Tag Archives: Pilgrim’s Progress

The Roll Recovered

Now, by this time he was come to the arbor again, where for a while he sat down and wept; but at last, as Christian would have it, looking sorrowfully down under the settle, there he espied his roll; the which he, with trembling and haste, caught up, and put it into his bosom. But who can tell how joyful this man was when he had gotten his roll again! For this roll was the assurance of his life and acceptance at the desired haven. Therefore he laid it up in his bosom, gave thanks to God for directing his eye to the place where it lay, and with joy and tears betook himself again to his journey. But oh, how nimbly now did he go up the rest of the hill! Yet, before he got up, the sun went down upon Christian; and this made him again recall the vanity of his sleeping to his remembrance And thus he again began to condole with himself: O thou sinful sleep; how, for your sake, am I like to be benighted in my journey! I must walk without the sun; darkness must cover the path of my feet; and I must hear the noise of the doleful creatures, because of my sinful sleep. Now also he remembered the story that Mistrust and Timorous told him of; how they were frighted with the sight of the lions. Then said Christian to himself again: These beasts range in the night for their prey; and if they should meet with me in the dark, how should I shift them? How should I escape being by them torn in pieces? Thus he went on his way. But while he was thus bewailing his unhappy miscarriage, he lift up his eyes, and behold there was a very stately palace before him, the name of which was Beautiful; and it stood just by the highway side.

In the last post Christian learned the painful consequences of sinful sleep. He became careless and idle and, as he slept in the light, his roll slipped away. But Christian also demonstrated the fruits of humble repentance. He acknowledged his sin, sought forgiveness, and retraced his steps in a diligent search to find and recover what was lost.

The roll was precious to Christian. It represents, as Bunyan reminds us, “the assurance of his life and acceptance at the desired haven.” Assurance is not a given in the Christian walk; it is not guaranteed to all believers. It can be strong or weak at times. It can even be lost for a time due to sin or neglect. The 1689 London Baptist Confession acknowledges that even true believers can struggle with assurance.

True believers may in various ways have the assurance of their salvation shaken, decreased, or temporarily lost. This may happen because they neglect to preserve it or fall into some specific sin that wounds their conscience and grieves the Spirit. It may happen through some unexpected or forceful temptation or when God withdraws the light of His face and allows even those who fear Him to walk in darkness and to have no light. Yet they are never completely lacking the seed of God, the life of faith, love of Christ and the brethren, sincerity of heart, or conscience concerning their duty. Out of these graces, through the work of the Spirit, this assurance may at the proper time be revived. In the meantime, they are kept from utter despair through them.
[Confessing the Faith: The 1689 Baptist Confession for the 21st Century, 20.4]

Though Christians may fall into dark times and lose the light of God’s felt presence and comfort, God, by the power and work of His Spirit, will keep and protect them. When the time is right according to His purposes, he will restore their assurance and hope. David prayed for such revival as he grieved his own sin in Psalm 51:

Make me hear joy and gladness,
That the bones You have broken may rejoice.
Hide Your face from my sins,
And blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence,
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,
And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.
(Psalm 51:8–12)

Jeremiah prophesied during dark days leading up to the fall of Jerusalem and Judah. In Lamentations he expressed his own grief and struggles when he felt confounded and abandoned:

I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of His wrath.
He has led me and made me walk
In darkness and not in light.
Surely He has turned His hand against me
Time and time again throughout the day.
He has aged my flesh and my skin,
And broken my bones.
He has besieged me
And surrounded me with bitterness and woe.
He has set me in dark places
Like the dead of long ago.
He has hedged me in so that I cannot get out;
He has made my chain heavy.
Even when I cry and shout,
He shuts out my prayer.
He has blocked my ways with hewn stone;
He has made my paths crooked.
He has been to me a bear lying in wait,
Like a lion in ambush.
He has turned aside my ways and torn me in pieces;
He has made me desolate.
He has bent His bow
And set me up as a target for the arrow.
He has caused the arrows of His quiver
To pierce my loins.
I have become the ridicule of all my people—
Their taunting song all the day.
He has filled me with bitterness,
He has made me drink wormwood.
He has also broken my teeth with gravel,
And covered me with ashes.
You have moved my soul far from peace;
I have forgotten prosperity.
And I said, “My strength and my hope
Have perished from the LORD.”
Remember my affliction and roaming,
The wormwood and the gall.
My soul still remembers
And sinks within me.
(Lamentations 3:1–20)

