Tag Archives: perseverance

The Enchanted Ground

I saw then in my dream, that they went till they came into a certain country, whose air naturally tended to make one drowsy, if he came a stranger into it. And here Hopeful began to be very dull and heavy of sleep; wherefore he said unto Christian, I do now begin to grow so drowsy that I can scarcely hold up mine eyes, let us lie down here and take one nap.

Christian: By no means, said the other, lest sleeping, we never awake more.

Hopeful: Why, my brother? Sleep is sweet to the laboring man; we may be refreshed if we take a nap.

Christian: Do you not remember that one of the Shepherds bid us beware of the Enchanted Ground? He meant by that that we should beware of sleeping; “Therefore let us not sleep, as do others, but let us watch and be sober.”

Hopeful: I acknowledge myself in a fault, and had I been here alone I had by sleeping run the danger of death. I see it is true that the wise man says: Two are better than one. Hitherto hath thy company been my mercy, and thou shalt have a good reward for thy labor.

Christian: Now then, said Christian, to prevent drowsiness in this place, let us fall into good discourse.

Hopeful: With all my heart, said the other.

Christian: Where shall we begin?

Hopeful: Where God began with us. But do you begin, if you please.

Christian: I will sing you first this song:

When saints do sleepy grow, let them come hither,
And hear how these two pilgrims talk together:
Yea, let them learn of them, in any wise,
Thus to keep ope their drowsy slumb’ring eyes.
Saints’ fellowship, if it be managed well,
Keeps them awake, and that in spite of hell.

 The Enchanted Ground

Since meeting in the town of Vanity, Christian and Hopeful have faced many dangers and difficulties together. As they near the end of their journey they face another peril—one that is subtler and much harder to discern. They enter the Enchanted Ground—a country where the air tends to make unsuspecting travelers drowsy and lethargic. The Enchanted Ground represents dullness brought about by spiritual complacency and fatigue.

When Christian and Hopeful enter the Enchanted Ground, Hopeful begins “to be very dull and heavy of sleep.” He suggests to Christian that they stop and take a nap. Christian, however, is adamant that they press on. He fears that if they sleep, they might never awake. But Hopeful is not convinced. He questions Christian’s resistance and quotes Scripture to make his point: “The sleep of a laboring man is sweet…” (Ecclesiastes 5:12). The verse that Hopeful quotes is certainly true. Christian learned the value of rest at House Beautiful. But this is not the time for sleep. Christian remembers the instructions of the Shepherds and recognizes the ground. The Shepherds warned the pilgrims to beware of the Enchanted Ground. They dare not sleep in this place.

Consider and hear me, O Lord my God;
Enlighten my eyes,
Lest I sleep the sleep of death.
(Psalm 13:3)

How long will you slumber, O sluggard?
When will you rise from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
A little folding of the hands to sleep—
So shall your poverty come on you like a prowler,
And your need like an armed man.
(Proverbs 6:9–11)

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 (Romans 13:11).

Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober (1 Thessalonians 5:6).

Christian has already seen the dangers of spiritual sleep. Earlier in the allegory he found Simple, Sloth, and Presumption asleep not far from the cross. Simple saw no need to study, understand, or apply doctrine. Sloth saw no need to do hard or costly things. Presumption settled where, if needed, he could see the cross and assumed all would be well. Christian himself later fell asleep at the Arbor while he was climbing Hill Difficulty. He lost his roll (his assurance of salvation) for a time and his carelessness placed him in greater danger.

The danger of the Enchanted Ground is spiritual complacency and fatigue.

When life is comfortable and religion becomes rote, we can grow complacent and careless in our walk with God. We can settle in and grow too comfortable in our faith. Our worship loses its wonder and becomes too routine. We go to church week after week, hearing the same old Sunday School lessons, singing the same old songs, hearing the same preacher saying the same things. And we begin to think: I’ve heard that before—and we don’t listen as intently—Didn’t we sing this hymn just last week?—and we stop paying attention to the words. We grow too familiar with the content and form of worship—and we tune out. Our minds wander and spiritual sleep overtakes us. We come week after week to feed on God’s Word but fail to “taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8). In his commentary on The Pilgrim’s Progress, William Mason warns:

Christian, beware of sleeping on this enchanted ground! When all things go easy, smooth, and well, we are prone to grow drowsy in soul.  How many are the calls in the Word against spiritual slumber! and yet how many professors, through the enchanting air of this world, are fallen into the deep sleep of formality! Be warned by them to cry to thy Lord to keep thee awake to righteousness, and vigorous in the ways of thy Lord—(Mason).

Even churches can drift into spiritual lethargy. As God’s people, we can become drowsy, asleep near the cross, like Simple, Sloth, and Presumption. We can dismiss and discard the teaching of difficult doctrine, so not to offend anyone. We can settle into a comfortable routine and stop doing hard things and challenging things. We can pare down ministry so it is manageable and predictable. We can grow complacent and languid—no longer sharing our faith with others, no longer engaging one another about our spiritual welfare. We can assume all is well and fail to encourage and admonish one another. As Keith Green has said, we can fall “asleep in the light.”

Oh, can’t you see such sin?!
The world is sleeping in the dark,
That the church just can’t fight,
’cause it’s asleep in the light!

Keith Green
©1978 from the album No Compromise

Spiritual complacency is not the only thing that lulls us to sleep. Spiritual fatigue does so as well. Living as a Christian in a world filled with sin is hard. Rising day after day, fighting the same old battles against sin, can be wearisome. It is easy to wonder at times—wouldn’t it be nice if I just didn’t have to fight anymore? Satan tempts us to give up the fight of faith. He tries to allure us away from what is true when we are weak and weary.

