Tag Archives: Trials

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.

The Light of Day

And by and by the day broke; then said Christian, He has turned “the shadow of death into the morning.”

Now morning being come, he looked back, not out of desire to return, but to see, by the light of the day, what hazards he had gone through in the dark. So he saw more perfectly the ditch that was on the one hand, and the mire that was on the other; also how narrow the way was which led between them both; also now he saw the hobgoblins, and satyrs, and dragons of the pit, but all afar off, (for after break of day, they came not nigh;) yet they were discovered to him, according to that which is written, “He discovers deep things out of darkness, and brings out to light the shadow of death.”

Now was Christian much affected with his deliverance from all the dangers of his solitary way; which dangers, though he feared them more before, yet he saw them more clearly now, because the light of the day made them conspicuous to him. And about this time the sun was rising, and this was another mercy to Christian; for you must note, that though the first part of the Valley of the Shadow of Death was dangerous, yet this second part which he was yet to go, was, if possible, far more dangerous; for from the place where he now stood, even to the end of the valley, the way was all along set so full of snares, traps, gins, and nets here, and so full of pits, pitfalls, deep holes, and shelvings down there, that, had it now been dark, as it was when he came the first part of the way, had he had a thousand souls, they had in reason been cast away; but, as I said just now, the sun was rising. Then said he, “His candle shines upon my head, and by his light I walk through darkness.”

The Light of Day

Christian has had a long and difficult journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, but now the dawn is breaking. After being oppressed and confounded in the darkness, he welcomes the light of day with praise to God. He quotes from the book of Amos, acknowledging that God is the One who is sovereign over night and day, over darkness as well as light.

He made the Pleiades and Orion;
He turns the shadow of death into morning
And makes the day dark as night;
He calls for the waters of the sea
And pours them out on the face of the earth;
The Lord is His name
(Amos 5:8)

It is God who graciously sends the light:

Unto the upright there arises light in the darkness;
He is gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous.
(Psalm 112:4)

And exposes and uncovers the darkness.

He uncovers deep things out of darkness,
And brings the shadow of death to light.
(Job 12:22)

In Bunyan’s allegory the light represents the Word of God:

Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path.
(Psalm 119:105)

We are called to heed this Word as we walk through this dark world:

And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts (2 Peter 1:19).

Early in his pilgrimage Christian was taught to prize and seek the light. When Evangelist first pointed Christian to the Wicket Gate (representing Christ as the Way to life), Christian could not yet see the Gate. Evangelist then directed him to “yonder Shining Light” (representing the Word of God). It is by God’s revealed Word that we see clearly the Way to salvation. It is God’s Word that points us to Christ, who is the Word made flesh (John 1:14) and the true Light of the world (John 1:9). When Isaiah prophesied of the coming of Jesus, he described it as the dawning of day across a land shrouded in the shadow of death:

The people who walked in darkness
Have seen a great light;
Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death,
Upon them a light has shined.
(Isaiah 9:2)

Isaiah’s refrain is echoed in the song of Zacharias when the prophecy is fulfilled at Jesus’ birth:

Through the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us;
To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.
(Luke 1:78–79)

If we are to find peace and hope in this life, we must find Christ. There is nothing more valuable as we face the darkness of this world than laying hold of Christ in His Word. In Christ there is life and light. In Christ we have nothing to fear. He is our strength and salvation.

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?
(Psalm 27:1)

Throughout The Pilgrim’s Progress Bunyan has emphasized the necessity of reading and heeding God’s Word. The story opens with Christian reading his Book in a field, where it warned him to flee from the wrath to come. He was directed to follow its light as he sought a way of escape from Destruction. He heard valuable lessons for his journey when the Word was opened to him at the House of the Interpreter. He was taught to wield the Word as his sword in the armory of Palace Beautiful.

Now as light dawns in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Bunyan highlights the importance of God’s Word for navigating the trials and temptations of this life. In the story, as the sun is rising, Christian gains a better perspective of what lies behind him as well as lies before him. He can better see the difficult trials he has just experienced and the dangers from which God has protected him. And he can better discern and anticipate what might lie ahead. The light gives him the advantage. In the light the fiends of the valley are driven back.

Likewise, in the light of God’s Word, we are better able to make sense of previous trials. And we are better prepared to face new trials. The light allows us to see the true nature of sin and temptation. In the light sin loses its power to allure and confuse us. We see it as abhorrent and conspicuous. In the light we see the ploys and perils of sin. We can better steer clear and avoid its entanglement. In the light we see the charm of this world fade and grow dim, outshined by the beauty and splendor of Christ. Nothing that sin or this world can offer us will ever compare to the joy of knowing Him. We need God’s Word to keep the light of Christ shining brightly on our path.

The light of day makes Christian both thankful and careful. He is grateful for all that God has brought him through and vigilant to stay clear of snares that would draw him away and threaten his soul. The Way is filled with danger. And even greater dangers lie ahead for Christian. But in God’s mercy the sun is rising and Christian can see the Way forward. As he presses on he recounts with Job “the days when God watched over me; when His lamp shone upon my head, and when by His light I walked through darkness” (Job 29:2–3).
May God help us always to seek and walk in the light of His Word:

Oh, send out Your light and Your truth!
Let them lead me;
Let them bring me to Your holy hill
And to Your tabernacle.
(Psalm 43:3)

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.