But then in verse 21 his thoughts lift from his affliction to God. He remembers what he knows to be true of God:

This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
Through the LORD’S mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I hope in Him!”
(Lamentations 3:21–24)

He thinks on God’s mercies and faithfulness, and his hope is restored. We must learn to pray this way when we are cast down and afflicted:

Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him
For the help of His countenance.
(Psalms 42:5)

Christian Finds His RollIn Bunyan’s story Christian knew the sorrow of assurance shaken. But in God’s kindness he also knew the joy of assurance revived. He returned to the arbor and “looking sorrowfully down” he found his lost roll. Christian’s response is worth noting here. When he saw the roll, he took it up with trembling and haste. He “put it into his bosom” (held it close to his heart). He was filled with joy and gave thanks to God for directing his steps to find it. When he set out again to resume his journey, he went back up the hill nimbly. His former trial was not as imposing. Freshly assured of grace, the hill was no longer difficult.

When Christian regained his assurance he learned to cherish it more. Even the trial itself was turned to blessing. This was Bunyan’s own testimony. In Grace Abounding Bunyan summarizes how he regained his assurance after being “tossed from many weeks” with fears and doubts:

At last this consideration fell with weight upon me, that it was for the Word and way of God that I was in this condition. Wherefore I was engaged not to flinch a hair’s breadth from it.

I thought also, that God might choose whether He would give me comfort now or at the hour of death, but I might not therefore choose whether I would hold my profession or no. I was bound, but He was free. Yea, it was my duty to stand to His word, whether He would ever look upon me or no, or save me at the last. Wherefore, thought I, the point being thus, I am for going on, and venturing my eternal state with Christ, whether I have comfort here or no. If God does not come in, thought I, I will leap off the ladder even blindfold into eternity, sink or swim, come heaven, come hell. Lord Jesus, if You will catch me, do. If not, I will venture for Your name.

I was no sooner fixed upon this resolution, but that word dropped upon me, “Does Job serve God for naught?” As if the accuser had said, Lord, Job is no upright man, he servers You for by-respects. Have you not made a hedge about him, etc. “But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has, and he will curse You to Your face.” How now, thought I, is this the sign of an upright soul, to desire to serve God, that will serve God for nothing rather than give out? Blessed be God, then, I hope I have an upright heart. For I am resolved, God giving me strength, never to deny my profession, though I have nothing at all for my pains, and as I was thus considering, that Scripture set before me, Psalm 44:12–26.

Now was my heart full of comfort, for I hoped it was sincere. I would not have been without this trial for much, I am comforted every time I think of it, and I hope I shall bless God forever for the teaching I have had by it.

[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 336–339]

Bunyan cast himself upon the mercy of God, trusting that God would do what is right. He was determined to press on by faith, regardless of how clouded his circumstances or feelings became. By God’s grace and strength he would continue to confess Christ and repent of sin. Looking to God restored his joy and comfort.

We have the promise in God’s Word:

Those who sow in tears
Shall reap in joy.
(Psalms 126:5)

Christian repented with godly sorrow and he was raised up in joy and renewed hope. He was now filled with confidence and ready to press on in his journey. He started again, going smoothly and swiftly up the hill. But he still faced impending peril wrought by the consequences of his sin. It was late in the day and the sun was going down. As the night approached, the shadows and darkness made it hard to see the path. He began to hear the sounds of creatures of the night and thought again of the lions prowling ahead. His sorrows and fears were reawakened and began to rattle his confidence.

But by God’s grace, Christian sees along the path a place to find safety and lodging. God again directs his steps to find help in time of need. He sees “a very stately palace before him, the name of which was Beautiful.” In the next several posts we will examine Christian’s stay at Palace Beautiful, Bunyan’s depiction of the church, and learn of the many benefits and blessings that come with being in the household of God.

