Tag Archives: Word of God

Instruction at Palace Beautiful

So in the morning they all got up; and, after some more discourse, they told him that he should not depart till they had shown him the rarities of that place. And first they had him into the study, where they showed him records of the greatest antiquity; in which, as I remember my dream, they showed him first the pedigree of the Lord of the hill, that He was the Son of the Ancient of Days, and came by that eternal generation. Here also was more fully recorded the acts that He had done, and the names of many hundreds that He had taken into his service; and how He had placed them in such habitations that could neither by length of days, nor decays of nature, be dissolved.

Then they read to him some of the worthy acts that some of His servants had done: as, how they had “subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, and turned to flight the armies of the aliens.”

They then read again, in another part of the records of the house, where it was showed how willing their Lord was to receive into His favor any, even any, though they in time past had offered great affronts to his person and proceedings. Here also were several other histories of many other famous things, of all which Christian had a view; as of things both ancient and modern; together with prophecies and predictions of things that have their certain accomplishment, both to the dread and amazement of enemies, and the comfort and solace of pilgrims.

Instruction at Palace BeautifulAfter a restful night in the chamber of Peace, Christian awakes to discover more of the joys of Palace Beautiful. Before Christian departs to continue his journey, the members of the household desire him to see “the rarities of that place” (the valuables and treasures of the house). They take him first into the study. The study represents the preaching and teaching ministry of the church and the “records of the greatest antiquity” are the Word of God.

Scripture is a true treasure to pilgrims.

I rejoice at Your word
As one who finds great treasure.
(Psalm 119:162)

The study of Scripture is vital to the life of a pilgrim. Christian learned this lesson earlier in his pilgrimage when he spent time at the House of the Interpreter (Bunyan’s depiction of the Bible and the Spirit’s work to illumine the Bible to our understanding). At the Interpreter’s House Christian was also encouraged to stay longer and not depart until he had seen and learned valuable lessons that would serve him on his journey.

In the study at Palace Beautiful Christian sits under the instruction of God’s Word. He hears the message of the gospel: who Jesus is, what He has done, and why that matters.

Jesus is the Son of the Ancient of Days, a reference to Daniel 7:

I was watching in the night visions,
And behold, One like the Son of Man,
Coming with the clouds of heaven!
He came to the Ancient of Days,
And they brought Him near before Him.
(Daniel 7:13)

He is the only begotten of the Father, who has come to rescue sinners from death and give them everlasting life.

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 Christ God has “qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light” (Colossians 1:12). In Christ “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13).

It is Christ who is preeminent in all things and Head of the church.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence (Colossians 1:15-18).

As the instruction at Palace Beautiful continues, the family reads from the book of Hebrews. Christian is comforted by the testimonies of God’s people who walked by faith and believed God’s Word.

And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth (Hebrews 11:32-38).

And Christian hears again the marvelous invitation of the gospel. God has grace and mercy for sinners because of Christ.

For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation (Romans 5:6-11).

Jesus welcomes and is willing to receive all who come to Him for life and forgiveness!

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 6:37).

This is the good news of the gospel. God has grace in abundance. The Gospel of grace in Christ Jesus is the treasure cherished at Palace Beautiful. It is the message of hope and salvation we proclaim. The Gospel is a unique treasure. We are made richer by sharing it. May we ever walk in its light by faith and freely share it with all who will hear and come.

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

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2014 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Worship Piano and Forte

Worship Piano and Forte

Scripture compels us to “Shout to God will loud songs of joy” (Psalm 47:1). But when we lift our voices and play our instruments in praise to God, how loud is too loud? Especially in venues that benefit from amplification and sound systems, is there a right sound level for music in worship? There are many opinions and preferences in our day. Some like the volume turned up; others want it kept at a minimum.

