Tag Archives: Word of God

The Certainty of God’s Word

Open Bible on a Rock

Everything God has said in His Word will most certainly come to pass!

This is an axiom, a truth upon which you can trust your soul. What God says will happen.

This is an anchor for your soul when your life gets stirred up and clouded by things you were not expecting.

Yet too often, (I know I find this true of myself) when temptations come and they whisper their enticing promises, I am prone to hear and pursue the false promises, rather than resting in the sure and proven promises of Scripture. When troubles come, I am too quick to be fearful, when I should be trusting; too quick to doubt, when I should cling to truth.

I have often wondered in the midst of my own struggles with doubt and sin, in the times when I am reeling in my own failures and capriciousness,… I have often wondered how much sin and misery I could avoid if I would just simply learn to take God at His Word.

The Word of God is abundant with promises. It teaches us, reproves us, corrects us, and instructs us in the path of righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).

No matter what situation we may find ourselves in, God’s Word is an ever-present help and guide.

  • If we are tempted to sin, God teaches us in His Word: “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).
  • If we are lonely, He promises: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
  • If we are weak, He tells us: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in your weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
  • When we are enticed to sin, He warns us: “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
  • If we fall into sin, He tells us: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
  • When we need wisdom, we are told: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5).

This list could go on and on as we think through the rich and abundant pages of Scripture.

And all God says in every verse is true and sure. We can believe it. We can trust in it. We can treasure it in our hearts and count on it.

[This excerpt is from a Sermon on Genesis 1:1–5 entitled “The Certainty of God’s Word.” You can read the full Sermon  here.]

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Welcomed at the Gate

Then I saw in my dream, that Christian was as in a muse a while. To whom also Hopeful added this word, Be of good cheer, Jesus Christ makes you whole; and with that Christian broke out with a loud voice, Oh, I see him again! and he tells me, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.” Then they both took courage, and the enemy was after that as still as a stone, until they were gone over. Christian therefore presently found ground to stand upon, and so it followed that the rest of the river was but shallow. Thus they got over.

Now, upon the bank of the river, on the other side, they saw the two shining men again, who there waited for them; wherefore, being come out of the river, they saluted them, saying, We are ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for those that shall be heirs of salvation. Thus they went along towards the gate.

Now you must note that the city stood upon a mighty hill, but the Pilgrims went up that hill with ease, because they had these two men to lead them up by the arms; also, they had left their mortal garments behind them in the river, for though they went in with them, they came out without them. They, therefore, went up here with much agility and speed, though the foundation upon which the city was framed was higher than the clouds. They therefore went up through the regions of the air, sweetly talking as they went, being comforted, because they safely got over the river, and had such glorious companions to attend them.

Now, now, look how the holy pilgrims ride,
Clouds are their chariots, angels are their guide:
Who would not here for him all hazards run,
That thus provides for his when this world’s done?

Over the River

As Christian struggles to cross the River, he is “in a muse.” Facing death causes him deep concern and consternation. He ponders his life and his thoughts are troubled with fears, regrets, doubts, and dismay. But Christian is calmed by two valuable comforts:

  1. He is encouraged by Hopeful, who stays near him, cheers his soul, and points him to Christ.
  2. He remembers the Word of God. It is hidden in his heart (Psalm 119:11) and now shines forth to clear and cleanse his thinking. He recalls the promise in Isaiah 43:

But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name;
You are Mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you.”
(Isaiah 43:1–2)

O that God would grant us such comforts! Remembrance of His Word and godly friends who will keep that Word before our eyes and in our ears—these can help keep our head above the fearful tide. These can be ours—in times of trouble and trial, even in our final moments of life on earth, but we must cultivate and cherish these comforts. Don’t take them for granted or assume you will have them in your hour of need. Invest time in studying, understanding, and memorizing Scripture. And invest time in cultivating Christian friendships—brothers and sisters who will pray for you, hold you accountable, and speak God’s Word into your life.

One of the most significant themes in The Pilgrim’s Progress is the preeminence of God’s Word. Too often we fail to realize its worth! On our journey from the City of Destruction (this present sinful world) to the Celestial City (the glorious world to come), it is our invaluable guide and indispensable comfort. Over and over Bunyan highlights just how essential Scripture is to our spiritual life and well-being.

And now, as Christian experiences death, God’s Word is his comfort that instills courage and causes the enemy to be “still as a stone.”

Fear and dread will fall on them;
By the greatness of Your arm
They will be as still as a stone,
Till Your people pass over, O Lord,
Till the people pass over
Whom You have purchased.
(Exodus 15:16)

Scripture again, as it did in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, warms Christian’s heart and lights his way. He is able to find ground to stand on. He and Hopeful make it safely over the river.

On the bank of the River the two pilgrims are greeted again and welcomed by the Shining Ones. The Shining Ones identify themselves as “ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14). Christian and Hopeful are now ushered by angels to their final destination—the City whose foundation sits “higher than the clouds.”

But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:16).

They shed the final remnants of corruption and put on immortality, having conquered death through the power of Christ Jesus.

For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

“O Death, where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory?”

The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:53–57).

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

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2019 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Right Thoughts About God

Ignorance: What are good thoughts concerning God?

Christian: Even as I have said concerning ourselves, when our thoughts of God do agree with what the Word says of him; and that is, when we think of his being and attributes as the Word has taught, of which I cannot now discourse at large; but to speak of him with reference to us: Then we have right thoughts of God, when we think that he knows us better than we know ourselves, and can see sin in us when and where we can see none in ourselves; when we think he knows our inmost thoughts, and that our heart, with all its depths, is always open unto his eyes; also, when we think that all our righteousness stinks in his nostrils, and that, therefore, he cannot abide to see us stand before him in any confidence, even in all our best performances.

Word of God

Ignorance was hindered from coming to faith in Christ because he did not believe the truth about himself. His heart was darkened by sin. His life was in defiance of God’s Law. He was a justly condemned sinner in need of God’s grace and mercy. But he simply could not believe that his heart was that bad. His heart told him so!

If we are to rightly understand ourselves, we must measure ourselves according to God’s Word. This is true of what we believe about ourselves and it is true of what we believe about God. Having good thoughts about God is not necessarily thinking highly of Him or hoping that He will answer our prayers just as we desire. We are not free to imagine God as we want Him to be. He is not defined by our feelings, our felt needs, or our own sense of justice. If we are to know God truly, we must know Him as He as revealed Himself in His Word.

Consider for a moment some of what the Bible says is true about God.

God is solitary. He alone is God; there is none like Him.

Who is like You, O Lord, among the gods?
Who is like You, glorious in holiness,
Fearful in praises, doing wonders?
(Exodus 15:11)

For who is God, except the Lord?
And who is a rock, except our God?
(Psalm 18:31)

Now see that I, even I, am He,
And there is no God besides Me;
I kill and I make alive;
I wound and I heal;
Nor is there any who can deliver from My hand.
(Deuteronomy 32:39)

No one is holy like the Lord,
For there is none besides You,
Nor is there any rock like our God.
(1 Samuel 2:2)

God is holy. He alone is perfect, pure, and righteous.

Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name?
For You alone are holy.
For all nations shall come and worship before You,
For Your judgments have been manifested.
(Revelation 15:4)

but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15–16).

And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure (1 John 3:3).

Because He is holy, He hates sin and He will judge sin.

