Tag Archives: Trials

Hopeful’s Testimony Part 3 Growing Conviction

Christian: Then, as it seems, sometimes you got rid of your trouble.

Hopeful: Yes, verily, but it would come into my mind again, and then I should be as bad, nay, worse, than I was before.

Christian: Why, what was it that brought your sins to mind again?

Hopeful: Many things; as,

  1. If I did but meet a good man in the streets; or,
  2. If I have heard any read in the Bible; or,
  3. If mine head did begin to ache; or,
  4. If I were told that some of my neighbors were sick; or,
  5. If I heard the bell toll for some that were dead; or,
  6. If I thought of dying myself; or,
  7. If I heard that sudden death happened to others;
  8. But especially, when I thought of myself, that I must quickly come to judgment.

Christian: And could you at any time, with ease, get off the guilt of sin, when by any of these ways it came upon you?

Hopeful: No, not I, for then they got faster hold of my conscience; and then, if I did but think of going back to sin, (though my mind was turned against it), it would be double torment to me.

Hopeful's growing conviction

Though Hopeful initially rejected the gospel and resisted the conviction that was weighing upon his conscience, God continued to pursue him. He remembered his own mortality and frailty. He was reminded of his sinfulness and failing before God. He could not escape thoughts of the coming judgment. These reminders were all around him:

  • When he heard about or saw someone doing what was right and good
  • When he heard the Word of God read or mentioned
  • When he became ill or heard of others who were ill
  • When he heard about someone who died, especially if the death was tragic or unexpected (or unjust as it was with Faithful in Vanity Fair)
  • When he thought that he would die and stand before God in judgment

Though he tried to put thoughts of death, judgment, and God out of his mind, all of these things were aimed at his conscience. God would not let him alone to rest comfortably in his sin.

Many in our day are feeling the pangs of conscience like Hopeful, but they have yet to turn to Christ and find rest and relief. Hopeful’s testimony offers encouragement and instruction as we pray for friends and family who are still clinging to sin and resisting grace.

1) We need to remember that our lives are on display. We need to walk before others with integrity, loving what is right and good, and doing what is right and good.

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel (Philippians 1:27).

Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear (1 Peter 3:1–2).

2) We need to be bold in speaking the Word of God, even to unbelievers. The Word of God is the Word of life!

Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life (John 5:24).

Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed (Acts 13:48).

How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:14–17).

3) We need to trust in God’s good purposes even through times of difficulty and hardship. God often uses trials and sickness to remind us of our own frailty and need for Him. But God’s good purposes may well extend beyond ourselves. God can use tragedy, sickness, even death, as a means of grace to bring conviction to others and cause others to ponder the state of their soul. Our trials may be the very means that God is using to draw friends and family to Himself. He indeed works all things together for good, to those who love Him, “to those who are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). Let us live so that our lives, even in the midst of trials, help and not hinder others to look to Christ and find hope in the gospel.

We need to pray for those around us who are resisting God’s Word, who are hesitating or outright rejecting the truth. Pray that God will not leave them to their sin, but will use all means necessary to pursue and draw them to Himself. And pray that God’s “means” would include even us as He providentially directs our lives for our good and the good of others around 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.

Be Still and Know That Thou Art God

Still Waters

A prayer for those facing suffering and affliction.

Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!
(Psalm 46:10)

Let me, Thou sovereign Lord of all,
Low at Thy footstool humbly fall;
And while I feel affliction’s rod,
Be still and know that Thou art God.

Let me not murmur nor repine
Under these trying strokes of Thine;
But while I walk the mournful road
Be still and know that Thou art God.

When and wherever Thou shall smite,
Teach me to own Thy sovereign right;
And underneath the heaviest load,
Be still and know that Thou are God.

Still let this truth support my mind,
Thou canst not err or be unkind;
And thus approve Thy chastening rod,
And know Thou art my Father, God!

When this afflicted soul shall rise
To ceaseless joys above the skies,
I shall, as ransomed by Thy blood,
Forever sing, “Thou art my God!”