Christian Confounded

About the midst of this valley, I perceived the mouth of hell to be, and it stood also hard by the wayside. Now, thought Christian, what shall I do? And ever and anon the flame and smoke would come out in such abundance, with sparks and hideous noises, (things that cared not for Christian’s sword, as did Apollyon before), that he was forced to put up his sword, and betake himself to another weapon called All-prayer. So he cried in my hearing, “O Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul!” Thus he went on a great while, yet still the flames would be reaching towards him. Also he heard doleful voices, and rushings to and fro, so that sometimes he thought he should be torn in pieces, or trodden down like mire in the streets. This frightful sight was seen, and these dreadful noises were heard by him for several miles together; and, coming to a place where he thought he heard a company of fiends coming forward to meet him, he stopped, and began to muse what he had best to do. Sometimes he had half a thought to go back; then again he thought he might be half way through the valley; he remembered also how he had already vanquished many a danger, and that the danger of going back might be much more than for to go forward; so he resolved to go on. Yet the fiends seemed to come nearer and nearer; but when they were come even almost at him, he cried out with a most vehement voice, “I will walk in the strength of the Lord God!” so they gave back, and came no further.

One thing I would not let slip. I took notice that now poor Christian was so confounded, that he did not know his own voice; and thus I perceived it. Just when he was come over against the mouth of the burning pit, one of the wicked ones got behind him, and stepped up softly to him, and whisperingly suggested many grievous blasphemies to him, which he verily thought had proceeded from his own mind. This put Christian more to it than anything that he met with before, even to think that he should now blaspheme him that he loved so much before; yet, if he could have helped it, he would not have done it; but he had not the discretion either to stop his ears, or to know from whence these blasphemies came.

When Christian had traveled in this disconsolate condition some considerable time, he thought he heard the voice of a man, as going before him, saying, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.”

Then he was glad, and that for these reasons:

First, Because he gathered from thence, that some who feared God were in this valley as well as himself.

Secondly, For that he perceived God was with them, though in that dark and dismal state; and why not, thought he, with me? though, by reason of the impediment that attends this place, I cannot perceive it.

Thirdly, For that he hoped, could he overtake them, to have company by and by. So he went on, and called to him that was before; but he knew not what to answer; for that he also thought to be alone.

Christian ConfoundedAs Christian continues his dark journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, his trouble only deepens. When he reaches the middle of the valley he comes near the mouth of hell and here he is tormented with voices of terror and temptation. He feels threatened and senses that both fiends (alluring him into sin) and flames (threatening him with judgment) are coming after him.
Christian is so confounded that he is no longer able to wield his sword. There is nothing identifiable in his thinking upon which he can bring truth to bear. And so he turns to another weapon of spiritual warfare: All-Prayer.

… 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 6:18).

He cries out to the Lord with the words of Psalm 116:4

Then I called upon the name of the LORD:
“O LORD, I implore You, deliver my soul!”
(Psalm 116:4)

Oppression so overwhelms him that he finds himself perplexed and unsure how to proceed. He considers going back, but then remembers how far he has already come. He has already seen victories over sin and Satan. Going back would likely be more dangerous than pressing forward. Retreat would only set him on the path toward dangers and snares he had already passed. Christian’s resolve is to take courage and press on. Though he is no match for the valley in his own cunning and power, he is determined to “walk in the strength of the Lord God.”

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might (Ephesians 6:10).

Bunyan describes the valley as dark and confusing. Christian hears voices whispering blasphemies and temptations, but their source is uncertain. He becomes so confused that he even begins to doubt his own testimony and can’t recognize his own voice. In the Valley of Humiliation the enemy was clear. Apollyon stood against him and Christian stood his ground. But now in this valley the enemy is unclear and clandestine. When Christian searches for his foe, it appears to be within his own mind, maybe even himself. He is perplexed and grieved that he could be thinking such wicked thoughts.

This was Bunyan’s testimony as he sought to follow Christ. He describes his own dark days in his autobiography, Grace Abounding, how he was assaulted by discontent and blasphemous thoughts:

For, about the space of a month after, a very great storm came down upon me, which handled me twenty times worse than all I had met with before; it came stealing upon me, now by one piece, then by another: First, all my comfort was taken from me; then darkness seized upon me; after which, whole floods of blasphemies, both against God, Christ, and the scriptures, were poured upon my spirit, to my great confusion and astonishment. These blasphemous thoughts were such as stirred up questions in me against the very being of God, and of His only beloved Son: As, whether there were in truth, a God or Christ? And whether the Holy Scriptures were not rather a fable, and cunning story, than the holy and pure word of God?
[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 96]

Like Christian in The Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan was fearful and distressed that such terrible thoughts would come from within himself.

Now I thought, surely I am possessed of the devil: at other times, again, I thought I should be bereft of my wits; for instead of lauding and magnifying God the Lord, with others, if I have but heard Him spoken of, presently some most horrible blasphemous thought or other would bolt out of my heart against Him; so that whether I did think that God was, or again did think there was no such thing, no love, nor peace, nor gracious disposition could I feel within me.

These things did sink me into very deep despair; for I concluded that such things could not possibly be found amongst them that loved God. I often, when these temptations had been with force upon me, did compare myself to the case of such a child, whom some gipsy hath by force took up in her arms, and is carrying from friend and country. Kick sometimes I did, and also shriek and cry; but yet I was bound in the wings of the temptation, and the wind would carry me away. I thought also of Saul, and of the evil spirit that did possess him: and did greatly fear that my condition was the same with that of his (1 Samuel 10).
[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 101–102]

Bunyan doubted his own faith and mistakenly believed that he was alone in his struggle against sin and the devil.