In Part II of The Pilgrim’s Progress, the pilgrims find two travelers asleep on the Enchanted Ground: Heed-less and Too-Bold. They rushed in with confidence, but failed to stay alert. They did not heed the truth of God’s Word and grew weary in crossing. They weren’t prepared for the long haul. Great-heart, the pilgrims’ guide in Part II, explains their demise.

This, then, is the mischief of it, when heedless ones go on pilgrimage, it is twenty to one but they are served thus; for this Enchanted Ground is one of the last refuges that the enemy to pilgrims has. Wherefore it is, as you see, placed almost at the end of the way, and so it stands against us with the more advantage. For when, thinks the enemy, will these fools be so desirous to sit down, as when they are weary? and when so like to be weary, as when almost at their journey’s end? Therefore it is, I say, that the Enchanted Ground is placed so nigh to the Land Beulah, and so near the end of their race.

The Enchanted Ground lies near the end of the journey because spiritual fatigue is a danger we can easily slip into when we have followed the Way for a long time.

How then are we to avoid the dangers and make it across the Enchanted Ground?

The solution for making it across such a treacherous place is threefold:

1) Never walk alone. When Hopeful realizes his error, he is grateful for Christian’s company. He quotes from Ecclesiastes:

Two are better than one,
Because they have a good reward for their labor.
For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.
But woe to him who is alone when he falls,
For he has no one to help him up.
(Ecclesiastes 4:9–10)

Had he been by himself, Hopeful might have fallen asleep and not completed his journey. By God’s kindness, Christian walked with him and prevented him from succumbing to spiritual slumber.

2) Look to God’s Word. God has given us instruction in His Word that we must heed and follow. He has given us faithful Shepherds to teach us God’s Word and to exhort us to follow its instruction. We must remember God’s Word and preach it continually to ourselves and to one another as we press on to our journey’s end.

3) Engage in godly discourse. Christian tells Hopeful, “to prevent drowsiness in this place, let us fall into good discourse.” Here Bunyan highlights the value of Christian discipleship. The pilgrims sing and discuss together spiritual things that edify their souls. Discipleship involves helping and encouraging others, and letting others help and encourage us. It involves investing time in others, rejoicing in truth with others, and sharing testimony of God’s goodness with one another. We need to continually rehearse the gospel, and never simply presume the gospel.  Discipleship is the means of grace whereby God keeps the gospel new and fresh in our hearts. It is the means whereby new believers are taught to cherish and walk in the faith. And it is the means whereby mature believers are heartened to continue cherishing and walking in the faith.

In the next several posts we will see discipleship in action. Christian will question Hopeful, draw out his testimony, and offer encouragement and instruction. God is gracious in insisting that we journey to the Celestial City together. We should always be grateful for the opportunity to walk together, look to God’s Word together, and share testimonies of God’s goodness our lives. We need discourse on the truth to keep us from growing dull and falling asleep in the Way.

Father, help them not grow drowsy
As they cross Enchanted Ground;
Stir their souls with lively discourse
Of the precious grace they’ve found.

(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.

Met by Atheist

Now, after a while, they perceived, afar off, one coming softly and alone, all along the highway to meet them. Then said Christian to his fellow, Yonder is a man with his back towards Zion, and he is coming to meet us.

Hopeful: I see him; let us take heed to ourselves now, lest he should prove a flatterer also. So he drew nearer and nearer, and at last came up unto them. His name was Atheist, and he asked them whither they were going.

Christian: We are going to Mount Zion.

Then Atheist fell into a very great laughter.

Christian: What is the meaning of your laughter?

Atheist: I laugh to see what ignorant persons you are, to take upon you so tedious a journey, and you are like to have nothing but your travel for your pains.

Christian: Why, man, do you think we shall not be received?

Atheist: Received! There is no such place as you dream of in all this world.

Christian: But there is in the world to come.

Atheist: When I was at home in mine own country, I heard as you now affirm, and from that hearing went out to see, and have been seeking this city this twenty years; but find no more of it than I did the first day I set out.

Christian: We have both heard and believe that there is such a place to be found.

Atheist: Had not I, when at home, believed, I had not come thus far to seek; but finding none, (and yet I should, had there been such a place to be found, for I have gone to seek it further than you), I am going back again, and will seek to refresh myself with the things that I then cast away, for hopes of that which, I now see, is not.

Christian: Then said Christian to Hopeful his fellow, Is it true what this man has said?

Hopeful: Take heed, he is one of the flatterers; remember what it hath cost us once already for our hearkening to such kind of fellows. What! No Mount Zion? Did we not see, from the Delectable Mountains the gate of the city? Also, are we not now to walk by faith? Let us go on, said Hopeful, lest the man with the whip overtake us again. You should have taught me that lesson, which I will round you in the ears withal: “Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge.” I say, my brother, cease to hear him, and let us “believe to the saving of the soul.”

Christian: My brother, I did not put the question to you for that I doubted of the truth of our belief myself, but to prove you, and to fetch from you a fruit of the honesty of your heart. As for this man, I know that he is blinded by the god of this world. Let you and I go on, knowing that we have belief of the truth, “and no lie is of the truth.”

Hopeful: Now do I rejoice in hope of the glory of God. So they turned away from the man; and he, laughing at them, went his way.

 Atheist

Once again Christian and Hopeful are traveling toward the Celestial City. They have been freed from the net of the Flatterer and brought back to the Way. Now they see afar off one coming toward them—one “with his back toward Zion.” Though the traveler does not appear threatening—he is walking “softly and alone”—Hopeful is suspicious.

The traveler’s name is Atheist. He is one who refuses to believe in God and rejects the truth of the Bible. He is walking in the opposite direction, away from Zion and the Celestial City and toward Vanity and Destruction. He no longer seeks eternal life. He no longer fears eternal judgment. In fact, he no longer believes in the reality of heaven and hell. When Christian tells him that they are going to Mount Zion, he responds with “very great laughter.” He considers Christian and Hopeful to be ignorant, beneath his superior knowledge of the world. Christian, still feeling the shame of his error in following the Flatterer, at first interprets Atheist’s laughter to mean: How could someone as sinful as you be received at Mount Zion! But Atheist taunts: “There is no such place as you dream of in all this world.”

