Tag Archives: light

A Key Called Promise

Well, on Saturday, about midnight, they began to pray, and continued in prayer till almost break of day.

Now a little before it was day, good Christian, as one half amazed, brake out in passionate speech: What a fool, quoth he, am I, thus to lie in a stinking Dungeon, when I may as well walk at liberty. I have a Key in my bosom called Promise, that will, I am persuaded, open any Lock in Doubting Castle. Then said Hopeful, That’s good news; good Brother pluck it out of thy bosom and try.

Then Christian pulled it out of his bosom, and began to try at the Dungeon door, whose bolt (as he turned the Key) gave back, and the door flew open with ease, and Christian and Hopeful both came out. Then he went to the outward door that leads into the Castle-yard, and with his Key opened that door also. After he went to the iron Gate, for that must be opened too, but that Lock went very hard, yet the Key did open it. Then they thrust open the Gate to make their escape with speed; but that Gate as it opened made such a creaking, that it waked Giant Despair, who hastily rising to pursue his Prisoners, felt his limbs to fail, for his Fits took him again, so that he could by no means go after them. Then they went on, and came to the King’s High-way again, and so were safe, because they were out of his jurisdiction.

Now, when they were over the stile, they began to contrive with themselves what they should do at that stile to prevent those that should come after from falling into the hands of Giant Despair. So they consented to erect there a pillar, and to engrave upon the side thereof this sentence—”Over this stile is the way to Doubting Castle, which is kept by Giant Despair, who despises the King of the Celestial Country, and seeks to destroy his holy pilgrims.” Many, therefore, that followed after read what was written, and escaped the danger. This done, they sang as follows:

Out of the way we went, and then we found
What ’twas to tread upon forbidden ground;
And let them that come after have a care,
Lest heedlessness makes them, as we, to fare.
Lest they for trespassing his prisoners are,
Whose castle’s Doubting, and whose name’s Despair.

A Key Called PromiseChristian and Hopeful have now suffered the misery of Doubting Castle for almost four days. They were captured by Giant Despair on Wednesday morning. Now it is Saturday, almost midnight, and they begin to pray.

It is worth noting that the pilgrims’ escape from Doubting Castle begins with prayer. In his commentary on The Pilgrim’s Progress, William Mason explains:

What! Pray in the custody of Giant Despair, in the midst of Doubting Castle, and when their own folly brought them there too? Yes; mind this, ye pilgrims, ye are exhorted, “I will that men pray everywhere, without doubting” (1 Tim. 2:8). We can be in no place but God can hear, nor in any circumstance but God is able to deliver us from. And be assured, that when the spirit of prayer comes, deliverance is nigh at hand.

The pilgrims pray through the early morning of the Lord’s Day. It is on the Lord’s Day that they remember Christ—the day that Christ rose from the dead—the day the church gathers each week for prayer, fellowship, and the preaching of the Word. It is on the Lord’s Day that the light of the gospel again dawns in Christian’s thinking. Bunyan’s timing here is significant. It is a subtle reminder that we need to stay under the preaching of God’s Word and seek out the prayers of God’s people, even if (and especially if) we are in the bonds of doubt and despair.

Christian realizes that he has possessed the means of escape all along. He has a Key that will open any lock in Doubting Castle. The Key represents the “exceedingly great and precious promises” of the gospel—promises that are ours in Christ.

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust (2 Peter 1:2–4).

It is the promise of eternal life and the assurance of salvation in Christ.

And this is the promise that He has promised us—eternal life (1 John 2:25).

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

For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me, Silvanus, and Timothy—was not Yes and No, but in Him was Yes. For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us (2 Corinthians 1:19–20).

Christian keeps the Key in his bosom (close to his heart), where he also keeps his roll (assurance of salvation)—the roll he received at the cross. The darkness of doubting caused him to forget. Now as light dawns (the understanding and application of God’s Word), he remembers.

