Notes and Commentary on
The Pilgrim's Progress
by Ken Puls
9. Met by Worldly Wiseman
Now as Christian was walking solitary by himself, he espied one afar off, come crossing over the field to meet him, and they happened to meet just as they were crossing the way of each other. The gentleman's name that met him was Mr. Worldly Wiseman, he dwelt in the town of Carnal Policy, a very great town, and also hard by from whence Christian came. This Man then, meeting with Christian, and having some inkling of him (for Christian's setting forth from the City of Destruction, was much noised abroad, not only in the town where he dwelt, but also it began to be the Town-talk in some other places). Master Worldly Wiseman therefore having some guess of him, by beholding his laborious going, by observing his sighs and groans, and the like; began thus to enter into some Talk with Christian.
Worldly Wiseman: How now, good fellow, whither away after this burdened manner?
Christian: A burdened manner indeed, as ever, I think, poor creature had! And whereas you ask me, Whither away? I tell you, Sir, I am going to yonder Wicket Gate before me; for there, as I am informed, I shall be put into a Way to be rid of my heavy Burden.
Worldly Wiseman: Has thou a Wife and Children?
Christian: Yes; but I am so laden with this Burden, that I cannot take that Pleasure in them formerly: methinks, I am as if I had none.
Worldly Wiseman: Wilt thou hearken to me if I give thee counsel?
Christian: If it be good, I will; for I stand in need of good counsel.
Worldly Wiseman: I would advise thee then, that thou with all speed get rid of they Burden; for thou wilt never be settled in thy mind till then: Nor canst thou enjoy the Benefits of the Blessings which God hath bestowed upon thee, till then.
Christian: That is that which I seek for, even to be rid of this heavy Burden; but get it off myself, I cannot: Nor is there a Man in our country, that can take it off my shoulders; therefore am I going that Way, as I told you, that I may be rid of my Burden.
Worldly Wiseman: Who bid thee go this Way to be rid of thy Burden?
Christian: A Man that appeared to me to be a very great and honorable person; his name, as I remember, is Evangelist.
Worldly Wiseman: Beshrew him for his counsel, there is not a more dangerous and troublesome way in the world, than is that unto which he hath directed thee; and that thou shalt find, if thou wilt be ruled by his counsel. Thou hast met with something (as I perceive) already; for I see the dirt of the Slough of Despond is upon thee; but that Slough is the Beginning of the sorrows that do attend those that go on in that Way: Hear me, I am older than thou; thou are like to meet with, in the way which thou goest, Wearisomeness, Painfulness, Hunger, Perils, Nakedness, Sword, Lions, Dragons, Darkness, and in a word, Death, and what not? These things are certainly true, having been confirmed by many Testimonies. And why should a man so careless cast away himself, by giving heed to a Stranger?
Christian: Why, Sir, this Burden upon my back is more terrible to me, than all these things which you have mentioned: Nay, methinks I care not what I meet with in the way, if so be I can also meet with Deliverance from my Burden.
Notes and Commentary
Thus far in the journey Christian has faced and conquered two trials that threatened to turn him back to Destruction. First, he was bid to return by his family and even chased by his neighbors who sought to bring him back. Christian, however was intent upon fleeing the wrath to come and Bunyan tells us: "the Man put his fingers in his ears, and ran on crying, Life! Life! Eternal Life! So he looked not behind him, but fled towards the middle of the Plain." When his neighbors overtook him, he witnessed to them and even convinced one, Pliable, to go with him for a while. Soon, however, a second trial met them, the Slough of Despond. This trail proved too much for Pliable, but Christian "endeavored to struggle to that side of the Slough that was further from his own house, and next to the Wicket Gate." Neither the world's ridicule nor facing the filth of his sin could turn Christian from seeking the Way of Truth. Now, as he continues his journey, Christian faces a far worse trial, a trial in which for the first time he will find himself headed the wrong way. He could not be turned back, so now the enemy seeks to turn him aside.
So what made Christian such a vulnerable target? Notice first that he is alone. Christian was walking "solitary by himself." He did not have the wise Evangelist at his side, nor the comfort and counsel of another Pilgrim. He did not even have Pliable in his company. Later in the story Christian will learn the value of walking together with godly companions. But for now, the enemy finds opportunity while he is walking alone.
Second, notice that the meeting between Christian and Mr. Worldly Wiseman was unavoidable. They were crossing the way of each other—traveling in opposite directions. Christian's face was towards Eternal Life, the other's was set towards the world. Mr. Worldly Wiseman dwelt in the town of Carnal Policy. He was fleshly minded and thus hostile to God (Romans 8:5-8).
