Tag Archives: persecution

How Little-Faith Was Robbed

Then said Christian to his fellow, Now I call to remembrance, that which was told me of a thing that happened to a good man hereabout. The name of the man was Little-faith, but a good man, and he dwelt in the town of Sincere. The thing was this at the entering in at this passage, there comes down from Broad-way Gate, a lane called Dead Man’s Lane; so called because of the murders that are commonly done there; and this Little-faith going on pilgrimage, as we do now, chanced to sit down there, and slept. Now there happened, at that time, to come down the lane, from Broad-way Gate, three sturdy rogues, and their names were Faint-heart, Mistrust, and Guilt, (three brothers), and they espying Little-faith, where he was, came galloping up with speed. Now the good man was just awake from his sleep, and was getting up to go on his journey. So they came up all to him, and with threatening language bid him stand. At this Little-faith looked as white as a clout, and had neither power to fight nor fly. Then said Faint-heart, Deliver thy purse. But he making no haste to do it (for he was loath to lose his money), Mistrust ran up to him, and thrusting his hand into his pocket, pulled out thence a bag of silver. Then he cried out, Thieves! Thieves! With that Guilt, with a great club that was in his hand, struck Little-faith on the head, and with that blow felled him flat to the ground, where he lay bleeding as one that would bleed to death. All this while the thieves stood by. But, at last, they hearing that some were upon the road, and fearing lest it should be one Great-grace, that dwells in the city of Good-confidence, they betook themselves to their heels, and left this good man to shift for himself. Now, after a while, Little-faith came to himself, and getting up, made shift to scrabble on his way. This was the story.

Little-faith is robbed

While Christian and Hopeful reflect on the tragic end of Turn-away, Christian remembers an account of another pilgrim. Not far from where the pilgrims now stand, a man, whose name is Little-faith from the town of Sincere, was assaulted and robbed.

Little-faith represents those who are weak in faith and spiritually unprepared to face the trials and temptations of this world. He follows Christ, but lacks courage, confidence and comfort. In Lectures on The Pilgrim’s Progress, G.B. Cheeverdescribes such pilgrims as those who “go doubting and trembling through life.” Jesus often admonished his followers for having little faith:

Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? (Matthew 6:30)

Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm (Matthew 8:25–26).

And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him [Peter], and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased (Matthew 14:31–32).

Now when His disciples had come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread. Then Jesus said to them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “It is because we have taken no bread.” But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves because you have brought no bread? (Matthew 16:5–8)

Unlike Turn-away, Little-faith is a true believer. His testimony is genuine (sincere) and his faith is real. He is an honest pilgrim and has gained the reputation of being “a good man.” But he has failed to prepare his soul for spiritual warfare and fit himself for battle.

Paul exhorts us to “watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13). In Ephesians 6:10 he says: “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.” This Little-faith has not done. He has been content to rely on his own goodness more than Christ. He has treated sin far too lightly and allowed himself to walk too closely to the way of the world. Now as he looks for a place to rest on his journey, he lies down to sleep not in the Chamber of Peace (a place of rest and confidence in Christ) at Palace Beautiful where Christian found refuge, but in Dead Man’s lane (a place of danger and temptation to sin).

Scripture warns of the danger of straying into the path of sinners:

For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the ungodly shall perish.
(Psalm 1:6)

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

We must be careful in the paths we choose. Jesus spoke of only two ways in life:

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it (Matthew 7:13–14).

Dead Man’s Lane is a treacherous path that connects the Broad Way (the way of the world that leads back to the city from which Christian fled—Destruction) with the Narrow Way (the way of Christ and the Scriptures that leads to the Celestial City—Heaven). It begins at the Broad Way Gate (the wide entrance through which all who embrace the way of world pass) and meets the Narrow Way at the entrance to the dark lane (a dark stretch of the Way where the light of Scripture has grown dim).

Here at this dangerous intersection with the world, Little-faith fell asleep. He unwisely let down his guard and made himself vulnerable.  Soon he is attacked by three villains who come down from the Broad Way Gate: Faint-heart, Mistrust and Guilt. The attack is an insightful description of what happens when a believer gives into temptation and falls prey to sin.

The “three study rogues” come “galloping up with speed” and catch Little-faith off-guard. Before he has time to collect his thoughts or rouse his conscience, temptation is staring him down. The thieves threaten his life and Little-faith turns “white as a clout.” Little-faith’s fear identifies him as an easy target—a clout is a piece of white cloth used by archers for target practice (Webster Dictionary, 1828). Faint-heart (timidity) demands that he surrender his purse. Little-faith is slow to respond, but he loses his courage and offers little resistance. Mistrust (doubt and unbelief) sees an opportunity and rushes in to snatch a bag of silver from Little-faith’s pocket. The theft represents the loss Little-faith experiences when he gives into sin. No sooner does he cry out against his assailants than Guilt (shame and dishonor) moves in and beats him with a club—a club is similar to the one that Christian and Hopeful felt at the hands of Giant Despair in Doubling Castle.

