Tag Archives: temptation

Hopeful’s Testimony Part 1 Ensnared by Sin

Christian: Then Christian began and said, I will ask you a question. How came you to think at first of so doing as you do now?

Hopeful: Do you mean, how came I at first to look after the good of my soul?

Christian: Yes, that is my meaning.

Hopeful: I continued a great while in the delight of those things which were seen and sold at our fair; things which, I believe now, would have, had I continued in them, still drowned me in perdition and destruction.

Christian: What things are they?

Hopeful: All the treasures and riches of the world. Also, I delighted much in rioting, reveling, drinking, swearing, lying, uncleanness, Sabbath-breaking, and what not, that tended to destroy the soul. But I found at last, by hearing and considering of things that are divine, which indeed I heard of you, as also of beloved Faithful that was put to death for his faith and good living in Vanity Fair, that “the end of these things is death.” And that for these things’ sake “cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.”

Christian: And did you presently fall under the power of this conviction?

Hopeful: No, I was not willing presently to know the evil of sin, nor the damnation that follows upon the commission of it; but endeavored, when my mind at first began to be shaken with the Word, to shut mine eyes against the light thereof.

 Christian and Hopeful

The Pilgrim’s Progress is primarily the story of Christian. On the opening page we see him distressed, “clothed with rags, standing in a certain place, with his face from his own house, a book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back.” At the encouragement of Evangelist, he flees his home in the city of Destruction and begins his journey to the Celestial City. Through the character of Christian, Bunyan tells his own story of coming to faith in Christ. But he also gives us glimpses into the journeys of some others along the way. Faithful tells of his own escape from the City of Destruction. We hear of his encounters with Wanton, Adam the First, Moses, Discontent, and Shame. We see his powerful witness as he travels with Christian to the town of Vanity, where he is put on trial and martyred for his faith. Later in the allegory Christian relates some of the story of Little-faith, a pilgrim from the town of Sincere who struggled on his journey after he was robbed and beaten.

It is interesting to compare the testimonies of each of these pilgrims. You will find that there are many similarities—things that are true of all the accounts. But you will also find some differences. Bunyan is emphasizing by this that our pilgrimages will not all be the same. Some parts of the journey that are easy for some, will be difficult for others. There are temptations that may cause some to stray for a time, while others will immediately see the danger and not be led astray. This is why is so important for us to travel together—fellowshipping with one another, encouraging one another, and discipling one another.

To continue their journey Christian and Hopeful must traverse the Enchanted Ground. As they cross, they try to stay awake and alert by engaging in “good discourse.” At Palace Beautiful Christian learned the value of godly company and gospel conversations. Discretion, Piety, Prudence, and Charity all questioned Christian and drew out his testimony. Now Christian questions Hopeful and their dialog provides a detailed account of Hopeful’s testimony.

Christian begins by asking Hopeful how it was that he became concerned about his soul. Hopeful is from the town of Vanity. His former life reflected the spiritual state of many in this world. He was ensnared and entrenched in sin, pursuing all the vain pleasures of this life, blissfully unaware that his soul was in danger. He was blind to God’s good ways, delighting in all the world has to offer, and hoping all would turn out well in the end.

The turning point came in Hopeful’s life when Christian and Faithful came to his town. As Hopeful watched and listened to the two pilgrims, he was intrigued. He began thinking about the good of his soul.

Their lives intrigued him. When Christian and Faithful came to Vanity Fair they seemed very much out of place. They weren’t tempted by the temporary and fleeting pleasures of the world. They did not buy and sell at the Fair with others in the town. Instead, they told the merchants, “We buy the truth” (Proverbs 23:23). The town reacted with anger and scorn. Christian and Faithful were oppressed, persecuted, put on trial, and jailed. In the end Faithful was martyred for his faith. Yet in the midst of trial and temptation, Christian and Faithful stood firm for the truth.

Their words intrigued him. Christian and Faithful not only lived the truth before the town, they spoke the truth. They faithfully proclaimed and taught God’s Word. Hopeful heard that he must forsake sin or face coming wrath and judgment.

But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them (Ephesians 5:3–7).

Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them (Colossians 3:5–7).

Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts (Romans 13:13–14).

He heard that sin leads only to death.

What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death(Romans 6:21).

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

At first Hopeful refused to believe the truth. He did not want to acknowledge the evil of sin or the certainty of judgment. His eyes were closed, his ears were hard of hearing, and his heart was dull (Isaiah 6:10, Matthew 13:15, Acts 28:27).  He was enamored by the world and against the things of God.

Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:7–8).

But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14).

Hopeful was not looking for Christ. He was not trying to understand the Bible. He was not even aware that he was lost and in danger. He prized the riches and treasures of the world more than the Word and Way of God. Though he both heard and saw the gospel on display in the lives of Christian and Faithful, he tried at first to block the truth from his mind and hide it from his eyes.

Hopeful’s experience highlights the importance of sharing our faith with others, even with those who initially reject and scorn the truth. Christian and Faithful were willing to go through the town of Vanity (the sinful world in its opposition to God) and face opposition and persecution, even to death, so that people living in the town could see and hear the gospel proclaimed. Because of their witness, Hopeful was able to hear and consider “things that are divine.” He heard them speak truth; he saw them stand for truth, and he watched them live the truth. It made a lasting impression.

We live in a day when the world is equally opposed to truth and ensnared by sin. Truth is regarded as fluid and malleable—something to be constantly shaped as we construct our own realities and tell our own stories in order to make sense of the world around us. Evil is recast and redefined as anything that threatens or opposes our stories. The world delights in darkness, rejects the light of God’s Word, and is blind to God’s ways.

May God give us boldness in our day to live and speak truth in the midst of a lost world. And may those around us see our lives, hear our words, and be intrigued to know the hope within us.

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

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

Protection on the King’s Highway

Besides, their king is at their whistle. He is never out of hearing; and if at any time they be put to the worst, he, if possible, comes in to help them; and of him it is said, “The sword of him that layeth at him cannot hold the spear, the dart, nor the habergeon; he esteemeth iron as straw, and brass as rotten wood. The arrow cannot make him flee; sling stones are turned with him into stubble. Darts are counted as stubble: he laugheth at the shaking of a spear.” What can a man do in this case? It is true, if a man could, at every turn, have Job’s horse, and had skill and courage to ride him, he might do notable things; for “his neck is clothed with thunder, he will not be afraid of the grasshopper; the glory of his nostrils is terrible: he paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his strength, he goeth on to meet the armed men. He mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted, neither turneth he back from the sword. The quiver rattleth against him, the glittering spear, and the shield. He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage, neither believeth he that it is the sound of the trumpet. He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha! and he smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.”

But for such footmen as you and I are, let us never desire to meet with an enemy, nor vaunt as if we could do better, when we hear of others that they have been foiled, Nor be tickled at the thoughts of our own manhood; for such commonly come by the worst when tried. Witness Peter, of whom I made mention before. He would swagger, ay, he would; he would, as his vain mind prompted him to say, do better, and stand more for his Master than all men; but who so foiled, and run down by these villains, as he?

When, therefore, we hear that such robberies are done on the King’s highway, two things become us to do:

  1. To go out harnessed, and to be sure to take a shield with us; for it was for want of that, that he that laid so lustily at Leviathan could not make him yield; for, indeed, if that be wanting, he fears us not at all. Therefore, he that had skill hath said, “Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.”
  2. It is good, also, that we desire of the King a convoy, yea, that he will go with us himself. This made David rejoice when in the Valley of the Shadow of Death; and Moses was rather for dying where he stood, than to go one step without his God. Oh, my brother, if he will but go along with us, what need we be afraid of ten thousands that shall set themselves against us? But, without him, “the proud helpers fall under the slain.”

I, for my part, have been in the fray before now; and though, through the goodness of him that is best, I am, as you see, alive, yet I cannot boast of my manhood. Glad shall I be, if I meet with no more such brunts; though I fear we are not got beyond all danger. However, since the lion and the bear have not as yet devoured me, I hope God will also deliver us from the next uncircumcised Philistine. Then sang Christian—

Poor Little-faith! Hast been among the thieves?
Wast robb’d? Remember this, whoso believes,
And gets more faith, shall then a victor be
Over ten thousand, else scarce over three.

Great-Heart 

The cruel assault of Little-faith is a reminder to Christian and Hopeful that their journey is still fraught with danger. The Way to the Celestial City is beset with trials and haunted by foes. Faint-heart, Mistrust and Guilt are bad enough, but their king is much worse. As Christian experienced in the Valley of Humiliation, Apollyon, the devil, who “is at their whistle,” is prowling about, ready to come and press the battle. Christian compares the might of Apollyon to the sea serpent Leviathan described in the book of Job.