God is a just judge,
And God is angry with the wicked every day.
(Psalm 7:11)

For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness,
Nor shall evil dwell with You.
The boastful shall not stand in Your sight;
You hate all workers of iniquity.
(Psalm 5:4–5)

Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the ungodly shall perish.
(Psalm 1:5–6)

God is supreme. He is above all things; He is first and primary. Nothing is greater; nothing is higher. Nothing is more vital or more important.

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness,
The power and the glory,
The victory and the majesty;
For all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours;
Yours is the kingdom, O Lord,
And You are exalted as head over all.
(1 Chronicles 29:11)

“You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3)

God is omniscient. He knows all thing. He knows everything about us down to the smallest detail. Nothing can be hidden from God. Nothing can surprise Him or catch Him off guard.

O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.
(Psalm 139:1–3)

Known to God from eternity are all His works (Acts 15:18).

God is sovereign. He rules over all things. He is LORD and King. He directs all things and “works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11).

But our God is in heaven;
He does whatever He pleases
(Psalm 115:3)

Whatever the Lord pleases He does,
In heaven and in earth,
In the seas and in all deep places.
(Psalm 135:6)

God is immutable. He never changes.

For I am the Lord, I do not change;
Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.
(Malachi 3:6)

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning (James 1:17).

His Word is certain.

Forever, O Lord,
Your word is settled in heaven.
(Psalm 119:89)

His plans are certain.

The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
The plans of His heart to all generations
And His love is everlasting.
(Psalm 33:11)

And His love is everlasting.

The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying:
“Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love;
Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.
(Jeremiah 31:3)

God is good. He always does what is right and just.

He loves righteousness and justice;
The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.
(Psalm 33:5)

For the Lord is good;
His mercy is everlasting,
And His truth endures to all generations.
(Psalm 100:5)

God is merciful and gracious. He has provided a way of hope, forgiveness, and life in Christ.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3).

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:4–5).

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

But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious,
Longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth.
(Psalm 86:15)

These are only a few of God’s attributes revealed to us in Scripture (see The Attributes of God by Arthur W. Pink, 1975 for an excellent study on what the Bible teaches about God).

Ignorance thought he knew God. But he was not thinking “good thoughts concerning God.” His concept of God was shaped by his experience and imagination. Christian affirms that the only way to think rightly about God is to “think of his being and attributes as the Word has taught.”

The problem with Ignorance is not that he is dispassionate or indolent. He is devout and has walked a long way on his journey. He is intent on going to the Celestial City. He has not been dissuaded to turn aside or turn back. It’s not that he is openly rebellious or intentionally deceptive. He is sincere in what he believes. He is earnest in his conversation with Christian. His problem is the standard by which he walks. As he grapples to understand life, God, and the world around him, he looks to his heart rather than God’s Word. He has made himself the standard and believes what he wants to believe. Where Scripture affirms his fancies, he heartily agrees with it. But where Scripture confronts his notions, he readily ignores it. It is his unwillingness to submit to God in His Word that has bound him to walk in Ignorance.

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.

The True Measure of the Heart

Ignorance: Pray, what count you good thoughts, and a life according to God’s commandments?

Christian: There are good thoughts of divers kinds; some respecting ourselves, some God, some Christ, and some other things.

Ignorance: What be good thoughts respecting ourselves?

Christian: Such as agree with the Word of God.

Ignorance: When do our thoughts of ourselves agree with the Word of God?

Christian: When we pass the same judgment upon ourselves which the Word passes. To explain myself—the Word of God says of persons in a natural condition, “There is none righteous, there is none that doeth good.” It says also, that “every imagination of the heart of man is only evil, and that continually.” And again, “The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” Now then, when we think thus of ourselves, having sense thereof, then are our thoughts good ones, because according to the Word of God.

Ignorance: I will never believe that my heart is thus bad.

Christian: Therefore you never had one good thought concerning yourself in your life. But let me go on. As the Word passes a judgment upon our heart, so it passes a judgment upon our ways; and when OUR thoughts of our hearts and ways agree with the judgment which the Word giveth of both, then are both good, because agreeing thereto.

Ignorance: Make out your meaning.

Christian: Why, the Word of God says that man’s ways are crooked ways; not good, but perverse. It says they are naturally out of the good way, that they have not known it. Now, when a man thus thinks of his ways—I say, when he does sensibly, and with heart-humiliation, thus think, then has he good thoughts of his own ways, because his thoughts now agree with the judgment of the Word of God.

Christian Instructs Ignorance

It is one thing to have a good heart, and another thing only to think your heart is good. It is one thing to live a good life, and another thing only to think your life is good. So how can you be sure? How do you rightly measure the heart? How do you know what thoughts are good? How can you truly know if your life is in accord with God’s commands?

As Christian instructs Ignorance, he gets to the heart of the difference between a true believer and a false believer. Ignorance (a false believer) sets his own standards. His understanding of what is right is shaped by how he feels about his place in the world, how he desires to live his live, and how much he has prospered or suffered in this life. Ignorance remains true to his heart. If in his heart, he sincerely believes something to be true, then it must be true. But Christian and Hopeful look to a better and surer standard. The true measure of the heart is not our feelings and passions. It is not our hopes and aspirations. Nor is it our experiences or obstacles we have overcome. The true measure of the heart is the Word of God.

If we are to rightly measure the heart, we should not believe what our heart tells us is true. Instead, we must believe what God’s Word tells us is true.

How do you know if your thoughts are good? Ask yourself: Do my thoughts agree with God’s Word? How do you know if your life is good? Ask yourself: What does God’s Word say about my life? Am I passing the same judgment on myself which the Word passes?

The Word tells us that in our natural condition we are not good.

As it is written:
“There is none righteous, no, not one;
There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.
They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable;
There is none who does good, no, not one.”
(Romans 3:10–12)

Apart from Christ our hearts are evil.

Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Genesis 6:5).

… Then the Lord said in His heart, “I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done” (Genesis 8:21).

Left to ourselves, our ways are crooked and dark.

As for such as turn aside to their crooked ways,
The Lord shall lead them away
With the workers of iniquity.
Peace be upon Israel!
(Psalm 125:5)

To deliver you from the way of evil,
From the man who speaks perverse things,
From those who leave the paths of uprightness
To walk in the ways of darkness;
Who rejoice in doing evil,
And delight in the perversity of the wicked;
Whose ways are crooked,
And who are devious in their paths.
(Proverbs 2:12–15)

Though we may think we are on the way to heaven, if we are navigating this world according to our own standards (and even doing so sincerely) then we do not yet know the way of peace.

And the way of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
(Romans 3:17–18)

This is what the Bible says is true about us. If left to ourselves, this is our natural condition. This is the true measure of the heart. If this is what we believe about ourselves, then we are thinking good thoughts. Good thoughts are not necessarily thoughts about pleasant things; good thoughts are thoughts that reflect the truth of God’s Word.  If we anchor our judgments in God’s Word, then we will think rightly about our ways. If we acknowledge that what God has said about us in His Word is true, then there is hope that we will be humbled—that we will come to our senses and see our desperate need of a Savior. There is hope that we will stop trusting ourselves, resting in our own righteousness, and look to Christ, who alone gives “light to those who sit in darkness” and guides “our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79).

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.

Hopeful’s Testimony Part 7 Coming to Christ

Christian: And did you do as you were bidden?

