Tag Archives: Shame

The Fleeting Faith of Temporary

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Hopeful and Temporary

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.
(Proverbs 29:25)

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
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

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.

Faithful’s Escape from the City of Destruction

Then I saw in my dream they went very lovingly on together, and had sweet discourse of all things that had happened to them in their pilgrimage; and thus Christian began:

Christian: My honored and well-beloved brother, Faithful, I am glad that I have overtaken you; and that God has so tempered our spirits, that we can walk as companions in this so pleasant a path.

Faithful: I had thought, dear friend, to have had your company quite from our town; but you did get the start of me, wherefore I was forced to come thus much of the way alone.

Christian: How long did you stay in the City of Destruction before you set out after me on your pilgrimage?

Faithful: Till I could stay no longer; for there was great talk presently after you were gone out that our city would, in short time, with fire from heaven, be burned down to the ground.

Christian: What! Did your neighbors talk so?

Faithful: Yes, it was for a while in everybody’s mouth.

Christian: What! And did no more of them but you come out to escape the danger?

Faithful: Though there was, as I said, a great talk thereabout, yet I do not think they did firmly believe it. For in the heat of the discourse, I heard some of them deridingly speak of you and of your desperate journey, (for so they called this your pilgrimage), but I did believe, and do still, that the end of our city will be with fire and brimstone from above; and therefore I have made my escape.

Christian: Did you hear no talk of neighbor Pliable?

Faithful: Yes, Christian, I heard that he followed you till he came at the Slough of Despond, where, as some said, he fell in; but he would not be known to have so done; but I am sure he was soundly bedabbled with that kind of dirt.

Christian: And what said the neighbors to him?

Faithful: He has, since his going back, been had greatly in derision, and that among all sorts of people; some do mock and despise him; and scarce will any set him on work. He is now seven times worse than if he had never gone out of the city.

Christian: But why should they be so set against him, since they also despise the way that he forsook?

Faithful: Oh, they say, hang him, he is a turncoat! He was not true to his profession. I think God has stirred up even his enemies to hiss at him, and make him a proverb, because he has forsaken the way.

Christian: Had you no talk with him before you came out?

Faithful: I met him once in the streets, but he leered away on the other side, as one ashamed of what he had done; so I did not speak to him.

Christian: Well, at my first setting out, I had hopes of that man; but now I fear he will perish in the overthrow of the city; for it is happened to him according to the true proverb, “The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed, to her wallowing in the mire.”

Faithful: These are my fears of him too; but who can hinder that which will be?

Christian and Faithful now press on together toward the Celestial City. The two share a love and devotion to Christ and Christian is delighted to have a brother to walk with him. As they walk together they share what they have experienced in their pilgrimage. As their conversation begins, Bunyan highlights three lessons:

1. The Miracle of Christian Friendship

Christian and FaithfulChristian speaks of his joy in befriending Faithful. The Valley of the Shadow of Death was “a very solitary place” where Christian felt very much alone. The path was dark and treacherous. Now, walking in the light of day with Faithful as his friend, he finds the Way to be “so pleasant a path.” Faithful also speaks of his longing to have Christian’s company. He had hoped to flee Destruction with Christian, but Christian had left before him. The kindness of God has now brought them together and a miracle of His grace has made them companions on a pilgrimage. In the City of Destruction, Christian and Faithful might not ever have met or had anything in common. But their desire and commitment to follow Christ has “tempered their spirits” and placed them together. This is true of all Christian friendships. God has joined together hearts and lives in ways that astound the world and magnify the power of His grace and wisdom.

2. The Impact of a Changed Life

As the conversation continues, Faithful describes his escape from the City of Destruction. Christian’s departure had caused a great stir in the city. He is surprised to hear that many of neighbors were talking about him. Most did not believe him and spoke with scorn of his warnings of coming judgment. They called his pilgrimage a “desperate journey.” But God is not hindered by unbelief. The Word of God is powerful. God can prosper the gospel even when it is spoken in derision. Neighbors mocked and derided Christian, but Faithful heard and believed.

In Paul’s day there were some who preached Christ, not because they believed the gospel, but because they were trying to stir up trouble for Paul. Yet Paul could rejoice!

Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice (Philippians 1:15–18).

We must be faithful to live for Christ and preach Christ, even when our testimony is likely to be scorned. We can grow weary of speaking of Christ among unbelievers as we see them respond again and again with contempt. Unsaved family members, co-workers and friends can wear us down with incessant ridicule and rejection. But we don’t know the impact our life might have on others around us. We don’t know how God may choose to use our testimony, even long after we are gone. It was Christian’s testimony that encouraged Faithful to flee Destruction, even while it was being disparaged by the world. May God keep us faithful and use our lives to point others to Christ.

3. The Danger of a Spurious Profession

Faithful also updates Christian on the outcome of Pliable. Earlier in the journey, Pliable had set out with Christian. He seemed at first to be a zealous pilgrim, hurrying Christian along, ravished with thoughts of heaven. But Pliable was discouraged when he and Christian fell into the Slough of Despond. Pliable chose to abandon his adventure with Christian and turn back. When he returned to the City of Destruction he was covered in the mud of the Slough (still marked by the shame and baseness of his sin) and met with scorn by those who saw him. He is compared to the Proverb:

As a dog returns to his own vomit,
So a fool repeats his folly.
(Proverbs 26:11)

Bunyan inserts two verses likening Pliable to Israel in the Old Testament who chose to ignore the prophets who brought them God’s Word:

This says the Lord of hosts: Behold, I will send on them the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, and will make them like rotten figs that cannot be eaten, they are so bad. And I will pursue them with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence; and I will deliver them to trouble among all the kingdoms of the earth—to be a curse, an astonishment, a hissing, and a reproach among all the nations where I have driven them, because they have not heeded My words, says the Lord, which I sent to them by My servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them; neither would you heed, says the Lord (Jeremiah 29:17–19).

And to false teachers in the New Testament whose end is worse than their beginning:

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).

Pliable turned away from God’s Word and forsook the way of righteousness. His profession of faith was spurious. Now he is in more danger than before. He is shamed by the world, seen as weak and pitiful, viewed as a hypocrite and “turncoat.” His only hope is still the gospel, yet he is too ashamed to seek the company of those who would gladly share it with him. Instead he leers away and avoids uncomfortable confrontation.

The tragic example of Pliable teaches us the peril of shame. Shame is the stain of sin on the soul. Left unwashed it is deadly, and we are powerless to remove it. It is a stain that can only be cleansed by the shed blood of Christ on the cross. Only in Christ can we find the hope and forgiveness we need. Yet shame by its very nature discourages us from looking to Christ. It wants to hide and cover itself. It keeps us downcast and resigns us to Destruction. If we are to avoid the plight of Pliable we must confess our sin and ever keep our eyes fixed upward to the cross.

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 ©2015 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.