Tag Archives: righteousness

Hopeful’s Testimony Part 5 The Gospel of Grace

Christian: And what did you do then?

Hopeful: Do! I could not tell what to do, until I brake my mind to Faithful, for he and I were well acquainted. And he told me, that unless I could obtain the righteousness of a man that never had sinned, neither mine own, nor all the righteousness of the world could save me.

Christian: And did you think he spoke true?

Hopeful: Had he told me so when I was pleased and satisfied with mine own amendment, I had called him fool for his pains; but now, since I see mine own infirmity, and the sin that cleaves to my best performance, I have been forced to be of his opinion.

Christian: But did you think, when at first he suggested it to you, that there was such a man to be found, of whom it might justly be said that he never committed sin?

Hopeful: I must confess the words at first sounded strangely, but after a little more talk and company with him, I had full conviction about it.

Christian: And did you ask him what man this was, and how you must be justified by him?

Hopeful: Yes, and he told me it was the Lord Jesus, that dwelleth on the right hand of the Most High. And thus, said he, you must be justified by him, even by trusting to what he hath done by himself, in the days of his flesh, and suffered when he did hang on the tree. I asked him further, how that man’s righteousness could be of that efficacy to justify another before God? And he told me he was the mighty God, and did what he did, and died the death also, not for himself, but for me; to whom his doings, and the worthiness of them, should be imputed, if I believed on him.

Faithful and Hopeful

Hopeful came to realize that he had no hope in himself. He had no righteousness of his own that was fit for the presence of God and not stained with sin. He knew he was guilty, but he was unable to escape conviction, either by attempting to ignore his sin or by trying to make amends for his sin. So, in his desperation he sought out one whom he thought could help. He shared his distress with Faithful, and Faithful faithfully pointed him to Christ.

Hopeful was acquainted with Faithful and knew of his testimony. When Christian and Faithful first came to Vanity Fair, Hopeful thought them to be fools for condemning evil and preaching against sin. But when he saw the evils of his own heart, and felt the weight of condemnation due his sin, he was compelled to agree with them. He sought their counsel, and though the message of the gospel “sounded strangely” to him at first, the more he heard, the more he was convinced that it was true.

Faithful told Hopeful that the only way he could be right with God was to attain a perfect righteousness. He needed to be holy.

In the Old Testament God told Israel in Leviticus 19:2, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” His standard has not changed in the New Testament. Peter writes to the church:

but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15–16).

We need holiness. We need righteousness. But where can we find it? We cannot attain such holiness on our own. We cannot earn righteousness by keeping the Law and doing good works. If such righteousness is to be ours, it must be gained by another and granted to us by grace. This righteousness is only found in One Person—Christ Jesus alone.

This is the good news of the gospel. God has provided the righteousness we need in Christ.

But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:21–26).

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ 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 (Philippians 3:7–9).

If we are to be holy and righteous, we must have Christ! If we are to be cleansed and forgiven, we must have Christ! If we are to escape death, the wages of sin, we must have Christ!

In Christ there is no more condemnation for sin.

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:1).

Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us (Romans 8:34).

In Christ there is eternal life.

And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent (John 17:3).

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

In Christ there is hope, joy, and salvation.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:3–5).

For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:9).

It is through Christ’s shed blood that we are cleansed, redeemed, and forgiven.

knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God (1 Peter 1:18–21).

He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13–14).

He alone can make us acceptable and fit for God’s presence.

Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water (Hebrews 10:19–22).

Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence (Ephesians 1:4–8).

He alone can make us righteous and holy.

And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight (Colossians 1:21–22).

But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified (Hebrews 10:12–14).

