A Guide to John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress

 

Notes and Commentary on
The Pilgrim's Progress

by Ken Puls

61. Run in with Moses

Now when I had got about half-way up, I looked behind, and saw one coming after me, swift as the wind; so he overtook me just about the place where the settle stands.

Christian: Just there, said Christian, did I sit down to rest me; but being overcome with sleep, I there lost this roll out of my bosom.

Faithful: But, good brother, hear me out. So soon as the man overtook me, he was but a word and a blow, for down he knocked me, and laid me for dead. But when I was a little come to myself again, I asked him wherefore he served me so. He said, because of my secret inclining to Adam the First; and with that he struck me another deadly blow on the breast, and beat me down backward; so I lay at his foot as dead as before. So, when I came to myself again, I cried him mercy; but he said, I know not how to show mercy; and with that he knocked me down again. He had doubtless made an end of me, but that one came by, and bid him forbear.

Christian: Who was that that bid him forbear?

Faithful: I did not know him at first, but as he went by, I perceived the holes in his hands and in his side; then I concluded that he was our Lord. So I went up the hill.

Christian: That man that overtook you was Moses. He spares none, neither does he know how to show mercy to those that transgress his law.

Faithful: I know it very well; it was not the first time that he has met with me. It was he that came to me when I dwelt securely at home, and that told me he would burn my house over my head if I stayed there.

Christian: But did you not see the house that stood there on the top of the hill, on the side of which Moses met you?

Faithful: Yes, and the lions too, before I came at it: but for the lions, I think they were asleep, for it was about noon; and because I had so much of the day before me, I passed by the porter, and came down the hill.

Christian: He told me, indeed, that he saw you go by, but I wish you had called at the house, for they would have showed you so many rarities, that you would scarce have forgot them to the day of your death.

 

Notes and Commentary

As Faithful climbs Hill Difficulty he encounters yet more opposition. At the foot of the Hill he met Adam the First who tried to enticed him to give up his journey. Now he is assaulted by one who is more ruthless. About halfway up the Hill, Moses catches up to him, beats him severely and leaves him for dead.

This episode in Faithful's journey raises some questions: Why was he so brutally beaten? What made him vulnerable to Moses' attack? And why did it happen on Hill Difficulty, even near the Pleasant Arbor where Christian had sought rest?

Hill Difficulty represents our struggles and trials in this life—struggles and trials that we must endure by God's design to strengthen our faith. Adam the First is our old sinful nature, "the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts" (Ephesians 4:22). Putting off the old man is an essential part of our walking by faith. But Faithful was tempted and inclined to go with "the old man"—inclined to act according to the flesh. And even though he eventually saw through the deception of Adam the First and successfully escaped being made Adam's slave, his inclination toward relying on his own strength was not entirely abated. As he reached the midpoint of his climb up Hill Difficulty, his progress may have tempted him to put too much trust in his own efforts. It is in this moment of success and progress that Faithful turns, and swift as the wind, Moses comes and takes him down. The rod was severe, but Moses teaches Faithful a valuable lesson: The flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41). Faithful cannot make the journey in his own strength.

Law and Grace

Moses represents the work of the Law "for the law was given through Moses" (John 1:17a). Faithful's struggle with Moses affirms that we can never achieve or maintain a right standing before God on the basis of our own efforts of obedience. No matter how successful we have been, or how much progress we seem to make, our works can never save us. Our efforts can never satisfy God's righteousness. Judged by God's Law they are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). We are sinners who have broken God's Law. We don't gain God's favor by our own works, and we can't keep God's favor by our own works. Paul asks in Galatians:

This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? (Galatians 3:2–3)

The Law brings condemnation and guilt for our sin. The Law beats us down and leaves us for dead. "For the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23a). But the problem is not with the Law; it is with us.

What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, "You shall not covet." But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good (Romans 7:7–12).

The Law of God serves many good purposes. It reveals the holiness and righteousness of God. It tells us what God requires of us as creatures made in Him image. And it warns us of God's wrath and judgment when we go astray. It was the reproach of the Law that shook Faithful from his ease at home and caused him to flee from Destruction.

But the Law has limitations. The law can teach us what is right and good, but it has no power to help us do what is right and good. The law can show us where we fail and fall short, but the law has no power to forgive or cleanse our sin. The Law can only judge and condemn us. It knocks us down and leaves us bruised and battered. Our cries for mercy are met with threats of death.

We need one greater than Moses if we are to find the help we need (Hebrews 3:3). The Law cannot show us mercy or give us life, but it can point us to One who can. The Law is "our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith" (Galatians 3:24). The Law kills; only the Spirit can give life (2 Corinthians 3:6). When Faithful was left for dead at the feet of Moses, he had no hope in himself. But God in mercy sent a Rescuer. The Lord of the Hill, Christ Jesus, came and in mercy raised up Faithful. It was only by looking to the cross that Faithful could find the grace and mercy for which he longed. Our acceptance before God can never be based on our own obedience; it must only and always be rooted in Christ and His obedience. In our sin the Law can only condemn us. "For the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23a). In Christ there is life: "but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23b). "For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17).

Differing Trials

It is worth noting that Faithful's experiences on the journey are not the same as Christian's. Though both fled from Destruction and found mercy at the cross, their battles and trials were varied. Christian found a Pleasant Arbor about halfway up Hill Difficulty. Faithful was assaulted. Christian presumed upon God's mercies, fell asleep and lost his roll (his assurance). Faithful relied too much on his own strength to make progress up the Hill and was beaten down by the Law. Christian took refuge and refreshed his soul at House Beautiful. Faithful missed the service that day and did not receive the benefit of the teaching and fellowship.

Yet here on the path, these two brothers cheer and admonish one another. We are each prone in varying degrees to different fears and temptations. We don't all have the same strengths and weaknesses. It is the blessing of Christian discipleship that we can share our joys and struggles on the journey. We can learn much from one another as we pray for and encourage one another along the way. Let us resolve to walk together in faith and continually point one another to the hope we have in Christ alone.

Continue reading 62. Run in with Discontent
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The text for The Pilgrim's Progress
and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2015 Ken Puls
"A Guide to John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress"
was originally published from January 1993 to December 1997
in "The Voice of Heritage," a monthly newsletter
of Heritage Baptist Church in Mansfield, Texas
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from
the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.
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