Amen.

“Be Still and Know That Thou Art God”
Words by Samuel Medley (1738–1799)
Music by Tom Wells, 2001
Words ©Public Domain
Music ©2001 Tom Wells (Used by Permission)

Tom Wells (Heritage Baptist Church in Mansfield, Texas) composed the tune for this hymn. Download free sheet music (PDF), including a guitar chord charts and an arrangement of the hymn tune TROUT for classical guitar.

More Hymns from History

More hymns arranged for Classical Guitar

 

Before the World I Now Confess

Remembering Christ died for me

For many in this world, it is costly to follow Christ. Being identified as a Christian can mean the loss of friends, loss of fortune, loss of employment, even loss of life. But Christ exhorts us:

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24–25).

“And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:38–39).

We are called to live for Christ and declare the good news of salvation in Him. We are called to follow Him and unashamedly acknowledge our sinfulness and need for His abundant grace.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).

The following hymn is a confession of faith in Christ. It includes publically professing Christ through baptism (verse 3) and corporately remembering Christ in the Lord’s Supper (verse 4).

The idea for the hymn came from a message on Matthew 10:26–33 entitled “Declaring Our Allegiance to Christ” preached on Sunday, February 25, 2018 at Grace Baptist Church, Cape Coral, by our associate pastor, Jared Longshore.

The message began with a quote from Rosaria Butterfield’s book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into the Christian Faith. In the book she describes the cost of becoming a follower of Christ and turning away from her old lifestyle. She said, “I was driving away from the place, the life, the career, and the people that I knew and loved. But Jesus Christ was more real to me at that moment than any of these material things.” As I thought about her words, I wrote what became the final lines of the hymn:

More real to me is Jesus Christ
Than all this world can give,
More than this world, I need His grace,
For by His grace I live.

The hymn is set to a familiar tune: CLEANSING FOUNTAIN, the tune often used for “There Is a Fountain.”

Before the World I Now Confess

“So everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32).

Before the world I now confess
Christ Jesus as my Lord.
The scorn of men, I will not fear,
Nor danger, nor the sword.
Though friends and loved ones turn away,
Possessions all be lost,
To lose this world, if I gain Christ
Is not too great a cost.

Before the world I humbly bow
To Jesus as my King,
Acknowledging so all will know
He’s Lord of everything!
No flood so great or tear too small,
He knows my thoughts and ways,
My life I fully trust to Him
And give Him all my praise.

Baptism

Before the world I here confess
That Christ has made me new.
He gave me life, now I believe
His Word is sure and true.
Through baptism I now submit
Unto my Lord’s command,
My old life buried, new raised up,
Upon His Word I stand.

Lord’s Supper

Before the world I take my stand
With Jesus and His bride
To cleanse His church and bring us near
He suffered, bled and died.
His body broken on the cross,
His blood He freely shed,
Remembering Christ died for me,
I take this cup and bread.

Before the world I sing His praise
That all the world may hear.
I give allegiance to my King,
Whose Kingdom now is near.
More real to me is Jesus Christ
Than all this world can give,
More than this world, I need His grace,
For by His grace I live.

Words ©2018 Ken Puls
Music ©Public Domain

Download the lyrics and free sheet music for this hymn, including an arrangement of the tune CLEANSING FOUNTAIN for classical guitar.

More Hymns and Songs from Ken Puls Music

More Hymn tunes arranged for classical guitar

The Plain of Ease

Then Christian and Hopeful outwent them again, and went till they came to a delicate plain called Ease, where they went with much content; but that plain was but narrow, so they were quickly got over it.

The Plain of Ease

Have you ever wondered: Why does life have to be so hard? Admittedly, we are sinners living in a fallen world. But we have come to Christ whose “yoke is easy” and whose “burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). So why does “the way which leads to life” have to be “difficult” (Matthew 7:14)? Why do we have to walk through so many troubles and trials in this world?