Because of Jesus’ death, we who are in Him are made perfect. In Him we are justified. God imputes the blame and guilt of our sin to Christ. Though we are deserving of death, God takes the punishment due our sin and charges it to Christ’s account. He pours out His wrath and judgment upon Him, so that by Christ’s death on the cross, we are acquitted, cleansed, and forgiven. But that is not all! God also credits Christ’s righteousness to us. Only Jesus has perfectly kept God’s Word (John 8:55) and always done what is pleasing to God (John 8:29). God imputes Christ’s perfect righteousness to us so that we might be accepted in Him and declared holy and blameless. We are credited with His obedience, treated as sons and daughters, and brought near to God. In Christ, we stand before God forgiven and declared righteous.

Hopeful’s testimony highlights our need to look to Christ alone for rescue from sin and relief from guilt and condemnation. But it also highlights our need to always be ready to point others to the hope we have in Christ.

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear (1 Peter 3:15).

There are many around us who are ensnared by sin and in need of hope. Like Hopeful, some have initially rejected the gospel and are attempting to excuse their sin. Some have placed their confidence in themselves and are futilely attempting to do enough good to amend for their sin. But God can dissolve unfounded excuses and shatter false confidence. He can bring sinners low, to a point of crisis—where they reach the end of themselves, where they have no more answers, where they don’t know what to do.

God is at work in the lives of others around us and we need to be attentive and ready to serve them. Hopeful was drawn to Faithful in a time of crisis. He was intrigued with Faithful’s confidence and remembered Faithful’s message. Would Faithful’s experience be ours as well?  Ask yourself:

  • Are you aware of others around you—their challenges and struggles, hopes and dreams?
  • Is your life accessible to others? Do you have time or make time to make a difference in the lives of others?
  • Is your life marked by integrity, compassion, and confidence in God? In times of crisis and conviction, would those around you be compelled to seek your counsel and comfort?
  • Are you fluent with the gospel? Do you know God’s Word? Do you speak to others about their need for Christ? Are you willing and ready to share your faith?
  • Are you looking for opportunities to serve others and point them to Christ?

Without Christ, this world has no hope.

Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).

We must be faithful to hold fast to Christ and implore others to do so as well. He alone has the righteousness we need.

“Unchanging Righteousness,
My only hope and plea,
That Jesus came and lived and bled
And died and rose for me.”

(from Unchanging Righteousness 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.

Teach Me O Lord Thy Way of Truth

Open God's Word

If we are to know truth, we must abide in God’s Word. If we are to follow Christ, who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), we must know and obey God’s Word. Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31–32).

But truth is not something we can comprehend on our own. One thing we must always do when we open God’s Word, is pray that His Spirit would illumine our understanding and help us rightly apply truth. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 2:14 that without the Spirit, we cannot understand the Word. To those who are dead in sin and have no spiritual life, the truth of God’s Word, in fact, appears to be foolishness. Any time we read the Bible, or hear it taught and preached, we should pray that God would teach us, give us understanding, and help us walk in truth.

This is how God instructs us to pray in His Word. The book of Psalms serves as the Bible’s inspired songbook, providing us divinely prescribed instruction on how we must sing and pray and worship the Lord. In Psalm 119:33–40 the psalmist prays:

Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes,
And I shall keep it to the end.
Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law;
Indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart.
Make me walk in the path of Your commandments,
For I delight in it.
Incline my heart to Your testimonies,
And not to covetousness.
Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things,
And revive me in Your way.
Establish Your word to Your servant,
Who is devoted to fearing You.
Turn away my reproach which I dread,
For Your judgments are good.
Behold, I long for Your precepts;
Revive me in Your righteousness.
(Psalm 119:33–40, NKJV)

The following setting of this portion of Psalm 119 is from The Psalter, 1912. Take time to read (and sing) the words. And make this your prayer as you look to God’s Word and seek to walk in its light.

Teach Me O Lord Thy Way of Truth

“Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes,
And I shall keep it to the end” (Psalm 119:33).