And now my heart was, at times, exceeding hard; if I would have given a thousand pounds for a tear, I could not shed one: no nor sometimes scarce desire to shed one. I was much dejected, to think that this would be my lot. I saw some could mourn and lament their sin; and others again, could rejoice and bless God for Christ; and others again, could quietly talk of, and with gladness remember the word of God; while I only was in the storm or tempest. This much sunk me, I thought my condition was alone, I should therefore much bewail my hard hap, but get out of, or get rid of these things, I could not.

While this temptation lasted, which was about a year, I could attend upon none of the ordinances of God, but with sore and great affliction. Yea, then I was most distressed with blasphemies. If I had been hearing the word, then uncleanness, blasphemies and despair would hold me a captive there: if I have been reading, then sometimes I had sudden thoughts to question all I read: sometimes again, my mind would be so strangely snatched away, and possessed with other things, that I have neither known, nor regarded, nor remembered so much as the sentence that but now I have read.
[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 105–106]

One of Satan’s great ploys is to make us feel unique in our sin and isolated in our suffering. No one can understand what we are facing; no one can possibly bear the sorrows we are carrying; no one can think what we are thinking and be a true follower of Jesus! But God’s Word teaches us otherwise:

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 10:13).

One of God’s great gifts is to give us brothers and sisters in the faith to walk with us and encourage us. As Christian walks downcast through the valley, he hears ahead of him the voice of another pilgrim quoting the Word of God.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
(Psalm 23:4)

This makes Christian glad for three reasons:

1. He realizes that he is not alone in the valley. Others are facing the same trials and temptations as he, and are trusting in God for help and comfort.

2. He realizes that God is with him and watching over him even though he cannot perceive it. Job says of God:

He does great things past finding out,
Yes, wonders without number.
If He goes by me, I do not see Him;
If He moves past, I do not perceive Him
(Job 9:10–11)

We don’t have to be alert and aware for God to be at work. Even when we are confounded and dismayed, He is still sovereign and in control. Even when we are downcast and uncertain, He remains strong and faithful.

3. Christian realizes that a fellow pilgrim is close by. He can gain the blessing of company and consolation if he can meet up with his brother. Christian calls out to get the other’s attention, but hears no answer. The other pilgrim is yet out of sight and believes himself to be alone in the valley as well.

The Valley of the Shadow of Death teaches us an important lesson about the Christian life. It is possible for believers, who are following the Way and walking according to God’s will, to go through dark and difficult days. They may go through times, even seasons, of severe oppression and trial. The valley can be long. Christian plods on for “several miles” and is disconsolate “for some considerable time.” How are we to follow Christ when the days are dark and we are so confounded and perplexed, we don’t know what to do? In those times we must not look to our own strength and understanding. We must walk as Christian, praying always and pressing on in the strength of the Lord. As we walk by faith, trusting in the promises of God’s Word, we will be encouraged. And though we may not see it, in God’s kindness, our perseverance might be an encouragement to others to press on as well.

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.

Into the Valley of the Shadow of Death

Now, at the end of this valley was another, called the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and Christian must needs go through it, because the way to the Celestial City lay through the midst of it. Now, this valley is a very solitary place. The prophet Jeremiah thus describes it: “A wilderness, a land of deserts and of pits, a land of drought, and of the shadow of death, a land that no man” (but a Christian) “passed through, and where no man dwelt.”

Now here Christian was worse put to it than in his fight with Apollyon, as by the sequel you shall see.

I saw then in my dream, that when Christian was got to the borders of the Shadow of Death, there met him two men, children of them that brought up an evil report of the good land, making haste to go back; to whom Christian spoke as follows:

Christian: Whither are you going?

Men: They said, Back! back! And we would have you to do so too, if either life or peace is prized by you.

Christian: Why, what’s the matter? said Christian.

Men: Matter! said they; we were going that way as you are going, and went as far as we durst; and indeed we were almost past coming back; for had we gone a little further, we had not been here to bring the news to thee.

Christian: But what have you met with? said Christian.

Men: Why, we were almost in the Valley of the Shadow of Death; but that, by good hap, we looked before us, and saw the danger before we came to it.

Christian: But what have you seen? said Christian.

Men: Seen! Why, the Valley itself, which is as dark as pitch; we also saw there the hobgoblins, satyrs, and dragons of the pit; we heard also in that Valley a continual howling and yelling, as of a people under unutterable misery, who there sat bound in affliction and irons; and over that Valley hangs the discouraging clouds of confusion. Death also doth always spread his wings over it. In a word, it is every whit dreadful, being utterly without order.

Christian: Then, said Christian, I perceive not yet, by what you have said, but that this is my way to the desired haven.

Men: Be it thy way; we will not choose it for ours. So, they parted, and Christian went on his way, but still with his sword drawn in his hand, for fear lest he should be assaulted.

I saw then in my dream, so far as this valley reached, there was on the right hand a very deep ditch; that ditch is it into which the blind have led the blind in all ages, and have both there miserably perished. Again, behold, on the left hand, there was a very dangerous quag, into which, if even a good man falls, he can find no bottom for his foot to stand on. Into that quag King David once did fall, and had no doubt therein been smothered, had not HE that is able plucked him out.

