Tag Archives: Word of God

Great-Grace, the King’s Champion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great-Grace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Voices Cry Out to Be Heard

Two Ways

There are two voices vying for our attention, beckoning us to very different paths. We need to listen well. Eternity is at stake. Scripture warns us in both the Old and New Testaments: only one path leads to life; the other down to destruction.

The book of Psalms opens with the contrast between the way of the righteous and the way of the ungodly.

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

In the New Testament, Jesus calls His followers to choose the way of life.

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

We hear the two voices at the beginning of the book of Proverbs: the enticement of sinners (from the world) and the call of wisdom (from God and His Word).

My son, if sinners entice you,
Do not consent.
If they say, “Come with us,
Let us lie in wait to shed blood;
Let us lurk secretly for the innocent without cause;
Let us swallow them alive like Sheol,
And whole, like those who go down to the Pit;
We shall find all kinds of precious possessions,
We shall fill our houses with spoil;
Cast in your lot among us,
Let us all have one purse”—
My son, do not walk in the way with them,
Keep your foot from their path;
For their feet run to evil,
And they make haste to shed blood.
(Proverbs 1:10–16)

Wisdom calls aloud outside;
She raises her voice in the open squares.
She cries out in the chief concourses,
At the openings of the gates in the city
She speaks her words:
“How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity?
For scorners delight in their scorning,
And fools hate knowledge.”
(Proverbs 1:20–22)

If we are to learn the fear of the Lord and find the way of life we must tune out the world and listen to the voice of wisdom. Only wisdom will speak the truth. Only wisdom will point us to God’s Word where we will find peace and rest in Christ.

Two Voices Cry Out to Be Heard

Two voices cry out to be heard;
Take heed, my soul, and listen well.
For only one voice leads to life,
The other down to death and hell.

The voice of sinners fills the streets,
There on the innocent they prey.
Take heed, my soul, do not consent,
Lest you with them be cast away.

The voice of wisdom cries aloud
Above the din of sin’s deceit.
“How long, you simple, will you choose
The evil way, the scoffer’s seat?”

It’s wisdom’s voice I long to hear
To guide my steps which way to go.
Her words of warning, I would heed;
Her wealth of knowledge, I would know.

Lord, help me find the righteous way;
Guide me in ev’ry thought and choice.
For You alone have words of life,
Atune my heart to love Your voice.

Let me hear clearly wisdom’s call;
Tune out the noise of sin’s allure.
Listen intently to God’s Word
And there in Christ find rest secure.

Words ©2018 Ken Puls

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

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A Hill Called Clear

By this time the Pilgrims had a desire to go forward, and the Shepherds a desire they should; so they walked together towards the end of the mountains. Then said the Shepherds one to another, Let us here show to the Pilgrims the gates of the Celestial City, if they have skill to look through our perspective glass. The Pilgrims then lovingly accepted the motion; so they had them to the top of a high hill, called Clear, and gave them their glass to look.

Then they essayed to look, but the remembrance of that last thing that the Shepherds had shown them, made their hands shake; by means of which impediment, they could not look steadily through the glass; yet they thought they saw something like the gate, and also some of the glory of the place. Then they went away, and sang this song—

Thus, by the Shepherds, secrets are reveal’d,
Which from all other men are kept conceal’d.
Come to the Shepherds, then, if you would see
Things deep, things hid, and that mysterious be.

When they were about to depart, one of the Shepherds gave them a note of the way. Another of them bid them beware of the Flatterer. The third bid them take heed that they sleep not upon the Enchanted Ground. And the fourth bid them God-speed. So I awoke from my dream.

Mount Clear

The time has come for Christian and Hopeful to resume their journey. But Christian has learned the value of patience and the reward of lingering to learn more. Earlier in the allegory, at both the House of the Interpreter and Palace Beautiful, Christian desired to depart before he was ready. At both places, he was convinced—to the benefit of his soul—to stay longer. At Palace Beautiful he was taken up to an observation point, and because the day was clear, he was able to see the Delectable Mountains off in the distance. Now, from the Delectable Mountains, the Shepherds offer to give the pilgrims a glimpse of their journey’s end—to show them the very gates of the Celestial City.

Near the end of the Delectable Mountains is Mount Clear. This mountain provides an unparalleled view! From the top of this mountain the shepherds test the skill of the pilgrims at looking through the perspective glass. Mount Clear represents our unobstructed view of Christ and His glory, especially as we mature in our faith and near the end of life’s journey. As our time on earth grows shorter and the allure of the world grows weaker, our desire for the glories of Christ in heaven grows stronger. The Perspective Glass is the application of God’s Word to the well-being of our soul. William Mason describes it as “the glass of God’s word of grace and truth held up by the hand of faith to the eye of the soul.” Through it we see the hope of eternal life in Christ. Scripture shows us errors and cautions. It uncovers the depths of sin and warns of wrath and judgment. But it also takes us to the glories of heaven and gives us glimpses of the joy that awaits us in eternity.