Judgment of volume is both objective and subjective. Objectively volume can be measured with a decibel meter and compared to standards. We certainly want to keep the volume within safe and acceptable ranges for hearing. Also the kind and number of instruments we use will affect the volume. A worship band will put out more sound than a single guitar. A pipe organ can soar to much higher levels than a piano. Subjectively, our judgment can be affected by familiarity and preference. We tend to turn up the volume on songs we know and songs we like. We turn down songs we don’t like. Perception also plays a role in our judgment of volume. A worship band playing at 90 dBA might seem loud to us, while a pipe organ playing at 95 dBA seems glorious.

So when does loud become too loud? While there is no one right level for every venue and every congregation, there are some principles that can help bring clarity to the question of sound levels.

These are five principles to follow in setting volume:

1. Clarity

The first priority is clarity, especially if our music is accompanying text. Aim to make the lyrics clear. In Colossians 3:16 Paul tells us to “let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.” In the parallel verse, Ephesians 5:19, he speaks of “addressing one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” Our music carries the Word of God as well as our response to the Word in prayer and praise. We must the deliver and respond to the Word in a way that people can comprehend what is being said. Always when music is joined to text, keep the vocals up in the mix so every word is understandable and able to be heard. In all elements of the service—preaching, praying, singing—aim to make the words clear.

2. Variation

Aim to vary the volume in the service, especially during the music. Don’t make every song loud, and don’t make every song soft. Vary the instrumentation as you are able: sometimes voices alone (no instruments), sometimes with only one or two instruments accompanying, and sometimes with a larger group of musicians. We see in Scripture a wide range of dynamics in worship. There are times for quiet and stillness:

For God alone my soul waits in silence
(Psalms 62:1a, 5a)

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him
(Psalms 37:7a)

Be still, and know that I am God
(Psalms 46:10a)

And there are times to sing aloud and shout for joy:

Sing aloud to God our strength;
shout for joy to the God of Jacob!
and let your saints shout for joy.
(Psalms 81:1)

And praise with loud clashing cymbals:

Praise him with sounding cymbals;
Praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
(Psalms 150:5 )

In Deuteronomy the people of God were told:

Keep silence and hear, O Israel: this day you have become the people of the LORD your God (Deuteronomy 27:9).

In 2 Chronicles:

They swore an oath to the LORD with a loud voice and with shouting and with trumpets and with horns (2 Chronicles 15:14).

At the dedication of Solomon’s temple “120 priests who were trumpeters” join with singers, cymbals and other musical instruments to “make themselves heard in unison” (2 Chronicles 5:12–14).

At the laying of the foundation of the temple in Ezra after the return from exile:

… the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away (Ezra 3:13).

And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away (Nehemiah 12:43).

In Heaven there is both silence and overwhelming sound:

When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour (Revelation 8:1).

And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps (Revelation 14:2).

Even God Himself displays a range of dynamics:

The LORD your God is in your midst,
A Mighty One who will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness;
He will quiet you by his love;
He will exult over you with loud singing.
(Zephaniah 3:17)

Our worship should exemplify the full range of dynamics found in God’s Word.

3. Appropriateness

Along with variation, aim for appropriateness with volume. Be loud when you should be loud, and be soft when you should be soft. It is the worship leader’s responsibility to give direction for dynamics in the singing. There are times for restraint, times to pull back or not play at all. And there are times to soar, times to play as David did, with all our might (1 Chronicles 13:8).

The volume should make sense with what we are doing and saying in our music. Some songs require softness and gentleness. Others demand energy and loudness. Some can be sung either soft or loud depending on the moment. Music serves to emotionally express and interpret the text. We must be sensitive to and intentional with dynamics and musical texture so the music can serve the Word and not distract from it. Even in the same song, vary the dynamics. Take time to arrange the song in ways that will allow the music to convey and bring out the meaning of the words. Vary the instrumentation and harmonies to create dynamic contrast. Allow parts of the song to pull back and then build as makes sense with the words. Aim for appropriateness with the volume and instrumentation, so the music is fitting and not frustrating, helpful and not a hindrance.