  1. Teach me O Lord Thy way of truth,
    And from it I will not depart;
    That I may steadfastly obey,
    Give me an understanding heart.
  2. In Thy commandments make me walk,
    For in Thy law my joy shall be;
    Give me a heart that loves Thy will,
    From discontent and envy free.
  3. Turn Thou mine eyes from vanity,
    And cause me in Thy ways to tread;
    O let Thy servant prove Thy Word,
    And thus to godly fear be led.
  4. Turn Thou away reproach and fear;
    Thy righteous judgments I confess;
    To know Thy precepts I desire;
    Revive me in Thy righteousness.

“Teach Me O Lord Thy Way of Truth”
Words from Psalm 119:33–40, The Psalter, 1912
Tune: CROSLAND (L.M.)
Music by Tom Wells, 2001
Words ©Public Domain
Music ©2001 Tom Wells (Used by Permission)

Tom Wells (Heritage Baptist Church in Mansfield, Texas) composed an excellent tune for this setting of Psalm 119:33–40. Download free sheet music (PDF), including a guitar chord chart, an arrangement of the hymn tune CROSLAND for classical guitar.

More Hymns from History

More hymns arranged for Classical Guitar

 

Beware the Flatterer

So they went on and Ignorance followed. They went then till they came at a place where they saw a way put itself into their way, and seemed withal to lie as straight as the way which they should go: and here they knew not which of the two to take, for both seemed straight before them; therefore, here they stood still to consider. And as they were thinking about the way, behold a man, black of flesh, but covered with a very light robe, came to them, and asked them why they stood there. They answered they were going to the Celestial City, but knew not which of these ways to take. Follow me, said the man, it is thither that I am going. So they followed him in the way that but now came into the road, which by degrees turned, and turned them so from the city that they desired to go to, that, in little time, their faces were turned away from it; yet they followed him. But by and by, before they were aware, he led them both within the compass of a net, in which they were both so entangled that they knew not what to do; and with that the white robe fell off the black man’s back. Then they saw where they were. Wherefore, there they lay crying some time, for they could not get themselves out.

Christian: Then said Christian to his fellow, Now do I see myself in error. Did not the Shepherds bid us beware of the flatterers? As is the saying of the wise man, so we have found it this day. A man that flatters his neighbor, spreads a net for his feet.

Hopeful: They also gave us a note of directions about the way, for our more sure finding thereof; but therein we have also forgotten to read, and have not kept ourselves from the paths of the destroyer. Here David was wiser than we; for, said he, “Concerning the works of men, by the word of thy lips, I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer.” Thus they lay bewailing themselves in the net. At last they espied a Shining One coming towards them with a whip of small cord in his hand. When he was come to the place where they were, he asked them whence they came, and what they did there. They told him that they were poor pilgrims going to Zion, but were led out of their way by a black man, clothed in white, who bid us, said they, follow him, for he was going thither too. Then said he with the whip, It is Flatterer, a false apostle, that has transformed himself into an angel of light. So he rent the net, and let the men out. Then said he to them, Follow me, that I may set you in your way again. So he led them back to the way which they had left to follow the Flatterer. Then he asked them, saying, Where did you lie the last night? They said, With the Shepherds upon the Delectable Mountains. He asked them then if they had not of those Shepherds a note of direction for the way. They answered, Yes. But did you, said he, when you were at a stand, pluck out and read your note? They answered, No. He asked them, Why? They said, they forgot. He asked, moreover, if the Shepherds did not bid them beware of the Flatterer? They answered, Yes, but we did not imagine, said they, that this fine-spoken man had been he.

Then I saw in my dream that he commanded them to lie down; which, when they did, he chastised them sore, to teach them the good way wherein they should walk; and as he chastised them he said, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten; be zealous, therefore, and repent.” This done, he bid them go on their way, and take good heed to the other directions of the shepherds. So they thanked him for all his kindness, and went softly along the right way, singing—

Come hither, you that walk along the way;
See how the pilgrims fare that go astray.
They catched are in an entangling net,
‘Cause they good counsel lightly did forget:
‘Tis true they rescued were, but yet you see,
They’re scourged to boot. Let this your caution be.

