Christian’s Repentance

Christian: Good brother, be not offended; I am sorry I have brought you out of the way, and that I have put you into such imminent danger; pray, my brother, forgive me; I did not do it of an evil intent.

Hopeful: Be comforted, my brother, for I forgive you; and believe, too, that this shall be for our good.

Christian: I am glad I have with me a merciful brother; but we must not stand thus: let us try to go back again.

Hopeful: But, good brother, let me go before.

Christian: No, if you please, let me go first, that if there be any danger, I may be first therein, because by my means we are both gone out of the way.

Hopeful: No, said Hopeful, you shall not go first; for your mind being troubled may lead you out of the way again. Then, for their encouragement, they heard the voice of one saying, “Set your heart toward the highway, even the way which you went; turn again.” But by this time the waters were greatly risen, by reason of which the way of going back was very dangerous. (Then I thought that it is easier going out of the way, when we are in, than going in when we are out.) Yet they adventured to go back, but it was so dark, and the flood was so high, that in their going back they had like to have been drowned nine or ten times.

flooded meadow

When Christian realizes that he has sinned and put his brother in danger by straying from the way, he quickly repents. He owns his sin, confesses his sorrow to Hopeful, and seeks forgiveness. Though Christian had no “evil intent,” his error has brought them “out of the way” and placed them in “imminent danger.” Hopeful responds to Christian with words of comfort. He willingly offers forgiveness and encourages Christian that “this shall be for our good.”

Christian here demonstrates true repentance—a repentance born of godly grief. Paul describes such repentance in 2 Corinthians:

For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter (2 Corinthians 7:10–11).

Worldly grief leads to death; godly grief leads to repentance. Worldly grief sorrows over getting caught and facing consequences; godly grief sorrows over offending God and wronging others. Worldly grief blames others and harbors bitterness; godly grief owns sin and seeks reconciliation. Worldly grief rationalizes sin and makes excuses; godly grief willingly confesses sin and is eager to make things right. Christian is quick to acknowledge and confess his sin. And he is zealous to make things right. He is not content to stand still, but desires that they get back to the right path.

As they prepare to turn back, Hopeful offers to take the lead. But Christian is eager to clear himself. He feels the weight of his mistake. He is responsible for leading them astray and so he insists on leading them back. Hopeful, however, is wary that Christian’s zeal might lead to rashness. And so, Hopeful argues that Christian should not go first.

In the midst of their dispute over leadership they hear a voice encouraging their repentance and directing them to return to the Way. The voice speaks God’s Word.

Set up signposts,
Make landmarks;
Set your heart toward the highway,
The way in which you went.
Turn back, O virgin of Israel,
Turn back to these your cities.
(Jeremiah 31:21)

The voice of Scripture is significant. If we are to know the right way to walk, we must look to God’s Word. If we are to recognize when we stray from the right way, we must look to God’s Word. If we are to faithfully lead others to find and follow the right way, we must point them to God’s Word.

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16–17).

God’s Word lays out a clear path for us when we stray. We need to be quick to acknowledge and own our sins.

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8–9).

We need to be quick to confess and seek forgiveness when we sin against others.

Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much (James 5:16).

We need to be willing to lovingly rebuke one another when we see sin, and even more willing to forgive one another and be reconciled.

Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him (Luke 17:3).

And we need to humble ourselves and turn away from pride that would hinder us from owning our sin and offering forgiveness.

When pride comes, then comes shame;
But with the humble is wisdom.
(Proverbs 11:2)

Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up (1 John 4:10).

Though Christian and Hopeful attempt to return to the Way, they are not able.  It is still dark, so they are unable to see. And now the floods are rising up and covering the meadow, so they are nearly drowned. The floods represent the sorrows, distress and anguish that often accompanies the consequences of our sin, even when we confess our sin and seek forgiveness. Though Christian is blessed with a “merciful brother,” they still must face the reality that they are “out of the way” and in “immanent danger.” The way back will not be easy. Bunyan notes here: “it is easier going out of the way, when we are in, than going in when we are out.”

In the next post we will see the great danger that now looms near the pilgrims.

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2017 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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