The pathway was here also exceeding narrow, and therefore good Christian was the more put to it; for when he sought, in the dark, to shun the ditch on the one hand, he was ready to tip over into the mire on the other; also when he sought to escape the mire, without great carefulness he would be ready to fall into the ditch. Thus he went on, and I heard him here sigh bitterly; for, besides the dangers mentioned above, the pathway was here so dark, and ofttimes, when he lift up his foot to set forward, he knew not where or upon what he should set it next.

Valley of the Shadow of DeathNo sooner did Christian come out of one difficult valley than he went down into one much worse. In the Valley of Humiliation Christian faced the reality of his own neediness and sinfulness. He confronted the enemy, Apollyon, the accuser of his soul, and he fought valiantly for truth. But now in the Valley of the Shadow of Death the way has become dark and clouded. The enemy is less clear. In the midst of trial and temptation Christian must face his doubts and fears and uncertainties. This second valley represents the struggles and oppression we face in our pilgrimage when we can no longer see clearly the light of the gospel. Truth is shrouded in darkness. Temptation and sin threaten to cast us down.

As Christian crosses the boundary between the valleys, he meets two men whom Bunyan describes as descendents of the ten spies in Numbers 13 who lacked faith and gave a bad report.

And they gave the children of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, “The land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature” (Numbers 13:32).

Moses had sent twelve to spy out the Promised Land and only Joshua and Caleb had faith that God would conquer the inhabitants and give the land to Israel. The remaining ten were fearful and doubted God’s promise. Their lack of faith infected Israel and for forty years Israel wandered in the wilderness and was prevented from taking possession of the land.

Like the faithless spies, the two men fleeing the valley had turned back in fear and they encourage Christian to do the same. But Christian had learned perseverance on his journey. He saw the lesson in the House of the Interpreter of the Valiant Man determined to gain entrance to the Stately Palace. When he was climbing Hill Difficulty, he met Timorous and Mistrust who were running from the lions. They also encouraged Christian to turn back, yet Christian persevered until he came to Palace Beautiful. Christian understands that if he is to attain eternal life, the way at times will be hard and trying. And now the way has brought Him to the Valley of the Shadow of Death. There is no way around it. “The way to the Celestial City lay through the midst of it” and so “Christian must needs go through it.” There are more lessons for Christian to learn, even as he faces dark and difficult days.

Bunyan describes the valley as “a very solitary place.” Here we feel alone, isolated and even abandoned. No one can possibly understand what we are going through. It seems like God Himself has hidden His face. It is a wilderness full of danger—a place where we are spiritually parched, dry, drained and unsatisfied. Bunyan quotes from Jeremiah’s description of the wilderness where Israel wandered:

Neither did they say, “Where is the LORD,
Who brought us up out of the land of Egypt,
Who led us through the wilderness,
Through a land of deserts and pits,
Through a land of drought and the shadow of death,
Through a land that no one crossed
And where no one dwelt?”
(Jeremiah 2:6)

The path through this valley is narrow. The rocks and cliffs rise up all around blocking out the light. Spurgeon, in his message on Psalm 23:4, offers this description:

Get the idea of a narrow ravine, something like the Gorge of Gondo or some other stern pass upon the higher Alps where the rocks seem piled to Heaven and the sunlight is seen above as through a narrow rift. Troubles are sometimes heaped on one another, pile on pile, and the road is a dreary pass through which the pilgrim, on his journey to Heaven, has to wend his way. Set before your mind’s eye a valley shut in with stupendous rocks that seem to meet overhead, a narrowing pass, dark as midnight itself. Through this valley, or rocky ravine, the heavenly footman has to follow the path appointed for him in the eternal purpose of the Infinite mind. Through such a dreary rift many a child of God is making his way at this moment—and to him I speak (C.H. Spurgeon, “The Valley of the Shadow of Death” a sermon delivered on August 12, 1880, Metropolitan Tabernacle #1595).

It is a place covered in darkness (Job 3:4-5; 10:21-22); a place of misery and danger (Psalm 44:19); a place of bondage and affliction (Psalm 107:10). Bunyan describes some of his own experiences in this valley in Grace Abounding:

Again, as I was at another time very ill and weak, all that time also the tempter did beset me strongly, for I find he is much for assaulting the soul when it begins to approach towards the grave, then is his opportunity, laboring to hide from me my former experience of God’s goodness; also setting before me the terrors of death and the judgment of God, insomuch that at this time, through my fear of miscarrying for ever, should I now die, I was as one dead before death came, and was as if I had felt myself already descending into the pit; methought, I said, there was no way, but to hell I must; but behold, just as I was in the midst of those fears, these words of the angels carrying Lazarus into Abraham’s bosom darted in upon me, as who should say, So it shall be with thee when thou dost leave this world. This did sweetly revive my spirit, and help me to hope in God; which, when I had with comfort mused on a while, that word fell with great weight upon my mind, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1Corinthians 15:55). At this I became both well in body and mind at once, for my sickness did presently vanish, and I walked comfortably in my work for God again.