This claim is not the confession of an agnostic who doubts that God is knowable, nor the testimony of a skeptic who doubts that the claims of the Bible can be true. These are the words of an Atheist who adamantly denies the existence of God and has contrived ways of understanding the world without thinking of God.

The claims of Atheist are foolish and unfounded.

The fool has said in his heart,
“There is no God.”
(Psalm 53:1)

He has come to the false conclusion that since he cannot understand the existence of God in light of what he sees in the world around him, God must not exist. It is the height of arrogance for a frail and finite creature such as man to conclude after only 20 years of seeking, “there is no such place as you dream of in all this world.” Eternal reward will always remain hidden to those who persist in such short-sighted folly.

The labor of fools wearies them,
For they do not even know how to go to the city!
(Ecclesiastes 10:15)

but he shall die in the place where they have led him captive, and shall see this land no more (Jeremiah 22:12).

Atheist claims that he was once an earnest pilgrim. His life, however, demonstrates that he is not a true disciple. He left his country out of curiosity and intrigue, not to find relief from a burden of sin or to escape the wrath to come. He sought for evidence of God’s existence and for the hope of eternal life, but finding none, he is now resolved to give up and go back to his country. A true disciple perseveres and does not dare go back. Christian declared when he was urged to turn back near the top of Hill Difficulty:

If I go back to mine own country, that is prepared for fire and brimstone, and I shall certainly perish there. If I can get to the Celestial City, I am sure to be in safety there. I must venture. To go back is nothing but death; to go forward is fear of death, and life-everlasting beyond it. I will yet go forward.

Atheist has become a scoffer. He has renounced the gospel. He regards the journey as tedious and pointless. Though he at one time professed the gospel, his heart was never softened by the gospel. He was never saved by the gospel and now he is gospel-hardened. Thomas Scott explains:

Some false professors gradually renounce “the truth” as it is in Jesus; but others openly set themselves against all kinds of religion, and turn scoffers and infidels. Indeed none are more likely to become avowed atheists, than such as have for many years hypocritically professed the gospel: for they often acquire an acquaintance with the several parts of religion, their connexion with each other, and the arguments with which they are supported; so that they know not where to begin, if they would oppose any particular doctrine or precept of revelation. Yet they hate the whole system; and, having never experienced those effects from the truth which the scripture ascribes to it, they feel, that if there be any reality in religion, their own case is very dreadful, and wish to shake off this mortifying and alarming conviction.

(Thomas Scott Notes on Pilgrim’s Progress)

When Atheist insists that he is turning back because his search for the Celestial City has proved to be fruitless, Christian asks Hopeful: “Is it true what this man has said?” Hopeful does not hesitate to answer. His reply highlights three lessons that we need to remember if we are to persevere in the journey.

1) Take heed and don’t be deceived. Hopeful is now more alert, having just been freed from the Flatterer’s net. He knows the hazard of following false counsel. He wants to avoid the snare of sin and the whip of God’s discipline. God’s discipline in our lives not only rescues us in the moment from turning back to Destruction, it becomes a deterrent that restrains us from straying into sin in the future. It keeps us out of danger and in the path of blessing. We must learn to watch and continually guard our hearts.

Keep your heart with all diligence,
For out of it spring the issues of life.
Put away from you a deceitful mouth,
And put perverse lips far from you.
Let your eyes look straight ahead,
And your eyelids look right before you.
Ponder the path of your feet,
And let all your ways be established.
Do not turn to the right or the left;
Remove your foot from evil.
(Proverbs 4:23–27)

2) Walk by faith and not by sight. We are not to listen to what we know is not right. We must remember the truth that we have learned—lessons and glimpses of glory from the Delectable Mountains. We must not leave off faith and begin walking by sight.

For we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

We do not seek our reward here in this life. In this life we are but pilgrims passing through. Jesus said: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). “For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come” (Hebrews 13:14). We must not believe the lie that this world is all there is.

3) Believe God’s Word and hope in His promises. We never get beyond needing the Word of God. Christian and Hopeful strayed from the Way, following after the Flatterer, because they neglected God’s Word. Though they carried with them instructions from the Shepherds, they failed to read and follow them. Now, faced with another temptation to abandon their journey, Hopeful says to Christian: “You should have taught me that lesson, which I will round you in the ears” [tell you sincerely]. He points Christian to God’s Word and quotes a warning from the book of Proverbs:

Cease, my son, to hear the instruction
that causeth to err from the words of knowledge.
(Proverbs 19:27, KJV)

Cease listening to instruction, my son,
And you will stray from the words of knowledge.
(Proverbs 19:27, NKJV)

And he quotes an affirmation:

But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul (Hebrews 10:39).

We must persevere in the light of God’s Word. We must believe “to the saving of the soul.” Christian assures Hopeful that he asked the question, not because he believed Atheist or doubted the truth, but because he desired to draw out a sincere testimony from Hopeful. Atheist is blind to the truth of the Gospel.

But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them (2 Corinthians 4:3–4).

But Christian and Hopeful are resolved to press on, believing what they know to be true and rejecting what they know to be a lie. God has given His Word that we might know truth from error.

I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and that no lie is of the truth. (1 John 2:21).

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).

Atheist faces a grave ending. He is turning back to refresh himself with things of this world that he had previously cast away. He scorns those who would forsake all the world has to offer in order to find eternal life, but he will end up empty, “having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).

Christian and Hopeful are still intent on reaching the Celestial City. They are not dissuaded by Atheist’s laughter and scorn. Because they take heed, walk by faith, and believe God’s Word, they continue on in their journey, seeking life eternal and “rejoicing in hope of the glory of God.”

