Notes and Commentary on
The Pilgrim's Progress
by Ken Puls
34. A Coat for Rags
Then I saw that they went on every man in his way without much conference one with another, save that these two men told Christian, that as to laws and ordinances, they doubted not but they should as conscientiously do them as he; therefore, said they, we see not wherein you differ from us but by the coat that is on your back, which was, as we trow, given you by some of your neighbors, to hide the shame of your nakedness.
Christian: By laws and ordinances you will not be saved, since you came not in by the door. And as for this coat that is on my back, it was given me by the Lord of the place whither I go; and that, as you say, to cover my nakedness with. And I take it as a token of his kindness to me; for I had nothing but rags before. And besides, thus I comfort myself as I go: Surely, think I, when I come to the gate of the city, the Lord thereof will know me for good since I have this coat on my back—a coat that he gave me freely in the day that he stripped me of my rags. I have, moreover, a mark in my forehead, of which, perhaps, you have taken no notice, which one of my Lord's most intimate associates fixed there in the day that my burden fell off my shoulders. I will tell you, moreover, that I had then given me a roll, sealed, to comfort me by reading as I go on the way; I was also bid to give it in at the Celestial Gate, in token of my certain going in after it; all which things, I doubt, you want, and want them because you came not in at the gate.
To these things they gave him no answer; only they looked upon each other, and laughed. Then, I saw that they went on all, save that Christian kept before, who had no more talk but with himself, and that sometimes sighingly, and sometimes comfortably; also he would be often reading in the roll that one of the Shining Ones gave him, by which he was refreshed.
Notes and Commentary
Last time Christian encountered two pretenders in the Way. He met up with two who had by-passed the Gate (missed Christ and the Gospel) and tumbled over the Wall (were professing faith and claiming salvation), and he tried to warn them that their souls were in danger. The two were named Formalist and Hypocrisy. They had dismissed Christian's concern for their souls and now further show the emptiness of their profession in their observations regarding how Christian is dressed. They first speak well of themselves, claiming to obey the Laws and Ordinances of Scripture as well as Christian. They are very concerned with appearing good before others and doing the right things. Thus they are conscientious and careful in form and practice. Those who walk in formalism and hypocrisy may very well out do others around them in the externals of religion. They may attend church regularly, participate with enthusiasm, and appear quite active and engaged. But they come to church vainly dressed in their own works and deeds, believing that God and others will look favorably on their efforts and judge them to be faithful.
Christian, however, is dressed differently. He has on the Coat that was given to him as a gift from his Lord. At the cross Christian was stripped of his Rags and given this Change of Raiment. Just as the prodigal son returned home in filthy rags after tending pigs, and was received with joy and given a ring and the best robe by his loving father (Luke 15:22), so Christian was welcomed and clothed at the cross. The Coat represents the imputed righteousness of Christ that covers every true believer and makes us fit for the presence and service of God. The filthy rags are Christian's own attempts at righteousness tainted by sin:
But we are all like an unclean thing,
And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6a).
Formalist and Hypocrisy trow (think or suppose) that some neighbors had given the Coat to Christian to hide his shame. They do not realize or value its significance. Christian, however, remembers that all he had before he came to the cross was worthless rags. Now he has a Coat (imputed righteousness), a Mark (the sealing of the Holy Spirit), and a Roll (assurance of salvation) to bring him hope on his journey. Formalist and Hypocrisy lack these. They are self-clothed, self-sealed and self-confident. They do not value the gifts of Christ bestowed at the cross, because they do not value Christ as their only hope. They missed the Gate, representing Christ Himself offered in the Gospel, and have resorted to their own devises to enter the Way.
Christian tells them plainly that attempts to keep laws and ordinances cannot save them. We can never be justified by our works:
"knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified" (Galatians 2:16).
Christian learned this when he strayed from the Way, following the advise of Worldly Wiseman, and ventured toward the Village of Morality to find help to remove his burden. Nothing he could do in trying to live uprightly could make him right with God. He felt the weight and terror of God's Law and was warned by Evangelist, who again pointed him to the Gate. Christian repented with humility and haste to return to the Way. He found relief only when he looked to the cross. Christ alone—His obedience, His righteousness—can make us right with God. And this is now Christian's hope.
Christian is prepared to press on in the Way. He knows that both joys and trials await him. He continues on His pilgrimage sometimes sighing and sometimes comfortably. He looks often to the promises of God that assure his salvation and finds hope. He is trusting in Jesus. He is protected from pride, knowing that on his best day he is still a great sinner in need of grace and mercy. And he is protected from despair, knowing that on his worst day he still has a great Savior who is "able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him" (Hebrews 7:25).
Formalist and Hypocrisy, however, continue on looking at one another and laughing. Their hope is in themselves (their outward profession and display of religion) and, as we shall soon see, they are ill prepared to face the difficulty that lies ahead.
Continue Reading 35. Hill Difficulty
Return to 33. Formalist and Hypocrisy
Read and Follow "A Guide to John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress" on the blog: A Coat for Rags