Hopeful’s Testimony Part 4 The Futility of Works

Christian: And how did you do then?

Hopeful: I thought I must endeavor to mend my life; for else, thought I, I am sure to be damned.

Christian: And did you endeavor to mend?

Hopeful: Yes; and fled from not only my sins, but sinful company too; and betook me to religious duties, as prayer, reading, weeping for sin, speaking truth to my neighbors, etc. These things did I, with many others, too much here to relate.

Christian: And did you think yourself well then?

Hopeful: Yes, for a while; but at the last, my trouble came tumbling upon me again, and that over the neck of all my reformations.

Christian: How came that about, since you were now reformed?

Hopeful: There were several things brought it upon me, especially such sayings as these: “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” “By the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” “When ye shall have done all those things, say, We are unprofitable,” with many more such like. From whence I began to reason with myself thus: If ALL my righteousnesses are filthy rags; if, by the deeds of the law, NO man can be justified; and if, when we have done ALL, we are yet unprofitable, then it is but a folly to think of heaven by the law. I further thought thus: If a man runs a hundred pounds into the shopkeeper’s debt, and after that shall pay for all that he shall fetch; yet, if this old debt stands still in the book uncrossed, for that the shopkeeper may sue him, and cast him into prison till he shall pay the debt.

Christian: Well, and how did you apply this to yourself?

Hopeful: Why; I thought thus with myself. I have, by my sins, run a great way into God’s book, and that my now reforming will not pay off that score; therefore I should think still, under all my present amendments, But how shall I be freed from that damnation that I have brought myself in danger of by my former transgressions?

Christian: A very good application: but, pray, go on.

Hopeful: Another thing that has troubled me, even since my late amendments, is, that if I look narrowly into the best of what I do now, I still see sin, new sin, mixing itself with the best of that I do; so that now I am forced to conclude, that notwithstanding my former fond conceits of myself and duties, I have committed sin enough in one duty to send me to hell, though my former life had been faultless.

Though Hopeful tried at first to suppress the conviction weighing upon his heart, he was unsuccessful. He tried not to think about the consequences of his sin, but he still felt guilty and condemned. He then thought of another way to ease his conscience. He feared judgment for all the wrongs he had done, and so he endeavored to mend his life by doing good. He tried forsaking sin. He abandoned sinful companions. He did things that he believed would commend him to God. He prayed, he read his Bible, he felt sorry for sin, he even witnessed to his neighbors—that the world might see he was reformed. But going through the motions of being right with God does not make one right with God. Any good feelings Hopeful gained by being religious were fleeting. Guilt and conviction continued to flood his soul and overwhelmed all his efforts to reform.

The truth began to dawn in Hopeful’s thinking as he pondered God’s Word. Scripture teaches the futility of works as a way to be right with God. As Hopeful remembered verses that he had read and heard, he realized two important truths.

  1. Even if he could live perfectly from this day forward, he could never repay his former debt of sin.Were he able to obey God’s commands and do all that was required of him, he would only be doing his duty.

So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, “We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do” (Luke 17:10).

He could not do more to make up for past sins. The burden was too great. This was Christian’s great distress when he set out from the City of Destruction. Hopeful came to understand what Christian learned earlier on his journey when Worldly Wiseman sent him to see Legality in the Village of Morality. As Christian neared the cliffs of the High Hill (the thundering of God’s Law on Mount Sinai) the mountain seemed threatening, his burden seemed heavier, and he could not go on. Later in the allegory Faithful learned the same lesson when he was struck down by Moses on Hill Difficulty. Both Christian and Faithful attempted to gain God’s favor by obeying God’s Law. And both learned the same truth: the law cannot save us. No one will ever attain heaven by keeping God’s Law. We cannot find relief from our guilt or acceptance with God through our own attempts at obedience. In our sin, the Law only condemns us. It provides no relief, no reprieve, no respite. Our only hope of forgiveness is God’s grace and mercy given to us in Christ Jesus.

knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified (Galatians 2:16).

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 2:8–9).

We can never do enough good works to cancel out our debt of sin. We are wholly unable to repay God; we cannot gain righteousness by our own efforts and strength.

  1. Even if he could repay his former debt of sin, he would still be weighed down with the debt owed daily for new sins.Though he tried reforming his life, he discovered that sin remained in his heart. Each day new sins added to his guilt before God. His sins separated him from God. Sin is thoroughly evil and contrary to God and His nature. Ralph Venning offers an apt description of the “sinfulness of sin.”

God is holy, without spot or blemish, or any such thing, without any wrinkle, or anything like it, as they also that are in Christ shall one day be (Ephesians 5:27). He is so holy, that he cannot sin himself, nor be the cause or author of sin in another. He does not command sin to be committed, for to do so would be to cross his nature and will. Nor does he approve of any man’s sin, when it is committed, but hates it with a perfect hatred. He is without iniquity, and of purer eyes than to behold (i.e. approve) iniquity (Habakkuk 1:13).

On the contrary, as God is holy, all holy, only holy, altogether holy, and always holy, so sin is sinful, all sinful, only sinful, altogether sinful, and always sinful (Genesis 6:5). In my flesh, that is, in my sinful corrupt nature, there dwelleth no good thing (Romans 7:18). As in God there is no evil, so in sin there is no good. God is the chiefest of goods and sin is the chiefest of evils. As no good can be compared with God for goodness, so no evil can be compared with sin for evil.

[The Sinfulness of Sin, Ralph Venning, 1669]

Sin is pervasive and insidious. It is mixed in all we do. Impure motives, wrong opinions, misguided ideas—we all have them. Even our righteous acts have enough sin mixed in to send us to hell. Hopeful confesses: “I have committed sin enough in one duty to send me to hell, though my former life had been faultless.” Sin has so tainted our thoughts and actions, that even our best efforts and most noble thoughts are as “filthy rags.”

But we are all like an unclean thing,
And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags;
We all fade as a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind,
Have taken us away.
(Isaiah 64:6)

Not every sin causes equally dire consequences or requires the same sort of restitution.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation (Matthew 23:14).

But every sin is grievous and damnable, because it is ultimately committed against our perfect and holy Creator.

How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God? (Genesis 39:9b)

For I acknowledge my transgressions,
And my sin is always before me.
Against You, You only, have I sinned,
And done this evil in Your sight—
That You may be found just when You speak,
And blameless when You judge.
(Psalm 51:3–4)

Jonathan Edwards rightly concludes:

Any sin is more or less heinous depending upon the honor and majesty of the one whom we had offended. Since God is of infinite honor, infinite majesty, and infinite holiness, the slightest sin is of infinite consequence. The slightest sin is nothing less than cosmic treason when we realize against whom we have sinned.