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

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2014 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

The Lost Roll

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

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

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

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

First: The Consequences of Sinful Sleep

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

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

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

Paul repeats this warning in Romans:

And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts (Romans 13:11–14).

Jesus Himself said:

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

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

Second: The Fruits of Humble Repentance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2014 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

The Pilgrim’s Puzzle: Number 1

The Pilgrim's Puzzle

How well do you know John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress? Here is a puzzle to test your knowledge. If you can answer less than 10, you should definitely add the book to your reading list soon. If you can answer more than 10, you get a passing score for familiarity with the story. If you can answer more than 20, well done; you get high marks for attention to detail. And if you can answer all 25, you most certainly earn the title of aficionado. Take note: a few answers are from Part 2 of the book.

Crossword Puzzle 1

ACROSS

1.  Apollyon threw this at Christian.
2.  Christian was seeking to be rid of this.
6.  The path to Mount Zion.
7.  The Damsel’s name at the House of the Interpreter. [Part 2]
9.  This Giant lived in a cave at the end of the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
11. This caused Christian to fall into the Slough.
12. The town of Vanity ____.
13. Number of Lions that stand before House Beautiful.
14. Christian’s original name.
17. Mistrust and Timorous were running from these.
18. Mr. ___–Ends
19. Pulled Christian from the Slough of Despond.
20. Stands at the entrance to By-Path Meadow.
21. Mr. Great-Heart finds this Old Pilgrim asleep under an oak tree. [Part 2]

DOWN

1. The place where Bunyan slept and dreamed.
2. Stands in the Garden at the House of the Interpreter. [Part 2]
3. One of the Shepherds.
4. Stands at the entrance to the Way.
5. This good man from the town of Sincere was beaten and robbed.
8. This man pointed Christian to the Wicket Gate.
9. The Chamber where Christian slept at House Beautiful.
10. Where Christian was prepared for Battle.
15. Represents Illumination.
16. Placed through the midst of the Slough.
18. What Christian held in his hand that caused him distress.

View / Download this Puzzle as a PDF

The Pilgrim’s Puzzle Number 1 from kenpulsmusic.com 2014

 

 

Timorous and Mistrust

Now, when he was got up to the top of the hill, there came two men running to meet him amain; the name of the one was Timorous, and of the other, Mistrust; to whom Christian said, Sirs, what’s the matter? You run the wrong way.
Timorous answered, that they were going to the City of Zion, and had got up that difficult place; but, said he, the further we go, the more danger we meet with; wherefore we turned, and are going back again.
Yes, said Mistrust, for just before us lie a couple of lions in the way, whether sleeping or waking we know not, and we could not think, if we came within reach, but they would presently pull us in pieces.
Then said Christian, You make me afraid, but whither shall I fly to be safe? 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. So Mistrust and Timorous ran down the hill, and Christian went on his way.

As Christian arrives at the top of the Hill, he once again encounters travelers on the Way. Two men, named Timorous and Mistrust, come “running to meet him amain,” that is “with great haste.” But these travelers, Christian observes, are running in the wrong direction. Unlike Simple, Sloth and Presumption, who were intent on staying put, and Formalist and Hypocrisy, who were intent on finding an easier way, these two seem determined to turn and make a rapid retreat.

Timorous and MistrustWhen Christian asks them the reason why they are running away, Timorous explains their terror. They were on the way to Zion, and had even got up the difficult Hill, but the further they went, the more danger they found. So now they “turned, and are going back again.” Mistrust describes the source of their fears. They saw two lions in the way and were convinced that if they continued on, they might be destroyed. The lions, as Christian later discovers, sit along the Way near the entrance to House Beautiful. They are a menace to travelers on the Way, especially those who would seek lodging at the House.

