Christian: Well, we will leave, at this time, our neighbor Ignorance by himself, and fall upon another profitable question.
Hopeful: With all my heart, but you shall still begin.
Christian: Well then, did you not know, about ten years ago, one Temporary in your parts, who was a forward man in religion then?
Hopeful: Know him! yes, he dwelt in Graceless, a town about two miles off of Honesty, and he dwelt next door to one Turnback.
Christian: Right, he dwelt under the same roof with him. Well, that man was much awakened once; I believe that then he had some sight of his sins, and of the wages that were due thereto.
Hopeful: I am of your mind, for, my house not being above three miles from him, he would ofttimes come to me, and that with many tears. Truly I pitied the man, and was not altogether without hope of him; but one may see, it is not every one that cries, Lord, Lord.
Christian: He told me once that he was resolved to go on pilgrimage, as we do now; but all of a sudden he grew acquainted with one Save-self, and then he became a stranger to me.
Hopeful: Now, since we are talking about him, let us a little inquire into the reason of the sudden backsliding of him and such others.
Christian: It may be very profitable, but do you begin.
Hopeful: Well, then, there are in my judgment four reasons for it:
- Though the consciences of such men are awakened, yet their minds are not changed; therefore, when the power of guilt wears away, that which provoked them to be religious ceases, wherefore they naturally turn to their own course again, even as we see the dog that is sick of what he has eaten, so long as his sickness prevails he vomits and casts up all; not that he does this of a free mind (if we may say a dog has a mind), but because it troubles his stomach; but now, when his sickness is over, and so his stomach eased, his desire being not at all alienate from his vomit, he turns him about and licks up all, and so it is true which is written, “The dog is turned to his own vomit again.” Thus I say, being hot for heaven, by virtue only of the sense and fear of the torments of hell, as their sense of hell and the fears of damnation chills and cools, so their desires for heaven and salvation cool also. So then it comes to pass, that when their guilt and fear is gone, their desires for heaven and happiness die, and they return to their course again.
- Another reason is, they have slavish fears that do overmaster them; I speak now of the fears that they have of men, for “the fear of man brings a snare.” So then, though they seem to be hot for heaven, so long as the flames of hell are about their ears, yet when that terror is a little over, they betake themselves to second thoughts; namely, that it is good to be wise, and not to run (for they know not what) the hazard of losing all, or, at least, of bringing themselves into unavoidable and unnecessary troubles, and so they fall in with the world again.
- The shame that attends religion lies also as a block in their way; they are proud and haughty; and religion in their eye is low and contemptible, therefore, when they have lost their sense of hell and wrath to come, they return again to their former course.
- Guilt, and to meditate terror, are grievous to them. They like not to see their misery before they come into it; though perhaps the sight of it first, if they loved that sight, might make them fly whither the righteous fly and are safe. But because they do, as I hinted before, even shun the thoughts of guilt and terror, therefore, when once they are rid of their awakenings about the terrors and wrath of God, they harden their hearts gladly, and choose such ways as will harden them more and more.
Christian: You are pretty near the business, for the bottom of all is for want of a change in their mind and will. And therefore they are but like the felon that stands before the judge, he quakes and trembles, and seems to repent most heartily, but the bottom of all is the fear of the halter; not that he has any detestation of the offence, as is evident, because, let but this man have his liberty, and he will be a thief, and so a rogue still, whereas, if his mind was changed, he would be otherwise.
Christian and Hopeful are nearing the end of their journey across the Enchanted Ground. They have kept alert and resisted spiritual weariness by engaging in “good discourse.” First Hopeful shared his testimony of coming to faith in Christ. Then Christian and Hopeful met again with Ignorance and tried to show him his errors and point him to truth. Their extended conversations underscore the contrast between true faith and false faith. Hopeful, like Christian, has true faith—his hope rests in Christ alone. Ignorance has false faith—his hope is carried by his own “good motions.”
Now Bunyan adds a third contrast—fleeting faith. Christian remembers a former pilgrim named Temporary. His background gives us insight into his spiritual condition. Temporary is from the town of Graceless (he lacks true saving grace) that lies near Honesty (though he tries to live an upright and moral life). He lived next door to Turnback (one who abandoned his faith and returned to the ways of the world).
