Tag Archives: Sermons

A Hill Called Clear

By this time the Pilgrims had a desire to go forward, and the Shepherds a desire they should; so they walked together towards the end of the mountains. Then said the Shepherds one to another, Let us here show to the Pilgrims the gates of the Celestial City, if they have skill to look through our perspective glass. The Pilgrims then lovingly accepted the motion; so they had them to the top of a high hill, called Clear, and gave them their glass to look.

Then they essayed to look, but the remembrance of that last thing that the Shepherds had shown them, made their hands shake; by means of which impediment, they could not look steadily through the glass; yet they thought they saw something like the gate, and also some of the glory of the place. Then they went away, and sang this song—

Thus, by the Shepherds, secrets are reveal’d,
Which from all other men are kept conceal’d.
Come to the Shepherds, then, if you would see
Things deep, things hid, and that mysterious be.

When they were about to depart, one of the Shepherds gave them a note of the way. Another of them bid them beware of the Flatterer. The third bid them take heed that they sleep not upon the Enchanted Ground. And the fourth bid them God-speed. So I awoke from my dream.

Mount Clear

The time has come for Christian and Hopeful to resume their journey. But Christian has learned the value of patience and the reward of lingering to learn more. Earlier in the allegory, at both the House of the Interpreter and Palace Beautiful, Christian desired to depart before he was ready. At both places, he was convinced—to the benefit of his soul—to stay longer. At Palace Beautiful he was taken up to an observation point, and because the day was clear, he was able to see the Delectable Mountains off in the distance. Now, from the Delectable Mountains, the Shepherds offer to give the pilgrims a glimpse of their journey’s end—to show them the very gates of the Celestial City.

Near the end of the Delectable Mountains is Mount Clear. This mountain provides an unparalleled view! From the top of this mountain the shepherds test the skill of the pilgrims at looking through the perspective glass. Mount Clear represents our unobstructed view of Christ and His glory, especially as we mature in our faith and near the end of life’s journey. As our time on earth grows shorter and the allure of the world grows weaker, our desire for the glories of Christ in heaven grows stronger. The Perspective Glass is the application of God’s Word to the well-being of our soul. William Mason describes it as “the glass of God’s word of grace and truth held up by the hand of faith to the eye of the soul.” Through it we see the hope of eternal life in Christ. Scripture shows us errors and cautions. It uncovers the depths of sin and warns of wrath and judgment. But it also takes us to the glories of heaven and gives us glimpses of the joy that awaits us in eternity.

Christian and Hopeful are not able to “look steadily through the glass.” Their hands shake as they hold up the scope. The reminder of remaining sin and conviction of past sins impede their view. Though we look intently through the lens of God’s Word at the realities of this life and eternal life to come, our view, this side of glory, is clouded. Paul tells us: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Though Christian and Hopeful cannot see as clearly as they would like, yet they continue their gaze. There reward is a glimpse of the glory of the Celestial City.

This glimpse of glory on Mount Clear comes through the clear teaching and compassionate ministry of the Shepherds. It is the shepherds’ task to make know “things deep, things hid, and that mysterious be.” Paul describes the ministry of the gospel as a

… stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus (Colossians 1:25–28).

The pilgrims are grateful for the truths they have learned in the Delectable Mountains. They desire others to come and see from their vantage point. They descend the mountain with song, delighting in the mysteries of God and encouraging others to seek wisdom and guidance from the Shepherds.

Before the pilgrims depart, the Shepherds prepare them for the journey ahead. They give them:

  • A note of the way—instruction on finding and staying on the right path
  • Warnings of dangers that lie ahead on their path: a warning to beware of the Flatterer and a warning not to sleep on the Enchanted Ground
  • And a prayer that God will go with them and bring them safely to their journey’s end.

The shepherd’s sermon on this mountain is clear. We must look steadfastly to Christ and the promises of the gospel. It is a sermon we must heed! Mount Clear and the By-Way to Hell remind us that eternity is at stake. This world is not all there is. When we are troubled and tempted by the world, our view of heaven is hazy and less certain. But when we look to Christ and His promises—and He is the one who delights our soul—it is the world that dims. Our view of heaven is bright and clear. Helen H. Lemmel expressed it beautifully in her hymn (1922):

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

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.

A By-Way to Hell

Then I saw in my dream, that the Shepherds had them to another place, in a bottom, where was a door in the side of a hill, and they opened the door, and bid them look in. They looked in, therefore, and saw that within it was very dark and smoky; they also thought that they heard there a rumbling noise as of fire, and a cry of some tormented, and that they smelt the scent of brimstone. Then said Christian, What does this mean? The Shepherds told them, This is a by-way to hell, a way that hypocrites go in at; namely, such as sell their birthright, with Esau; such as sell their master, with Judas; such as blaspheme the gospel, with Alexander; and that lie and dissemble, with Ananias and Sapphira his wife. Then said Hopeful to the Shepherds, I perceive that these had on them, even every one, a show of pilgrimage, as we have now; had they not?