House Beautiful represents the true church, built upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In Bunyan’s day, those who identified themselves with the true Gospel and true church were labeled Dissenters and Nonconformists. They stood in opposition to the established Anglican Church and the civil laws that upheld its authority in the land. The lions represent the combined threat of the civil authorities and the state church to oppress Nonconformists and convince them to renounce their faith and fall in line with regimented religious and social norms.

Throughout the allegory, as in 16th and 17th centuries in England, the lions vary in their behavior: Sometimes they are fierce and menacing, inflicting harassment, fines and imprisonment. Sometimes they are roaring and on the prowl, seeking to devour with torture and death. At other times they are asleep (as Faithful later reports), relaxing and repealing laws and making promises of liberty.

Bunyan experienced some of this oppression firsthand. He was arrested for being a Nonconformist and was imprisoned from 1660 to 1672 and again from 1675 to 1678 (when he wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress). When the monarchy was restored in 1660, Charles II began enacting several laws designed to oppress the Nonconformists and legalize their persecution. These laws were known as the Clarendon Code and included the Act of Uniformity in 1662 (requiring of all church leaders their “unfeigned consent and assent” to the reissued Book of Common Prayer), the Coventicle Act in 1664 (outlawing church services where the Book of Common Prayer was not used, even in homes) and the Five Mile Act in 1665 (outlawing pastors who had been ejected from the state church by forbidding them to come within five miles of a city or town where they had ministered). These and other laws caused many to shrink back and forsake truth in Bunyan’s day.

Timorous (whose name means timid or fearful) and Mistrust (doubtful or wary) represent those who make a start for the Celestial City, but turn back for fear of man, cowering to social and political pressures of the day. Timorous and Mistrust were frightened by the mere sight of the lions (not their roar or aggression). They imagined the worse and fled in cowardice. Part 2 later describes how they came to a terrible end.

Christian was earlier warned of possible peril in standing for truth and the fear it can instill in the hearts of those who embark on the journey to eternal life. In one of the lessons in the House of the Interpreter he was shown a Beautiful Palace. Men in armor stood near the door threatening all who would go in. Outside the palace was a company of men who desired to go in but were afraid. They were unwilling to face the suffering and persecution and trials that come with standing for truth and proclaiming the true Gospel.

Scripture indeed warns us of the reality of suffering and persecution for the sake of the Gospel. Even in Jesus’ day there were some who would not identify themselves with Him for fear of men:

Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God (John 12:42–43).

But Jesus said:

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 (Matthew 5:10–11).

And Jesus warned His disciples that they indeed would face suffering:

But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name’s sake (Luke 21:12).

Paul, who faced much suffering for the sake of the gospel said:

For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake (Philippians 1:29).

Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12).

We have in the United States long enjoyed the blessing of religious freedom. The lions largely have been kept out of the Way. We have not had to fear an oppressive government or state church pressuring and persecuting those who would not conform to its social ideals and religious edicts. But times may be changing. As issues like same-sex marriage and pro-choice come to the forefront and gain more foothold in our culture, the pressures will come (both real and imagined) for the church and its members to acquiesce. We must hold onto truth and not turn back. As we have seen recently with World Vision wavering in its policy decisions (accepting the hiring of employees in same-sex marriages and then reversing the decision), the temptation to give up ground for the sake of fitting in to cultural expectations can be strong.

Christian responds to Timorous and Mistrust by admitting his own fears, but he wonders where he might go to be safe. If he returns to his origin, the City of Destruction, he knows he will perish. If he makes it to his destination, the Celestial City, he knows he will find safety. Though pressing on means facing the fear of death, he “must venture.” And so he determines to go forward while Mistrust and Timorous run away.

We must encourage one another to hold to Christ and stay the course. In Philippians 3 Paul weighs the value of knowing Jesus. It is better to suffer the loss of all things and have Christ, than to have all this world can offer and be without Him. And so Paul says:

“… I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12–14).

There is nothing more valuable or needful for our souls than to gain Christ. We must “venture on Him” regardless of cost or fear or pain or loss. He alone can “do helpless sinners good”!