Temporary was once acquainted with both Christian and Hopeful. Before his brief pilgrimage, when he was troubled by sin and overwhelmed with its consequences, he sought them out for help and for counsel. Christian and Hopeful pointed him to Christ and though Temporary gave some evidence of following Christ at the beginning, his faith was not enduring. When consequences abated and troubles faded, so did his faith.
Temporary is the opposite of By-ends, another fleeting follower of Christ from earlier in the story. By-ends looked to religion for personal gain and affirmation. He attended church during the good times when it was comfortable and fashionable. But when troubles arose and opposition came, he was gone. Temporary looked to religion for counseling and support. He attended church during the hard times when he was plagued with troubles and beaten down with the consequences of his sin. But when troubles subsided and all seemed well, he was gone.
Temporary represents one whose profession of faith is short-lived. Initially he was concerned about his sin, determined to become a pilgrim, and zealous for religion. He sought the Lord with tears. He had a convincing testimony. He renounced sin and expressed sorrow for sin. But despite his best intentions and efforts, he lacked the power to change. Though he gave the outward appearance of repentance, he did not truly repent. His love for sin was muted, but it persisted in his heart and festered in his mind. As a result, his determination to reform was only temporary. Once his guilt faded, he returned to a pursuit of sin.
Why did Temporary backslide? Why did he forsake the faith and fall into apostacy? Hopeful suggests four reasons:
1) Though he was aware of his sin and disturbed by its unsavory consequences, he did not hate his sin. He had no power to resist it. In his heart and mind, he still desired it. All that restrained him was the fear of what might happen as a result of his sin and the shame of being found out. When that fear and shame were strong, he strove to be upright. But when fear and shame diminished, so did his desire to pursue holiness.
2) He feared men more than God. He dreaded the trouble that sin and its consequences might bring in this life, yet thought little of the greater, unceasing terror of facing God’s wrath in eternity.
The fear of man brings a snare,
But whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe.
3) He saw religion as a useful refuge in times of felt weakness and need. But in good times, when he felt confident and strong, he determined that he needed no such crutch.
4) He disliked feeling guilty and ashamed. Because his heart was unchanged, the more he tried to live as a Christian, the more he stumbled and felt bad about himself. The more he failed at gaining victory over sin, the more he suppressed conviction and pushed aside guilt. He lacked grace to look to Christ and so he saw only himself troubled by sin. Rather than feel remorse, he made allowances for his sin. Rather than be continually oppressed with guilt, he gave up thinking about wrath and judgment.
Temporary is one who walks by sight and not by faith. Temptation is more real to him than the way of escape. Earthly sorrows and difficulties are more real that heavenly rest and reward. Temporary desired palpable and obvious relief from his troubles. Rather than trust Christ by faith, he sought more tangible ways to ease his conscience. He befriended Save-self (works righteousness) who convinced him that his religion need not be so radical and self-denying. Soon Temporary gave up going on a pilgrimage and was no longer interested in Christian’s company. Temporary came to the fatal conclusion that by doing things that made him feel good, he could manage his sin, avoid distasteful consequences, and successfully mend his life.
Scripture warns against false teachers who would lead people astray with “great swelling words of emptiness,” convincing those who are still in love with their sin that sin is not so bad, and that sin can somehow be tamed and kept under control.
For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage (2 Peter 2:18–19).
And it warns those who have professed faith in Christ of the great danger of becoming attracted and entangled again in the deadly snares of sin.
For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire” (2 Peter 2:20–22).
Temporary teaches us that feeling ashamed and being sorry for sin are not enough to keep us from returning to sin. Being aware of the consequences of sin, even eternal consequences, is not enough to restrain us from sinning. We must hate sin because God hates sin. Making a convincing start doesn’t guarantee a successful end. Calling Jesus Lord and making an enthusiastic display of religious devotion is not enough to anchor our faith and keep us from falling away. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). We must love Christ, rest in Him alone, and find in Him more delight and satisfaction than anything this world can offer. And this we cannot do apart from God’s grace and the power of His Spirit at work in us.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast (Ephesians 2:8–9).
For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance … (1 Thessalonians 1:5).
May God grant us, by His grace and by the power of His Spirit, true repentance—that we would hate sin and turn from sin, and true saving faith—that we would love Christ and persevere to our journey’s end.
A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
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The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2019 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.