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God (Romans 5:1–2).

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

Conversation with Shepherds

Christian: Is this the way to the Celestial City?

Shepherds: You are just in your way.

Christian: How far is it thither?

Shepherds: Too far for any but those that shall get thither indeed.

Christian: Is the way safe or dangerous?

Christian: Safe for those for whom it is to be safe; but the transgressors shall fall therein.

Christian: Is there, in this place, any relief for pilgrims that are weary and faint in the way?

Shepherds: The Lord of these mountains hath given us a charge not to be forgetful to entertain strangers, therefore the good of the place is before you.

I saw also in my dream, that when the Shepherds perceived that they were wayfaring men, they also put questions to them, to which they made answer as in other places; as, Whence came you? and, How got you into the way? and, By what means have you so persevered therein? For but few of them that begin to come hither do show their face on these mountains. But when the Shepherds heard their answers, being pleased therewith, they looked very lovingly upon them, and said, Welcome to the Delectable Mountains.

The Shepherds, I say, whose names were Knowledge, Experience, Watchful, and Sincere, took them by the hand, and had them to their tents, and made them partake of that which was ready at present. They said, moreover, We would that ye should stay here awhile, to be acquainted with us; and yet more to solace yourselves with the good of these Delectable Mountains. They then told them, that they were content to stay; so they went to their rest that night, because it was very late.

Shepherds on the Delectable Mountains

As the pilgrims are welcomed to the Delectable Mountains, Christian questions the Shepherds who keep watch by the Way. Christian first asks if the way up into the mountains is the right path to the Celestial City. Earlier he had wandered out of the Way and into the dangers of Doubting Castle by going over the stile into By-Path Meadow. Now he is more alert and cautious. The shepherds assure him: “You are just in your way.” He is right in the way he is going.

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

He then asks how far it is to the Celestial City. The shepherds respond with a warning that not all who attempt the journey will arrive at the City—only those who persevere to the end. It is “too far for any but those that shall get thither indeed.” Christian has already experienced dangers along the Way, but he wonders now if there is more yet to face. He asks if the Way is safe or dangerous. The shepherds again warn him: “Safe for those for whom it is to be safe; but the transgressors shall fall therein.”

Scripture draws a contrast between the way of the righteous (who will persevere to the end) and the way of the wicked (who will perish).

Who is wise?
Let him understand these things.
Who is prudent?
Let him know them.
For the ways of the Lord are right;
The righteous walk in them,
But transgressors stumble in them.
(Hosea 14:9)

This contrast is seen especially in the book of Psalms.

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

Oh, let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end,
But establish the just;
For the righteous God tests the hearts and minds.
(Psalm 7:9)

For the arms of the wicked shall be broken,
But the Lord upholds the righteous.
The Lord knows the days of the upright,
And their inheritance shall be forever.
(Psalm 37:17–18)

Only those who are truly Christ’s will persevere. Only those kept by His power will reach the journey’s end. William Mason notes in his commentary on The Pilgrim’s Progress:

O how many professors grow weary of the way, fall short, and fail of coming to the end! Though the way be too far, too strait, and too narrow for many who set out, and never hold out to the end; yet all who are begotten by the Word of grace, and born of the Spirit of truth, shall persevere to the end, being kept by the mighty power of God, through faith, unto eternal salvation (1 Peter 1:5) —William Mason

The very trials and failures that bring discouragement to would-be pilgrims, causing them to turn back or fall away, serve to strengthen true pilgrims, causing them to look to Christ, rest in Him, and persevere.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience (James 1:2–3).

Thomas Scott explains:

The certainty of the final perseverance of true believers is exemplified in their persevering, notwithstanding inward and outward impediments. Many hold the doctrine who are not interested in the privilege; but the true believer acquires new strength by his trials and mistakes, and possesses increasing evidence that the new covenant is made with him. —Thomas Scott

Finally, Christian asks if the mountains offer “any relief for pilgrims that are weary and faint in the way.” The shepherds assure them that the Lord has charged them not to forget to entertain strangers.

Let brotherly love continue. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels (Hebrews 13:1–2).

The mountains represent the church seen through the eyes of a mature believer. Just as Christian was questioned concerning his confession of faith and testimony when he arrived at House Beautiful (the church seen through the eyes of a new convert), he and Hopeful are questioned here. The shepherds represent the pastors of the church, who feed and guard the flock. Their names are Knowledge, Experience, Watchful (the Porter at House Beautiful was also named Watchful), and Sincere. Thomas Scott notes the significance of their names:

These names show what are the endowments most essential to the pastoral office: (1) knowledge of the scriptures; (2) experience of the power of divine truth; (3) watchfulness over the people; (4) sincerity manifested by a disinterested, unambitious, unassuming, patient, and affectionate conduct. —Thomas Scott

Knowledge

Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. (1 Timothy 4:13)

Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you (1 Timothy 4:16).

We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed. But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left … (2 Corinthians 6:3–7).

Experience

Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity (1 Timothy 4:12)

Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all (2 Timothy 4:15).

Watchful

But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Timothy 4:5).

Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you (Hebrews 13:17).

Sincere

For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, and more abundantly toward you (2 Corinthians 1:12).

For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ (2 Corinthians 2:17).

We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed. But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God … by sincere love (2 Corinthians 6:3–6).

The Shepherds encourage Christian and Hopeful to stay awhile, find solace, and enjoy “the good of these Delectable Mountains.” The mountains themselves represent sermons—passages of Scripture expounded by the Shepherds: words of caution, admonitions, reproof of error, warnings of judgment and hell, words of clarity, and words of promise and encouragement. The sheep (church family) feed upon the mountains, strengthening their faith, deepening their repentance, and gaining greater understanding of God’s Word.

In the following posts we will examine some of these sermons—lessons that Christian and Hopeful will need as they complete their journey.

