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

Notes and Commentary

by Ken Puls

on John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress

Part Two

Bunyan and Mr. Sagacity

2. Met by Mr. Sagacity

And as I was in my dream, behold, an aged gentleman came by where I lay; and because he was to go some part of the way that I was traveling, methought I got up and went with him. So as we walked, and as travelers usually do, we fell into discourse; and our talk happened to be about Christian and his travels, for thus I began with the old man:

"Sir," said I, "what town is that there below, that lies on the left hand of our way?"

Sagacity: Then said Mr. Sagacity—for that was his name: "It is the city of Destruction; a populous place, but possessed with a very ill conditioned and idle sort of people."

"I thought that was that city," I said; "I went once myself through that town, and therefore know that this report you give of it is true."

Sagacity: Too true; I wish I could speak truth in speaking better of them that dwell therein.

 

Notes and Commentary

As Bunyan begins to dream, he meets a fellow traveler named Mr. Sagacity. Since they are traveling the same direction, Bunyan walks with him and engages him in conversation. Their “talk happened to be about Christian and his travels.”

Mr. Sagacity represents the wisdom we need to walk through this world. Someone who is sagacious has clarity of thought, soundness of mind, and acute perception. A sage (from the Greek sophos) is known and revered for being wise. Unlike Worldly Wiseman, who offered Christian ungodly counsel in Part 1, Mr. Sagacity brings true wisdom that comes from God.

Scripture warns us not to heed ungodly counsel:

"Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly" (Psalm 1:1).

But we are commended to keep company with the wise.

He who walks with wise men will be wise,
But the companion of fools will be destroyed.
(Proverbs 13:20)

See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:15–16).

We are not to walk as fools. Walking as a fool means living as if there is no God. It is attempting to understand and interpret the world as if God did not exist.

The fool has said in his heart,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt,
They have done abominable works,
There is none who does good.
(Psalm 14:1)

Those who are wise fear the Lord and look to His Word. They seek to understand and interpret the world through the lens of Scripture. Scripture itself commends the value of receiving and walking in the light of God’s Word.

My son, if you receive my words,
And treasure my commands within you,
So that you incline your ear to wisdom,
And apply your heart to understanding;
Yes, if you cry out for discernment,
And lift up your voice for understanding,
If you seek her as silver,
And search for her as for hidden treasures;
Then you will understand the fear of the Lord,
And find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
From His mouth come knowledge and understanding;
He stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
He is a shield to those who walk uprightly;
He guards the paths of justice,
And preserves the way of His saints.
Then you will understand righteousness and justice,
Equity and every good path.
(Proverbs 2:1–9)

We are to find knowledge. Knowledge is being aware of truth. It is learning and possessing truth in our minds.

We are to apply our hearts to understanding. Understanding is the ability to comprehend or make sense of the truth we know.

We are to cry out for discernment. Discernment is the ability to distinquish one thing from another, such as truth from falsehood or virtue from vise (Webster, 1828). Discernment under the guidance of wisdom will lead us to discretion. Discretion is the ability to recognize what is true and distinguish it, so that we can approve what is virtuous and praiseworthy.

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things (Philippians 4:8).

We need discernment and discretion if we are to make good judgments and sound decisions.

And we are to incline our ears to wisdom. Wisdom is the skill of wielding truth in opportune and appropriate ways. It is rightly determining when, where, and how to apply knowledge, understanding, and discernment. True wisdom is found in fearing God, resting our faith in Christ, and aptly applying God’s Word in the power of God’s Spirit.

Wisdom helps us see the providence of God as we go through life. It helps us navigate trials, appreciate joys, and respond rightly to every situation and circumstance. We need those with wisdom—godly pastors, teachers, friends—fellow travelers who will walk alongside us and point us to truth. And when wisdom speaks, we are to listen attentively, heed its warnings, and cherish its insights.

Bunyan opens his conversation with wisdom, Mr. Sagacity, by asking about “the town that is there below.” The town is the City of Destruction and it represents the fallen world in which we live—a world now ensnared by sin and under condemnation for sin. Mr. Sagacity describes the city as filled with people who are “very ill conditioned and idle.” They see but do not perceive. They hear but do not understand. Their hearts are dull, their ears are heavy, and their eyes are blinded by their sin (Isaiah 6:9–10). They are wholly unprepared for the coming judgment because they live and walk as if there were no God. This is a true commentary of our world. And as Christian lamented in Part 1, held captive in this world are loved ones who have not yet had their eyes opened to the grace and mercy of God. For Christian the sorrow was deep. Somewhere still in the City of Destruction are his own wife and children.

Continue Reading 03. News About Christian and His Reward

Return to 01. As I Slept I Dreamed Again

 

The text for The Pilgrim's Progress
and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary for Part II ©2014, 2021 Ken Puls

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from
the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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