Many times in The Pilgrim’s Progress Bunyan has made it clear that the life of a Christian is not easy. Already Christian has faced many difficulties. We have seen him weighed down with his burden, mired in the Slough of Despond, diverted by Worldly Wiseman, slowed by Hill Difficulty, confronted by Apollyon, confounded in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and tried in the town of Vanity. Now Christian and Hopeful come to the Plain of Ease. Here the Way is simple and they walk “with much content.” At this place in the allegory Bunyan emphasizes his point through brevity. All too quickly the pilgrims cross the plain and it is past.

The Plain of Ease represents times in life when all seems well and troubles are few. Spiritual warfare is at an ebb and peace and contentment abound. God grants such times for our rest and refreshment, but even with ease there is attending danger. Bunyan identifies this danger in his description of the plain.

The plain of Ease is delicate. In other words, it is subtle, not prominent. When crossing the plain, the plain itself is hardly perceptible. Unlike trials and troubles that disrupt our lives and demand our attention, ease doesn’t intrude or interrupt. Ease leaves us alone to settle in and relax in our comforts.

The plain is also narrow. It is short-lived and quickly traversed. Days of ease are fleeting—gone before we really notice them or appreciate them. It is easy to drift through days of ease. Our determination wanes, our guard comes down, and too easily we begin to forget just how much we need God.

Scripture exhorts us to remember:

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits.
(Psalm 103:2)

Remember His marvelous works which He has done,
His wonders, and the judgments of His mouth,
(Psalm 105:5)

In Deuteronomy Moses warned Israel not to forget God when they enjoyed the ease and comforts of the Promised Land.

“So it shall be, when the Lord your God brings you into the land of which He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give you large and beautiful cities which you did not build, houses full of all good things, which you did not fill, hewn-out wells which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant—when you have eaten and are full—then beware, lest you forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage” (Deuteronomy 6:10–12).

We are always desperately dependent upon God for His grace and mercy. But in times of ease we can too easily forget our dependence on God and fail to thank Him for His mercies as we should. In times of trouble when the way is steep and hard, our need is more evident. Because the Plain of Ease is delicate, God, in His mercy, often makes it narrow.

The subtlety of ease is a danger. But there is another danger that lies close to ease. In the next post, we will examine a second hazard that threatens the pilgrims: a little hill at the further side of the plain called Lucre.

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.

How Dear and Treasured Is the Church

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. … Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:13, 19–22).

The church is dear to Christ! He shed His blood and laid down His life that we might be brought near to God. He made us “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” We are “a holy temple in the Lord” with “Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.” We are “being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” In times of joy we celebrate together and lift our voices in praise. In times of sorrow we walk together and lift up each other in our prayers. We proclaim God’s Word and magnify Christ to the world: His great worth and our great need of Him.

Many in our day fail to see the value of the church. We are too quick to leave or stay away when difficulties arise. In times of disappointment we may be tempted to give up on the church. But we have reason to stay and press on. Commitment to God’s Word compels us. The magnitude of our mission convinces us. Sound theology steadies us. Troubles and trials, as we walk through them together, will teach us and anchor us more firmly in the grace and mercy of God. May God help us to love the church as He does.

How dear and treasured is the church!

pillar of the truth

“if I delay, [I write so that] you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).

How dear and treasured is the church,
With voices joined in praise and prayers,
For God has made us one in Christ,
To share our sorrows, joys and cares.

Entrusted with the truth of God,
Called out to make the gospel known,
We boldly as His church proclaim:
There’s grace and hope in Christ alone!

God fashions us as living stones;
Assembled as His dwelling place.
Though we were dead, He gives us life,
Each soul a miracle of grace.

Built as a buttress of the truth,
A pillar rising to the sky,
God sets His church before the world,
His Word and name to magnify.

To all the world we testify,
Our lives display in word and deed
The matchless worth of knowing Christ,
The boundless depth of our great need.

Brought near to God by Christ’s shed blood,
Loved and adopted as His own,
A household built upon the Word,
With Christ Himself the Cornerstone.

