Notes and Commentary on
The Pilgrim's Progress
by Ken Puls
31. Christian Arrives at the Cross
He ran thus till he came at a place somewhat ascending, and upon that place stood a Cross, and a little below, in the bottom, a Sepulchre. So I saw in my dream, That just as Christian came up with the Cross, his Burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble, and so continued to do, till it came to the mouth of the Sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.
Then was Christian glad and lightsome, and said with a merry heart, He has given me rest by His sorrow, and life by His death. Then he stood still a while to look and wonder; for it was very surprising to him, that the sight of the Cross should thus ease him of his Burden. He looked therefore, and looked again, even till the springs that were in his head sent the waters down his cheeks. Now, as he stood looking and weeping, behold three Shining Ones came to him and saluted him, with peace be to you; so the first said to him, Your sins are forgiven; the second stripped him of his rags, and clothed him with change of raiment; the third also set a Mark on his forehead, and gave him a Roll, with a Seal upon it, which bid him look on as he ran, and that he should give it in at the Celestial Gate; so they went their way. Then Christian gave three leaps of Joy, and went on singing:
Thus far did I come laden with my Sin;
Nor could ought ease the grief that I was in,
Till I came hither: What a place is this!
Must here be the beginning of my bliss?
Must here the Burden fall from off my back?
Must here the strings that bound me crack?
Blest Cross! blest Sepulchre! blest rather be
The Man that there was put to Shame for me!
Notes and Commentary
Since Christian had first been awakened to his need of salvation, he longed to be rid of his Burden, the heavy, cumbersome guilt and shame of his sin. Goodwill could not loose it at the Wicket Gate, but now Christian arrives at the Cross, and to his amazement, at the sight of the Cross, his Burden tumbles off his back and falls into the mouth of the Sepulchre. The cross and sepulchre denote the work of Jesus Christ in His crucifixion and resurrection. Here at the cross the Pilgrim finds his relief.
And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they piercedÉ(Zechariah 12:10).
Bunyan describes his own relief at the foot of the cross in Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners:
I remember that one day, as I was traveling into the country and musing on the wickedness and blasphemy of my heart, and considering the enmity that was in me to God, that Scripture came in my mind, He hath "made peace through the blood of His cross" (Colossians 1:20). By which I was made to see, both again, and again, that day, that God and my soul were friends by this blood; yea, I saw that the justice of God and my sinful soul could embrace and kiss each other through this blood. This was a good day to me; I hope I shall not forget it.
[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 115]
As Christian marveled in the joy and peace he had found contemplating the death and resurrection of Christ, three Shining Ones came to him. The three Shining Ones represent the work of the Triune God in heart of a sinner who is saved by grace. The first declared that Christian is justified in the sight of God; his sins are forgiven, covered by the atoning work of the Lamb of God upon the cross. All of his sins are imputed to Christ and their terrible debt, demanding death ("the wages of sin is death" —Romans 6:23) is paid in full. The second Shining One stripped Christian of any hope of trusting in his own works or righteousness, which are as filthy rags in the sight of God (Isaiah 64:6). Rather, Christian is clothed in a change of raiment, the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, so that now he is pure, spotless and accepted in the sight of God. Bunyan draws this imagery from the prophet Zechariah:
Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and was standing before the Angel. Then He answered and spoke to those who stood before Him, saying, "Take away the filthy garments from him." And to him He said, "See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes" (Zechariah 3:3-4).
The third Shining One set a mark on Christian's forehead (cf. Ezekiel 9:4 and Revelation 7:3) and gave him a roll with a seal. The roll is his "assurance of life and acceptance at the desired haven." The seal represents the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit of God (Ephesians 1:13). Bunyan relates the delight of his own conversion again in Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners:
It would be too long for me to here stay, to tell you in particular how God did set me down in all the things of Christ, and how He did, that He might do so, lead me into His words; yea and also how He did open them unto me, make them shine before me, and comfort me over and over, both of His own being, and the being of His Son, and Spirit, and Word, and Gospel.
[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 126]
Now had I an evidence, as I thought, of my salvation from heaven, with many golden seals thereon, all hanging in my sight; now could I remember this manifestation and the other discovery of grace, with comfort; and should often long and desire that the last day were come, that I might forever be inflamed with the sight, and joy, and communion of Him whose head was crowned with thorns, whose face was spit upon, and body broken, and soul made an offering for my sins.
[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 128]
The ministry of the three Shining Ones is cause for three leaps of joy before Christian continues on his way, again with a hymn in his heart. He is overwhelmed by the depth of Christ's love for His people and the extent of what Christ suffered that we may be cleansed and freed from the guilt and curse of sin and fully accepted in the sight of God.
Lord, we pray for those now standing
Near the cross and empty grave.
Lord, again show forth Your mercy,
Graciously reach down to save.
Father, loose from them their burden,
Take the guilt and curse of sin,
May it fall and roll and tumble
Never to be seen again.
(from "A Prayer for Pilgrims" by Ken Puls)
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