At another time, though just before I was pretty well and savory in my spirit, yet suddenly there fell upon me a great cloud of darkness, which did so hide from me the things of God and Christ, that I was as if I had never seen or known them in my life; I was also so overrun in my soul, with a senseless, heartless frame of spirit, that I could not feel my soul to move or stir after grace and life by Christ; I was as if my loins were broken, or as if my hands and feet had been tied or bound with chains. At this time also I felt some weakness to seize upon my outward man, which made still the other affliction the more heavy and uncomfortable ‘to me.
[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 260–261]

Bunyan notes that the path through the valley is hemmed in by a ditch on one side and a quag on the other. The ditch represents falling into sinful error. We stumble into its deep chasms when we are blind to the truth and believe what is false, when we fail to recognize and acknowledge sin as sin, when underestimate the power of temptation and treat sin lightly and casually. The quag on the opposite side of the path represents our being overtaken by sin and overwhelmed with doubts and fears and guilt. We sink in its mire when we are beaten down by temptations; when we are weighed down with despair and excessive sorrow; when we feel defeated by struggles and laid low by setbacks. When we try to avoid falling into the ditch by exposing our sins with truth, we are in danger of the quag, being overwhelmed with our exceeding sinfulness. When we try to avoid the quag by silencing our sins with hope of forgiveness, we are in danger of the ditch, being careless in our walk and presumptuous in our obedience. The only safe path through this dark valley is Christ. He is the way and the truth and the life. He keeps us from falling to the right or left. In Him we find forgiveness; the Law no more condemns us. And in Him we find strength to walk in newness of life; the Law is our delight.

David once fell into this quag. He prayed in Psalm 69 when his soul was overwhelmed:

Deliver me out of the mire,
And let me not sink;
Let me be delivered from those who hate me,
And out of the deep waters.
Let not the floodwater overflow me,
Nor let the deep swallow me up;
And let not the pit shut its mouth on me.
(Psalm 69:14-15)

And yet David learned to trust and rest in God, even in dark times. He prayed in Psalm 23:

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
(Psalm 23:4)

We must learn to have faith as David did. We must readily repent of sin and anchor our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We must receive the guidance and discipline of our kind Shepherd. Our path at times can be dark and uncertain. But it is God’s will and purpose that we walk such paths and learn more deeply to trust Him. Though the way may be clouded and unclear, we must press on to glory. Though we may not be able to see even where our next footstep will land, God is faithful and He will lead us safely home.

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 ©2014 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Father Lift Our Eyes in Prayer

Too often when we come to pray, our thoughts are set upon ourselves—on our trials and struggles. We are overly mindful of our limitations and distress. And if we keep our attention fixed on ourselves and our circumstances, our praying can become mired in discouragement and confusion.

It is God’s gracious design, in giving us the wonderful privilege of prayer, to lift our eyes off of us and off of our sometimes bewildering troubles, and fix them upon Him—on His sure character and person—on His sure Word and promises. We dare not linger long surveying our cares and needs. We do better to look through them, above them, and to the very One who work all things for our good and His glory.

The idea for this hymn came during the 1997 Southern Baptist Founders Conference. At that conference Iain Murray preached a series of messages on revival. On Friday evening, July 25, 1997, he concluded his message by speaking of our need for prayer. He admonished us in our prayers not to begin by looking at the world or or to our many needs. We must start by seeing God, knowing Who He is, what He has done, and what He promises to do. Unless we know God, we will not know how to pray.

May God shine the light of His Word upon our prayers.

Light on the Sea

Father, lift our eyes in prayer
We Your glory would behold!
We need light to see Your hand
As Your perfect plan unfolds.
Clearly let us see You, Lord
When we face dismay or loss
In each trial let us see
Not our crisis, but Your cross.

Lord, forgive our selfish prayers
We forget to Whom we pray
And in folly bring advice
Thinking we know best the way
Show us Lord Your perfect will
Help us walk contentedly
You, O Lord, know best the way
None, Lord, can Your couns’lor be.

Teach us, Lord, to know You well
That we might have well to say
Lift our thoughts to meditate
On Your glory as we pray
Do not let our prayers arise
With eyes fixed on want and need
Look beyond, above, and to
Him to Whom we come and plead

Lord, remove our thoughts from self
Warm our words with words Your own
On the Scriptures, set our minds
When in prayer we seek Your throne
That we all may comprehend
Width and length and depth and height!
Fully know the love of Christ!
On our prayers, Lord, shine Your light

Words ©1998, 2014 Ken Puls
Download free sheet music and lyric sheet for this hymn.

Timorous and Mistrust

Now, when he was got up to the top of the hill, there came two men running to meet him amain; the name of the one was Timorous, and of the other, Mistrust; to whom Christian said, Sirs, what’s the matter? You run the wrong way.
Timorous answered, that they were going to the City of Zion, and had got up that difficult place; but, said he, the further we go, the more danger we meet with; wherefore we turned, and are going back again.
Yes, said Mistrust, for just before us lie a couple of lions in the way, whether sleeping or waking we know not, and we could not think, if we came within reach, but they would presently pull us in pieces.
Then said Christian, You make me afraid, but whither shall I fly to be safe? If I go back to mine own country, that is prepared for fire and brimstone, and I shall certainly perish there. If I can get to the Celestial City, I am sure to be in safety there. I must venture. To go back is nothing but death; to go forward is fear of death, and life-everlasting beyond it. I will yet go forward. So Mistrust and Timorous ran down the hill, and Christian went on his way.

As Christian arrives at the top of the Hill, he once again encounters travelers on the Way. Two men, named Timorous and Mistrust, come “running to meet him amain,” that is “with great haste.” But these travelers, Christian observes, are running in the wrong direction. Unlike Simple, Sloth and Presumption, who were intent on staying put, and Formalist and Hypocrisy, who were intent on finding an easier way, these two seem determined to turn and make a rapid retreat.