Though the sword reaches him, it cannot avail;
Nor does spear, dart, or javelin.
He regards iron as straw,
And bronze as rotten wood.
The arrow cannot make him flee;
Slingstones become like stubble to him.
Darts are regarded as straw;
He laughs at the threat of javelins.
(Job 41:26–29)

In light of the overwhelming strength of the enemy, Christian muses: “What can a man do in this case?” What if he had great advantage going into the battle: a sturdy horse, courage, and skill to ride? Christian continues to quote from the book of Job where God describes a horse fit for war:

“Have you given the horse strength?
Have you clothed his neck with thunder?
Can you frighten him like a locust?
His majestic snorting strikes terror.
He paws in the valley, and rejoices in his strength;
He gallops into the clash of arms.
He mocks at fear, and is not frightened;
Nor does he turn back from the sword.
The quiver rattles against him,
The glittering spear and javelin.
He devours the distance with fierceness and rage;
Nor does he come to a halt because the trumpet has sounded.
At the blast of the trumpet he says, ‘Aha!’
He smells the battle from afar,
The thunder of captains and shouting.”
(Job 39:19–25)

Even with such an advantage we dare not regard the battle lightly. We should not think we would fare better in such combat. We must not scoff when we hear of others who have fallen in combat.

This is a lesson we must heed whenever we face trial and temptation. At this point in the allegory Bunyan directs his words to seasoned pilgrims, those who have walked long with the Lord. Though we have gained a measure of spiritual maturity, we must never presume that we are beyond the appeal and lure of temptation. Even Peter, on the night Jesus was betrayed, gave into fear and denied Him three times (Matthew 26:33–35).

We might think, “I’m spiritually fit. I read my Bible. I attend a good church. I teach Sunday School. I have friends who pray for me and encourage me. Certainly, I could face a little temptation and be able to brush it aside. I would never fall. I can keep sin in check without becoming ensnared.” But Christian warns us: Don’t desire it! Don’t try it! Sin and temptation are never to be trifled with.

Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:12–13).

Though Christian has faced and defeated Apollyon earlier in the story, he does not here boast in his efforts or regard himself as a champion. He humbly refers to himself and Hopeful as footmen, simple soldiers serving alongside others in submission to their commander. He confesses that he would be glad never again to feel the brunt of sin’s assault.

If we are to guard ourselves from temptation and sin, we must do two things:

1) Be prepared for spiritual warfare by putting on the armor of God

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil (Ephesians 6:11).

We must especially take the shield of faith:

above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one (Ephesians 6:16).

2) Never travel alone

Our desire must be to walk alongside our brothers and sisters in the faith in the convoy provided by the King—the church. In the company of others, we can serve and strengthen those around us. When we grow weary and stumble, others around us can serve and strengthen us. Our relationships can be a significant means of grace that God uses to keep us on the path and carry us along until we are home with Him in glory.

This is Bunyan’s emphasis in Part II of The Pilgrim’s Progress. When the pilgrims prepared to leave the Interpreter’s House and travel to House Beautiful, the Interpreter sends them on their way together and appoints for them a guide, Great-heart. The guide represents a faithful pastor who will care for their souls and guide them in truth.

The Interpreter then called for a man-servant of His, one Great-heart, and bid him take sword, and helmet, and shield; and take these My daughters, said He, and conduct them to the house called Beautiful, at which place they will rest next.  So he took his weapons and went before them; and the Interpreter said, God speed.

Our desire must also be to walk always in the presence of the Lord. Christian adds, “yea, that he will go with us himself.” This is David’s testimony:

I lay down and slept;
I awoke, for the Lord sustained me.
I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people
Who have set themselves against me all around.
Arise, O Lord;
Save me, O my God!
For You have struck all my enemies on the cheekbone;
You have broken the teeth of the ungodly.
Salvation belongs to the Lord.
Your blessing is upon Your people.
Selah
(Psalm 3:5–8)

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?
When the wicked came against me
To eat up my flesh,
My enemies and foes,
They stumbled and fell.
Though an army may encamp against me,
My heart shall not fear;
Though war may rise against me,
In this I will be confident.
(Psalm 27:1–3)

And Moses’ testimony:

Then he said to Him, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth” (Exodus 33:15–16).

Without God we will fall:

Without Me they shall bow down among the prisoners,
And they shall fall among the slain.”
For all this His anger is not turned away,
But His hand is stretched out still.
(Isaiah 10:4)

We must not hold ourselves in high regard in the face of temptation. We must not look to skill, or experience, or the mantle of church leadership to prop us up. The only strength that will survive the day comes from Christ. We cannot stand unless we stand in Him.

Some trust in chariots, and some in horses;
But we will remember the name of the Lord our God.
(Psalm 20:7)

And in Him we will surely stand.

The labor hard before us,
The battle rages long.
Alone we cannot bear it;
Our foes are much too strong.
But God has chosen weakness,
The feeble and the frail.
He lifts us up in power
To conquer and prevail.

(from the hymn “Fragile Jars of Clay”)

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.

Great-Grace, the King’s Champion

Hopeful: But, Christian, these three fellows, I am persuaded in my heart, are but a company of cowards; would they have run else, think you, as they did, at the noise of one that was coming on the road? Why did not Little-faith pluck up a greater heart? He might, methinks, have stood one brush with them, and have yielded when there had been no remedy.

Christian: That they are cowards, many have said, but few have found it so in the time of trial. As for a great heart, Little-faith had none; and I perceive by you, my brother, had you been the man concerned, you are but for a brush, and then to yield.

And, verily, since this is the height of your stomach, now they are at a distance from us, should they appear to you as they did to him they might put you to second thoughts.

But, consider again, they are but journeymen thieves, they serve under the king of the bottomless pit, who, if need be, will come into their aid himself, and his voice is as the roaring of a lion. I myself have been engaged as this Little-faith was, and I found it a terrible thing. These three villains set upon me, and I beginning, like a Christian, to resist, they gave but a call, and in came their master. I would, as the saying is, have given my life for a penny, but that, as God would have it, I was clothed with armor of proof. Ay, and yet, though I was so harnessed, I found it hard work to quit myself like a man. No man can tell what in that combat attends us, but he that hath been in the battle himself.

Hopeful: Well, but they ran, you see, when they did but suppose that one Great-grace was in the way.

Christian: True, they have often fled, both they and their master, when Great-grace hath but appeared; and no marvel; for he is the King’s champion. But, I think, you will put some difference between Little-faith and the King’s champion. All the King’s subjects are not his champions, nor can they, when tried, do such feats of war as he. Is it meet to think that a little child should handle Goliath as David did? Or that there should be the strength of an ox in a wren? Some are strong, some are weak; some have great faith, some have little. This man was one of the weak, and therefore he went to the wall.

Hopeful: I would it had been Great-grace for their sakes.

Christian: If it had been, he might have had his hands full; for I must tell you, that though Great-grace is excellent good at his weapons, and has, and can, so long as he keeps them at sword’s point, do well enough with them; yet, if they get within him, even Faint-heart, Mistrust, or the other, it shall go hard but they will throw up his heels. And when a man is down, you know, what can he do?

Whoso looks well upon Great-grace’s face, shall see those scars and cuts there, that shall easily give demonstration of what I say. Yea, once I heard that he should say, (and that when he was in the combat), “We despaired even of life.” How did these sturdy rogues and their fellows make David groan, mourn, and roar? Yea, Heman, and Hezekiah, too, though champions in their day, were forced to bestir them, when by these assaulted; and yet, notwithstanding, they had their coats soundly brushed by them. Peter, upon a time, would go try what he could do; but though some do say of him that he is the prince of the apostles, they handled him so, that they made him at last afraid of a sorry girl. 

Great-Grace

Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress includes many contrasts. Christian escapes the City of Destruction (this fallen, sinful world) to journey to the Celestial City (the glories of heaven). Along the way he receives good counsel (Evangelist) and bad counsel (Worldly Wiseman). Bunyan distinguishes true converts (Christian, Faithful, Hopeful, Little-faith) from false converts (Simple, Sloth, Presumption, Formalist, Hypocrisy, By-ends, Turn-away, Ignorance).

Now, in contrast to Little-faith, we hear of another true and valiant pilgrim—Great-grace. The villains who robbed Little-faith fled in fear when they thought Great-grace might be nearby. Great-grace is the King’s champion. He is courageous, fit for battle, and adept at wielding the sword. He represents a vigilant believer or faithful pastor who is strong in faith, seasoned in spiritual warfare, and sympathetic to the needs of fellow Christians. He is one whom others can turn to in times of trial for godly counsel and encouragement. He knows the Word of God and is diligent in prayer. His strength is not in himself and his boast is not in his own works (Ephesians 2:8–9), but he lives to serve and glorify His King.

Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us,
But to Your name give glory,
Because of Your mercy,
Because of Your truth.
(Psalm 115:1)

He is clothed in the “whole armor of the Lord” and he stands in the strength of the Lord (Ephesians 6:10–20). He is “strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1). William Mason explains:

Now here you see what is meant by Great-grace, who is so often mentioned in this book, and by whom so many valiant things were done. We read, “With great power the apostles gave witness of the resurrection of Jesus.” Why was it? Because “great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33). So you see all is of grace, from first to last, in salvation. If we do great things for Christ, yet, not unto us, but unto the great grace of our Lord, be all the glory.

The contrast between Great-grace and Little-faith highlights a significant truth. Not everyone is strong in faith. Not everyone has a “great heart.” We all have differing measures of spiritual strength and maturity. Christian tells Hopeful: “All the King’s subjects are not his champions, nor can they, when tried, do such feats of war as he. … Some are strong, some are weak; some have great faith, some have little.”

Hopeful wonders why Little-faith was not more courageous. Why did he not put forth more effort to stand? But Christian understands the true intensity of Little-faith’s trial. Hopeful is evaluating temptation from a distance, but Christian has experienced it close up. Little-faith was attacked by “journeymen thieves,” but Christian faced their master, who prowls about like a roaring lion:

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world (1 Peter 5:8–9).

When Christian faced Apollyon in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, he had the advantage of being dressed in the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10–20). He had been to House Beautiful, the church, and was strengthened by the preaching of the gospel. Even so, he found the battle to be arduous and his foe to be fierce.

Like Hopeful, we tend to underestimate the power of sin and treat it too lightly. Sin is a much more formidable foe when it is close and threatening. Seen from a distance it appears less intimidating. We gauge its strength across a wide field of battle and wonder: How could this be a struggle? I can handle this! Yet when the assault comes, the line is broken, and the enemy breaks through our defenses, the conflict can leave us beaten, battered and bruised, as it did Little-faith.

Even those who are great in grace are not immune to the scourge of battle. Great-grace bears the scars and cuts of combat on his face. Even he can be beaten down for a time. He must be alert and keep watch, for himself as well as for others in the Way. He must keep his weapons “at sword’s point” (unsheathed, in hand, and engaged in battle).

All of the King’s champions have faced times of trial. Peter was a target of the enemy (Luke 22:31) and was brought down by fear, even fear of a servant girl who recognized him and called him out (Luke 22:54–62). Paul was “burdened beyond measure” and “despaired even of life” (2 Corinthians 1:8). He regarded himself as the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). David was weighed down by his iniquities (Psalm 38:4–6). He confessed “my sin is always before me” (Psalm 51:3). Heman the Ezrahite cried out: “my soul is full of troubles” and “I am like a man who has no strength, adrift among the dead” (Psalm 88:3–5). Hezekiah was “sick and near death” and he “wept bitterly” (Isaiah 38:1–3).

If we see such bruises and scars on our champions, how much more seriously should we regard our fight against sin? We need to guard our hearts.  We need to take up—

the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints (Ephesians 6:16–18).

This is a battle we can only win with our Bibles open (“at sword’s point”) and the promises of the gospel ringing in our hearts and minds.

The battle is hard because it is not a fight we can wage from a distance. It is not a fight we can wage on our own. The battleground is our own hearts and minds. Our fight is against sin and weakness within ourselves. Again William Mason explains:

Who can stand in the evil day of temptation, when beset with Faint-heart, Mistrust, and Guilt, backed by the power of their master, Satan? No one, unless armed with the whole armor of God; and even then, the power of such infernal foes makes it a hard fight to the Christian. But this is our glory, the Lord shall fight for us, and we shall hold our peace. We shall be silent as to ascribing any glory to ourselves, knowing our very enemies are part of ourselves, and that we are more than conquerors over all these (only) through HIM who loved us (Rom. 8:37).

Christ alone is our victory. We need His great grace if we are to prevail. He alone has power to conquer and defeat sin and death.

The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:56–58).

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.

What Little-Faith Lost

Hopeful: But did they take from him all that ever he had?

Christian: No; the place where his jewels were they never ransacked, so those he kept still. But, as I was told, the good man was much afflicted for his loss, for the thieves got most of his spending-money. That which they got not (as I said) were jewels, also he had a little odd money left, but scarce enough to bring him to his journey’s end; nay, if I was not misinformed, he was forced to beg as he went, to keep himself alive; for his jewels he might not sell. But beg, and do what he could, he went (as we say) with many a hungry belly the most part of the rest of the way.

Hopeful:  But is it not a wonder they got not from him his certificate, by which he was to receive his admittance at the Celestial Gate?

Christian:  It is a wonder; but they got not that, though they missed it not through any good cunning of his; for he, being dismayed with their coming upon him, had neither power nor skill to hide anything; so it was more by good Providence than by his endeavor, that they missed of that good thing.

Hopeful:  But it must needs be a comfort to him, that they got not his jewels from him.

Christian:  It might have been great comfort to him, had he used it as he should; but they that told me the story said, that he made but little use of it all the rest of the way, and that because of the dismay that he had in the taking away his money; indeed, he forgot it a great part of the rest of his journey; and besides, when at any time it came into his mind, and he began to be comforted therewith, then would fresh thoughts of his loss come again upon him, and those thoughts would swallow up all.

Hopeful: Alas! poor man! This could not but be a great grief to him.

Christian: Grief! ay, a grief indeed. Would it not have been so to any of us, had we been used as he, to be robbed, and wounded too, and that in a strange place, as he was? It is a wonder he did not die with grief, poor heart! I was told that he scattered almost all the rest of the way with nothing but doleful and bitter complaints; telling also to all that overtook him, or that he overtook in the way as he went, where he was robbed, and how; who they were that did it, and what he lost; how he was wounded, and that he hardly escaped with his life.

 Little-faith

In the last post Christian described for Hopeful the assault and robbery of Little-faith. Little-faith was a pilgrim who strayed into Dead Man’s Lane and was attacked by three villains: Faint-heart, Mistrust and Guilt. They snatched a bag of silver from his pocket and left him on the road, wounded and bleeding. With no one around to help him, Little-faith had to stagger on by himself.

But what exactly did Little-faith lose?

Each of the villains contributed to Little-faith’s loss. Faint-heart (timidity and weakness) attacked his strength and courage. Mistrust (doubt and unbelief) undermined his trust and confidence. Guilt (shame and dishonor) bludgeon his peace and contentment.

Little-faith suffered great loss, but he did not lose all. Christian explains: though the thieves were able to take Little-faith’s spending money, they were not able to ransack his jewels. Little-faith lost his coin purse, but retained his treasure.

The coin purse represents our spiritual comfort and peace of mind in this life. It is our awareness of God’s grace at work in our lives and our joy as we rest in work of Christ for our salvation. The coin purse holds spending money—our daily confidence and assurance that we will reach our journey’s end. When Little-faith was robbed (gave into temptation and sin), he lost his purse—his comfort and peace of mind. And he lost most of his spending money—he was overcome with grief that overwhelmed much of his hope and confidence. He was left with scarcely enough money to bring him to his journey’s end.

Now “If the righteous one is scarcely saved,
Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?”
(1 Peter 4:18)

The thieves were able to snatch his coin purse, but they could not get to his treasure. The jewels represent our heavenly reward (kept safe with Christ). They display the many glorious blessings of our spiritual union with Christ.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 1:3).

Our salvation is safe in heaven where thieves cannot break in and steal.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19–21).

Our salvation is safe with God. No one can pluck us from His hand.

And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand (John 10:28–29).

Our salvation is safe with Christ. Nothing can separate us from His love.

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38–39).

The robbers also did not take Little-faith’s certificate to gain admittance to the Celestial City. The certificate represents his faith in Christ. The thieves missed “that good thing” not by Little-faith’s cunning or ability, but by the kind Providence of God. William Mason explains:

What was this good thing? His precious faith, whose author, finisher, and object is precious Jesus. And where he gives this precious gift of faith, though it be but little, even as a grain of mustard-seed, not all the powers of earth and hell can rob the heart of it. Christ prayed for His disciple that his faith should not fail, or be totally lost; therefore, though Peter lost his comforts for a season, yet not his faith totally, not his soul eternally; for, says Jesus, of all his dear flock, yea, of those of little faith too, None shall pluck them out of My hand. There is one blessed security, not in ourselves, but in our Lord.