As Christian and Hopeful begin their escape, the door to their cell opens with ease. The Key also opens the door to the castle yard. But the Iron Gate that bars their exit from Doubting Castle is stubborn. We read: “that Lock went very hard.” In the original text to The Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan describes the lock as opening “damnable hard.” His choice of words is strong to show the grave danger of Doubting Castle. To remain imprisoned is to place the soul in eternal peril.

Christian had learned earlier in the allegory at the House of the Interpreter about the strong bonds of despair. The Man in the Iron Cage was hopelessly imprisoned by his own doubts and fears. He had once professed faith and claimed the promises of God, yet sin had so ruined him that he could no longer believe that God could save him. In our lowest moments it is easier to believe that God will extend grace to others than to us. Though sin has ravaged the world, we feel the sin that has ravaged our own hearts the deepest. When we examine our hearts under the piercing light of God’s Law, we know ourselves to be “the chief of sinners.”

When doubt lays hold, and when Christ is not in view, we can have the hardest time believing that someone like us can be saved. Even when we take hold of the Key, the Lock can be stubborn. Yet the promise of the gospel will indeed open it. We need to heed the words of hope, keep turning the key in the lock, and press forward until the gate is thrust open.

This scene in The Pilgrim’s Progress comes from Bunyan’s own experience. In Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, he describes his own “three or four days” in Doubting Castle and how he was able to escape:

At another time, though just before I was pretty well and savory in my spirit, yet suddenly there fell upon me a great cloud of darkness, which did so hide from me the things of God and Christ, that I was as if I had never seen or known them in my life; I was also so overrun in my soul, with a senseless, heartless frame of spirit, that I could not feel my soul to move or stir after grace and life by Christ; I was as if my loins were broken, or as if my hands and feet had been tied or bound with chains. At this time also I felt some weakness to seize ‘upon’ my outward man, which made still the other affliction the more heavy and uncomfortable ‘to me.’

After I had been in this condition some three or four days, as I was sitting by the fire, I suddenly felt this word to sound in my heart, I must go to Jesus; at this my former darkness and atheism fled away, and the blessed things of heaven were set within my view. While I was on this sudden thus overtaken with surprise, Wife, said I, is there ever such a scripture, I must go to Jesus? she said she could not tell, therefore I sat musing still to see if I could remember such a place; I had not sat above two or three minutes but that came bolting in upon me, “And to an innumerable company of angels,” and withal, Hebrews the twelfth, about the mount Sion was set before mine eyes (vv 22-24).

Then with joy I told my wife, O now I know, I know! But that night was a good night to me, I never had but few better; I longed for the company of some of God’s people that I might have imparted unto them what God had showed me. Christ was a precious Christ to my soul that night; I could scarce lie in my bed for joy, and peace, and triumph, through Christ; this great glory did not continue upon me until morning, yet that twelfth of the author to the Hebrews (Heb. 12:22, 23) was a blessed scripture to me for many days together after this.

[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 261–263]

Bunyan found freedom by remembering the words of Scripture:

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel (Hebrews 12:22–24).

He knew in his heart: “I must go to Jesus!” Christ was precious to him.

We must look to Christ if we are to escape from Doubting Castle. If we lose sight of Christ or depend upon anything but Him for help, Despair will find us again. Cheever observes:

Alas! alas! how many ways there are of getting into this gloomy prison! Oh, if Christ be not always with the soul, or if at any time it go astray from him, or if its reliance be on anything whatever but his mercy, his blood, his grace, then is it near the gloom of this dungeon; then may Giant Despair be heard walking in his grounds, and verily the echo of his footsteps oftentimes falls upon the soul before the grim form rises on the vision. And some who have once entered the castle have stayed there a great while, because they have tried many other means of escape, than by the blood of Christ; because they have used picklocks, and penances, and stratagems, and the help of friends outside the castle, but not the key of Promise, or that not aright, not throwing themselves on the Savior alone for pardon, peace, and justification. A man who gets into difficulty through sin, will never get out by self-righteousness; nor are past sins, nor the burden of them, to be ever removed by present morality; nothing but faith, nothing but the precious blood of Christ, can take away sin, can remove the stain of it, can deliver the soul from its condemnation (from Lectures on The Pilgrim’s Progress by G.B. Cheever).

