Notes and Commentary on
The Pilgrim's Progress
by Ken Puls
44. Conversation with Charity
Then said Charity to Christian, Have you a family? Are you a married man?
Christian: I have a wife and four small children.
Charity: And why did you not bring them along with you?
Christian: Then Christian wept, and said, Oh, how willingly would I have done it! But they were all of them utterly averse to my going on pilgrimage.
Charity: But you should have talked to them, and have endeavored to show them the danger of being behind.
Christian: So I did; and told them also of what God had shown to me of the destruction of our city; "but I seemed to them as one that mocked," and they did not believe me.
Charity: And did you pray to God that he would bless your counsel to them?
Christian: Yes, and that with much affection. For you must think that my wife and poor children were very dear unto me.
Charity: But did you tell them of your own sorrow, and fear of destruction? For I suppose that destruction was visible enough to you.
Christian: Yes, over, and over, and over. They might also see my fears in my countenance, in my tears, and also in my trembling under the apprehension of the judgment that did hang over our heads; but all was not sufficient to prevail with them to come with me.
Charity: But what could they say for themselves, why they did not come?
Christian: Why, my wife was afraid of losing this world, and my children were given to the foolish delights of youth. So what by one thing, and what by another, they left me to wander in this manner alone.
Charity: But did you not, with your vain life, damp all that you by words used by way of persuasion to bring them away with you?
Christian: Indeed, I cannot commend my life; for I am conscious to myself of many failings therein; I know also that a man by his conversation may soon overthrow what by argument or persuasion he does labor to fasten upon others for their good. Yet this I can say, I was very wary of giving them occasion, by any unseemly action, to make them averse to going on pilgrimage. Yea, for this very thing they would tell me I was too precise, and that I denied myself of things, for their sakes, in which they saw no evil. Nay, I think I may say, that if what they saw in me did hinder them, it was my great tenderness in sinning against God, or of doing any wrong to my neighbor.
Charity: Indeed Cain hated his brother, "because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous." And if your wife and children have been offended with you for this, they thereby show themselves to be implacable to good, and "you have delivered your soul from their blood."
Notes and Commentary
Charity now joins in the conversation and she begins to question Christian about his home and family. Charity represents our compassion and love for others. She is highly commended in Scripture. Paul teaches:
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal (1 Corinthians 13:1, KJV).
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity (1 Corinthians 13:13, KJV).
Christian arrived at House Beautiful alone and Charity voices her concern for his wife and sons. Christian tells her that his family was opposed to him going on a pilgrimage. Though he warned them "over and over and over" and tried to tell them of the danger of staying behind, they would not listen. Though he was brokenhearted, they rejected his pleas and mock his efforts to persuade them. Christian quotes from Genesis 19:14, comparing the response of his family to that of Lot's family when he warned them to flee Sodom:
So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who had married his daughters, and said, "Get up, get out of this place; for the LORD will destroy this city!" But to his sons-in-law he seemed to be joking (Genesis 19:14).
In the dialog between Charity and Christian, Bunyan offers some helpful lessons in how we should respond to loved-ones who reject the gospel and become offended with us who so desperately want to see them come to Christ.
1. We must pray for and plead with those we love to come to Christ, knowing that God alone can change their hearts.
Christiana was afraid of losing this world. The children were ensnared by the foolish delights of youth. Though Christian loved them, nothing he did could convince them to join him and escape Destruction. In their rejection we see the blindness and darkness of being "dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1). They walked, as Paul describes, "in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart (Ephesians 4:17-18). Christian told them the gospel. He prayed for them. He lived before them. They could see his fears and tears for their sake, yet none of these prevailed. Their blindness was like that of Israel in the Old Testament. Israel saw the hand of God bring them out of Egypt. They saw Pharaoh's army crushed in the sea. They saw the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, yet many died in unbelief. Even in the days when Jesus walked the earth, many heard the Savior teach and saw Him work miracles. They saw Him crucified, yet did not believe.
Our best efforts cannot break through the hardness and oppression of sin. As Bonar reminds us in the hymn Not What My Hands Have Done, "all my prayers and sighs and tears" will avail nothing without divine strength and power. We can strongly desire the salvation of those we love, but only God can change their hearts. Paul reminds us that it is God in love who triumphs over death and brings life.
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast (Ephesians 2:4-9).
And so, we must pray and plead, as Charity compels us, looking to God that He would do what we cannot do—that He would reach down and graciously save.
2. As we pray and plead, we must live before others in a way that commends the gospel and does not discredit it.
We must live the gospel ourselves. We must show love and be quick to repent and ready to forgive. Too easily our own sin trips us up and threatens to undo others around us. Our sin can dampen our testimony and our efforts to bring the gospel to others.
Charity asks: "But did you not, with your vain life, damp all that you by words used by way of persuasion to bring them away with you?" A hundred sound words and wise instructions can be washed away in one slip where we do not heed instruction and follow wisdom ourselves, and fail to live the gospel by repenting and asking forgiveness. We will never live before others perfectly in this life. But even our failings can strengthen our testimony when we respond to sin in right ways: confessing and owning our sin, repenting and seeking reconciliation, and loving and forgiving those who sin against us.
3. We must never give up praying for and pleading with those we love to come to Christ.
Charity commends Christian for following Christ and doing what was right, even though it made him offensive in the eyes of his loved-ones. Charity quotes from 1 John 3:12, comparing their response to that of Cain who was ensnared by "the wicked one and murdered his brother." Christian did what was right and followed Christ, though it set him at odds with his family. The world is at enmity with God, even when that world is bound up in the hearts of those we love. Though Christian's family was dear to him, he did not hold back his love to God in order to keep their approval. Rather, he did what was most compassionate and loving toward them. Their souls were in danger of Destruction, so he continued to warn them and plead with them to go with him.
Charity concludes with a quote from Ezekiel 3:19 reminding us of the role of a watchman:
Yet, if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul (Ezekiel 3:19).
We must stay at the wall and sound the alarm, whether our warnings are heeded or not. We must not give up, not step down, not keep quiet so not to cause offense. If the danger is real—and it is—we must continue to plead and to pray. We do not know how or when God may choose to use our testimony and answer our prayers.
Concerning Christian's wife and sons, Bunyan relates the rest of the story in Part 2 of The Pilgrim's Progress. Though Christian came to the end of his journey and died without seeing his family repent and come to Christ, his testimony remained. His family remembered his faith in Christ and his love for them. His prayers were, in God's time, answered. In Part 2 Christiana and her four sons are convicted by their sin and how badly they treated Christian. They flee Destruction to follow Christ and make their own pilgrimage to the Celestial City.
Continue reading 45. Supper at Palace Beautiful
Return to 43. Conversation with Prudence
Read and Follow "A Guide to John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress" on the blog: Conversation with Charity