An Application of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress: Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

June 17, 2019 | by James M. Harrison

As Christian continues his conversation with Prudence, Piety, and Charity there in the Palace Beautiful, the questioning turns somewhat personal when Charity raises the question of Christian’s family, inquiring into the reasons why they do not accompany him on his journey. It is, as one would imagine, a difficult subject for Christian to discuss, and he does so with tears. Charity presses the issue. “You should have talked to them, and endeavored to show them the danger of being behind.” Christian replies that he did, but they would not believe. “And did you pray to God that He would bless your counsel to them?”, asks Charity. “Yes,” answered Christian. “And that with much affection”. “But did you tell them of your own sorrow and fear of destruction?” “Yes, over and over and over.” Those of us who have come to know Christ can understand Charity’s inability to understand why anyone would refuse to heed the gracious call of the gospel. To us, it is so glorious, and so obviously true that we cannot comprehend its rejection. And yet it is rejected. Every day multitudes hear and decline the gracious offer of salvation. Why? This is the question which Charity presses upon Christian. “But what could they say for themselves why they came not?” To this, Christian answers, “My wife was afraid of losing this world; and my children were given to the foolish delights of youth.” Could it be as simple as that? Indeed. When one’s heart is dead in sin, and prisoner to the things of this world, one will find any excuse to suppress the truth. This comes clear in Christian’s response to Charity’s next question. “But did you not with your vain life damp all that you by words used by way of persuasion to bring them away with you?” (Charity does not seem very charitable in her accusations). Christian, with no hint of self-defense, provides an answer which is both true and wise. “Indeed I cannot commend my life, for I am conscious to myself of many failings therein…yet, this I can say, I was very wary of giving them occasion, by any unseemly action, to make them averse to going on Pilgrimage. Yea, for this very thing, they would tell me I was too precise, and that I denied myself of things (for their sakes) in which they saw no evil.” When one wishes to avoid the claims of the gospel, one will find a way to do it. Perhaps it will be criticism of believers. “Those Christians. They’re all a bunch of hypocrites.” Or, the unbeliever could take the opposite tack. “Those Christians. They’re all so self-righteous and ‘holy’.” Augustine spoke of the human heart as an idol factory. One might just as accurately speak of the human heart as a factory of excuses. Charity rightly concluded her inquiry. “Indeed Cain hated his brother, because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous; and if thy wife and children have been offended with thee for this, they thereby shew themselves to be implacable to good; and thou has delivered thy soul from their blood.” Of course, the fact that one, whether family or mere acquaintance, has not come to Christ as of this present moment is no guarantee that they will not...

An Application of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress: Desiring Mount Zion

June 14, 2019 | by James M. Harrison

Christian, having departed the Interpreter’s house and continued on his way, lifted up his eyes to see a palace, the name of which was Beautiful. After arriving at the gate of the palace, and conversing with Watchful the Porter, he was welcomed into the palace, where he was introduced to members of the family, named Prudence, Piety, and Charity. Good fellowship was had among them, as the family of the house inquired of Christian as to what he had experienced along the way, being anxious to hear his pilgrim’s tale. Though Piety was concerned to hear about the events which had transpired, Prudence was interested in the state of Christian’s heart and mind, asking questions such as, “Do you not think sometimes of the Country from whence you came?”. The concern expressed by Prudence did not only look backward, however. She desired also to know Christian’s heart regarding the future. It was Prudence who asked the most profound question of their conversation. “And what is it that makes you so desirous to go to Mount Zion?” To this profound question, Christian provided an equally profound answer. “Why, there I hope to see him alive that did hang dead on the Cross; and there I hope to be rid of all those things, that to this day are in me an annoyance to me: There they say there is no death, and there I shall dwell with such company as I like best. For, to tell you truth, I love Him, because I was by Him eased of my burden; and I am weary of my inward sickness: I would fain be where I shall die no more, and with the company that shall continually cry, ‘Holy, holy, holy’.” I wonder…would your answer be the same? Do you desire Heaven? If so, why? Many do not desire heaven so much as they wish to avoid Hell. Others desire heaven for what they believe they will find there. They want their mansion. They wish to see wonders, and to walk upon streets of gold. But though there will be wonders, indeed, as Bunyan himself describes at the end of this very book, Christian understands that Heaven is not Heaven because of these things. They are meaningless in and of themselves. So, then. Do you desire Heaven? If so, why? Christian’s answer ought to be the answer of everyone who names the name of Christ. Actually, Christian’s answer to the question posed to him by Prudence comes in two parts, which are, of course, inextricably linked. One part of his answer has to do with his sin. He is weary of his sin, and longs to be rid of it. “There I hope to be rid of all those things, that to this day are in me an annoyance to me…I am weary of my inward sickness…” Are you sick of your sin? Have you grown to hate that which yet afflicts you? Are you tired of the battle? Do you long for peace? This world, and this life, is a battlefield. Here, there is no peace. The battle rages incessantly, and we cannot escape it. No weekend passes are issued. We cannot be moved off the front lines, away from the enemy, because the enemy is us. We battle with our...

