Tag Archives: judgment

Hopeful’s Testimony Part 1 Ensnared by Sin

Christian: Then Christian began and said, I will ask you a question. How came you to think at first of so doing as you do now?

Hopeful: Do you mean, how came I at first to look after the good of my soul?

Christian: Yes, that is my meaning.

Hopeful: I continued a great while in the delight of those things which were seen and sold at our fair; things which, I believe now, would have, had I continued in them, still drowned me in perdition and destruction.

Christian: What things are they?

Hopeful: All the treasures and riches of the world. Also, I delighted much in rioting, reveling, drinking, swearing, lying, uncleanness, Sabbath-breaking, and what not, that tended to destroy the soul. But I found at last, by hearing and considering of things that are divine, which indeed I heard of you, as also of beloved Faithful that was put to death for his faith and good living in Vanity Fair, that “the end of these things is death.” And that for these things’ sake “cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.”

Christian: And did you presently fall under the power of this conviction?

Hopeful: No, I was not willing presently to know the evil of sin, nor the damnation that follows upon the commission of it; but endeavored, when my mind at first began to be shaken with the Word, to shut mine eyes against the light thereof.

 Christian and Hopeful

The Pilgrim’s Progress is primarily the story of Christian. On the opening page we see him distressed, “clothed with rags, standing in a certain place, with his face from his own house, a book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back.” At the encouragement of Evangelist, he flees his home in the city of Destruction and begins his journey to the Celestial City. Through the character of Christian, Bunyan tells his own story of coming to faith in Christ. But he also gives us glimpses into the journeys of some others along the way. Faithful tells of his own escape from the City of Destruction. We hear of his encounters with Wanton, Adam the First, Moses, Discontent, and Shame. We see his powerful witness as he travels with Christian to the town of Vanity, where he is put on trial and martyred for his faith. Later in the allegory Christian relates some of the story of Little-faith, a pilgrim from the town of Sincere who struggled on his journey after he was robbed and beaten.

It is interesting to compare the testimonies of each of these pilgrims. You will find that there are many similarities—things that are true of all the accounts. But you will also find some differences. Bunyan is emphasizing by this that our pilgrimages will not all be the same. Some parts of the journey that are easy for some, will be difficult for others. There are temptations that may cause some to stray for a time, while others will immediately see the danger and not be led astray. This is why is so important for us to travel together—fellowshipping with one another, encouraging one another, and discipling one another.

To continue their journey Christian and Hopeful must traverse the Enchanted Ground. As they cross, they try to stay awake and alert by engaging in “good discourse.” At Palace Beautiful Christian learned the value of godly company and gospel conversations. Discretion, Piety, Prudence, and Charity all questioned Christian and drew out his testimony. Now Christian questions Hopeful and their dialog provides a detailed account of Hopeful’s testimony.

Christian begins by asking Hopeful how it was that he became concerned about his soul. Hopeful is from the town of Vanity. His former life reflected the spiritual state of many in this world. He was ensnared and entrenched in sin, pursuing all the vain pleasures of this life, blissfully unaware that his soul was in danger. He was blind to God’s good ways, delighting in all the world has to offer, and hoping all would turn out well in the end.

The turning point came in Hopeful’s life when Christian and Faithful came to his town. As Hopeful watched and listened to the two pilgrims, he was intrigued. He began thinking about the good of his soul.

Their lives intrigued him. When Christian and Faithful came to Vanity Fair they seemed very much out of place. They weren’t tempted by the temporary and fleeting pleasures of the world. They did not buy and sell at the Fair with others in the town. Instead, they told the merchants, “We buy the truth” (Proverbs 23:23). The town reacted with anger and scorn. Christian and Faithful were oppressed, persecuted, put on trial, and jailed. In the end Faithful was martyred for his faith. Yet in the midst of trial and temptation, Christian and Faithful stood firm for the truth.

Their words intrigued him. Christian and Faithful not only lived the truth before the town, they spoke the truth. They faithfully proclaimed and taught God’s Word. Hopeful heard that he must forsake sin or face coming wrath and judgment.

But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them (Ephesians 5:3–7).

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).

Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts (Romans 13:13–14).

He heard that sin leads only to death.

What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death(Romans 6:21).