Hopeful: Yes; over, and over, and over.

Christian: And did the Father reveal his Son to you?

Hopeful: Not at the first, nor second, nor third, nor fourth, nor fifth; no, nor at the sixth time neither.

Christian: What did you do then?

Hopeful: What! why I could not tell what to do.

Christian: Had you not thoughts of leaving off praying?

Hopeful: Yes; an hundred times twice told.

Christian: And what was the reason you did not?

Hopeful: I believed that that was true which had been told me, to wit, that without the righteousness of this Christ, all the world could not save me; and therefore, thought I with myself, if I leave off I die, and I can but die at the throne of grace. And withal, this came into my mind, “Though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.” So I continued praying until the Father showed me his Son.

Christian: And how was he revealed unto you?

Hopeful: I did not see him with my bodily eyes, but with the eyes of my understanding; and thus it was: One day I was very sad, I think sadder than at any one time in my life, and this sadness was through a fresh sight of the greatness and vileness of my sins. And as I was then looking for nothing but hell, and the everlasting damnation of my soul, suddenly, as I thought, I saw the Lord Jesus Christ look down from heaven upon me, and saying, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”

But I replied, Lord, I am a great, a very great sinner. And he answered, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” Then I said, But, Lord, what is believing? And then I saw from that saying, “He that cometh to me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst”, that believing and coming was all one; and that he that came, that is, ran out in his heart and affections after salvation by Christ, he indeed believed in Christ. Then the water stood in mine eyes, and I asked further. But, Lord, may such a great sinner as I am be indeed accepted of thee, and be saved by thee? And I heard him say, “And him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out.” Then I said, But how, Lord, must I consider of thee in my coming to thee, that my faith may be placed aright upon thee? Then he said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” “He is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” “He died for our sins, and rose again for our justification.” “He loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.” “He is mediator betwixt God and us.” “He ever lives to make intercession for us.” From all which I gathered, that I must look for righteousness in his person, and for satisfaction for my sins by his blood; that what he did in obedience to his Father’s law, and in submitting to the penalty thereof, was not for himself, but for him that will accept it for his salvation, and be thankful. And now was my heart full of joy, mine eyes full of tears, and mine affections running over with love to the name, people, and ways of Jesus Christ.

Christian: This was a revelation of Christ to your soul indeed; but tell me particularly what effect this had upon your spirit.

Hopeful: It made me see that all the world, notwithstanding all the righteousness thereof, is in a state of condemnation. It made me see that God the Father, though he be just, can justly justify the coming sinner. It made me greatly ashamed of the vileness of my former life, and confounded me with the sense of mine own ignorance; for there never came thought into my heart before now that showed me so the beauty of Jesus Christ. It made me love a holy life, and long to do something for the honor and glory of the name of the Lord Jesus; yea, I thought that had I now a thousand gallons of blood in my body, I could spill it all for the sake of the Lord Jesus.

Come to Christ

When Hopeful heard the gospel invitation, he responded as Faithful encouraged him to do. He prayed and sought God for understanding and mercy. But Hopeful confessed that he was not successful at first. Though his prayers were sincere, his coming to Christ was a struggle. He faced many obstacles. His life condemned him. His sins filled him with guilt. Fears and doubts clouded his mind. He still lived in the midst of Vanity and the town Fair sought to lure him back. Temptations bludgeoned him with guilt as fiercely as his sin. Even his pride turned against him, convincing him that his sin was so great and so vile that God would never want him.

These obstacles continue to hinder people from coming to Christ. The enemy of our souls would discourage, distract, oppress, oppose—anything to keep us away from the mercies and kindness of God in the gospel. Each obstacle offers another excuse to delay.

  • I would come to Christ, but I still have unanswered questions.
  • I would come to Christ, but there are statements in the Bible that I just don’t like.
  • I would come to Christ, but I just don’t have time to attend church.
  • I would come to Christ, but I need to get my life straightened out first.
  • I would come to Christ, but I don’t think God would save me. You just don’t know the terrible things I’ve done.

Hopeful prayed and sought relief many times before he truly laid hold of Christ in the gospel. His experience is similar to Christian’s who, upon arriving at the Wicket Gate, “knocked therefore more than once or twice” and when seeking instruction to find relief from his burden, “knocked over and over” at the House of the Interpreter.

So, what brought Hopeful finally to a saving knowledge of Christ?

How was Christ revealed to Him? Take note of three observations from Hopeful’s testimony.

1. God opened the eyes of his understanding.

Hopeful said: “I did not see him with my bodily eyes, but with the eyes of my understanding.”

That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power (Ephesians 1:17–19).

Salvation is not automatic. It is not easily dispensed as if grace were a refreshing soft drink and God were a vending machine. Salvation is a sovereign work of grace that turns the darkness of our hearts to light, the enchantment of our sins to dread, and the “foolishness” of the gospel to “words of life.”

2. The Word of God took root in his heart and mind.

Coming to Christ is the Lord opening the heart (Acts 16:14) as the Spirit of God powerfully wields the Word of God that we might understand, heed, and obey. To be set free from the bondage of sin, we must know the truth.

And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free (John 8:32).

God’s Word is truth.

Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth (John 17:17).

And God’s Word points us to Christ.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. (John 14:6).

It Is clear from Hopeful’s testimony that his thinking was saturated with God’s Word. When he was distressed and despondent, truths from Scripture came to his mind. He had a deep sense of his guilt and sinfulness. But promise after promise melted his chains and freed him to pursue Christ. When he was tempted to stop praying, the words of Habakkuk 2 came to his mind:

Then the Lord answered me and said:
“Write the vision
And make it plain on tablets,
That he may run who reads it.
For the vision is yet for an appointed time;
But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie.
Though it tarries, wait for it;
Because it will surely come,
It will not tarry.
“Behold the proud,
His soul is not upright in him;
But the just shall live by his faith.
(Habakkuk 2:2–4)

When he grieved over “the greatness and vileness” of his sin and looked for “nothing but hell” and “everlasting damnation,” he remembered the answer Paul and Silas gave to the Philippian jailer’s question:

And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:30–31).

And when he thought himself to be too great a sinner, he remembered the words Jesus gave to Paul:

And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me (2 Corinthians 12:9).

This was Bunyan’s own experience as recorded in Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners:

Therefore I still did pray to God, that he would come in with this Scripture more fully on my heart; to wit, that he would help me to apply the whole sentence, ‘for as yet I could not: that he gave, I gathered; but further I could not go,’ for as yet it only helped me to hope ‘there might be mercy for me,’ “My grace is sufficient”; and though it came no farther, it answered my former question; to wit, that there was hope; yet, because “for thee” was left out, I was not contented, but prayed to God for that also. Wherefore, one day as I was in a meeting of God’s people, full of sadness and terror, for my fears again were strong upon me; and as I was now thinking my soul was never the better, but my case most sad and fearful, these words did, with great power, suddenly break in upon me, “My grace is sufficient for thee, my grace is sufficient for thee, my grace is sufficient for thee,” three times together; and, oh! methought that every word as a mighty word unto me; as my, and grace, and sufficient, and for thee; they were then, and sometimes are still, far bigger than others be.