[The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners, Jonathan Edwards, 1734]

R.C. Sproul further explains Edwards’ conclusion:

“Sin is cosmic treason. Sin is treason against a perfectly pure Sovereign. It is an act of supreme ingratitude toward the One to whom we owe everything, to the One who has given us life itself. Have you ever considered the deeper implications of the slightest sin, of the most minute peccadillo? What are we saying to our Creator when we disobey Him at the slightest point? We are saying no to the righteousness of God. We are saying, “God, Your law is not good. My judgement is better than Yours. Your authority does not apply to me. I am above and beyond Your jurisdiction. I have the right to do what I want to do, not what You command me to do.”

[The Holiness of God, R.C. Sproul1985]

Hopeful understands the dire consequences of his sin. And he realizes the futility of his own works to atone for his sin. He cannot earn his own righteousness or attain God’s favor through his own efforts. He needs to look to the work of another. He needs a righteousness not his own. In the next post we will hear how Hopeful learned of the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ.

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 ©2018 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Hopeful’s Testimony Part 3 Growing Conviction

Christian: Then, as it seems, sometimes you got rid of your trouble.

Hopeful: Yes, verily, but it would come into my mind again, and then I should be as bad, nay, worse, than I was before.

Christian: Why, what was it that brought your sins to mind again?

Hopeful: Many things; as,

  1. If I did but meet a good man in the streets; or,
  2. If I have heard any read in the Bible; or,
  3. If mine head did begin to ache; or,
  4. If I were told that some of my neighbors were sick; or,
  5. If I heard the bell toll for some that were dead; or,
  6. If I thought of dying myself; or,
  7. If I heard that sudden death happened to others;
  8. But especially, when I thought of myself, that I must quickly come to judgment.

Christian: And could you at any time, with ease, get off the guilt of sin, when by any of these ways it came upon you?

Hopeful: No, not I, for then they got faster hold of my conscience; and then, if I did but think of going back to sin, (though my mind was turned against it), it would be double torment to me.

Hopeful's growing conviction

Though Hopeful initially rejected the gospel and resisted the conviction that was weighing upon his conscience, God continued to pursue him. He remembered his own mortality and frailty. He was reminded of his sinfulness and failing before God. He could not escape thoughts of the coming judgment. These reminders were all around him:

  • When he heard about or saw someone doing what was right and good
  • When he heard the Word of God read or mentioned
  • When he became ill or heard of others who were ill
  • When he heard about someone who died, especially if the death was tragic or unexpected (or unjust as it was with Faithful in Vanity Fair)
  • When he thought that he would die and stand before God in judgment

Though he tried to put thoughts of death, judgment, and God out of his mind, all of these things were aimed at his conscience. God would not let him alone to rest comfortably in his sin.

Many in our day are feeling the pangs of conscience like Hopeful, but they have yet to turn to Christ and find rest and relief. Hopeful’s testimony offers encouragement and instruction as we pray for friends and family who are still clinging to sin and resisting grace.

1) We need to remember that our lives are on display. We need to walk before others with integrity, loving what is right and good, and doing what is right and good.

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel (Philippians 1:27).

Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear (1 Peter 3:1–2).

2) We need to be bold in speaking the Word of God, even to unbelievers. The Word of God is the Word of life!

Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life (John 5:24).

Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed (Acts 13:48).

How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:14–17).

3) We need to trust in God’s good purposes even through times of difficulty and hardship. God often uses trials and sickness to remind us of our own frailty and need for Him. But God’s good purposes may well extend beyond ourselves. God can use tragedy, sickness, even death, as a means of grace to bring conviction to others and cause others to ponder the state of their soul. Our trials may be the very means that God is using to draw friends and family to Himself. He indeed works all things together for good, to those who love Him, “to those who are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). Let us live so that our lives, even in the midst of trials, help and not hinder others to look to Christ and find hope in the gospel.

We need to pray for those around us who are resisting God’s Word, who are hesitating or outright rejecting the truth. Pray that God will not leave them to their sin, but will use all means necessary to pursue and draw them to Himself. And pray that God’s “means” would include even us as He providentially directs our lives for our good and the good of others around us.

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 ©2018 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

The Enchanted Ground

I saw then in my dream, that they went till they came into a certain country, whose air naturally tended to make one drowsy, if he came a stranger into it. And here Hopeful began to be very dull and heavy of sleep; wherefore he said unto Christian, I do now begin to grow so drowsy that I can scarcely hold up mine eyes, let us lie down here and take one nap.

Christian: By no means, said the other, lest sleeping, we never awake more.

Hopeful: Why, my brother? Sleep is sweet to the laboring man; we may be refreshed if we take a nap.

Christian: Do you not remember that one of the Shepherds bid us beware of the Enchanted Ground? He meant by that that we should beware of sleeping; “Therefore let us not sleep, as do others, but let us watch and be sober.”

Hopeful: I acknowledge myself in a fault, and had I been here alone I had by sleeping run the danger of death. I see it is true that the wise man says: Two are better than one. Hitherto hath thy company been my mercy, and thou shalt have a good reward for thy labor.

Christian: Now then, said Christian, to prevent drowsiness in this place, let us fall into good discourse.

Hopeful: With all my heart, said the other.

Christian: Where shall we begin?

Hopeful: Where God began with us. But do you begin, if you please.

Christian: I will sing you first this song:

When saints do sleepy grow, let them come hither,
And hear how these two pilgrims talk together:
Yea, let them learn of them, in any wise,
Thus to keep ope their drowsy slumb’ring eyes.
Saints’ fellowship, if it be managed well,
Keeps them awake, and that in spite of hell.

 The Enchanted Ground

Since meeting in the town of Vanity, Christian and Hopeful have faced many dangers and difficulties together. As they near the end of their journey they face another peril—one that is subtler and much harder to discern. They enter the Enchanted Ground—a country where the air tends to make unsuspecting travelers drowsy and lethargic. The Enchanted Ground represents dullness brought about by spiritual complacency and fatigue.

When Christian and Hopeful enter the Enchanted Ground, Hopeful begins “to be very dull and heavy of sleep.” He suggests to Christian that they stop and take a nap. Christian, however, is adamant that they press on. He fears that if they sleep, they might never awake. But Hopeful is not convinced. He questions Christian’s resistance and quotes Scripture to make his point: “The sleep of a laboring man is sweet…” (Ecclesiastes 5:12). The verse that Hopeful quotes is certainly true. Christian learned the value of rest at House Beautiful. But this is not the time for sleep. Christian remembers the instructions of the Shepherds and recognizes the ground. The Shepherds warned the pilgrims to beware of the Enchanted Ground. They dare not sleep in this place.

