Notes and Commentary on
The Pilgrim's Progress
by Ken Puls
12. Beneath the High Hill
So Christian turned out of his way, to go to Mr. Legality's house for help: But behold, when he was got now hard by the Hill, it seemed so high, and also that side of it that was next the Wayside did hang so much over, that Christian was afraid to venture further, lest the Hill should fall on his head; wherefore there he stood still, and he did not know what to do. Also his Burden now seemed heavier to him than while he was in his Way. There came also flashes of fire out of the Hill, that made Christian afraid that he should be burned: Here therefore he sweat and did quake for Fear. And now he began to be sorry that he had taken Mr. Worldly Wiseman's counsel; and with that he saw Evangelist coming to meet him; at the sight of whom he began to blush for Shame. So Evangelist drew nearer and nearer; and coming up to him, he looked upon him with a severe and dreadful countenance, and thus began to reason with Christian.
Evangelist: What doest thou here, Christian? said he: At which words, Christian knew not what to answer; wherefore at present he stood speechless before him. Then said Evangelist farther, Art not thou the Man that I found crying without the walls of the City of Destruction?
Christian: Yes, dear Sir, said Christian.
Evangelist: How is it then that thou art so quickly turned aside? For thou art now out of the way.
Christian: I met with a gentleman so soon as I had got over the Slough of Despond, who persuaded me, that I might, in the village before me, find a man that could take off my Burden.
Evangelist: What was he?
Christian: He looked like a gentleman, and talked much to me, and got me at last to yield; so I came hither: But when I beheld this Hill, and how it hangs over the way, I suddenly made a stand, lest it should fall on my head.
Evangelist: What said that gentleman to you?
Christian: Why, he asked me whither I was going? And I told him.
Evangelist: And what said he then?
Christian: He asked me if I had a family? And I told him: But, said I, I am so laden with the Burden that is on my back, that I cannot take pleasure in them as formerly.
Evangelist: And what said he then?
Christian: He bid me with speed get rid of my burden; and I told him 'twas Ease that I sought: And, said I, I am therefore going to yonder Gate, to receive further direction how I may get to the place of deliverance. So he said that he would show me a better way, and short, not so attended with Difficulties, as the Way, Sir, that you set me in; which way, said he, will direct you to a gentleman's house that hath skill to take off these Burdens: So I believed him, and turned out of that Way into this, if haply I might be soon eased of my Burden. But when I came to this place, and beheld things as they are, I stopped for fear (as I said) of danger: But I now know not what to do.
Evangelist: Then (said Evangelist) stand still a little, that I may show thee the words of God. So he stood trembling. Then said Evangelist, See that ye refuse not him that speaketh; for if they escaped not, who refused him that spake on Earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from Heaven. He said, moreover, Now the just shall live by faith; but if any man draws back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. He also did thus apply them, Thou art the man that art running into this misery. Thou hast begun to reject the counsel of the Most High, and to draw back thy foot from the Way of Peace, even almost to the hazarding of thy Perdition.
Then Christian fell down at his foot as dead, crying, Woe is me, for I am undone! At the sight of which, Evangelist caught him by the right hand, saying, All manner of Sin and Blasphemies shall be forgiven unto men; be not faithless, but believing: Then did Christian again a little revive, and stood up trembling as at first, before Evangelist.
Notes and Commentary
This portion of Bunyan's allegory has a dark beginning. Christian now strays from the Way, swayed by the counsel of Mr. Worldly Wiseman. As he travels toward the Village of Morality, it is not long before he begins to realize his foolishness. The closer he gets to the High Hill, the more he fears it will fall on his head and crush him. He has forsaken the Way of the cross and is now pursuing a works-righteousness salvation. He soon learns that his attempts to please God by an outward form of morality are as filthy rags before God. His works can never measure up to the perfect standard of God's Law. Christian finds himself in great fear, not knowing what to do or which way to turn. The Lord is merciful, however, and sends His servant Evangelist once again to warn and comfort Christian. Evangelist is faithful to his King and comes to find and warn his brother. The passage closes in the Light of the Gospel as Christian shows the fruits of repentance and Evangelist encourages him to be not faithless, but believing.
Let's look more closely at the three persons involved in this episode in The Pilgrim's Progress: the King's mercy, Evangelist's faithfulness, and Christian's response.
I. The King's Mercy
Notice first, the mercy of the King to send His servant Evangelist to warn Christian of his error. Evangelist is representative in the allegory of a pastor, a shepherd, a watchman—one who serves the Kingdom of God by caring for and instructing the people of God. God Himself promised: "And I will give you shepherds according to My heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding" (Jeremiah 3:15).
God has also promised that He will not leave those whom He loves in error. He will come and bring correction. We are told in Proverbs 3:11-12, "My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor detest His correction; For whom the LORD loves He corrects, Just as a father the son in whom he delights."
Notice that this error does not take God by surprise. He is prepared for our stumbling and wandering. God knows the heart of man. He tells us in Jeremiah 17:9, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" Isaiah describes us as being like sheep who have turned and gone astray, everyone of us going our own way (Isaiah 53:6). Even when the way is clearly set before us, we are too easily distracted and waylaid. As the hymn writer has said, we are "prone to wander."
