A Guide to John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress

Notes and Commentary

by Ken Puls

on John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress

Part Two

The Man with the Muck Rake

25. The Man with the Muck Rake

After awhile—because supper was not ready—the Interpreter took them into his significant rooms, and showed them what Christian, Christiana’s husband, had seen some time before. Here, therefore, they saw the man in the cage; the man and his dream; the man that cut his way through his enemies; and the picture of the biggest of them all; together with the rest of those things that were then so profitable to Christian.

This done, and after these things had been somewhat digested by Christiana and her company, the Interpreter takes them apart again, and has them first into a room where was a man that could look no way but downwards, with a muck rake in his hand. There stood also One over his head with a celestial crown in his hand, and proffered to give him that crown for his muck rake; but the man did neither look up nor regard, but raked to himself the straws, the small sticks, and dust of the floor.

Then said Christiana, “I persuade myself that I know somewhat the meaning of this; for this is a figure of a man of this world. Is it not, good sir?”

Interpreter: “You have said the right,” said he: “and his muck rake does show his carnal mind. And whereas you see him rather give heed to rake up straws and sticks, and the dust of the floor, than to what he says that calls to him from above with the celestial crown in his hand, it is to show that heaven is but as a fable to some, and that things here are counted the only things substantial. Now, whereas you were also shown that the man could look no way but downwards, it is to let you know that earthly things, when they are with power upon men’s minds, quite carry their hearts away from God.”

Christiana: Then said Christiana, “Oh, deliver me from this muck rake!”

Interpreter: “That prayer,” said the Interpreter, “has been lain by till ’tis almost rusty. ‘Give me not riches’ is scarce the prayer of one of ten thousand. Straws, and sticks, and dust, with most are the great things now looked after.”

With that Mercy and Christiana wept and said, “It is, alas ! too true.”


Notes and Commentary

The Interpreter begins by showing Christiana, Mercy, and the children the significant rooms that Christian had seen in Part 1 of The Pilgrim’s Progress. Those lessons proved to be invaluable to Christian, helping him overcome dangers and obstacles as he journeyed to the Celestial City. Once the pilgrims have had some time to digest (meditation on) the truths of those lessons, the Interpreter shows them even more. The wisdom in God’s Word can never be exhausted.

They see a man in a room who looks only downward. He has a muck rake in his hand. There is One standing over him, offering him a celestial crown. If he would but look up, he could cast away the muck rake in exchange for the crown. The man, however, pays no heed to the crown and contents himself with pushing around the straw, sticks, and dirt on the floor, endeavoring to pile up a mound of muck he can call his own.

Christiana rightly interprets the man with the muck rake as “a man of this world.” He is a natural man who does not understand spiritual things.

But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14).

The man has no regard for God. He considers heaven to be a fable. His reality is defined by his own perceptions. All that matters to him are things he can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch.

The muck rake represents his aspirations in life. All his hopes, dreams, and affections are set upon this present world. He moves the rake, intent on bettering himself, intent on making a difference. But all he can draw to himself is muck. Everything the world has to offer—its fame, fortune, and folly—is tainted with the dirt and rubbish of sin. All our attempts at doing right “are like 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)

The Interpreter explains that the “muck rake does show his carnal mind.” Scripture warns us that to be carnally minded is death.

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:5–8).

If we reject God’s Word and build our lives upon the straw, sticks, and dirt of this world. Our works will not last.

Therefore, as the fire devours the stubble,
And the flame consumes the chaff,
So their root will be as rottenness,
And their blossom will ascend like dust;
Because they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts,
And despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.
(Isaiah 5:24)

We must built upon a more sure foundation, not with the “wood, hay” and “straw” of our own works and wishful thinking, but with the “gold, sliver” and “precious stones” of Christ’s provision and promises.

For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire (1 Corinthians 3:11–15).

God’s Word warns us not to set our affections on the world or the things in the world.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:15–17).

