And died and rose for me.”

(from Unchanging Righteousness 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 ©2018 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

A By-Way to Hell

Then I saw in my dream, that the Shepherds had them to another place, in a bottom, where was a door in the side of a hill, and they opened the door, and bid them look in. They looked in, therefore, and saw that within it was very dark and smoky; they also thought that they heard there a rumbling noise as of fire, and a cry of some tormented, and that they smelt the scent of brimstone. Then said Christian, What does this mean? The Shepherds told them, This is a by-way to hell, a way that hypocrites go in at; namely, such as sell their birthright, with Esau; such as sell their master, with Judas; such as blaspheme the gospel, with Alexander; and that lie and dissemble, with Ananias and Sapphira his wife. Then said Hopeful to the Shepherds, I perceive that these had on them, even every one, a show of pilgrimage, as we have now; had they not?

Shepherds: Yes, and held it a long time too.

Hopeful: How far might they go on in pilgrimage in their day, since they notwithstanding were thus miserably cast away?

Shepherds: Some further, and some not so far, as these mountains.

Then said the Pilgrims one to another, We have need to cry to the Strong for strength.

Shepherds: Ay, and you will have need to use it, when you have it, too.

By-Way to Hell

As the Shepherds continue guiding the pilgrims through the mountains, they take them down to the bottom where they see a door in the side of a hill. As they open the door, they are confronted with a frightening experience. They see only darkness. They smell smoke and the scent of brimstone. They hear the rumblings of fire and the cries of the tormented. As with the hill called Error and Mount Caution, the door in the side of a hill represents a sermon. Scripture not only shows us the danger of straying into error and sin, it warns us of God’s wrath and judgment for those who defy God and persist in sin. It speaks of the reality of hell and certainty of the coming judgment. The Scripture text for this message is found in the book of Proverbs.

The way of life winds upward for the wise,
That he may turn away from hell below.
(Proverbs 15:24)

Bunyan’s description of the terrors inside the door echo the Bible’s own fearful warnings of coming judgment.

Upon the wicked He will rain coals;
Fire and brimstone and a burning wind
Shall be the portion of their cup.
(Psalm 11:6)

“The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:10–15).

“But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).

In Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, Bunyan recalls hearing and trembling at such dreadful words, even as a child.

“Also I should, at these years, be greatly afflicted and troubled with the thoughts of the day of judgment, and that both night and day, and should tremble at the thoughts of the fearful torments of hell fire; still fearing that it would be my lot to be found at last amongst those devils and hellish fiends, who are there bound down with the chains and bonds of eternal darkness, “unto the judgment of the great day.” [Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 6]

This isn’t the first time in The Pilgrim’s Progress that Bunyan has presented such warnings:

When Christian was first setting out, he warned his neighbors, Obstinate and Pliable, that if they stay in the City of Destruction, they “will sink lower than the grave, into the place that burns with fire and brimstone.”

On Hill Difficulty, he told Timorous and Mistrust, “If I go back to mine own country, that is prepared for fire and brimstone, and I shall certainly perish there.”

And in the Valley of the Shadow of Death Christian was confounded as he journeyed past “the mouth of hell” that “stood also hard by the wayside.” Out of the mouth came “flame and smoke,” “sparks and hideous noises.”

The door in the side of the hill is a warning not to trifle with sin. This “is a by-way to hell, a way that hypocrites go in at.” A hypocrite is someone who pretends to be something he never intends to be. It is possible to live outwardly as a believer in Christ and yet inwardly refuse to forsake and fight against sin. Jesus (quoting Isaiah 29:13) said: “Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me” (Matthew 15:7–8). The lips profess God’s praise, while the heart embraces sin’s pleasures.

Earlier, in the House of the Interpreter, Christian had seen a fearful warning of the dangers of walking in hypocrisy and falling into apostacy. The Man in the Iron Cage was “once a fair and flourishing professor” on his way to the Celestial City. But he would not heed the warnings of Scripture and would not earnestly pursue holiness. His unwillingness to let go of sin left him with no refuge for his soul.

“For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries (Hebrews 10:26–17).

“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).

His relentless hold upon sin darkened his hope in the promises of the gospel and in time imprisoned him in a cage of despair.

In order to emphasize the seriousness of their lesson, the Shepherds point to several biblical examples: Esau, who sold his birthright (Genesis 25:29–34), Judas, who betrayed Jesus (Matthew 26:14–16), Alexander, who rejected the faith and blasphemed God (1 Timothy 1:19–20), and Ananias and Sapphira, who lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1–11). All of these once appeared to be among the faithful. No one would have suspected that such as these could fall away. Yet their lives were but a “show of pilgrimage” and in the end they were “miserably cast away.”

We cannot harbor sin and hide sin while outwardly professing faith in Christ. We must take God’s Word seriously—its commands and warnings as well as its hope and promises. We must turn away from sin and hypocrisy and pursue peace and holiness.

 “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears” (Hebrews 12:14–17).

But we cannot walk in holiness in our own strength. We need help that can only come from God. We need the power of His Spirit. Christian and Hopeful rightly conclude: “We have need to cry to the Strong for strength.”

“For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man” (Ephesians 3:14–16).

May God grant us strength that we might forsake every sin, walk in the light of His Word, and reach our journey’s end where we will see our Savoir face to face.

“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).

Seek the Lord and His strength;
Seek His face evermore!
(Psalm 105:4)

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.