Little-faith stumbles with each criminal. He is timid with Faint-heart, unbelieving with Mistrust, and ashamed with Guilt. William Mason summarizes:

Where there is a faint heart in God’s cause, and mistrust of God’s truths, there will be guilt in the conscience, and but little faith. These rogues will prevail over, and rob such souls of the comforts of God’s love and of Christ’s salvation.

Christian already had an encounter with a character named Mistrust. Earlier in the story, near the top of Hill Difficulty, Timorous (akin to Faint-heart) and Mistrust ran past Christian, fleeing the lions that prowl near the entrance to Palace Beautiful. The lions represented persecution of believers by the government and the state church. Many in Bunyan’s day were tempted to cower to political and ecclesiastical pressure. Bunyan had seen other ministers lose heart and deny the true gospel.  When Bunyan was in prison, facing the threat of hanging for being a Non-conformist, he feared that he would have little faith and fall to this temptation. He explains in his autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners:

I will tell you a pretty business; 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 lay much upon my spirit, That my imprisonment might end at the gallows for aught that I could tell. Now, therefore, 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 think I could, if I should be called to it: besides, I thought with myself, if I should make a scrabbling shift to clamber up the ladder, yet I should either with quaking, or other symptoms of faintings, 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, for such a cause as this.

[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 333-334]

Once Little-faith was robbed and beaten, the thieves did not stay long. They feared that other pilgrims would be traveling the Way, especially Great-grace from the town of Good Conscience (a pastor or fellow believer who is strong in faith). One of the best defenses God has given us as followers of Christ is our local church (Palace Beautiful) with its faithful leaders and brothers and sisters in Christ who will help us keep watch over our soul. It was a great disadvantage to Little-faith that he was traveling alone.

Little-faith is now left wounded and weakened. His purse has been plundered. Bunyan uses language from his autobiography when he tells us that Little-faith “made shift to scrabble on his way.” To shift means to change position or method when an initial attempt fails, especially in search of a way out of a difficult circumstance. To scrabble is to scrape along slowly on hands and knees as if climbing a cliff (Webster Dictionary, 1828). Little-faith is still intent on continuing his journey, but his progress now is more difficult. In the next post we will consider what exactly Little-faith lost.

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 Death of Faithful

They therefore brought him out, to do with him according to their law; and, first, they scourged him, then they buffeted him, then they lanced his flesh with knives; after that, they stoned him with stones, then pricked him with their swords; and, last of all, they burned him to ashes at the stake. Thus came Faithful to his end.

Now I saw that there stood behind the multitude a chariot and a couple of horses, waiting for Faithful, who (so soon as his adversaries had despatched him) was taken up into it, and straightway was carried up through the clouds, with sound of trumpet, the nearest way to the Celestial Gate.

Brave FAITHFUL, bravely done in word and deed;
Judge, witnesses, and jury have, instead
Of overcoming thee, but shown their rage:
When they are dead, you’ll live from age to age.

But as for Christian, he had some respite, and was remanded back to prison. So he there remained for a space; but He that overrules all things, having the power of their rage in his own hand, so wrought it about, that Christian for that time escaped them, and went his way. And as he went, he sang, saying—

Well, Faithful, you have faithfully professed,
Unto thy Lord; with whom you shall be blest,
When faithless ones, with all their vain delights,
Are crying out under their hellish plights:
Sing, Faithful, sing, and let your name survive;
For though they kill’d you, you are yet alive!

Death of Faithful

Earlier in the allegory Evangelist had foretold that one of the pilgrims would be martyred in the town of Vanity. Now, at the trial’s end, Faithful is cruelly put to death. Bunyan describes Faithful’s death in a manner familiar to his readers. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs was first published in 1563 and was widely known; Bunyan had a copy of the book, along with his Bible, in his prison cell.

Bunyan begins with a physical description of Faithful’s martyrdom. His words point us to Scripture. Hebrews 11 speaks of many who “died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (verse 13).

“… Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy…” (Hebrews 11:35–38).

Bunyan also alludes to Jesus’ death. Jesus was scourged before he was delivered to be crucified (Matthew 27:26). Pilate delivered Jesus to the Jews to be judged according to their law.

Then Pilate said to them, “You take Him and judge Him according to your law” (John 18:31.

The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God” (John 19:7).

The cruelty of Faithful’s death is dreadful. If all we saw were the events in the town of Vanity, it would seem that Faithful came to a horrible end. But Bunyan does not just give us a physical description. He takes us behind the veil of apparent tragedy and shows us the glory of spiritual reality. Behind the crowd that came to gawk at Faithful’s demise was a chariot and horses waiting to take Faithful at once to the Celestial City. He is carried up through the clouds with the sound of a trumpet (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17) in a manner resembling Elijah’s departure from Elisha in the Old Testament:

“Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven” (2 Kings 2:11).