An Application of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress: “And the Burden of My Heart Rolled Away…”

June 13, 2019 | by James M. Harrison

You will remember that this journey upon which Christian set out was predicated by the discovery of a great burden which he carried upon his back. For the whole of his life he had taken notice of this burden. But when he came into possession of The Book, he became aware not only of his burden, but also of the destruction which was to come upon that place in which he had dwelled all of his life. From that point on, Christian had set himself to escape his burden and the inevitable destruction with which it was accompanied. So he fled the City of Destruction, and began his pilgrimage to the Celestial City. As he began his journey, however, his burden remained. He would not make much progress toward his intended destination while this burden he continued to carry. Indeed, no one could complete this journey, much less enter into the glorious City, with such a burden yet upon his back. Was it possible to be relieved of that with which he was so wearily weighed down? It was. At the very beginning of his journey, Christian had met that good man named Evangelist, and Evangelist pointed the way. “Do you see yonder Wicket Gate?”, Evangelist had asked. Christian did not. “Do you see, then, yonder shining light”? Ah, yes. The light he saw. Evangelist bid him continue directly toward the light, which would lead him to the Wicket Gate, and having gone through the Wicket Gate, he would find the relief which he so desperately sought to attain. Not perfectly, and not without difficulty, Christian had followed the counsel of Evangelist. He arrived at the Wicket Gate, entered in, and after enjoying the hospitality of the house of the Interpreter, he had arrived at the place of deliverance. When Christian set eyes upon it, he ran, his desire to be relieved of his burden being very great. The path here was fenced on either side by a wall called Salvation, and although it was difficult, for the burden thus far remained upon his back, he ran, nonetheless. There it was. Upon a hill stood a cross, and at the bottom of the hill, a tomb. A sepulcher. As Christian approached, he felt suddenly…lighter. The straps which had held his burden so securely to his back, were loosed. The burden fell from him, and tumbling down the hill end over end, fell into the tomb, disappeared, and was seen no more. And he wondered. Well, that’s the word Bunyan used. We might say that he marveled. Christian stood there in astonishment that the cross should relieve him of his burden. And in his astonishment, and his relief, he wept. As he wept, there appeared to Christian three Shining Ones, whose purpose, it seems, was to confirm to Christian the reality of what has just taken place. The first declared, “Peace be to thee. Thy sins be forgiven.” The second removed from him the rags he had been wearing and dressed him in new clothes. The third set a mark upon his forehead and gave him a scroll with a seal upon it, which would be the credential needed to enter at the gate of the Celestial City. Is the cross, to you, a wondrous and marvelous thing? Perhaps you...