At which time my understanding was so enlightened, that I was as though I had seen the Lord Jesus look down from heaven through the tiles upon me, and direct these words unto me. This sent me mourning home, it broke my heart, and filled me full of joy, and laid me low as the dust; only it stayed not long with me, I mean in this glory and refreshing comfort, yet it continued with me for several weeks, and did encourage me to hope. But so soon as that powerful operation of it was taken off my heart, that other about Esau returned upon me as before; so my soul did hang as in a pair of scales again, sometimes up and sometimes down, now in peace, and anon again in terror.

[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 206–207]

As Hopeful struggled, many more verses of Scripture came to his mind and turned his thoughts to Christ.

And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst (John 6:35).

But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out (John 6:36–37).

This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief (1 Timothy 1:15).

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (Romans 10:4).

Who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification (Romans 5:25).

And from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood (Revelation 1:5).

For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5).

But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:24–25).

It was the promises of God’s Word that revealed Christ to Hopeful. Hopeful saw in Scripture “the beauty of Jesus Christ.”Christ alone can “save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him.”

3. He gave up hope in himself and believed God’s Word that Christ is the only hope of salvation for sinners.

Hopeful finally laid hold of the hope found in Christ when he gave up all hope in himself. He realized that if he were to be saved, Christ and Christ alone must save him. He could offer no righteousness of his own. He had nowhere else to turn. He was justly condemned to die for his sins. He was determined to come to Christ or die trying. And so, he continued praying, pleading at the throne of grace.

To come to Christ, all Hopeful had to “do” was believe. He finally understood “that believing and coming was all one; and that he that came, that is, ran out in his heart and affections after salvation by Christ, he indeed believed in Christ.”

Coming to Christ is not something that we can earn by doing enough good things to convince God that we are serious. It is not something we can merit by saying prayers, serving in ministry, or attending church. It is not saying the right things, doing the right things, or having the right experiences. Coming to Christ is simply believing. It is realizing that you are a needy sinner and fleeing to Him for mercy and grace. It is trusting Christ, resting in Him—anchoring yourself in Him as your only true haven and refuge.

When Hopeful understood the truth of God’s Word concerning salvation in Christ, it changed his view of the world. The world no longer held the same allure and attraction. It could no longer hold captive his affections. He realized the dazzle of Vanity Fair was but a facade that masked it vileness and emptiness. Christ now claimed his heart and affections. He found true joy in knowing and loving Christ, who “while we were still sinners” died for us (Romans 5:8), not in pursuing the fleeting pleasures of the world. He found his greatest satisfaction in the pursuit of holiness out of a heart of gratitude for all Christ had done for him, not in the pursuit of fame, or riches, or worldly success.

What then can we do to come to a saving knowledge of Christ?

What are we to do if, like Hopeful, our sins seem too vile and our attempts to seek God’s mercy seem unsuccessful or unanswered?

1. Don’t give up praying. God is the One who opens hearts. He is the One who gives understanding. So pray and ask that He grant it to you “over and over and over.” If you “leave off” praying, you will die. So, resolve to stay at the throne of grace for as long as it takes.

2. Don’t give up reading and hearing God’s Word. If you desire to receive understanding from God, if your desire is to find His mercy and grace, then go to where He speaks. God speaks in His Word. If you desire to hear God’s voice, then don’t neglect God’s Word! Read His Word, study His Word, sit under the preaching of His Word—and pray as you do so, that He will help you understand and come to a saving knowledge of Christ.

3. Don’t look at your sin without looking to Christ. Be honest in confessing and owning your sin. Believe what the Bible says about the vileness of sin and the judgment due sin. But don’t think long about sin without remembering the glories of Christ. If you honestly assess your sin without accessing the mercies of God in Christ, you will most certainly fall victim to Despair. You will be beaten down with fears and imprisoned in doubts. If you try evaluating your heart without turning your ear to God’s Word, you will miss the truth—you will miss Christ. Christ is the only One who can make you free (John 8:32, 36). He is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Listen to the wise counsel of Robert Murray M’Cheyne and heed his words.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Jer. 17:9. Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely. Such infinite majesty, and yet such meekness and grace, and all for sinners, even the chief!

(from Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne(Edinburgh, 1894)

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.

Hopeful’s Testimony Part 6 Invitation to Christ

Christian: And what did you do then?

Hopeful: I made my objections against my believing, for that I thought he was not willing to save me.

Christian: And what said Faithful to you then?

Hopeful: He bid me go to him and see. Then I said it was presumption; but he said, No, for I was invited to come. Then he gave me a book of Jesus, his indicting, to encourage me the more freely to come; and he said, concerning that book, that every jot and tittle thereof stood firmer than heaven and earth. Then I asked him, What I must do when I came; and he told me, I must entreat upon my knees, with all my heart and soul, the Father to reveal him to me. Then I asked him further, how I must make my supplication to him? And he said, Go, and you shall find him upon a mercy-seat, where he sits all the year long, to give pardon and forgiveness to them that come. I told him that I knew not what to say when I came. And he bid me say to this effect:

God be merciful to me a sinner, and make me to know and believe in Jesus Christ; for I see, that if his righteousness had not been, or I have not faith in that righteousness, I am utterly cast away. Lord, I have heard that You are a merciful God, and have ordained that Your Son Jesus Christ should be the Savior of the world; and moreover, that You art willing to bestow him upon such a poor sinner as I am, (and I am a sinner indeed); Lord, take therefore this opportunity and magnify Your grace in the salvation of my soul, through Your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

Faithful and Hopeful

Hopeful knew that Christ was his only hope. He heard the gospel clearly explained by Faithful. He understood the gospel—even wanted to believe the gospel. Yet he hesitated. He thought himself to be too great a sinner. He did not believe God was willing to save him.

This was Bunyan’s own experience. Though he wanted the forgiveness and grace promised in Scripture, he did not believe it could be his. He describes his dark feelings in Grace Abounding.

Nay, thought I, now I grow worse and worse; now am I further from conversion than ever I was before. Wherefore I began to sink greatly in my soul, and began to entertain such discouragement in my heart as laid me low as hell. If now I should have burned at a stake, I could not believe that Christ had love for me; alas, I could neither hear him, nor see him, nor feel him, nor savor any of his things; I was driven as with a tempest, my heart would be unclean, the Canaanites would dwell in the land.

[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 78]

But, I observe, though I was such a great sinner before conversion, yet God never much charged the guilt of the sins of myignorance upon me; only he showed me I was lost if I had not Christ, because I had been a sinner; I saw that I wanted a perfect righteousness to present me without fault before God, and this righteousness was nowhere to be found, but in the person of Jesus Christ.

But my original and inward pollution, that, that was my plague and my affliction; that, I say, at a dreadful rate, always putting forth itself within me; that I had the guilt of, to amazement; by reason of that, I was more loathsome in my own eyes than was a toad; and I thought I was so in God’s eyes too; sin and corruption, I said, would as naturally bubble out of my heart, as water would bubble out of a fountain. I thought now that everyone had a better heart than I had; I could have changed heart with anybody; I thought none but the devil himself could equalize me for inward wickedness and pollution of mind. I fell, therefore, at the sight of my own vileness,deeply into despair; for I concluded that this condition that I was in could not stand with a state of grace. Sure, thought I, I am forsaken of God; sure I am given up to the devil, and to a reprobate mind; and thus I continued a long while, even for some years together.