Faithful is lovingly ushered to the very gates of the Celestial City while Christian remains behind to eventually press on in the Way.

This account of the true end of Faithful’s life on earth offers three important lessons:

1. God regards the death of His saints as precious.

God cares for us in life and He will care for us in death. Even if our death comes in way that seems sudden, unexpected, tragic, painful, unjust or cruel, we can trust that God will enfold us in His love and safely bring us home.

“Precious in the sight of the Lord
Is the death of His saints.”
(Psalm 116:15)

2. For the saints of God, death is gain.

Paul concluded: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). He said that while he saw the need to labor for the gospel, he had “a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Philippians 1:23). Departing is to “be with Christ.” Paul reasoned that to be “at home in the body” is to be “absent from the Lord,” but to be “absent from the body” is “to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6–8). This is what Jesus promised to the repentant thief on the cross: “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). It is this promise that emboldened Evangelist to tell the pilgrims that the one who would die at Vanity Fair would “have the better of his fellow.” Though Faithful died painfully and soonest, he escaped the ongoing toil and dangers of the journey and was soonest to enjoy the immediate presence of Christ.

3. God is sovereign over life and death.

God has sovereignly determined the number of our days as well as the occasion and circumstances of our death. Death is by God’s sovereign decree and will not come a moment before His predetermined will.

Why did Faithful have to die, but Christian escaped? How could God permit such agony for one while sparing the other? This is a great mystery, but we can trust that God, “who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all” (Romans 8:32), is working for the good of both in a way that will bring Him the greatest glory. The Lord holds the king’s heart in His hand (Proverbs 21:1)—and even the hearts of a cruel judge and jury. One pilgrim is delivered to death, faithful to the end, as a testimony of the supreme value of life in Christ. The other is released to press on in the faith as an encouragement and hope for others. And God, who “overrules all things” is glorified by both.

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.

Faithful Condemned

Then the Judge called to the jury (who all this while stood by, to hear and observe): Gentlemen of the jury, you see this man about whom so great an uproar has been made in this town. You have also heard what these worthy gentlemen have witnessed against him. Also you have heard his reply and confession. It lies now in your breasts to hang him or save his life; but yet I think meet to instruct you into our law.

There was an Act made in the days of Pharaoh the Great, servant to our prince, that lest those of a contrary religion should multiply and grow too strong for him, their males should be thrown into the river. There was also an Act made in the days of Nebuchadnezzar the Great, another of his servants, that whosoever would not fall down and worship his golden image, should be thrown into a fiery furnace. There was also an Act made in the days of Darius, that whoso, for some time, called upon any god but him, should be cast into the lions’ den. Now the substance of these laws this rebel has broken, not only in thought, (which is not to be borne), but also in word and deed; which must therefore needs be intolerable.

For that of Pharaoh, his law was made upon a supposition, to prevent mischief, no crime being yet apparent; but here is a crime apparent. For the second and third, you see he disputes against our religion; and for the treason he has confessed, he deserves to die the death.

Then went the jury out, whose names were, Mr. Blind-man, Mr. No-good, Mr. Malice, Mr. Love-lust, Mr. Live-loose, Mr. Heady, Mr. High-mind, Mr. Enmity, Mr. Liar, Mr. Cruelty, Mr. Hate-light, and Mr. Implacable; who every one gave in his private verdict against him among themselves, and afterwards unanimously concluded to bring him in guilty before the Judge. And first, among themselves, Mr. Blind-man, the foreman, said, I see clearly that this man is a heretic. Then said Mr. No-good, Away with such a fellow from the earth. Ay, said Mr. Malice, for I hate the very looks of him. Then said Mr. Love-lust, I could never endure him. Nor I, said Mr. Live-loose, for he would always be condemning my way. Hang him, hang him, said Mr. Heady. A sorry scrub, said Mr. High-mind. My heart rises against him, said Mr. Enmity. He is a rogue, said Mr. Liar. Hanging is too good for him, said Mr. Cruelty. Let us despatch him out of the way, said Mr. Hate-light. Then said Mr. Implacable, Might I have all the world given me, I could not be reconciled to him; therefore, let us forthwith bring him in guilty of death. And so they did; therefore he was presently condemned to be had from the place where he was, to the place from whence he came, and there to be put to the most cruel death that could be invented.