Christ alone can save us! Only He provides the promise of escape from the iron bars of doubt and the fierce blows of despair. Every method of our own devising is insufficient:

  • picklocks (making excuses, rationalizing sin, trying to forget the past and move on)
  • penances (doing good things or punishing ourselves to make up for the bad things)
  • stratagems (making a new start, moving to a new location, trying a new diet, exercise, medication, meditation, …)
  • help of friends (support groups, therapy, counseling, encouragements from others)

Though strategies may have their place and the help of friends is welcome, they can never give us what we truly need. They cannot save us when we sin against God and others. They cannot free us from guilt when we go astray. They cannot supply the grace we need to forgive ourselves and others who sin against us. Only Christ, through His saving work on the cross, can bring us grace and mercy and forgiveness. Only in Him can we find freedom from guilt and condemnation. Only in Him can we escape doubt and despair and find peace with God. We must remember the promise of the gospel and flee to Christ!

As Christian and Hopeful hasten to leave the castle, the loud creaking of the Gate arouses the giant. But when the giant attempts to pursue his prisoners, he falls into a seizure and cannot reclaim them. In the light of day, he has no strength. Despair cannot endure where there is clear understanding and diligent application of God’s Word.

Once the pilgrims make it back to the King’s Highway, safely out of reach of Giant Despair, they place a monument near the stile where they had crossed over into By-Path Meadow. They want to warn those would follow after them on the journey. Our experiences, even our struggles and failures, can be useful to others, to warn them of danger and encourage them to keep to the Way. In time Christian’s own family, Christiana and her children, will find this monument during their own journey in Part II of The Pilgrim’s Progress.

Doubting Castle

Lord, we pray for those imprisoned
By Despair, who lie in grief;
Locked in Doubting Castle’s dungeon,
Stripped of hope and its relief.
Father help them to remember
In Thy promise is the key;
Now unlock the door that bars them,
In the Gospel, set them free.

(from “A Prayer for Pilgrims” 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 Prayer and Encouragement for Those Who Preach God’s Word

A prayer and an encouragement for those who faithfully study and preach God’s Word week by week, diligently mining its treasures that we might marvel at truth in all its facets.

The Riches of God's Word

Vast the Riches of God’s Word

“Therefore I love your commandments
above gold, above fine gold.”
(Psalm 119:127)

1. Vast the riches of God’s Word,
Truth that shines as purest gold.
Search its treasures, venture deep,
All its splendor to behold!

2. Grant us hearts that love the Word,
Open ears that we might hear,
Help Your servant, Lord, we pray,
Make the message plain and clear.

3. Keep our thoughts from wandering
As Your Word is preached today,
Anchor us in truth applied
That we might not fall or stray.

4. Preach the Word, we need to hear!
Draw out wealth as from a mine.
Show each gem that we might see
Truth in all its facets shine.

5. Take us to each verse and line,
Open up the Word and show
All the riches we can find;
Help us more of Christ to know.

6. May God’s Word in brilliance shine
Light on all we do and say.
May it be our great delight
To receive it and obey.

Words ©2017 Ken Puls

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

More Hymns and Songs

Fragile Jars of Clay

Treasure in Jars of Clay

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

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

Paul offers encouragement and an answer to that question:

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

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

Fragile Jars of Clay

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunlight in the Valley

Christian: But did you meet nobody else in that valley?

Faithful: No, not I; for I had sunshine all the rest of the way through that, and also through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

Christian: It was well for you. I am sure it fared far otherwise with me. I had for a long season, as soon almost as I entered into that valley, a dreadful combat with that foul fiend Apollyon; yea, I thought verily he would have killed me, especially when he got me down and crushed me under him, as if he would have crushed me to pieces; for as he threw me, my sword flew out of my hand; nay, he told me he was sure of me: but I cried to God, and he heard me, and delivered me out of all my troubles. Then I entered into the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and had no light for almost half the way through it. I thought I should have been killed there, over and over; but at last day broke, and the sun rose, and I went through that which was behind with far more ease and quiet.