Christian and Hopeful are not able to “look steadily through the glass.” Their hands shake as they hold up the scope. The reminder of remaining sin and conviction of past sins impede their view. Though we look intently through the lens of God’s Word at the realities of this life and eternal life to come, our view, this side of glory, is clouded. Paul tells us: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Though Christian and Hopeful cannot see as clearly as they would like, yet they continue their gaze. There reward is a glimpse of the glory of the Celestial City.

This glimpse of glory on Mount Clear comes through the clear teaching and compassionate ministry of the Shepherds. It is the shepherds’ task to make know “things deep, things hid, and that mysterious be.” Paul describes the ministry of the gospel as a

… stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus (Colossians 1:25–28).

The pilgrims are grateful for the truths they have learned in the Delectable Mountains. They desire others to come and see from their vantage point. They descend the mountain with song, delighting in the mysteries of God and encouraging others to seek wisdom and guidance from the Shepherds.

Before the pilgrims depart, the Shepherds prepare them for the journey ahead. They give them:

  • A note of the way—instruction on finding and staying on the right path
  • Warnings of dangers that lie ahead on their path: a warning to beware of the Flatterer and a warning not to sleep on the Enchanted Ground
  • And a prayer that God will go with them and bring them safely to their journey’s end.

The shepherd’s sermon on this mountain is clear. We must look steadfastly to Christ and the promises of the gospel. It is a sermon we must heed! Mount Clear and the By-Way to Hell remind us that eternity is at stake. This world is not all there is. When we are troubled and tempted by the world, our view of heaven is hazy and less certain. But when we look to Christ and His promises—and He is the one who delights our soul—it is the world that dims. Our view of heaven is bright and clear. Helen H. Lemmel expressed it beautifully in her hymn (1922):

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

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.

O How Blest the Hour

Church and Clock Tower

We enjoy many wonderful blessings when we gather with the church for worship. Together, we lift up our prayers, sing God’s praise, and hear God’s Word. Yet we can too easily miss these blessings, even when we are present with God’s people. We can say and sing words with our lips—and fail to draw near to Christ in our hearts. We can hear the Word of God read and preached—and thoughtlessly assume we know what is being said. We can take worship for granted and fail to appreciate its wonder and delight.

The hymn, O How Blest the Hour by the Lutheran hymn-writer Carl Johann Philipp Spitta (1801–1859), is a prayer that we not miss the wonder and delight of worship. It was first published in Leipzig in 1843 under the Scripture text John 6:68 with the title “Thou hast the words of Eternal Life” (John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology, 2:1078). The opening line in German is “O wie freun wir uns der Stunde” (O how we joyfully look forward to the hour). Richard Massie included a translation of the hymn in English in the second volume of his Lyra Domestica (1864).

The hymn anticipates the joy of drawing near to Christ and being together with the church in worship. It expresses our desire to hear God’s Word and asks that God be at work as we listen—that we would “not hear in vain” but He would impress its truths to our hearts and minds and help us walk in obedience.

Below are the words and link to the hymn set to a tune composed by Tom Wells. My thanks again to Tom for his permission to share and make his tunes available.

O How Blest the Hour

“But Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life’” (John 6:68).

O How blest the hour, Lord Jesus,
When we can to Thee draw near,
Promises so sweet and precious
From Thy gracious lips to hear!

Be with us this day to bless us,
That we may not hear in vain;
While Thy saving truths impress us,
Which the words of life contain.

Open Thou our minds and lead us
Safely on our heav’nward way;
While the lamp of Truth precedes us,
That we might not go astray.

Lord, endue Thy Word from heaven
With such light and love and pow’r,
That in us its silent leaven
May work on from hour to hour.

Give us grace to bear our witness
To the truths we have embraced;
And let others both their sweetness
And their quick’ning virtue taste.

“O How Blest the Hour”
Words by Carl Johann Philipp Spitta (1801–1859)
Translated by Richard Massie, 1800–1887
Music by Tom Wells, 2002
Words ©Public Domain
Music ©2002 Tom Wells (Used by Permission)

Download free sheet music (PDF), including guitar chord charts and an arrangement of the hymn tune HARRISON for classical guitar.

More Hymns from History

More hymns arranged for Classical Guitar

 

Mount Caution

Then I saw that they had them to the top of another mountain, and the name of that is Caution, and bid them look afar off; which, when they did, they perceived, as they thought, several men walking up and down among the tombs that were there; and they perceived that the men were blind, because they stumbled sometimes upon the tombs, and because they could not get out from among them. Then said Christian, What does this mean?

The view from Mount Caution

The Shepherds then answered, Did you not see a little below these mountains a stile, that led into a meadow, on the left hand of this way? They answered, Yes. Then said the Shepherds, From that stile there goes a path that leads directly to Doubting Castle, which is kept by Giant Despair, and these, pointing to them among the tombs, came once on pilgrimage, as you do now, even till they came to that same stile; and because the right way was rough in that place, they chose to go out of it into that meadow, and there were taken by Giant Despair, and cast into Doubting Castle; where, after they had been a while kept in the dungeon, he at last did put out their eyes, and led them among those tombs, where he has left them to wander to this very day, that the saying of the wise man might be fulfilled, “He that wanders out of the way of understanding, shall remain in the congregation of the dead.” Then Christian and Hopeful looked upon one another, with tears gushing out, but yet said nothing to the Shepherds.