Consider and hear me, O Lord my God;
Enlighten my eyes,
Lest I sleep the sleep of death.
(Psalm 13:3)

How long will you slumber, O sluggard?
When will you rise from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
A little folding of the hands to sleep—
So shall your poverty come on you like a prowler,
And your need like an armed man.
(Proverbs 6:9–11)

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 (Romans 13:11).

Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober (1 Thessalonians 5:6).

Christian has already seen the dangers of spiritual sleep. Earlier in the allegory he found Simple, Sloth, and Presumption asleep not far from the cross. Simple saw no need to study, understand, or apply doctrine. Sloth saw no need to do hard or costly things. Presumption settled where, if needed, he could see the cross and assumed all would be well. Christian himself later fell asleep at the Arbor while he was climbing Hill Difficulty. He lost his roll (his assurance of salvation) for a time and his carelessness placed him in greater danger.

The danger of the Enchanted Ground is spiritual complacency and fatigue.

When life is comfortable and religion becomes rote, we can grow complacent and careless in our walk with God. We can settle in and grow too comfortable in our faith. Our worship loses its wonder and becomes too routine. We go to church week after week, hearing the same old Sunday School lessons, singing the same old songs, hearing the same preacher saying the same things. And we begin to think: I’ve heard that before—and we don’t listen as intently—Didn’t we sing this hymn just last week?—and we stop paying attention to the words. We grow too familiar with the content and form of worship—and we tune out. Our minds wander and spiritual sleep overtakes us. We come week after week to feed on God’s Word but fail to “taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8). In his commentary on The Pilgrim’s Progress, William Mason warns:

Christian, beware of sleeping on this enchanted ground! When all things go easy, smooth, and well, we are prone to grow drowsy in soul.  How many are the calls in the Word against spiritual slumber! and yet how many professors, through the enchanting air of this world, are fallen into the deep sleep of formality! Be warned by them to cry to thy Lord to keep thee awake to righteousness, and vigorous in the ways of thy Lord—(Mason).

Even churches can drift into spiritual lethargy. As God’s people, we can become drowsy, asleep near the cross, like Simple, Sloth, and Presumption. We can dismiss and discard the teaching of difficult doctrine, so not to offend anyone. We can settle into a comfortable routine and stop doing hard things and challenging things. We can pare down ministry so it is manageable and predictable. We can grow complacent and languid—no longer sharing our faith with others, no longer engaging one another about our spiritual welfare. We can assume all is well and fail to encourage and admonish one another. As Keith Green has said, we can fall “asleep in the light.”

Oh, can’t you see such sin?!
The world is sleeping in the dark,
That the church just can’t fight,
’cause it’s asleep in the light!

Keith Green
©1978 from the album No Compromise

Spiritual complacency is not the only thing that lulls us to sleep. Spiritual fatigue does so as well. Living as a Christian in a world filled with sin is hard. Rising day after day, fighting the same old battles against sin, can be wearisome. It is easy to wonder at times—wouldn’t it be nice if I just didn’t have to fight anymore? Satan tempts us to give up the fight of faith. He tries to allure us away from what is true when we are weak and weary.

In Part II of The Pilgrim’s Progress, the pilgrims find two travelers asleep on the Enchanted Ground: Heed-less and Too-Bold. They rushed in with confidence, but failed to stay alert. They did not heed the truth of God’s Word and grew weary in crossing. They weren’t prepared for the long haul. Great-heart, the pilgrims’ guide in Part II, explains their demise.

This, then, is the mischief of it, when heedless ones go on pilgrimage, it is twenty to one but they are served thus; for this Enchanted Ground is one of the last refuges that the enemy to pilgrims has. Wherefore it is, as you see, placed almost at the end of the way, and so it stands against us with the more advantage. For when, thinks the enemy, will these fools be so desirous to sit down, as when they are weary? and when so like to be weary, as when almost at their journey’s end? Therefore it is, I say, that the Enchanted Ground is placed so nigh to the Land Beulah, and so near the end of their race.

The Enchanted Ground lies near the end of the journey because spiritual fatigue is a danger we can easily slip into when we have followed the Way for a long time.

How then are we to avoid the dangers and make it across the Enchanted Ground?

The solution for making it across such a treacherous place is threefold:

1) Never walk alone. When Hopeful realizes his error, he is grateful for Christian’s company. He quotes from Ecclesiastes:

Two are better than one,
Because they have a good reward for their labor.
For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.
But woe to him who is alone when he falls,
For he has no one to help him up.
(Ecclesiastes 4:9–10)

Had he been by himself, Hopeful might have fallen asleep and not completed his journey. By God’s kindness, Christian walked with him and prevented him from succumbing to spiritual slumber.

2) Look to God’s Word. God has given us instruction in His Word that we must heed and follow. He has given us faithful Shepherds to teach us God’s Word and to exhort us to follow its instruction. We must remember God’s Word and preach it continually to ourselves and to one another as we press on to our journey’s end.

3) Engage in godly discourse. Christian tells Hopeful, “to prevent drowsiness in this place, let us fall into good discourse.” Here Bunyan highlights the value of Christian discipleship. The pilgrims sing and discuss together spiritual things that edify their souls. Discipleship involves helping and encouraging others, and letting others help and encourage us. It involves investing time in others, rejoicing in truth with others, and sharing testimony of God’s goodness with one another. We need to continually rehearse the gospel, and never simply presume the gospel.  Discipleship is the means of grace whereby God keeps the gospel new and fresh in our hearts. It is the means whereby new believers are taught to cherish and walk in the faith. And it is the means whereby mature believers are heartened to continue cherishing and walking in the faith.

In the next several posts we will see discipleship in action. Christian will question Hopeful, draw out his testimony, and offer encouragement and instruction. God is gracious in insisting that we journey to the Celestial City together. We should always be grateful for the opportunity to walk together, look to God’s Word together, and share testimonies of God’s goodness our lives. We need discourse on the truth to keep us from growing dull and falling asleep in the Way.

Father, help them not grow drowsy
As they cross Enchanted Ground;
Stir their souls with lively discourse
Of the precious grace they’ve found.

(from A Prayer for Pilgrims by Ken Puls)

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 ©2018 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Met by Atheist

Now, after a while, they perceived, afar off, one coming softly and alone, all along the highway to meet them. Then said Christian to his fellow, Yonder is a man with his back towards Zion, and he is coming to meet us.

Hopeful: I see him; let us take heed to ourselves now, lest he should prove a flatterer also. So he drew nearer and nearer, and at last came up unto them. His name was Atheist, and he asked them whither they were going.