Jury at Vanity Fair

Once Faithful is finished with his defense, the judge calls upon the jury to deliver a verdict. It does not take long for them to find the accused guilty. Bunyan again brilliantly draws upon his own experience in being brought to trial to convey his story. Cheever notes:

Nothing can be more masterly than the satire contained in this trial. The judge, the witnesses, and the jury, are portraits sketched to the life, and finished, every one of them, in quick, concise, and graphic touches. The ready testimony of Envy is especially characteristic. Rather than anything should be wanting that might be necessary to despatch the prisoner, he would enlarge his testimony against him to any requisite degree. The language of the judge, and his whole deportment on the bench, are a copy to the life of some of the infamous judges under king Charles, especially the wretch Jefferies. You may find in the trial of the noble patriot Algernon Sidney the abusive language of the judge against Faithful almost word for word. The judge’s charge to the jury, with the acts and laws on which the condemnation of the prisoner was founded, are full of ingenuity and meaning. (from Lectures on The Pilgrim’s Progress by G.B. Cheever)

The judge gives the jury their final instructions, ironically by pointing out three occasions in Scripture where the innocent were unjustly targeted and condemned because they were perceived as a threat: the male, Hebrew infants (including Moses who was hidden by his parents) sentenced to death by Pharaoh (Exodus 1:22), Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who were cast into a fiery furnace by Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3:6), and Daniel, who was thrown into the lion’s den (Daniel 6). On each occasion faithfulness to God involved great peril.

Bunyan lists 12 members of the jury including the foreman. As with the judge and the witnesses at the trial, the jury is descriptive of the corruption and deceitfulness of sin that shrouds the world in darkness. The members of the jury represent the very sins that would enslave and condemn us. They portray the evil condition of the heart apart from the life-saving work of grace:

Mr. Blindman (the foreman)

“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)

Mr. No-good

The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, and have done abominable iniquity; There is none who does good (Psalm 53:1).

Mr. Malice

But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth (Colossians 3:8).

Mr. Love-lust

For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another (Titus 3:3).

Mr. Live-loose

Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy (Romans 13:13).

Mr. Heady (rash, reckless)

For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (2 Timothy 3:2–4).

Mr. High-mind

Casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Mr. Enmity

Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be (Romans 8:7).

Mr. Liar

Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds (Colossians 3:9).

Mr. Cruelty

Deliver me, O my God, out of the hand of the wicked, Out of the hand of the unrighteous and cruel man (Psalm 71:4).

Mr. Hate-light

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 (John 3:19–20).

Mr. Implacable (without mercy)

“And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them (Romans 1:28–32).

This is the jury (and the carnal mindset) that would speak against Faithful and send him to his death. But there is still cause to be hopeful. For these are the very sins from which God saves us. We were once blind, “dead in trespasses and sins” walking “according to the course of this world” (Ephesians 2:1–2). We “were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived … (Titus 3:3). Paul reminds us “And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). Though Faithful stands condemned, ready to face a cruel death, his testimony stands as a sure witness to the truth of the gospel. And, as we shall see, God is at work, even in this miscarriage of justice, to bring about His good purposes.

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.

Envy Superstition and Pickthank

Then proclamation was made, that they that had aught to say for their lord the king against the prisoner at the bar, should forthwith appear and give in their evidence. So there came in three witnesses, to wit, Envy, Superstition, and Pickthank. They were then asked if they knew the prisoner at the bar; and what they had to say for their lord the king against him.

Then stood forth Envy, and said to this effect: My Lord, I have known this man a long time, and will attest upon my oath before this honorable bench, that he is—

Hold! Give him his oath. (So they sware him.) Then he said—

Envy: My Lord, this man, notwithstanding his plausible name, is one of the vilest men in our country. He neither regards prince nor people, law nor custom; but does all that he can to possess all men with certain of his disloyal notions, which he in the general calls principles of faith and holiness. And, in particular, I heard him once myself affirm that Christianity and the customs of our town of Vanity were diametrically opposite, and could not be reconciled. By which saying, my Lord, he does at once not only condemn all our laudable doings, but us in the doing of them.

Judge: Then did the Judge say to him, Do you have any more to say?

Envy: My Lord, I could say much more, only I would not be tedious to the court. Yet, if need be, when the other gentlemen have given in their evidence, rather than anything shall be wanting that will dispatch him, I will enlarge my testimony against him. So he was bid to stand by.

Then they called Superstition, and bid him look upon the prisoner. They also asked, what he could say for their lord the king against him. Then they sware him; so he began.

Superstition: My Lord, I have no great acquaintance with this man, nor do I desire to have further knowledge of him; however, this I know, that he is a very pestilent fellow, from some discourse that, the other day, I had with him in this town; for then, talking with him, I heard him say, that our religion was naught, and such by which a man could by no means please God. Which sayings of his, my Lord, your Lordship very well knows, what necessarily thence will follow, to wit, that we do still worship in vain, are yet in our sins, and finally shall be damned; and this is that which I have to say.