[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 83–84]

At times he felt so wretched and miserable that he thought creation itself was reluctant to suffer his presence.

Thus was I always sinking, whatever I did think or do. So one day I walked to a neighboring town, and sat down upon a settle in the street, and fell into a very deep pause about the most fearful state my sin had brought me to; and, after long musing, I lifted up my head, but methought I saw as if the sun that shines in the heavens did grudge to give light, and as if the very stones in the street, and tiles upon the houses, did bend themselves against me; methought that they all combined together to banish me out of the world; I was abhorred of them, and unfit to dwell among them, or be partaker of their benefits, because I had sinned against the Savior. O how happy, now, was every creature over [what] I was; for they stood fast and kept their station, but I was gone and lost.

[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 187]

How can God save a soul so polluted and mired in sin? Why would He even want to?

Faithful’s response to Hopeful’s objection against believing is worth noting. He does not try to minimize Hopeful’s sin—Oh, you’re not that bad! Don’t be so hard on yourself! Of course God wants to save you! Nor does he attempt to build up Hopeful’s self esteem—Stop being so negative! Think of all the good things you’ve done! Of course you’re worth saving! Instead Faithful continues to exalt Christ and magnify His goodness, kindness, and mercy. He points Hopeful to the gracious promises of God’s Word. He shows Hopeful how God’s power and glory are magnified in His grace and mercy toward sinners. He encourages Hopeful to “go to Him and see.” When Hopeful fears that he would be presumptuous in going, Faithful reassures him. It is not presumption to go to Christ for grace and forgiveness. He invites us to come!

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30).

The Bible gives us both command and example of entreating God in prayer.

Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.
(Psalm 95:6)

Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days (Daniel 6:10).

Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:12–13).

This invitation to come to Christ and display of God’s love in the cross of Christ is for all the world to hear and see.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

In John 6:37 Jesus promises: “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” Bunyan removes all objections of those who hesitate when he expounds this verse in Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ.

For this word, “in no wise,” cuts the throat of all objections; and it was spoken by the Lord Jesus for that very end; and to help the faith that is mixed with unbelief. And it is, as it were, the sum of all promises; neither can any objection be made upon the unworthiness that you find in yourself, that this promise will not assail.

But I am a great sinner, you say.
“I will in no wise cast out,” says Christ.

But I am an old sinner, you say.
“I will in no wise cast out,” says Christ.

But I am a hard-hearted sinner, you say.
“I will in no wise cast out,” says Christ.

But I am a backsliding sinner, you say.
“I will in no wise cast out,” says Christ.

But I have served Satan all my days, you say.
“I will in no wise cast out,” says Christ.

But I have sinned against light, you say.
“I will in no wise cast out,” says Christ.

But I have sinned against mercy, you say.
“I will in no wise cast out,” says Christ.

But I have no good thing to bring with me, you say.
“I will in no wise cast out,” says Christ.

Christ has promised that all who come to Him “I will by no means cast out.” We must believe this. We need never doubt the promises God gives us in His Word. The Word of God is certain. Everything He has said will come to pass.

Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away (Matthew 24:35).

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light (Genesis 1:3).

Not a word failed of any good thing which the Lord had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass (Joshua 21:45).

Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled (Matthew 5:17–18).

He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it (1 Thessalonians 5:24).

In the Old Testament, the prophet Joel reminded God’s people that God “is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness” (Joel 2:13). And so we hear God graciously say: “Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning” (Joel 2:12).

Faithful encouraged Hopeful to take God at His Word and go to Him in repentance and faith. He said, “you shall find him upon a mercy-seat.”

You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the Testimony that I will give you. And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the Testimony, about everything which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel. (Exodus 25:21–22).

The Mercy Seat in the Old Testament tabernacle and Temple (Leviticus 16:2, Number 7:89) was but a type of the true Mercy Seat in heaven. It is Christ who has opened our access to the throne of grace where we are entreated to come with boldness.

Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14–16).

Cast aside your objections and come to Christ! Hesitate no longer!

Say to them: “As I live,” says the Lord God, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11)

Take God at His Word and believe Him! Come repenting of sin and cast yourself on His mercy.

And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ (Luke 18:13)

And come to Him by faith believing that true righteousness is found in Christ alone.

if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation (Romans 10:9–10).

O sinner, come to Jesus Christ!
And find the riches He can give.
In Him find all for life and peace.
O sinner, look to Christ and live!

(from “O Sinner, Come to Jesus Christ”)

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.

Hopeful’s Testimony Part 4 The Futility of Works

Christian: And how did you do then?

Hopeful: I thought I must endeavor to mend my life; for else, thought I, I am sure to be damned.

Christian: And did you endeavor to mend?

Hopeful: Yes; and fled from not only my sins, but sinful company too; and betook me to religious duties, as prayer, reading, weeping for sin, speaking truth to my neighbors, etc. These things did I, with many others, too much here to relate.

Christian: And did you think yourself well then?

Hopeful: Yes, for a while; but at the last, my trouble came tumbling upon me again, and that over the neck of all my reformations.

Christian: How came that about, since you were now reformed?

Hopeful: There were several things brought it upon me, especially such sayings as these: “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” “By the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” “When ye shall have done all those things, say, We are unprofitable,” with many more such like. From whence I began to reason with myself thus: If ALL my righteousnesses are filthy rags; if, by the deeds of the law, NO man can be justified; and if, when we have done ALL, we are yet unprofitable, then it is but a folly to think of heaven by the law. I further thought thus: If a man runs a hundred pounds into the shopkeeper’s debt, and after that shall pay for all that he shall fetch; yet, if this old debt stands still in the book uncrossed, for that the shopkeeper may sue him, and cast him into prison till he shall pay the debt.

Christian: Well, and how did you apply this to yourself?

Hopeful: Why; I thought thus with myself. I have, by my sins, run a great way into God’s book, and that my now reforming will not pay off that score; therefore I should think still, under all my present amendments, But how shall I be freed from that damnation that I have brought myself in danger of by my former transgressions?

Christian: A very good application: but, pray, go on.

Hopeful: Another thing that has troubled me, even since my late amendments, is, that if I look narrowly into the best of what I do now, I still see sin, new sin, mixing itself with the best of that I do; so that now I am forced to conclude, that notwithstanding my former fond conceits of myself and duties, I have committed sin enough in one duty to send me to hell, though my former life had been faultless.

Though Hopeful tried at first to suppress the conviction weighing upon his heart, he was unsuccessful. He tried not to think about the consequences of his sin, but he still felt guilty and condemned. He then thought of another way to ease his conscience. He feared judgment for all the wrongs he had done, and so he endeavored to mend his life by doing good. He tried forsaking sin. He abandoned sinful companions. He did things that he believed would commend him to God. He prayed, he read his Bible, he felt sorry for sin, he even witnessed to his neighbors—that the world might see he was reformed. But going through the motions of being right with God does not make one right with God. Any good feelings Hopeful gained by being religious were fleeting. Guilt and conviction continued to flood his soul and overwhelmed all his efforts to reform.

The truth began to dawn in Hopeful’s thinking as he pondered God’s Word. Scripture teaches the futility of works as a way to be right with God. As Hopeful remembered verses that he had read and heard, he realized two important truths.

  1. Even if he could live perfectly from this day forward, he could never repay his former debt of sin.Were he able to obey God’s commands and do all that was required of him, he would only be doing his duty.