Through the ValleyAs Faithful concludes the account of his journey through the two valleys, we see again the difference between Christian’s experience and Faithful’s experience. Faithful did not succumb to the same fears and temptations as Christian. For Christian the way was difficult and dark. He battled Apollyon in the Valley of Humiliation and was confounded with torments and terrors in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Faithful encountered Discontent and Shame in the first valley, but “had sunshine all the rest of the way through” even through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

Sunlight is an important metaphor in The Pilgrim’s Progress. Earlier in the story, when Christian was in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Bunyan described the rising of the sun as “mercy” to Christian. This mercy was a reflection of Bunyan’s own experience. In Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners Bunyan tells of a dream that he had when he was beginning to understand his need of salvation. The dream provided him ideas he later used to create the story of The Pilgrim’s Progress. In his account of the dream, he explains the significance of the sun.

About this time, the state and happiness of these poor people at Bedford was thus, in a dream or vision, represented to me. I saw, as if they were set on the sunny side of some high mountain, there refreshing themselves with the pleasant beams of the sun, while I was shivering and shrinking in the cold, afflicted with frost, snow and dark clouds. Methought, also, betwixt me and them, I saw a wall that did compass about this mountain; now, through this wall my soul did greatly desire to pass; concluding, that if I could, I would go even into the very midst of them and there also comfort myself with the heat of their sun.

About this wall I thought myself, to go again and again, still prying as I went, to see if I could find some way or passage, by which I might enter therein; but none could I find for some time. At last I saw, as it were, a narrow gap, like a little doorway in the way, through which I attempted to pass; but the passage being very straight and narrow, I made many efforts to get in, but all in vain, even until I was well-nigh quite beat out, by striving to get in. At last, with great striving, methought I at first did get in my head, and after that, by a sidling striving, my shoulders, and my whole body. Then I was exceeding glad, and went and sat down in the midst of them, and so was comforted with the light and heat of their sun.

Now, this mountain and wall, etc., was thus made out to me—the mountain signified the church of the living God; the sun that shone thereon, the comfortable shining of His merciful face on them that were therein. The wall, I thought, was the Word, that did make separation between the Christians and the world; and the gap which was in this wall, I thought was Jesus Christ, who is the way to God the Father (John 14:6; Matthew 7:14). But forasmuch as the passage was wonderful narrow, even so narrow, that I could not, but with great difficulty, enter in thereat, it showed me that none could enter into life, but those that were in downright earnest, and unless they left this wicked world behind them; for here was only room for body and soul, but not for body and soul, and sin.

[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 53-55]

The sunlight represents the merciful face of Christ shining down on the members of the church in Bedford. They were comforted and refreshed while Bunyan was “shivering and shrinking in the cold, afflicted with frost, snow and dark clouds.” It was only when Bunyan repented of sin and looked to Christ as his only hope that he was able to join them and be “comforted with the light and heat of their sun.” In The Pilgrim’s Progress it was the light of day that comforted Christian when he neared the end of the Valley of the Shadow of Death. When “at last day broke” he walked “with far more ease and quiet.”

As Bunyan notes, the sun gives both light and heat. The light signifies our understanding of God’s Word. We can see and think more clearly in the light of Scripture. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). Christian was confounded and needed the helpful rays of truth on his path. But when the sun arose, it was not just Christian’s mind that was helped. He had not just light but also heat and warmth. His emotions and affections were lifted with the smiling face of Christ. God’s Word was precious to him. He delighted in truth. Christian had forsaken the world to become a pilgrim, a follower of Christ. He was rescued and redeemed, cleansed and forgiven. He belonged to the Lord and now enjoyed the warmth of His presence.

Does hearing and believing God’s Word impact you this way?