And third, notice that the encounter was by design. Christian espied one far off, come crossing over the field to meet him. Mr. Worldly Wiseman had heard news of Christian's departure and had set out to meet him. As Worldly Wiseman satisfies his curiosity by questioning Christian, Satan spins his first trap that will lead Christian astray.
As the conversation begins, Worldly Wiseman offers Christian counsel concerning the grief and trouble his Burden has caused him. Christian has just come out of a difficult struggle in the Slough. Though he was faithfully walking in the Way that Evangelist told him to go, he fell headlong into trouble. An easier path or solution now appears tempting. The advice of the world is alluring. Christian has a ready ear, though he is ill prepared for the deceit the world is about to spew upon him.
In the book of 1 Corinthians, Paul has much to say, warning us not to pursue the wisdom of the world. First, the wisdom of the world cannot help us find or know God. "For since in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe" (1 Corinthians 1:21). The wisdom of the world tries to discount God, redefine God, or even deny His existence. Though Christian is told to beshrew (wish a curse upon) Evangelist for his counsel, it is actually Evangelist who has the true message of life. God's wisdom and power are made known at the cross (1 Corinthians 1:24) through the faithful preaching of Gospel. This Gospel appears foolish to Worldly Wiseman, but it proves in the end to be salvation for Christian.
Second, the wisdom of the world cannot be trusted. "Your faith should not be in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God" (1 Corinthians 2:5). Evangelist pointed Christian to seek Jesus Christ, who is the only Way, Truth, and Life (John 14:6). Christ's exclusiveness is symbolized in Bunyan's story by the narrow gate. It is through this gate that we find the cross and witness the power of God. "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18). God's Word has the only answer for getting rid of Burdens. If we place our faith in any other supposed or purported solution, we will perish in our sin.
Finally, the wisdom of the world is the real foolishness. "For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God (1 Corinthians 3:19). Worldly Wiseman warns of many dangers along the way seeking to persuade Christian from continuing his present course. Running away from danger seems the wise thing to do—Save your life! But Jesus taught that "if anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it" (Luke 9:23-24). The very dangers that Worldly Wiseman spoke of (Romans 8:35), in the plan and mind of God, prove His love and strengthen our faith as we are made more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Romans 8:37). We must trust God and walk in His Way, and be snared by folly that seems wise at the time. "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (Proverbs 14:12).
One final point is worth noting in this opening portion of the conversation between Christian and Worldly Wiseman. After Worldly Wiseman offers to give Christian counsel, Christian tells him that he will accept it if it be good. Worldly Wiseman thus begins with some good counsel: "I would advise thee then, that thou with all speed get thyself rid of thy Burden; for thou wilt never be settled in thy mind till then: Nor canst thou enjoy the Benefits of the Blessings which God hath bestowed upon thee till then." It is true that Christian will not have peace of mind so long as he is under the weight and guilt of sin. It is also true that he should deal with his guilt "with all speed." Christian is drawn by the truth in Worldly Wiseman's statement, and says: "That is that which I seek for." Only after Christian has taken the bait does the Worldly Wiseman begin to lead him astray, first by denouncing God's servant, Evangelist, and then by denouncing God's message which Evangelist had spoken.
We must learn to be cautious and watch for Satan's ploys when interacting with worldviews that are hostile to God and contrary to the gospel. The devil is seldom outright with lies and heresy. When he desires to attack pilgrims with error, he most often works through deceit and deception. Paul warns us that Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. The devil can give what is black an appearance of white. Paul expresses his concern that the Corinthian church not stumble into this trap:
But I fear lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it! (2 Corinthians 11:3-4)
Satan can take a lie and enfold it with enough truth to cover, soften and hide it. By doing this, the devil sets a deadly trap. If we fail to see error because it's adorned in truthful wrapping, we swallow it to our hurt, just as Christian was swayed with Worldly Wiseman's counsel and, as we shall see, ends up straying out the Way into a perilous place.
There is also an interesting use of irony found in this dialog. Worldly Wiseman goes on for several lines decrying Evangelist for his previous advise to Christian. He closes with the argument: "And why should a man so careless cast away himself, by giving heed to a Stranger?" Yet Christian is about to do just this in listening to Worldly Wiseman! The world does not easy lose its own. Worldly Wiseman here claims Christian as a friend and speaks of ministers of the Gospel as outsiders.
As the story continues Christian is soon to learn a valuable lesson: "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly" (Psalm 1:1). "The thoughts of the righteous are right, but the counsels of the wicked are deceitful" (Proverbs 12:5).
Continue reading: 10. The World's Scorn of the Word
Return to 8. Yonder Shining Light