Shepherds: Yes, and held it a long time too.

Hopeful: How far might they go on in pilgrimage in their day, since they notwithstanding were thus miserably cast away?

Shepherds: Some further, and some not so far, as these mountains.

Then said the Pilgrims one to another, We have need to cry to the Strong for strength.

Shepherds: Ay, and you will have need to use it, when you have it, too.

By-Way to Hell

As the Shepherds continue guiding the pilgrims through the mountains, they take them down to the bottom where they see a door in the side of a hill. As they open the door, they are confronted with a frightening experience. They see only darkness. They smell smoke and the scent of brimstone. They hear the rumblings of fire and the cries of the tormented. As with the hill called Error and Mount Caution, the door in the side of a hill represents a sermon. Scripture not only shows us the danger of straying into error and sin, it warns us of God’s wrath and judgment for those who defy God and persist in sin. It speaks of the reality of hell and certainty of the coming judgment. The Scripture text for this message is found in the book of Proverbs.

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

Bunyan’s description of the terrors inside the door echo the Bible’s own fearful warnings of coming judgment.

Upon the wicked He will rain coals;
Fire and brimstone and a burning wind
Shall be the portion of their cup.
(Psalm 11:6)

“The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:10–15).

“But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).

In Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, Bunyan recalls hearing and trembling at such dreadful words, even as a child.

“Also I should, at these years, be greatly afflicted and troubled with the thoughts of the day of judgment, and that both night and day, and should tremble at the thoughts of the fearful torments of hell fire; still fearing that it would be my lot to be found at last amongst those devils and hellish fiends, who are there bound down with the chains and bonds of eternal darkness, “unto the judgment of the great day.” [Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 6]

This isn’t the first time in The Pilgrim’s Progress that Bunyan has presented such warnings:

When Christian was first setting out, he warned his neighbors, Obstinate and Pliable, that if they stay in the City of Destruction, they “will sink lower than the grave, into the place that burns with fire and brimstone.”

On Hill Difficulty, he told Timorous and Mistrust, “If I go back to mine own country, that is prepared for fire and brimstone, and I shall certainly perish there.”

And in the Valley of the Shadow of Death Christian was confounded as he journeyed past “the mouth of hell” that “stood also hard by the wayside.” Out of the mouth came “flame and smoke,” “sparks and hideous noises.”

The door in the side of the hill is a warning not to trifle with sin. This “is a by-way to hell, a way that hypocrites go in at.” A hypocrite is someone who pretends to be something he never intends to be. It is possible to live outwardly as a believer in Christ and yet inwardly refuse to forsake and fight against sin. Jesus (quoting Isaiah 29:13) said: “Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me” (Matthew 15:7–8). The lips profess God’s praise, while the heart embraces sin’s pleasures.

Earlier, in the House of the Interpreter, Christian had seen a fearful warning of the dangers of walking in hypocrisy and falling into apostacy. The Man in the Iron Cage was “once a fair and flourishing professor” on his way to the Celestial City. But he would not heed the warnings of Scripture and would not earnestly pursue holiness. His unwillingness to let go of sin left him with no refuge for his soul.

“For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries (Hebrews 10:26–17).

“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).

His relentless hold upon sin darkened his hope in the promises of the gospel and in time imprisoned him in a cage of despair.

In order to emphasize the seriousness of their lesson, the Shepherds point to several biblical examples: Esau, who sold his birthright (Genesis 25:29–34), Judas, who betrayed Jesus (Matthew 26:14–16), Alexander, who rejected the faith and blasphemed God (1 Timothy 1:19–20), and Ananias and Sapphira, who lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1–11). All of these once appeared to be among the faithful. No one would have suspected that such as these could fall away. Yet their lives were but a “show of pilgrimage” and in the end they were “miserably cast away.”

We cannot harbor sin and hide sin while outwardly professing faith in Christ. We must take God’s Word seriously—its commands and warnings as well as its hope and promises. We must turn away from sin and hypocrisy and pursue peace and holiness.

 “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears” (Hebrews 12:14–17).

But we cannot walk in holiness in our own strength. We need help that can only come from God. We need the power of His Spirit. Christian and Hopeful rightly conclude: “We have need to cry to the Strong for strength.”

“For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man” (Ephesians 3:14–16).

May God grant us strength that we might forsake every sin, walk in the light of His Word, and reach our journey’s end where we will see our Savoir face to face.

“Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:2–3).

Seek the Lord and His strength;
Seek His face evermore!
(Psalm 105:4)

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.

Mount Caution

Then I saw that they had them to the top of another mountain, and the name of that is Caution, and bid them look afar off; which, when they did, they perceived, as they thought, several men walking up and down among the tombs that were there; and they perceived that the men were blind, because they stumbled sometimes upon the tombs, and because they could not get out from among them. Then said Christian, What does this mean?