An Application of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress: Living in Both Fear and Hope

June 12, 2019 | by James M. Harrison

As Christian was nearing the end of his tour of Interpreter’s House, he was led by Interpreter into one last room, where he observed a man rising out of bed. As he dressed himself, he trembled, but the trembling was not from cold. When Christian asked him the reason for his shaking, the man related a dream which was still fresh in his memory, for he had just awoken from sleep. He had dreamt a most disturbing and frightening dream. The skies had turned black, and resounded with thunder and lightning, as well as the blast of a trumpet. And there, sitting upon a cloud was a man, surrounded by the hosts of heaven, clothed, as it were, in flaming fire. A voice, then, called the world to come and face the judgment. Rocks were split, graves opened, and the dead came forth to stand before the man on the cloud in order to receive His verdict. There were two groups arrayed before the judge, and the first group was brought to the bar. The decision of the Judge came forth, and a bottomless pit opened emitting smoke, fire, and “hideous noises”. The other group was caught up into the clouds, but the man himself was left behind, and unable to escape the gaze of the Judge who sat upon the cloud. Standing in the gaze of the One who sees all things, his mind recalled all his sin, and, he says, “my conscience did accuse me on every side”. At this, he awoke. When asked to explain what there was about this scene that caused him to be so fearful, he replied that he was forced to consider the truth that judgment would one day come, and that he was not ready. Furthermore, there was no possibility of escape, for the Judge “had always his eye upon me, showing indignation in his countenance.” When Interpreter inquired of Christian in regard to his response to the man’s experience of his dream, Christian replied, “…they put me in Hope and Fear.” Hope and fear. One would not normally think of these as close companions. When placed, however, as Bunyan does, in the context of the final judgment, one might readily see how they intertwine. There is a sense, of course, in which fear is the good and proper experience of God’s people. We are told again and again to fear God. This type of fear does not end with our reconciliation to Him. We do not cease to fear Him when He becomes our Father through adoption. Indeed, this kind of fear only begins when we first enter into relationship with God through the redemption of Christ. But that is not the fear of which Bunyan speaks. Bunyan speaks of a different kind of fear altogether. Bunyan speaks of the fear of a criminal awaiting the verdict and sentence of his judge. This is the fear of one who neither deserves, nor expects, to receive mercy. This is the fear of one who has committed capital crimes and knows that the sentence which will be handed down is both terrible and eternal. This is the fear which would fill the heart and mind of every lost man and woman, if only they did not suppress the truth in unrighteousness…if only...

An Application of Pilgrim’s Progress: Passion and Patience

June 11, 2019 | by James M. Harrison

As Christian continues on his journey, first to the Cross and then to the Celestial City, he arrives at the house of the Interpreter, who would “show him excellent things”. As Christian is escorted around the house, he is led into a little room where he observes two little children. The eldest was named Passion, and the other was named Patience. Of these children, Bunyan writes, “Passion seemed to be much discontent, but Patience was very quiet.” As Bunyan explains, “Passion will have all now, this year; that is to say, in this world; so are the men of this world: They must have all their good things now, they cannot stay till next year, that is, until the next World, for their portion of good.” I take an additional application from this, which Bunyan does not focus upon. It seems to me that Passion and Patience may be looked upon, not only as children, but as rulers. Not rulers of lands and kingdoms, but rulers of our choices and decisions. The question we must answer is, which ruler will we submit to. Which will we allow to lead us? “Passion”, of course, is another way of speaking of emotion…feelings. As Bunyan describes it, Passion is that which wants what it wants, and it wants it now. Passion rules by impulse. Passion rules without thought or consideration. Patience, on the other hand, is willing to wait. Patience is thoughtful. Patience is calm, deliberate, and wise. One of these will rule, but which? Has Passion ever been a sound, wise, trustworthy ruler? How often have you remonstrated with yourself, saying, “How I wish I had acted in the unthinking heat of the moment! Things would have worked out so much better if I had acted more precipitously, without waiting to think”. I would venture that you have rarely, if ever, uttered such a thing. But what of Patience? How often have you seen patience and folly walk hand in hand? They are not close companions. In fact, they are barely passing acquaintances. Emotion has its place. For instance, we are told to be angry, and yet not sin. But that place is not a throne. Passion is not to lead or rule. Cultivate Patience, then, and control Passion. For, in Bunyan’s words, “Patience has the best...

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