4. Ministry

Aim to serve the congregation well. While you will not be able to suit everyone’s preference for every song regarding volume, remember you are there to help them voice their songs to God in worship. The church is gathered to give glory to God, not marvel at the sounds and riffs of the musicians. Set levels that will serve the church family—that will draw them in and encourage them to participate.

The music should be loud enough, even when soft, to be heard and to the support the singing of the whole church. Most of the time the music should be soft enough, even when loud, so the congregation can hear themselves singing.

5. Excellence

Finally, aim for excellence. Never substitute volume for preparedness and confidence. Volume (too soft or too loud) can certainly affect congregational singing. But volume isn’t the real killer of congregational participation, uncertainty with the musicians is. Be sure the musicians are well-prepared and the songs are arranged and presented well. Take time to practice and rehearse. Be sure everyone knows the songs and knows the arrangements, knows when to play and when not to play. As the musicians lead out with certainty—hearts and minds in tune to praise, the church family will follow. When the musicians seem unsure or unengaged themselves in worship, the people will hesitate and hold back. There are certainly times to bring loud praise to God, but at all times aim for excellence and give your best.

Sing to him a new song;
Play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.
(Psalm 33:3)

Scripture quotations are from the Holy BIble, English Standard Version (ESV) ©2001 by Crossway.

Conversation with Prudence

Then Prudence thought good to ask him a few questions, and desired his answer to them.

Prudence: Do you not think sometimes of the country where you came from?

Christian: Yes, but with much shame and detestation: “Truly, if I had been mindful of that country from whence I came out, I might have had opportunity to have returned; but now I desire a better country, that is, an heavenly.”

Prudence: Are you ever enticed by some of the things that then you were accustomed to do?

Christian: Yes, but greatly against my will; especially my inward and carnal cogitations, with which all my countrymen, as well as myself, were delighted. But now all those things are my grief; and might I but choose mine own things, I would choose never to think of those things anymore. But when I would be doing of that which is best, that which is worst is with me.

Prudence: Do you not find sometimes, as if those things were vanquished, which at other times are your perplexity?

Christian: Yes, but that is seldom; but they are to me golden hours in which such things happen to me.

Prudence: Can you remember by what means you find your annoyances, at times, as if they were vanquished?

Christian: Yes, when I think what I saw at the cross, that will do it; and when I look upon my broidered coat, that will do it; also when I look into the roll that I carry in my bosom, that will do it; and when my thoughts wax warm about where I am going to, that will do it.

Prudence: And what is it that makes you so desirous to go to Mount Zion?

Christian: Why, there I hope to see him alive that did hang dead on the cross; and there I hope to be rid of all those things that to this day are in me an annoyance to me. There, they say, there is no death. And there I shall dwell with such company as I like best. For, to tell you truth, I love him, because I was by him eased of my burden; and I am weary of my inward sickness. I am eager to be where I shall die no more, and with the company that shall continually cry, “Holy, Holy, Holy!”

PrudenceThe conversation at Palace Beautiful continues with Prudence asking Christian some questions. Prudence represents our carefulness to walk in the wisdom and truth of God’s Word. To be prudent is to live and act with discretion and to exercise good judgment. Prudence is the practical outworking of wisdom. Christian prudence is godly wisdom in action, as we apply God’s Word to what we think, say and do.

Piety began the discussion by drawing out Christian’s story and testimony for the benefit of all in the Palace; Prudence probes deeper. She presses Christian into a more weighty conversation that explores his inner motivation and struggles. Her questions focus on:

    1. His inward battles with former lusts
    2. His fortitude to fend off carnal thoughts and worldly temptations
    3. His strategy to guard his heart and mind against sin

Earlier in his pilgrimage Christian had been careless and unwise. Rather than heeding truth and keeping in the Way, he was swayed for a time by the advice of Worldly Wiseman. The answers that Christian now gives to Prudence’s questions show us the progress that he has made on his journey in gaining spiritual wisdom.