Christian and Hopeful continue to explore the Delectable Mountains under the guidance of the Shepherds. On the first mountain they were warned of drifting into error. If the pilgirms are to navigate the way forward, they must know how to discern truth from error. On this second mountain they are exhorted to look back. They look down into the valley, in the direction from which they came, and there they see blind men, stumbling and lost in a graveyard filled with tombs. The mountains, again, each represents a sermon—a passage of Scripture expounded by the Shepherds. The message on Mount Caution is from Proverbs—

A man who wanders from the way of understanding
Will rest in the assembly of the dead.
(Proverbs 21:16)

Christian doesn’t recognize at first the proximity of the tombs he now sees to the dark castle from which he had just escaped. He asks the Shepherds, “What does this mean?” As the Shepherds explain, he regretfully remembers. The tombs are in the castle-yard that Giant Despair had shown to Christian and Hopeful in an attempt to discourage them. Those who wander amidst the bones are those who, like Christian, found God’s Way to be rough and sought an easier way. They wandered “from the way of understanding” and now they are in danger of eternal death. Their lives have been ruined by despair, blinded to truth, and they no longer see any hope.

On the one hand, this appears to be a lesson received too late. Christian and Hopeful have already stumbled onto the grounds of Doubting Castle. But on the other, this is a very timely lesson. The pilgrims must remember their missteps and learn from them.  More temptations and dangers lie ahead. They must be ready.

Often sermons from God’s Word can help us evaluate more clearly errors we have made in the past and cause us to more deeply appreciate the mercies of God that keep us from the worst of their consequences. It is all too easy for us to discount our errors and fail to learn from them. We forget where we have been and end up falling into the same errors over and over. When we fail to acknowledge our sin—confess it and fight it—when we instead find ways to manage sin—hide it and cope with it—sin will slowly blind us, weigh us down, and imprison us. We will lose our way and lose sight of the gospel. Christ will become less precious to our souls. We will become as those wandering about the tombs. Those who fail to keep hold of the promise that unlocks the gates of Doubting Castle are doomed to remain in its prison. They are blinded, confined to the darkness of their own despair, without hope and without light.

We must learn to heed God’s Word and be quick to confess our sins and our need for Christ. Scripture cautions us:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8).

But it also gives us the sure promise:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9–10).

Hearing the words of the shepherds, Christian and Hopeful are overcome with tears. There are times when we sit under the preaching of God’s Word, that conviction feels so pointed and application sounds so personal, it is as if the sermon were meant only for us. It seems as if the pastor has been looking through a window into our thoughts and lives and fashioned his message specifically to call us out. But this precise heart-work is not the craftiness or clairvoyance of the pastor. It is the skillful work of the Spirit wielding the sharp edge of God’s Word.

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:12–13).

Christian and Hopeful hear the words of caution from God’s Word and they realize how great a danger they were in when they willfully wandered into By-Path Meadow. They are awash with sorrow for having strayed from the good Way. And they are filled with joy and gratitude to Christ for having escaped the dungeon of despair with the promise of salvation.

Pray that God’s Spirit will wield the Word in our hearts. Pray that He will keep our hearts tender and sensitive to His Word. Flee from sins and be quick to repent. Do not discount or dismiss past sins as if they are of no consequence. It is because of our sins that Christ died! Do not despise the remorse that the memory of past sins brings. Rather, let that remorse remind you of sin’s true evil nature—that you might be repulsed by sin and flee from it. And let every reminder of past sins and failings again point you Christ and deepen your love and gratitude for Him. His Word is sure. He alone forgives. He alone can make us whole.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits:
Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
(Psalm 103:2–5)

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.

A Hill Called Error

Then I saw in my dream, that in the morning the Shepherds called up to Christian and Hopeful to walk with them upon the mountains; so they went forth with them, and walked a while, having a pleasant prospect on every side. Then said the Shepherds one to another, Shall we show these pilgrims some wonders? So when they had concluded to do it, they had them first to the top of a hill called Error, which was very steep on the furthest side, and bid them look down to the bottom. So Christian and Hopeful looked down, and saw at the bottom several men dashed all to pieces by a fall that they had from the top. Then said Christian, What does this mean? The Shepherds answered, Have you not heard of them that were made to err by hearkening to Hymeneus and Philetus as concerning the faith of the resurrection of the body? They answered, Yes. Then said the Shepherds, Those that you see lie dashed in pieces at the bottom of this mountain are they; and they have continued to this day unburied, as you see, for an example to others to take heed how they clamber too high, or how they come too near the brink of this mountain. 

Christian and Hopeful heeded the counsel of the Shepherds to stay awhile in the Delectable Mountains before continuing their journey. The shepherds (pastors) now walk with the pilgrims and guide them through the mountains (exegete passages of Bible in sermons, explaining more clearly the meaning of the text). The mountains have much to offer and the pilgrims are in need of assistance, for there are yet many dangers ahead.