Do the promises of the gospel warm your heart and stir your soul? We need truth to do more than just satisfy us intellectually. We need it to do more than just answer our questions. When the truth of all that Christ has done for us truly lands on us, it will do more than simply make us wise to salvation. It will warm and rejoice our hearts. It will stir and overflow our affections. It will move us and grip us in ways that resonate through our entire being. It will cause us to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength (Luke 10:27).
If you know Christ, I pray that this describes your love for God and His Word—that your deepest delight is trusting and resting in Him. And if you don’t know Him, I pray that you will come to know Him this way—that you would understand the depth of His love in the light of His Word and feel the warmth of that love in His abiding presence—that you would know, as Bunyan came to know, “the comfortable shining of His merciful face.”

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
(Numbers 6:24–26)

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

The Light of Day

And by and by the day broke; then said Christian, He has turned “the shadow of death into the morning.”

Now morning being come, he looked back, not out of desire to return, but to see, by the light of the day, what hazards he had gone through in the dark. So he saw more perfectly the ditch that was on the one hand, and the mire that was on the other; also how narrow the way was which led between them both; also now he saw the hobgoblins, and satyrs, and dragons of the pit, but all afar off, (for after break of day, they came not nigh;) yet they were discovered to him, according to that which is written, “He discovers deep things out of darkness, and brings out to light the shadow of death.”

Now was Christian much affected with his deliverance from all the dangers of his solitary way; which dangers, though he feared them more before, yet he saw them more clearly now, because the light of the day made them conspicuous to him. And about this time the sun was rising, and this was another mercy to Christian; for you must note, that though the first part of the Valley of the Shadow of Death was dangerous, yet this second part which he was yet to go, was, if possible, far more dangerous; for from the place where he now stood, even to the end of the valley, the way was all along set so full of snares, traps, gins, and nets here, and so full of pits, pitfalls, deep holes, and shelvings down there, that, had it now been dark, as it was when he came the first part of the way, had he had a thousand souls, they had in reason been cast away; but, as I said just now, the sun was rising. Then said he, “His candle shines upon my head, and by his light I walk through darkness.”

The Light of Day

Christian has had a long and difficult journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, but now the dawn is breaking. After being oppressed and confounded in the darkness, he welcomes the light of day with praise to God. He quotes from the book of Amos, acknowledging that God is the One who is sovereign over night and day, over darkness as well as light.

He made the Pleiades and Orion;
He turns the shadow of death into morning
And makes the day dark as night;
He calls for the waters of the sea
And pours them out on the face of the earth;
The Lord is His name
(Amos 5:8)

It is God who graciously sends the light:

Unto the upright there arises light in the darkness;
He is gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous.
(Psalm 112:4)

And exposes and uncovers the darkness.

He uncovers deep things out of darkness,
And brings the shadow of death to light.
(Job 12:22)

In Bunyan’s allegory the light represents the Word of God:

Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path.
(Psalm 119:105)

We are called to heed this Word as we walk through this dark world:

And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts (2 Peter 1:19).

Early in his pilgrimage Christian was taught to prize and seek the light. When Evangelist first pointed Christian to the Wicket Gate (representing Christ as the Way to life), Christian could not yet see the Gate. Evangelist then directed him to “yonder Shining Light” (representing the Word of God). It is by God’s revealed Word that we see clearly the Way to salvation. It is God’s Word that points us to Christ, who is the Word made flesh (John 1:14) and the true Light of the world (John 1:9). When Isaiah prophesied of the coming of Jesus, he described it as the dawning of day across a land shrouded in the shadow of death:

The people who walked in darkness
Have seen a great light;
Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death,
Upon them a light has shined.
(Isaiah 9:2)

Isaiah’s refrain is echoed in the song of Zacharias when the prophecy is fulfilled at Jesus’ birth:

Through the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us;
To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.
(Luke 1:78–79)

If we are to find peace and hope in this life, we must find Christ. There is nothing more valuable as we face the darkness of this world than laying hold of Christ in His Word. In Christ there is life and light. In Christ we have nothing to fear. He is our strength and salvation.