Timorous and MistrustWhen Christian asks them the reason why they are running away, Timorous explains their terror. They were on the way to Zion, and had even got up the difficult Hill, but the further they went, the more danger they found. So now they “turned, and are going back again.” Mistrust describes the source of their fears. They saw two lions in the way and were convinced that if they continued on, they might be destroyed. The lions, as Christian later discovers, sit along the Way near the entrance to House Beautiful. They are a menace to travelers on the Way, especially those who would seek lodging at the House.

House Beautiful represents the true church, built upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In Bunyan’s day, those who identified themselves with the true Gospel and true church were labeled Dissenters and Nonconformists. They stood in opposition to the established Anglican Church and the civil laws that upheld its authority in the land. The lions represent the combined threat of the civil authorities and the state church to oppress Nonconformists and convince them to renounce their faith and fall in line with regimented religious and social norms.

Throughout the allegory, as in 16th and 17th centuries in England, the lions vary in their behavior: Sometimes they are fierce and menacing, inflicting harassment, fines and imprisonment. Sometimes they are roaring and on the prowl, seeking to devour with torture and death. At other times they are asleep (as Faithful later reports), relaxing and repealing laws and making promises of liberty.

Bunyan experienced some of this oppression firsthand. He was arrested for being a Nonconformist and was imprisoned from 1660 to 1672 and again from 1675 to 1678 (when he wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress). When the monarchy was restored in 1660, Charles II began enacting several laws designed to oppress the Nonconformists and legalize their persecution. These laws were known as the Clarendon Code and included the Act of Uniformity in 1662 (requiring of all church leaders their “unfeigned consent and assent” to the reissued Book of Common Prayer), the Coventicle Act in 1664 (outlawing church services where the Book of Common Prayer was not used, even in homes) and the Five Mile Act in 1665 (outlawing pastors who had been ejected from the state church by forbidding them to come within five miles of a city or town where they had ministered). These and other laws caused many to shrink back and forsake truth in Bunyan’s day.

Timorous (whose name means timid or fearful) and Mistrust (doubtful or wary) represent those who make a start for the Celestial City, but turn back for fear of man, cowering to social and political pressures of the day. Timorous and Mistrust were frightened by the mere sight of the lions (not their roar or aggression). They imagined the worse and fled in cowardice. Part 2 later describes how they came to a terrible end.

Christian was earlier warned of possible peril in standing for truth and the fear it can instill in the hearts of those who embark on the journey to eternal life. In one of the lessons in the House of the Interpreter he was shown a Beautiful Palace. Men in armor stood near the door threatening all who would go in. Outside the palace was a company of men who desired to go in but were afraid. They were unwilling to face the suffering and persecution and trials that come with standing for truth and proclaiming the true Gospel.

Scripture indeed warns us of the reality of suffering and persecution for the sake of the Gospel. Even in Jesus’ day there were some who would not identify themselves with Him for fear of men:

Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God (John 12:42–43).

But Jesus said:

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 (Matthew 5:10–11).

And Jesus warned His disciples that they indeed would face suffering:

But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name’s sake (Luke 21:12).

Paul, who faced much suffering for the sake of the gospel said:

For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake (Philippians 1:29).

Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12).

We have in the United States long enjoyed the blessing of religious freedom. The lions largely have been kept out of the Way. We have not had to fear an oppressive government or state church pressuring and persecuting those who would not conform to its social ideals and religious edicts. But times may be changing. As issues like same-sex marriage and pro-choice come to the forefront and gain more foothold in our culture, the pressures will come (both real and imagined) for the church and its members to acquiesce. We must hold onto truth and not turn back. As we have seen recently with World Vision wavering in its policy decisions (accepting the hiring of employees in same-sex marriages and then reversing the decision), the temptation to give up ground for the sake of fitting in to cultural expectations can be strong.

Christian responds to Timorous and Mistrust by admitting his own fears, but he wonders where he might go to be safe. If he returns to his origin, the City of Destruction, he knows he will perish. If he makes it to his destination, the Celestial City, he knows he will find safety. Though pressing on means facing the fear of death, he “must venture.” And so he determines to go forward while Mistrust and Timorous run away.

We must encourage one another to hold to Christ and stay the course. In Philippians 3 Paul weighs the value of knowing Jesus. It is better to suffer the loss of all things and have Christ, than to have all this world can offer and be without Him. And so Paul says:

“… I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12–14).

There is nothing more valuable or needful for our souls than to gain Christ. We must “venture on Him” regardless of cost or fear or pain or loss. He alone can “do helpless sinners good”!

Lo! The incarnate God ascended
Pleads the merit of His blood
Venture on Him, venture wholly
Let no other trust intrude
None but Jesus, none but Jesus
Can do helpless sinners good
(from “Come Ye Sinners” by Joseph Hart, 1759)

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 ©2014 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Forever and Always

Cape Coral Sunbeams
Each moment is a treasure,
A present to employ,
Not chasing fleeting pleasures,
But finding lasting joy.
The truth that Christ is risen,
It changes everything;
My hopes, my dreams, my passions,
Now center on my King!

I live to serve my Savior,
Not just to seize the day;
But to lay hold of glory,
Forever—
Forever and always!

Words and Music ©2011 Kenneth A Puls and Rebecca Ascol Sissons

See more of this worship song and check out what’s new:

Just added (free downloads) a lyrics sheet and new recording from our Morning Service at Grace Baptist Church Cape Coral, FL (March 16, 2014). Sheet music for this song is also available.