Even small faith can accomplish great things.

And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” So the Lord said, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you (Luke 17:5–6).

Though Little-faith’s faith is small, he has a Savior who intercedes for him.

… 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).

When Jesus prayed for Peter, He prayed that his faith would not fail.

And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:31–32).

The reality that Little-faith still had his certificate and jewels should have been cause for hope and joy. They assured the completion of his journey—the salvation of his soul.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:6–9).

But Little-faith was so perplexed at losing his purse, he could not take lasting comfort in his jewels. The robbery did not threaten the final outcome of the journey, but it did impact the journey itself. Little-faith pressed on, but he traveled hungry and as a beggar. He was harassed and hindered by his own pain and grief. Thomas Scott summarizes in his Explanatory Notes:

The believer’s union with Christ, and the sanctification of the Spirit, sealing his acceptance and rendering him meet for heaven, are his invaluable and unalienable jewels. But he may by sin lose his comforts, and not be able to perceive the evidences of his own safety: and even when again enabled to hope that it will be well with him in the event; he may be so harassed by the recollection of the loss he has sustained, the effects of his misconduct on others, and the obstructions he hath thrown in the way of his own comfort and usefulness, that his future life may be rendered a constant scene of disquietude and painful reflections. Thus the doctrine of the believer’s final perseverance is both maintained and guarded from abuse: and it is not owning to a man’s own care, but to the Lord’s free mercy, powerful interposition, and the engagements of the new covenant, that unbelief and guilt do not rob him of his title to heaven, as well as of his comfort and confidence.

Little-faith complained and lamented, telling everyone he encountered in the Way about his misfortune. He should have looked to Christ—His atoning death—His perfect righteousness—His abundant mercy—but the weakened pilgrim was too consumed with himself. Little-faith is the example we should avoid—eyes fixed on self in bitter pride. Christian is the example we should follow—eyes fixed on Christ in humble praise. When Christian was confronted with temptation and assaulted by Apollyon, he responded not with pride, but with humility, acknowledging his sin, but speaking much of his great and merciful King.

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.

How Little-Faith Was Robbed

Then said Christian to his fellow, Now I call to remembrance, that which was told me of a thing that happened to a good man hereabout. The name of the man was Little-faith, but a good man, and he dwelt in the town of Sincere. The thing was this at the entering in at this passage, there comes down from Broad-way Gate, a lane called Dead Man’s Lane; so called because of the murders that are commonly done there; and this Little-faith going on pilgrimage, as we do now, chanced to sit down there, and slept. Now there happened, at that time, to come down the lane, from Broad-way Gate, three sturdy rogues, and their names were Faint-heart, Mistrust, and Guilt, (three brothers), and they espying Little-faith, where he was, came galloping up with speed. Now the good man was just awake from his sleep, and was getting up to go on his journey. So they came up all to him, and with threatening language bid him stand. At this Little-faith looked as white as a clout, and had neither power to fight nor fly. Then said Faint-heart, Deliver thy purse. But he making no haste to do it (for he was loath to lose his money), Mistrust ran up to him, and thrusting his hand into his pocket, pulled out thence a bag of silver. Then he cried out, Thieves! Thieves! With that Guilt, with a great club that was in his hand, struck Little-faith on the head, and with that blow felled him flat to the ground, where he lay bleeding as one that would bleed to death. All this while the thieves stood by. But, at last, they hearing that some were upon the road, and fearing lest it should be one Great-grace, that dwells in the city of Good-confidence, they betook themselves to their heels, and left this good man to shift for himself. Now, after a while, Little-faith came to himself, and getting up, made shift to scrabble on his way. This was the story.

Little-faith is robbed

While Christian and Hopeful reflect on the tragic end of Turn-away, Christian remembers an account of another pilgrim. Not far from where the pilgrims now stand, a man, whose name is Little-faith from the town of Sincere, was assaulted and robbed.

Little-faith represents those who are weak in faith and spiritually unprepared to face the trials and temptations of this world. He follows Christ, but lacks courage, confidence and comfort. In Lectures on The Pilgrim’s Progress, G.B. Cheeverdescribes such pilgrims as those who “go doubting and trembling through life.” Jesus often admonished his followers for having little faith:

Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? (Matthew 6:30)

Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm (Matthew 8:25–26).

And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him [Peter], and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased (Matthew 14:31–32).

Now when His disciples had come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread. Then Jesus said to them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “It is because we have taken no bread.” But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves because you have brought no bread? (Matthew 16:5–8)

Unlike Turn-away, Little-faith is a true believer. His testimony is genuine (sincere) and his faith is real. He is an honest pilgrim and has gained the reputation of being “a good man.” But he has failed to prepare his soul for spiritual warfare and fit himself for battle.

Paul exhorts us to “watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13). In Ephesians 6:10 he says: “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.” This Little-faith has not done. He has been content to rely on his own goodness more than Christ. He has treated sin far too lightly and allowed himself to walk too closely to the way of the world. Now as he looks for a place to rest on his journey, he lies down to sleep not in the Chamber of Peace (a place of rest and confidence in Christ) at Palace Beautiful where Christian found refuge, but in Dead Man’s lane (a place of danger and temptation to sin).

Scripture warns of the danger of straying into the path of sinners:

For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the ungodly shall perish.
(Psalm 1:6)

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

We must be careful in the paths we choose. Jesus spoke of only two ways in life:

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it (Matthew 7:13–14).

Dead Man’s Lane is a treacherous path that connects the Broad Way (the way of the world that leads back to the city from which Christian fled—Destruction) with the Narrow Way (the way of Christ and the Scriptures that leads to the Celestial City—Heaven). It begins at the Broad Way Gate (the wide entrance through which all who embrace the way of world pass) and meets the Narrow Way at the entrance to the dark lane (a dark stretch of the Way where the light of Scripture has grown dim).

Here at this dangerous intersection with the world, Little-faith fell asleep. He unwisely let down his guard and made himself vulnerable.  Soon he is attacked by three villains who come down from the Broad Way Gate: Faint-heart, Mistrust and Guilt. The attack is an insightful description of what happens when a believer gives into temptation and falls prey to sin.

The “three study rogues” come “galloping up with speed” and catch Little-faith off-guard. Before he has time to collect his thoughts or rouse his conscience, temptation is staring him down. The thieves threaten his life and Little-faith turns “white as a clout.” Little-faith’s fear identifies him as an easy target—a clout is a piece of white cloth used by archers for target practice (Webster Dictionary, 1828). Faint-heart (timidity) demands that he surrender his purse. Little-faith is slow to respond, but he loses his courage and offers little resistance. Mistrust (doubt and unbelief) sees an opportunity and rushes in to snatch a bag of silver from Little-faith’s pocket. The theft represents the loss Little-faith experiences when he gives into sin. No sooner does he cry out against his assailants than Guilt (shame and dishonor) moves in and beats him with a club—a club is similar to the one that Christian and Hopeful felt at the hands of Giant Despair in Doubling Castle.

Little-faith stumbles with each criminal. He is timid with Faint-heart, unbelieving with Mistrust, and ashamed with Guilt. William Mason summarizes:

Where there is a faint heart in God’s cause, and mistrust of God’s truths, there will be guilt in the conscience, and but little faith. These rogues will prevail over, and rob such souls of the comforts of God’s love and of Christ’s salvation.

Christian already had an encounter with a character named Mistrust. Earlier in the story, near the top of Hill Difficulty, Timorous (akin to Faint-heart) and Mistrust ran past Christian, fleeing the lions that prowl near the entrance to Palace Beautiful. The lions represented persecution of believers by the government and the state church. Many in Bunyan’s day were tempted to cower to political and ecclesiastical pressure. Bunyan had seen other ministers lose heart and deny the true gospel.  When Bunyan was in prison, facing the threat of hanging for being a Non-conformist, he feared that he would have little faith and fall to this temptation. He explains in his autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners:

I will tell you a pretty business; I was once above all the rest in a very sad and low condition for many weeks; at which time also I being but a young prisoner, and not acquainted with the laws, had this lay much upon my spirit, That my imprisonment might end at the gallows for aught that I could tell. Now, therefore, Satan laid hard at me to beat me out of heart, by suggesting thus unto me, But how if when you come indeed to die, you should be in this condition; that is, as not to savor the things of God, nor to have any evidence upon your soul for a better state hereafter? For indeed at that time all the things of God were hid from my soul.