Lo! The incarnate God ascended
Pleads the merit of His blood
Venture on Him, venture wholly
Let no other trust intrude
None but Jesus, none but Jesus
Can do helpless sinners good
(from “Come Ye Sinners” by Joseph Hart, 1759)

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

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2014 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

A Prayer for Pilgrims

This is a hymn I composed based on Part 1 of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. Each of the 16 verses is a prayer of intercession for those who are at difference places and stages on the Christian journey.

Check out the lyric video on youtube:

And download the song on bandcamp:

Free Sheet Music is also available.

—Ken Puls

A Pleasant Arbor

I looked, then, after Christian, to see him go up the hill, where I perceived he fell from running to going, and from going to clambering upon his hands and his knees, because of the steepness of the place. Now, about the midway to the top of the hill was a Pleasant Arbor, made by the Lord of the hill for the refreshing of weary travelers.
Thither, therefore, Christian got, where also he sat down to rest him. Then he pulled his roll out of his bosom, and read therein to his comfort. He also now began afresh to take a review of the coat or garment that was given him as he stood by the cross. Thus pleasing himself awhile, he at last fell into a slumber, and thence into a fast sleep, which detained him in that place until it was almost night. And in his sleep, his roll fell out of his hand. Now, as he was sleeping, there came one to him, and awaked him, saying, “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways and be wise.” And with that Christian started up, and sped him on his way, and went apace, till he came to the top of the hill.

One of the gracious provisions from the Lord of Hill, set in the midst of Hill Difficulty, is a pleasant Arbor. As Christian struggles to make it up and over the hill, he takes refuge in the Arbor. We noted last time that the Arbor represents a Word of Grace—a truth or promise of Scripture applied to our present situation. This Word comes to us in many ways: listening to a sermon, studying the Bible, reading books that are well grounded in Scripture, or hearing a word of encouragement or comfort in a conversation with a brother or sister in Christ. God uses many means to bring and apply His Word to our hearts at our moment of need.

While in the Arbor, Christian finds comfort in gifts he received at the Cross: the Roll (his assurance of life and acceptance at the desired haven) and the Coat (the imputed righteousness of Christ in which he was now clothed). He takes great delight in contemplating all that God had given him in Christ.

The purpose of the Arbor is for the refreshment of weary travelers. It is a place to find strength and encouragement along the Way. But the Arbor is not designed for lodging. It is not meant to distract travelers from continuing on their journey. It is a place to rest for a moment, for pilgrims to catch their breath and then press on. The Arbor becomes a hindrance when Christian settles in, satisfied with where he is in the journey. He fails to keep looking up the Hill and beyond to his final destination. He falls into a sinful slumber of pride and self-satisfaction in his present state of grace.

The Arbor (or word of grace) is indeed placed on the Hill (in the midst of difficulty) to provide an encouraging perspective. From its vantage point we can see our progress in grace and rejoice that God has brought us this far. But it is only halfway up the Hill, not yet to the top, and still far from the journey’s end. We must be careful, this side of glory, to maintain a balance in our walk, cheered as we consider how much God has already given us and how far we have come, but impelled as we consider how much God has yet promised us and how far we have yet to go. We rejoice that we are not now what we once were, but we press on, for we are not now what we shall be. Hear Paul’s testimony:

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14).

Earlier on the Hill Christian was running, going, or at least clambering, but now his inactivity and sloth give way to sleep until it is almost night. Jesus warns us:

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

A Pleasant ArborBy sleeping during a time when God had given him light that he might walk, Christian was guilty of presuming upon the grace of God and the Roll he so cherished fell out of his hand. He could not stay idly in one place, content with no more progress along the Way, and be assured that all was well with his soul.

Notice, however, that account of Christian’s failings also teaches us of God’s unending faithfulness and abiding love. Even as Christian lies sleeping, one comes and awakens him with wisdom from God’s Word:

Go to the ant, you sluggard!
Consider her ways and be wise (Proverbs 6:6).

God is not content to leave His pilgrims in spiritual slumber and inactivity. His Word can be applied to the comfort and rest of our souls, but it can also come to warn us, arouse us and spur us to action. Christian hears the Proverb and realizes that now is not the time to sleep. He immediately arises and hurries up the Hill. But this is not the last that Christian will see the Arbor. Next time we will continue Christian’s journey on the Hill and consider why he has to return to the Arbor.