Rather, we must set our affections on things above—things that are eternal.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19–21).

The pilgrims have fled from the City of Destruction (the world condemned in its sin) and are now seeking the Celestial City (the eternal reward in heaven). They are no longer enamored by the world or the things in the world. But Christiana understands that the lesson is for her. She exclaims: “O deliver me from this muck rake.”

We are always in danger of casting our gaze downward and losing sight of eternal realities. Many live their lives day to day as if this world is all there is. This includes many who declare themselves to be followers of Christ and on their way to heaven. They seek after “straws and sticks and dust,” things that will wither and fade away, rather than eternal reward in glory.

Paul understood that what the world has to offer is muck (rubblish) compared to the riches found in knowing and serving Christ.

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:7–11).

Nothing is more valuable than gaining Christ. And so we must cast off “the sin which so easily ensnares us” and look to Christ. We must keep our gaze heavenward and our eyes upon the One who holds the crown.

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1–2).

All our attainments in this life will never fully satisfy. All our efforts to do what is right will fall short. We must lay aside the muck rake and joyfully receive the crown of Christ’s righteousness that He provides for us.

Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing (2 Timothy 4:8).

Only as we look to Christ will we find true joy and satisfaction.

In Part 1, when Christian and Faithful went through Vanity Fair, they were tempted to buy what the world had to offer and forsake the Way. But the two pilgrims refused to set their gaze upon the wares of the world. When the merchants called out to them, “they would put their fingers in their ears, and cry, “Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity,” and look upwards, signifying that their trade and traffic was in heaven.

Christiana is right to be wary of the muck rake. While it is necessary to attain things we need to live in this world, we are to seek provision with care. The Interpreter complements Christiana’s prayer with Scripture quoting from Proverbs.

Two things I request of You
(Deprive me not before I die):
Remove falsehood and lies far from me;
Give me neither poverty nor riches—
Feed me with the food allotted to me;
Lest I be full and deny You,
And say, “Who is the Lord?”
Or lest I be poor and steal,
And profane the name of my God.
(Proverbs 30:7–9)

We are to desire “neither poverty nor riches.” Poverty could cause us to lose sight of God and tempt us to steal. Riches could also cause us to lose sight of God and delude us into thinking that we don’t need Him. Rather, we should pray, “Feed me with the food allowed to me.” This is how the Lord teaches us to pray in the New Testament: “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). We are to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” trusting in God that “all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).

The riches and comforts of this world can be a blessing when they come as God’s kind provision. But they can be perilous if they are valued more than Christ. In Part 1 of The Pilgrim’s Progress, just beyond the Plain of Ease (a time of comfort and peace), Demas lies in wait to tempt unsuspecting pilgrims. He lures them to turn aside from the Way and seek their fortune in a silver mine. In the New Testament, Demas is first described as a trusted companion and “fellow-laborer” with Paul (Philemon 1:24). But in the end, he became ensnared by the world and abandoned Paul. Paul writes in 2 Timothy 4:10, “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world…” Christian and Hopeful would not be deterred by worldly treasure. They realized that the glories of the Celestial City were worth more than anything they might dig up in the silver mine. They pressed on in their journey, but others followed Demas to the mine and “never were seen again in the way.”

The man with the muck rake is a sober reminder that we are to live as pilgrims and sojourners and not rest our hopes on what we can attain in this present life. If the man with the muck rake would look to Christ in repentance and faith, eternal glory could be his. But his gaze is ever downward, his mind mired in the muck of all this world values and holds dear.

It is fitting that this lesson should end in tears. It is a great tragedy to see so many in the world around us living as if there is no God, no eternity, and no coming judgment. Christiana and Mercy lament their own folly and the folly of many of their friends. Too many have stayed behind and are still gathering muck in the City of Destruction.

Return to 24. Greeted by Innocent

Continue Reading 26. A Spider on the Wall


The text for The Pilgrim's Progress
and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary for Part II ©2014, 2021–2023 Ken Puls

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

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