Wherefore, when I at first began to think of this, it was a great trouble to me; for I thought with myself, that in the condition I now was in, I was not fit to die, neither indeed did think I could, if I should be called to it: besides, I thought with myself, if I should make a scrabbling shift to clamber up the ladder, yet I should either with quaking, or other symptoms of faintings, give occasion to the enemy to reproach the way of God and his people, for their timorousness. This therefore lay with great trouble upon me, for methought I was ashamed to die with a pale face, and tottering knees, for such a cause as this.

[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 333-334]

Once Little-faith was robbed and beaten, the thieves did not stay long. They feared that other pilgrims would be traveling the Way, especially Great-grace from the town of Good Conscience (a pastor or fellow believer who is strong in faith). One of the best defenses God has given us as followers of Christ is our local church (Palace Beautiful) with its faithful leaders and brothers and sisters in Christ who will help us keep watch over our soul. It was a great disadvantage to Little-faith that he was traveling alone.

Little-faith is now left wounded and weakened. His purse has been plundered. Bunyan uses language from his autobiography when he tells us that Little-faith “made shift to scrabble on his way.” To shift means to change position or method when an initial attempt fails, especially in search of a way out of a difficult circumstance. To scrabble is to scrape along slowly on hands and knees as if climbing a cliff (Webster Dictionary, 1828). Little-faith is still intent on continuing his journey, but his progress now is more difficult. In the next post we will consider what exactly Little-faith lost.

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.

Remember Lot’s Wife

Now I saw that, just on the other side of this plain, the pilgrims came to a place where stood an old monument, hard by the highway side, at the sight of which they were both concerned, because of the strangeness of the form thereof; for it seemed to them as if it had been a woman transformed into the shape of a pillar; here, therefore they stood looking, and looking upon it, but could not for a time tell what they should make thereof. At last Hopeful espied written above the head thereof, a writing in an unusual hand; but he being no scholar, called to Christian (for he was learned) to see if he could pick out the meaning; so he came, and after a little laying of letters together, he found the same to be this, “Remember Lot’s Wife.” So he read it to his fellow; after which they both concluded that that was the pillar of salt into which Lot’s wife was turned, for her looking back with a covetous heart, when she was going from Sodom for safety. Which sudden and amazing sight gave them occasion of this discourse.

Christian: Ah, my brother! This is a seasonable sight; it came opportunely to us after the invitation which Demas gave us to come over to view the Hill Lucre; and had we gone over, as he desired us, and as you were inclining to do, my brother, we had, for aught I know, been made ourselves like this woman, a spectacle for those that shall come after to behold.

Hopeful: I am sorry that I was so foolish, and am made to wonder that I am not now as Lot’s wife; for wherein was the difference between her sin and mine? She only looked back; and I had a desire to go see. Let grace be adored, and let me be ashamed that ever such a thing should be in mine heart.

Christian: Let us take notice of what we see here, for our help for time to come. This woman escaped one judgment, for she fell not by the destruction of Sodom; yet she was destroyed by another, as we see she is turned into a pillar of salt.

Hopeful: True; and she may be to us both caution and example; caution, that we should shun her sin; or a sign of what judgment will overtake such as shall not be prevented by this caution. So Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, with the two hundred and fifty men that perished in their sin, did also become a sign or example to others to beware. But above all, I muse at one thing, to wit, how Demas and his fellows can stand so confidently yonder to look for that treasure, which this woman, but for looking behind her after, (for we read not that she stepped one foot out of the way) was turned into a pillar of salt; especially since the judgment which overtook her did make her an example, within sight of where they are; for they cannot choose but see her, did they but lift up their eyes.

Christian: It is a thing to be wondered at, and it argues that their hearts are grown desperate in the case; and I cannot tell who to compare them to so fitly, as to them that pick pockets in the presence of the judge, or that will cut purses under the gallows. It is said of the men of Sodom, that they were sinners exceedingly, because they were sinners before the Lord, that is, in his eyesight, and notwithstanding the kindnesses that he had showed them; for the land of Sodom was now like the garden of Eden heretofore. This, therefore, provoked Him the more to jealousy, and made their plague as hot as the fire of the Lord out of heaven could make it. And it is most rationally to be concluded, that such, even such as these are, that shall sin in the sight, yea, and that too in despite of such examples that are set continually before them, to caution them to the contrary, must be partakers of severest judgments.

Hopeful: Doubtless you have said the truth; but what a mercy is it, that neither you, but especially I, am not made myself this example! This ministers occasion to us to thank God, to fear before Him, and always to remember Lot’s wife.

Pillar of SaltNo sooner had Christian and Hopeful crossed the Plain of Ease and made it past Demas and the Silver Mine than they encounter a strange sight near the Way. The pilgrims see an old monument that appears to be “a woman transformed into the shape of a pillar.” The monument is placed “hard by the highway side” (right next to the path so it can’t be missed). At first they are puzzled and not sure of its meaning. Finally, Hopeful sees an inscription that unravels the mystery. The monument is a warning from the pages of Scripture where God brought judgment on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. God sent angels to warn Lot and his family to flee the city lest they be destroyed, telling them:

“Escape for your life! Do not look behind you nor stay anywhere in the plain. Escape to the mountains, lest you be destroyed” (Genesis 19:17).

Then God sent the promised judgment:

Then the Lord rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the Lord out of the heavens. So He overthrew those cities, all the plain, all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. But his wife looked back behind him, and she became a pillar of salt. And Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the Lord. Then he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the plain; and he saw, and behold, the smoke of the land which went up like the smoke of a furnace. And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in which Lot had dwelt (Genesis 19:24–29).

While fleeing Sodom and Gomorrah with her husband, Lot’s wife ignored the angel’s warning, looked back, and “became a pillar of salt.” The sight of the pillar of salt near the Way gives Christian and Hopeful pause. In their solemn discourse, Bunyan teaches us three important lessons:

1. We are saved by God’s grace alone, not by our own wits or cunning.

Christian regards the monument as a “seasonable sight.” He tells Hopeful, “Let us take notice of what we see here, for our help for time to come.” He recognizes the value and providential timing in finding the pillar on their journey. It is meant to teach them and alert them to be cautious. Had they listened to the words of Demas and stopped to look in his mine, as Hopeful was inclined to do, they might have fallen into the snare of sin. Hopeful is humbled and confesses his foolishness. He knows he strayed in his heart and is deserving of judgment. He sees his sin as far worse: Lot’s wife “only looked back,” but he “had a desire to go see.” It is only by God’s grace that he did not fall into the same condemnation. It is God, not us, who saves us and keeps us. Left to ourselves, we would stumble and fall. He alone is worthy of praise!

For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? (1 Corinthians 4:7).

2. We must heed God’s warnings and take His judgment against sin seriously.

Although temptations to walk in the ways of the world are often close by, especially when we walk through times of ease, God’s warnings are also close at hand. We see these warnings set forth clearly in God’s Word and manifest starkly in the consequences of sin and the insatiable emptiness that sin leaves in its wake. Sin ultimately leads to misery and condemnation. We can be grateful that God doesn’t judge every sin with a timely display of His wrath. If He did, we would all be consumed.

The Lord is merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.
(Psalm 103:8).

BUT

He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
(Psalm 103:9)

And so we must heed His warnings and flee to Him for mercy and grace. Hopeful mentions another account later in the Old Testament where God displayed His wrath as “a sign” or warning to His people.

The sons of Eliab were Nemuel, Dathan, and Abiram. These are the Dathan and Abiram, representatives of the congregation, who contended against Moses and Aaron in the company of Korah, when they contended against the Lord; and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up together with Korah when that company died, when the fire devoured two hundred and fifty men; and they became a sign (Numbers 26:9–10).

All of God’s judgments— on Sodom and Gomorrah, on the Sons of Korah, on Lot’s wife—are warnings to us to take the wrath of God seriously. Every display of God’s wrath is a call to us to turn away from sin, and come to Christ for mercy, forgiveness, wisdom and righteousness.

The warnings are clear, placed along our path so we cannot avoid seeing them. Yet too often we ignore or discount them. The pillar stands within sight of the mine. The consequences of sin stare us in the face. Yet even with God’s warnings so close at hand, we wander off the path to trifle with sin. God’s blessings are equally clear. He sustains us—He gives us every breath. His gracious provisions are all around us. Yet even in the midst of blessing, we ignore God’s kindness and go our own way.

The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were richly blessed of God. Their beauty was comparable to the garden of Eden. Yet their citizens did not honor God and rebelled against Him.

And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere (before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar. Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan, and Lot journeyed east. And they separated from each other. Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain and pitched his tent even as far as Sodom. But the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the Lord (Genesis 13:10–13).