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

At first Hopeful refused to believe the truth. He did not want to acknowledge the evil of sin or the certainty of judgment. His eyes were closed, his ears were hard of hearing, and his heart was dull (Isaiah 6:10, Matthew 13:15, Acts 28:27).  He was enamored by the world and against the things of God.

Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:7–8).

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).

Hopeful was not looking for Christ. He was not trying to understand the Bible. He was not even aware that he was lost and in danger. He prized the riches and treasures of the world more than the Word and Way of God. Though he both heard and saw the gospel on display in the lives of Christian and Faithful, he tried at first to block the truth from his mind and hide it from his eyes.

Hopeful’s experience highlights the importance of sharing our faith with others, even with those who initially reject and scorn the truth. Christian and Faithful were willing to go through the town of Vanity (the sinful world in its opposition to God) and face opposition and persecution, even to death, so that people living in the town could see and hear the gospel proclaimed. Because of their witness, Hopeful was able to hear and consider “things that are divine.” He heard them speak truth; he saw them stand for truth, and he watched them live the truth. It made a lasting impression.

We live in a day when the world is equally opposed to truth and ensnared by sin. Truth is regarded as fluid and malleable—something to be constantly shaped as we construct our own realities and tell our own stories in order to make sense of the world around us. Evil is recast and redefined as anything that threatens or opposes our stories. The world delights in darkness, rejects the light of God’s Word, and is blind to God’s ways.

May God give us boldness in our day to live and speak truth in the midst of a lost world. And may those around us see our lives, hear our words, and be intrigued to know the hope within us.

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

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2018 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

The Tragedy of Turn-away

So they both went on, and Ignorance he came after. Now when they had passed him a little way, they entered into a very dark lane, where they met a man whom seven devils had bound with seven strong cords, and were carrying of him back to the door that they saw on the side of the hill. Now good Christian began to tremble, and so did Hopeful his companion; yet as the devils led away the man, Christian looked to see if he knew him; and he thought it might be one Turn-away, that dwelt in the town of Apostasy. But he did not perfectly see his face, for he did hang his head like a thief that is found. But being once past, Hopeful looked after him, and espied on his back a paper with this inscription, “Wanton professor and damnable apostate.”

Turn-away

No sooner have the pilgrims outpaced Ignorance, than they pass by another false professor. They enter into a very dark lane and see a man bound by seven strong cords being carried in the opposite direction. Seven devils have captured him and are taking him back to the By-Way to Hell. Both Christian and Hopeful tremble at the sight. The man in bondage, it appears, is one named Turn-away from the town of Apostasy.

Turn-away represents those who have fallen away from the faith. Though they once professed to be followers of Christ, now they have turned away. They grow careless and trifle with sin to the point where it no longer disturbs them. The grow comfortable with the world and wanton (heedless and uncontrolled) in spirit. They fail to fear God and are unaffected and unrestrained by His Word. They forsake Christ only to foiled and ensnared in sin.

Those who once professed faith in Christ, who turn away from God and His Word are in danger of apostasy. The writer of Hebrews warns of the fearful consequences of apostasy:

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame (Hebrews 6:4–6).

To “fall away” is to persist in sin and disobedience and rejection of the gospel. It is certainly possible for a Christian to fall into sin, and even to be for a long time away from God—mired in sin and its misery. But those who are Christ’s will be rescued and restored. God will stir up their faith and renew their repentance and welcome them back in abundance of grace and mercy. But those who are truly apostate, who reject the gospel to the end, verse 6 tells us, cannot be renewed to repentance. They dishonor Christ by loving their sin more than Christ. They dishonor Him by choosing to believe that they are beyond the reach of His grace and mercy. They would persist in seeing their sins as too great for Christ to conquer.

The writer of Hebrews makes it clear in verse 6 why it is impossible for those who reject the cross to be renewed to repentance. If the cross was indeed not sufficient for them; they would need Jesus to die again. Christ would be openly shamed for not succeeding the first time in atoning for their sins. But Christ cannot be crucified again. There is no “Plan B” on God’s agenda. If one falls away there is no other gospel, no other Savior, no other salvation. Jesus is exclusive. If you reject Christ and turn away from the cross, you have no hope remaining.