First she asks him if he ever entertains thoughts about his former way of life: “Do you not think sometimes of the country where you came from?” Christian formerly resided in the town of Destruction, but when he thinks of that place now, it is with “shame and detestation.” Israel sinned in the Old Testament when their hearts were “turned back to Egypt” (Acts 7:39). But Christian is intent to leave behind his old way of life. He desires “a better country” quoting from Hebrews:

And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:15-16).

Prudence then asks if he is ever enticed by some of the things that he once was accustomed to do in his former way of life. Christian admits that he struggles, but he truly desires now to do what is right. He does not want carnal thoughts to disturb and trouble him. Those thoughts in which he once found sinful pleasure are a grief to him now. He acknowledges the ongoing battle in his heart against remaining sin.

If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice (Romans 7:16-19).

Sometimes evil thoughts are brought down and subdued. At other times they rise up to entangle and agitate. Christian confesses to Prudence that the hours when his thoughts are free from carnal temptations, while too few, are like gold to him.

Prudence then asks Christian about his strategy to guard against carnal thoughts. What means are most effective in vanquishing besetting sin?

Christian mentions the value of meditating on God’s Word. He ponders the truth of Scripture and preaches it to himself. He anchors his thoughts in the promises of the gospel: the cross of Christ (the place of deliverance), the imputed righteousness of Christ (the coat he now wears), the assurance of salvation (his roll that he carries close to his heart), and his destination (eternal life in heaven).

Finally Prudence asks him why he is so eager to reach heaven. Christian is anchored in God’s Word and aiming for eternity. He has embarked on a journey and understands that this world is not his home. It is filled with sin, death, trials and afflictions, and it can wearisome as we press on day by day. We must remember that we are just passing through. Christian longs for the joys that await us in glory:

    • There we will see Christ face to face (1 John 3:1-3; Revelation 22:4).
    • There we will be free, not just from sin’s condemnation and power, but from its presence (Revelation 21:27, 22:3).
    • There we will have life eternal; there will be no more death (Isaiah 25:8; Revelation 21:4)
    • There we will be in the company of angels (Revelation 4:8) and the redeemed (Philippians 3:20) forever.

In the next post the conversation will continue with Charity.

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

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2014 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Father Lift Our Eyes in Prayer

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

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

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

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

Light on the Sea

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

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

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

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

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

A Pleasant Arbor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Ken Puls

 The Pleasant Arbor

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

(from “A Prayer for Pilgrims” by Ken Puls)

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

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©1997 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Hill Difficulty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Ken Puls

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

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©1997 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

A Prayer for God’s Presence Throughout the Day

We sang this hymn today in our morning service at Grace Baptist Church. It’s a reminder of God’s faithful and abiding presence with us at all times, and the free access we have, because of the shed blood of Christ, to come boldly to throne of grace with our prayers and praise.

sunrise1bl

Lord, as I begin to wake,
Just as I become aware,
Draw my waking thoughts to You;
Stir my heart to praise and prayer.
Then as I arise from sleep,
Stand to face another day,
Let Your Word be my delight,
Guiding all I do and say.

Help me, Lord to meditate
And apply the truth I know;
As I preach to my own soul,
Grant that I may heed and grow.
As I walk throughout this day,
Help me cast away all fear;
Let me not forget or doubt
Your abiding presence near.

When the day gets busy, Lord,
Let my walk not stray from You;
Fix my heart and mind and will
On Your promises anew.
Many times throughout this day
Bring remembrance of Your Word.
Guard my heart from unbelief;
Keep my faith in You, O Lord.

When temptations rise and rage
Show me, Lord, the way to flee;
Lest I fall, teach me to pray:
Lord, uphold and strengthen me.
Ever, Lord, You are with me!
Keep this truth before my eyes.
May it guard my path from sin,
Comfort me and make me wise.

Lord, You are my joy and strength,
Through each hour, in ev’ry place.
Be there happiness or grief,
You uphold me by Your grace.
And when I lie down to sleep,
Lift my heart again to pray;
Let my thoughts to You return
In thanksgiving end the day.

Words ©2000 Kenneth A Puls

View / Download the lyrics and sheet music to this hymn.