Built on this Rock, the church will stand,
The gates of hell shall not prevail,
All who are Christ’s shall be raised up,
The Word of God will never fail.

Words ©2017 Ken Puls

Download the lyrics and free sheet music for this hymn, including an arrangement of the tune ERHALT UNS HERR for classical guitar.

More Hymns and Songs from Ken Puls Music

Trial in Vanity Fair

Then a convenient time being appointed, they brought them forth to their trial, in order to their condemnation. When the time was come, they were brought before their enemies and arraigned. The judge’s name was Lord Hate-good. Their indictment was one and the same in substance, though somewhat varying in form, the contents whereof were this:

“That they were enemies to and disturbers of their trade; that they had made commotions and divisions in the town, and had won a party to their own most dangerous opinions, in contempt of the law of their prince.”

Then Faithful began to answer, that he had only set himself against that which hath set itself against Him that is higher than the highest. And, said he, as for disturbance, I make none, being myself a man of peace; the parties that were won to us, were won by beholding our truth and innocence, and they are only turned from the worse to the better. And as to the king you talk of, since he is Beelzebub, the enemy of our Lord, I defy him and all his angels.

Now, FAITHFUL, play the man, speak for thy God:
Fear not the wicked’s malice; nor their rod:
Speak boldly, man, the truth is on thy side:
Die for it, and to life in triumph ride.

Lord Hate-GoodIn many ways The Pilgrim’s Progress is a retelling of John Bunyan’s own pilgrimage as he escaped destruction to find eternal life. His journey was not easy. Throughout his ministry he faced many hardships for the sake of the gospel, including persecution and imprisonment. Now in Vanity Fair we read of Christian and Faithful enduring persecution and imprisonment. They are brought before the judge, Lord Hate-good, to face the indictment against them. As Faithful begins his defense, Bunyan’s own resolve to stand up for truth before his accusers can be heard. Cheever notes:

Now came on the trial. And here again, as in every part of the allegory, Bunyan’s own experience served him in good stead; here again he draws his picture from real life, from his own life. Little could he have thought, when a few years ago, amidst the taunts of his enemies, he himself stood at the bar to be examined for the crime of preaching the gospel, that the providence of God was then laying up in store materials of human life and character to be used with such powerful effect in his then unconceived imagined allegory. These phases of a world at enmity against God were indelibly impressed on Bunyan’s mind; and now, in all the freshness of their coloring, he transferred them to the tablets of the Pilgrim’s Progress. (from Lectures on The Pilgrim’s Progress by G.B. Cheever)

Christian and Faithful are described in the indictment as enemies, disturbers of the peace and law-breakers. They are accused of dividing the town, swaying some to accept their views, and speaking against the established traditions and laws of the fair. As Faithful answers the charges in the indictment, he tries to make clear that he only desires what is right for the glory of God and for the good of the town:

  • He is not set against the town or its people—their souls are of value
  • He is only set against that which is opposed to “Him that is higher than the highest” — it is better “to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29)
  • He did not come to bring trouble or disturbance to the town—He is a man of peace (2 Timothy 2:2)
  • He did come speaking truth—He spoke God’s Word

Those in the town who aligned themselves with Christian and Faithful did so because they saw the truth and believed the pilgrims to be innocent. Faithful notes that “they are only turned from the worse to the better.” It is always right and good to be on the side of truth.

Faithful is willing to stand for the truth, though it may cost him his life. He recognizes that the town is under seize in a spiritual battle. He defies principalities and powers that would keep the town in darkness and bondage. Though scorned and beaten down by oppressors, he is not discouraged, but emboldened. Though cursed by the world, he is blessed by his Lord. Jesus taught those who are scorned and reviled for His sake to respond with joy, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10–12).

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.

Run in with Discontent

Christian: But pray tell me, did you meet nobody in the Valley of Humility?

