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 heed the call at some point in the future. Bunyan went on to write a sequel to Pilgrim’s Progress in which his wife and children follow him to the Celestial City. But we must be careful that we who wish to see others come to Christ do not fall into either of the ditches which line our road.

On the one side, we have the ditch of Neglect. This is the possibility which Charity pursued in her questioning of Christian. Did you not tell them? Did you not pray for them? Did you not live properly before them? As Christians, we are to be the watchmen on the wall. If we, knowing of the approaching danger, do not provide the warning, we have been unfaithful to our Lord and Master.

On the other side of the road is the ditch of Misplaced Responsibility. As followers of Christ, we have a very great responsibility. We are responsible for making the gospel known. We are responsible for proclaiming that message which alone can bring the dead to life. And yet, we must come to grips with the fact that we are not the life givers. We are responsible for proclaiming the message, but not for the results of that message. That is the work of the Holy Spirit.

And so, like Christian, speak, plead, pray, and live faithfully. Having done this, one has then “delivered thy soul from their blood.” That is, the responsibility for the unbeliever’s rejection of the gospel is their own. But rest assured, there is no heart so hard that it cannot be overcome by the grace of God. And it is our great privilege, through the preaching of the gospel, to be involved in that very work, which, by the power of the gospel, will be accomplished.

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