A Guide to John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress

 

Notes and Commentary on
The Pilgrim's Progress

by Ken Puls

Fire on Mount Sinai

14. Christian Returns to the Way

After this, Evangelist called aloud to the Heavens for confirmation of what he had said; and with that there came Words and Fire out of the Mountain under which poor Christian stood, that made the hair of his flesh stand up: The words were thus pronounced, As many as are of the Works of the Law are under the Curse; for it is written, Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the Book of the Law, to do them.

Now Christian looked for nothing but Death, and began to cry out lamentably; even cursing the time in which he met with Mr. Worldly Wiseman; still calling himself a thousand fools for hearkening to his counsel: He also was greatly ashamed to think that this gentleman's arguments, flowing only from the Flesh, should have that prevalency with him as to cause him to forsake the right Way. This done, he applied himself again to Evangelist in words and sense as follows:

Christian: Sir, what think you? Is there Hopes? May I now go back, and go up to the Wicket Gate? Shall I not be abandoned for this, and sent back from thence ashamed? I am sorry I have hearkened to this man's counsel; but may my Sin be forgiven?

Evangelist: Then said Evangelist to him, Thy Sin is very great, for by it thou hast forsaken the Way that is good, to tread in forbidden paths; yet will the man at the Gate receive thee, for he has good will for men; only said he, take heed that thou turn not aside again, lest thou perish from the Way, when his wrath is kindled but a little.

Then did Christian address himself to go back; and Evangelist, after he had kissed him, gave him one smile, and bid him God speed; So he went on with haste, neither spake he to any man by the way; not if any asked him, would he vouchsafe them an answer. He went like one that was all the while treading on forbidden ground, and could by no means think himself safe, till again he was got into the Way which he left to follow Mr. Worldy Wiseman's counsel.

 

Notes and Commentary

Upon learning of the seriousness of his sin, for he had departed from the Way, Christian was struck with sorrow and shame. In mercy God had sent Evangelist to warn his brother of the dangers that await those who would try and earn God's favor by their own merits. Evangelist confirmed the truthfulness of his words with the authority of God's Word, quoting from Galatians 3:10:

For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them."

In this verse Paul quotes from the Old Testament:

Cursed is the one who does not confirm all the words of this law. And all the people shall say, Amen! (Deuteronomy 27:26)

God requires perfection. "Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). To stumble and fail to keep any portion of God's Law is to fail to keep the whole Law. The Law is holy, just and good (Romans 7:12). But we are sinful: "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). And so Paul affirms "by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20). Our only hope, if we are to forgiven and declared righteous in God's sight, is to believe on Jesus and receive by faith God's righteousness in Him. Only the shed blood and perfect works of Jesus can cleanse and save us. Our own works, ever tainted with sin, can only condemn us.

Christian sees the foolishness of abandoning the Way and wonders now if he can turn back and seek the Wicket Gate once again. As the gifts of faith and repentance are brought to full flame in Christian's heart, Evangelist is with him to bring truly wise counsel. Evangelist's counsel includes reproof, comfort, and a warning.

Evangelist begins his answer to Christian's plea: "May my sin by forgiven?" with a reproof. He does not slight the seriousness of Christian's sin, but claims it "is very great." It is heinous for two reasons. First it caused Christian to forsake the Way. It hindered him from pursuing and finding the Lord Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. But not only did the fleshly counsel persuade Christian from the Way, it also turned him into forbidden paths. Rather than seeking the Cross, Christian was now bound for a Curse.

Reproof is then followed with comfort. A contrite heart is a sacrifice pleasing to God (Psalm 51:17), and Evangelist assures Christian that he will by no means be cast out. This comfort is later confirmed with both a kiss and a smile as Evangelist sends Christian once again to seek the Gate.

The genuineness of Christian's repentance is seen in his humility and his haste. He is diligent to obey the Word of God and indignant toward his sin. He doesn't trifle with sin, but distances himself from what he knows to be wrong. He makes no attempt to defend or justify his sin before others, or allow others to give him false comfort or hope, as Worldly Wiseman had done. Christian regards sin as "forbidden ground" and with all swiftness he flees from it to return to the Way (2 Corinthians 7:9-11).

Evangelist's love and care for his brother is also manifest in a warning. Quoting from Psalm 2:12, he instructs Christian to learn from his error and not turn aside again:

Kiss the Son, lest He be angry,
And you perish in the way,
When His wrath is kindled but a little.
Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.

The last phrase of this verse is the brighter promise that contrasts the dreadful judgment into which Christian almost plunged: Cursed are all those who put their trust in their own righteousness and works.

Continue Reading 15. Christian arrives at the Gate
Return to 13. Admonished by Evangelist

 

The text for The Pilgrim's Progress
and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©1997 Ken Puls
"A Guide to John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress"
was originally published from January 1993 to December 1997
in "The Voice of Heritage," a monthly newsletter
of Heritage Baptist Church in Mansfield, Texas
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from
the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.
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