Faithful: Yes, I met with one Discontent, who would willingly have persuaded me to go back again with him; his reason was, for that the valley was altogether without honor. He told me, moreover, that there to go was the way to disobey all my friends, as Pride, Arrogancy, Self-Conceit, Worldly-Glory, with others, who he knew, as he said, would be very much offended, if I made such a fool of myself as to wade through this valley.

Christian: Well, and how did you answer him?

Faithful: I told him, that although all these that he named might claim kindred of me, and that rightly, for indeed they were my relations according to the flesh; yet since I became a pilgrim, they have disowned me, as I also have rejected them; and therefore they were to me now no more than if they had never been of my lineage.

I told him, moreover, that as to this valley, he had quite misrepresented the thing; for before honor is humility, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Therefore, said I, I had rather go through this valley to the honor that was so accounted by the wisest, than choose that which he esteemed most worthy our affections.

Faithful now begins to describe his experience in the Valley of Humiliation. This valley is where Christian fought and defeated Apollyon. Faithful, however, meets another foe. He encounters Discontent, who tries to persuade him to go back and not attempt to cross the valley.

The purpose of the Valley of Humiliation is to help us see the depth of our sin against God and the greatness of our need for salvation. God brings us to the valley for our good, to prune away our pride, to humble us and to increase our love for Christ. Both Christian and Faithful had to confront their pride in this valley. We saw earlier in the allegory that Christian was prone to think too highly of himself. He was pleased with his progress and desirous of reward and recognition. He let slip from his mind the reality that his progress thus far was by God’s grace alone. And so when he went down into the Valley of Humiliation, his pride gave him the “slips.”

DiscontentFaithful, however was not as far along as he had hoped. He had been slowed and wearied by his struggles on Hill Difficulty. Now he was even more resolved to move ahead. He did not even stop at Palace Beautiful for the benefit of his own soul and others. Instead of seeking refreshment and assistance, he pressed on to gain more ground. Now as he descends into the valley, he is tempted to be dissatisfied with his progress. And so he is joined by an unwelcome companion, “one Discontent.”

Discontent tries to convince Faithful that the way of humility will be ruinous to his reputation. He will be scorned and ridiculed by the world. Discontent would have him give up and go back rather than appear weak and admit his need for grace and help. But Faithful, because of his recent trials, knew afresh of the mercies of God. When he was fallen on the Hill, he was raised up in the strength of the Lord. He now has his eyes on glory and has an answer to fend off discontentment.

Faithful tells Discontent that at one time he was indeed friends with Pride, Arrogancy, Self-Conceit and Worldly-Glory. These friends represent the world’s way of finding contentment and satisfaction. The world measures contentment by what we think of ourselves and by what others think of us. It finds humility to be demeaning and foolish. In the world’s eyes we can only be satisfied when we look good to ourselves and to others, not when we admit ourselves to be needy or down trodden.

When Faithful followed Christ, his former friends disowned him, and he rejected them. Faithful chose to be like Christ who “made Himself of no reputation” and took “the form of a bondservant.” Jesus came “in the likeness of men” and “humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:7–8). Faithful chose to believe God’s Word rather than the advice of his friends. He quotes from Proverbs where God warns against pride and commends humility.

Pride goes before destruction,
And a haughty spirit before a fall.
(Proverbs 16:18)

Before destruction the heart of a man is haughty,
And before honor is humility.
(Proverbs 18:12)

A man’s pride will bring him low,
But the humble in spirit will retain honor.
(Proverbs 29:23)

God will bring down the proud, but will save the humble.

For You will save the humble people,
But will bring down haughty looks.
(Psalm 18:27)

God will destroy the slanderer, but His eye is on the faithful.

Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor,
Him I will destroy;
The one who has a haughty look and a proud heart,
Him I will not endure.
My eyes shall be on the faithful of the land,
That they may dwell with me;
He who walks in a perfect way,
He shall serve me.
(Psalm 101:5–6)

Discontent can be a pesky companion. We invite his company when we are tempted to find our joy and satisfaction in something or someone other than Christ. Discontent seeks out those who reject Christ and those who try to find fulfillment in the things of this world. But he also finds those who attempt to follow Christ with wrong expectations and misplaced desires.