Then was Pickthank sworn, and bid say what he knew, in behalf of their lord the king, against the prisoner at the bar.

Pickthank: My Lord, and you gentlemen all, This fellow I have known of a long time, and have heard him speak things that ought not to be spoke; for he has railed on our noble prince Beelzebub, and has spoken contemptibly of his honorable friends, whose names are the Lord Old Man, the Lord Carnal Delight, the Lord Luxurious, the Lord Desire of Vain Glory, my old Lord Lechery, Sir Having Greedy, with all the rest of our nobility; and he has said, moreover, That if all men were of his mind, if possible, there is not one of these noblemen should have any longer a being in this town. Besides, he has not been afraid to rail on you, my Lord, who are now appointed to be his judge, calling you an ungodly villain, with many other such like vilifying terms, with which he has bespattered most of the gentry of our town.

Envy Superstition Pickthank

As the trial in Vanity Fair continues, the court sends out a summons for witnesses. The people of the town are encouraged to come and testify against the two pilgrims. Three witnesses answer the call. These witnesses represent three distinct motives behind the persecution of the church. Why does persecution and oppression arise? Bunyan identifies three causes: Envy, Superstition and Pickthank.

The first motive is Envy. The pilgrims were gaining a hearing in the town. Though few were convinced by their message, a growing number were curious. Those who hold influence in the town were alarmed by the attention and sympathy given to the pilgrims. They wanted Christian and Faithful silenced. Their envy gave rise to persecution.

Envy springs from covetousness in the heart. It is a discontent at seeing the success or prosperity of another. It is a longing to attain the rewards or status of another. It was envy that played a role in Jesus’ suffering:

Therefore, when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that they had handed Him over because of envy (Matthew 27:17–18).

It was envy that stirred the Jews to persecute Paul and Barnabas at Antioch in Pisidia.

On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul (Acts 13:44–45).

Paul told the church at Philippi that envy was even a motive for some who were preaching Christ, thinking that by doing so they would cause trouble for Paul and thwart his efforts to spread the gospel.

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

The second motive is Superstition. This is not “superstition” in the sense that we often define it: an unfounded belief in or fear of the supernatural. Rather, it is the older definition that Bunyan has in mind: “excessive exactness or rigor in religious opinion or practice” rooted in “false religion; false worship” (Noah Webster, American Dictionary of the English Language, 1828).

When Christian and Faithful came to Vanity Fair preaching the true gospel of grace, they exposed the false religions embraced by the town. True salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. All religions are false that attempt to substitute something or someone for Christ or insist that something more must be added to Christ. Superstition felt threatened when he heard the clear message of the pilgrims that by his own efforts, works and ingenuity he could “by no means please God.” He was offended that Christian and Faithful would think his “religion was naught.” And so he added his voice condemning them.

The final motive that underlies the persecution of the church is Pickthank. Pickthank is an archaic term that denotes “a whispering parasite” or “an officious fellow who does what he is not desired to do, for the sake of gaining favor” (Noah Webster, American Dictionary of the English Language, 1828). A pickthank is one who bows to social pressure to be in with the crowd. He is the protestor who doesn’t really know what he is protesting. He is the angry voice in the mob who is only upset because everyone else is. He is not driven by personal offense or conviction to join others in their abusive behavior; he may even inwardly recoil at it. But he joins in anyway so not to be left out or singled out himself. The town had turned against the two pilgrims and had brought them to stand trial. Consequently, Pickthank is now willing to “pick” on Christian and Faithful in order to gain the “thanks” (acceptance and approval) of his fellow townspeople.

In his testimony Pickthank speaks of the friends of the prince who are the nobility of the town of Vanity. These noblemen represent our fallen human nature:

Lord Old Man

… put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts (Ephesians 4:22).

Lord Carnal Delight

… 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).

For you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? (1 Corinthians 3:3)

Lord Luxurious (excessive indulgence)

For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury (Revelation 18:3).

Lord Desire of Vain Glory

Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another (Galatians 5:26, KJV).

Lord Lechery (lewdness / lust)

Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy (Romans 13:13).

Sir Having Greedy (covetousness)

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 (Ephesians 5:5).

These noblemen have corrupted the town and its fair. Apart from God all is Vanity. The town in its sinfulness has turned against the true King and against Christian and Faithful. In the next post we will hear Faithful’s reply to the charges brought by Envy, Superstition and Pickthank.

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.

Trial in Vanity Fair

Then a convenient time being appointed, they brought them forth to their trial, in order to their condemnation. When the time was come, they were brought before their enemies and arraigned. The judge’s name was Lord Hate-good. Their indictment was one and the same in substance, though somewhat varying in form, the contents whereof were this:

“That they were enemies to and disturbers of their trade; that they had made commotions and divisions in the town, and had won a party to their own most dangerous opinions, in contempt of the law of their prince.”