Christian: We are going to Mount Zion.

Then Atheist fell into a very great laughter.

Christian: What is the meaning of your laughter?

Atheist: I laugh to see what ignorant persons you are, to take upon you so tedious a journey, and you are like to have nothing but your travel for your pains.

Christian: Why, man, do you think we shall not be received?

Atheist: Received! There is no such place as you dream of in all this world.

Christian: But there is in the world to come.

Atheist: When I was at home in mine own country, I heard as you now affirm, and from that hearing went out to see, and have been seeking this city this twenty years; but find no more of it than I did the first day I set out.

Christian: We have both heard and believe that there is such a place to be found.

Atheist: Had not I, when at home, believed, I had not come thus far to seek; but finding none, (and yet I should, had there been such a place to be found, for I have gone to seek it further than you), I am going back again, and will seek to refresh myself with the things that I then cast away, for hopes of that which, I now see, is not.

Christian: Then said Christian to Hopeful his fellow, Is it true what this man has said?

Hopeful: Take heed, he is one of the flatterers; remember what it hath cost us once already for our hearkening to such kind of fellows. What! No Mount Zion? Did we not see, from the Delectable Mountains the gate of the city? Also, are we not now to walk by faith? Let us go on, said Hopeful, lest the man with the whip overtake us again. You should have taught me that lesson, which I will round you in the ears withal: “Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge.” I say, my brother, cease to hear him, and let us “believe to the saving of the soul.”

Christian: My brother, I did not put the question to you for that I doubted of the truth of our belief myself, but to prove you, and to fetch from you a fruit of the honesty of your heart. As for this man, I know that he is blinded by the god of this world. Let you and I go on, knowing that we have belief of the truth, “and no lie is of the truth.”

Hopeful: Now do I rejoice in hope of the glory of God. So they turned away from the man; and he, laughing at them, went his way.

 Atheist

Once again Christian and Hopeful are traveling toward the Celestial City. They have been freed from the net of the Flatterer and brought back to the Way. Now they see afar off one coming toward them—one “with his back toward Zion.” Though the traveler does not appear threatening—he is walking “softly and alone”—Hopeful is suspicious.

The traveler’s name is Atheist. He is one who refuses to believe in God and rejects the truth of the Bible. He is walking in the opposite direction, away from Zion and the Celestial City and toward Vanity and Destruction. He no longer seeks eternal life. He no longer fears eternal judgment. In fact, he no longer believes in the reality of heaven and hell. When Christian tells him that they are going to Mount Zion, he responds with “very great laughter.” He considers Christian and Hopeful to be ignorant, beneath his superior knowledge of the world. Christian, still feeling the shame of his error in following the Flatterer, at first interprets Atheist’s laughter to mean: How could someone as sinful as you be received at Mount Zion! But Atheist taunts: “There is no such place as you dream of in all this world.”

This claim is not the confession of an agnostic who doubts that God is knowable, nor the testimony of a skeptic who doubts that the claims of the Bible can be true. These are the words of an Atheist who adamantly denies the existence of God and has contrived ways of understanding the world without thinking of God.

The claims of Atheist are foolish and unfounded.

The fool has said in his heart,
“There is no God.”
(Psalm 53:1)

He has come to the false conclusion that since he cannot understand the existence of God in light of what he sees in the world around him, God must not exist. It is the height of arrogance for a frail and finite creature such as man to conclude after only 20 years of seeking, “there is no such place as you dream of in all this world.” Eternal reward will always remain hidden to those who persist in such short-sighted folly.

The labor of fools wearies them,
For they do not even know how to go to the city!
(Ecclesiastes 10:15)

but he shall die in the place where they have led him captive, and shall see this land no more (Jeremiah 22:12).

Atheist claims that he was once an earnest pilgrim. His life, however, demonstrates that he is not a true disciple. He left his country out of curiosity and intrigue, not to find relief from a burden of sin or to escape the wrath to come. He sought for evidence of God’s existence and for the hope of eternal life, but finding none, he is now resolved to give up and go back to his country. A true disciple perseveres and does not dare go back. Christian declared when he was urged to turn back near the top of Hill Difficulty:

If I go back to mine own country, that is prepared for fire and brimstone, and I shall certainly perish there. If I can get to the Celestial City, I am sure to be in safety there. I must venture. To go back is nothing but death; to go forward is fear of death, and life-everlasting beyond it. I will yet go forward.

Atheist has become a scoffer. He has renounced the gospel. He regards the journey as tedious and pointless. Though he at one time professed the gospel, his heart was never softened by the gospel. He was never saved by the gospel and now he is gospel-hardened. Thomas Scott explains:

Some false professors gradually renounce “the truth” as it is in Jesus; but others openly set themselves against all kinds of religion, and turn scoffers and infidels. Indeed none are more likely to become avowed atheists, than such as have for many years hypocritically professed the gospel: for they often acquire an acquaintance with the several parts of religion, their connexion with each other, and the arguments with which they are supported; so that they know not where to begin, if they would oppose any particular doctrine or precept of revelation. Yet they hate the whole system; and, having never experienced those effects from the truth which the scripture ascribes to it, they feel, that if there be any reality in religion, their own case is very dreadful, and wish to shake off this mortifying and alarming conviction.

(Thomas Scott Notes on Pilgrim’s Progress)

When Atheist insists that he is turning back because his search for the Celestial City has proved to be fruitless, Christian asks Hopeful: “Is it true what this man has said?” Hopeful does not hesitate to answer. His reply highlights three lessons that we need to remember if we are to persevere in the journey.

1) Take heed and don’t be deceived. Hopeful is now more alert, having just been freed from the Flatterer’s net. He knows the hazard of following false counsel. He wants to avoid the snare of sin and the whip of God’s discipline. God’s discipline in our lives not only rescues us in the moment from turning back to Destruction, it becomes a deterrent that restrains us from straying into sin in the future. It keeps us out of danger and in the path of blessing. We must learn to watch and continually guard our hearts.

Keep your heart with all diligence,
For out of it spring the issues of life.
Put away from you a deceitful mouth,
And put perverse lips far from you.
Let your eyes look straight ahead,
And your eyelids look right before you.
Ponder the path of your feet,
And let all your ways be established.
Do not turn to the right or the left;
Remove your foot from evil.
(Proverbs 4:23–27)

2) Walk by faith and not by sight. We are not to listen to what we know is not right. We must remember the truth that we have learned—lessons and glimpses of glory from the Delectable Mountains. We must not leave off faith and begin walking by sight.

For we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

We do not seek our reward here in this life. In this life we are but pilgrims passing through. Jesus said: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). “For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come” (Hebrews 13:14). We must not believe the lie that this world is all there is.