Christian was warned of the dangers of apostasy earlier in his pilgrimage while he was at the House of the Interpreter. There he saw the Man in an Iron Cage who was once a “flourishing professor” on his way to the Celestial City. Like Turn-away, the Man in the Iron Cage abandoned God’s Word to pursue his lusts. He fell headlong into sin and feared that he had fallen into apostasy and was now without hope. He sat in misery and in bondage in a “very dark room.”

Bunyan uses similar language to describe the encounter with Turn-away. They enter into a “very dark lane” and see a man bound with seven strong cords. The dark lane represents the absence of the light of God’s Word. When the eye looks for sin and the mind pursues sin, the light of Scripture begins to dim.

The way of the wicked is like darkness;
They do not know what makes them stumble.
(Proverbs 4:19)

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness;
Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
(Isaiah 5:20)

The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (Matthew 6:22–23)

And so the psalmist prays:

Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things,
And revive me in Your way.
(Psalm 118:37)

The imagery of the seven strong cords comes from Proverbs.

His own iniquities entrap the wicked man,
And he is caught in the cords of his sin.
He shall die for lack of instruction,
And in the greatness of his folly he shall go astray.
(Proverbs 5:22–23)

And from Jesus’ description in Matthew of a man overtaken in sin:

“When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it also be with this wicked generation” (Matthew 12:43–45).

When Christian saw the Man in an Iron Cage, he exclaimed: “This is fearful.” But the condition of Turn-away is even more so. The man in the cage trifled with sin, but then drew back in shame and guilt. He was miserable because he feared that he had lost Christ and that God would no longer have him. Turn-away feels no guilt over his sin; he hangs his head “like a thief that is found” abashed that he has been caught, but not because he has broken the law.

The encounter with Turn-away causes Christian and Hopeful to tremble. It is a warning to us to guard our hearts and flee from sin. In his commentary on The Pilgrim’s Progress, William Mason warns:

 O beware of a light trifling spirit and a wanton behavior. It is often the forerunner of apostasy from God. It makes one tremble to hear those who profess to follow Christ in the regeneration, crying, What harm is there in this game and the other diversion? The warmth of love is gone, and they are become cold, dead, and carnal. O how many instances of these abound!

Turning away seldom happens all at once. It is more often subtle and perilously imperceptible. It can happen in many ways:

  • Growing disillusioned and discouraged with the church
  • Being swayed by a college professor who disparages the Bible and the Christian faith
  • Growing complacent and apathetic in worship
  • Becoming forgetful and infrequent with the means of grace
  • Giving more and more time to worldly pursuits and entertainments
  • Assuming the gospel, yet never giving it serious thought or weighing its crucial value
  • Excusing and rationalizing sin rather than fighting it and putting it to death

Turn-away loved his sin and so he preferred to walk in darkness.

And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God” (John 3:19–21).

If we would avoid the deadly error of Turn-away, we must love Christ and walk in the light.

Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12).

Apostasy is a fearful judgment, but it is a final judgment. Turn-away is at the end of his days and is being led back to the By-way to hell. He is justly condemned and marked for eternity as a “wanton professor and damnable apostate.”

Until that final day, we have not the insight nor the ability to discern true apostasy from backsliding (in the hearts of others as well as our own hearts). And so me must continually preaching the gospel (to others and to ourselves) and heed the gospel. May God help us to tremble with Christian and Hopeful and continually repent of our sin and look to Christ who is ever and always our only hope.

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.

Remember Lot’s Wife

Now I saw that, just on the other side of this plain, the pilgrims came to a place where stood an old monument, hard by the highway side, at the sight of which they were both concerned, because of the strangeness of the form thereof; for it seemed to them as if it had been a woman transformed into the shape of a pillar; here, therefore they stood looking, and looking upon it, but could not for a time tell what they should make thereof. At last Hopeful espied written above the head thereof, a writing in an unusual hand; but he being no scholar, called to Christian (for he was learned) to see if he could pick out the meaning; so he came, and after a little laying of letters together, he found the same to be this, “Remember Lot’s Wife.” So he read it to his fellow; after which they both concluded that that was the pillar of salt into which Lot’s wife was turned, for her looking back with a covetous heart, when she was going from Sodom for safety. Which sudden and amazing sight gave them occasion of this discourse.