Earlier in the allegory when Christian was at the House of the Interpreter (a representation of Scripture), he was in a hurry in leave. The Interpreter beckoned him several times to stay and see more. Again, at Palace Beautiful (the church from the vantage point of a new believer), when Christian was ready to depart, he was encouraged to stay (and by staying he was able to see the Delectable Mountains off in the distance). Now that Christian has arrived at the Delectable Mountains (the church from the vantage point of a mature believer), he is ready to see all that the Shepherds desire to show him. He knows the value of hearing, lingering and meditating on the Word of God—such patient preparation will more fully prepare him for what lies ahead on his journey.

View from a Hill called Error

In the mountains the pilgrims have a better vantage point to see the world around them. They can see hope, promise, and reward, where down below they were hampered by doubt, despair, and diffidence. They can see potential dangers and difficulties long before they must face them up close.  As the shepherds begin to show the pilgrims “some wonders” they first take them to the top of a hill called Error.

Sermons can teach us and help us avoid drifting into error. We see in Scripture warnings, cautions, and admonitions. Scripture reproves us when we begin to stray. It corrects us and shows us the way back. It instructs us how to keep to the right Way.

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16–17).

We can learn from the mistakes and missteps of others. The Shepherds take Christian and Hopeful to the top of the hill and have them look over the cliff. They see at the bottom several men who are “dashed all to pieces by a fall that they had from the top.” Those who “lie dashed in pieces” are the remains of those who tumbled into heresy by heeding false teachers.

The passage the Shepherds are expounding on the Hill called Error is 2 Timothy 2:16–18. In this passage Paul warns about straying from the truth and spreading error. He mentions Hymeneus and Philetus as examples of false teachers:

But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some (2 Timothy 2:16–18).

We must be careful to hold to truth and not be led into error by those who would distort the truth to their own liking. Peter warns of the dire consequences of falling into such error.

Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.

You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.

(2 Peter 3:14–18)

We can be thankful that God has given to His church faithful shepherds who guide and protect the flock from error. They teach us and warn us and point us to Christ.

Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily (Colossians 1:28–29).

They caution us not to “clamber too high” (exalting speculation and opinion in place of biblical truth) or “come too near the brink” (entertaining erroneous and unbiblical notions in our thoughts). We must heed their words and esteem them very highly as they labor to help us discern truth from error.

And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves (1 Thessalonians 5:12–13).

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.

Conversation with Shepherds

Christian: Is this the way to the Celestial City?

Shepherds: You are just in your way.

Christian: How far is it thither?

Shepherds: Too far for any but those that shall get thither indeed.

Christian: Is the way safe or dangerous?

Christian: Safe for those for whom it is to be safe; but the transgressors shall fall therein.

Christian: Is there, in this place, any relief for pilgrims that are weary and faint in the way?

Shepherds: The Lord of these mountains hath given us a charge not to be forgetful to entertain strangers, therefore the good of the place is before you.

I saw also in my dream, that when the Shepherds perceived that they were wayfaring men, they also put questions to them, to which they made answer as in other places; as, Whence came you? and, How got you into the way? and, By what means have you so persevered therein? For but few of them that begin to come hither do show their face on these mountains. But when the Shepherds heard their answers, being pleased therewith, they looked very lovingly upon them, and said, Welcome to the Delectable Mountains.

The Shepherds, I say, whose names were Knowledge, Experience, Watchful, and Sincere, took them by the hand, and had them to their tents, and made them partake of that which was ready at present. They said, moreover, We would that ye should stay here awhile, to be acquainted with us; and yet more to solace yourselves with the good of these Delectable Mountains. They then told them, that they were content to stay; so they went to their rest that night, because it was very late.

Shepherds on the Delectable Mountains

As the pilgrims are welcomed to the Delectable Mountains, Christian questions the Shepherds who keep watch by the Way. Christian first asks if the way up into the mountains is the right path to the Celestial City. Earlier he had wandered out of the Way and into the dangers of Doubting Castle by going over the stile into By-Path Meadow. Now he is more alert and cautious. The shepherds assure him: “You are just in your way.” He is right in the way he is going.

The way of life winds upward for the wise,
That he may turn away from hell below.
(Proverbs 15:24)

He then asks how far it is to the Celestial City. The shepherds respond with a warning that not all who attempt the journey will arrive at the City—only those who persevere to the end. It is “too far for any but those that shall get thither indeed.” Christian has already experienced dangers along the Way, but he wonders now if there is more yet to face. He asks if the Way is safe or dangerous. The shepherds again warn him: “Safe for those for whom it is to be safe; but the transgressors shall fall therein.”

Scripture draws a contrast between the way of the righteous (who will persevere to the end) and the way of the wicked (who will perish).

Who is wise?
Let him understand these things.
Who is prudent?
Let him know them.
For the ways of the Lord are right;
The righteous walk in them,
But transgressors stumble in them.
(Hosea 14:9)

This contrast is seen especially in the book of Psalms.