3) Believe God’s Word and hope in His promises. We never get beyond needing the Word of God. Christian and Hopeful strayed from the Way, following after the Flatterer, because they neglected God’s Word. Though they carried with them instructions from the Shepherds, they failed to read and follow them. Now, faced with another temptation to abandon their journey, Hopeful says to Christian: “You should have taught me that lesson, which I will round you in the ears” [tell you sincerely]. He points Christian to God’s Word and quotes a warning from the book of Proverbs:

Cease, my son, to hear the instruction
that causeth to err from the words of knowledge.
(Proverbs 19:27, KJV)

Cease listening to instruction, my son,
And you will stray from the words of knowledge.
(Proverbs 19:27, NKJV)

And he quotes an affirmation:

But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul (Hebrews 10:39).

We must persevere in the light of God’s Word. We must believe “to the saving of the soul.” Christian assures Hopeful that he asked the question, not because he believed Atheist or doubted the truth, but because he desired to draw out a sincere testimony from Hopeful. Atheist is blind to the truth of the Gospel.

But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them (2 Corinthians 4:3–4).

But Christian and Hopeful are resolved to press on, believing what they know to be true and rejecting what they know to be a lie. God has given His Word that we might know truth from error.

I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and that no lie is of the truth. (1 John 2:21).

They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error (1 John 4:5–6).

Atheist faces a grave ending. He is turning back to refresh himself with things of this world that he had previously cast away. He scorns those who would forsake all the world has to offer in order to find eternal life, but he will end up empty, “having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).

Christian and Hopeful are still intent on reaching the Celestial City. They are not dissuaded by Atheist’s laughter and scorn. Because they take heed, walk by faith, and believe God’s Word, they continue on in their journey, seeking life eternal and “rejoicing in hope of the glory of God.”

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God (Romans 5:1–2).

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 ©2018 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Teach Me O Lord Thy Way of Truth

Open God's Word

If we are to know truth, we must abide in God’s Word. If we are to follow Christ, who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), we must know and obey God’s Word. Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31–32).

But truth is not something we can comprehend on our own. One thing we must always do when we open God’s Word, is pray that His Spirit would illumine our understanding and help us rightly apply truth. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 2:14 that without the Spirit, we cannot understand the Word. To those who are dead in sin and have no spiritual life, the truth of God’s Word, in fact, appears to be foolishness. Any time we read the Bible, or hear it taught and preached, we should pray that God would teach us, give us understanding, and help us walk in truth.

This is how God instructs us to pray in His Word. The book of Psalms serves as the Bible’s inspired songbook, providing us divinely prescribed instruction on how we must sing and pray and worship the Lord. In Psalm 119:33–40 the psalmist prays:

Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes,
And I shall keep it to the end.
Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law;
Indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart.
Make me walk in the path of Your commandments,
For I delight in it.
Incline my heart to Your testimonies,
And not to covetousness.
Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things,
And revive me in Your way.
Establish Your word to Your servant,
Who is devoted to fearing You.
Turn away my reproach which I dread,
For Your judgments are good.
Behold, I long for Your precepts;
Revive me in Your righteousness.
(Psalm 119:33–40, NKJV)

The following setting of this portion of Psalm 119 is from The Psalter, 1912. Take time to read (and sing) the words. And make this your prayer as you look to God’s Word and seek to walk in its light.

Teach Me O Lord Thy Way of Truth

“Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes,
And I shall keep it to the end” (Psalm 119:33).

  1. Teach me O Lord Thy way of truth,
    And from it I will not depart;
    That I may steadfastly obey,
    Give me an understanding heart.
  2. In Thy commandments make me walk,
    For in Thy law my joy shall be;
    Give me a heart that loves Thy will,
    From discontent and envy free.
  3. Turn Thou mine eyes from vanity,
    And cause me in Thy ways to tread;
    O let Thy servant prove Thy Word,
    And thus to godly fear be led.
  4. Turn Thou away reproach and fear;
    Thy righteous judgments I confess;
    To know Thy precepts I desire;
    Revive me in Thy righteousness.

“Teach Me O Lord Thy Way of Truth”
Words from Psalm 119:33–40, The Psalter, 1912
Tune: CROSLAND (L.M.)
Music by Tom Wells, 2001
Words ©Public Domain
Music ©2001 Tom Wells (Used by Permission)

Tom Wells (Heritage Baptist Church in Mansfield, Texas) composed an excellent tune for this setting of Psalm 119:33–40. Download free sheet music (PDF), including a guitar chord chart, an arrangement of the hymn tune CROSLAND for classical guitar.

More Hymns from History

More hymns arranged for Classical Guitar

 

Great-Grace, the King’s Champion

Hopeful: But, Christian, these three fellows, I am persuaded in my heart, are but a company of cowards; would they have run else, think you, as they did, at the noise of one that was coming on the road? Why did not Little-faith pluck up a greater heart? He might, methinks, have stood one brush with them, and have yielded when there had been no remedy.

Christian: That they are cowards, many have said, but few have found it so in the time of trial. As for a great heart, Little-faith had none; and I perceive by you, my brother, had you been the man concerned, you are but for a brush, and then to yield.

And, verily, since this is the height of your stomach, now they are at a distance from us, should they appear to you as they did to him they might put you to second thoughts.

But, consider again, they are but journeymen thieves, they serve under the king of the bottomless pit, who, if need be, will come into their aid himself, and his voice is as the roaring of a lion. I myself have been engaged as this Little-faith was, and I found it a terrible thing. These three villains set upon me, and I beginning, like a Christian, to resist, they gave but a call, and in came their master. I would, as the saying is, have given my life for a penny, but that, as God would have it, I was clothed with armor of proof. Ay, and yet, though I was so harnessed, I found it hard work to quit myself like a man. No man can tell what in that combat attends us, but he that hath been in the battle himself.

Hopeful: Well, but they ran, you see, when they did but suppose that one Great-grace was in the way.

Christian: True, they have often fled, both they and their master, when Great-grace hath but appeared; and no marvel; for he is the King’s champion. But, I think, you will put some difference between Little-faith and the King’s champion. All the King’s subjects are not his champions, nor can they, when tried, do such feats of war as he. Is it meet to think that a little child should handle Goliath as David did? Or that there should be the strength of an ox in a wren? Some are strong, some are weak; some have great faith, some have little. This man was one of the weak, and therefore he went to the wall.

Hopeful: I would it had been Great-grace for their sakes.