Then Faithful began to answer, that he had only set himself against that which hath set itself against Him that is higher than the highest. And, said he, as for disturbance, I make none, being myself a man of peace; the parties that were won to us, were won by beholding our truth and innocence, and they are only turned from the worse to the better. And as to the king you talk of, since he is Beelzebub, the enemy of our Lord, I defy him and all his angels.

Now, FAITHFUL, play the man, speak for thy God:
Fear not the wicked’s malice; nor their rod:
Speak boldly, man, the truth is on thy side:
Die for it, and to life in triumph ride.

Lord Hate-GoodIn many ways The Pilgrim’s Progress is a retelling of John Bunyan’s own pilgrimage as he escaped destruction to find eternal life. His journey was not easy. Throughout his ministry he faced many hardships for the sake of the gospel, including persecution and imprisonment. Now in Vanity Fair we read of Christian and Faithful enduring persecution and imprisonment. They are brought before the judge, Lord Hate-good, to face the indictment against them. As Faithful begins his defense, Bunyan’s own resolve to stand up for truth before his accusers can be heard. Cheever notes:

Now came on the trial. And here again, as in every part of the allegory, Bunyan’s own experience served him in good stead; here again he draws his picture from real life, from his own life. Little could he have thought, when a few years ago, amidst the taunts of his enemies, he himself stood at the bar to be examined for the crime of preaching the gospel, that the providence of God was then laying up in store materials of human life and character to be used with such powerful effect in his then unconceived imagined allegory. These phases of a world at enmity against God were indelibly impressed on Bunyan’s mind; and now, in all the freshness of their coloring, he transferred them to the tablets of the Pilgrim’s Progress. (from Lectures on The Pilgrim’s Progress by G.B. Cheever)

Christian and Faithful are described in the indictment as enemies, disturbers of the peace and law-breakers. They are accused of dividing the town, swaying some to accept their views, and speaking against the established traditions and laws of the fair. As Faithful answers the charges in the indictment, he tries to make clear that he only desires what is right for the glory of God and for the good of the town:

  • He is not set against the town or its people—their souls are of value
  • He is only set against that which is opposed to “Him that is higher than the highest” — it is better “to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29)
  • He did not come to bring trouble or disturbance to the town—He is a man of peace (2 Timothy 2:2)
  • He did come speaking truth—He spoke God’s Word

Those in the town who aligned themselves with Christian and Faithful did so because they saw the truth and believed the pilgrims to be innocent. Faithful notes that “they are only turned from the worse to the better.” It is always right and good to be on the side of truth.

Faithful is willing to stand for the truth, though it may cost him his life. He recognizes that the town is under seize in a spiritual battle. He defies principalities and powers that would keep the town in darkness and bondage. Though scorned and beaten down by oppressors, he is not discouraged, but emboldened. Though cursed by the world, he is blessed by his Lord. Jesus taught those who are scorned and reviled for His sake to respond with joy, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10–12).

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.

Pilgrims Persecuted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2016 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Pilgrims Out of Place

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Jesus Himself came to our broken world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bunyan notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:13–16).

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

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

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

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2016 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

The Promise of Suffering

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

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

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

Evangelist Christian and Faithful

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:8–11).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2016 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Run in with Shame

Christian: Met you with nothing else in that valley?

Faithful: Yes, I met with Shame; but of all the men that I met with in my pilgrimage, he, I think, bears the wrong name. The others would be said nay, after a little argumentation, and somewhat else; but this bold-faced Shame would never have done.

Christian: Why, what did he say to you?

Faithful: What! Why, he objected against religion itself; he said it was a pitiful, low, sneaking business for a man to mind religion; he said that a tender conscience was an unmanly thing; and that for a man to watch over his words and ways, so as to tie up himself from that hectoring liberty that the brave spirits of the times accustom themselves unto, would make him the ridicule of the times. He objected also, that but few of the mighty, rich, or wise, were ever of my opinion; nor any of them neither, before they were persuaded to be fools, and to be of a voluntary fondness, to venture the loss of all, for nobody knows what. He, moreover, objected the base and low estate and condition of those that were chiefly the pilgrims of the times in which they lived: also their ignorance and want of understanding in all natural science. Yea, he did hold me to it at that rate also, about a great many more things than here I relate; as, that it was a shame to sit whining and mourning under a sermon, and a shame to come sighing and groaning home: that it was a shame to ask my neighbor forgiveness for petty faults, or to make restitution where I have taken from any. He said, also, that religion made a man grow strange to the great, because of a few vices, which he called by finer names; and made him own and respect the base, because of the same religious fraternity. And is not this, said he, a shame?

Christian: And what did you say to him?

