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The Pilgrim’s Progress 2: Salvation Highway

Introduction

Part One

Slackers and Interlopers

Right away, Christian learns that salvation is not for sissies!  The sleeping men have for various reasons failed to take the faith seriously: can anyone relate?  I must guard myself against presumption, or assuming that just because I’ve said or done certain things I don’t have to be on guard against besetting sin.  Simple, Sloth, and Presumption have strayed from the narrow road, but apparently they entered through the gate and may yet mend their ways–unlike the next two travelers, who come “tumbling over the wall.”  Formalist represents those who rely on religious forms or practices to justify themselves, while Hypocrisy puts on a mask of religiosity.  Neither have come by the cross, and thus their faith is in themselves and not Christ.  But they don’t see the difference—they see Christian looking (behaving) just as they do . . . except for his coat, which represents Christ’s righteousness (see Zech 3:1-5).  In his conversation with these men, how do you notice that Christian has changed already?

The Three Ways: Difficulty, Danger, and Destruction

“There is a way that seems right to man, but its end is death” (Prov. 14:12).  Christian has learned by now to keep to the road, but his fellow travelers decide to take the way that looks easy—and that’s the last we see of them.  As Christian struggles up the hill, ask yourself what kind of Difficulty did you face as a new believer?  I was still coming to understand how great an obstacle was my own sin; my prayer was, Lord, rescue me from me!  But notice what “refreshes” Christian on his journey.  I originally assumed that his “roll” (or scroll) was the Bible, and it’s worth noting that the words which burdened him before his encounter with the Cross now comfort him (why?).  But a better interpretation may be that the scroll represents assurance.  That explains Christian’s distress when he succumbs to sloth and loses the scroll—he’s failed to be diligent and lost the confidence of salvation.  Here’s an important question: what’s the difference between assurance and presumption?

Timorous and Mistrust, whom Christian meets coming down the Hill of Difficulty, are types we recognize—I’m speaking of myself here!  As Warren Wiersbe says, “These men are imagining the worst because they cannot trust God for the best.”  Sometimes I think that all God wants from us is genuine trust, and that’s the very thing we find so hard to give.  Bunyan gives us a great picture of what it’s so hard: we see the lions, but we don’t see the chains.  That’s why it’s so important to have the scroll in hand, remembering that our strength is in God and not ourselves.

The House Beautiful

After the hill and the lions, Christian is blessed with a period of repose in another place commonly associated with the Church.  He is greeted by Watchful (a faithful pastor) and encouraged by Discretion and three other saints (called “virgins” to stress their righteousness in Christ), whose questions cause him to evaluate his journey so far.  Notice the types of questions: Piety wants to know about his experience, Prudence will probe his motives, and Charity will uncover a burden he still carries.  In {117} – {121} Christian relates his experience: notice the things that impressed him the most.  In {123} he reflects on how he is encouraged to keep going.  The means of encouragement give us a picture of the four means of grace in the Puritan view of sanctification: the cross, the coat (justification), the scroll (assurance of salvation), and hope for heaven.

The first part of Christian’s sojourn in the House Beautiful allows him to make sense of his past experience, and the second part will equip him for the future.  In {136} he is shown the Treasures of the Kingdom.  Hebrews 11 seems to be the source material:  how many of these saints mentioned there are represented in the treasury?  In the armory, Christian is suited out with the whole armor of God (compare to the list in Eph. 6).  He’ll need it, for he must continue his journey and the way down is more dangerous than the way up {140}.  Why?