Christian: Ah, my brother! This is a seasonable sight; it came opportunely to us after the invitation which Demas gave us to come over to view the Hill Lucre; and had we gone over, as he desired us, and as you were inclining to do, my brother, we had, for aught I know, been made ourselves like this woman, a spectacle for those that shall come after to behold.

Hopeful: I am sorry that I was so foolish, and am made to wonder that I am not now as Lot’s wife; for wherein was the difference between her sin and mine? She only looked back; and I had a desire to go see. Let grace be adored, and let me be ashamed that ever such a thing should be in mine heart.

Christian: Let us take notice of what we see here, for our help for time to come. This woman escaped one judgment, for she fell not by the destruction of Sodom; yet she was destroyed by another, as we see she is turned into a pillar of salt.

Hopeful: True; and she may be to us both caution and example; caution, that we should shun her sin; or a sign of what judgment will overtake such as shall not be prevented by this caution. So Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, with the two hundred and fifty men that perished in their sin, did also become a sign or example to others to beware. But above all, I muse at one thing, to wit, how Demas and his fellows can stand so confidently yonder to look for that treasure, which this woman, but for looking behind her after, (for we read not that she stepped one foot out of the way) was turned into a pillar of salt; especially since the judgment which overtook her did make her an example, within sight of where they are; for they cannot choose but see her, did they but lift up their eyes.

Christian: It is a thing to be wondered at, and it argues that their hearts are grown desperate in the case; and I cannot tell who to compare them to so fitly, as to them that pick pockets in the presence of the judge, or that will cut purses under the gallows. It is said of the men of Sodom, that they were sinners exceedingly, because they were sinners before the Lord, that is, in his eyesight, and notwithstanding the kindnesses that he had showed them; for the land of Sodom was now like the garden of Eden heretofore. This, therefore, provoked Him the more to jealousy, and made their plague as hot as the fire of the Lord out of heaven could make it. And it is most rationally to be concluded, that such, even such as these are, that shall sin in the sight, yea, and that too in despite of such examples that are set continually before them, to caution them to the contrary, must be partakers of severest judgments.

Hopeful: Doubtless you have said the truth; but what a mercy is it, that neither you, but especially I, am not made myself this example! This ministers occasion to us to thank God, to fear before Him, and always to remember Lot’s wife.

Pillar of SaltNo sooner had Christian and Hopeful crossed the Plain of Ease and made it past Demas and the Silver Mine than they encounter a strange sight near the Way. The pilgrims see an old monument that appears to be “a woman transformed into the shape of a pillar.” The monument is placed “hard by the highway side” (right next to the path so it can’t be missed). At first they are puzzled and not sure of its meaning. Finally, Hopeful sees an inscription that unravels the mystery. The monument is a warning from the pages of Scripture where God brought judgment on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. God sent angels to warn Lot and his family to flee the city lest they be destroyed, telling them:

“Escape for your life! Do not look behind you nor stay anywhere in the plain. Escape to the mountains, lest you be destroyed” (Genesis 19:17).

Then God sent the promised judgment:

Then the Lord rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the Lord out of the heavens. So He overthrew those cities, all the plain, all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. But his wife looked back behind him, and she became a pillar of salt. And Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the Lord. Then he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the plain; and he saw, and behold, the smoke of the land which went up like the smoke of a furnace. And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in which Lot had dwelt (Genesis 19:24–29).

While fleeing Sodom and Gomorrah with her husband, Lot’s wife ignored the angel’s warning, looked back, and “became a pillar of salt.” The sight of the pillar of salt near the Way gives Christian and Hopeful pause. In their solemn discourse, Bunyan teaches us three important lessons:

1. We are saved by God’s grace alone, not by our own wits or cunning.

Christian regards the monument as a “seasonable sight.” He tells Hopeful, “Let us take notice of what we see here, for our help for time to come.” He recognizes the value and providential timing in finding the pillar on their journey. It is meant to teach them and alert them to be cautious. Had they listened to the words of Demas and stopped to look in his mine, as Hopeful was inclined to do, they might have fallen into the snare of sin. Hopeful is humbled and confesses his foolishness. He knows he strayed in his heart and is deserving of judgment. He sees his sin as far worse: Lot’s wife “only looked back,” but he “had a desire to go see.” It is only by God’s grace that he did not fall into the same condemnation. It is God, not us, who saves us and keeps us. Left to ourselves, we would stumble and fall. He alone is worthy of praise!

