An Application of Bunyan – The Easy Way, or the Right Way?

December 20, 2019 | by James M. Harrison

“When will you ever learn?”  There is a reason this question is so familiar.  When it comes to walking the Pilgrim Way we do not learn easily nor quickly.  We must often repeat the same lesson over and over again.  This was true of Christian and Hopeful just as it is of us. The path they were to follow was sometimes an easy and pleasant one.  There were lush, green meadows and refreshing streams running alongside.  In other places, the path would be rocky and steep. There would be obstacles of many kinds, tempting pilgrims to give up the journey, or at least to seek an easier way. By now one would think Christian and Hopeful had learned the perils of turning from the path.  But we find ourselves asking of them, as we so often ask ourselves, “When will you ever learn?”. Christian and Hopeful had come into just such a difficult portion of the way, and they were much discouraged.  The path was rough, their feet were sore, and they longed for the pleasant places through which they had previously passed. Then they saw it.  By-Path Meadow.  Indeed, it looked like an easier and far more pleasant way.  Furthermore, it seemed to run parallel with the path upon which they were presently trudging.  Surely, Christian reasoned, it would do no harm to take the easier path for a while, and then, when they had passed by the difficult stretch, return to the way which had been set for them. Hopeful hesitated, but Christian persuaded him, and so they crossed over.  Not only did they find this new way to be an easy and pleasant path, but they were all the more encouraged when they met a man named Vain-confidence.  Asking the man where the path led, they received the answer they hoped to hear: “To the Celestial gate”. Their joy lasted only a moment, for it grew dark. It grew so dark, in fact, that they lost sight of their new companion. Not seeing him, however, did not mean that they could not hear him.  They did hear him.  They heard him fall into a pit.  It was a pit purposely placed in the path in order to catch over-confident fools such as Vain-confidence. There the pilgrims stood, knowing not what to do nor where to go, as they listened to the groanings of their former acquaintance, laying broken at the bottom of the shaft.  To add to their sudden miseries, it now began to rain.  Thunder and lightening came upon them with great intensity, water began to rise, and in their hearts the question came: “When will we ever learn?”. One might have expected the fellowship between Christian and Hopeful to have been broken as a result of their situation.  After all, Hopeful had questioned Christian’s decision, desiring to continue on their original path, rough though it had been.  One might not have been surprised to hear an “I told you so”, pass between them.  And yet, there was no recrimination.  There was only grace. Christian, knowing that he had been the driving force behind this poor decision, repented, and sought the forgiveness of his companion, which Hopeful readily extended.  In fact, so strong was their bond that the only quarrel which rose between them concerned...

An Application of Bunyan – The Danger of Becoming a Demas

December 19, 2019 | by

Christian and Hopeful quickened their pace, and leaving Mr. By-ends and others of his acquaintance behind, passed through what Bunyan describes as a “delicate plain”, called Ease, arriving, on the other side of the plain, at a hill called Lucre, which had within it a silver mine.  And there, by the mine, stood Demas, encouraging pilgrim’s to turn from the path and enter into the silver mine, where, with a little labor, he promised, they might become rich. Hopeful entertained the idea for a moment, but not so Christian.  He had heard of this place and knew that many had lost their way and their lives there.  Demas would not give up so easily, however, and sought to tempt the pilgrims once more, saying, “Will you not come over and see?”  Christian forcefully and directly replied, “Thou art an enemy to the right ways of the Lord of this Way, and hast been already condemned for thine own turning aside, by one of His majestic judges.  And why sleekest thou to bring us into condemnation?  Besides, if we at all turn aside, our Lord and King will certainly hear thereof, and will there put us to shame, where we would stand with boldness before Him.” By this time, due to the delay caused by their conversation with Demas, Mr. By-ends and his companions had caught up with Christian and Hopeful.  By-ends, begin true to his own principles of pragmatism, listened to the call of Demas, leaned over to gaze into the pit, and was never seen again. And Christian sang: “By-ends and Silver Demas both agree, One calls, the other runs, that he may be, A sharer in his lucre, so these two Take up in this world, and no further go.” Though Mr. Bunyan could not, all the time, find his rhyme, surely his point is clear and true.  Is there any temptation which has turned more pilgrims from the way than the possibility of riches and ease?  There it is, just beyond the fingertips.  If you would but lean a bit further over the edge of the abyss, surely you could grab hold, get back on the path, and continue on your way.  But it is to no avail.  It’s always just a little too far away…just out of reach. Why is that?  Is it not because we are in a constant state of discontent?  “How much is enough?” the rich man was asked.  “Just a little bit more”, he replied.  Just a little bit more.  Always just a little bit more.  And down we go, headlong into the pit, believing that if we take just one more step, we will obtain that which will satisfy and then we’ll get back on the path.  But with every step we are further away from the path, and our hunger for that which is just out of reach grows more insatiable, and our desire to return to the path grows less and less urgent…or desirable. Then, at some imperceptible point, a change takes place.  We are no longer “Pilgrim”.  We have become “Demas”.  We are no longer characterized by our journey to the Celestial City.  We have become characterized by love for this present world.  And if we had eyes to see, see it we would.  The bottom of...