Christian: If it had been, he might have had his hands full; for I must tell you, that though Great-grace is excellent good at his weapons, and has, and can, so long as he keeps them at sword’s point, do well enough with them; yet, if they get within him, even Faint-heart, Mistrust, or the other, it shall go hard but they will throw up his heels. And when a man is down, you know, what can he do?

Whoso looks well upon Great-grace’s face, shall see those scars and cuts there, that shall easily give demonstration of what I say. Yea, once I heard that he should say, (and that when he was in the combat), “We despaired even of life.” How did these sturdy rogues and their fellows make David groan, mourn, and roar? Yea, Heman, and Hezekiah, too, though champions in their day, were forced to bestir them, when by these assaulted; and yet, notwithstanding, they had their coats soundly brushed by them. Peter, upon a time, would go try what he could do; but though some do say of him that he is the prince of the apostles, they handled him so, that they made him at last afraid of a sorry girl. 

Great-Grace

Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress includes many contrasts. Christian escapes the City of Destruction (this fallen, sinful world) to journey to the Celestial City (the glories of heaven). Along the way he receives good counsel (Evangelist) and bad counsel (Worldly Wiseman). Bunyan distinguishes true converts (Christian, Faithful, Hopeful, Little-faith) from false converts (Simple, Sloth, Presumption, Formalist, Hypocrisy, By-ends, Turn-away, Ignorance).

Now, in contrast to Little-faith, we hear of another true and valiant pilgrim—Great-grace. The villains who robbed Little-faith fled in fear when they thought Great-grace might be nearby. Great-grace is the King’s champion. He is courageous, fit for battle, and adept at wielding the sword. He represents a vigilant believer or faithful pastor who is strong in faith, seasoned in spiritual warfare, and sympathetic to the needs of fellow Christians. He is one whom others can turn to in times of trial for godly counsel and encouragement. He knows the Word of God and is diligent in prayer. His strength is not in himself and his boast is not in his own works (Ephesians 2:8–9), but he lives to serve and glorify His King.

Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us,
But to Your name give glory,
Because of Your mercy,
Because of Your truth.
(Psalm 115:1)

He is clothed in the “whole armor of the Lord” and he stands in the strength of the Lord (Ephesians 6:10–20). He is “strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1). William Mason explains:

Now here you see what is meant by Great-grace, who is so often mentioned in this book, and by whom so many valiant things were done. We read, “With great power the apostles gave witness of the resurrection of Jesus.” Why was it? Because “great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33). So you see all is of grace, from first to last, in salvation. If we do great things for Christ, yet, not unto us, but unto the great grace of our Lord, be all the glory.

The contrast between Great-grace and Little-faith highlights a significant truth. Not everyone is strong in faith. Not everyone has a “great heart.” We all have differing measures of spiritual strength and maturity. Christian tells Hopeful: “All the King’s subjects are not his champions, nor can they, when tried, do such feats of war as he. … Some are strong, some are weak; some have great faith, some have little.”

Hopeful wonders why Little-faith was not more courageous. Why did he not put forth more effort to stand? But Christian understands the true intensity of Little-faith’s trial. Hopeful is evaluating temptation from a distance, but Christian has experienced it close up. Little-faith was attacked by “journeymen thieves,” but Christian faced their master, who prowls about like a roaring lion:

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world (1 Peter 5:8–9).

When Christian faced Apollyon in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, he had the advantage of being dressed in the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10–20). He had been to House Beautiful, the church, and was strengthened by the preaching of the gospel. Even so, he found the battle to be arduous and his foe to be fierce.

Like Hopeful, we tend to underestimate the power of sin and treat it too lightly. Sin is a much more formidable foe when it is close and threatening. Seen from a distance it appears less intimidating. We gauge its strength across a wide field of battle and wonder: How could this be a struggle? I can handle this! Yet when the assault comes, the line is broken, and the enemy breaks through our defenses, the conflict can leave us beaten, battered and bruised, as it did Little-faith.

Even those who are great in grace are not immune to the scourge of battle. Great-grace bears the scars and cuts of combat on his face. Even he can be beaten down for a time. He must be alert and keep watch, for himself as well as for others in the Way. He must keep his weapons “at sword’s point” (unsheathed, in hand, and engaged in battle).

All of the King’s champions have faced times of trial. Peter was a target of the enemy (Luke 22:31) and was brought down by fear, even fear of a servant girl who recognized him and called him out (Luke 22:54–62). Paul was “burdened beyond measure” and “despaired even of life” (2 Corinthians 1:8). He regarded himself as the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). David was weighed down by his iniquities (Psalm 38:4–6). He confessed “my sin is always before me” (Psalm 51:3). Heman the Ezrahite cried out: “my soul is full of troubles” and “I am like a man who has no strength, adrift among the dead” (Psalm 88:3–5). Hezekiah was “sick and near death” and he “wept bitterly” (Isaiah 38:1–3).

If we see such bruises and scars on our champions, how much more seriously should we regard our fight against sin? We need to guard our hearts.  We need to take up—

the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints (Ephesians 6:16–18).

This is a battle we can only win with our Bibles open (“at sword’s point”) and the promises of the gospel ringing in our hearts and minds.

The battle is hard because it is not a fight we can wage from a distance. It is not a fight we can wage on our own. The battleground is our own hearts and minds. Our fight is against sin and weakness within ourselves. Again William Mason explains:

Who can stand in the evil day of temptation, when beset with Faint-heart, Mistrust, and Guilt, backed by the power of their master, Satan? No one, unless armed with the whole armor of God; and even then, the power of such infernal foes makes it a hard fight to the Christian. But this is our glory, the Lord shall fight for us, and we shall hold our peace. We shall be silent as to ascribing any glory to ourselves, knowing our very enemies are part of ourselves, and that we are more than conquerors over all these (only) through HIM who loved us (Rom. 8:37).

Christ alone is our victory. We need His great grace if we are to prevail. He alone has power to conquer and defeat sin and death.

The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:56–58).

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 ©2018 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Two Voices Cry Out to Be Heard

Two Ways

There are two voices vying for our attention, beckoning us to very different paths. We need to listen well. Eternity is at stake. Scripture warns us in both the Old and New Testaments: only one path leads to life; the other down to destruction.

The book of Psalms opens with the contrast between the way of the righteous and the way of the ungodly.

For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the ungodly shall perish.
(Psalm 1:6)

In the New Testament, Jesus calls His followers to choose the way of life.

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it (Matthew 7:13–14).

We hear the two voices at the beginning of the book of Proverbs: the enticement of sinners (from the world) and the call of wisdom (from God and His Word).