Blatant sin in midst of God’s abundant provision and kindness is nothing less than “exceedingly wicked and sinful against the Lord.” To ignore His warnings and live as if there were no coming judgment is utter folly (Psalm 14:1, 53:1). God’s sovereign rule over His creation is evident and obvious if we would but acknowledge it. There will be no valid excuses on the Day of Judgment from the ungodly who refuse to turn from their sin and flee to Christ.

3. We must guard our hearts and not assume that because we are fleeing the consequences of sin, we are safely beyond the reach of sin.

Christian and Hopeful made it past the silver mine. They would not stray from the path even a step.  They escaped the fate that came upon By-ends and his friends. But the pillar is a warning that they must stay vigilant and guard their hearts. Lot’s wife was being rescued; she was on a right path, hastened to leave a city prepared for destruction. But she longingly looked back. She treasured what was behind her. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Her heart remained in Sodom and so she was judged as a citizen of Sodom.

We must guard our hearts in the battle against temptation. It is possible to turn out of the Way with a glance, not just a step. Lot’s wife came under God’s judgment even in the midst of escaping God’s judgment. Though her feet carried her away from destruction, her heart plunged her into the Pit. She had the same covetous heart that Israel would later display when God brought them out of their bondage in Egypt. Israel was on the way to the Promised Land, yet their hearts were addicted to slavery, and they looked back with longing.

Now the mixed multitude who were among them yielded to intense craving; so the children of Israel also wept again and said: “Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!” (Numbers 11:4–6).

The message inscribed above the pillar reads: “Remember Lot’s Wife.” It is a message for us today. The inscription comes from Jesus’ words in Luke 17:

Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed. In that day, he who is on the housetop, and his goods are in the house, let him not come down to take them away. And likewise the one who is in the field, let him not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it (Luke 17:28–33).

You can turn away from God in your heart and rebel against Him in your thoughts without ever taking an obvious step. There are many in churches today who appear to be on the right path fleeing Destruction. They seek to escape the consequences of sin—its misery and condemnation, but they are looking back, longing for what they left. We must flee sin at all cost. We must flee sin in our hearts and with our eyes and ears, as well as with our hands and feet. We must not assume that because we are fleeing the consequences of sin, we are safely beyond the reach of sin. Scripture admonishes us:

Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:12–13).

Let us run from sin with no looking back. And, as Hopeful instructs, let us thank God, fear Him, and always remember Lot’s wife.

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.

Pilgrims Out of Place

Now, as I said, the way to the Celestial City lies just through this town where this lusty fair is kept; and he that will go to the city, and yet not go through this town, must needs go out of the world. The Prince of princes himself, when here, went through this town to his own country, and that upon a fair day too Yea, and as I think, it was Beelzebub, the chief lord of this fair, that invited him to buy of his vanities; yea, would have made him lord of the fair, would he but have done him reverence as he went through the town. Yea, because he was such a person of honor, Beelzebub had him from street to street, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a little time, that he might, if possible, allure the Blessed One to cheapen and buy some of his vanities; but he had no mind to the merchandise, and therefore left the town, without laying out so much as one farthing upon these vanities. This fair, therefore, is an ancient thing, of long standing, and a very great fair.

Now these pilgrims, as I said, must needs go through this fair. Well, so they did: but, behold, even as they entered into the fair, all the people in the fair were moved, and the town itself as it were in a hubbub about them; and that for several reasons: for:

First: The pilgrims were clothed with such kind of raiment as was diverse from the raiment of any that traded in that fair. The people, therefore, of the fair, made a great gazing upon them: some said they were fools, some they were bedlams, and some they are outlandish men.

Secondly: And as they wondered at their apparel, so they did likewise at their speech; for few could understand what they said; they naturally spoke the language of Canaan, but they that kept the fair were the men of this world; so that, from one end of the fair to the other, they seemed barbarians each to the other.

Thirdly: But that which did not a little amuse the merchandisers was, that these pilgrims set very light by all their wares; they cared not so much as to look upon them; and if they called upon them to buy, they would put their fingers in their ears, and cry, Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity, and look upwards, signifying that their trade and traffic was in heaven.

One chanced mockingly, beholding the carriage of the men, to say unto them, What will you buy? But they, looking gravely upon him, answered, “We buy the truth.” At that there was an occasion taken to despise the men the more; some mocking, some taunting, some speaking reproachfully, and some calling upon others to smite them. At last things came to a hubbub and great stir in the fair, insomuch that all order was confounded. Now was word presently brought to the great one of the fair, who quickly came down, and deputed some of his most trusted friends to take these men into examination, about whom the fair was almost overturned. So the men were brought to examination; and they that sat upon them, asked them whence they came, whither they went, and what they did there, in such an unusual garb? The men told them that they were pilgrims and strangers in the world, and that they were going to their own country, which was the heavenly Jerusalem, and that they had given no occasion to the men of the town, nor yet to the merchandisers, thus to abuse them, and to let them in their journey, except it was for that, when one asked them what they would buy, they said they would buy the truth. But they that were appointed to examine them did not believe them to be any other than bedlams and mad, or else such as came to put all things into a confusion in the fair. Therefore they took them and beat them, and besmeared them with dirt, and then put them into the cage, that they might be made a spectacle to all the men of the fair.

Behold Vanity Fair! the Pilgrims there
Are chain’d and stand beside:
Even so it was our Lord pass’d here,
And on Mount Calvary died.

Vanity FairThe town of Vanity is Bunyan’s depiction of the world around us—a world enamored with sin and enthralled by frivolity. It’s a world in denial of the authority of God—even the very existence of God. It is perilous to pilgrims. But passing through this town is unavoidable. We are all born in the City of Destruction and to journey to the Celestial City, “we must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

We can learn some valuable lessons in the town of Vanity:

1. It is God’s will that we walk through this world, though it is fallen and marred with sin.

God does not take us out of the world once He saves us. He keeps us in the world. We are to be “blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15). If we are to share the hope we have in Christ with the people of this world, we must live and walk in their midst.

I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world (1 Corinthians 5:9–10).

We are called to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13–16), and in God’s design there may be times when we need to pass through dark and unsavory places.

2. Jesus Himself came to our broken world.

“The Prince of princes himself, when here, went through this town to his own country.” Jesus came and “dwelt among us” that we might behold His glory (John 1:14). “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him” (John 1:10). He was “tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory (Matthew 4:8).

Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours” (Luke 4:5–7).

In this world we will indeed face trials and temptations, but we have a Savior who has defeated sin and death. His Word gives us comfort:

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

3. If we follow Christ and seek His Kingdom, our lives will be in sharp contrast to the world around us.

Christian and Faithful stand out at the fair. They don’t fit in. They are not carried away and enthralled by the allurements of the fair that entice the citizens of the town.

Bunyan notes:

1) The pilgrims look and act differently. They had looked to Christ for salvation and that made all the difference. They were rescued from Destruction and now their “citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:19–20). The town has its mind set “on earthly things,” but Christian and Faithful are eagerly pressing on to the Celestial City. Paul exhorts us:

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth (Colossians 3:1–2).

Such a mindset has implication for our conduct, as Paul explains:

Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them (Colossians 3:5–7).

This need to walk in contrast to the world is echoed by Peter and John:

Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation (1 Peter 2:11–12).

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world (1 John 2:15–16).

2) The pilgrims speak differently. Their conversation is noticeably different from that of town’s people. They are not enticed by the latest gossip or lured with profane humor. They speak “the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory” (1 Corinthians 2:6–8). They speak of spiritual things (the language of Canaan) and those at the fair cannot understand them.

But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14).

They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error (1 John 4:5–6).

Having our mind set on Christ has implications for our speech. Paul goes on to explain in Colossians:

But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds (Colossians 3:8–9).

3) The pilgrims are not interested in what the town has to offer. They are not tempted by temporary and fleeting pleasures. They refuse to look at the wares displayed for sale.

Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things,
And revive me in Your way.
(Psalm 119:37)

When asked what they would buy, the pilgrims respond: “We buy the truth.”

Buy the truth, and do not sell it,
Also wisdom and instruction and understanding.
(Proverbs 23:23)

This truly enrages the town and its merchants. Christians and Faithful are mocked and mistreated. When apprehended and interrogated they say that they are pilgrims and strangers in the world and are seeking a heavenly country.

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:13–16).

Bunyan’s narrative of Christian and Faithful at Vanity Fair seems somewhat out of step with modern methods of evangelism. Why not set up a booth at the fair and beat the town at its own game? The church, especially in Western culture, is often more concerned about fitting in and appearing relevant to the world it is trying to reach, rather than standing out and standing for truth. Christian and Faithful are not afraid to stand for truth. Their bold testimony before the world sets them in stark contrast to the world. Yet, as we shall soon see, their testimony bears lasting fruit.