An Application of Bunyan – Who Are You For?

December 18, 2019 | by James M. Harrison

Faithful has gone, arriving by way of chariot to the gates of the Celestial City and entering safely in, to a glorious welcome, no doubt. But what of Christian? His Lord has other plans for him. We are not told how, but on his way back to prison, “He who over-rules all things” brought about Christian’s deliverance. And as he escaped the powers that desired to destroy him, he went on his way from Vanity-Fair, singing of his departed friend and fellow pilgrim. “Well, Faithful, thou hast faithfully professed Unto they Lord, with Him thou shalt be blessed; When faithless ones, with all their vain delights, Are crying out under their hellish plights: Sing, Faithful, sing, and let they name survive; For though they killed thee, thou art yet alive.” So, on he went. But the Lord of the Celestial City, being most gracious, did not ordain that he should go on alone. A companion was provided for him, called Hopeful. Hopeful had been a resident of Vanity-Fair. But looking upon the behavior of Christian and Faithful, and listening to the words they spoke, even in the face of their suffering, he did indeed become “hopeful”, and joined himself to them. Thus, as Bunyan puts it, “..one died to make testimony to the truth, and another rises out of his ashes to be a companion with Christian in his pilgrimage.” It was not long after escaping Vanity-Fair that they encountered one whose name was “By-ends”, from the town of “Fair-speech”. Who is this man, you may ask? He describes himself and his kind, thusly. “…we somewhat differ in Religion from those of the stricter sort, yet but in two small points: First, we never strive against wind and tide. Secondly, we are always most zealous when religion goes in his silver slippers; we love much to walk with him in the street, if the sun shines and the people applaud him.” Is this not the way of so many “religious” people? They will “never strive against wind and tide”, and they will bear His name only “if the sun shines and the people applaud him”. But as Christian declares to him, “You must also own religion in His rags as well as when in His silver slippers; and stand by Him too when bound in irons, as well as when He walketh the streets with applause.” What Christian describes here is nothing more than what is known as “discipleship”. It is, in fact, the normal Christian life. If this were not so, why would our Lord tell us to “count the cost”? Oh, how many there are who name the name of Christ, but know nothing of discipleship. They are the modern-day embodiment of Mr. By-ends. Their faith is that of silver slippers and sunny days. But should their fine garments turn to rags, and the skies turn cloudy and dark, their so-called faith will reveal itself to be no true faith at all. These are those who love the gifts, but have no desire for the One who gives. They know not what Paul means when he speaks of being content in every circumstance. They cannot reconcile their false idea of faith with Jesus’ command to carry His cross. This kind has always been with us. Today, they...

An Application of Bunyan – A Glorious End

December 18, 2019 | by James M. Harrison

Faithful’s trial had ended. Testimony was completed, and the jury had deliberated. The verdict was, of course, a forgone conclusion. Guilty. The sentence would be death by means most cruel. What his persecutors could neither know, nor understand, however, is that in sentencing Faithful to death, they were sentencing him to glorious joy. Bunyan describes that which the human eye could not perceive. “Now I saw, that there stood behind the multitude a chariot and a couple of horses waiting for Faithful, who (so soon as his adversaries had dispatched him) was taken up into it, and straitway was carried up through the clouds with sound of trumpet, the nearest way to the Celestial Gate.” And so, for Faithful, his momentary, light affliction produced for him an eternal weight of glory. Martyrdom has always been seen to be glorious by the people of God. And yet, our understanding of martyrdom is unique when compared to that of Islamic suicide bombers or Buddhist monks who have committed self-immolation. In both cases, these deaths are spoken of by the adherents of these religions as cases of martyrdom. But this is something entirely different than Christian martyrdom. For the Christian, any form of suicide, especially that which kills others in addition on oneself, is light years away from martyrdom. It is what has traditionally been referred to as “self-murder”. It is a violation of the sixth commandment. For the Christian, martyrdom comes at the hands of the enemies of our Lord, and never by our own hand. Neither is martyrdom something to be either desired or pursued. Should it come, it will come according to the sovereign decree of God, not because we instigate it. From the earliest day of the New Covenant church, the leaders of God’s people have correctly warned against the impulse of glorifying martyrdom in this way. Nevertheless, martyrdom has been the constant experience of Christ’s church. From Stephen, the first martyr, whose death is described in the eighth chapter of the book of Acts, to those saints who are, in our own day, faithfully laying down their lives for their Lord at the hands of totalitarian governments and Islamic radicals, the history of the church is a history of martyrdom. So, though we do not glorify martyrdom in such a way as to run after it, we do honor those brothers and sisters who have been faithful to the end. They are those of whom “the world was not worthy” (Heb. 11:38). And should the Lord’s plan for us be to suffer, rather than to pass peacefully in our beds, may the Lord grant us the grace to endure, that we might be found worthy, as...