If you come to Christ with the expectation that being a Christian will solve all the problems in your marriage, or make you successful in your job, or give you prosperity and privilege in this life, then you can expect to have Discontent as your frequent companion. Why? Because Christ never promises that your marriage will be free from troubles, or that you will be rewarded in your business, or that you will achieve affluence and ease in this world. In fact, following Christ often brings more suffering and trials in this life. God uses our troubles and difficulties to sanctify us and draw us closer to Him. We need the strength and mercies of God every day and every moment, but we are prone to forget and trust too much in ourselves. Our trials and troubles humble us and graciously remind us of our need for a Savior. They prevent us from making the terrible mistake of believing we can make it through this life on our own.

Paul understood that true contentment is not found in our expectations being met or circumstances going our way; it is only found in Christ. The way to shake off Discontent is to anchor our satisfaction in Him alone. Paul learned to be content regardless of his condition or circumstances. He tells the church in Philippi:

But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:10–13).

People, possessions, plans and pursuits will all disappoint us in the end. Only Christ truly satisfies. Paul testified:

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 (Philippians 3:7–8).

If we have Christ, we have all we need. Our song will be:

Hallelujah! All I have is Christ
Hallelujah, Jesus is my life!
(from “All I Have Is Christ” by Jordan Kauflin)

If we understand that having Christ is more valuable than anything this life can offer, and that an eternity with Him makes it worth enduring all the pain and suffering and hardship this life can set in our way, then we will find true contentment. We will know as Paul did how to be abased and how to abound. This life is only a vapor; eternity is forever. Faithful understood that he was on a pilgrimage to the Celestial City. The only smile and favor he desired was that of his Lord.

I cannot be poor if I am in Christ
In Him I am full and abound
Though everything else should all pass away
I’m rich if in Him I am found

It is enough that I am in Christ
Enough that His mercy I see
It is enough that I taste of His grace
Enough that His love has found me

Pursue not this world, its wisdom and ways
Contentment eludes those who try
For all in this world is fading away
And soon will all wither and die

It is enough that I am in Christ
Enough that His mercy I see
It is enough that I taste of His grace
Enough that His love has found me
(from “It Is Enough” by Ken Puls)

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

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2015 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

What to Say in the Last Lines of a Worship Song

The Last Measure

What’s the best way to end a worship song? What should we say or sing in those last lines? We know endings are important. That final statement that punctuates our prayer or praise in singing should be thoughtful and purposeful. So what is the expected end—joy, glory, heaven, hope?

And what about sad and solemn songs? How should they end? As Christians we can certainly sing in a minor key. We live in a fallen word. Our songs not only express the joy and delight of knowing Christ, they also sound the more somber tones of sin and suffering. We sing in minor, but we don’t like to end in minor. We like our songs to end on high notes with positive lyrics and major chords. You can even find in music history a technique used by songwriters to strengthen the harmonic resolution of the final chord and create a happier ending. The Picardy Third is the use or substitution of a major chord, especially at the end of a piece of music, where a minor chord would be expected.

On the one hand it make sense to end with the brighter sounds of major. As followers of Christ, we see past the crumbling and broken promises of this fallen world to the sure and certain promises of God in His Word. We look beyond the strife and struggles of this life and rest in the joy and hope of knowing Christ. We have been rescued from sin and despair. Because we have a Savior we are bound for glory and destined for praise.

