Notes and Commentary on
The Pilgrim's Progress
by Ken Puls
19. Christian Laments His Neighbors
Goodwill: But how is it that you came alone?
Christian: Because none of my neighbors saw their danger, as I saw mine.
Goodwill: Did any of them know of your coming?
Christian: Yes, my Wife and Children saw me at the first, and called after me to turn again: Also some of my neighbors stood crying and calling after me to return; but I put my fingers in my ears, and so came on my way.
Goodwill: But did none of them follow you to persuade you to go back?
Christian: Yes, both Obstinate and Pliable: But when they saw that they could not prevail, Obstinate went railing back; but Pliable came with me a little way.
Goodwill: But why did he not come through?
Christian: We indeed came both together, until we came at the Slough of Despond, into which we also suddenly fell, and then was my neighbor Pliable discouraged, and would not adventure further. Wherefore, getting out again on that side next to his house, he told me, I should possess the brave country alone for him: So he went his way, and I came mine. He after Obstinate, and I to this Gate.
Goodwill: Then said Goodwill, Alas, poor man, is the Celestial Glory of so small esteem with him, that he does not count it worth running the hazard of a few difficulties to obtain it?
Notes and Commentary
The dialog between Christian and Goodwill now turns to the sorrowful consideration of those who stayed behind and those who turned back. Bunyan here paints a sharp contrast between God's great compassion for fallen man and fallen man's ungrateful scorn of a compassionate God.
Goodwill is delighted to see Christian within his Gate, but his heart goes out beyond Christian, as he asks: "But how is it that you came alone?" Christian confesses that none of His neighbors saw the danger. His eyes were opened to see the need for salvation, but the others were still in darkness.
Goodwill asks as well concerning Christian's witness: "Did any of them know of your coming?" Christian's steadfastness in his convictions before his friends and family is important. In Part Two of The Pilgrim's Progress Christian's wife and children remember his testimony and example as they become convicted of their sins. Though they have stayed behind now, God will yet have mercy.
Christian then relates the account of how the two neighbors who pursued him came to reject the Gospel. The contrasts between the three men demonstrate three of the hearers in the parable Jesus told of the sower and the seed (Matthew 13:1-23).
Behold, a sower went forth to sow; And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the birds came and devoured them. Some fell upon stony places, where they did not have much earth: and they immediately sprang up, because they had no depth of earth: But when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up, and choked them. But other fell on good ground, and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. Who has ears to hear, let him hear! (Matthew 13:3-9)
Obstinate is like the one who received the seed by the wayside. He did not understand, so what little he heard was snatched away by the wicked one before it took root. Pliable, however, is more like the stony ground. He received the Word with joy and followed Christian, even at times outpacing him. But soon troubles came as Christian and Pliable plunged into the Slough. Pliable could not endure the hardship and turned back, eventually going the way Obstinate had gone. Of the three hearers of God's Word, only Christian proved thus far to be good soil. He has endured through many trials and suffering to make it to the Gate.
At the end of Christian's account, Goodwill is grieved at how little Pliable, as well as the others who stayed behind, esteemed the benefits of salvation. His sorrow echoes the heart of Jesus as He spoke His last recorded words as a public teacher in the hearing of the multitudes:
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!" (Matthew 23:37)
God had shown great compassion. Though mankind had fallen, He had not left men to die in their sins, but had sent His Word, spoken in the Old Testament by His prophets. Man, however, was ungrateful. Israel spurned God's Word and killed the prophets. Now God has sent His only begotten Son. The Word has become flesh. But when Jesus spoke these words, it was only a matter of days before He would be taken and crucified. Even upon the cross, Christ's heart was filled with compassion, as He said: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).
Notice in Jesus' lament in Matthew 23:37 that He does not express Himself at odds with the Father. It is not that He would embrace everyone, but God will only elect a few. Jesus is not disappointed in His Father. Rather He reflects the compassionate heart of His Father, who takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11). God watches over and sustains all men. They live and breathe only by His power (Acts 17:25). All have sinned and fall short of His glory; so He commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). He tells His people to go into all the world and preach the gospel to everyone (Mark 16:15). The fact that everyone does not come is not a fault of God, but of man. Christ expresses His desire to save, but then laments: "but you were not willing." He says again in John 5:40, "But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life." To fallen man the Gospel is foolishness, not worth a few difficulties. In seeking to save their lives from trials and persecution, they end up losing them. J C. Ryle concludes:
Let it be a settled principle in our religion, that men's salvation, if saved, is wholly of God; and that man's ruin, if lost, is wholly of himself. The evil that is in us is all our own. The good, if we have any, is all of God. The saved in the next world will give God all the glory. The lost in the next world will find that they have destroyed themselves.
"O Israel, you have destroyed yourself; but in Me is your help." (Hosea 13:9).
Continue reading 20. Christian Reflects on God's Mercy
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