An Application of Bunyan: Worship, Faith, and Revelation

December 18, 2019 | by James M. Harrison

Faithful is on trial in the town of Vanity-Fair, and three witnesses, Envy, Superstition, and Pickthank, have testified against him.  There testimony, by and large, has been true, for they have testified to the fact that Faithful and Christian are true followers of the true King. This testimony having been given, Faithful rises to answer the charges, and does so point by point.  His testimony is not so much a refutation, but rather a clarification, and, indeed, a proclamation. For Faithful uses this opportunity to once again declare that which his true. In answering Mr. Envy, Faithful affirmed that which he had spoken publicly.  “…what rule, or laws, or custom, or people, were flat against the Word of God, are diametrically opposite to Christianity.  If I have said amiss in this, convince me of my error, and I am ready here before you to make my recantation.” In answering Mr. Pick-Thank, Faithful declared for all to hear that the Prince of Vanity-Fair, along with all those who serve him, “are more fit for being in Hell, than in this town and country.” These answers are quite straight-forward and to the point.  It is the answer to Mr. Superstition, however, which takes us beyond a simple declaration of truth, to the reasoning that lay beneath.  The reader might remember that the testimony brought be Superstition had to do with Faithful’s contention that the worship conducted by the residents of Vanity-Fair was in vain.  And so it was.  But Faithful is not content to simply admit that this is true.  He desires to give a more complete explanation.  And so he proceeds, “…in the worship of God there is required a Divine Faith: but there can be no divine faith without a divine revelation of the will of God. Therefore, whatever is thrust into the worship of God, that is not agreeable to divine revelation, cannot be done but by a human faith, which faith will not profit to eternal life.” There is a great deal packed into Faithful’s short testimony on this point. First, Faithful declares that there are different kinds of faith.  There is a divine faith, and there is a human faith.  That is, there is true faith, and false faith.  As the apostle James puts it, there is living faith, and there is dead faith.  True faith is described as “divine” because only true faith finds its origination in the Divine.  True faith is something that is granted by God (Phil 1:29).  Second, Faithful is convinced that this divine faith cannot come into being apart from a “divine revelation”.  This is, of course, Bunyan’s explanation of 1 Peter 1:23, which tells us that we have been “born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.” Finally, Faithful pulls all of this together in the context of worship.  True worship is only that which is offered by those imbued with divine faith, and conducted according to divine revelation.  Here, he refers to that which is known as the Regulative Principle of worship.  That is, true worship can only be offered by those who have been born again by the Spirit of God, and which is offered according to the revelation of God provided in His word.  Throughout...

An Application of Bunyan: Evidence to Convict

December 18, 2019 | by

The day of the trial had arrived. Christian and Faithful were brought before the Judge, Lord Hate-Good, the indictment was read once again, and witnesses began to be called.  But what testimony could thses witnesses provide?  Christian and Faithful were innocent men.  Of course, in Vanity-Fair, which is Bunyan’s picture of the world, the fact that a defendant is an innocent man is of no necessary import.  Surely we remember another trial, in another place, in which the defendant, far more innocent that even Christian and Faithful…wholly and perfectly innocent, in fact…was nonetheless led to the slaughter on the word of false testimony placed in the mouths of lying and deceitful men.  But here in Vanity-Fair, those who were to testify would not have to lie…very much…for in Vanity-Fair, to be faithful followers of the true King, and to speak forth His truth, was itself a crime worthy of death. Faithful and Christian were to be tried separately.  Faithful, first.  Three witnesses were brought before the court.  Their names were Envy, Superstition, and Pickthank.  The witnesses were sworn in, and the testimony began. Envy and Superstition testified, truly, that Christian and Faithful had preached the gospel, and had declared that the religion of Vanity-Fair was in vain, and an offense to the true God. Furthermore, they had proclaimed that the residents of Vanity-Fair who rejected the truth of the gospel, and continued in their false worship, were still in their sins and would, should they remain so, be eternally condemned.  All this was true.  And all this, as far as the court was concerned, was proof of the pilgrim’s guilt. Pickthank was then called to the stand to testify regarding the final portion of the indictment, which stated that Christian and Faithful were in contempt of the laws of their prince, meaning the prince of Vanity-Fair…Beelzebub. Pickthank’s testimony against Faithful was as follows: “…he hath railed on our noble Prince Beelzebub, and hath spoke contemptibly of his honorable friends whose names are the ‘Lord Old-Man’, the ‘Lord Carnal-Delight’, the ‘Lord Luxurious’, the ‘Lord Desire of Vain-Glory’, my old Lord ‘Lechery’, ‘Sir Having Greedy’, with all the rest of our nobility; and he hath said moreover, that if all men were of his mind, if possible, there is not one of these noblemen should have any longer a being in this Town.” Would it be that every follower of the true King could be convicted of such charges!  But would we?  We followers of the King spend our lives passing through Vanity-Fair.  Certainly, those of us living in America and in the rest of the developed world, are not, at present, in much danger of being hauled up before a court for the sake of our faith, though there are signs that that situation is changing.  In other parts of the world, of course, the situation is very different.  But at present, we here in the West are blessed. Nonetheless, it is an interesting question to entertain.  If I were to be put on trial for my faith, would there be enough evidence for the prosecutor to obtain a conviction?   Would our conduct, our speech, and our zeal for gospel provide the evidence needed for our own condemnation, as it has for so many of our brothers and sisters before...

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