 

The Delectable Mountains

Lord, we thank You for the Mountains
Where You bring Your flocks to feed;
Guided by Your watchful Shepherds,
We find truth for every need.
Father, give us words of Caution,
Help us see Immanuel’s Land,
Keep us from the cliffs of Error,
Make us on good ground to stand.

(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.

The Misery of Doubting Castle

Now, night being come again, and the Giant and his wife being in bed, she asked him concerning the prisoners, and if they had taken his counsel. To which he replied, They are sturdy rogues, they choose rather to bear all hardship, than to make away themselves. Then said she, Take them into the castle-yard tomorrow, and show them the bones and skulls of those that you have already dispatched, and make them believe, ere a week comes to an end, you also will tear them in pieces, as you have done to their fellows before them.

So when the morning was come, the Giant goes to them again, and takes them into the castle-yard, and shows them, as his wife had bidden him. These, said he, were pilgrims as you are, once, and they trespassed in my grounds, as you have done; and when I thought fit, I tore them in pieces, and so, within ten days, I will do you. Go, get you down to your den again; and with that he beat them all the way thither. They lay, therefore, all day on Saturday in a lamentable case, as before. Now, when night was come, and when Mrs. Diffidence and her husband, the Giant, were got to bed, they began to renew their discourse of their prisoners; and withal the old Giant wondered, that he could neither by his blows nor his counsel bring them to an end. And with that his wife replied, I fear, said she, that they live in hope that some will come to relieve them, or that they have picklocks about them, by the means of which they hope to escape. And do you say so, my dear? said the Giant; I will, therefore, search them in the morning.

Doubting CastleDespite Hopeful’s reassurance, the darkness returns. Night comes again and Christian and Hopeful still remain in the oppressive bonds of Doubting Castle. It seems that there is no end to their captivity.

The ongoing misery of Doubting Castle reveals the weight of depression that can linger and lie even upon true believers. Doubts can be persistent. Discouragements can increase. Misgivings can reemerge and reinforce, like iron bars holding us down. Even more mature believers are not immune. Christian was more seasoned in his pilgrimage than Hopeful. Yet Christian’s suffering was more severe. It was Hopeful who served his older brother by speaking words of encouragement. Bunyan himself often experienced times of severe depression. He confessed in the conclusion of his autobiography:

I have wondered much at this one thing, that though God doth visit my soul with never so blessed a discovery of himself, yet I have found again, that such hours have attended me afterwards, that I have been in my spirits so filled with darkness, that I could not so much as once conceive what that God and that comfort was with which I have been refreshed. [Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 3 in the Conclusion]

Giant Despair and his wife, Diffidence devise their plans in the dark, at night, when there is no light. Diffidence (lack of trust or unbelief) will always send us Despair to bludgeon and abuse us. Diffidence plots and directs; Despair carries out her cruel designs. He does her bidding. Diffidence tells her husband: “Take them into the castle-yard tomorrow, and show them the bones and skulls of those that you have already dispatched, and make them believe, ere a week comes to an end, you also will tear them in pieces, as you have done to their fellows before them.” The castle-yard represents the lives of those shattered by sin and devastated by despair. It is the hopelessness of a fallen world that has been blinded to the truth of God’s Word and the ruin of those who have strayed from the Way and denied the faith. Diffidence is sure that the sight of such brokenness and failure will extinguish whatever resolve the pilgrims may yet possess.

Despair would tear our lives apart and leave us in ruins. It would beat us down with troubles, trials, and tribulations. Its rage seems relentless with no way of escape. In the end, it would destroy us and leave us for dead. But God has different designs. He allows hardship to persist that we might endure:

You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 2:3).

He would have us glory in tribulation that it might bring us to hope.

And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5:3–5).

He would have us cry out to Him in faith that we might be delivered from oppression.

O Lord my God, in You I put my trust;
Save me from all those who persecute me;
And deliver me,
Lest they tear me like a lion,
Rending me in pieces, while there is none to deliver.
(Psalm 7:1–2)

Giant Despair is confounded at the perseverance of the pilgrims. Diffidence fears that they may yet hope of escape. She suggests that they may, in fact, possess the means to escape. Giant Despair intents to search them in the morning.  In the next post, we will see how the pilgrims indeed are able to escape the misery of Doubting Castle.

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.

Pressing On We Journey

Seek the Light

Those who follow my blog know that one of my favorite books is John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. I have read it numerous times and am writing a commentary on the book, A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. On occasion, I have woven the themes and imagery from Bunyan’s allegory into hymns I have written. These include “Looking Always Unto Jesus,” “Come Enter By the Narrow Gate” and “A Prayer for Pilgrims.” This new hymn also draws from Bunyan’s work.

In Matthew 6 Jesus teaches us not to be anxious for tomorrow, but to place our trust in Him, seeking first His Kingdom and His righteousness:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble (Matthew 6:25–34).

We will never find joy and contentment in this life apart from Christ and His righteousness. There are two great enemies of joy and contentment: regret and worry. Regret keeps us from joy in the present by fixating on the past—which we cannot change and is over. Worry keeps us from joy in the present by fixating on the future—which we cannot control and is uncertain. The gospel sets us free from both. We trust Christ, knowing that our sins are forgiven and our future rests in the hands of a loving and merciful God. We can press on in new mercies every day knowing that He will provide all we need to reach our journey’s end.

Pressing On, We Journey

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,
and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).

Christ our greatest treasure,
He our highest aim!
Christ our deepest comfort,
Him we now acclaim!
By His death, He saved us,
By His life, we live.
To the King of glory,
All our lives we give.

Pressing on, we journey,
Christ we now confess,
Seeking first His kingdom
And His righteousness.

Rescued from destruction,
Told to seek the light;
Pulled up from the mire,
Fitted for the fight.
Christ, in every instance
Guides us in the Way,
Graciously providing
Mercies every day.