The view from Mount Caution

The Shepherds then answered, Did you not see a little below these mountains a stile, that led into a meadow, on the left hand of this way? They answered, Yes. Then said the Shepherds, From that stile there goes a path that leads directly to Doubting Castle, which is kept by Giant Despair, and these, pointing to them among the tombs, came once on pilgrimage, as you do now, even till they came to that same stile; and because the right way was rough in that place, they chose to go out of it into that meadow, and there were taken by Giant Despair, and cast into Doubting Castle; where, after they had been a while kept in the dungeon, he at last did put out their eyes, and led them among those tombs, where he has left them to wander to this very day, that the saying of the wise man might be fulfilled, “He that wanders out of the way of understanding, shall remain in the congregation of the dead.” Then Christian and Hopeful looked upon one another, with tears gushing out, but yet said nothing to the Shepherds.

Christian and Hopeful continue to explore the Delectable Mountains under the guidance of the Shepherds. On the first mountain they were warned of drifting into error. If the pilgirms are to navigate the way forward, they must know how to discern truth from error. On this second mountain they are exhorted to look back. They look down into the valley, in the direction from which they came, and there they see blind men, stumbling and lost in a graveyard filled with tombs. The mountains, again, each represents a sermon—a passage of Scripture expounded by the Shepherds. The message on Mount Caution is from Proverbs—

A man who wanders from the way of understanding
Will rest in the assembly of the dead.
(Proverbs 21:16)

Christian doesn’t recognize at first the proximity of the tombs he now sees to the dark castle from which he had just escaped. He asks the Shepherds, “What does this mean?” As the Shepherds explain, he regretfully remembers. The tombs are in the castle-yard that Giant Despair had shown to Christian and Hopeful in an attempt to discourage them. Those who wander amidst the bones are those who, like Christian, found God’s Way to be rough and sought an easier way. They wandered “from the way of understanding” and now they are in danger of eternal death. Their lives have been ruined by despair, blinded to truth, and they no longer see any hope.

On the one hand, this appears to be a lesson received too late. Christian and Hopeful have already stumbled onto the grounds of Doubting Castle. But on the other, this is a very timely lesson. The pilgrims must remember their missteps and learn from them.  More temptations and dangers lie ahead. They must be ready.

Often sermons from God’s Word can help us evaluate more clearly errors we have made in the past and cause us to more deeply appreciate the mercies of God that keep us from the worst of their consequences. It is all too easy for us to discount our errors and fail to learn from them. We forget where we have been and end up falling into the same errors over and over. When we fail to acknowledge our sin—confess it and fight it—when we instead find ways to manage sin—hide it and cope with it—sin will slowly blind us, weigh us down, and imprison us. We will lose our way and lose sight of the gospel. Christ will become less precious to our souls. We will become as those wandering about the tombs. Those who fail to keep hold of the promise that unlocks the gates of Doubting Castle are doomed to remain in its prison. They are blinded, confined to the darkness of their own despair, without hope and without light.

We must learn to heed God’s Word and be quick to confess our sins and our need for Christ. Scripture cautions us:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8).

But it also gives us the sure promise:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9–10).

Hearing the words of the shepherds, Christian and Hopeful are overcome with tears. There are times when we sit under the preaching of God’s Word, that conviction feels so pointed and application sounds so personal, it is as if the sermon were meant only for us. It seems as if the pastor has been looking through a window into our thoughts and lives and fashioned his message specifically to call us out. But this precise heart-work is not the craftiness or clairvoyance of the pastor. It is the skillful work of the Spirit wielding the sharp edge of God’s Word.

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:12–13).

Christian and Hopeful hear the words of caution from God’s Word and they realize how great a danger they were in when they willfully wandered into By-Path Meadow. They are awash with sorrow for having strayed from the good Way. And they are filled with joy and gratitude to Christ for having escaped the dungeon of despair with the promise of salvation.

Pray that God’s Spirit will wield the Word in our hearts. Pray that He will keep our hearts tender and sensitive to His Word. Flee from sins and be quick to repent. Do not discount or dismiss past sins as if they are of no consequence. It is because of our sins that Christ died! Do not despise the remorse that the memory of past sins brings. Rather, let that remorse remind you of sin’s true evil nature—that you might be repulsed by sin and flee from it. And let every reminder of past sins and failings again point you Christ and deepen your love and gratitude for Him. His Word is sure. He alone forgives. He alone can make us whole.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits:
Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
(Psalm 103:2–5)

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.

Marking a Five-Year Milestone

Ken Puls Music

The end of this month (July 2016) marks five years online for kenpulsmusic.com. I originally launched the website in 2011 to make available the lyrics and sheet music for hymns and songs that I have written. Since that time the site has grown and now offers many other resources, including:

If you have not visited the site in a while, take a few minutes to explore and share.