So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, “We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do” (Luke 17:10).

He could not do more to make up for past sins. The burden was too great. This was Christian’s great distress when he set out from the City of Destruction. Hopeful came to understand what Christian learned earlier on his journey when Worldly Wiseman sent him to see Legality in the Village of Morality. As Christian neared the cliffs of the High Hill (the thundering of God’s Law on Mount Sinai) the mountain seemed threatening, his burden seemed heavier, and he could not go on. Later in the allegory Faithful learned the same lesson when he was struck down by Moses on Hill Difficulty. Both Christian and Faithful attempted to gain God’s favor by obeying God’s Law. And both learned the same truth: the law cannot save us. No one will ever attain heaven by keeping God’s Law. We cannot find relief from our guilt or acceptance with God through our own attempts at obedience. In our sin, the Law only condemns us. It provides no relief, no reprieve, no respite. Our only hope of forgiveness is God’s grace and mercy given to us in Christ Jesus.

knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified (Galatians 2:16).

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast (Ephesians 2:8–9).

We can never do enough good works to cancel out our debt of sin. We are wholly unable to repay God; we cannot gain righteousness by our own efforts and strength.

  1. Even if he could repay his former debt of sin, he would still be weighed down with the debt owed daily for new sins.Though he tried reforming his life, he discovered that sin remained in his heart. Each day new sins added to his guilt before God. His sins separated him from God. Sin is thoroughly evil and contrary to God and His nature. Ralph Venning offers an apt description of the “sinfulness of sin.”

God is holy, without spot or blemish, or any such thing, without any wrinkle, or anything like it, as they also that are in Christ shall one day be (Ephesians 5:27). He is so holy, that he cannot sin himself, nor be the cause or author of sin in another. He does not command sin to be committed, for to do so would be to cross his nature and will. Nor does he approve of any man’s sin, when it is committed, but hates it with a perfect hatred. He is without iniquity, and of purer eyes than to behold (i.e. approve) iniquity (Habakkuk 1:13).

On the contrary, as God is holy, all holy, only holy, altogether holy, and always holy, so sin is sinful, all sinful, only sinful, altogether sinful, and always sinful (Genesis 6:5). In my flesh, that is, in my sinful corrupt nature, there dwelleth no good thing (Romans 7:18). As in God there is no evil, so in sin there is no good. God is the chiefest of goods and sin is the chiefest of evils. As no good can be compared with God for goodness, so no evil can be compared with sin for evil.

[The Sinfulness of Sin, Ralph Venning, 1669]

Sin is pervasive and insidious. It is mixed in all we do. Impure motives, wrong opinions, misguided ideas—we all have them. Even our righteous acts have enough sin mixed in to send us to hell. Hopeful confesses: “I have committed sin enough in one duty to send me to hell, though my former life had been faultless.” Sin has so tainted our thoughts and actions, that even our best efforts and most noble thoughts are as “filthy rags.”

But we are all like an unclean thing,
And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags;
We all fade as a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind,
Have taken us away.
(Isaiah 64:6)

Not every sin causes equally dire consequences or requires the same sort of restitution.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation (Matthew 23:14).

But every sin is grievous and damnable, because it is ultimately committed against our perfect and holy Creator.

How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God? (Genesis 39:9b)

For I acknowledge my transgressions,
And my sin is always before me.
Against You, You only, have I sinned,
And done this evil in Your sight—
That You may be found just when You speak,
And blameless when You judge.
(Psalm 51:3–4)

Jonathan Edwards rightly concludes:

Any sin is more or less heinous depending upon the honor and majesty of the one whom we had offended. Since God is of infinite honor, infinite majesty, and infinite holiness, the slightest sin is of infinite consequence. The slightest sin is nothing less than cosmic treason when we realize against whom we have sinned.

[The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners, Jonathan Edwards, 1734]

R.C. Sproul further explains Edwards’ conclusion:

“Sin is cosmic treason. Sin is treason against a perfectly pure Sovereign. It is an act of supreme ingratitude toward the One to whom we owe everything, to the One who has given us life itself. Have you ever considered the deeper implications of the slightest sin, of the most minute peccadillo? What are we saying to our Creator when we disobey Him at the slightest point? We are saying no to the righteousness of God. We are saying, “God, Your law is not good. My judgement is better than Yours. Your authority does not apply to me. I am above and beyond Your jurisdiction. I have the right to do what I want to do, not what You command me to do.”

[The Holiness of God, R.C. Sproul1985]

Hopeful understands the dire consequences of his sin. And he realizes the futility of his own works to atone for his sin. He cannot earn his own righteousness or attain God’s favor through his own efforts. He needs to look to the work of another. He needs a righteousness not his own. In the next post we will hear how Hopeful learned of the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ.

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.

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.

The Enchanted Ground

I saw then in my dream, that they went till they came into a certain country, whose air naturally tended to make one drowsy, if he came a stranger into it. And here Hopeful began to be very dull and heavy of sleep; wherefore he said unto Christian, I do now begin to grow so drowsy that I can scarcely hold up mine eyes, let us lie down here and take one nap.

Christian: By no means, said the other, lest sleeping, we never awake more.

Hopeful: Why, my brother? Sleep is sweet to the laboring man; we may be refreshed if we take a nap.

Christian: Do you not remember that one of the Shepherds bid us beware of the Enchanted Ground? He meant by that that we should beware of sleeping; “Therefore let us not sleep, as do others, but let us watch and be sober.”

Hopeful: I acknowledge myself in a fault, and had I been here alone I had by sleeping run the danger of death. I see it is true that the wise man says: Two are better than one. Hitherto hath thy company been my mercy, and thou shalt have a good reward for thy labor.

Christian: Now then, said Christian, to prevent drowsiness in this place, let us fall into good discourse.

Hopeful: With all my heart, said the other.

Christian: Where shall we begin?

Hopeful: Where God began with us. But do you begin, if you please.

Christian: I will sing you first this song:

When saints do sleepy grow, let them come hither,
And hear how these two pilgrims talk together:
Yea, let them learn of them, in any wise,
Thus to keep ope their drowsy slumb’ring eyes.
Saints’ fellowship, if it be managed well,
Keeps them awake, and that in spite of hell.

 The Enchanted Ground

Since meeting in the town of Vanity, Christian and Hopeful have faced many dangers and difficulties together. As they near the end of their journey they face another peril—one that is subtler and much harder to discern. They enter the Enchanted Ground—a country where the air tends to make unsuspecting travelers drowsy and lethargic. The Enchanted Ground represents dullness brought about by spiritual complacency and fatigue.

When Christian and Hopeful enter the Enchanted Ground, Hopeful begins “to be very dull and heavy of sleep.” He suggests to Christian that they stop and take a nap. Christian, however, is adamant that they press on. He fears that if they sleep, they might never awake. But Hopeful is not convinced. He questions Christian’s resistance and quotes Scripture to make his point: “The sleep of a laboring man is sweet…” (Ecclesiastes 5:12). The verse that Hopeful quotes is certainly true. Christian learned the value of rest at House Beautiful. But this is not the time for sleep. Christian remembers the instructions of the Shepherds and recognizes the ground. The Shepherds warned the pilgrims to beware of the Enchanted Ground. They dare not sleep in this place.