Pressing on, we journey,
Pilgrims we progress,
Seeking first His kingdom
And His righteousness.

Fret not for tomorrow,
Fear not past regrets.
He heals every sorrow,
Sure the course He sets.
All these things are added,
What to eat and wear;
All our needs provided,
By His loving care.

Pressing on, we journey,
Joys we now possess,
Seeking first His kingdom
And His righteousness.

We long for that day when
We’ll see face to face
Christ, the King of Glory,
Full of truth and grace.
But until that moment,
Finally He descends,
We will ever seek Him,
Faithful to the end.

Pressing on, we journey,
Hope we now express,
Seeking first His kingdom
And His righteousness

Words ©2017 Ken Puls

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My Soul What Truth Consoles You?

Light on the Path

Last month we had the privilege at Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral of hearing from Conrad Mbewe. On New Year’s Day 2017 Dr. Mbewe, who serves as Pastor of Kabwata Baptist Church in Lusaka, Zambia, preached a message from John 3:16 entitled “God’s Indescribable Love.” He encouraged us to begin the new year with our souls “anchored deep” in the unfailing love of God in Christ.

Sometimes the verses we think we know best are the ones we can learn from the most. That is certainly true of John 3:16. Anytime we are under the preaching of God’s Word, we need to listen intently, and even more so when the passage is familiar and we think we know what the preacher is going to say. Scripture is an inestimable and inexhaustible treasure. We need to hear it expectantly (even parts we think we know) and let it dwell in us “richly” (Colossians 3:16).

This hymn is my reflection on the verse and the message. The love of God that He has given us in His Son is a sure fortress that shelters us through every storm and trial.

My Soul What Truth Consoles You?

For God so loved the world,
that he gave His only Son,
that whoever believes in Him
should not perish but have eternal life.
(John 3:16)

My soul, what truth consoles you?
For hope, where can you run?
For God so loved the world that
He gave His only Son,
And everyone believing,
Though wrecked by sin and strife,
In Him can never perish,
But have eternal life.

My soul, when life confounds you,
Look up to Christ above!
The floods of fear can’t reach to
The heights of His great love.
If clouds around me darken,
I know I will endure,
For I have life eternal;
In Christ I rest secure.

So come, my soul, and worship,
Give praise to God and sing!
There is no firmer promise
To which you now can cling.
Through every storm and trial,
My soul He’ll safely keep.
Within the love of Jesus,
My soul is anchored deep.

Words ©2017 Ken Puls

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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.

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.

A Meeting with Evangelist

Thus they went on talking of what they had seen by the way, and so made that way easy which would otherwise, no doubt, have been tedious to them; for now they went through a wilderness.

Now, when they were got almost quite out of this wilderness, Faithful chanced to cast his eye back, and espied one coming after them, and he knew him. Oh! said Faithful to his brother, who comes yonder? Then Christian looked, and said, It is my good friend Evangelist. Ay, and my good friend too, said Faithful, for it was he that set me in the way to the gate. Now was Evangelist come up to them, and thus saluted them:

Evangelist: Peace be with you, dearly beloved; and peace be to your helpers.

Christian: Welcome, welcome, my good Evangelist, the sight of your countenance brings to my remembrance your ancient kindness and unwearied laboring for my eternal good.

Faithful: And a thousand times welcome, said good Faithful. Thy company, O sweet Evangelist, how desirable it is to us poor pilgrims!

Evangelist: Then said Evangelist, How has it fared with you, my friends, since the time of our last parting? What have you met with, and how have you behaved yourselves?

Then Christian and Faithful told him of all things that had happened to them in the way; and how, and with what difficulty, they had arrived at that place.

Evangelist: Right glad am I, said Evangelist, not that you have met with trials, but that you have been victors; and for that you have, notwithstanding many weaknesses, continued in the way to this very day.

I say, right glad am I of this thing, and that for mine own sake and yours. I have sowed, and you have reaped: and the day is coming, when both he that sowed and they that reaped shall rejoice together; that is, if you hold out: “for in due season you shall reap, if you faint not.” The crown is before you, and it is an incorruptible one; so run, that you may obtain it. Some there be that set out for this crown, and, after they have gone far for it, another comes in, and takes it from them. Hold fast, therefore, that you have; let no man take your crown. You are not yet out of the gun-shot of the devil; you have not resisted unto blood, striving against sin; let the kingdom be always before you, and believe steadfastly concerning things that are invisible. Let nothing that is on this side the other world get within you; and, above all, look well to your own hearts, and to the lusts thereof, “for they are deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” Set your faces like a flint; you have all power in heaven and earth on your side.

After the departure of Talkative, Christian and Faithful continue their journey together. Their pathway now takes them “through a wilderness.” Bunyan began the story with the words “as I walked through the wilderness of this world.” The wilderness represents the world in which we live, especially in its opposition and rejection of God. It is a place fraught with danger, dryness and desolation, as the pilgrims are soon again to discover. They press on by walking together and encouraging one another. Christian learned at the Little Ascent, where he first saw Faithful, the value of Christian fellowship. That fellowship now serves to invigorate them and make the way easy where it may have been tedious.

Christian Faithful and EvangelistAs Christian and Faithful near the end of the wilderness, they see a friend coming after them. Both recognize him as Evangelist. Evangelist has appeared twice before in Bunyan’s allegory: at the beginning where he pointed Christian to the Gate, and at Mount Sinai where he admonished Christian for heeding the voice of Worldly Wiseman and straying from the Way. Evangelist was instrumental in sharing the gospel with both Christian and Faithful. Now he returns to see how they are doing in the journey.

Evangelist addresses them as “dearly beloved.” His words of greeting come from 1 Chronicles 12:8 where Amasai greets David, saying: “Peace, peace to you, and peace to your helpers! For your God helps you.”