 The Flatterer's Net

It is to our great shame that sins which have caused us to stumble in the past are too often the same sins that trip us up in the present. Even when we receive the benefit of sound teaching and firm warning, we are slow to learn. Even with an abundance of knowledge and experience, we can too easily fall into the same errors and troubles that have previously slowed and hindered our journey. Christian discovered this to be true in his ongoing battle with spiritual pride.

We see the first evidences of pride in Christian’s life when he “caught a slip or two” going down into the Valley of Humiliation. In the Valley he faced Apollyon who accused him of being prideful. Apollyon said of Christian: “And when you talk of your journey, and of what you have heard and seen, you are inwardly desirous of vain-glory in all that you say or do.”Later at the Little Ascent Christian “vain-gloriously” smiled when he outpaced Faithful. His pride and over-confidence in himself as he ran past Faithful caused him to stumble and fall. He was not able to get up until Faithful came to help him. Still later, when the Way grew difficult, Christian encouraged Hopeful to follow him over the stile into By-Path Meadow. In pride, Christian turned aside, believing he could find an easier path. The path through the meadow appeared to be more pleasant and it seemed to lie parallel with the true path. But By-Path Meadow enticed the pilgrims away from the Way of true righteousness (found in Christ alone) and into the snares and pitfalls of self-righteousness and good intentions. The pilgrims were led further astray by Vain-Confidence, captured by Giant Despair, and imprisoned for a time in Doubting Castle.

Now the pilgrims again face the dilemma of two paths that seem to go the same direction. They are uncertain how to proceed until another traveler, finely dressed in a very light robe, tells them that he also is going to the Celestial City and encourages them to follow him.

Christian and Hopeful should have realized the risk in following the stranger. Though they have made much progress, the dangers along the Way have not diminished. They should have learned from experience, remembering the tragic result of following Vain Confidence. They should have listened more carefully to the Shepherds, following their “note of direction for the way” and heeding their warning: “beware the Flatterer.” But once again they are enticed to go astray. And now they face an even more subtle danger. The Flatterer is disguised. He seems to the pilgrims to be a “fine-spoken man.” But in truth, he is one who brings corruption and ruin with his words:

Those who do wickedly against the covenant he shall corrupt with flattery; but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits (Daniel 11:32).

A lying tongue hates those who are crushed by it,
And a flattering mouth works ruin.
(Proverbs 26:28)

He deceives the hearts of the simple.

Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple (Romans 16:17–18).

He is “a false apostle, that has transformed himself into an angel of light.”

For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works (2 Corinthians 11:13–15).

Flattery is deceitful and insincere. It is darkness masquerading as light. It is a lie parading itself as truth. It coaxes us to think well of ourselves. It assures us that our sins are not as bad as they really are. It convinces us that our efforts are more noble than they really are. It gives us credit when no credit is due. Flattery can come from others who embellish the truth to gain our favor. Or worse, it can come from ourselves in the form of self-deception as we regard sin lightly and imagine ourselves to be better and wiser than we are. Flattery will lead us astray.

Though the way seems “to lie as straight as the way which they should go,” it begins to take subtle turns. Soon the pilgrims are going in the opposite direction, toward Destruction rather than the Celestial City. The change of direction happens slowly. Little by little they cease resting in Christ for their righteousness. And more and more they trust in themselves. Their own progress in the journey becomes a temptation to puff up their pride.