—Ken Puls

 The Pleasant Arbor

Lord, we pray please, keep us watchful
In Your Arbour as we rest;
Lest the Roll of Your assurance
For a time fall from our breast.
Father, come and keep us wakeful,
Wipe the dulling sleep away;
Lest the night soon overtake us,
Let us journey while it’s day.

(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 ©1997 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Hill Difficulty

I beheld, then, that they all went on till they came to the foot of the Hill Difficulty; at the bottom of which was a spring. There were also in the same place two other ways besides that which came straight from the gate; one turned to the left hand, and the other to the right, at the bottom of the hill; but the narrow way lay right up the hill, and the name of the going up the side of the hill is called Difficulty. Christian now went to the spring, and drank thereof, to refresh himself, and then began to go up the hill, saying—

“The hill, though high, I covet to ascend,
The difficulty will not me offend;
For I perceive the way to life lies here.
Come, pluck up heart, let’s neither faint nor fear;
Better, though difficult, the right way to go,
Than wrong, though easy, where the end is woe.”

The other two also came to the foot of the hill; but when they saw that the hill was steep and high, and that there were two other ways to go, and supposing also that these two ways might meet again, with that up which Christian went, on the other side of the hill, therefore they were resolved to go in those ways. Now the name of one of these ways was Danger, and the name of the other Destruction. So the one took the way which is called Danger, which led him into a great wood, and the other took directly up the way to Destruction, which led him into a wide field, full of dark mountains, where he stumbled and fell, and rose no more.

“Shall they who wrong begin yet rightly end?
Shall they at all have safety for their friend?
No, no; in headstrong manner they set out,
And headlong will they fall at last no doubt.”

I looked, then, after Christian, to see him go up the hill, where I perceived he fell from running to going, and from going to clambering upon his hands and his knees, because of the steepness of the place. Now, about the midway to the top of the hill was a Pleasant Arbor, made by the Lord of the hill for the refreshing of weary travelers.

Now in the course of the journey, difficulty arises, and Formalist and Hypocrisy prove that they are indeed pretenders in the Way. They were quite willing to accompany Christian, boasting of their impressive outward piety, as long as the Way did not present any obstacles. Like Pliable, who forsook his brief pilgrimage at the Slough, Formalist and Hypocrisy are unwilling to continue with Christian when they come to Hill Difficulty.

Bunyan notes that at the bottom of the hill was a spring. Both the hill and the spring come from the hand of God. Our loving Father providentially places difficulties and trials in our path, desiring that we go up them and not try to avoid them. In His mercy and goodness, He also provides along the Way all we need to make it up and over our troubles. Before Christian addresses himself to begin climbing, he takes refreshment at the Spring. This imagery comes from the prophet Isaiah, who speaks of a refreshing spring as he describes God’s care of His people in the midst of affliction;

They shall neither hunger nor thirst,
Neither heat nor sun shall strike them;
For He who has mercy on them will lead them,
Even by the springs of water He will guide them.
(Isaiah 49:10)

The Spring is a testimony to the goodness of God in all He brings us through. No matter how steep or high our own difficulties may seem, we can trust that God will work through it all to our good and sanctification.

When Formalist and Hypocrisy come to the hill, they are immediately struck by how high and steep it appears. They quickly lose heart, failing to see the goodness of God, and begin exploring alternatives. They see two other paths at the bottom of the hill that seem to offer a way out. They wrongly assume that they can take one of the easier paths, thus avoiding the difficulty, and still reach Mount Zion. The two ways are named Destruction and Danger. These two paths are deceptive, for they appear to simply go around the hill and join back to the Way on the other side. Formalist goes down one path and Hypocrisy the other. The one who takes the way of Danger is soon lost in a Great Wood. The other, who follows Destruction, comes to a wide field full of dark mountains. Bunyan explains these dark mountains in his exposition of Ephesians 3:18-19, The Saint’s Knowledge of Christ’s Love. He warns:

There are heights also that build up themselves in us, which are not but to be taken notice of: Yea, there are a many of them, and they place themselves directly so, that if possible they may keep the saving knowledge of God out of our hearts. These high things therefore are said to exalt themselves against the knowledge of God; and do ofttimes more plague, afflict, and frighten Christian men and women, than anything besides. It is from these that our faith and spiritual understanding of God and his Christ is opposed and contradicted; and from these also that we are so inclinable to swerve from right doctrine into destructive opinions. ‘Tis from these that we are so easily persuaded to call into question our former experience of the goodness of God towards us, and from these that our minds are so often clouded and darkened that we cannot see afar off. These would betray us into the hands of fallen angels and men, nor should we by any means help or deliver ourselves, were it not for one that is higher. These are the dark mountains at which our feet would certainly stumble, and upon which we should fall, were it not for one who can leap and skip over these mountains of division, and come to us.

The dark mountains in the path of Destruction represent the false doctrines and unsound opinions that lead people to wrong conclusions about God’s character and providence. Formalist and Hypocrisy simply could not conceive that God would place such an obstacle of difficulty in their path. They believed that ones such as they, with such fine professions of faith and outward obedience, should have a smooth path to heaven. They wrongly associated ease in this life with God’s favor and blessing. They misunderstood God’s gracious and sanctifying purposes in bringing us through difficulty that He might show Himself strong in the midst of our weaknesses. Their understanding was so darkened that they missed entirely the goodness of God manifest in the Spring. They by-passed its refreshment and went instead into Danger and Destruction. Proverbs 14:12 warns: “There is a way that seems right to man, but its end is the way of death.” This proves to be the end of Formalist and Hypocrisy. We must be careful in the face of difficulty not to question God’s goodness, but rather trust Him and give Him glory, as Jeremiah tells us:

Give glory to the LORD your God
Before He causes darkness,
And before your feet stumble
On the dark mountains,
And while you are looking for light,
He turns it into the shadow of death
And makes it dense darkness.
(Jeremiah 13:16)

hilldifficulty1blThough Formalist and Hypocrisy had forsaken the Way of difficulty, Christian, now refreshed by the Spring, proceeds to go up it. It is worth noting that as Christian begins to go up the hill, knowing that his trial is from the hand of God, his troubles do not get easier. He begins with great energy and enthusiasm to overcome the hill, running the first part of the Way. His running, however, soon becomes going, and going to crawling on his hands and knees. Often when we face difficulty, rather than trying to avoid it, it only becomes steeper and seemingly more impossible to overcome. In those times we must trust the loving God who has set the hill in our Way and keep going as He enables us.

God’s goodness does not abandon Christian in the midst of his trouble. About midway to the top of the hill Christian finds a pleasant Arbor. This Arbor represents a Word of Grace, a truth or promise of Scripture applied to our present situation. This Word can come in many ways: from a sermon or lesson we hear at church, from our own reading in the Bible, from sound books that teach us God’s Word, or from a word of encouragement spoken by a brother or sister in Christ. God uses many means to bring us to His Word and apply it to our hearts. Next time we will consider more thoroughly the Arbor and how Christian unwarily turns this gracious provision of God into a hindrance on the Way.

—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 ©1997 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

A Coat for Rags

Then I saw that they went on every man in his way without much conference one with another, save that these two men told Christian, that as to laws and ordinances, they doubted not but they should as conscientiously do them as he; therefore, said they, we see not wherein you differ from us but by the coat that is on your back, which was, as we trow, given you by some of your neighbors, to hide the shame of your nakedness.