My son, if sinners entice you,
Do not consent.
If they say, “Come with us,
Let us lie in wait to shed blood;
Let us lurk secretly for the innocent without cause;
Let us swallow them alive like Sheol,
And whole, like those who go down to the Pit;
We shall find all kinds of precious possessions,
We shall fill our houses with spoil;
Cast in your lot among us,
Let us all have one purse”—
My son, do not walk in the way with them,
Keep your foot from their path;
For their feet run to evil,
And they make haste to shed blood.
(Proverbs 1:10–16)

Wisdom calls aloud outside;
She raises her voice in the open squares.
She cries out in the chief concourses,
At the openings of the gates in the city
She speaks her words:
“How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity?
For scorners delight in their scorning,
And fools hate knowledge.”
(Proverbs 1:20–22)

If we are to learn the fear of the Lord and find the way of life we must tune out the world and listen to the voice of wisdom. Only wisdom will speak the truth. Only wisdom will point us to God’s Word where we will find peace and rest in Christ.

Two Voices Cry Out to Be Heard

Two voices cry out to be heard;
Take heed, my soul, and listen well.
For only one voice leads to life,
The other down to death and hell.

The voice of sinners fills the streets,
There on the innocent they prey.
Take heed, my soul, do not consent,
Lest you with them be cast away.

The voice of wisdom cries aloud
Above the din of sin’s deceit.
“How long, you simple, will you choose
The evil way, the scoffer’s seat?”

It’s wisdom’s voice I long to hear
To guide my steps which way to go.
Her words of warning, I would heed;
Her wealth of knowledge, I would know.

Lord, help me find the righteous way;
Guide me in ev’ry thought and choice.
For You alone have words of life,
Atune my heart to love Your voice.

Let me hear clearly wisdom’s call;
Tune out the noise of sin’s allure.
Listen intently to God’s Word
And there in Christ find rest secure.

Words ©2018 Ken Puls

Download the lyrics and free sheet music for this hymn, including an arrangement of the tune FEDERAL STREET for classical guitar.

More Hymns and Songs from Ken Puls Music

More Hymn tunes arranged for classical guitar

A Hill Called Clear

By this time the Pilgrims had a desire to go forward, and the Shepherds a desire they should; so they walked together towards the end of the mountains. Then said the Shepherds one to another, Let us here show to the Pilgrims the gates of the Celestial City, if they have skill to look through our perspective glass. The Pilgrims then lovingly accepted the motion; so they had them to the top of a high hill, called Clear, and gave them their glass to look.

Then they essayed to look, but the remembrance of that last thing that the Shepherds had shown them, made their hands shake; by means of which impediment, they could not look steadily through the glass; yet they thought they saw something like the gate, and also some of the glory of the place. Then they went away, and sang this song—

Thus, by the Shepherds, secrets are reveal’d,
Which from all other men are kept conceal’d.
Come to the Shepherds, then, if you would see
Things deep, things hid, and that mysterious be.

When they were about to depart, one of the Shepherds gave them a note of the way. Another of them bid them beware of the Flatterer. The third bid them take heed that they sleep not upon the Enchanted Ground. And the fourth bid them God-speed. So I awoke from my dream.

Mount Clear

The time has come for Christian and Hopeful to resume their journey. But Christian has learned the value of patience and the reward of lingering to learn more. Earlier in the allegory, at both the House of the Interpreter and Palace Beautiful, Christian desired to depart before he was ready. At both places, he was convinced—to the benefit of his soul—to stay longer. At Palace Beautiful he was taken up to an observation point, and because the day was clear, he was able to see the Delectable Mountains off in the distance. Now, from the Delectable Mountains, the Shepherds offer to give the pilgrims a glimpse of their journey’s end—to show them the very gates of the Celestial City.

Near the end of the Delectable Mountains is Mount Clear. This mountain provides an unparalleled view! From the top of this mountain the shepherds test the skill of the pilgrims at looking through the perspective glass. Mount Clear represents our unobstructed view of Christ and His glory, especially as we mature in our faith and near the end of life’s journey. As our time on earth grows shorter and the allure of the world grows weaker, our desire for the glories of Christ in heaven grows stronger. The Perspective Glass is the application of God’s Word to the well-being of our soul. William Mason describes it as “the glass of God’s word of grace and truth held up by the hand of faith to the eye of the soul.” Through it we see the hope of eternal life in Christ. Scripture shows us errors and cautions. It uncovers the depths of sin and warns of wrath and judgment. But it also takes us to the glories of heaven and gives us glimpses of the joy that awaits us in eternity.

Christian and Hopeful are not able to “look steadily through the glass.” Their hands shake as they hold up the scope. The reminder of remaining sin and conviction of past sins impede their view. Though we look intently through the lens of God’s Word at the realities of this life and eternal life to come, our view, this side of glory, is clouded. Paul tells us: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Though Christian and Hopeful cannot see as clearly as they would like, yet they continue their gaze. There reward is a glimpse of the glory of the Celestial City.

This glimpse of glory on Mount Clear comes through the clear teaching and compassionate ministry of the Shepherds. It is the shepherds’ task to make know “things deep, things hid, and that mysterious be.” Paul describes the ministry of the gospel as a

… stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus (Colossians 1:25–28).

The pilgrims are grateful for the truths they have learned in the Delectable Mountains. They desire others to come and see from their vantage point. They descend the mountain with song, delighting in the mysteries of God and encouraging others to seek wisdom and guidance from the Shepherds.

Before the pilgrims depart, the Shepherds prepare them for the journey ahead. They give them:

  • A note of the way—instruction on finding and staying on the right path
  • Warnings of dangers that lie ahead on their path: a warning to beware of the Flatterer and a warning not to sleep on the Enchanted Ground
  • And a prayer that God will go with them and bring them safely to their journey’s end.

The shepherd’s sermon on this mountain is clear. We must look steadfastly to Christ and the promises of the gospel. It is a sermon we must heed! Mount Clear and the By-Way to Hell remind us that eternity is at stake. This world is not all there is. When we are troubled and tempted by the world, our view of heaven is hazy and less certain. But when we look to Christ and His promises—and He is the one who delights our soul—it is the world that dims. Our view of heaven is bright and clear. Helen H. Lemmel expressed it beautifully in her hymn (1922):

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

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 ©2018 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

O How Blest the Hour

Church and Clock Tower

We enjoy many wonderful blessings when we gather with the church for worship. Together, we lift up our prayers, sing God’s praise, and hear God’s Word. Yet we can too easily miss these blessings, even when we are present with God’s people. We can say and sing words with our lips—and fail to draw near to Christ in our hearts. We can hear the Word of God read and preached—and thoughtlessly assume we know what is being said. We can take worship for granted and fail to appreciate its wonder and delight.