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?
(Psalm 27:1)

Throughout The Pilgrim’s Progress Bunyan has emphasized the necessity of reading and heeding God’s Word. The story opens with Christian reading his Book in a field, where it warned him to flee from the wrath to come. He was directed to follow its light as he sought a way of escape from Destruction. He heard valuable lessons for his journey when the Word was opened to him at the House of the Interpreter. He was taught to wield the Word as his sword in the armory of Palace Beautiful.

Now as light dawns in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Bunyan highlights the importance of God’s Word for navigating the trials and temptations of this life. In the story, as the sun is rising, Christian gains a better perspective of what lies behind him as well as lies before him. He can better see the difficult trials he has just experienced and the dangers from which God has protected him. And he can better discern and anticipate what might lie ahead. The light gives him the advantage. In the light the fiends of the valley are driven back.

Likewise, in the light of God’s Word, we are better able to make sense of previous trials. And we are better prepared to face new trials. The light allows us to see the true nature of sin and temptation. In the light sin loses its power to allure and confuse us. We see it as abhorrent and conspicuous. In the light we see the ploys and perils of sin. We can better steer clear and avoid its entanglement. In the light we see the charm of this world fade and grow dim, outshined by the beauty and splendor of Christ. Nothing that sin or this world can offer us will ever compare to the joy of knowing Him. We need God’s Word to keep the light of Christ shining brightly on our path.

The light of day makes Christian both thankful and careful. He is grateful for all that God has brought him through and vigilant to stay clear of snares that would draw him away and threaten his soul. The Way is filled with danger. And even greater dangers lie ahead for Christian. But in God’s mercy the sun is rising and Christian can see the Way forward. As he presses on he recounts with Job “the days when God watched over me; when His lamp shone upon my head, and when by His light I walked through darkness” (Job 29:2–3).
May God help us always to seek and walk in the light of His Word:

Oh, send out Your light and Your truth!
Let them lead me;
Let them bring me to Your holy hill
And to Your tabernacle.
(Psalm 43:3)

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

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2015 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Father Lift Our Eyes in Prayer

Too often when we come to pray, our thoughts are set upon ourselves—on our trials and struggles. We are overly mindful of our limitations and distress. And if we keep our attention fixed on ourselves and our circumstances, our praying can become mired in discouragement and confusion.

It is God’s gracious design, in giving us the wonderful privilege of prayer, to lift our eyes off of us and off of our sometimes bewildering troubles, and fix them upon Him—on His sure character and person—on His sure Word and promises. We dare not linger long surveying our cares and needs. We do better to look through them, above them, and to the very One who work all things for our good and His glory.

The idea for this hymn came during the 1997 Southern Baptist Founders Conference. At that conference Iain Murray preached a series of messages on revival. On Friday evening, July 25, 1997, he concluded his message by speaking of our need for prayer. He admonished us in our prayers not to begin by looking at the world or or to our many needs. We must start by seeing God, knowing Who He is, what He has done, and what He promises to do. Unless we know God, we will not know how to pray.

May God shine the light of His Word upon our prayers.

Light on the Sea

Father, lift our eyes in prayer
We Your glory would behold!
We need light to see Your hand
As Your perfect plan unfolds.
Clearly let us see You, Lord
When we face dismay or loss
In each trial let us see
Not our crisis, but Your cross.

Lord, forgive our selfish prayers
We forget to Whom we pray
And in folly bring advice
Thinking we know best the way
Show us Lord Your perfect will
Help us walk contentedly
You, O Lord, know best the way
None, Lord, can Your couns’lor be.

Teach us, Lord, to know You well
That we might have well to say
Lift our thoughts to meditate
On Your glory as we pray
Do not let our prayers arise
With eyes fixed on want and need
Look beyond, above, and to
Him to Whom we come and plead

Lord, remove our thoughts from self
Warm our words with words Your own
On the Scriptures, set our minds
When in prayer we seek Your throne
That we all may comprehend
Width and length and depth and height!
Fully know the love of Christ!
On our prayers, Lord, shine Your light

Words ©1998, 2014 Ken Puls
Download free sheet music and lyric sheet for this hymn.

