Tag Archives: Providence

Hopeful’s Testimony Part 3 Growing Conviction

Christian: Then, as it seems, sometimes you got rid of your trouble.

Hopeful: Yes, verily, but it would come into my mind again, and then I should be as bad, nay, worse, than I was before.

Christian: Why, what was it that brought your sins to mind again?

Hopeful: Many things; as,

  1. If I did but meet a good man in the streets; or,
  2. If I have heard any read in the Bible; or,
  3. If mine head did begin to ache; or,
  4. If I were told that some of my neighbors were sick; or,
  5. If I heard the bell toll for some that were dead; or,
  6. If I thought of dying myself; or,
  7. If I heard that sudden death happened to others;
  8. But especially, when I thought of myself, that I must quickly come to judgment.

Christian: And could you at any time, with ease, get off the guilt of sin, when by any of these ways it came upon you?

Hopeful: No, not I, for then they got faster hold of my conscience; and then, if I did but think of going back to sin, (though my mind was turned against it), it would be double torment to me.

Hopeful's growing conviction

Though Hopeful initially rejected the gospel and resisted the conviction that was weighing upon his conscience, God continued to pursue him. He remembered his own mortality and frailty. He was reminded of his sinfulness and failing before God. He could not escape thoughts of the coming judgment. These reminders were all around him:

  • When he heard about or saw someone doing what was right and good
  • When he heard the Word of God read or mentioned
  • When he became ill or heard of others who were ill
  • When he heard about someone who died, especially if the death was tragic or unexpected (or unjust as it was with Faithful in Vanity Fair)
  • When he thought that he would die and stand before God in judgment

Though he tried to put thoughts of death, judgment, and God out of his mind, all of these things were aimed at his conscience. God would not let him alone to rest comfortably in his sin.

Many in our day are feeling the pangs of conscience like Hopeful, but they have yet to turn to Christ and find rest and relief. Hopeful’s testimony offers encouragement and instruction as we pray for friends and family who are still clinging to sin and resisting grace.

1) We need to remember that our lives are on display. We need to walk before others with integrity, loving what is right and good, and doing what is right and good.

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel (Philippians 1:27).

Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear (1 Peter 3:1–2).

2) We need to be bold in speaking the Word of God, even to unbelievers. The Word of God is the Word of life!

Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life (John 5:24).

Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed (Acts 13:48).

How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:14–17).

3) We need to trust in God’s good purposes even through times of difficulty and hardship. God often uses trials and sickness to remind us of our own frailty and need for Him. But God’s good purposes may well extend beyond ourselves. God can use tragedy, sickness, even death, as a means of grace to bring conviction to others and cause others to ponder the state of their soul. Our trials may be the very means that God is using to draw friends and family to Himself. He indeed works all things together for good, to those who love Him, “to those who are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). Let us live so that our lives, even in the midst of trials, help and not hinder others to look to Christ and find hope in the gospel.

We need to pray for those around us who are resisting God’s Word, who are hesitating or outright rejecting the truth. Pray that God will not leave them to their sin, but will use all means necessary to pursue and draw them to Himself. And pray that God’s “means” would include even us as He providentially directs our lives for our good and the good of others around us.

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

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

Sufficient Is the Word of God

Bible Sketch

Sufficient is the Word of God
That we may know His will,
And trust each day His providence
By faith content and still.
The secret things belong to God;
Our lives are His to lead.
But He has given us His Word
And that is all we need.

How vain the questions in my heart
To know what lies ahead,
When I neglect to read His Word
And know not what He said.
I need not look beyond His Word
To know His will for me;
If I but walk within its light
My path I’ll plainly see.

Our God has purposed and designed
Each moment of each day,
And though we rise and make our plans
‘Tis He directs our way.
Thus we should say when we arise:
“Lord-willing I shall stand.”
For we, except His Word reveals,
Know not what He has planned.

For who can search the mind of God,
Know what tomorrow brings?
And who can grasp His providence
To understand all things?
Our future rests within God’s hands
And we must leave it there;
Content to walk each day by faith
Within His loving care.

Tomorrow need not cause us fear,
For God knows what will be.
Sufficient that we know His Word
To walk obediently.
Where He has spoken, Let us hear,
Upon His Word we stand.
Where He is silent, Let us rest,
And trust His kind, good hand.

Words ©2000 Kenneth A Puls

This hymn is a reminder that God’s Word is sufficient for us to know His will for us. We “do not know what the future will bring” and so we must learn to say “if the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that” (James 4:13–17). “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29). We do not know what the future holds, but we can trust God in His providence and walk in obedience to His Word.

I wrote the hymn during a time of uncertainty. I had graduated from seminary, but was still searching for full time employment in teaching or ministry. I needed to preach truth to myself and rest in God’s providence. In an interesting turn of providence, in the same month I wrote the hymn (July 2000), I also began training to develop online courses and teach as an online instructor at Dallas Baptist University. I later used the knowledge from that training to develop the Founders Study Center when God gave me a full time job with Founders Ministries in 2003. God is good in all He provides.

Download the lyrics and  free sheet music (PDF) for this hymn, including chord charts for acoustic guitar, an arrangement of the tune for Classical Guitar, and an arrangement of the tune for Instrumental Ensemble.

—Ken Puls

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.