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

Oh, let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end,
But establish the just;
For the righteous God tests the hearts and minds.
(Psalm 7:9)

For the arms of the wicked shall be broken,
But the Lord upholds the righteous.
The Lord knows the days of the upright,
And their inheritance shall be forever.
(Psalm 37:17–18)

Only those who are truly Christ’s will persevere. Only those kept by His power will reach the journey’s end. William Mason notes in his commentary on The Pilgrim’s Progress:

O how many professors grow weary of the way, fall short, and fail of coming to the end! Though the way be too far, too strait, and too narrow for many who set out, and never hold out to the end; yet all who are begotten by the Word of grace, and born of the Spirit of truth, shall persevere to the end, being kept by the mighty power of God, through faith, unto eternal salvation (1 Peter 1:5) —William Mason

The very trials and failures that bring discouragement to would-be pilgrims, causing them to turn back or fall away, serve to strengthen true pilgrims, causing them to look to Christ, rest in Him, and persevere.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience (James 1:2–3).

Thomas Scott explains:

The certainty of the final perseverance of true believers is exemplified in their persevering, notwithstanding inward and outward impediments. Many hold the doctrine who are not interested in the privilege; but the true believer acquires new strength by his trials and mistakes, and possesses increasing evidence that the new covenant is made with him. —Thomas Scott

Finally, Christian asks if the mountains offer “any relief for pilgrims that are weary and faint in the way.” The shepherds assure them that the Lord has charged them not to forget to entertain strangers.

Let brotherly love continue. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels (Hebrews 13:1–2).

The mountains represent the church seen through the eyes of a mature believer. Just as Christian was questioned concerning his confession of faith and testimony when he arrived at House Beautiful (the church seen through the eyes of a new convert), he and Hopeful are questioned here. The shepherds represent the pastors of the church, who feed and guard the flock. Their names are Knowledge, Experience, Watchful (the Porter at House Beautiful was also named Watchful), and Sincere. Thomas Scott notes the significance of their names:

These names show what are the endowments most essential to the pastoral office: (1) knowledge of the scriptures; (2) experience of the power of divine truth; (3) watchfulness over the people; (4) sincerity manifested by a disinterested, unambitious, unassuming, patient, and affectionate conduct. —Thomas Scott

Knowledge

Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. (1 Timothy 4:13)

Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you (1 Timothy 4:16).

We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed. But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left … (2 Corinthians 6:3–7).

Experience

Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity (1 Timothy 4:12)

Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all (2 Timothy 4:15).

Watchful

But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Timothy 4:5).

Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you (Hebrews 13:17).

Sincere

For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, and more abundantly toward you (2 Corinthians 1:12).

For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ (2 Corinthians 2:17).

We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed. But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God … by sincere love (2 Corinthians 6:3–6).

The Shepherds encourage Christian and Hopeful to stay awhile, find solace, and enjoy “the good of these Delectable Mountains.” The mountains themselves represent sermons—passages of Scripture expounded by the Shepherds: words of caution, admonitions, reproof of error, warnings of judgment and hell, words of clarity, and words of promise and encouragement. The sheep (church family) feed upon the mountains, strengthening their faith, deepening their repentance, and gaining greater understanding of God’s Word.

In the following posts we will examine some of these sermons—lessons that Christian and Hopeful will need as they complete their journey.

 

The Delectable Mountains

Lord, we thank You for the Mountains
Where You bring Your flocks to feed;
Guided by Your watchful Shepherds,
We find truth for every need.
Father, give us words of Caution,
Help us see Immanuel’s Land,
Keep us from the cliffs of Error,
Make us on good ground to stand.

(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.

The Delectable Mountains

They went then till they came to the Delectable Mountains, which mountains belong to the Lord of that hill of which we have spoken before; so they went up to the mountains, to behold the gardens and orchards, the vineyards and fountains of water; where also they drank and washed themselves, and did freely eat of the vineyards. Now there were on the tops of these mountains Shepherds feeding their flocks, and they stood by the highway side. The Pilgrims therefore went to them, and leaning upon their staves, (as is common with weary pilgrims when they stand to talk with any by the way), they asked, Whose Delectable Mountains are these? And whose be the sheep that feed upon them?

Shepherds: These mountains are Immanuel’s Land, and they are within sight of his city; and the sheep also are his, and he laid down his life for them.

Mountains delectable they now ascend,
Where Shepherds be, which to them do commend
Alluring things, and things that cautious are,
Pilgrims are steady kept by faith and fear.

Shepherds and the Delectable Mountains

After Christian and Hopeful escape from Doubting Castle, they continue their journey, ascending into the Delectable Mountains. These are the mountains of the Lord.

His foundation is in the holy mountains.
The Lord loves the gates of Zion
More than all the dwellings of Jacob.
Glorious things are spoken of you,
O city of God!
Selah
(Psalm 87:1–3)

They are beautiful and bountiful—a place filled with gardens, orchards, vineyards, and fountains. Here is refreshment and delight. Here shepherds keep watch and feed their flocks.

The Delectable Mountains represent the church from the vantage point of a more mature Christian. Atop these mountains the pilgrims have a wider view and can see with more clarity. Their understanding of God’s Word is greater. Heaven is in view. The world is less alluring. Earlier in the allegory, Christian had a glimpse of these mountains from an observation point on the roof of House Beautiful. There he could only see the mountains far off in the distance. House Beautiful depicted the church through the eyes of a young believer. Christian loved the truth but had yet to ascend its heights.  Now Christian and Hopeful are nearer to the journey’s end. Their faith has grown. Their repentance has deepened. And their love for Christ has strengthened. They have walked the pathway longer.