This is a real danger, especially for seasoned pilgrims who have achieved a measure of spiritual maturity. This is not rushing ahead with Vain Confidence, believing they can set a path to their own liking. This is being charmed and flattered for victory over past sins and trials. It is looking back at real progress in the journey and, instead of giving praise and thanks to God, declaring, “Look at me! See how far I’ve come!” Cheever warns:

A man eager after spiritual attainments does certainly seem to be in the high road to heaven; but if he makes those attainments, instead of Christ, his savior, then certainly his face is turned, and his feet are tending the other way. So we need to be upon our watch against anything and everything, though it should come to us in the shape of an angel of light, which would turn us from a sole reliance upon Christ, or tempt us to a high opinion of ourselves. A broken heart and a contrite spirit are, in the sight of God, of great price; but if any man thinks himself to have attained perfection, he is not very likely to be in the exercise of a broken heart or of a contrite spirit, nor indeed in the exercise of true faith in Christ for justification.

(from Lectures on The Pilgrim’s Progress by G.B. Cheever)

Eventually the Flatterer leads the pilgrims into a trap where they become ensnared in a net.

A man who flatters his neighbor
Spreads a net for his feet.
(Proverbs 29:5)

Sinful pride and self-righteousness will always be a snare that will cause us to stumble and fall.

How could Christian and Hopeful be fooled into following the Flatterer? Why did they not see through the disguise? They were vulnerable to deception because they failed to stay in God’s Word. They forgot to read the instructions given them by the Shepherds. Had they heeded Scripture, they could have sung with David:

Concerning the works of men,
By the word of Your lips,
I have kept away from the paths of the destroyer.
Uphold my steps in Your paths,
That my footsteps may not slip.
(Psalm 17:4–5)

Thankfully the pilgrims are not left ensnared in the net. They lament and repent of their sin of neglecting God’s Word and going astray. They see a Shining One coming “with a whip of small cord in his hand.” Earlier in the allegory, when the Shining Ones appeared to Christian at the cross, they represented the work of God in the heart of a sinner who is saved by grace. Here that work continues as a Shining One rends the net and free them. Cheever notes that the use of the whip represents: “the discipline of the good Spirit of the Lord with his children, when they in any manner go astray, and also the loving-kindness of the Lord, even in the chastisement of his people.”

God’s discipline is hard. The Shining One made them lie down and “chastised them sore” (Deuteronomy 25:2). But God’s discipline is a kindness and blessing that He brings to preserve us and prevent us from being destroyed by sin. It restores us to the good path and teaches us “the good way” in which we should walk (2 Chronicles 6:27). Discipline is a display of God’s love and a call for us to repent:

As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent (Revelation 3:19).

When the Shining One leads the two pilgrims back to the Way and chastises them, they are grateful. They “thanked him for all his kindness” and rejoiced with singing. Cheever concludes:

So were these two erring disciples, who had now insensibly been beguiled away from Christ and his righteousness, into flattering, delusive opinions of their own attainments, whipped back by the Shining One into the path of humility, faith, truth, and duty. So great is “the love of the Spirit,” so sweet and long-suffering the patience and the mercy of the Lord!

(from Lectures on The Pilgrim’s Progress by G.B. Cheever)

May God guard and watch over our steps that we might not go astray. And may He keep us from the net of the Flatterer and in the path of humility, resting in Christ alone as our one and only Savior.

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 Ignorance

And I slept, and dreamed again, and saw the same two Pilgrims going down the mountains along the highway towards the city. Now, a little below these mountains, on the left hand, lies the country of Conceit; from which country there comes into the way in which the Pilgrims walked, a little crooked lane. Here, therefore, they met with a very brisk lad, that came out of that country; and his name was Ignorance. So Christian asked him from what parts he came, and whither he was going.

Ignorance: Sir, I was born in the country that lies off there a little on the left hand, and I am going to the Celestial City.

Christian: But how do you think to get in at the gate? for you may find some difficulty there.

Ignorance: As other people do, said he.

Christian: But what have you to show at that gate, that may cause that the gate should be opened to you?

Ignorance: I know my Lord’s will, and I have been a good liver; I pay every man his own; I pray, fast, pay tithes, and give alms, and have left my country for whither I am going.