Consider and hear me, O Lord my God;
Enlighten my eyes,
Lest I sleep the sleep of death.
(Psalm 13:3)

How long will you slumber, O sluggard?
When will you rise from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
A little folding of the hands to sleep—
So shall your poverty come on you like a prowler,
And your need like an armed man.
(Proverbs 6:9–11)

And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed (Romans 13:11).

Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober (1 Thessalonians 5:6).

Christian has already seen the dangers of spiritual sleep. Earlier in the allegory he found Simple, Sloth, and Presumption asleep not far from the cross. Simple saw no need to study, understand, or apply doctrine. Sloth saw no need to do hard or costly things. Presumption settled where, if needed, he could see the cross and assumed all would be well. Christian himself later fell asleep at the Arbor while he was climbing Hill Difficulty. He lost his roll (his assurance of salvation) for a time and his carelessness placed him in greater danger.

The danger of the Enchanted Ground is spiritual complacency and fatigue.

When life is comfortable and religion becomes rote, we can grow complacent and careless in our walk with God. We can settle in and grow too comfortable in our faith. Our worship loses its wonder and becomes too routine. We go to church week after week, hearing the same old Sunday School lessons, singing the same old songs, hearing the same preacher saying the same things. And we begin to think: I’ve heard that before—and we don’t listen as intently—Didn’t we sing this hymn just last week?—and we stop paying attention to the words. We grow too familiar with the content and form of worship—and we tune out. Our minds wander and spiritual sleep overtakes us. We come week after week to feed on God’s Word but fail to “taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8). In his commentary on The Pilgrim’s Progress, William Mason warns:

Christian, beware of sleeping on this enchanted ground! When all things go easy, smooth, and well, we are prone to grow drowsy in soul.  How many are the calls in the Word against spiritual slumber! and yet how many professors, through the enchanting air of this world, are fallen into the deep sleep of formality! Be warned by them to cry to thy Lord to keep thee awake to righteousness, and vigorous in the ways of thy Lord—(Mason).

Even churches can drift into spiritual lethargy. As God’s people, we can become drowsy, asleep near the cross, like Simple, Sloth, and Presumption. We can dismiss and discard the teaching of difficult doctrine, so not to offend anyone. We can settle into a comfortable routine and stop doing hard things and challenging things. We can pare down ministry so it is manageable and predictable. We can grow complacent and languid—no longer sharing our faith with others, no longer engaging one another about our spiritual welfare. We can assume all is well and fail to encourage and admonish one another. As Keith Green has said, we can fall “asleep in the light.”

Oh, can’t you see such sin?!
The world is sleeping in the dark,
That the church just can’t fight,
’cause it’s asleep in the light!

Keith Green
©1978 from the album No Compromise

Spiritual complacency is not the only thing that lulls us to sleep. Spiritual fatigue does so as well. Living as a Christian in a world filled with sin is hard. Rising day after day, fighting the same old battles against sin, can be wearisome. It is easy to wonder at times—wouldn’t it be nice if I just didn’t have to fight anymore? Satan tempts us to give up the fight of faith. He tries to allure us away from what is true when we are weak and weary.

In Part II of The Pilgrim’s Progress, the pilgrims find two travelers asleep on the Enchanted Ground: Heed-less and Too-Bold. They rushed in with confidence, but failed to stay alert. They did not heed the truth of God’s Word and grew weary in crossing. They weren’t prepared for the long haul. Great-heart, the pilgrims’ guide in Part II, explains their demise.

This, then, is the mischief of it, when heedless ones go on pilgrimage, it is twenty to one but they are served thus; for this Enchanted Ground is one of the last refuges that the enemy to pilgrims has. Wherefore it is, as you see, placed almost at the end of the way, and so it stands against us with the more advantage. For when, thinks the enemy, will these fools be so desirous to sit down, as when they are weary? and when so like to be weary, as when almost at their journey’s end? Therefore it is, I say, that the Enchanted Ground is placed so nigh to the Land Beulah, and so near the end of their race.

The Enchanted Ground lies near the end of the journey because spiritual fatigue is a danger we can easily slip into when we have followed the Way for a long time.

How then are we to avoid the dangers and make it across the Enchanted Ground?

The solution for making it across such a treacherous place is threefold:

1) Never walk alone. When Hopeful realizes his error, he is grateful for Christian’s company. He quotes from Ecclesiastes:

Two are better than one,
Because they have a good reward for their labor.
For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.
But woe to him who is alone when he falls,
For he has no one to help him up.
(Ecclesiastes 4:9–10)

Had he been by himself, Hopeful might have fallen asleep and not completed his journey. By God’s kindness, Christian walked with him and prevented him from succumbing to spiritual slumber.

2) Look to God’s Word. God has given us instruction in His Word that we must heed and follow. He has given us faithful Shepherds to teach us God’s Word and to exhort us to follow its instruction. We must remember God’s Word and preach it continually to ourselves and to one another as we press on to our journey’s end.

3) Engage in godly discourse. Christian tells Hopeful, “to prevent drowsiness in this place, let us fall into good discourse.” Here Bunyan highlights the value of Christian discipleship. The pilgrims sing and discuss together spiritual things that edify their souls. Discipleship involves helping and encouraging others, and letting others help and encourage us. It involves investing time in others, rejoicing in truth with others, and sharing testimony of God’s goodness with one another. We need to continually rehearse the gospel, and never simply presume the gospel.  Discipleship is the means of grace whereby God keeps the gospel new and fresh in our hearts. It is the means whereby new believers are taught to cherish and walk in the faith. And it is the means whereby mature believers are heartened to continue cherishing and walking in the faith.

In the next several posts we will see discipleship in action. Christian will question Hopeful, draw out his testimony, and offer encouragement and instruction. God is gracious in insisting that we journey to the Celestial City together. We should always be grateful for the opportunity to walk together, look to God’s Word together, and share testimonies of God’s goodness our lives. We need discourse on the truth to keep us from growing dull and falling asleep in the Way.

Father, help them not grow drowsy
As they cross Enchanted Ground;
Stir their souls with lively discourse
Of the precious grace they’ve found.

(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 ©2018 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Met by Atheist

Now, after a while, they perceived, afar off, one coming softly and alone, all along the highway to meet them. Then said Christian to his fellow, Yonder is a man with his back towards Zion, and he is coming to meet us.

Hopeful: I see him; let us take heed to ourselves now, lest he should prove a flatterer also. So he drew nearer and nearer, and at last came up unto them. His name was Atheist, and he asked them whither they were going.

Christian: We are going to Mount Zion.

Then Atheist fell into a very great laughter.

Christian: What is the meaning of your laughter?

Atheist: I laugh to see what ignorant persons you are, to take upon you so tedious a journey, and you are like to have nothing but your travel for your pains.

Christian: Why, man, do you think we shall not be received?

Atheist: Received! There is no such place as you dream of in all this world.

Christian: But there is in the world to come.

Atheist: When I was at home in mine own country, I heard as you now affirm, and from that hearing went out to see, and have been seeking this city this twenty years; but find no more of it than I did the first day I set out.

Christian: We have both heard and believe that there is such a place to be found.

Atheist: Had not I, when at home, believed, I had not come thus far to seek; but finding none, (and yet I should, had there been such a place to be found, for I have gone to seek it further than you), I am going back again, and will seek to refresh myself with the things that I then cast away, for hopes of that which, I now see, is not.