Faithful: Say! I could not tell what to say at the first. Yea, he put me so to it, that my blood came up in my face; even this Shame fetched it up, and had almost beat me quite off. But at last I began to consider, that “that which is highly esteemed among men, is had in abomination with God.” And I thought again, this Shame tells me what men are; but it tells me nothing what God or the Word of God is. And I thought, moreover, that at the day of doom, we shall not be doomed to death or life according to the hectoring spirits of the world, but according to the wisdom and law of the Highest. Therefore, thought I, what God says is best, indeed is best, though all the men in the world are against it. Seeing, then, that God prefers his religion; seeing God prefers a tender conscience; seeing they that make themselves fools for the kingdom of heaven are wisest; and that the poor man that loves Christ is richer than the greatest man in the world that hates him; Shame, depart, you are an enemy to my salvation! Shall I entertain you against my sovereign Lord? How then shall I look Him in the face at His coming? Should I now be ashamed of His ways and servants, how can I expect the blessing? But, indeed, this Shame was a bold villain; I could scarce shake him out of my company; yea, he would be haunting of me, and continually whispering me in the ear, with some one or other of the infirmities that attend religion; but at last I told him it was but in vain to attempt further in this business; for those things that he disdained, in those did I see most glory; and so at last I got past this importunate one. And when I had shaken him off, then I began to sing—

The trials that those men do meet withal,
That are obedient to the heavenly call,
Are manifold, and suited to the flesh,
And come, and come, and come again afresh;
That now, or sometime else, we by them may
Be taken, overcome, and cast away.
Oh, let the pilgrims, let the pilgrims, then
Be vigilant, and quit themselves like men.

Christian: I am glad, my brother, that you withstood this villain so bravely. For of all, as you say, I think he has the wrong name. For he is so bold as to follow us in the streets, and to attempt to put us to shame before all men, that is, to make us ashamed of that which is good. But if he was not himself audacious, he would never attempt to do as he does. But let us still resist him, for notwithstanding all his bravadoes, he promotes the fool and none else. “The wise shall inherit glory,” said Solomon, “but shame shall be the promotion of fools.”

Faithful: I think we must cry to Him for help against Shame, who would have us to be valiant for the truth upon the earth.

Christian: You say true.

Faithful and ShameAlong with Discontent, Faithful encounters one other foe in the Valley of Humiliation. He meets one whose name is Shame. Based on their conversation, Faithful’s impression is that Shame is misnamed. His name suggests one who feels a measure of guilt or inadequacy, one who is convicted of sin or embarrassed by his actions. But Shame has no shame for himself. He is intent on disgracing others, especially those who would put their hope in God.

Shame is a champion of the world and a reviler of ways of God. He values worldly vice not heavenly virtue. He mocks those who would give serious thought and attention to God’s Word.

Shame is convinced that religion is foolish and belief in God is a weakness. Religion may be fine for the poor and those who are less fortunate, but it is unbecoming to the educated and enlightened, those who should know better. It is not seemly for those who would be mighty, rich or wise in this world to so abase themselves. He scorns those who would ask forgiveness, feel conviction, make restitution, sorrow over sin, give benevolence to the poor, or label vices as sin. He thinks it a shame that people would be so taken in.

But Shame’s belief and boast should not surprise us. God’s ways are not man’s ways. Paul tells us:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).

The very things that Shame would denigrate, God uses to display His power. The things that Shame would despise, God uses for His own glory. God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.

For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).

What the world believes is wise “is foolishness with God” (1 Corinthians 3:19a). What the world highly esteems “is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15).

Though Faithful is taken aback at first, he sees the emptiness of Shame’s objections. It is God and His Word that matter most, not man and his opinions. It is God who will one day judge the world. It is God who will receive all the glory. It is God who has highly exalted His Son “and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9–11). Christ is preeminent (Colossians 1:18). Having Christ is more valuable than having all the riches and accolades of this world. Paul goes on to say in Philippians:

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 (Philippians 3:7-8).

Faithful is firm in his faith, but Shame is a persistent companion. Though Faithful attempts to ward him off, he keeps coming back, trying to make the world look more reasonable, trying to make religion look more futile.

Shame is a foe that we must be on guard against as well. He is one we are likely to meet on our own pilgrimage. He is the college professor who ridicules belief in God. She is the coworker who sees no need for God. He is the skeptic who has found reason to dismiss the claims of the Bible. We see Shame in the media as the Christian faith is portrayed as backward, irrational, and discriminatory. We hear his voice getting louder in our culture as Christianity is seen more and more to be out of step with shifting social standards.
We must meet Shame with courage and steadfastness. Like Paul, we must “not be ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation” (Romans 1:16). Jesus said:

For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels (Mark 8:38).

We must take God at His Word, count all things loss, and pray for divine help to stand firm in our faith.