It is significant that throughout the allegory in all the times Christian stumbles, falls or strays from the path, the King is always prepared to find him and bring him back. When Christian was in the field reading his Book, convicted of sin and not knowing which way to go, God sent Evangelist to warn him to flee the wrath to come and flee to the Gate, to Jesus Christ and His Gospel. When Christian fell into the Slough, mired by his sin wondering if God could ever save one as wicked as he, Help was nearby to come and pull him out. And now, when Christian forsakes the right path and strays from the Way, Evangelist is sent again to warn and instruct Christian.
II. Evangelist's Faithfulness
Second, consider the faithfulness of Evangelist to serve His King as a faithful shepherd. He is not afraid to confront Christian with his sin and warn him of its consequences. He tells him plainly, "thou are now out of the Way." Though the work can be difficult and costly, Ezekiel 33:1-6 reveals the grave importance of confronting men with their sin and proclaiming the Gospel:
Again the word of the LORD came to me, saying, "Son of man, speak to the children of your people, and say to them: 'When I bring the sword upon a land, and the people of the land take a man from their territory and make him their watchman, when he sees the sword coming upon the land, if he blows the trumpet and warns the people, then whoever hears the sound of the trumpet and does not take warning, if the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be on his own head. He heard the sound of the trumpet, but did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself. But he who takes warning will save his life. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at the watchman's hand.'"
The watchman knows the weight of his responsibility before God. He understands the realities of hell and the coming judgment and wrath of God. This knowledge burns in his heart to warn and plead with men to flee Destruction and seek the Narrow Gate.
But notice what the watchman is to say. He is not, as Worldly Wiseman, told to offer his own opinions and counsel. He is not to coddle men in their sin with deceptive remedies and false assurance. Instead, the watchman must be faithful to preach God's Word. "So you, son of man: I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore you shall hear a word from My mouth and warn them for Me" (Ezekiel 33:7). We are told in 2 Timothy 3:16 that God's Word is profitable for doctrine (teaching us truth about God, about ourselves and about the world in which we live, so we will know the Way in which to go), for reproof (confronting us when we sin and fall into error and go astray), for correction (showing how to get back to the Way), and for instruction in righteousness (teaching us how to remain in the Way). Here Christian is in need of all that Scripture can offer and Evangelist tells him, "Stand still a little that I may show thee the words of God."
But notice also, that while Evangelist does not slight the heinousness of Christian's sin, he speaks the truth to Christian in love. His stern warning is mixed with a heart of compassion, comfort and tenderness. Upon hearing his sin exposed Christian falls down at Evangelist's feet as dead. As the fruits of repentance are manifest, Evangelist is quick to bring the balm of the Gospel. He tells him, "All manner of Sin and Blasphemies shall be forgiven unto men; be not faithless, but believing." He takes Christian by the hand and helps him to stand.
III. Christian's Response
Notice finally, Christian's response to the warning he was given. He accepted it humbly. When the watchman sounded the trumpet, Christian heeded the call and repented of his sin. Jeremiah 6, speaking of the Fall of Judah, presents an example of the grave consequences of rejecting God's Word and not heeding His watchmen. Here we are told: "Also, I set watchmen over you, saying, 'Listen to the sound of the trumpet!' But they said, 'We will not listen.' Therefore hear, you nations, and know, O congregation, what is among them. Hear, O earth! Behold, I will certainly bring calamity on this people—the fruit of their thoughts, because they have not heeded My words nor My law, but rejected it" (Jeremiah 6:17-19). We must accept the correction God brings to us from His Word. Proverbs 15:10 reveals what the result would have been had Christian not considered the warning of Evangelist: "Harsh discipline is for him who forsakes the way, and he who hates correction will die" (Proverbs 15:10).
We must be thankful for those watchmen God has given to care for us. Paul encourages us:
And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. Be at peace among yourselves (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).
Later in the story Christian is with Faithful and they encounter Evangelist, who has again come to warn and instruct them. Consider the way the pilgrims esteem their shepherd in love:
Now, when they were got almost quite out of this wilderness, Faithful chanced to cast his eye back, and espied one coming after them, and he knew him. Oh! said Faithful to his brother, who comes yonder? Then Christian looked, and said, It is my good friend Evangelist. Ay, and my good friend too, said Faithful, for it was he that set me in the way to the gate. Now was Evangelist come up to them, and thus saluted them:
Evangelist: Peace be with you, dearly beloved; and peace be to your helpers.
Christian: Welcome, welcome, my good Evangelist, the sight of thy countenance brings to my remembrance thy ancient kindness and unwearied laboring for my eternal good.
Faithful: And a thousand times welcome, said good Faithful. Thy company, O sweet Evangelist, how desirable it is to us poor pilgrims!
God's ministers are an important means in our sanctification. We must pray for them and appreciate them for they warn and comfort us as those who must give an account.
Continue reading 12. Admonished by Evangelist
Return to 11. Directed to the Village of Morality