Christian: Then said Christian to Hopeful his fellow, Is it true what this man has said?

Hopeful: Take heed, he is one of the flatterers; remember what it hath cost us once already for our hearkening to such kind of fellows. What! No Mount Zion? Did we not see, from the Delectable Mountains the gate of the city? Also, are we not now to walk by faith? Let us go on, said Hopeful, lest the man with the whip overtake us again. You should have taught me that lesson, which I will round you in the ears withal: “Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge.” I say, my brother, cease to hear him, and let us “believe to the saving of the soul.”

Christian: My brother, I did not put the question to you for that I doubted of the truth of our belief myself, but to prove you, and to fetch from you a fruit of the honesty of your heart. As for this man, I know that he is blinded by the god of this world. Let you and I go on, knowing that we have belief of the truth, “and no lie is of the truth.”

Hopeful: Now do I rejoice in hope of the glory of God. So they turned away from the man; and he, laughing at them, went his way.

 Atheist

Once again Christian and Hopeful are traveling toward the Celestial City. They have been freed from the net of the Flatterer and brought back to the Way. Now they see afar off one coming toward them—one “with his back toward Zion.” Though the traveler does not appear threatening—he is walking “softly and alone”—Hopeful is suspicious.

The traveler’s name is Atheist. He is one who refuses to believe in God and rejects the truth of the Bible. He is walking in the opposite direction, away from Zion and the Celestial City and toward Vanity and Destruction. He no longer seeks eternal life. He no longer fears eternal judgment. In fact, he no longer believes in the reality of heaven and hell. When Christian tells him that they are going to Mount Zion, he responds with “very great laughter.” He considers Christian and Hopeful to be ignorant, beneath his superior knowledge of the world. Christian, still feeling the shame of his error in following the Flatterer, at first interprets Atheist’s laughter to mean: How could someone as sinful as you be received at Mount Zion! But Atheist taunts: “There is no such place as you dream of in all this world.”

This claim is not the confession of an agnostic who doubts that God is knowable, nor the testimony of a skeptic who doubts that the claims of the Bible can be true. These are the words of an Atheist who adamantly denies the existence of God and has contrived ways of understanding the world without thinking of God.

The claims of Atheist are foolish and unfounded.

The fool has said in his heart,
“There is no God.”
(Psalm 53:1)

He has come to the false conclusion that since he cannot understand the existence of God in light of what he sees in the world around him, God must not exist. It is the height of arrogance for a frail and finite creature such as man to conclude after only 20 years of seeking, “there is no such place as you dream of in all this world.” Eternal reward will always remain hidden to those who persist in such short-sighted folly.

The labor of fools wearies them,
For they do not even know how to go to the city!
(Ecclesiastes 10:15)

but he shall die in the place where they have led him captive, and shall see this land no more (Jeremiah 22:12).

Atheist claims that he was once an earnest pilgrim. His life, however, demonstrates that he is not a true disciple. He left his country out of curiosity and intrigue, not to find relief from a burden of sin or to escape the wrath to come. He sought for evidence of God’s existence and for the hope of eternal life, but finding none, he is now resolved to give up and go back to his country. A true disciple perseveres and does not dare go back. Christian declared when he was urged to turn back near the top of Hill Difficulty:

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.

Atheist has become a scoffer. He has renounced the gospel. He regards the journey as tedious and pointless. Though he at one time professed the gospel, his heart was never softened by the gospel. He was never saved by the gospel and now he is gospel-hardened. Thomas Scott explains:

Some false professors gradually renounce “the truth” as it is in Jesus; but others openly set themselves against all kinds of religion, and turn scoffers and infidels. Indeed none are more likely to become avowed atheists, than such as have for many years hypocritically professed the gospel: for they often acquire an acquaintance with the several parts of religion, their connexion with each other, and the arguments with which they are supported; so that they know not where to begin, if they would oppose any particular doctrine or precept of revelation. Yet they hate the whole system; and, having never experienced those effects from the truth which the scripture ascribes to it, they feel, that if there be any reality in religion, their own case is very dreadful, and wish to shake off this mortifying and alarming conviction.

(Thomas Scott Notes on Pilgrim’s Progress)

When Atheist insists that he is turning back because his search for the Celestial City has proved to be fruitless, Christian asks Hopeful: “Is it true what this man has said?” Hopeful does not hesitate to answer. His reply highlights three lessons that we need to remember if we are to persevere in the journey.

1) Take heed and don’t be deceived. Hopeful is now more alert, having just been freed from the Flatterer’s net. He knows the hazard of following false counsel. He wants to avoid the snare of sin and the whip of God’s discipline. God’s discipline in our lives not only rescues us in the moment from turning back to Destruction, it becomes a deterrent that restrains us from straying into sin in the future. It keeps us out of danger and in the path of blessing. We must learn to watch and continually guard our hearts.

Keep your heart with all diligence,
For out of it spring the issues of life.
Put away from you a deceitful mouth,
And put perverse lips far from you.
Let your eyes look straight ahead,
And your eyelids look right before you.
Ponder the path of your feet,
And let all your ways be established.
Do not turn to the right or the left;
Remove your foot from evil.
(Proverbs 4:23–27)

2) Walk by faith and not by sight. We are not to listen to what we know is not right. We must remember the truth that we have learned—lessons and glimpses of glory from the Delectable Mountains. We must not leave off faith and begin walking by sight.

For we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

We do not seek our reward here in this life. In this life we are but pilgrims passing through. Jesus said: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). “For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come” (Hebrews 13:14). We must not believe the lie that this world is all there is.

3) Believe God’s Word and hope in His promises. We never get beyond needing the Word of God. Christian and Hopeful strayed from the Way, following after the Flatterer, because they neglected God’s Word. Though they carried with them instructions from the Shepherds, they failed to read and follow them. Now, faced with another temptation to abandon their journey, Hopeful says to Christian: “You should have taught me that lesson, which I will round you in the ears” [tell you sincerely]. He points Christian to God’s Word and quotes a warning from the book of Proverbs:

Cease, my son, to hear the instruction
that causeth to err from the words of knowledge.
(Proverbs 19:27, KJV)

Cease listening to instruction, my son,
And you will stray from the words of knowledge.
(Proverbs 19:27, NKJV)

And he quotes an affirmation:

But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul (Hebrews 10:39).

We must persevere in the light of God’s Word. We must believe “to the saving of the soul.” Christian assures Hopeful that he asked the question, not because he believed Atheist or doubted the truth, but because he desired to draw out a sincere testimony from Hopeful. Atheist is blind to the truth of the Gospel.

But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them (2 Corinthians 4:3–4).

But Christian and Hopeful are resolved to press on, believing what they know to be true and rejecting what they know to be a lie. God has given His Word that we might know truth from error.

I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and that no lie is of the truth. (1 John 2:21).

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

Atheist faces a grave ending. He is turning back to refresh himself with things of this world that he had previously cast away. He scorns those who would forsake all the world has to offer in order to find eternal life, but he will end up empty, “having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).

Christian and Hopeful are still intent on reaching the Celestial City. They are not dissuaded by Atheist’s laughter and scorn. Because they take heed, walk by faith, and believe God’s Word, they continue on in their journey, seeking life eternal and “rejoicing in hope of the glory of God.”

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God (Romans 5:1–2).

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 ©2018 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.