Christian commends Faithful for bravely resisting Shame. And he reminds Faithful of the proverb:

The wise shall inherit glory,
But shame shall be the legacy of fools.
(Proverbs 3:35)

By scorning the gospel, the only way of salvation and life, Shame lost an inheritance of glory. His foolish choice will surely in the end lead him to shame.

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.

Pope and Pagan

In this light, therefore, he came to the end of the valley. Now I saw in my dream, that at the end of this valley lay blood, bones, ashes, and mangled bodies of men, even of pilgrims that had gone this way formerly; and while I was musing what should be the reason, I espied a little before me a cave, where two giants, POPE and PAGAN, dwelt in old time; by whose power and tyranny the men whose bones, blood, and ashes, &c., lay there, were cruelly put to death. But by this place Christian went without much danger, whereat I somewhat wondered; but I have learnt since, that PAGAN has been dead many a day; and as for the other, though he be yet alive, he is, by reason of age, and also of the many shrewd brushes that he met with in his younger days, grown so crazy and stiff in his joints, that he can now do little more than sit in his cave’s mouth, grinning at pilgrims as they go by, and biting his nails because he cannot come at them.

So I saw that Christian went on his way; yet, at the sight of the Old Man that sat in the mouth of the cave, he could not tell what to think, especially because he spoke to him, though he could not go after him, saying, “You will never mend till more of you be burned.” But he held his peace, and set a good face on it, and so went by and caught no hurt. Then sang Christian:

O world of wonders! (I can say no less),
That I should be preserved in that distress
That I have met with here! O blessed be
That hand that from it hath deliver’d me!
Dangers in darkness, devils, hell, and sin
Did compass me, while I this vale was in:
Yea, snares, and pits, and traps, and nets, did lie
My path about, that worthless, silly I
Might have been catch’d, entangled, and cast down;
But since I live, let JESUS wear the crown.

Pope and PaganNear the end of the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Christian sees strewn across the Way “blood, bones, ashes, and mangled bodies of men, even pilgrims that had gone this way formerly.” This horrific scene is the testimony of the persecuted church, those who have endured pain and trial for their faith in Christ and their stand for truth. The writer of Hebrews reminds us of those who have suffered and gained “a good testimony through faith.”

And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again.

Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.
And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 11:32 – 12:2).

The testimony of faithful believers is an encouragement for us to press on and keep our eyes fixed upon Christ. Bunyan was aware of the cost of following Christ. He was imprisoned for his faith, even as he was writing The Pilgrim’s Progress. His faith encouraged others, and he drew encouragement from those who had suffered before him. During his imprisonment at Bedford, his two possessions were his Bible and a copy of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.

As Christian wonders at the ghastly sight before him, he sees a cave nearby. The cave represents the religious situation in England in Bunyan’s day and is home to some of the giants who menace pilgrims who seek the Celestial City. There are seven giants mentioned in The Pilgrim’s Progress (both Part 1 and Part 2) and each represents a great danger to believers. [*]

The first dweller in the cave was Pagan. England was formally a place of paganism with no light of the Gospel. Then Pope moved in and eventually Pagan died out. Giant Pope represents the Roman Catholic Church that sent missionaries to England and converted the land to its traditions. Both of these giants have been responsible for persecuting pilgrims and sending many to their death.

In Bunyan’s day, following the Protestant Reformation, with the rise of the Commonwealth and influence of the Puritans in England, the Roman Church had grown weak. Christian sees old Giant Pope sitting near the mouth of the cave taunting him as he goes past, but unable to cause him any harm. Though once powerful and formidable, the giant is now weak and feeble.

In Part 2 Pope no longer inhabits the cave and another giant, named Maul, has taken his place. Maul represents Anglicanism. He has a club that represents political power—power granted to the Church of England by the monarchy. With the club he gives blows to those who will not conform to his ways. Those blows took the form of laws passed between 1661 and 1671 in England designed to legalize persecution and suppress all meetings for non-conformists. Maul is defeated in Part 2 by Great Heart (an allusion to the Declaration of Liberty in 1672 and Act of Toleration in 1689).

Christian’s progress even in the face of giants is a reminder of God’s ultimate power and sovereignty over all our trials. God’s plan and purposes are always good, and they include every trial as well as every triumph. It is through trials that our faith is strengthened and our deliverance is made sweet. The Valley of the Shadow of Death was dark and difficult, yet Christian learned to trust God more fully and now leaves the valley with praises and singing. May God grant us such grace that we would learn to trust and praise Him in and through every trial.

* The seven giants in Bunyan’s allegory are Pagan, Pope and Maul (these three made their home in the cave), Despair and his wife Diffidence (whom Christian will encounter later in Part 1 at Doubting Castle), Slay-good (who terrorizes the land near the Inn of Gaius in Part 2), and Grim or Bloody-man (who lurks near Palace Beautiful in Part 2).

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.