Christian: But you did not come in at the Wicket-gate that is at the head of this way; You came in hither through that same crooked lane, and therefore, I fear, however you may think of yourself, when the reckoning day shall come, you will have laid to your charge that you are a thief and a robber, instead of getting admittance into the city.

Ignorance: Gentlemen, you are utter strangers to me, I don’t know you. Be content and follow the religion of your country, and I will follow the religion of mine. I hope all will be well. And as for the gate that you talk of, all the world knows that that is a great way off of our country. I cannot think that any man in all our parts does so much as know the way to it, nor need they matter whether they do or no, since we have, as you see, a fine, pleasant green lane, that comes down from our country, the next way into the way.

When Christian saw that the man was “wise in his own conceit”, he said to Hopeful, whisperingly, “There is more hope of a fool than of him.” And said, moreover, “When he that is a fool walks by the way, his wisdom fails him, and he says to everyone that he is a fool.” What, shall we talk further with him, or out-go him at present, and so leave him to think of what he has heard already, and then stop again for him afterwards, and see if by degrees we can do any good to him?

Then said Hopeful—

Let Ignorance a little while now muse
On what is said, and let him not refuse
Good counsel to embrace, lest he remain
Still ignorant of what’s the chiefest gain.
God says, those that no understanding have,
Although He made them, them He will not save.

Hopeful: He further added, It is not good, I think, to say all to him at once; let us pass him by, if you will, and talk to him anon, even as he is able to bear it.

 IgnoranceIn the last post Bunyan awoke from his dream just as Christian and Hopeful were preparing to leave the Delectable Mountains. The mountains were a welcome destination. The pilgrims grew in their understanding of God’s Word. Their faith was strengthened; their repentance deepened. But the journey is not yet over. As Bunyan dreams again, he sees the pilgrims descending from the mountains.  Just below the mountains a little crooked lane comes into the Way. Here Christian and Hopeful meet Ignorance, a false professor who is certain that he is on his way to the Celestial City.

Ignorance is not the first false professor to appear in The Pilgrim’s Progress. Christian has encountered many: Simple, Sloth and Presumption (who were asleep near the cross), Formalist and Hypocrisy (who climbed into the Way over the wall), Timorous and Mistrust (who were running away from difficulty and persecution), Talkative (who spoke well of religion, but did not live out what he professed to be), By-Ends and his companions (who used religion to pursue worldly gain), and Vain Confidence (who blindly led the pilgrims astray in By-Path Meadow).

Ignorance is an energetic, vivacious lad who comes from the country of Conceit. His name at first suggests that he is unfamiliar with the Bible and religion, but his country exposes the true defect of pilgrimage.

Ignorance is not someone who is unconcerned with eternity or knows nothing of heaven or hell. He is not someone who has never read a Bible or heard a sermon. Ignorance represents someone who is ignorant of the true gospel— salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Christian has heard of the country of Conceit. It is a land of vanity, pride and self-satisfaction. “God resists the proud” (James 4:6), and Christian suspects that Ignorance “may find some difficulty” ending his journey well. He asks Ignorance how he expects to enter the gate of the Celestial City. Ignorance assumes that his efforts will be acceptable, all will be well, and he will enter “as other people do.” Christian then presses him further, asking what evidence he will present to gain entrance. Ignorance replies:

  1. He knows the Lord’s will. He reads and studies his Bible.
  2. He has been a “good liver.” He tries to deal honestly with others. He faithfully attends church. He prays, fasts, gives tithes and alms.
  3. He has left his country. He has turned his back on the world that he might attain the reward of heaven.

At first Ignorance’s response might sound commendable. It is good to know God’s will. It is good to be honest and pray, and it is good to seek the reward of heaven. Where Talkative failed to live out his profession, Ignorance tries hard to excel. But Christian recognizes the fatal deficiency of Ignorance’s testimony. Ignorance is resting his confidence in himself—in his own works. He truly believes that he is a good person. After all, he’s tried to live a good life. He goes to church and knows what the Bible says. He knows the liturgy and sings the hymns. He wants to go to heaven. Hell is for bad people—not good people like him. Heaven is for good people—so of course he will get in the gate. His pride and confidence in himself have blinded him to his true need for grace and mercy.

