But, thinking again of what he had heard from the men, he felt in his bosom for his roll, that he might read therein, and be comforted; but he felt, and found it not. Then was Christian in great distress, and knew not what to do; for he wanted that which used to relieve him, and that which should have been his pass into the Celestial City. Here, therefore, he began to be much perplexed, and knew not what to do. At last he bethought himself that he had slept in the arbor that is on the side of the hill; and, falling down upon his knees, he asked God’s forgiveness for that his foolish act, and then went back to look for his roll. But all the way he went back, who can sufficiently set forth the sorrow of Christian’s heart? Sometimes he sighed, sometimes he wept, and oftentimes he chide himself for being so foolish to fall asleep in that place, which was erected only for a little refreshment for his weariness. Thus, therefore, he went back, carefully looking on this side and on that, all the way as he went, if happily he might find his roll, that had been his comfort so many times in his journey. He went thus, till he came again within sight of the arbor where he sat and slept; but that sight renewed his sorrow the more, by bringing again, even afresh, his evil of sleeping into his mind. Thus, therefore, he now went on bewailing his sinful sleep, saying, O wretched man that I am that I should sleep in the daytime! That I should sleep in the midst of difficulty! That I should so indulge the flesh, as to use that rest for ease to my flesh, which the Lord of the hill hath erected only for the relief of the spirits of pilgrims!
How many steps have I took in vain! Thus it happened to Israel, for their sin; they were sent back again by the way of the Red Sea; and I am made to tread those steps with sorrow, which I might have trod with delight, had it not been for this sinful sleep. How far might I have been on my way by this time! I am made to tread those steps thrice over, which I needed not to have trod but once; yea, now also I am like to be benighted, for the day is almost spent. O, that I had not slept!
When Christian hears the report from Timorous and Mistrust that there were lions ahead, he himself begins to fear. He looks for his roll for comfort, but discovers it is missing. As we learned earlier in the story, the roll represents Christian’s “assurance of life and acceptance at the desired haven.” It fell from his hand while he was asleep in the arbor.
The loss of Christian’s roll highlights two important lessons:
First: The Consequences of Sinful Sleep
In the arbor Christian made a costly mistake. He slept in the daytime, when God had given him light. He slept in the midst of difficulty, when he had not yet reached the high ground. He became careless when he found opportunity for ease. So long as he was climbing and clambering up the hill, he was determined to move ahead, but he settled in to stay when he found a place to rest. As a result he fell asleep and his roll slipped away. He lost his confidence and determination. Without his roll Christian became distressed and perplexed. He had determined to go forward, saying, “I must venture.” But now he is uncertain and distraught.
We are called, as Christians, to watch and walk in the light. We must stay awake and alert and not squander the day when the night is coming. Bunyan points us here to Paul’s admonition:
Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation (1 Thessalonians 5:6–8).
Paul repeats this warning in Romans:
And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts (Romans 13:11–14).
Jesus Himself said:
“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).
This is a lesson we must learn. We need to be good stewards of the light and rest God gives us. We must walk and press on as we have light, as we have clear instruction from God’s Word and know where to go and what to do. We must watch and renew our strength as we have rest, encouraged as we see progress, yet mindful that we are not yet at the journey’s end. When we fail to be spiritually alert and diligent and instead become dull and slothful, we make ourselves vulnerable to a host of doubts and fears.
Second: The Fruits of Humble Repentance
At this point in the journey Christian takes a spiritual assessment of himself. He has made it to the top of Hill Difficulty, but he has also heard frightening news of what lies ahead. Since finding relief from his burden at the cross, he has met with several pretenders in the Way and watched as they scoffed, turned back, turned aside and refused to press on.
His recent conversation with Timorous and Mistrust has stirred up fears in his own mind and he begins to question and doubt his salvation. Christian comes to the realization that the same sins he saw overtake and overthrow the pretenders are also in his own heart. He was content to stay and sleep when he should be pressing on in the journey, just like Simple, Sloth and Presumption. He was afraid and uncertain, just like Timorous and Mistrust. How can he be certain of salvation and acceptance at the Celestial City, if such sin and stumbling is evident in his own life?
Christian’s journey in The Pilgrim’s Progress in many ways reflects Bunyan’s own pilgrimage. In Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners Bunyan describes a time early in his imprisonment when he struggled with fears and doubt. He feared that the authorities might sentence him to die. He was afraid that he was spiritually weak and unfit to bear witness for Christ and face death. His fear so overwhelmed him for a time that he became perplexed and was tempted to doubt his own salvation. Here is a portion of Bunyan’s account:
I was once above all the rest, in a very sad and low condition for many weeks; at which time also, I being but a young prisoner, and not acquainted with the laws, had this lying much upon my spirits, that my imprisonment might end at the gallows for ought I could tell. Now Satan laid hard at me, to beat me out of heart, by suggesting thus unto me: But how if, when you come indeed to die, YOU should be in this condition; that is, as not to savor the things of God, nor to have any evidence upon your soul for a better state hereafter? (for indeed at that time all the things of God were hid from my soul).
Wherefore, when I at first began to think of this, it was a great trouble to me; for I thought with myself, that in the condition I now was in, I was not fit to die, neither indeed did I think I could, if I should be called to it. Besides, I thought with myself, if I should make a scrambling shift to climb up the ladder, yet I should either with quaking, or other symptoms of fainting, give occasion to the enemy to reproach the way of God and His people for their timorousness. This, therefore, lay with great trouble upon me, for methought I was ashamed to die with a pale face, and tottering knees, in such a cause as this.
Wherefore I prayed to God that he would comfort me, and give me strength to do and suffer me what He should call me to; yet no comfort appeared, but all continued hid. I was also at this time so really possessed with the thought of death, that oft I was as if I was on a ladder with the rope about my neck. Only this was some encouragement to me. I thought I might now have an opportunity to speak my last words to a multitude, which I thought would come to see me die. And, thought I, if it must be so, if God will but convert one soul by my very last words, I shall not count my life thrown away, nor lost.
But yet all things of God were kept out of my sight, and still the tempter followed me with: “But whither must you go when you die? What will become of you? Where will you be found in another world? What evidence have you for heaven and glory, and an inheritance among them that are sanctified?” Thus was I tossed for many weeks, and knew not what to do.
[Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 333–336]
Bunyan describes the real struggles of his heart, as he, like Christian in the allegory, did not know what to do. But take note of what Christian does next. In Christian’s response Bunyan shows us the fruits of humble repentance.
When Christian realizes that his sinful sleep in the arbor caused his roll to slip away, he quickly acknowledges and owns his sin. He falls to his knees and asks God for forgiveness. He then takes action to retrace his steps in search of his roll. Christian’s sin has sad consequences. He prolongs his trial and compounds his grief. He is forced to cover the same ground three times (the second time going back) that he should have traveled once. Yet he humbly repents with diligence and godly sorrow. Thomas Scott notes:
“Christian’s perplexity, remorse, complaints and self-reproachings, when he missed his roll, and went back to seek it, exactly suit the experience of humble and conscientious believers, when unwatchfulness has brought their state into uncertainty.”
Bunyan underscores the need for repentance by pointing us to a sobering verse in Revelation addressed to the church at Ephesus calling them to repent and warning them of the consequences of not repenting:
Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent (Revelation 2:5).
Unrepentance leads to darkness—the loss of the light of Christ. Repentance is the way to joy and light and renewed hope of forgiveness and life.
We must pray that God will not only make us watchful and diligent to walk in the light, but also make us humble and quick to repent when we fail and fall into sin. In the next post we will continue Christian’s search for the lost roll as he returns to the arbor.
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 ©2014 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.