Many of the psalms highlight this upward trajectory. They orient us to look away from our own distress and sorrows and up to the glory and joys of belonging to God. Though they begin with pleading and lamentation, they end with hope and praise. For example, David opens Psalm 16 with a prayer: “Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.” But he ends rejoicing in verse 11: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” The book of Psalms as a whole crescendos and culminates in praise. We reach the pinnacle with the command in the final verse of the Psalms:

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!
(Psalm 150:6)

Yet not all of the psalms follow this anticipated climb. Some make unpredicted turns and go down unforeseen paths. When you survey the 150 psalms, though blessing and praise predominate, you find a variety of endings:

  • 43 psalms end with praise and thanksgiving to God
  • 31 psalms end with God’s blessings for His people (salvation, peace, unity, goodness, mercy, joy…)
  • 11 psalms end by telling or declaring who God is
  • 9 psalms end with an exhortation (be strong, wait for the Lord, hope in the Lord) or a commitment (to seek the good of God’s people)
  • 24 psalms end with prayer or pleading (for justice, deliverance, salvation, strength, peace, blessing…)
  • 12 psalms end with words of warning about judgment on the wicked
  • 9 psalms end by contrasting judgment on the wicked with blessings for the righteous
  • 7 psalms end with triumph over evil and enemies
  • 4 psalms end with lament or complaint

Songwriters can learn much from a study of the psalms. The psalms are Scripture’s songbook for worship. They instruct us how to pray and praise God through music. They teach us how to craft and use lyrics in creative and intentional ways to communicate truth.

Sometimes the psalmist may take a surprising turn in order to make a profound point. A good example of this is Psalm 12. David begins with a prayer: “Save, O LORD, for the godly one is gone; for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man” (Psalms 12:1). He cries out in the midst of crisis for the Lord to save. In verse 5 the Lord answers saying, “I will now arise” and “I will place him in the safety for which he longs.” In verses 6–7 we see that place of safety:

The words of the LORD are pure words,
like silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
purified seven times.
You, O LORD, will keep them;
You will guard us from this generation forever.
(Psalm 12:6–7)

The place of safety is the Word of God. David can rest in knowing that all God has promised is certain and true. Though the day seems dark, God will fulfill His Word.

The psalm then ends in 12:8 with a final verse. So how would you expect this psalm to end? What would you sing in those last lines? You might choose words that exhort God’s people to believe and trust in God’s Word. Or perhaps you would conclude with praise and thanksgiving to God for His Word or for salvation. These types of endings are certainly found in the psalms. But David does something different, something not expected. He ends the psalm with sober, even distressing words:

On every side the wicked prowl,
as vileness is exalted among the children of men.
(Psalm 12:8)

C. H. Spurgeon refers to this verse as a “return to the fount of bitterness, which first made the Psalmist run to the wells of salvation.” The ending is unexpected, but David crafts his words intentionally to underscore an important truth. The overwhelming circumstances that grieved him at the beginning of the psalm have not changed. The trouble still exists. But what has changed is David’s outlook. He has been brought back to the Word of God. God does not always deliver us from our suffering. Our circumstances may not change. Troubles may still arise and threaten us. Yet God Word always remains true. It is our place of safety.

Read a full exposition here of Psalm 12: A Place of Safety

So what is the best way for a worship song to end? The psalms demonstrate that we need not always end with upbeat praise and soaring sounds. There are many possibilities and there are times when the unexpected ending may be the better choice. So learn from the psalms. Aim for praise; it is after all the ultimate finale of our songs and our lives. But give thought to your options. Don’t forget final words of pleading, warning and rebuke. Don’t neglect last lines that express godly fear, repentance and awe. And don’t avoid the inevitable cadences of lament and grief. For our music to ring true to God’s Word and to our experience as we walk in the light of His Word, we need the joys and the sorrows. We are pressing on to glory and praise, but there are most certainly times along the way when it is fitting to sing and even end with somber tones and sober thoughts.

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.

Pope and Pagan

In this light, therefore, he came to the end of the valley. Now I saw in my dream, that at the end of this valley lay blood, bones, ashes, and mangled bodies of men, even of pilgrims that had gone this way formerly; and while I was musing what should be the reason, I espied a little before me a cave, where two giants, POPE and PAGAN, dwelt in old time; by whose power and tyranny the men whose bones, blood, and ashes, &c., lay there, were cruelly put to death. But by this place Christian went without much danger, whereat I somewhat wondered; but I have learnt since, that PAGAN has been dead many a day; and as for the other, though he be yet alive, he is, by reason of age, and also of the many shrewd brushes that he met with in his younger days, grown so crazy and stiff in his joints, that he can now do little more than sit in his cave’s mouth, grinning at pilgrims as they go by, and biting his nails because he cannot come at them.