Our greatest testimony before the world is when we live like Christians and exalt Christ and His Word above all else. But living for Christ can be costly. Christian and Faithful were beaten (persecuted), besmeared with dirt (made to look contemptable), and put in a cage (restricted and constrained). In the next post we will examine further the persecution Christian and Faithful were made to endure for the sake of the gospel.

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 ©2016 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Vanity Fair

Then I saw in my dream, that when they were got out of the wilderness, they presently saw a town before them, and the name of that town is Vanity; and at the town there is a fair kept, called Vanity Fair. It is kept all the year long. It bears the name of Vanity Fair because the town where it is kept is lighter than vanity; and, also because all that is there sold, or that comes there, is vanity. As is the saying of the wise, “all that comes is vanity.”

This fair is no new-erected business, but a thing of ancient standing. I will show you the original of it.

Almost five thousand years ago, there were pilgrims walking to the Celestial City, as these two honest persons are: and Beelzebub, Apollyon, and Legion, with their companions, perceiving by the path that the pilgrims made, that their way to the city lay through this town of Vanity, they contrived here to set up a fair; a fair wherein, should be sold all sorts of vanity, and that it should last all the year long. Therefore at this fair are all such merchandise sold, as houses, lands, trades, places, honors, preferments, titles, countries, kingdoms, lusts, pleasures, and delights of all sorts, as whores, bawds, wives, husbands, children, masters, servants, lives, blood, bodies, souls, silver, gold, pearls, precious stones, and what not.

And, moreover, at this fair there is at all times to be seen juggling cheats, games, plays, fools, apes, knaves, and rogues, and that of every kind.

Here are to be seen, too, and that for nothing, thefts, murders, adulteries, false swearers, and that of a blood-red color.

And as in other fairs of less moment, there are the several rows and streets, under their proper names, where such and such wares are vended. So here likewise you have the proper places, rows, streets, (viz. countries and kingdoms), where the wares of this fair are soonest to be found. Here is the Britain Row, the French Row, the Italian Row, the Spanish Row, the German Row, where several sorts of vanities are to be sold. But, as in other fairs, some one commodity is as the chief of all the fair, so the ware of Rome and her merchandise is greatly promoted in this fair; only our English nation, with some others, have taken a dislike thereat.

Vanity Fair

As Christian and Faithful press on in their journey, they come to a town called Vanity. The town is famous for its light-hearted atmosphere and longstanding fair.

The town of Vanity, like the City of Destruction from where Christian had fled, is representative of the world in its opposition to God. The City of Destruction portrays the world as under the wrath and condemnation of God for its sin and immorality. The town of Vanity dresses up the sin and immorality of the world to appear alluring and desirable. It is enticing to the eye, but empty in the end.

Vanity represents the pride, arrogance and conceit of the world. It is a description of the world without Christ. It is life without the hope of the gospel—meaningless, futile and pointless in the end. The description comes from the words of Solomon in Ecclesiastes:

The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher;
“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”
What profit has a man from all his labor
In which he toils under the sun?
One generation passes away, and another generation comes;
But the earth abides forever.
The sun also rises, and the sun goes down,
And hastens to the place where it arose.
The wind goes toward the south,
And turns around to the north;
The wind whirls about continually,
And comes again on its circuit.
All the rivers run into the sea,
Yet the sea is not full;
To the place from which the rivers come,
There they return again.
All things are full of labor;
Man cannot express it.
The eye is not satisfied with seeing,
Nor the ear filled with hearing.
That which has been is what will be,
That which is done is what will be done,
And there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which it may be said,
“See, this is new”?
It has already been in ancient times before us.
There is no remembrance of former things,
Nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come
By those who will come after.
I, the Preacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I set my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven; this burdensome task God has given to the sons of man, by which they may be exercised. I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind (Ecclesiastes 1:1–14).

Solomon looked at the futility of life in this world and concluded “all is vanity”! He repeats this assessment throughout the book:

Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done
And on the labor in which I had toiled;
And indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind.
There was no profit under the sun.
(Ecclesiastes 2:11)

Therefore I hated life because the work that was done under the sun was distressing to me, for all is vanity and grasping for the wind (Ecclesiastes 2:17).

But if a man lives many years
And rejoices in them all,
Yet let him remember the days of darkness,
For they will be many.
All that is coming is vanity.
(Ecclesiastes 11:8)

The town of Vanity is well-known for its fair. Vanity Fair represents all the world has to offer us, which, apart from Christ, amounts to nothing in the end. Vanity Fair is Satan’s attempt to distract and hinder us from following after Christ. It is his ploy to lure us into grasping at things that in the end will avail us nothing and keep us from great treasure of knowing and serving and loving God. Christ alone is the way, the truth and life (John 14:6). He alone has the words of life (John 6:68). If we miss Christ, we miss it all.

We learn from Bunyan:

1. The fair is ancient. Its origins date back to the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve were tempted and enticed to disobey God (Genesis 3).

2. The fair is continuous; it lasts “all year long.” Temptations are always around us, in every age, in every generation, and in all walks of life. We have an enemy to our souls and he would have us believe the same lie he spoke in the Garden, that his way is more desirable than God’s way.

3. The fair is corrupt; it is tainted by sinful passions. It has given place to many foolish and profane occupations: “juggling cheats, games, plays, fools, apes, knaves, and rogues.” Lawbreaking abounds: stealing, murdering, committing adultery, lying, “and that of a blood-red color” (in other words lawbreaking made evident in assault, injury and violence).

4. The fair is international; it embraces the styles and wares of every country and culture. God has measured the nations and all is vanity (Isaiah 40:17). Each nation offers a unique blend of temptations to draw pilgrims from the Way. Bunyan highlights the prominence of Roman Catholicism over the world in his day: “the ware of Rome and her merchandise is greatly promoted in this fair.” And he notes the dislike of Catholicism in England: “only our English nation, with some others, have taken a dislike thereat.” With Henry VII and the Act of Supremacy in 1534 England had begun to distance itself from the Roman Church and establish its own Anglican Church. Earlier in the story Christian had observed Giant Pope weak and powerless in his cave.

5. The fair is bountiful. It is full of delights and pleasures. When you read Bunyan’s description, you notice that not all the things provided at the fair are in themselves bad things. Some are, but others are God’s good gifts. He mentions “houses, lands, trades,” “wives, husbands, children” and “souls and bodies” among the good things. Bunyan’s point here is that anything—even good things—can be turned into an idol and become bad, when it becomes more important and more valuable to us than Christ.

As pilgrims we need the attitude of Paul.

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; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:7–11).

As we will see in the next post, such an attitude will set us apart as Christians from the world and its pursuits.

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 ©2016 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Run in with Adam the First

Christian: Did you meet with no other assault as you came?

Faithful: When I came to the foot of the hill called Difficulty, I met with a very aged man, who asked me what I was, and whither bound. I told him that I am a pilgrim, going to the Celestial City. Then said the old man, You look like an honest fellow; would you be content to dwell with me for the wages that I shall give you? Then I asked him his name, and where he dwelt. He said his name was Adam the First, and that he dwelt in the town of Deceit. I asked him then what was his work, and what the wages he would give. He told me that his work was many delights; and his wages that I should be his heir at last. I further asked him what house he kept, and what other servants he had. So he told me that his house was maintained with all the dainties in the world; and that his servants were those of his own begetting. Then I asked if he had any children. He said that he had but three daughters: The Lust of the Flesh, The Lust of the Eyes, and The Pride of Life, and that I should marry them all if I would. Then I asked how long time he would have me live with him? And he told me, As long as he lived himself.

Christian: Well, and what conclusion came the old man and you to at last?

Faithful: Why, at first, I found myself somewhat inclinable to go with the man, for I thought he spoke very fair; but looking in his forehead, as I talked with him, I saw there written, “Put off the old man with his deeds.”

Christian: And how then?

Faithful: Then it came burning hot into my mind, whatever he said, and however he flattered, when he got me home to his house, he would sell me for a slave. So I bid him forbear to talk, for I would not come near the door of his house. Then he reviled me, and told me that he would send such a one after me, that should make my way bitter to my soul. So I turned to go away from him; but just as I turned myself to go thence, I felt him take hold of my flesh, and give me such a deadly twitch back, that I thought he had pulled part of me after himself. This made me cry, “O wretched man!” So I went on my way up the hill.