The shepherds affirm what Christian learned at House Beautiful. The mountains are Immanuel’s Land and they are within sight of His city—the Celestial City to which the pilgrims are journeying. The joy of Immanuel’s Land is Christ. He is the King whose name is Immanuel, “God with Us” (Isaiah 7:17; Matthew 1:23). He is the promised Savior. In the Old Testament Ezekiel looked forward to the coming of the King and Shepherd from the linage of David who would save His people and cause them to dwell in safety. He concluded in chapter 29:

“I will raise up for them a garden of renown, and they shall no longer be consumed with hunger in the land, nor bear the shame of the Gentiles anymore. Thus they shall know that I, the Lord their God, am with them, and they, the house of Israel, are My people,” says the Lord God. “You are My flock, the flock of My pasture; you are men, and I am your God,” says the Lord God (Ezekiel 34:29–31).

Jesus is the Good Shepherd who knows His sheep and laid down His life for the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

“I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep” (John 10:14–15).

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one” (John 10:27–30).

The shepherds gladly speak of Immanuel, the Good Shepherd. They stand by the Way, ready to welcome and point pilgrims to Him. In the next several posts, we will focus on the shepherds and their instructions to the pilgrims. As Christian received valuable teaching for his journey at the House of the Interpreter and House Beautiful, the pilgrims receive valuable insights here—insights that will be crucial for their reaching the journey’s end.

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

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

Within a Better Covenant

All of Scripture points us to Christ. The New Testament proclaims His coming. The Old Testament prepares for His coming. From the Garden of Eden in Genesis (where God promised that the Seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent) to the songs of praise to the Lamb in Revelation, we hear the good news of salvation in Christ.

Jesus is the glory of the covenants. He is the substance of all the shadows and types of the Old Covenant. The tabernacle and Temple—the sacrifices and festivals—all foreshadow the person and work of Christ. When Christ came in the New Testament and the full light of God’s revelation was made known in Him, the shadows of the Old vanished away (Hebrews 8:13). What was temporary and preparatory in the Old Testament is eternal and complete in the New Testament in Christ.

The difference between the Old and New Covenants is largely a difference in brilliance and clarity. It is not that there are two or more ways of salvation, or two or more gospels. There is only one gospel and one salvation—Jesus is the only way, the only truth and the only life in both Old and New Testaments.

But the view of this gospel in the Old Testament, seen through the Old Covenant with its types and shadows, is less clear and defined as it is in the New. It is like going out at night, before the dawn, and seeing a beautiful landscape under the starlight. The trees and mountains and lake—the scene is all in place, but largely, it can only be seen in outline and silhouette. There is much left in shadow; the details and color are still hidden. It lies before you, but your view is sketchy.

Shadows Fade at First Light

But as the dawn arrives, and the rays of the sun begin to break over the horizon, then your view begins to open. You can see more and more. As the sun climbs higher and higher, those details and colors that were hidden are revealed and illumined by the light.

The gospel as we see it in the Old Covenant is the dawn breaking—those first rays announcing the coming light. The gospel as we see it in the New Covenant is the full glory of the sun at noon day.

It is in the brilliance of the sun—God’s full revelation of His Son and the cross— that we now see and understand the gospel in its fullness and completeness.  The Old is “outshined with Christ in view”!

“But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established with better promises” (Hebrews 8:6).

The following hymn was composed for the 2001 General Assembly of the Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America (ARBCA), that met March 6-8, 2001 at Heritage Baptist Church in Mansfield, Texas. It celebrates the greater blessings and promises we now possess within the better covenant in Christ Jesus.

Within A Better Covenant

Within a better covenant
God’s people now abide,
Built on the finished work of Christ,
Accomplished and applied.
From ev’ry nation, tribe, and tongue,
The Spirit calls the bride,
Uniting in this covenant
Each one for whom Christ died.

All those within this covenant
Are quickened and made new;
From least to great, they know the Lord
And trust His Word as true.
The Spirit works and writes God’s Law
Upon each heart and mind,
That each will turn and flee to Christ,
His grace and mercy find.

For unto Moses, Jesus gave
His Law on Sinai’s hill;
The Law that one day He would come
To perfectly fulfill.
God’s Law fulfilled in Jesus Christ
Is holy, good, and right;
What once condemned us for our sin
Is now made our delight.

The Spirit seals the covenant
With each He sets apart;
A circumcision not of flesh,
But of the conquer’d heart.
For it is not by flesh and blood,
Nor by the will of man,
That Christ now builds and keeps His church
And causes it to stand.

The covenants that came before
Did then prepare the way,
As God progressively revealed
The glories of Christ’s day.
The types and shadows of the old
A foretaste did provide,
But old has vanished now away
As Christ is magnified!