Ignorance is resting in a false hope “for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified” (Galatians 2:16). In God’s assessment, he is not a good person.

The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men,
To see if there are any who understand, who seek God.
They have all turned aside,
They have together become corrupt;
There is none who does good,
No, not one.
(Psalm 14:2–3)

Christian fears for Ignorance’s soul and speaks plainly to him. He warns him that he did not come in at the Wicket-Gate (Christ), but entered through a crooked lane (his own works). On the Day of Judgment, he will be found to be a thief and a robber and will not gain entrance to the city.

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber” (John 10:1).

Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). No one will enter the Celestial City (enter into the joy of God’s presence in heaven) without coming to Christ and receiving the grace and mercy that only He can provide.

Ignorance is offended that Christian should so quickly judge him. He knows of none from his country that would venture so far as to come in by the Wicket Gate. The Crooked Lane is closer, pleasant, and much more convenient. He tells Christian, you practice religion your way and I’ll practice it my way.

Ignorance discounts the gospel and imagines he can make the journey in his own righteousness. Though he is walking in the Way to the Celestial City, his self-conceit identifies him as a fool.

Even when a fool walks along the way,
He lacks wisdom,
And he shows everyone that he is a fool.
(Ecclesiastes 10:3)

He claims to have left his country of Conceit, but true to his native land, he is indeed conceited—confident in the path he has taken and satisfied in himself. In his commentary on The Pilgrim’s Progress,William Mason concludes:

So long as a sinner thinks he can do anything towards making himself righteous before God, his name is Ignorance; he is full of self-conceit, and destitute of the faith of Christ.

Though Christian has tried to speak truth, Ignorance remains entrenched in religion built upon good works. He sees that Ignorance is “wise in his own conceit” and that there is little hope in convincing him of truth.

Do you see a man wise in his own eyes?
There is more hope for a fool than for him.
(Proverbs 26:12)

Christian sees no point in continuing the conversation. Error, especially when it is deep-seated and pervasive, is nearly impossible to root out all at once. It takes patience and discernment to know when to speak, how much to say, and when to stop. He wants to give Ignorance time to think about what he has heard. He suggests that he and Hopeful go on ahead and meet up with Ignorance at a later time to see if he can be helped. Hopeful agrees. They will wait for another opportunity and “talk to him anon [soon or shortly], even as he is able to bear it.”

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.

By-Path Meadow

Now, I beheld in my dream, that they had not journeyed far, but the river and the way for a time parted; at which they were not a little sorry; yet they durst not go out of the way. Now the way from the river was rough, and their feet tender, by reason of their travels; so the souls of the pilgrims were much discouraged because of the way. Wherefore, still as they went on, they wished for a better way. Now, a little before them, there was on the left hand of the road a meadow, and a stile to go over into it; and that meadow is called By-path Meadow. Then said Christian to his fellow, If this meadow lies along by our wayside, let us go over into it. Then he went to the stile to see, and behold, a path lay along by the way, on the other side of the fence. It is according to my wish, said Christian. Here is the easiest going; come, good Hopeful, and let us go over.

Hopeful: But how if this path should lead us out of the way?

Christian: That is not like, said the other. Look, does it not go along by the wayside? So Hopeful, being persuaded by his fellow, went after him over the stile. When they were gone over, and were got into the path, they found it very easy for their feet; and withal, they, looking before them, espied a man walking as they did, (and his name was Vain-confidence); so they called after him, and asked him whither that way led. He said, To the Celestial Gate. Look, said Christian, did not I tell you so? By this you may see we are right. So they followed, and he went before them. But, behold, the night came on, and it grew very dark; so that they that were behind lost the sight of him that went before.