Faithful and Adam the FirstChristian is eager to hear more about how Faithful has faired in his journey. As the two converse Faithful begins to recount his troubles at Hill Difficulty. Christian was familiar with this Hill. He had encountered it earlier in the story and had struggled to reach its summit. When Faithful arrived at the foot of the Hill, he met a very aged man named Adam the First. The old man at first attempted to lure Faithful to his home. He promised to make Faithful his heir and claimed that his house was “maintained with all the dainties in the world.” But when Faithful saw through the ruse and resisted the invitation, the old man lashed out and abused and attacked him.

Who then is Adam the First and why is he at Hill Difficulty?

Adam is of course a reference to the first man created by God (Genesis 2:20; 1 Corinthians 15:22, 45). He stands at the head of creation as the representative of mankind. Hill Difficulty, as we saw earlier in Bunyan’s story, denotes the trials and difficulties we must face in this life. These trials and difficulties are designed to make us keenly aware of our need for God’s strength and help. They are also meant by God’s kind providence for our good. By confronting them we are tried (as gold is tried in a furnace to remove the dross) and sanctified (taught not to sin and made holy).

Faithful’s encounter with Adam the First at Hill Difficulty highlights an important reality. One of the greatest difficulties we must face in our pursuit of holiness is the treachery of our own sinfulness. The most dangerous sin that threatens us is not what’s on the outside, but what’s on the inside.

Adam the First represents our struggle with our old nature that has been corrupted by sin. Though we are saved by grace, sin still indwells us. Though we are rescued from sin’s dominion and penalty, we still feel some of its power and presence. What often makes sin so difficult to recognize and resist is that it wells up from within us.

Adam the First is from the town of Deceit. Sin is deceitful (Romans 7:11); its pleasures are fleeting (Hebrews 11:25). Sin can never deliver the satisfaction it promises. It lures us with delight, but its wages is death (Romans 6:23). It boasts to empower us, but intends to enslave us (Romans 6:6, 17).

Faithful is almost enticed to go with Adam the First, but then he sees him for who he is—a cheat and a liar. He recognizes sin through the lens of Scripture, remembering Paul’s instruction to turn away from our former way of life and put off the old man:

But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:20–24).

The Bible warns as well not to be taken in by the “three daughters” of the old man:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:15–17).

As Faithful learns, resisting the old man is hard. Fighting the sin inside us can feel like we are being torn apart. In Romans 7 Paul describes his own struggle with remaining sin. He laments:

For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:22–24)

Paul asks an important question at the end of verse 24. Who is able to deliver him? The answer is in the following verses:

I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 7:25 – 8:1).

Only Christ can free us from the power and penalty of sin. He alone can bring life and lasting joy.

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

Christ did what Adam the First could not do. It was through Adam’s fall that sin entered the world. In his failure to obey he brought condemnation on all men and left us an inheritance of a sinful nature. Because of Adam we are born sinners, born blind and dead in sin.

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned (Romans 5:12).

But Christ by His perfect obedience saves by His grace all who come and trust in Him. His inheritance for His people is righteousness and life.

For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous (Romans 5:17–19).

It is Christ alone who can rescue us from sin. We must learn to love Him and value Him more than anything this world can offer us. We must recognize sin for what it is—deceitful and deadly—and flee from it. Sin will lie to us; Christ speaks truth. Sin will destroy us; Christ brings us life.

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.

Run in with Wanton

Christian: Well, neighbor Faithful, said Christian, let us leave him, and talk of things that more immediately concern ourselves. Tell me now, what you have met with in the way as you came; for I know you have met with some things, or else it may be writ for a wonder.

Faithful: I escaped the Slough that I perceived you fell into, and got up to the gate without that danger; only I met with one whose name was Wanton, who had like to have done me a mischief.

Christian: It was well you escaped her net; Joseph was hard put to it by her, and he escaped her as you did; but it had like to have cost him his life. But what did she do to you?

Faithful: You cannot think, but that you know something, what a flattering tongue she had; she lay at me hard to turn aside with her, promising me all manner of content.

Christian: Nay, she did not promise you the content of a good conscience.

Faithful: You know what I mean; all carnal and fleshly content.

Christian: Thank God you have escaped her: “The abhorred of the Lord shall fall into her ditch.”

Faithful: Nay, I know not whether I did wholly escape her or no.

Christian: Why, I trust, you did not consent to her desires?

Faithful: No, not to defile myself; for I remembered an old writing that I had seen, which said, “Her steps take hold on hell.” So I shut mine eyes, because I would not be bewitched with her looks. Then she railed on me, and I went my way.

Faithful and WantonAs Faithful continues his account of how he escaped the City of Destruction, he begins to describe some of the dangers he has faced. He escaped falling into the Slough of Despond that slowed Christian and stopped Pliable from reaching the Gate, but he came near a more perilous pit (Proverbs 22:14, 23:27). He encountered “one whose name was Wanton.”

Wanton represents sexual immorality and moral failure. Her name means licentious and loose, reckless and unrestrained, lewd and lustful, wild and wandering. She has a flattering tongue (Proverbs 2:16, 5:3, 6:24, 7:5, 21), makes persuasive and persistent overtures (Proverbs 7:13), and promises “all manner of content” (Proverbs 7:18), but her proposal is deceitful. Scripture warns:

Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways,
Do not stray into her paths;
For she has cast down many wounded,
And all who were slain by her were strong men.
Her house is the way to hell,
Descending to the chambers of death.
(Proverbs 7:25-27)

The danger of falling prey to Wanton is nothing new. Christian recalls the account in Genesis 39 when Joseph was enticed by Potiphar’s wife and fled.

But it happened about this time, when Joseph went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the house was inside, that she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside. And so it was, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and fled outside (Genesis 39:11-13).

Faithful’s resistance to Wanton teaches us some helpful lessons in fighting temptation.

1. He does not entertain sinful thoughts, but turns away.

Faithful is determined he will not start down a treacherous path by sinning with his eyes.

“I have made a covenant with my eyes;
Why then should I look upon a young woman.”
(Job 31:1)

When his eyes see an opportunity to sin, he shuts them, and though Wanton curses him, he turns away and departs.

Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things,
And revive me in Your way.
(Psalm 119:37)

2. He remembers and heeds God’s Word in the midst of temptation.

Faithful knows the Scriptures and preaches them to himself in time of need.

Your word I have hidden in my heart,
That I might not sin against You.
(Psalm 119:11)

He remembers wise words from the Book of Proverbs:

My son, pay attention to my wisdom;
Lend your ear to my understanding,
That you may preserve discretion,
And your lips may keep knowledge.
For the lips of an immoral woman drip honey,
And her mouth is smoother than oil;
But in the end she is bitter as wormwood,
Sharp as a two- edged sword.
Her feet go down to death,
Her steps lay hold of hell.
(Proverbs 5:1-5)

When Christian gives thanks for Faithful’s escape, he also quotes from Proverbs:

The mouth of an immoral woman is a deep pit;
He who is abhorred by the Lord will fall there.
(Proverbs 22:14)

Faithful is able to resist temptation because he believes and values the Word of God more than the alluring voice of Wanton. He takes refuge in the sure promises and warnings of Scripture.

3. He does not assume victory over sin by letting down his guard.

Faithful does not congratulate or commend himself for escaping from Wanton. When Christian speaks of Faithful’s escape, Faithful responds by saying: “Nay, I know not whether I did wholly escape her or no.” Though he assures Christian that he did not fall into sin, he doesn’t reassure himself with his fortitude or spiritual maturity in being able to resist sin. He understands how forceful temptation can be. He doesn’t speak of the encounter lightly. Rather, he has a healthy suspicion of his own heart and a lingering grief over the charm of sin that would so entice him. The experience has humbled him and made him more cautious, more dependent upon God’s grace. “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5, Proverbs 3:34). It is the humble who will stand in the evil day, not the proud or self-confident.

Pride goes before destruction,
And a haughty spirit before a fall.
(Proverbs 16:8)

Wanton remains a danger for pilgrims in our day. There have been times and places in history where Wanton was frowned upon by society. She had to sneak around to do her mischief. At other times and in other places she has found more acceptance and been more bold in her overtures. Today she is not only accepted, she is championed as a goddess of freedom. She stands beckoning on billboards and in magazines. Her snare is laid on the screens of TVs, computers and mobile devices. We must be diligent and watchful. May God help us to guard our hearts, remember His Word, and turn away from every sin.

As we have seen in Christian’s pilgrimage, his trials and lessons often prove to be preparation for even greater perils that lie ahead. Faithful has resisted sin and held to truth. Soon Christian and Faithful will encounter a place where they will feel very much out of place. They will be severely tested and enticed to forsake God’s way and buy into the pleasures of the world. They will need a strong faith to stand firm in the truth in Vanity Fair.

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.