An Application of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress: The Lies of Legality and Civility

June 3, 2019 | by James M. Harrison

Having determined that nothing in the world of greater import than relief from his burden, Christian has begun his journey. He has fled from his home, stopping his ears so as not to be drawn back by the pleas of his family. He has not permitted Mr. Obstinacy or Mr. Pliable to dissuade him from his course, and has continued on even after his swim through the filth of the Slough of Despond.

But all is not well with Christian. He was not prepared for the difficulties of the journey, and after escaping the slough he comes upon Mr. Worldly Wiseman who offers an easier way. “Go to the village Morality”, he advises. “There you will find Mr. Legality, and if he should not be home, his son, Mr. Civility will be able to assist you.”

And here is the empty promise of Mr. Worldly Wiseman, Mr. Legality, and Mr. Civility: By way of Mt. Sinai, you may be relieved of your burden while escaping all of the troubles and difficulties which attend the straight and narrow way.

It is, of course, a lie.

Should Christian have continued up the high, steep hill of Mt. Sinai, he would not have found relief. He would have discovered that his burden simply became larger and heavier. For that is all that Mr. Legality can offer. He may appear to be wise and good, but he soon reveals himself to be a cruel taskmaster, bereft of grace and forgiveness. “Do! Do! Do!”, is all he can offer. And when one comes to the realization that one cannot do, the only counsel one receives is, “Do more! Do more! Do more!”. And the burden grows.

Mr. Civility, being the son of Mr. Legality, also offers false hope, and it is a hope which the world continues to press upon us even today, over three centuries after Bunyan warned us of him. We hear the voice of Mr. Civility every time the world tells the Christian, “You should be nicer. You shouldn’t say harsh things about this person or that. You shouldn’t talk about sin. That’s mean. Christianity is about being nice. If you’re not nice, as I define the term, you’re not a very good Christian.” Of course, by the world’s definition, being nice means never speaking uncomfortable truths, which are the only truths which people really need to hear.

There is but one way to relieve the burden of sin. That is not the way of law keeping or civility. It is the way of the cross. It is repentance and faith. It is dependence not upon one’s ability to do good, or to be nice, but dependence upon the finished work of the Savior, who kept the Law perfectly, and became the sacrifice necessary for all of us who were and are unable to do so.

Praise be unto His glorious name!

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