The Lost Roll

But, thinking again of what he had heard from the men, he felt in his bosom for his roll, that he might read therein, and be comforted; but he felt, and found it not. Then was Christian in great distress, and knew not what to do; for he wanted that which used to relieve him, and that which should have been his pass into the Celestial City. Here, therefore, he began to be much perplexed, and knew not what to do. At last he bethought himself that he had slept in the arbor that is on the side of the hill; and, falling down upon his knees, he asked God’s forgiveness for that his foolish act, and then went back to look for his roll. But all the way he went back, who can sufficiently set forth the sorrow of Christian’s heart? Sometimes he sighed, sometimes he wept, and oftentimes he chide himself for being so foolish to fall asleep in that place, which was erected only for a little refreshment for his weariness. Thus, therefore, he went back, carefully looking on this side and on that, all the way as he went, if happily he might find his roll, that had been his comfort so many times in his journey. He went thus, till he came again within sight of the arbor where he sat and slept; but that sight renewed his sorrow the more, by bringing again, even afresh, his evil of sleeping into his mind. Thus, therefore, he now went on bewailing his sinful sleep, saying, O wretched man that I am that I should sleep in the daytime! That I should sleep in the midst of difficulty! That I should so indulge the flesh, as to use that rest for ease to my flesh, which the Lord of the hill hath erected only for the relief of the spirits of pilgrims!

How many steps have I took in vain! Thus it happened to Israel, for their sin; they were sent back again by the way of the Red Sea; and I am made to tread those steps with sorrow, which I might have trod with delight, had it not been for this sinful sleep. How far might I have been on my way by this time! I am made to tread those steps thrice over, which I needed not to have trod but once; yea, now also I am like to be benighted, for the day is almost spent. O, that I had not slept!

When Christian hears the report from Timorous and Mistrust that there were lions ahead, he himself begins to fear. He looks for his roll for comfort, but discovers it is missing. As we learned earlier in the story, the roll represents Christian’s “assurance of life and acceptance at the desired haven.” It fell from his hand while he was asleep in the arbor.

The loss of Christian’s roll highlights two important lessons:

First: The Consequences of Sinful Sleep

The Lost RollIn the arbor Christian made a costly mistake. He slept in the daytime, when God had given him light. He slept in the midst of difficulty, when he had not yet reached the high ground. He became careless when he found opportunity for ease. So long as he was climbing and clambering up the hill, he was determined to move ahead, but he settled in to stay when he found a place to rest. As a result he fell asleep and his roll slipped away. He lost his confidence and determination. Without his roll Christian became distressed and perplexed. He had determined to go forward, saying, “I must venture.” But now he is uncertain and distraught.

We are called, as Christians, to watch and walk in the light. We must stay awake and alert and not squander the day when the night is coming. Bunyan points us here to Paul’s admonition:

Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation (1 Thessalonians 5:6–8).

Paul repeats this warning in Romans:

And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. 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 13:11–14).

Jesus Himself said:

“Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going” (John 12:35).

This is a lesson we must learn. We need to be good stewards of the light and rest God gives us. We must walk and press on as we have light, as we have clear instruction from God’s Word and know where to go and what to do. We must watch and renew our strength as we have rest, encouraged as we see progress, yet mindful that we are not yet at the journey’s end. When we fail to be spiritually alert and diligent and instead become dull and slothful, we make ourselves vulnerable to a host of doubts and fears.

Second: The Fruits of Humble Repentance

At this point in the journey Christian takes a spiritual assessment of himself. He has made it to the top of Hill Difficulty, but he has also heard frightening news of what lies ahead. Since finding relief from his burden at the cross, he has met with several pretenders in the Way and watched as they scoffed, turned back, turned aside and refused to press on.