A Pleasant Arbor

I looked, then, after Christian, to see him go up the hill, where I perceived he fell from running to going, and from going to clambering upon his hands and his knees, because of the steepness of the place. Now, about the midway to the top of the hill was a Pleasant Arbor, made by the Lord of the hill for the refreshing of weary travelers.
Thither, therefore, Christian got, where also he sat down to rest him. Then he pulled his roll out of his bosom, and read therein to his comfort. He also now began afresh to take a review of the coat or garment that was given him as he stood by the cross. Thus pleasing himself awhile, he at last fell into a slumber, and thence into a fast sleep, which detained him in that place until it was almost night. And in his sleep, his roll fell out of his hand. Now, as he was sleeping, there came one to him, and awaked him, saying, “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways and be wise.” And with that Christian started up, and sped him on his way, and went apace, till he came to the top of the hill.

One of the gracious provisions from the Lord of Hill, set in the midst of Hill Difficulty, is a pleasant Arbor. As Christian struggles to make it up and over the hill, he takes refuge in the Arbor. We noted last time that the Arbor represents a Word of Grace—a truth or promise of Scripture applied to our present situation. This Word comes to us in many ways: listening to a sermon, studying the Bible, reading books that are well grounded in Scripture, or hearing a word of encouragement or comfort in a conversation with a brother or sister in Christ. God uses many means to bring and apply His Word to our hearts at our moment of need.

While in the Arbor, Christian finds comfort in gifts he received at the Cross: the Roll (his assurance of life and acceptance at the desired haven) and the Coat (the imputed righteousness of Christ in which he was now clothed). He takes great delight in contemplating all that God had given him in Christ.

The purpose of the Arbor is for the refreshment of weary travelers. It is a place to find strength and encouragement along the Way. But the Arbor is not designed for lodging. It is not meant to distract travelers from continuing on their journey. It is a place to rest for a moment, for pilgrims to catch their breath and then press on. The Arbor becomes a hindrance when Christian settles in, satisfied with where he is in the journey. He fails to keep looking up the Hill and beyond to his final destination. He falls into a sinful slumber of pride and self-satisfaction in his present state of grace.

The Arbor (or word of grace) is indeed placed on the Hill (in the midst of difficulty) to provide an encouraging perspective. From its vantage point we can see our progress in grace and rejoice that God has brought us this far. But it is only halfway up the Hill, not yet to the top, and still far from the journey’s end. We must be careful, this side of glory, to maintain a balance in our walk, cheered as we consider how much God has already given us and how far we have come, but impelled as we consider how much God has yet promised us and how far we have yet to go. We rejoice that we are not now what we once were, but we press on, for we are not now what we shall be. Hear Paul’s testimony:

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14).

Earlier on the Hill Christian was running, going, or at least clambering, but now his inactivity and sloth give way to sleep until it is almost night. Jesus warns us:

A little while longer the light is with you. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going (John 12:35).

A Pleasant ArborBy sleeping during a time when God had given him light that he might walk, Christian was guilty of presuming upon the grace of God and the Roll he so cherished fell out of his hand. He could not stay idly in one place, content with no more progress along the Way, and be assured that all was well with his soul.

Notice, however, that account of Christian’s failings also teaches us of God’s unending faithfulness and abiding love. Even as Christian lies sleeping, one comes and awakens him with wisdom from God’s Word:

Go to the ant, you sluggard!
Consider her ways and be wise (Proverbs 6:6).

God is not content to leave His pilgrims in spiritual slumber and inactivity. His Word can be applied to the comfort and rest of our souls, but it can also come to warn us, arouse us and spur us to action. Christian hears the Proverb and realizes that now is not the time to sleep. He immediately arises and hurries up the Hill. But this is not the last that Christian will see the Arbor. Next time we will continue Christian’s journey on the Hill and consider why he has to return to the Arbor.

—Ken Puls

 The Pleasant Arbor

Lord, we pray please, keep us watchful
In Your Arbour as we rest;
Lest the Roll of Your assurance
For a time fall from our breast.
Father, come and keep us wakeful,
Wipe the dulling sleep away;
Lest the night soon overtake us,
Let us journey while it’s day.

(from “A Prayer for Pilgrims” 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 ©1997 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Hill Difficulty

I beheld, then, that they all went on till they came to the foot of the Hill Difficulty; at the bottom of which was a spring. There were also in the same place two other ways besides that which came straight from the gate; one turned to the left hand, and the other to the right, at the bottom of the hill; but the narrow way lay right up the hill, and the name of the going up the side of the hill is called Difficulty. Christian now went to the spring, and drank thereof, to refresh himself, and then began to go up the hill, saying—

“The hill, though high, I covet to ascend,
The difficulty will not me offend;
For I perceive the way to life lies here.
Come, pluck up heart, let’s neither faint nor fear;
Better, though difficult, the right way to go,
Than wrong, though easy, where the end is woe.”

The other two also came to the foot of the hill; but when they saw that the hill was steep and high, and that there were two other ways to go, and supposing also that these two ways might meet again, with that up which Christian went, on the other side of the hill, therefore they were resolved to go in those ways. Now the name of one of these ways was Danger, and the name of the other Destruction. So the one took the way which is called Danger, which led him into a great wood, and the other took directly up the way to Destruction, which led him into a wide field, full of dark mountains, where he stumbled and fell, and rose no more.

“Shall they who wrong begin yet rightly end?
Shall they at all have safety for their friend?
No, no; in headstrong manner they set out,
And headlong will they fall at last no doubt.”