Both Christian and Faithful are delighted to see him. They welcome him as a friend and are grateful for his ministry and care for their souls. They readily share with him an account of their journey. As Evangelist listens to their stories, he rejoices, not because they have walked through dark trials, but because they have been victorious through trials and have persevered. Despite many weaknesses, they have “continued in the way to this very day.”

“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 John 4).

He is grateful to see lasting fruit from his labors:

“And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together” (John 4:36).

And once again he points the pilgrims to Christ and to His Word. He brings them encouragement, exhortation and warning from the Scriptures.

He tells them to “hold out” and not faint, for in due time they will reap a reward:

“And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Galatians 6:9).

He speaks of an incorruptible crown and encourages them to run the race to win the prize:

“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24–27).

He tells them to “hold fast” and “let no man take your crown” (stand firm and not give into the fear of man):

“Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown” (Revelation 3:11).

He warns them that they must continue to resist the devil (Ephesians 6:10–13; James 4:7) and fight against sin (Romans 6:11–14). They must seek first the Kingdom of God (Matthew 7:33) and aim for what is invisible (spiritual and eternal), rather than what is visible (worldly and temporal; 2 Corinthians 4:18). They are to keep themselves unstained from the world (James 1:27) and guard their hearts from temptations. For “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it” (Jeremiah 17:9).

He urges them to “set your faces like a flint” (press on with determination):

“For the Lord God will help Me;
Therefore I will not be disgraced;
Therefore I have set My face like a flint,
And I know that I will not be ashamed.”
(Isaiah 50:7)

For all power and authority are on their side:

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen (Matthew 28:18–20).

Bunyan teaches us at least three lessons about what it means to be an Evangelist:

An Evangelist has an abiding commitment to the ministry of the gospel. Christian remembers Evangelist’s earlier kindness and his “unwearied laboring” for the good of pilgrims. We see aspects of Evangelist’s work throughout the story: pointing pilgrims to the way of life, reproving and correcting them when they wander from the way, and now fortifying them to remain faithful to the way. He is ever serving the cause of Christ.

An Evangelist has an abiding concern for souls. Evangelism is not simply sharing Christ, putting a notch in your belt and moving on. It is loving people, investing time and energy and resources for the sake of others. It is following up when possible with discipleship and encouragement. It is caring deeply about the spiritual well-being of people. Evangelist is not content to point Christian and Faithful in the right direction and then forget them. His desire is to see them win the race and complete their journey. And so he continues to serve them to that end.

An Evangelist has an abiding confidence in God’s Word. Evangelist doesn’t offer his own advice or ideas. He knows that there is but one message that pilgrims need to hear and heed. Christian and Faithful are soon to face fierce temptation and trial. Evangelist speaks God’s Word to them faithfully and unashamedly. He knows that God will do all He has promised He will do and so he proclaims that Word with boldness.

From this encounter, we can also learn from Christian and Faithful’s example. They are delighted when Evangelist comes to them. They welcome his counsel and are attentive to his concern. May God make us continually grateful for those who care for our souls and have invested their labors for our spiritual well-being.

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

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

Christian Confounded

About the midst of this valley, I perceived the mouth of hell to be, and it stood also hard by the wayside. Now, thought Christian, what shall I do? And ever and anon the flame and smoke would come out in such abundance, with sparks and hideous noises, (things that cared not for Christian’s sword, as did Apollyon before), that he was forced to put up his sword, and betake himself to another weapon called All-prayer. So he cried in my hearing, “O Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul!” Thus he went on a great while, yet still the flames would be reaching towards him. Also he heard doleful voices, and rushings to and fro, so that sometimes he thought he should be torn in pieces, or trodden down like mire in the streets. This frightful sight was seen, and these dreadful noises were heard by him for several miles together; and, coming to a place where he thought he heard a company of fiends coming forward to meet him, he stopped, and began to muse what he had best to do. Sometimes he had half a thought to go back; then again he thought he might be half way through the valley; he remembered also how he had already vanquished many a danger, and that the danger of going back might be much more than for to go forward; so he resolved to go on. Yet the fiends seemed to come nearer and nearer; but when they were come even almost at him, he cried out with a most vehement voice, “I will walk in the strength of the Lord God!” so they gave back, and came no further.

One thing I would not let slip. I took notice that now poor Christian was so confounded, that he did not know his own voice; and thus I perceived it. Just when he was come over against the mouth of the burning pit, one of the wicked ones got behind him, and stepped up softly to him, and whisperingly suggested many grievous blasphemies to him, which he verily thought had proceeded from his own mind. This put Christian more to it than anything that he met with before, even to think that he should now blaspheme him that he loved so much before; yet, if he could have helped it, he would not have done it; but he had not the discretion either to stop his ears, or to know from whence these blasphemies came.

When Christian had traveled in this disconsolate condition some considerable time, he thought he heard the voice of a man, as going before him, saying, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.”

Then he was glad, and that for these reasons:

First, Because he gathered from thence, that some who feared God were in this valley as well as himself.

Secondly, For that he perceived God was with them, though in that dark and dismal state; and why not, thought he, with me? though, by reason of the impediment that attends this place, I cannot perceive it.

Thirdly, For that he hoped, could he overtake them, to have company by and by. So he went on, and called to him that was before; but he knew not what to answer; for that he also thought to be alone.

Christian ConfoundedAs Christian continues his dark journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, his trouble only deepens. When he reaches the middle of the valley he comes near the mouth of hell and here he is tormented with voices of terror and temptation. He feels threatened and senses that both fiends (alluring him into sin) and flames (threatening him with judgment) are coming after him.
Christian is so confounded that he is no longer able to wield his sword. There is nothing identifiable in his thinking upon which he can bring truth to bear. And so he turns to another weapon of spiritual warfare: All-Prayer.

… praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints (Ephesians 6:18).