Apollyon

This foul fiend approaches breathing fire and snarling like a lion—and begins his attack by talking.  Not what you would expect in your typical fantasy adventure!  If the monster is not Satan himself, he represents Satan.  He is also an A student in the Uncle Screwtape School of Temptation.  Notice the strategy: first he first claims Christian’s allegiance as a subject.  When that doesn’t work, he tries to tempt Christian with promises.  Then he accuses him (remember that the word Satan means accuser) of being unfaithful to the Lord.  Only after these attempts at persuasion (which all have some basis in truth) does he attack Christian physically.  Notice how Christian applies reason, faith, and the sword to defend himself.  “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

The Valley of the Shadow of Death

The “Valley of the Shadow” is obviously not death itself, but the fear, grief, weariness, pain, and heartbreak that attends death and haunts life.  It’s a solitary place because, even though we may be surrounded by loving friends and family, none of them can experience exactly what we’re going through in trying times.  We’re sure to encounter discouragement, as Christian does.  The mythical beings reported by the two men he meets in {157} may seem to belong to a fantasy novel, but see Is. 13:21 and 34:14.  What gives Christian the most grief is the depravity still remaining in his own heart {162}.  John Bunyan described himself before conversion as a swearer and a blasphemer; it seems to have been his most obvious sin, and it grieved him to find traces of blasphemy remaining in his thoughts.

His view of the Valley by light of day reminds me of the old “Footprints” poem, where the pilgrim doesn’t realize that through her darkest hours the only footprints on the path were those belonging to Jesus.  The dangers aren’t over, but Christian can evaluate them better by light of day, and even Pope and Pagan are not so frightening.  An interesting question: which of these can be considered “dead” today, and which is on the rise?

Faithful

Christian finally catches up with his former neighbor, whom he heard about while still at the House Beautiful.  There’s a telling little incident in {170}, when Christian “vaingloriously” imagines himself to be more advanced in the faith, and immediately after stumbles.  Pride rears its ugly head even in honest fellowship.  I’ve caught myself thinking how glad I was to be past some particular error–only to stumble in something equally elementary!  Anyway, the two go on rejoicing, and Faithful recounts his own journey.  How is it similar to Christian’s, and how different?  And a few more questions: Who is the Old Man? Why is Moses so violent? Why did Faithful pass up the House Beautiful (and why does Christian rebuke him)? And why does Shame have no shame?  In {182} this strikes home with me: “Shame tells me what men are; but it tells me nothing what God or the Word of God is.”  The world can only accuse Christians of hypocrisy, hard-heartedness, lack of love, and failing to live up to our creed–to which we can often say, Fair enough.  But the faith is not about us: it’s about Christ and the length he went to save us.  Holding up Christ is our best defense and our only appeal.

Talkative

This gentleman, as Christian points out, looks better at a distance than he does close up.  He talks a good game, but none of his excellent theology seems to have reached his heart.  The Bible is full of admonitions about empty words (see Prov. 10:19, Job 11:2, Titus 1:10, I Cor. 13:1 for starters).  The last twenty years have seen new interest in church history and the doctrines of grace, but also more Talkatives.  With so much biblical illiteracy even in the church, it’s very tempting to take pride in one’s own knowledge, but such pride is easily punctured.  Notice how short Talkative’s answers become when Faithful attempts to personalize the questions (to “lie at the catch” is the 16th century equivalent of “Gotcha!”).  Faithful’s particular interest is, How do we know we’re saved?  And the corollary: How do we know someone else is saved?  His interest is personal, not academic.  Talkative finds it too personal: “and so, adieu.”  The pilgrims soon find better company—and they’ll need it before their next great trial.

Activities:

  • Make a chart comparing Faithful’s journey to Christian’s, and look up the Scripture references in the Project Gutenberg version of Pilgrim’s Progress to identify each character.
  • Rewrite the dialogue between Christian and Apollyon to reflect your own experience of resisting the devil.
  • Write an honest confession to God regarding your besetting sin (the one that creeps up on you in weak moments).
  • Have you ever encountered a Talkative?  Or caught yourself talking like him?  Write a brief dialogue of the exchange.
  • What does Shame tell you about humanity?  What does God tell you?  White a report from each, showing how they are similar, and how different.

On to Part Three

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