I looked, then, after Christian, to see him go up the hill, where I perceived he fell from running to going, and from going to clambering upon his hands and his knees, because of the steepness of the place. Now, about the midway to the top of the hill was a Pleasant Arbor, made by the Lord of the hill for the refreshing of weary travelers.

Now in the course of the journey, difficulty arises, and Formalist and Hypocrisy prove that they are indeed pretenders in the Way. They were quite willing to accompany Christian, boasting of their impressive outward piety, as long as the Way did not present any obstacles. Like Pliable, who forsook his brief pilgrimage at the Slough, Formalist and Hypocrisy are unwilling to continue with Christian when they come to Hill Difficulty.

Bunyan notes that at the bottom of the hill was a spring. Both the hill and the spring come from the hand of God. Our loving Father providentially places difficulties and trials in our path, desiring that we go up them and not try to avoid them. In His mercy and goodness, He also provides along the Way all we need to make it up and over our troubles. Before Christian addresses himself to begin climbing, he takes refreshment at the Spring. This imagery comes from the prophet Isaiah, who speaks of a refreshing spring as he describes God’s care of His people in the midst of affliction;

They shall neither hunger nor thirst,
Neither heat nor sun shall strike them;
For He who has mercy on them will lead them,
Even by the springs of water He will guide them.
(Isaiah 49:10)

The Spring is a testimony to the goodness of God in all He brings us through. No matter how steep or high our own difficulties may seem, we can trust that God will work through it all to our good and sanctification.

When Formalist and Hypocrisy come to the hill, they are immediately struck by how high and steep it appears. They quickly lose heart, failing to see the goodness of God, and begin exploring alternatives. They see two other paths at the bottom of the hill that seem to offer a way out. They wrongly assume that they can take one of the easier paths, thus avoiding the difficulty, and still reach Mount Zion. The two ways are named Destruction and Danger. These two paths are deceptive, for they appear to simply go around the hill and join back to the Way on the other side. Formalist goes down one path and Hypocrisy the other. The one who takes the way of Danger is soon lost in a Great Wood. The other, who follows Destruction, comes to a wide field full of dark mountains. Bunyan explains these dark mountains in his exposition of Ephesians 3:18-19, The Saint’s Knowledge of Christ’s Love. He warns:

There are heights also that build up themselves in us, which are not but to be taken notice of: Yea, there are a many of them, and they place themselves directly so, that if possible they may keep the saving knowledge of God out of our hearts. These high things therefore are said to exalt themselves against the knowledge of God; and do ofttimes more plague, afflict, and frighten Christian men and women, than anything besides. It is from these that our faith and spiritual understanding of God and his Christ is opposed and contradicted; and from these also that we are so inclinable to swerve from right doctrine into destructive opinions. ‘Tis from these that we are so easily persuaded to call into question our former experience of the goodness of God towards us, and from these that our minds are so often clouded and darkened that we cannot see afar off. These would betray us into the hands of fallen angels and men, nor should we by any means help or deliver ourselves, were it not for one that is higher. These are the dark mountains at which our feet would certainly stumble, and upon which we should fall, were it not for one who can leap and skip over these mountains of division, and come to us.

The dark mountains in the path of Destruction represent the false doctrines and unsound opinions that lead people to wrong conclusions about God’s character and providence. Formalist and Hypocrisy simply could not conceive that God would place such an obstacle of difficulty in their path. They believed that ones such as they, with such fine professions of faith and outward obedience, should have a smooth path to heaven. They wrongly associated ease in this life with God’s favor and blessing. They misunderstood God’s gracious and sanctifying purposes in bringing us through difficulty that He might show Himself strong in the midst of our weaknesses. Their understanding was so darkened that they missed entirely the goodness of God manifest in the Spring. They by-passed its refreshment and went instead into Danger and Destruction. Proverbs 14:12 warns: “There is a way that seems right to man, but its end is the way of death.” This proves to be the end of Formalist and Hypocrisy. We must be careful in the face of difficulty not to question God’s goodness, but rather trust Him and give Him glory, as Jeremiah tells us:

Give glory to the LORD your God
Before He causes darkness,
And before your feet stumble
On the dark mountains,
And while you are looking for light,
He turns it into the shadow of death
And makes it dense darkness.
(Jeremiah 13:16)

hilldifficulty1blThough Formalist and Hypocrisy had forsaken the Way of difficulty, Christian, now refreshed by the Spring, proceeds to go up it. It is worth noting that as Christian begins to go up the hill, knowing that his trial is from the hand of God, his troubles do not get easier. He begins with great energy and enthusiasm to overcome the hill, running the first part of the Way. His running, however, soon becomes going, and going to crawling on his hands and knees. Often when we face difficulty, rather than trying to avoid it, it only becomes steeper and seemingly more impossible to overcome. In those times we must trust the loving God who has set the hill in our Way and keep going as He enables us.

God’s goodness does not abandon Christian in the midst of his trouble. About midway to the top of the hill Christian finds a pleasant Arbor. This Arbor represents a Word of Grace, a truth or promise of Scripture applied to our present situation. This Word can come in many ways: from a sermon or lesson we hear at church, from our own reading in the Bible, from sound books that teach us God’s Word, or from a word of encouragement spoken by a brother or sister in Christ. God uses many means to bring us to His Word and apply it to our hearts. Next time we will consider more thoroughly the Arbor and how Christian unwarily turns this gracious provision of God into a hindrance on the Way.

—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 ©1997 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.