He cries out to the Lord with the words of Psalm 116:4

Then I called upon the name of the LORD:
“O LORD, I implore You, deliver my soul!”
(Psalm 116:4)

Oppression so overwhelms him that he finds himself perplexed and unsure how to proceed. He considers going back, but then remembers how far he has already come. He has already seen victories over sin and Satan. Going back would likely be more dangerous than pressing forward. Retreat would only set him on the path toward dangers and snares he had already passed. Christian’s resolve is to take courage and press on. Though he is no match for the valley in his own cunning and power, he is determined to “walk in the strength of the Lord God.”

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might (Ephesians 6:10).

Bunyan describes the valley as dark and confusing. Christian hears voices whispering blasphemies and temptations, but their source is uncertain. He becomes so confused that he even begins to doubt his own testimony and can’t recognize his own voice. In the Valley of Humiliation the enemy was clear. Apollyon stood against him and Christian stood his ground. But now in this valley the enemy is unclear and clandestine. When Christian searches for his foe, it appears to be within his own mind, maybe even himself. He is perplexed and grieved that he could be thinking such wicked thoughts.

This was Bunyan’s testimony as he sought to follow Christ. He describes his own dark days in his autobiography, Grace Abounding, how he was assaulted by discontent and blasphemous thoughts:

For, about the space of a month after, a very great storm came down upon me, which handled me twenty times worse than all I had met with before; it came stealing upon me, now by one piece, then by another: First, all my comfort was taken from me; then darkness seized upon me; after which, whole floods of blasphemies, both against God, Christ, and the scriptures, were poured upon my spirit, to my great confusion and astonishment. These blasphemous thoughts were such as stirred up questions in me against the very being of God, and of His only beloved Son: As, whether there were in truth, a God or Christ? And whether the Holy Scriptures were not rather a fable, and cunning story, than the holy and pure word of God?
[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 96]

Like Christian in The Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan was fearful and distressed that such terrible thoughts would come from within himself.

Now I thought, surely I am possessed of the devil: at other times, again, I thought I should be bereft of my wits; for instead of lauding and magnifying God the Lord, with others, if I have but heard Him spoken of, presently some most horrible blasphemous thought or other would bolt out of my heart against Him; so that whether I did think that God was, or again did think there was no such thing, no love, nor peace, nor gracious disposition could I feel within me.

These things did sink me into very deep despair; for I concluded that such things could not possibly be found amongst them that loved God. I often, when these temptations had been with force upon me, did compare myself to the case of such a child, whom some gipsy hath by force took up in her arms, and is carrying from friend and country. Kick sometimes I did, and also shriek and cry; but yet I was bound in the wings of the temptation, and the wind would carry me away. I thought also of Saul, and of the evil spirit that did possess him: and did greatly fear that my condition was the same with that of his (1 Samuel 10).
[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 101–102]

Bunyan doubted his own faith and mistakenly believed that he was alone in his struggle against sin and the devil.

And now my heart was, at times, exceeding hard; if I would have given a thousand pounds for a tear, I could not shed one: no nor sometimes scarce desire to shed one. I was much dejected, to think that this would be my lot. I saw some could mourn and lament their sin; and others again, could rejoice and bless God for Christ; and others again, could quietly talk of, and with gladness remember the word of God; while I only was in the storm or tempest. This much sunk me, I thought my condition was alone, I should therefore much bewail my hard hap, but get out of, or get rid of these things, I could not.

While this temptation lasted, which was about a year, I could attend upon none of the ordinances of God, but with sore and great affliction. Yea, then I was most distressed with blasphemies. If I had been hearing the word, then uncleanness, blasphemies and despair would hold me a captive there: if I have been reading, then sometimes I had sudden thoughts to question all I read: sometimes again, my mind would be so strangely snatched away, and possessed with other things, that I have neither known, nor regarded, nor remembered so much as the sentence that but now I have read.
[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 105–106]

One of Satan’s great ploys is to make us feel unique in our sin and isolated in our suffering. No one can understand what we are facing; no one can possibly bear the sorrows we are carrying; no one can think what we are thinking and be a true follower of Jesus! But God’s Word teaches us otherwise:

No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:13).

One of God’s great gifts is to give us brothers and sisters in the faith to walk with us and encourage us. As Christian walks downcast through the valley, he hears ahead of him the voice of another pilgrim quoting the Word of God.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
(Psalm 23:4)

This makes Christian glad for three reasons:

1. He realizes that he is not alone in the valley. Others are facing the same trials and temptations as he, and are trusting in God for help and comfort.

2. He realizes that God is with him and watching over him even though he cannot perceive it. Job says of God:

He does great things past finding out,
Yes, wonders without number.
If He goes by me, I do not see Him;
If He moves past, I do not perceive Him
(Job 9:10–11)

We don’t have to be alert and aware for God to be at work. Even when we are confounded and dismayed, He is still sovereign and in control. Even when we are downcast and uncertain, He remains strong and faithful.

3. Christian realizes that a fellow pilgrim is close by. He can gain the blessing of company and consolation if he can meet up with his brother. Christian calls out to get the other’s attention, but hears no answer. The other pilgrim is yet out of sight and believes himself to be alone in the valley as well.

The Valley of the Shadow of Death teaches us an important lesson about the Christian life. It is possible for believers, who are following the Way and walking according to God’s will, to go through dark and difficult days. They may go through times, even seasons, of severe oppression and trial. The valley can be long. Christian plods on for “several miles” and is disconsolate “for some considerable time.” How are we to follow Christ when the days are dark and we are so confounded and perplexed, we don’t know what to do? In those times we must not look to our own strength and understanding. We must walk as Christian, praying always and pressing on in the strength of the Lord. As we walk by faith, trusting in the promises of God’s Word, we will be encouraged. And though we may not see it, in God’s kindness, our perseverance might be an encouragement to others to press on as well.

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.