His recent conversation with Timorous and Mistrust has stirred up fears in his own mind and he begins to question and doubt his salvation. Christian comes to the realization that the same sins he saw overtake and overthrow the pretenders are also in his own heart. He was content to stay and sleep when he should be pressing on in the journey, just like Simple, Sloth and Presumption. He was afraid and uncertain, just like Timorous and Mistrust. How can he be certain of salvation and acceptance at the Celestial City, if such sin and stumbling is evident in his own life?

Christian’s journey in The Pilgrim’s Progress in many ways reflects Bunyan’s own pilgrimage. In Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners Bunyan describes a time early in his imprisonment when he struggled with fears and doubt. He feared that the authorities might sentence him to die. He was afraid that he was spiritually weak and unfit to bear witness for Christ and face death. His fear so overwhelmed him for a time that he became perplexed and was tempted to doubt his own salvation. Here is a portion of Bunyan’s account:

I was once above all the rest, in a very sad and low condition for many weeks; at which time also, I being but a young prisoner, and not acquainted with the laws, had this lying much upon my spirits, that my imprisonment might end at the gallows for ought I could tell. Now Satan laid hard at me, to beat me out of heart, by suggesting thus unto me: But how if, when you come indeed to die, YOU should be in this condition; that is, as not to savor the things of God, nor to have any evidence upon your soul for a better state hereafter? (for indeed at that time all the things of God were hid from my soul).

Wherefore, when I at first began to think of this, it was a great trouble to me; for I thought with myself, that in the condition I now was in, I was not fit to die, neither indeed did I think I could, if I should be called to it. Besides, I thought with myself, if I should make a scrambling shift to climb up the ladder, yet I should either with quaking, or other symptoms of fainting, give occasion to the enemy to reproach the way of God and His people for their timorousness. This, therefore, lay with great trouble upon me, for methought I was ashamed to die with a pale face, and tottering knees, in such a cause as this.

Wherefore I prayed to God that he would comfort me, and give me strength to do and suffer me what He should call me to; yet no comfort appeared, but all continued hid. I was also at this time so really possessed with the thought of death, that oft I was as if I was on a ladder with the rope about my neck. Only this was some encouragement to me. I thought I might now have an opportunity to speak my last words to a multitude, which I thought would come to see me die. And, thought I, if it must be so, if God will but convert one soul by my very last words, I shall not count my life thrown away, nor lost.

But yet all things of God were kept out of my sight, and still the tempter followed me with: “But whither must you go when you die? What will become of you? Where will you be found in another world? What evidence have you for heaven and glory, and an inheritance among them that are sanctified?” Thus was I tossed for many weeks, and knew not what to do.

[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 333–336]

Bunyan describes the real struggles of his heart, as he, like Christian in the allegory, did not know what to do. But take note of what Christian does next. In Christian’s response Bunyan shows us the fruits of humble repentance.

When Christian realizes that his sinful sleep in the arbor caused his roll to slip away, he quickly acknowledges and owns his sin. He falls to his knees and asks God for forgiveness. He then takes action to retrace his steps in search of his roll. Christian’s sin has sad consequences. He prolongs his trial and compounds his grief. He is forced to cover the same ground three times (the second time going back) that he should have traveled once. Yet he humbly repents with diligence and godly sorrow. Thomas Scott notes:

“Christian’s perplexity, remorse, complaints and self-reproachings, when he missed his roll, and went back to seek it, exactly suit the experience of humble and conscientious believers, when unwatchfulness has brought their state into uncertainty.”

Bunyan underscores the need for repentance by pointing us to a sobering verse in Revelation addressed to the church at Ephesus calling them to repent and warning them of the consequences of not repenting:

Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent (Revelation 2:5).

Unrepentance leads to darkness—the loss of the light of Christ. Repentance is the way to joy and light and renewed hope of forgiveness and life.

We must pray that God will not only make us watchful and diligent to walk in the light, but also make us humble and quick to repent when we fail and fall into sin. In the next post we will continue Christian’s search for the lost roll as he returns to the arbor.

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.