An Application of Bunyan: That Which is Very Much Better

December 16, 2019 | by James M. Harrison

An Application of Bunyan: That Which is Very Much Better

Perhaps Faithful will not have so easy a journey, after all.  Continuing along their way, Christian and Faithful meet with their old friend and guide, Evangelist.  And what an encouragement he is!

“Right glad am I”, said Evangelist, “not that you met with trials, but that you have been victors, and for that you have (notwithstanding many weaknesses) continued in the way to this very day.”

But the joy they experienced in being reunited with Evangelist, and the encouragement which his words produced, would soon turn to solemnity.  For Evangelist was also a prophet, and his prophecy was a hard one, indeed.

“…be sure that one or both of you must seal the testimony which you hold, with blood; but you be faithful unto death, and the King will give you a crown of life.”

Violence.  Death.  Martyrdom.  Surely, in the back of their minds they had understood that this was a possibility.  And yet, their minds had been focused on an entirely different end.  From the time they had set out, they had been looking toward the fulfillment of their journey, which, they anticipated, would conclude in a more “natural” way.  They would journey to the end of the path, cross the river, and only then be welcomed to the Celestial City.  Now they were forced to face the fact that there is another way to the Celestial City, after all.  And one of them would soon experience that “other way”. 

Sometimes, that path upon which we are led will lead places which we would not choose to go.  But even in that, there is grace.  For Evangelist’s prophecy was not yet complete.  Where one who has just been informed of his imminent death might be tempted to fall into despair, Evangelist seeks to renew the minds of these pilgrims so that they might not despair, but rather rejoice.

“He that shall die there, although his death will be unnatural, and his pains perhaps great, he will yet have the better of  his fellow; not only because he will arrive at the Celestial City soonest, but because he will escape many miseries that the other will meet with in the rest of his journey.”

This is, of course, Bunyan’s expression of Paul’s attitude, revealed in Philippians 1:21-24:

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.”

What an important truth this is for pilgrims to learn!  If we are pilgrims and strangers, as the Scripture teaches, then this world is not our home.  We ought to be uncomfortable here, as if we were dwelling in a foreign land.  We ought to carry with us that sense of longing…of yearning…for the peace and joy and contentment which can only be found when we arrive, finally, in that land which is, in fact, home.

This world is glorious in so many ways.  It bears the marks of the handiwork of God, and there are marvels to be seen and wonders to be experienced. And yet, it is a world which is under the power of the evil one. It is populated by those who despise God and have no regard for His truth.  To one degree or another, we are surrounded by evil. It cannot be escaped.  And for those of us who do not wish to walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers, life in this world leaves us hoping for that which is to come.

Because this is so, death, even martyrdom, ought not fill us with dread, but with expectation.  It is but the doorway to that which is gain, and very much better.

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