For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? (1 Corinthians 4:7).

2. We must heed God’s warnings and take His judgment against sin seriously.

Although temptations to walk in the ways of the world are often close by, especially when we walk through times of ease, God’s warnings are also close at hand. We see these warnings set forth clearly in God’s Word and manifest starkly in the consequences of sin and the insatiable emptiness that sin leaves in its wake. Sin ultimately leads to misery and condemnation. We can be grateful that God doesn’t judge every sin with a timely display of His wrath. If He did, we would all be consumed.

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

BUT

He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
(Psalm 103:9)

And so we must heed His warnings and flee to Him for mercy and grace. Hopeful mentions another account later in the Old Testament where God displayed His wrath as “a sign” or warning to His people.

The sons of Eliab were Nemuel, Dathan, and Abiram. These are the Dathan and Abiram, representatives of the congregation, who contended against Moses and Aaron in the company of Korah, when they contended against the Lord; and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up together with Korah when that company died, when the fire devoured two hundred and fifty men; and they became a sign (Numbers 26:9–10).

All of God’s judgments— on Sodom and Gomorrah, on the Sons of Korah, on Lot’s wife—are warnings to us to take the wrath of God seriously. Every display of God’s wrath is a call to us to turn away from sin, and come to Christ for mercy, forgiveness, wisdom and righteousness.

The warnings are clear, placed along our path so we cannot avoid seeing them. Yet too often we ignore or discount them. The pillar stands within sight of the mine. The consequences of sin stare us in the face. Yet even with God’s warnings so close at hand, we wander off the path to trifle with sin. God’s blessings are equally clear. He sustains us—He gives us every breath. His gracious provisions are all around us. Yet even in the midst of blessing, we ignore God’s kindness and go our own way.

The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were richly blessed of God. Their beauty was comparable to the garden of Eden. Yet their citizens did not honor God and rebelled against Him.

And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere (before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar. Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan, and Lot journeyed east. And they separated from each other. Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain and pitched his tent even as far as Sodom. But the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the Lord (Genesis 13:10–13).

Blatant sin in midst of God’s abundant provision and kindness is nothing less than “exceedingly wicked and sinful against the Lord.” To ignore His warnings and live as if there were no coming judgment is utter folly (Psalm 14:1, 53:1). God’s sovereign rule over His creation is evident and obvious if we would but acknowledge it. There will be no valid excuses on the Day of Judgment from the ungodly who refuse to turn from their sin and flee to Christ.

3. We must guard our hearts and not assume that because we are fleeing the consequences of sin, we are safely beyond the reach of sin.

Christian and Hopeful made it past the silver mine. They would not stray from the path even a step.  They escaped the fate that came upon By-ends and his friends. But the pillar is a warning that they must stay vigilant and guard their hearts. Lot’s wife was being rescued; she was on a right path, hastened to leave a city prepared for destruction. But she longingly looked back. She treasured what was behind her. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Her heart remained in Sodom and so she was judged as a citizen of Sodom.

We must guard our hearts in the battle against temptation. It is possible to turn out of the Way with a glance, not just a step. Lot’s wife came under God’s judgment even in the midst of escaping God’s judgment. Though her feet carried her away from destruction, her heart plunged her into the Pit. She had the same covetous heart that Israel would later display when God brought them out of their bondage in Egypt. Israel was on the way to the Promised Land, yet their hearts were addicted to slavery, and they looked back with longing.

Now the mixed multitude who were among them yielded to intense craving; so the children of Israel also wept again and said: “Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!” (Numbers 11:4–6).

The message inscribed above the pillar reads: “Remember Lot’s Wife.” It is a message for us today. The inscription comes from Jesus’ words in Luke 17:

Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed. In that day, he who is on the housetop, and his goods are in the house, let him not come down to take them away. And likewise the one who is in the field, let him not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it (Luke 17:28–33).