So I saw that Christian went on his way; yet, at the sight of the Old Man that sat in the mouth of the cave, he could not tell what to think, especially because he spoke to him, though he could not go after him, saying, “You will never mend till more of you be burned.” But he held his peace, and set a good face on it, and so went by and caught no hurt. Then sang Christian:

O world of wonders! (I can say no less),
That I should be preserved in that distress
That I have met with here! O blessed be
That hand that from it hath deliver’d me!
Dangers in darkness, devils, hell, and sin
Did compass me, while I this vale was in:
Yea, snares, and pits, and traps, and nets, did lie
My path about, that worthless, silly I
Might have been catch’d, entangled, and cast down;
But since I live, let JESUS wear the crown.

Pope and PaganNear the end of the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Christian sees strewn across the Way “blood, bones, ashes, and mangled bodies of men, even pilgrims that had gone this way formerly.” This horrific scene is the testimony of the persecuted church, those who have endured pain and trial for their faith in Christ and their stand for truth. The writer of Hebrews reminds us of those who have suffered and gained “a good testimony through faith.”

And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again.

Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.
And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 11:32 – 12:2).

The testimony of faithful believers is an encouragement for us to press on and keep our eyes fixed upon Christ. Bunyan was aware of the cost of following Christ. He was imprisoned for his faith, even as he was writing The Pilgrim’s Progress. His faith encouraged others, and he drew encouragement from those who had suffered before him. During his imprisonment at Bedford, his two possessions were his Bible and a copy of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.

As Christian wonders at the ghastly sight before him, he sees a cave nearby. The cave represents the religious situation in England in Bunyan’s day and is home to some of the giants who menace pilgrims who seek the Celestial City. There are seven giants mentioned in The Pilgrim’s Progress (both Part 1 and Part 2) and each represents a great danger to believers. [*]

The first dweller in the cave was Pagan. England was formally a place of paganism with no light of the Gospel. Then Pope moved in and eventually Pagan died out. Giant Pope represents the Roman Catholic Church that sent missionaries to England and converted the land to its traditions. Both of these giants have been responsible for persecuting pilgrims and sending many to their death.

In Bunyan’s day, following the Protestant Reformation, with the rise of the Commonwealth and influence of the Puritans in England, the Roman Church had grown weak. Christian sees old Giant Pope sitting near the mouth of the cave taunting him as he goes past, but unable to cause him any harm. Though once powerful and formidable, the giant is now weak and feeble.

In Part 2 Pope no longer inhabits the cave and another giant, named Maul, has taken his place. Maul represents Anglicanism. He has a club that represents political power—power granted to the Church of England by the monarchy. With the club he gives blows to those who will not conform to his ways. Those blows took the form of laws passed between 1661 and 1671 in England designed to legalize persecution and suppress all meetings for non-conformists. Maul is defeated in Part 2 by Great Heart (an allusion to the Declaration of Liberty in 1672 and Act of Toleration in 1689).

Christian’s progress even in the face of giants is a reminder of God’s ultimate power and sovereignty over all our trials. God’s plan and purposes are always good, and they include every trial as well as every triumph. It is through trials that our faith is strengthened and our deliverance is made sweet. The Valley of the Shadow of Death was dark and difficult, yet Christian learned to trust God more fully and now leaves the valley with praises and singing. May God grant us such grace that we would learn to trust and praise Him in and through every trial.

* The seven giants in Bunyan’s allegory are Pagan, Pope and Maul (these three made their home in the cave), Despair and his wife Diffidence (whom Christian will encounter later in Part 1 at Doubting Castle), Slay-good (who terrorizes the land near the Inn of Gaius in Part 2), and Grim or Bloody-man (who lurks near Palace Beautiful in Part 2).

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.