Notes and Commentary on
The Pilgrim's Progress
by Ken Puls
36. A Pleasant Arbor
I looked, then, after Christian, to see him go up the hill, where I perceived he fell from running to going, and from going to clambering upon his hands and his knees, because of the steepness of the place. Now, about the midway to the top of the hill was a Pleasant Arbor, made by the Lord of the hill for the refreshing of weary travelers.
Thither, therefore, Christian got, where also he sat down to rest him. Then he pulled his roll out of his bosom, and read therein to his comfort. He also now began afresh to take a review of the coat or garment that was given him as he stood by the cross. Thus pleasing himself awhile, he at last fell into a slumber, and thence into a fast sleep, which detained him in that place until it was almost night. And in his sleep, his roll fell out of his hand. Now, as he was sleeping, there came one to him, and awaked him, saying, "Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways and be wise." And with that Christian started up, and sped him on his way, and went apace, till he came to the top of the hill.
Notes and Commentary
One of the gracious provisions from the Lord of Hill, set in the midst of Hill Difficulty, is a pleasant Arbor. As Christian struggles to make it up and over the hill, he takes refuge in the Arbor. We noted last time that the Arbor represents a Word of Grace—a truth or promise of Scripture applied to our present situation. This Word comes to us in many ways: listening to a sermon, studying the Bible, reading books that are well grounded in Scripture, or hearing a word of encouragement or comfort in a conversation with a brother or sister in Christ. God uses many means to bring and apply His Word to our hearts at our moment of need.
While in the Arbor, Christian finds comfort in gifts he received at the Cross: the Roll (his assurance of life and acceptance at the desired haven) and the Coat (the imputed righteousness of Christ in which he was now clothed). He takes great delight in contemplating all that God had given him in Christ.
The purpose of the Arbor is for the refreshment of weary travelers. It is a place to find strength and encouragement along the Way. But the Arbor is not designed for lodging. It is not meant to distract travelers from continuing on their journey. It is a place to rest for a moment, for pilgrims to catch their breath and then press on. The Arbor becomes a hindrance when Christian settles in, satisfied with where he is in the journey. He fails to keep looking up the Hill and beyond to his final destination. He falls into a sinful slumber of pride and self-satisfaction in his present state of grace.
The Arbor (or word of grace) is indeed placed on the Hill (in the midst of difficulty) to provide an encouraging perspective. From its vantage point we can see our progress in grace and rejoice that God has brought us this far. But it is only halfway up the Hill, not yet to the top, and still far from the journey's end. We must be careful, this side of glory, to maintain a balance in our walk, cheered as we consider how much God has already given us and how far we have come, but impelled as we consider how much God has yet promised us and how far we have yet to go. We rejoice that we are not now what we once were, but we press on, for we are not now what we shall be. Hear Paul's testimony:
Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14).
Earlier on the Hill Christian was running, going, or at least clambering, but now his inactivity and sloth give way to sleep until it is almost night. Jesus warns us:
A little while longer the light is with you. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going (John 12:35).
By sleeping during a time when God had given him light that he might walk, Christian was guilty of presuming upon the grace of God and the Roll he so cherished fell out of his hand. He could not stay idly in one place, content with no more progress along the Way, and be assured that all was well with his soul.
Notice, however, that account of Christian's failings also teaches us of God's unending faithfulness and abiding love. Even as Christian lies sleeping, one comes and awakens him with wisdom from God's Word:
Go to the ant, you sluggard!
Consider her ways and be wise (Proverbs 6:6).
God is not content to leave His pilgrims in spiritual slumber and inactivity. His Word can be applied to the comfort and rest of our souls, but it can also come to warn us, arouse us and spur us to action. Christian hears the Proverb and realizes that now is not the time to sleep. He immediately arises and hurries up the Hill. But this is not the last that Christian will see the Arbor. Next time we will continue Christian's journey on the Hill and consider why he has to return to the Arbor.
The Pleasant Arbor
Lord, we pray please, keep us watchful
In Your Arbour as we rest;
Lest the Roll of Your assurance
For a time fall from our breast.
Father, come and keep us wakeful,
Wipe the dulling sleep away;
Lest the night soon overtake us,
Let us journey while it's day.
(from "A Prayer for Pilgrims" by Ken Puls)
Continue reading 37. Timorous and Mistrust
Return to 35. Hill Difficulty
Read and Follow "A Guide to John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress" on the blog: A Pleasant Arbor