The hymn, O How Blest the Hour by the Lutheran hymn-writer Carl Johann Philipp Spitta (1801–1859), is a prayer that we not miss the wonder and delight of worship. It was first published in Leipzig in 1843 under the Scripture text John 6:68 with the title “Thou hast the words of Eternal Life” (John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology, 2:1078). The opening line in German is “O wie freun wir uns der Stunde” (O how we joyfully look forward to the hour). Richard Massie included a translation of the hymn in English in the second volume of his Lyra Domestica (1864).

The hymn anticipates the joy of drawing near to Christ and being together with the church in worship. It expresses our desire to hear God’s Word and asks that God be at work as we listen—that we would “not hear in vain” but He would impress its truths to our hearts and minds and help us walk in obedience.

Below are the words and link to the hymn set to a tune composed by Tom Wells. My thanks again to Tom for his permission to share and make his tunes available.

O How Blest the Hour

“But Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life’” (John 6:68).

O How blest the hour, Lord Jesus,
When we can to Thee draw near,
Promises so sweet and precious
From Thy gracious lips to hear!

Be with us this day to bless us,
That we may not hear in vain;
While Thy saving truths impress us,
Which the words of life contain.

Open Thou our minds and lead us
Safely on our heav’nward way;
While the lamp of Truth precedes us,
That we might not go astray.

Lord, endue Thy Word from heaven
With such light and love and pow’r,
That in us its silent leaven
May work on from hour to hour.

Give us grace to bear our witness
To the truths we have embraced;
And let others both their sweetness
And their quick’ning virtue taste.

“O How Blest the Hour”
Words by Carl Johann Philipp Spitta (1801–1859)
Translated by Richard Massie, 1800–1887
Music by Tom Wells, 2002
Words ©Public Domain
Music ©2002 Tom Wells (Used by Permission)

Download free sheet music (PDF), including guitar chord charts and an arrangement of the hymn tune HARRISON for classical guitar.

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Mount Caution

Then I saw that they had them to the top of another mountain, and the name of that is Caution, and bid them look afar off; which, when they did, they perceived, as they thought, several men walking up and down among the tombs that were there; and they perceived that the men were blind, because they stumbled sometimes upon the tombs, and because they could not get out from among them. Then said Christian, What does this mean?

The view from Mount Caution

The Shepherds then answered, Did you not see a little below these mountains a stile, that led into a meadow, on the left hand of this way? They answered, Yes. Then said the Shepherds, From that stile there goes a path that leads directly to Doubting Castle, which is kept by Giant Despair, and these, pointing to them among the tombs, came once on pilgrimage, as you do now, even till they came to that same stile; and because the right way was rough in that place, they chose to go out of it into that meadow, and there were taken by Giant Despair, and cast into Doubting Castle; where, after they had been a while kept in the dungeon, he at last did put out their eyes, and led them among those tombs, where he has left them to wander to this very day, that the saying of the wise man might be fulfilled, “He that wanders out of the way of understanding, shall remain in the congregation of the dead.” Then Christian and Hopeful looked upon one another, with tears gushing out, but yet said nothing to the Shepherds.

Christian and Hopeful continue to explore the Delectable Mountains under the guidance of the Shepherds. On the first mountain they were warned of drifting into error. If the pilgirms are to navigate the way forward, they must know how to discern truth from error. On this second mountain they are exhorted to look back. They look down into the valley, in the direction from which they came, and there they see blind men, stumbling and lost in a graveyard filled with tombs. The mountains, again, each represents a sermon—a passage of Scripture expounded by the Shepherds. The message on Mount Caution is from Proverbs—

A man who wanders from the way of understanding
Will rest in the assembly of the dead.
(Proverbs 21:16)

Christian doesn’t recognize at first the proximity of the tombs he now sees to the dark castle from which he had just escaped. He asks the Shepherds, “What does this mean?” As the Shepherds explain, he regretfully remembers. The tombs are in the castle-yard that Giant Despair had shown to Christian and Hopeful in an attempt to discourage them. Those who wander amidst the bones are those who, like Christian, found God’s Way to be rough and sought an easier way. They wandered “from the way of understanding” and now they are in danger of eternal death. Their lives have been ruined by despair, blinded to truth, and they no longer see any hope.

On the one hand, this appears to be a lesson received too late. Christian and Hopeful have already stumbled onto the grounds of Doubting Castle. But on the other, this is a very timely lesson. The pilgrims must remember their missteps and learn from them.  More temptations and dangers lie ahead. They must be ready.

Often sermons from God’s Word can help us evaluate more clearly errors we have made in the past and cause us to more deeply appreciate the mercies of God that keep us from the worst of their consequences. It is all too easy for us to discount our errors and fail to learn from them. We forget where we have been and end up falling into the same errors over and over. When we fail to acknowledge our sin—confess it and fight it—when we instead find ways to manage sin—hide it and cope with it—sin will slowly blind us, weigh us down, and imprison us. We will lose our way and lose sight of the gospel. Christ will become less precious to our souls. We will become as those wandering about the tombs. Those who fail to keep hold of the promise that unlocks the gates of Doubting Castle are doomed to remain in its prison. They are blinded, confined to the darkness of their own despair, without hope and without light.

We must learn to heed God’s Word and be quick to confess our sins and our need for Christ. Scripture cautions us:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8).

But it also gives us the sure promise:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9–10).

Hearing the words of the shepherds, Christian and Hopeful are overcome with tears. There are times when we sit under the preaching of God’s Word, that conviction feels so pointed and application sounds so personal, it is as if the sermon were meant only for us. It seems as if the pastor has been looking through a window into our thoughts and lives and fashioned his message specifically to call us out. But this precise heart-work is not the craftiness or clairvoyance of the pastor. It is the skillful work of the Spirit wielding the sharp edge of God’s Word.

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:12–13).

Christian and Hopeful hear the words of caution from God’s Word and they realize how great a danger they were in when they willfully wandered into By-Path Meadow. They are awash with sorrow for having strayed from the good Way. And they are filled with joy and gratitude to Christ for having escaped the dungeon of despair with the promise of salvation.

Pray that God’s Spirit will wield the Word in our hearts. Pray that He will keep our hearts tender and sensitive to His Word. Flee from sins and be quick to repent. Do not discount or dismiss past sins as if they are of no consequence. It is because of our sins that Christ died! Do not despise the remorse that the memory of past sins brings. Rather, let that remorse remind you of sin’s true evil nature—that you might be repulsed by sin and flee from it. And let every reminder of past sins and failings again point you Christ and deepen your love and gratitude for Him. His Word is sure. He alone forgives. He alone can make us whole.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits:
Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
(Psalm 103:2–5)

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 ©2018 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.