In ceaseless service priests of old
Brought off’rings day by day,
But blood of bulls and goats could not
Take sin’s dark guilt away.
Behold, a better sacrifice,
The spotless Lamb who died!
Christ shed His blood once for all time
To cleanse and save His bride.

God made provision in the Old,
Its Temple, priests, and land;
An earthly nation He raised up
And strengthened by His hand.
But earthly shadows now have past,
Outshined with Christ in view,
Proclaiming now unto the church:
God’s Kingdom is in you!

Behold, the temple of the New,
Not made with bricks or stone,
Is now the gathered hearts of all
Whom Christ has called His own.
The sacrifices of our lips
We to this temple bring
That Christ be praised as all in all,
Our Prophet, Priest, and King.

Words ©2001 Ken Puls

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

More Hymns and Songs from Ken Puls Music

More Hymn tunes arranged for classical guitar

A Key Called Promise

Well, on Saturday, about midnight, they began to pray, and continued in prayer till almost break of day.

Now a little before it was day, good Christian, as one half amazed, brake out in passionate speech: What a fool, quoth he, am I, thus to lie in a stinking Dungeon, when I may as well walk at liberty. I have a Key in my bosom called Promise, that will, I am persuaded, open any Lock in Doubting Castle. Then said Hopeful, That’s good news; good Brother pluck it out of thy bosom and try.

Then Christian pulled it out of his bosom, and began to try at the Dungeon door, whose bolt (as he turned the Key) gave back, and the door flew open with ease, and Christian and Hopeful both came out. Then he went to the outward door that leads into the Castle-yard, and with his Key opened that door also. After he went to the iron Gate, for that must be opened too, but that Lock went very hard, yet the Key did open it. Then they thrust open the Gate to make their escape with speed; but that Gate as it opened made such a creaking, that it waked Giant Despair, who hastily rising to pursue his Prisoners, felt his limbs to fail, for his Fits took him again, so that he could by no means go after them. Then they went on, and came to the King’s High-way again, and so were safe, because they were out of his jurisdiction.

Now, when they were over the stile, they began to contrive with themselves what they should do at that stile to prevent those that should come after from falling into the hands of Giant Despair. So they consented to erect there a pillar, and to engrave upon the side thereof this sentence—”Over this stile is the way to Doubting Castle, which is kept by Giant Despair, who despises the King of the Celestial Country, and seeks to destroy his holy pilgrims.” Many, therefore, that followed after read what was written, and escaped the danger. This done, they sang as follows:

Out of the way we went, and then we found
What ’twas to tread upon forbidden ground;
And let them that come after have a care,
Lest heedlessness makes them, as we, to fare.
Lest they for trespassing his prisoners are,
Whose castle’s Doubting, and whose name’s Despair.

A Key Called PromiseChristian and Hopeful have now suffered the misery of Doubting Castle for almost four days. They were captured by Giant Despair on Wednesday morning. Now it is Saturday, almost midnight, and they begin to pray.

It is worth noting that the pilgrims’ escape from Doubting Castle begins with prayer. In his commentary on The Pilgrim’s Progress, William Mason explains:

What! Pray in the custody of Giant Despair, in the midst of Doubting Castle, and when their own folly brought them there too? Yes; mind this, ye pilgrims, ye are exhorted, “I will that men pray everywhere, without doubting” (1 Tim. 2:8). We can be in no place but God can hear, nor in any circumstance but God is able to deliver us from. And be assured, that when the spirit of prayer comes, deliverance is nigh at hand.

The pilgrims pray through the early morning of the Lord’s Day. It is on the Lord’s Day that they remember Christ—the day that Christ rose from the dead—the day the church gathers each week for prayer, fellowship, and the preaching of the Word. It is on the Lord’s Day that the light of the gospel again dawns in Christian’s thinking. Bunyan’s timing here is significant. It is a subtle reminder that we need to stay under the preaching of God’s Word and seek out the prayers of God’s people, even if (and especially if) we are in the bonds of doubt and despair.

Christian realizes that he has possessed the means of escape all along. He has a Key that will open any lock in Doubting Castle. The Key represents the “exceedingly great and precious promises” of the gospel—promises that are ours in Christ.

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust (2 Peter 1:2–4).

It is the promise of eternal life and the assurance of salvation in Christ.

And this is the promise that He has promised us—eternal life (1 John 2:25).

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

For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me, Silvanus, and Timothy—was not Yes and No, but in Him was Yes. For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us (2 Corinthians 1:19–20).

Christian keeps the Key in his bosom (close to his heart), where he also keeps his roll (assurance of salvation)—the roll he received at the cross. The darkness of doubting caused him to forget. Now as light dawns (the understanding and application of God’s Word), he remembers.

As Christian and Hopeful begin their escape, the door to their cell opens with ease. The Key also opens the door to the castle yard. But the Iron Gate that bars their exit from Doubting Castle is stubborn. We read: “that Lock went very hard.” In the original text to The Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan describes the lock as opening “damnable hard.” His choice of words is strong to show the grave danger of Doubting Castle. To remain imprisoned is to place the soul in eternal peril.

