Notes and Commentary on
The Pilgrim's Progress
by Ken Puls
8. Yonder Shining Light
Then said Evangelist, pointing with his finger over a very wide field, Do you see yonder Wicket Gate? The man said, No. Then said the other, Do you see yonder Shining Light? He said, I think I do. Then said Evangelist, Keep that Light in your eye, and go directly thereto, so shalt thou see the Gate; at which thou knockest, it shall be told thee what thou shalt do.
Notes and Commentary
Some have found reason in The Pilgrim's Progress to criticize Bunyan for his sequence of events. Why did Evangelist point Christian to the Gate rather than the cross? Why did he send Christian along a path that would bring him near, even into the Slough?
But take note, as you read through the story. Bunyan often uses different characters and events to highlight specific truths or aspects about God and His ways. We have already seen how Bunyan portrayed the ministry of the Holy Spirit as "Help" at the Slough. Later the Spirit is shown in His role as the "Interpreter," the One who teaches and illumines the Holy Scriptures to our minds and hearts. At the cross Christian will learn of the importance of Christ's death as an atonement for sin on his behalf. He will find freedom from the guilt of sin portrayed by his burden as it falls from his shoulders. But before Christian comes to the cross, he is prepared in God's providence to fully appreciate its beauty and worth.
Consider again Bunyan's sequence of events:
First, Evangelist points Christian to the Wicket Gate. The Gate represents the exclusiveness of Jesus Christ. He is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6). Peter proclaimed this in the book of Acts: "Nor is their salvation in any other, for there is no other name given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). On his way to the cross, Christian is first taught that Jesus is his only hope. No other way leads to life.
When Christian says he cannot see the Gate, Evangelist points him to the Shining Light. The Light represents the Word of God as it lights our path (Psalm 119:105). It is "a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and morning star rises in your hearts" (2 Peter 1:19). God's Word reveals to us the way to eternal life. The Bible reveals the truth about Jesus: who is He, what He has done, and why it matters. If we are to know Jesus, we must know Him as He is revealed in God's Word.
The Bible, however, also reveals the truth about us. While on his way to the Gate, guided by the Light, Christian draws near to the Slough. He comes face to face with the vileness and shame of his sin. He is convinced even further of his desperate need for a Savior. In the mire of grappling with his own unworthiness and wickedness, Christian's heart is further broken and made ready for conversion. Tasting the vile bitterness of our sin prepares our hearts for the sweet glory of the cross.
To those who believe themselves to be basically good and upright, who are unaware of the true depth of their sin and need, the cross may appear as a mere token of God's love to the world, a good example for us of courage and sacrifice. But to those who have seen their sin for what it truly is—wicked rebellion deserving of condemnation and everlasting torment—and who have grappled with it in the miry Slough, the cross will shine forth as precious—a real death making real atonement for real sins committed by real sinners.
Modern evangelism is often too willing to rush people to the cross before they are by God's grace ready and able to appreciate its worth. We tell of the joys of heaven and do not warn of the coming wrath. We offer hope before there is distress (or even concern). We hold out forgiveness to those who are yet without guilt or shame. We must be faithful as Evangelist to point sinners to the cross in a way that directs them to the light of God's Word, confronts them with the vileness of their sin, and helps them see that Jesus is the only way to peace. May God be pleased, as we endeavor to proclaim the gospel, to open eyes, soften hearts, and grant sinners the gifts of faith and repentance, that they will see the cross as precious, turn from sin and flee to Christ for life.
Continue reading: 9. Met by Worldly Wiseman
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