Christian: By laws and ordinances you will not be saved, since you came not in by the door. And as for this coat that is on my back, it was given me by the Lord of the place whither I go; and that, as you say, to cover my nakedness with. And I take it as a token of his kindness to me; for I had nothing but rags before. And besides, thus I comfort myself as I go: Surely, think I, when I come to the gate of the city, the Lord thereof will know me for good since I have this coat on my back—a coat that he gave me freely in the day that he stripped me of my rags. I have, moreover, a mark in my forehead, of which, perhaps, you have taken no notice, which one of my Lord’s most intimate associates fixed there in the day that my burden fell off my shoulders. I will tell you, moreover, that I had then given me a roll, sealed, to comfort me by reading as I go on the way; I was also bid to give it in at the Celestial Gate, in token of my certain going in after it; all which things, I doubt, you want, and want them because you came not in at the gate.

To these things they gave him no answer; only they looked upon each other, and laughed. Then, I saw that they went on all, save that Christian kept before, who had no more talk but with himself, and that sometimes sighingly, and sometimes comfortably; also he would be often reading in the roll that one of the Shining Ones gave him, by which he was refreshed.

Last time Christian encountered two pretenders in the Way. He met up with two who had by-passed the Gate (missed Christ and the Gospel) and tumbled over the Wall (were professing faith and claiming salvation), and he tried to warn them that their souls were in danger. The two were named Formalist and Hypocrisy. They had dismissed Christian’s concern for their souls and now further show the emptiness of their profession in their observations regarding how Christian is dressed. They first speak well of themselves, claiming to obey the Laws and Ordinances of Scripture as well as Christian. They are very concerned with appearing good before others and doing the right things. Thus they are conscientious and careful in form and practice. Those who walk in formalism and hypocrisy may very well out do others around them in the externals of religion. They may attend church regularly, participate with enthusiasm, and appear quite active and engaged. But they come to church vainly dressed in their own works and deeds, believing that God and others will look favorably on their efforts and judge them to be faithful.

shiningones1blChristian, however, is dressed differently. He has on the Coat that was given to him as a gift from his Lord. At the cross Christian was stripped of his Rags and given this Change of Raiment. Just as the prodigal son returned home in filthy rags after tending pigs, and was received with joy and given a ring and the best robe by his loving father (Luke 15:22), so Christian was welcomed and clothed at the cross. The Coat represents the imputed righteousness of Christ that covers every true believer and makes us fit for the presence and service of God. The filthy rags are Christian’s own attempts at righteousness tainted by sin:

 “But we are all like an unclean thing,
And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6a).

Formalist and Hypocrisy trow (think or suppose) that some neighbors had given the Coat to Christian to hide his shame. They do not realize or value its significance. Christian, however, remembers that all he had before he came to the cross was worthless rags. Now he has a Coat (imputed righteousness), a Mark (the sealing of the Holy Spirit), and a Roll (assurance of salvation) to bring him hope on his journey. Formalist and Hypocrisy lack these. They are self-clothed, self-sealed and self-confident. They do not value the gifts of Christ bestowed at the cross, because they do not value Christ as their only hope. They missed the Gate, representing Christ Himself offered in the Gospel, and have resorted to their own devises to enter the Way.

Christian tells them plainly that attempts to keep laws and ordinances cannot save them. We can never be justified by our works:

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

Christian learned this when he strayed from the Way, following the advise of Worldly Wiseman, and ventured toward the Village of Morality to find help to remove his burden. Nothing he could do in trying to live uprightly could make him right with God. He felt the weight and terror of God’s Law and was warned by Evangelist, who again pointed him to the Gate. Christian repented with humility and haste to return to the Way. He found relief only when he looked to the cross. Christ alone—His obedience, His righteousness—can make us right with God. And this is now Christian’s hope.

Christian is prepared to press on in the Way. He knows that both joys and trials await him. He continues on His pilgrimage sometimes sighing and sometimes comfortably. He looks often to the promises of God that assure his salvation and finds hope. He is trusting in Jesus. He is protected from pride, knowing that on his best day he is still a great sinner in need of grace and mercy. And he is protected from despair, knowing that on his worst day he still has a great Savior who is “able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him” (Hebrews 7:25).

Formalist and Hypocrisy, however, continue on looking at one another and laughing. Their hope is in themselves (their outward profession and display of religion) and, as we shall soon see, they are ill prepared to face the difficulty that lies ahead.

—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 ©1997 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.