Christian had learned earlier in the allegory at the House of the Interpreter about the strong bonds of despair. The Man in the Iron Cage was hopelessly imprisoned by his own doubts and fears. He had once professed faith and claimed the promises of God, yet sin had so ruined him that he could no longer believe that God could save him. In our lowest moments it is easier to believe that God will extend grace to others than to us. Though sin has ravaged the world, we feel the sin that has ravaged our own hearts the deepest. When we examine our hearts under the piercing light of God’s Law, we know ourselves to be “the chief of sinners.”

When doubt lays hold, and when Christ is not in view, we can have the hardest time believing that someone like us can be saved. Even when we take hold of the Key, the Lock can be stubborn. Yet the promise of the gospel will indeed open it. We need to heed the words of hope, keep turning the key in the lock, and press forward until the gate is thrust open.

This scene in The Pilgrim’s Progress comes from Bunyan’s own experience. In Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, he describes his own “three or four days” in Doubting Castle and how he was able to escape:

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.’

After I had been in this condition some three or four days, as I was sitting by the fire, I suddenly felt this word to sound in my heart, I must go to Jesus; at this my former darkness and atheism fled away, and the blessed things of heaven were set within my view. While I was on this sudden thus overtaken with surprise, Wife, said I, is there ever such a scripture, I must go to Jesus? she said she could not tell, therefore I sat musing still to see if I could remember such a place; I had not sat above two or three minutes but that came bolting in upon me, “And to an innumerable company of angels,” and withal, Hebrews the twelfth, about the mount Sion was set before mine eyes (vv 22-24).

Then with joy I told my wife, O now I know, I know! But that night was a good night to me, I never had but few better; I longed for the company of some of God’s people that I might have imparted unto them what God had showed me. Christ was a precious Christ to my soul that night; I could scarce lie in my bed for joy, and peace, and triumph, through Christ; this great glory did not continue upon me until morning, yet that twelfth of the author to the Hebrews (Heb. 12:22, 23) was a blessed scripture to me for many days together after this.

[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 261–263]

Bunyan found freedom by remembering the words of Scripture:

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel (Hebrews 12:22–24).

He knew in his heart: “I must go to Jesus!” Christ was precious to him.

We must look to Christ if we are to escape from Doubting Castle. If we lose sight of Christ or depend upon anything but Him for help, Despair will find us again. Cheever observes:

Alas! alas! how many ways there are of getting into this gloomy prison! Oh, if Christ be not always with the soul, or if at any time it go astray from him, or if its reliance be on anything whatever but his mercy, his blood, his grace, then is it near the gloom of this dungeon; then may Giant Despair be heard walking in his grounds, and verily the echo of his footsteps oftentimes falls upon the soul before the grim form rises on the vision. And some who have once entered the castle have stayed there a great while, because they have tried many other means of escape, than by the blood of Christ; because they have used picklocks, and penances, and stratagems, and the help of friends outside the castle, but not the key of Promise, or that not aright, not throwing themselves on the Savior alone for pardon, peace, and justification. A man who gets into difficulty through sin, will never get out by self-righteousness; nor are past sins, nor the burden of them, to be ever removed by present morality; nothing but faith, nothing but the precious blood of Christ, can take away sin, can remove the stain of it, can deliver the soul from its condemnation (from Lectures on The Pilgrim’s Progress by G.B. Cheever).

Christ alone can save us! Only He provides the promise of escape from the iron bars of doubt and the fierce blows of despair. Every method of our own devising is insufficient:

  • picklocks (making excuses, rationalizing sin, trying to forget the past and move on)
  • penances (doing good things or punishing ourselves to make up for the bad things)
  • stratagems (making a new start, moving to a new location, trying a new diet, exercise, medication, meditation, …)
  • help of friends (support groups, therapy, counseling, encouragements from others)

Though strategies may have their place and the help of friends is welcome, they can never give us what we truly need. They cannot save us when we sin against God and others. They cannot free us from guilt when we go astray. They cannot supply the grace we need to forgive ourselves and others who sin against us. Only Christ, through His saving work on the cross, can bring us grace and mercy and forgiveness. Only in Him can we find freedom from guilt and condemnation. Only in Him can we escape doubt and despair and find peace with God. We must remember the promise of the gospel and flee to Christ!

As Christian and Hopeful hasten to leave the castle, the loud creaking of the Gate arouses the giant. But when the giant attempts to pursue his prisoners, he falls into a seizure and cannot reclaim them. In the light of day, he has no strength. Despair cannot endure where there is clear understanding and diligent application of God’s Word.

Once the pilgrims make it back to the King’s Highway, safely out of reach of Giant Despair, they place a monument near the stile where they had crossed over into By-Path Meadow. They want to warn those would follow after them on the journey. Our experiences, even our struggles and failures, can be useful to others, to warn them of danger and encourage them to keep to the Way. In time Christian’s own family, Christiana and her children, will find this monument during their own journey in Part II of The Pilgrim’s Progress.

Doubting Castle

Lord, we pray for those imprisoned
By Despair, who lie in grief;
Locked in Doubting Castle’s dungeon,
Stripped of hope and its relief.
Father help them to remember
In Thy promise is the key;
Now unlock the door that bars them,
In the Gospel, set them free.

(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.