 

By-Path MeadowAfter being refreshed at the Pleasant River, Christian and Hopeful resume their journey. They are saddened when they discover that the river is no longer close by. Now the Way is rough. Their feet are sore and soon the two pilgrims are discouraged. At first they are determined to keep to the Way. But as weariness and discontent sets in, they long for a better way.

Though disheartened by present trials, Christian has grown in his confidence. He and Hopeful have escaped Vanity Fair and recognized the folly of By-ends and company. The plain of Ease did not dull their watchfulness. They recognized and rebuked the temptation of Demas. They avoided the perils of the silver mine and took to heart the warning of the pillar of salt. Such successes on the journey should be cause for ongoing praise to God. But Christian has become too sure of himself. He has gained confidence, but his confidence is in his progress, not his God.

Christian’s misplaced confidence soon leads to carelessness and forgetfulness. The pilgrims see just to the left of their path a fair meadow. This meadow seems to promise relief. And it seems to lie parallel to the true path. Enticed by the hope of an easier way, Christian encourages Hopeful to follow him over the stile and into By-Path Meadow.

By-Path Meadow represents our own efforts at attaining righteousness. It is lush with pride and filled with the fruits of self-determination and good intentions. It is our attempt to define how we will live and walk before God in this life, especially when we grow discontent with the path God has us on. The stile represents how easy it is to cross over from resting our confidence in Christ to thinking too highly of ourselves. William Mason explains in his commentary on The Pilgrim’s Progress:

The transition into the by-path is easy, for it lies close to the right way; only you must get over a stile, that is, you must quit Christ’s imputed righteousness, and trust in your own inherent righteousness; and then you are in By-path Meadow directly.

The Pleasant River represents the joy and assurance that fills our hearts as we look to Christ and trust in Him for our salvation. This river does not flow near By-Path Meadow. Though Christ never fails us, we can sadly lose sight of Him. This is especially true when we forget His gospel and find confidence in our own efforts. Our hope must be in Christ and His righteousness, not our own successes along the way.

Christian forgets that he is an undeserving sinner, saved by grace. He forgets that his heart is wicked and can deceive him.

The heart is deceitful above all things,
And desperately wicked;
Who can know it?
(Jeremiah 17:9)

If we follow our hearts rather than God, we can easily be led astray.

There is a way that seems right to a man,
But its end is the way of death.
(Proverbs 14:12)

Christian forgets that God’s way is best, even when it is difficult. Earlier in the allegory, he learned at the House of the Interpreter and at Hill Difficulty that the Way can be hard and hazardous. Evangelist warned him that the Way is dangerous and those who follow Christ must endure suffering. When the Way becomes difficult, Christian feels entitled to an easier way. He and Hopeful complain and grumble like Israel in the wilderness.

Now when the people complained, it displeased the Lord… (Numbers 11:1).

And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who complain against Me? I have heard the complaints which the children of Israel make against Me” (Number 14:26–27).

And they become discouraged.

Then they journeyed from Mount Hor by the Way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way (Number 21:4).

We must remember that, though God’s Way can be perilous, it is perfect. His Word is a trusted, proven guide. We must read it and follow it every step of the way. We can trust the Lord to be our shield and strength through every danger and difficulty.

As for God, His way is perfect;
The word of the Lord is proven;
He is a shield to all who trust in Him.
(Psalm 18:30)

Christian finds a path that is “according to” his wish rather than staying on the path that is marked out by God’s Word. Hopeful sees the potential danger and asks: “But how if this path should lead us out of the way?” Christian, however, persuades him that the path is safe. They cross over the stile and for a time their journey is easier. They even encounter a traveler on the path who assures them that he also is on the way to the Celestial Gate. But this traveler’s name is Vain-Confidence and soon Christian and Hopeful lose sight of him and find themselves lost in the darkness.

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

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2017 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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.