You can turn away from God in your heart and rebel against Him in your thoughts without ever taking an obvious step. There are many in churches today who appear to be on the right path fleeing Destruction. They seek to escape the consequences of sin—its misery and condemnation, but they are looking back, longing for what they left. We must flee sin at all cost. We must flee sin in our hearts and with our eyes and ears, as well as with our hands and feet. We must not assume that because we are fleeing the consequences of sin, we are safely beyond the reach of sin. Scripture admonishes us:

Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:12–13).

Let us run from sin with no looking back. And, as Hopeful instructs, let us thank God, fear Him, and always remember Lot’s wife.

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.

How Shall We Stand in That Great Day?

Perhaps the most fertile ground for hymn writing is meditation on the preached Word of God. There is always great value, especially as we weather the storms and trials of life, of staying under the faithful preaching of the Bible. And there is even greater value in taking time to ponder, pray through, and preach that biblical truth to our own souls.

That has proven to be true with the recent sermon series through the book of Ecclesiastes entitled “Real Life in a Fallen World” preached by Dr. Tom Ascol at Grace Baptist Church, Cape Coral, Florida. This is the third hymn I have written while meditating on messages from the series. The other two are: “What Can Be Gained by All Our Toil?” and “Eternal God Exalted.” When you consider the vanity of life, the wages of sin, and the certainty of coming judgment, how great is our need of a Savior!

Storm Clouds

How Shall We Stand in That Great Day?

For God will bring every work into judgment,
Including every secret thing,
Whether good or evil.
(Ecclesiastes 12:14)

1. How shall we stand in that great day
When secrets are revealed,
When thoughts and motives are laid bare
And nothing is concealed?

2. On that great day when God will judge
Our every word and deed,
Without excuse, our mouths will close,
For guilty we must plead.

3. The deeds we do, the thoughts we think
Will matter on that day;
Each sinful act, each secret thought,
Each careless word we say.

4. O sinner, if you face that day
Alone, you will not stand.
The Law will charge and you will fall,
Condemned by just command.

5. Our only hope when that day comes:
That Christ died in our place;
He bore Himself the wrath of God
That we might know His grace.

6. O sinner, come before that day,
Come look to Christ and live!
Take refuge in His righteousness;
Your sins He will forgive.

7. With certainty that day draws near,
O why would you delay?
Tomorrow is not guaranteed,
Come trust in Christ today!

Words ©2017 Ken Puls

Download the lyrics and free sheet music for this hymn, including an arrangement of the tune ARLINGTON for classical guitar.

What Can Be Gained by All Our Toil?

All Is Vanity

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? (Ecclesiastes 1:2–3)

The book of Ecclesiastes offers a simple answer. Apart from God, this wearisome and unpredictable world in which we live will never make sense. If we are to find meaning, purpose and hope in this life, we must acknowledge God and submit humbly to His Word.

What Can Be Gained by All Our Toil?
A Meditation on the book of Ecclesiastes

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:
Fear God and keep His commandments,
For this is man’s all.
For God will bring every work into judgment,
Including every secret thing,
Whether good or evil.
(Ecclesiastes 12:13–14)

1. What can be gained by all our toil,
Where’s hope amidst such pain?
The sin that fills our fallen world
Makes all our efforts vain.

2. Apart from God there is no hope,
No purpose for this life.
The fruit of all our plans and ploys
Yields not but endless strife.

3. Without God’s grace our thoughts and toils
Are grasping for the wind.
We need the wisdom of God’s Word
That we might know our end.

4. What must we then conclude and know
When wisdom has been heard?
That God has spoken and will judge:
Fear Him and keep His Word!

5. The fear of God will make us wise,
His Word shows us the way.
It beckons us to come to Christ,
Its call we must obey.

6. For on that day when God will judge,
All secret things made known.
The only refuge from God’s wrath
Will be in Christ alone.

Words ©2016 Ken Puls

This hymn is my reflection on the book of Ecclesiastes, especially the conclusion of the book in chapter twelve. It was written during a sermon series on Ecclesiastes entitled “Real Life in a Fallen World” preached by Dr. Tom Ascol at Grace Baptist Church, Cape Coral, Florida.

Download the lyrics and free sheet music for this hymn, including an arrangement of the tune ST. COLUMBA for classical guitar.

More Hymns and Songs